This chapter of Genesis introduces the account of the life of Jacob’s son Joseph. His story is significant because it illustrates how God works in individuals from the time He plants His purpose in their hearts up to the fulfillment of that purpose. For now though we will focus on Genesis 37 and see what we can learn from it.
Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father.
As we take a look at the above passage of Scripture we note that Joseph was born into a large family and he had several half-brothers. The ones he spent most time with are mentioned. Then the text says, he brought a bad report of them to Jacob his father.
That is interesting. It tells us two things, one his brothers were not doing their assigned work well while Joseph was. Two, Joseph was truthful towards his father and they were not. If we’re honest, most of us do not fancy the idea of the seventeen-year-old telling on his brothers.
But we do not know them like he did. We have no knowledge of how many times he advised them not to take the evil road. And we do not know whether he spared them at times. What we do find out eventually is that he was a selfless and kind person.
There is a price for doing what is right. Christ says be concerned when all men speak well of you (Luke 6:26 ). This means if we are not offending anyone with the truth of God either by words or lifestyle, there is a problem. Of course we should not intentionally try to offend – it comes naturally when we genuinely follow Christ.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
The previous passage gives us a clue as to why Jacob had a special liking for Joseph. Which parent doesn’t like an obedient child? But we are also told the boy was born in his father’s later years. Moreso, we must not forget that he was Rachel’s first born, the wife most loved by Jacob.
Joseph must have pleased his father a lot in the days he was presented with the garment of many colors. Yes parents find it easier to give their children elaborate gifts when they themselves are pleased with them. That said, Jacob unintentionally hurt the rest of his sons by emphasizing Joseph’s special place in his heart.
He probably hoped he was inspiring them to follow his example But it totally backfired. Instead the brothers got jealous interpreting it as pure favoritism. Some of them were sons of maidservants and Joseph a son of Jacob’s wife.
So who did wrong here? Let us go back to an earlier part of Genesis. Cain and Abel had brought their sacrifices to God. And He accepted Abel’s but rejected Cain’s. This infuriated the man but the Lord said, “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is crouching at the door. Its desire is contrary to you, but you must rule over it” (Genesis 4:2-6).
When we do not get what we want we should first examine our own ways. Perhaps the person really deserves what they’ve received or achieved. If we are envious or upset, it shows we do not believe that God is impartial. He promises countless blessings for those who listen to His guidelines irrespective of your background.
God has no favorites but men do. And when we find ourselves in the unfortunate situation where someone is favored at our expense, we can still look to the One who loves unconditionally and shows no partiality.
Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”
There is a disconnect here. We saw earlier that some of Joseph’s brothers hated him and spoke to him rudely and bitterly. Why then did he go to those same brothers and reveal dreams that quite obviously would offend them? The answer is simple: God designed the dream to trouble him enough with the need to tell someone. This would ultimately lead to his transfer to Egypt.
Furthermore it was to develop his ability to interpret dreams. By this time, Joseph was only seventeen and as far as we know had never explained anyone’s dreams. He obviously had his own idea of what they meant. Asking his brothers would confirm or refute what he thought.
Like he did with Joseph, God develops our abilities and uses them to fulfil His purpose for our lives. It can be invisible to us but when we look back it becomes clear.
And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
It is not likely that Joseph was surprised by his brothers’ reaction. He knew they did not like him. He obviously was not pleased with the reminder but what was more important for him was their interpretation — and he got it. This was probably his first successful dream interpretation.
Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
After the first dream, Joseph must have had several moments of reflection. He surely wondered why he received a vision of his future. If he was going to be great why would it not just happen? But as the days passed he probably put it aside and went on with his life. Then something strange happened. He had another dream. And it was similar but this time the sun, moon and stars bowed down.
So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
With the first dream, Joseph’s brothers easily gave the interpretation. The second was more difficult. And the Scriptures do not give us their take. Instead Jacob’s view is provided. The sun and moon depicted him and Leah (who had by this time become a mother to Joseph) bowing down. The eleven stars were his eleven brothers.
This dream had three purposes. First to emphasize the first dream. Secondly to anchor Joseph in what had now become God’s promise for his life. And thirdly to further develop his ability to interpret dreams.
We should note that both Jacob and his sons responded negatively towards the dreams. It is typical of the adversary to try and devour God’s designs from the moment they are initiated. He did the same when Christ was born. Herod tried to destroy the child even as an infant (Matthew 2:16). Yet the Lord was there to protect both Jesus and Joseph. And He does the same for whomever He calls.
Although he was the favorite, Joseph was sternly rebuked. But Jacob kept it in his heart.
Then his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brother feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.
The brothers took their father’s sheep to Shechem which was a fair distance away. It is clear they were meant to return at an appointed time and had not come back. This is evidence of the contempt they had towards their father.
Jacob probably got tired of waiting and had become concerned about their wellbeing. He decided reluctantly to send Joseph. It is no coincidence that the boy had not gone with his brothers. His father was protective over him. He loved his son and did not want to risk losing him. In those days there were all sorts of threats. From wild animals to ruthless people of the land who could kill and take someone’s flock at will. Remember this was before God gave His law to the world. The culture of the people was their moral compass.
So he said to him, “Here I am.”Then he said to him, “Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.” So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.
When Joseph answered his father’s call, he was instructed to prepare and take the journey to Shechem. He was to find his brothers, check on the flock and bring back a report. This is something he had done quite often albeit from nearer locations. Jacob certainly warned him to take care and return as soon as he could.
Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, “What are you seeking?”So he said, “I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.”And the man said, “They have departed from here, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.
This “certain man” who few ever take notice of was in fact (in the purest form of the word) an angel or messenger of God. His role was to make sure Joseph found his brothers on time. There was an appointed caravan of Ishmaelites on its way and if Joseph had kept searching for his brothers, he was going to miss his transportation to Egypt.
The man in the field just “happened to be there” when the brothers were making a decision where to go next. As believers God directs our paths in all sorts of ways and more often than not we have no idea that it is happening. Joseph did not realize he would not be returning to Jacob’s encampment that day.
Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!”
Remember earlier we noted God’s protection over Joseph. Here we see why His divine cover is so important. The brothers were serious when they talked of taking his life. Some of them, namely Simeon and Levi had killed men before (Genesis 34:25).
But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.”And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father.
Reuben was used by God to preserve Joseph. If he had not been there at that time, the young man would not have lived. He also intended to return him to Jacob later on. Although that was good of him, it was beyond his divine assignment for the day.
So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit isthere if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he isour brother andour flesh.” And his brothers listened.
Deep in the waterless well stood a young man. He was trembling and perplexed. His own brothers had stripped him of his special garment and dropped him several feet into the pit. They ignored his pleas both before and after they cast him in.
We now see why Jesus tells us not to harbor anger in our hearts (Matthew 5:22). It turns to bitterness which when fully grown is enough to drive anyone to murder. Jacob’s sons intended to leave Joseph to die in the well. That there was a blood relationship between them did not matter because they were overcome by jealousy.
However, God stepped in again and the aforementioned caravan of Ishmaelites arrived on time.
Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
To be clear the Midianites and the Ishmaelites are one and the same. They were both descendants of Abraham. The first generation Ishmaelites were cousins to the first generation Midianites so references to them were used interchangeably. Furthermore they interacted and travelled long distances together to trade.
Joseph was pulled out of the pit and perhaps believed his brothers had changed their minds. Instead he saw them take silver for him and he became merchandise for his new slave masters. There were certainly pleas from the lad as they tied him up. The brothers coldly watched on as he was carried to Egypt, but do you know what? God intended it! Not to make Joseph suffer but to take him to Egypt. Yes He does not always bless us with comfortable circumstances, sometimes the most painful experiences are acts of kindness.
Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes. And he returned to his brothers and said, “The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?”So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, “We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?”And he recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.”
Earlier we noted that Reuben’s divine assignment was to make sure Joseph’s life was not taken. He did that but wanted to return him to Jacob. That was beyond what God intended. Therefore he was away until they sold Joseph.
He felt responsible because he was instructed by Jacob to keep an eye on Joseph at all times being the eldest of the brothers.
The solution to their dilemma was to put blood of a young goat on his robe and deceive their father. It should go without saying that this was not right. And the price they paid was to live burdened by this lie for over twenty years.
Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.
Jacob believed his sons and wept for Joseph. It broke his heart. There was grieving even while Joseph was alive. It tells us that the consequences of sin can be more far reaching than we anticipate. The brothers wanted to get rid of Joseph but did not like to see their father so desperately sad. It was so bad that they never wanted to see it again (Genesis 44:30).
Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.
Genesis 37 concludes with Joseph arriving in Egypt. He is bought by Potiphar a chief of the royal guard and the king’s executioner. This nobleman was appointed by God to receive the boy. The link he had to Pharaoh and the land he owned would prepare Jacob’s favorite son become lord of all ancient Egypt and preserve Israel.