Friday, February 6, 2016

Commentary on the Book of Genesis

By: Tom Lowe

 

PART IV: JOSEPH AND HIS BRETHREN (Gen. 37:1-50:26)

 

Topic #A:  JOSEPH IS SOLD AS A SLAVE. (Gen. 37:1-36)                

 

 


Lesson IV.A.1: Beginning of His Troubles. (Genesis 37:1-11)                                        

 

 

 

Genesis 37:1-11

  1. And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.
  2. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.
  3. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.
  4. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.
  5. And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.
  6. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:
  7. For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.
  8. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.
  9. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
  10. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?
  11. And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

One quarter of Genesis is devoted to Joseph, a man who was not even in the Messianic line. Someone will ask, “Why was so much space allotted to this man?” We must remember that Moses wrote Genesis.  Moses wrote the other books of the Pentateuch from his experience, but not Genesis.  He learned Genesis at his mother’s knee, for Genesis contained the oral traditions of his people, whispered from generation to generation in those slave camps along the Nile.  She taught him the truths that form the sum and substance of Genesis.  She knew she would soon have to give him up to the court of pharaoh, and there he would be swallowed-up forever.  And in view of that fact, she devoted a disproportionate amount of space to the story of Joseph.  For in those very same courts a Hebrew boy named Joseph had been subjected to the identical pressures and temptations that soon would face her son.  With true spiritual insight, godly Jochebed drilled Moses in the story of Joseph.  When Moses came to write Genesis, the Spirit of God endorsed Jochebed’s view and led Moses to write with the same emphasis.  The narrative is very full, more being recorded of Joseph than of any other patriarch.

 

As we study the last part of Genesis, we will find in Joseph’s life a man who more beautifully portrays the life of Jesus than any other person mentioned in the Old Testament.  Joseph is like Jesus in that he was beloved by his father and obedient to his will, hated and rejected by his own brethren and sold as a slave; falsely accused and unjustly punished; finally elevated from the place of suffering to a powerful throne, thus saving his people from death. The major difference, of course, is that Joseph was only reported to be dead, while Jesus Christ did give his life on the cross and was raised from the dead in order to save us.  View the life of Joseph at any point, and instantly this or that aspect of the person or work of Christ will be revealed.  It was that characteristic that gave Joseph the right to occupy such a prominent position in Genesis.  The great goal of the Holy Spirit in the life of any person is to make him or her like Christ, and when they do at last exhibit the beauties of the Lord Jesus, they become a trophy of grace worthy of timeless display.

 

Joseph is undoubtedly a very good man, quite unlike his trickster father.  Any review of his life will support that statement.  But when we first meet him, he appears to be a typical spoiled child.  He lacked an easy rapport with his brothers, who regarded him as an insufferable informer to their father.  And his dreams, which Joseph told with relish, were effective in creating strong hostile feelings toward him. 

 

If there is one verse which sums up Joseph’s life it is Romans 5:20—“Where sin abounded, grace abounded more.” Romans 6:1-2 makes it clear that Romans 5:20 isn’t an excuse for sin; because those who sin suffer for what they do, even if God does overrule their disobedience for ultimate good.  Joseph’s brothers suffered more for their sins than Joseph did from their hatred or the consequences of their evil deeds.

 

This passage has two parts:

                                         I.            The Hatred of Joseph’s Brothers. Why did they hate Joseph so much? There were two reasons:

                                                      a. Joseph had integrity (v. 2)

                                                      b. Joseph was the favorite son (vs. 3, 4)

                                      II.            The Envy of Joseph’s Brothers.

 

 

 

 

COMMENTARY

 

Verses 1-4: Home Life.  Being about five or six when his father left Mesopotamia, Joseph had escaped all the sad experiences of Jacob’s earlier years at Haran.  But the Elder sons had grown up in that atmosphere of jealousy and deceit, and they resented their father’s partiality toward Joseph.  They did not have the regard for spiritual realities that Joseph had, and his moral life must have been a rebuke to them. 

 

 

  1. And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger [sojourner], in the land of Canaan.

 

Joseph must have been one of the loneliness boys in history.  He lost his mother in his middle teens; he was regarded by his brothers as father’s pet and consequently was detested by them, and he was looked upon as a “goody-goody” and “Mama’s little darling.”

 

Moses had his choice of many things he could have written about Joseph—material of which biographies are written—but he chose instead to pass over them and focus on three incidents.

 

There was Joseph’s spiritual drive, illustrated by two incidents of great interest.  Joseph’s father was a shepherd with vast herds and flocks.  One by one, as soon as they were old enough, his sons were sent off to learn the tricks of the trade.  The four sons of the slave women formed a natural team.  It would not have been desirable in those rough-and-ready days for a shepherd to work alone on those hills.  There were not only wild animals and bandits on the prowl, but unscrupulous sheikhs as well.  So Dan and Naphtali, Gad and Asher were banded together as a team.

 

When the time came, Joseph too was sent off to learn Jacob’s business secrets.  He might be the favorite, but if he was ever to have the preeminence his father secretly planned for him, then he must know the family business through and through.  He must know how to tend sheep, how to breed them for the best results, how to lead them from pasture to pasture, how to locate the watering holes, how to ward off predators, how to tend the lame, the sick, the weak.  So Jacob weighed the attributes of each of his sons and sent Joseph off with that particular group.

 

Almost at once Joseph faced the first temptation of a boy away from home.  It is against the background of that temptation that Joseph’s spiritual integrity is first seen.  He was tempted to conform.  Didn’t Paul say “Be not conformed to this world,” (Romans 12:2).

 

2. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

 

The pronouncement “These are the generations of Jacob” has been interpreted to mean either “the history of Jacob’s descendants, especially of ‘Joseph,” or “the leading occurrences, in the domestic history of Jacob.” It informs us that we’re moving into a new section of the Book of Genesis, which will be devoted to Jacob, whom we’ve already met while reading about “The generations of Isaac” (25:19).  But the chief actor in the “Jacob” section of Genesis will be Joseph.

 

Joseph was about 17 years old and he was away from home.  For the first time in his life, he was about to have a rival for his mothers affections, for within the year, Benjamin would be born.  He desperately needed to belong, so the pressure was on to CONFORM.

 

Careful reconstruction of Joseph’s predicament shows us what he was up against with those older brothers of his, each of whom resented him, for they were sons of slave women and he was the son of the favorite wife.  Their dislike of Joseph could be vented to the full now, for they had him away from Jacob’s watchful eye.

 

Anyone who has been in a similar situation can sympathize with Joseph’s predicament.  Violence was always a possibility, but apart from that his life would be made a living hell unless he lowered himself to their standards, conformed to their practices, and made himself an accomplice to their misconduct.

 

There was the temptation to “CONFORM,” but in addition there was the temptation to CONCEAL.  On that point many commentators do Joseph a grave injustice.  They picture him as a tattletale, running home to daddy to tell stories about his brothers, a sneaky family spy.  He was nothing of the kind.  There is nothing in the text that would warrant such an interpretation and, from all we know of Joseph’s character, such meanness and littleness was foreign to him.  Most likely he was instructed by his father to report on his sons’ misbehavior, for old Jacob felt very insecure in Canaan, an insecurity aggravated by the behavior of his boys.  It was part of Joseph’s stewardship, as his father’s agent, to report on the wild doings of those boys.  Their behavior imperiled the whole clan.  Certainly Joseph must have been under considerable pressure to CONFORM. 

 

Joseph was made of sterner stuff.  The Bible says there is “a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” So far as Joseph was concerned it was a time to speak.  For him to tell Jacob what he had seen was an act of great courage. “See here, kid,” the four of them might well have said, “you go preaching to the old man about what you have seen and we’ll get ya some dark night.  You keep your mouth shut, understand?” It is often much easier to hold one’s tongue than to stand up as a witness to a wrong we have seen.

 

The first glimpse we get of Joseph, then, reveals his spiritual drive.  We see a teenage lad who not only had some well-grounded convictions concerning “integrity” and morality and practical godliness, but also a young man with the courage of his convictions.

 

Apparently, Joseph was an assistant or apprentice to his four brothers—Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher—learning how to care for the sheep.  Nobody knew it at the time, but Joseph was destined for greater things, and yet he got his start as a servant (Matthew 25:21).

 

It wasn’t easy for Joseph to work alongside his half-brothers because their way of life was different from his.  Were the boys robbing their father?  Were they getting too involved with the ways of the people of the land?  We don’t know what evil things the men were doing, but whatever their sin was; Joseph felt that their father needed to know about it.  Joseph also knew what the other brothers were doing and reported that to Jacob. That is what the author calls here, “their evil report”; the evil report Joseph gave of them.

 

But subsequent events proved that, young as he was, Joseph did have common sense and discernment.  Thus whatever his brothers were doing must have been terribly wicked or Joseph wouldn’t have mentioned it to his father.  But perhaps Jacob suspected that his sons were doing evil things and asked Joseph what he knew.  The Boy certainly wasn’t going to lie to his father; and when Jacob talked to his sons about their behavior, the men immediately knew who the informer was.

 

 3. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.

 

Of all the things the Holy Spirit could have recorded about Joseph, he recorded that (v.3).  The coat was a special coat, the coat worn by an eastern chieftain, the kind of coat given to the son destined to be the father’s heir.  It marked Joseph out as the one to whom Jacob intended to bequeath rulership of the clan and the lion’s share of his property.  It set him apart from his brothers and put him on a plane of equality with his father.  Joseph should have remembered what parental favoritism does to a family; it had separated him from his loving mother (27:1-28:5), and it would separate Joseph from Jacob.

 

The expression, “son of his old age,” though it refers to Joseph, could just as easily be applied to Benjamin, for he was Joseph’s only “full” brother and was much younger than him.

 

We can’t be sure what the “coat of many colors” really looked like, although “richly ornamented robe” is probably as good a translation as any. Since we do know something about how the ancients dressed, we can say with reasonable assurance that the robe was a long garment reaching to the ankles, and sleeves reaching to the wrists. The “many colors” could have been accomplished in those days by sewing together patches of colored cloth. The ordinary coat was one color, had no sleeves and reached only to the knees.

 

 4. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably{2] unto him.

 

Having experienced the sad consequences of favoritism in his boyhood home (25:28) and during his years with Laban (29: 30), Jacob should have had more sense than to single out Joseph and pamper him.  But Joseph was the son of his favorite wife, Rachel, and the human heart sometimes plays tricks with the mind and makes people do strange things.

 

The other brothers eyed that coat with undisguised jealousy.  Reuben the firstborn eyed it and read his own second-rate future in it.  Judah eyed it, cruel Simeon eyed it, and so did his buddy Levi.  The four sons of the slave wives eyed it, and the site of it added fresh venom to their hatred.  Joseph drew that robe around his youthful shoulders and wore it openly and comfortably, for it was his by right.  After all, was he not his father’s firstborn son; the firstborn of Rachel, the true bride of Jacob’s heart?  The robe was his and his by right, no matter what the jealous brothers might think.  The robe of position, priesthood, and privilege was his.

 

Three things were wrapped up in the robe that Jacob presented to Joseph that day.  As Joseph unwrapped the gift and saw it lying there before him he saw, at once, all that is implied.  His jealous brothers saw it too. 

 

That robe spoke of PRIESTHOOD.  The family priesthood should have gone to Reuben, but Reuben’s basic instability was well-known to Jacob.  Reuben had forfeited his firstborn status because of his sin with Bilhah (35:22), and his next son, Simeon, had been involved with Levi in slaughtering the men of Shechem.  Furthermore, Jacob’s first four sons had Leah as their mother, and Joseph hadn’t intended to marry Leah.  The full intent of his heart was to marry Rachel, but Laban had tricked him. Jacob might have reasoned, “In God’s sight, Rachel was my first wife, and Joseph was her firstborn.  Therefore Joseph has the right to be treated as the firstborn.” So, for the time being, the custodianship of the priesthood was given to Joseph. 

That robe spoke of PROGENITORSHIP (fatherhood).  That, too, should have gone to Reuben—the right to be the one from whose descendants the promised Seed would come.  Within the year Reuben would forever disgrace himself in a night’s lustful passion.  Again, for the time being, only Joseph qualified to be Jacob’s heir in the matter of progenitorship. 

That robe spoke of PRIORITY.  It was the custom for the oldest son to receive a double portion of the father’s estate, that is, he received twice as much as any of the other sons.  The double portion was to go to Joseph; the robe proclaimed it and history assured it.

 

The splendid robe given to Joseph, then, spoke volumes of the special place Joseph held in his father’s heart and of Jacob’s determination to see his beloved son lifted high.  The priesthood, the property, and the power were to be his.  Thus Jacob acted in such a way that, through him, God could display in some measure His own great, eternal thoughts.  We would pray He could do the same through us.

 

 

Verses 5-11: Dreams.  These intensified the hatred.  Jacob was impressed even though he rebuked Joseph.  The repetition of the dream meant certainty of fulfillment.


 5.And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.  

6. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:  

7. For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.  

8. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.  

9. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

“Joseph dreamed a dream”—dreams in ancient times drew peoples’ attention, and that’s why the dream of Joseph, though a mere boy, got his family’s serious consideration.  But his two dreams were evidently symbolical.  The message was easily discerned, and from its being repeated under different situations, the fulfillment was considered certain (41:32), but the result was that “his brethren envied him, but his father observed the saying” (v. 11).  

We know Joseph’s dreams by heart.  He dreamed twice. The first time he saw the harvest field and the sheaves standing in orderly rows.  There stood his sheave and there the sheaves of his brethren.  But what was that?  Their sheaves bowed down to his! It was a depiction of position and power, but of position and power relating to earth.  The harvest field was a representation of the world’s resources, its bounty, its excesses, and its wealth.  The sons of Jacob were seen reaping the riches of the world, but Joseph outdid them all.  In the end, his brothers would be forced to acknowledge him.  It was a dream of the control that Joseph was to have over the resources of the world.  The dream was fulfilled in Joseph’s ultimate control over the resources of Egypt.

 

 10. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother{1] and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

 

He dreamed again and saw the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bow down to him. It, too, was a dream of position and power. From Genesis 1 we learn that the sun and the moon are symbols of rule—they symbolized those set on high to control the destinies of men.  In a coming day Joseph was to be given command over the rulers of the world.  That was literally fulfilled in the high position of authority Joseph attained in Egypt, an authority so great that even the pharaoh bowed to his will.  He told his dreams to his family as, indeed, he was duty bound to do.  For those dreams were not for him alone.  So obvious was the meaning of those dreams that they needed no interpreter.  His brothers were enraged at the simple divulging of them; just as later the Jews were enraged at Christ for telling them the truth about Himself.

 

There is no indication that these dreams were given to Joseph by God, unless we accept the premise that their fulfillment required God’s intervention in Joseph’s life.  This wasn’t “adolescent enthusiasm”; it was the will of God.  The plan was God’s, the accomplishment was His; thus, the dream was placed in his mind by God. Joseph gives no indication that he understood his own two dreams at that time.  As he waited in prison, no doubt the meaning of the dreams became clearer and encouraged him. 

 

 11. And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

 

So Joseph told his brothers of his dreams.  He had tasted their jealousy and spite already, but they had to know the truth of God, even if that truth spurred them on to violence.  The immediate result of Joseph’s sharing his dreams was that his brothers hated him even more and also envied him their hearts.  After Joseph told of his dreams, his brothers could no longer speak peaceably to him.  Soon they see their opportunity to rid themselves of him finally and forever, but they reckoned without God just as people do who imagine they can rid themselves of God’s Son.

 


Notes

 

{1] “Thy mother,”i.e., Rachael, was already dead according to 35:19.

{2] “Could not speak peaceably unto him,” that is, his brothers did not say “peace be to thee,” the usual expression of good wishes among friends and acquaintances.  It was deemed a sacred duty to give everyone this form of salutation; and the withholding of it is an unmistakable sign of dislike or secret hostility.

 

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