Friday, February 23, 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.2: His Brothers Attempt to Kill Him. (Genesis 37:12-24)

 

 

 

Genesis 37:12-24 (KJV)

 

12 And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem.

13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.

14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?

16 And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.

17 And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.

18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.

19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.

22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.

23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;

24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.

 

 

 

INTRODUCTION

 

According to verses 12-14, Joseph is sent to check on his brothers.  It is not uncommon for shepherds in arid countries to lead their flocks many miles from home in search of pasture.  Shechem was about 50 miles north of Hebron.  Jacob owned land there.

 

When he doesn’t find his brothers at Shechem, Joseph goes to Dothan, located 15 miles north of Shechem.  In verse 18, when Joseph finds his brothers, there is a shift in perspective.  Suddenly the story is told from his brother’s point of view.

 

Reuben, who advocates for Joseph’s life, is the firstborn and the decision-maker in the family (27:21-24).  He is apparently not part of the family group that was plotting to kill Joseph. That group probably consisted of Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher—the four sons against whom Joseph brought a bad report (37:2).

 

 

COMMENTARY

12 And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem.

 

In the highlands of central Palestine, the shepherds’ flocks range over a great expanse of territory in order to find grazing land with sufficient grass to feed them. Jacob’s wayward sons were his shepherds and they had been gone for a long time. The last old Jacob heard was that the sheep were grazing near Shechem, but he had heard nothing after that.

 

 

13 And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.

 

Jacob wanted to know more about the circumstances surrounding his sons; information regarding the condition of the sheep, why they had not returned home, and the welfare of his sons. No doubt he remembered his sons’ attack on the people of Shechem (34:24-30), and the danger they were in from those who might seek revenge for the murder of their family and friends.  The concerned father, knowing something about the dangers that could befall his boys, and aware of their lawless tendencies, decided something had to be done. Somebody had to be sent to find them and who better than Joseph? 

 

Joseph was about 18 years old.  He probably would have preferred to stay at home at Hebron—the word means “fellowship” (It suggests Joseph’s fellowship and communion with his father.).  The delights of home were at Hebron—for unlike his brothers, he was a homeboy who preferred to do paperwork and manage the farm, to the work of a shepherd—but there was no hesitation, no word about difficulties, about distance, about dangers.  His father knew about those things as well as he.  His father was willing to make the sacrifice and Joseph was willing to do those things that pleased his father.  His immediate response was, “Here am I.” One can almost hear old Jacob saying to himself as his beloved Joseph responded so freely, surely they will respect my son. 

 

 

14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

 

Jacob sent Joseph on the mission to Shechem, which was 50-60 miles from Hebron.  That was a long journey in those days when men walked from place to place.  Hebron was in the south, Shechem was about 60 miles away in the hill country of central Canaan. 

 

As we read this section, several questions come to mind.  FIRST, why were Jacob’s sons pasturing their flocks 50 miles from home when there was surely good grass land available closer to Hebron?  Possible answer: they didn’t want anybody from the family spying on them.  SECOND question: why did they return to the dangerous area near Shechem when Joseph’s family had such a bad reputation among the citizens there? And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites: and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house” (34:30). Suggested answer: the brothers were involved with the people of the land in ways they didn’t want Jacob to know about.

 

But there’s a THIRD question that is even more puzzling: Knowing that his sons hated Joseph, why did Jacob send him out to visit them alone and wearing the special garment that had aggravated them so much?  One of Jacob’s trusted servants could have performed the same task faster (Joseph got lost) and perhaps just as efficiently.  The answer is that the providential hand of God was working to accomplish His divine purposes for Jacob and his family, and ultimately for the whole world. “He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant” (Psalm 105:17, KJV).  God had ordained that Joseph would go to Egypt and this was the way he accomplished it. 

 

 

15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?

16 And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.

17 And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.

 

It took Joseph perhaps three days to get from Hebron to Shechem, but when he arrived there his brothers had left the area, and he didn’t know where they had gone.  The boys had not lingered at Shechem; for them, it was a place full of evil memories.  There, Simeon and Levi had massacred the Shechemites.  The surrounding sheiks would like nothing better than to rid themselves of that troublesome brood. I would think Joseph would make a search of the town and the surrounding area, asking everyone he met if they knew his brothers’ whereabouts.  By sheer luck or God’s providence he met a friendly man who told him that they had gone to Dothan looking for better grazing for the flock.  Dothan was located about 12 miles (another day’s journey) north of Samaria toward the Plain of Esdraelon on the caravan route running from the north down to Egypt.  Dothan{3]was a small, oblong plain containing some of the best pasturage in the country. 

 

Joseph left Shechem and headed for Dothan on the word of an unnamed man. It wasn’t a pleasant trip at all, for several reasons: there was the almost unbearable heat of the day, and the chill and cold of the night. Wild beasts and bandits lurked along the road and ahead were his brothers.  Joseph knew what kind of reception he could expect from them. But he was doing his father’s bidding, which was always a joy and delight, so, on he went.

 

HEBRON!  Shechem!  Dothan!  The names of these places tell of a people wandering far from home, and of moral and spiritual blindness as well.  Hebron means “fellowship,” but those boys had left that place long ago.  Hebron suggests the loss of the spiritual side of things. What did those boys care for their father’s will?  for his fellowship and love?  They were rebellious and self-willed, always wanting their own way; heedless of his care for them and filled with bitterness toward his beloved son.  Man’s first loss was spiritual, and consequently he is out of fellowship with God, separated from Him by sin and wicked works, and kept in that disunity by hostility toward Christ.

 

SHECHEM means “strength.” The boys had left the place of strength as well.  Shechem was the place where Dinah their sister had lost her moral innocence and Simeon and Levi their moral integrity.  Now they had left Shechem altogether.  Man’s second great loss was moral.  Adam brought out of Eden with him a moral sense, knowledge of good and evil, but he brought no strength to do the right or to shun the wrong.  Man left the place of moral strength as soon as he arrived at it.  God says, “There is none that doeth good, no not one” (Romans 3:12).  He also says, “When we were yet without strength . . .  Christ died for us” (Romans five: 6-8).  One might as well tell a dead man to write an opera as to tell a sinner to produce a life morally acceptable to God.

 

DOTHAN means “The Two Wells,” and there the boys had settled down to enjoy the material comforts of the neighborhood.  Perhaps one of the wells had already run dry, for a dry well later served as a convenient prison for Joseph.  Dothan was the place that emphasized the physical side of life.  They were far from home.  Drifting from one place to another, they had settled down to enjoy what creature comforts they could.

 

And there Joseph found them.  His mission was accomplished, he had finally found them and brought them tidings from home, good news indeed—the father loved them and longed for their return.  He was immediately rejected, sold for the price of a slave, handed over to the Gentiles, and his disappearance glossed over with a lie.  Envy is one of the works of the flesh that comes out of the sinful heart of man (Mark 7:22; Galatians 5:21).  Because of their envy, Joseph’s brothers sold him to the merchants. 

 

“In the field,” (v. 15)is used here to mean “in the open country.”

 

 

18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.

19 And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

 

When Joseph appeared on the horizon, they recognized him immediately, for he was wearing his special garment. The brothers with murderous intent quickly conspired against him (v. 20).  The narrative draws attention to their conscious wickedness (37:18-23).  There they were, lounging out on the grass near the wells, with the sheep spread over the pasture.  They were laughing perhaps at some lewd joke of Reuben’s, plotting some new evil behavior in the neighborhood, or eating their midday meal.  One of them like as not, was a lookout keeping sharp watch for bandits or wolves.  “Hey!” he called, “Guess who’s coming!  Its daddy’s little darling.” And instantly the brothers closed ranks for the Spirit of God records their combined enmity for Joseph.  Whatever squabbles they might have had among themselves, they were united in their dislike of him.  “And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.  And they said one to another, behold this dreamer cometh.”

 

That’s what galled them the most—his dreams.  If there was one thing they were determined they would never do, it was to bow the knee to Joseph.  It didn’t matter that God Himself had destined Joseph for preeminence and power; they would never accord it to him. Their hate for Joseph could be boiled down to this: The son’s of Jacob hated their brother because their father loved him.

 

 

20 Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

 

The hate these men have for their younger brother is obviously wicked and vicious and mutual.  [Whosoever hateth his brother is a murder” (1 John 3:15).]  Now they have him right where they want him; alone and away from their parents. There is nothing to prevent them from acting on that hate; if for no other reason than hatred of him was consuming their thoughts and conversations.  They said, Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Their alibi would be that some evil beast had devoured him.  They hoped by this means to nullify the powerful impact of Joseph’s dreams, and to cover up their involvement in the crime. 

 

 

21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.

22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.

 

The writer has shown the conscious wickedness of them all, and now he describes the criminal weakness of Reuben (see also, 37:29-30).  Reuben, the oldest, a man marked by instability, wavers now between a sense of responsibility and a sense of his own lack of influence.  He did not wish for Joseph to be killed, but he did not dare to stand up for him in the face of the sneers and hostility of the rest. Reuben would not listen to their plans to shed blood, and talked them into imprisoning the boy in the pit, or cistern{1], nearby.  He intended to secretly release Joseph, so he could return to his father.  But, how could he take Joseph back home?  Jacob would surely learn the truth about his sons, and his reaction would have created more problems in the family.  It is commendable that Reuben protected Joseph from death, especially since he was the firstborn son whom Joseph replaced—“Now the sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel, (for he was the firstborn; but forasmuch as he defiled his father's bed, his birthright was given unto the sons of Joseph the son of Israel . . . “ (1 Chronicles 5:1).

 

He decided to try compromise and, as usual, compromise did not work.  Active wickedness is always stronger than halfhearted goodness.  A bold stand for Joseph was needed, not wishy-washy suggestions that they put him in the pit with the vague hope that later he could free him and send him home. Reuben tried to please his brothers at the expense of his conscience and became guilty of criminal weakness.  Indecision, in the end, is a decision after all.

 

Note the irony of the situation.  Reuben, of all the brothers, had most reason to be jealous of Joseph, for he was the first born, and as such was entitled to the distinguishing favors which Jacob was conferring on Joseph; yet he proves to be his best friend.  God overruled all the brothers in order to serve his own purpose, of making Joseph an instrument to save much people alive.

 

 

23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;

24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.

 

As Joseph drew near we can almost hear his cheerful greeting, “Shalom, my brothers!  Peace be unto you.” But with a howl of rage they leaped upon him.  One twisted his arms, another tore off his robe, another stomped it savagely in the mud, another flung the young man on his back, and another kicked him in the ribs.  “Now then, dreamer!  Tell us one of your dreams!” Like a pack of dogs they snapped and snarled at him, all their passions aflame.  In like manner their descendents, strong bulls of Bashan{2], gored the Son of God.

 

The very first thing they did was to strip him of his coat, the robe on which they focused their hate.  It must have given them great pleasure to strip Joseph of his special coat and then drop him into the empty cistern.

 

 

 

Special Notes

 

{1] Cistern:The scarcity of springs in Palestine made it necessary to collect rainwater in reservoirs and cisterns (Numbers 21:22). Empty cisterns—they were generally dry except for the rainy season—were sometimes used as prisons.  They are much smaller at the top than the bottom to make them easier to close.  Some are 80 to 100 feet deep (Jeremiah 38:6).There are numerous remains of ancient cisterns in all parts of Palestine.

{2] Strong Bulls of Bashan:  Bashan was a very fruitful country, in which cattle of various sorts, and bulls and other livestock, were fed and fattened; see Deuteronomy 32:14. Bulls are noted for their strength. Hence, great men, who abounded in riches and power, and used them to oppress the poor, are compared to the kine of Bashan (Amos 4:1). It was a very fitting name for the kings and princes of the earth; for Caiaphas, Annas, and the chief priests, that lived upon the fat of the land, who arrested Christ, and employed all their power and strategy to take him to a rough wooden cross, and then nail him to it. 

{3] Dothan:It is first mentioned in the Bible (Genesis 37:17) in connection with the history of Joseph as the place where Jacob’s (Israel's) sons had moved their sheep and where, at the suggestion of Judah, the brothers sold Joseph to the Ishmaelite merchants (Gen. 37:17). It later appears as the residence of Elisha (2 Kings 6:13) and the scene of a vision of chariots and horses of fire surrounding the mountain on which the city stood.

 

 

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