Genesis 37: Joseph’s Dreams

1 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

-This is the danger of playing favorites with your children. God certainly gives some of his children special tasks and blessings on this earth but aside from Jesus Himself, God does not play favorites with us. All of us are equally sinners deserving of damnation and all are given the offer to accept salvation. There is mention of other rewards in heaven and it is implied that our decisions in this world may impact our role in the next. But these are our choices and God gives the same offer to everyone. It is easy to understand why Jacob favored Joseph. He is the son of his favored wife, the one he wanted. But playing favorites for no reason another can control creates bitterness and envy. It does not say, though we learn of his nature later, that Joseph was favored because he was the most righteous and obedient. In fact, he may have become more righteous because of his father´s love and attention. But this was not fair to any of his brothers or his sister because they could not control the mother they were born to. The only slack that we may give him was that it seems Joseph may have been a bit of a tattle-tell.

5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”

-For those like me who know nothing about farming, a sheave is a tied up bundle of wheat so that its easier to thresh out the grain. In his dream, the sheaves of wheat themselves walked and bowed down to Joseph’s. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/1/1c/Wheat_sheaves_near_King%27s_Somborne_-_geograph.org.uk_-_889992.jpg

8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

-It is interesting they understood the meaning of the dream in both cases. Jacob mentions “your mother” which implies this was before his mother passed away and before Benjamin was born. In fact, all this may have taken place long before Benjamin’s birth including Joseph being sold into slavery and pronounced dead to their father. We cannot assume all these events are in chronological order but rather in order of relevance to the reader in teaching a lesson. The moon probably was Jacob’s wife but it actually ends up representing Leah since Rachel passed. Joseph mentions eleven stars which stands for each brother but at the time, they could have assumed the eleventh was his sister since he had eleven siblings.
Joseph Sold by His Brothers.
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

-Dothan is located a ways north of Shechem here: http://bibleatlas.org/region/dothan.jpg . Both of these places are significantly more north than Hebron so Joseph had to travel a long way. Given the flock was still in Shechem, it is possible that this took place during the time they lived near Shechem and possibly even before Dinah was defiled. Jacob could have been elsewhere visiting with Joseph and then sent him to check on his property that his sons were watching back home. It is highly possible that this chapter actually takes place before Genesis 34 and certainly seems to take place before Genesis 35 because of the mention of “your mother” and Benjamin not being mentioned. In Genesis 35, it is said Jacob moved away from Shechem and Rachel died on the way to Ephrath (Bethlehem) which is to the south.

18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father.

-It’s very important to read carefully what is being said here. I have always thought of this story as all the brothers wanting to kill Joseph, but we see here that Reuben did not want to. Reuben says to leave Joseph in the pit and then it says its “that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father”. In other words, Reuben only said that so they won’t make an enemy out of him too but intended to go back for Joseph himself and send him back home. We don’t know if Reuben was being kind to Joseph or simply didn’t just want to grieve their father because it does say “the brothers” hated him. It does not say some or all but Reuben. So Reuben still may have hated him to but being probably close to 50 years old now, probably had the wisdom to know not to kill their own brother no matter how much they hated him. It would not be the first time they did something emotional without thinking of the consequences. Remember the Hivites?

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him.

-I mean, yeah, if you’re going to kill your brother, might as well make some money too while you’re at it? In their hatred for their brother, they forgot that they could profit from the situation as well. It seems obvious that they didn’t just get mad at him once or twice but they all hated him since he was born. They were all older than him and grown men so they must have hated him since the day he was born. It is possible Leah’s sons might be nearing 50 years old by this time so these were not a bunch of teenagers who “thought it would be cool” to do this but grown men making a decision on behalf of their 17 year old baby brother. This is how corrupted this generation has become. We have gone from a man willing to sacrifice his beloved son because God commanded him to brothers selling off their younger brother because they hated him. And the only reason they didn’t kill him or leave him for dead is because they realized they could make some money selling him.

28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

-Ishamelites and Midianite seems to be used interchangeably here. Ishamelites are of course descendants of Abraham’s son Ishmael and Midianites are descendants of one of Abraham’s later sons born of Keturah. There are several possibilities. Both could be true and they were descendants of either. Or perhaps the city where they lived was called Midian which was a city in ancient times but their heredity was Ishmaelites. Either way, there’s no reason to jump to conclusions and assume a contradiction has been found. I myself if I was walking down the street could be described as a man, young man, boy, American, Mexican, Brazilian, tall, short, average, skinny, fat, dark-haired, brown-haired…all of these can be true at the same time. Depending on which term is used though would give someone who hasn’t seen me a different mental picture. If I was described as a “Mexican boy”, well that would technically be accurate but would not give you anything of an accurate mental picture. So both must be true in some way we are not told.

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?”

-Reuben was not present when the plan was changed by Judah and the let him be sold instead. So when Reuben returned, he grieved because he realized he could not rescue him because he would have been long gone by then.

31 Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.

-It would seem Reuben was now part of this plan and decided it was better for their father to say he was killed than explain that he was sold away. Of course, had they told the truth, they may have been able to chase down the traders and buy him back. But everything is accounted for in God’s plan, even our sins and failures.

35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.

-”All his daughters” implies there were many more than simply Dinah and Dinah was only ever mentioned because of the story in Genesis 34. Who knows how many children Jacob really had between all 4 women. It is sad that a woman was not considered a child worth at least a brief mention but this was the way of their culture. Interesting too that Jacob says “Sheol” and this is the very first mention in the bible. Throughout the old testament, Sheol is described as the place that everyone goes when they die. There is no distinction between heaven and hell yet. To the people of this time, they believed earth was essentially heaven and they hoped for resurrection on this earth and if they don’t resurrect, they stay in Sheol for all eternity. Sheol is described in parts of the bible as a very bleak place with no light or sound. It is a place of suffering but not necessarily eternal torment as hell is described. We don’t know where they got this concept from but it paints a new picture of these people when you realize they don’t have the concept that we do about being saved and going to heaven. They don’t have the knowledge of this kind of blessing to look forward to. Abraham and Issac only knew that they will have descendants that number the stars and they will be blessed in physical terms with wealth and security. They knew to fear God because he did have sway and could take it away. They knew that they owed God for everything they did have. But the concept of the spiritual side of life was not given to them yet although they certainly must of had some understand that God or if there were other gods dwelled in some higher realm of existence that they could not see. This doesn’t have relevance to this particular story but it does help us understand the perspective of these old testament characters when dealing with God. They don’t know what we know now and we’re still in Genesis so they don’t even have the law yet and know what God considers right and wrong. It helps us to understand their actions a little better because it is hard for us to understand how a man can be faithful and yet do certain things like have concubines and many children from many women. But as far as we know, it has never been said that this is something that should not be done at this point.

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