Genesis (Part 165)

Welcome back to my study/review of Genesis. If you missed the previous parts of this study, you can find them HERE.

Genesis 37: 1-4

37 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.

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. 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. 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.


From here through the rest of Genesis, the key figure of Genesis is Jacob’s son Joseph. We can jump right in with Ellicott’s Bible Commentary at verse 1:

(1) And Jacob . . . —This verse is not the beginning of a new section, but the conclusion of the Tôldôth Esau. In Genesis 36:6, we read that Esau went into a land away from Jacob. Upon this follows in Genesis 37:8, “And Esau dwelt in Mount Seir;” and now the necessary information concerning the other brother is given to us, “And Jacob dwelt in the land . . . of Canaan.” In the Hebrew the conjunctions are the same.

The Pulpit Commentaries agrees with the assessment regarding verse 1 and expands upon it with some statements regarding Esau’s descendants and an explanation for their immediate successes:

Genesis 37:1

And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger (literally, in the land of the sojourning,’s of his father), in the land of Canaan. This verse is not the commencement of the ensuing (Keil, Kalisch, Lange, &c.), but the concluding sentence of the present, section, the adversative particle ו, corresponding to the δε of the LXX; introducing a contrast between Esau, who dwelt in Mount Seir, and Jacob, who dwelt in the land of Canaan, and the following verse beginning the next division of the book with the customary formula, “These are the generations”. Rosenmüller less happily connects the present verse with Genesis 35:29; the Vulgate begins the next section with Genesis 35:3A similar division of verses to that proposed will be found in Genesis 25:11.


Genesis 37:1

The last of the house of Esau.


1. A complete removal. “Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into a land apart from the face of his brother.”

2. A necessary removal. Two things rendered the withdrawal of Esau from Canaan imperative—

(1) that which was patent to Esau’s sense, viz; that the land of Canaan was too strait to afford accommodation to two so powerful chieftains as his brother and himself; and

(2) that which appears to have been accepted by Esau’s faith, viz; that the decision of Divine providence was against him, and that the land belonged to Jacob. Hence for this twofold reason his retirement from Canaan is said to have taken place on account of his brother.

3. A peaceful removal. Though in one sense compulsory, in another aspect of it Esau’s departure was voluntary. Instead of disputing possession of the land with his brother, which, humanly speaking, he might have done with some considerable hope of success, he quietly ceded what perhaps he saw he could not ultimately retain. Still it was to his credit that, instead of wrangling with Jacob about its present occupation, he peacefully withdrew to the wild mountain region of Seir. A permanent removal. Esau established his settlements altogether outside the limits of the Holy Land, and never again appeared as a claimant for its possession, leaving it finally in the free and undisputed ownership of Jacob. Hence, while it is said that “Esau dwelt in Mount Seir,” it is appropriately added by the historian, in concluding the present section, “And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.”


1. A numerous race. Though Esau’s sons were not so many as those of Jacob, yet his descendants developed into a people much more rapidly than did those of Jacob. This may have been partly due to the circumstance that they were—

2. A mixed race, having obviously incorporated amongst themselves a portion at least of the original Horites, whose land they appropriated, and whose political life they appear to have adopted. Then it is apparent that they were—

3. An aristocratic race. At the time of their invasion by the Esahites, the cave-dwellers of Mount Seir had attained to something like a settled government by means of alluphim, phylarchs, or tribe princes, each of whom enjoyed a sort of independent sovereignty; and, as has often happened since, though obliged to retire before the more powerful Canaanitish tribe, they succeeded in imposing on their conquerors their own political institutions. No fewer than fourteen of Esau’s grandsons became reigning dukes in the country. Still further, it may be inferred that they were—

4. A progressive race. The impulse towards a national life thus communicated by the Seirites does not appear to have exhausted itself by simply the formation of small independent principalities, which, as civilization advances, are always felt to be a source of weakness rather than strength to the country whose social and political unity is thus broken up, and which eventually call for the reverse process of a unification of the different fragments, whether by free confederation or by imperial subordination. In the case of the Edomites the phylarchs were succeeded by kings, whether elective monarchs or foreign usurpers cannot be determined, though the preponderance of sentiment among interpreters is in favor of the former hypothesis. And then, finally, they were—

5. An exiled race; that is to say, though sprung from the soil of Canaan, they developed outside its limits-Jacob’s family alone, as the Heaven-appointed heirs, remaining within the borders of the Holy Land.

Starting in verse 2, though, we officially move on from Esau. From Ellicott:


(2) The generations of Jacob.—This Tôldôth, according to the undeviating rule, is the history of Jacob’s descendants, and specially of Joseph. So the Tôldôth of the heaven and earth (Genesis 2:4) gives the history of the creation and fall of man. So the Tôldôth Adam was the history of the flood; and, not to multiply instances, that of Terah was the history of Abraham. (See Note on Genesis 28:10.) This Tôldôth, therefore, extends to the end of Genesis, and is the history of the removal, through Joseph’s instrumentality, of the family of Jacob from Canaan into Egypt, as a step preparatory to its growth into a nation.

Joseph being seventeen years old.—He was born about seven years before Jacob left Haran, and as the journey home probably occupied two full years, he would have dwelt in Isaac’s neighbourhood for seven or eight years. Isaac’s life, as we have seen, was prolonged for about twelve years after the sale of Joseph by his brethren.

And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah.—Heb., And he was lad with the sons of Bilhah, &c. The probable meaning of this is, that as the youngest son it was his duty to wait upon his brothers, just as David had to look after the sheep, while his brothers went to the festival; and was also sent to the camp to attend to them (1 Samuel 16:111 Samuel 17:17-18). The sons of Jacob were dispersed in detachments over the large extent of country occupied by Jacob’s cattle, and Joseph probably after his mother’s death, when he was about nine years’ old, would be brought up in the tent of Bilhah, his mother’s handmaid. He would naturally, therefore, go with her sons, with whom were also the sons of the other handmaid. They do not seem to have taken any special part in Joseph’s sale.

Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.—Heb., Joseph brought an evil report of them unto their father.

Joseph tells on his brothers and they hate him for it. They *really* hate him for it. Continuing with The Pulpit Commentaries in verse 3:

Genesis 37:3

Now (literally, and) Israel loved Joseph more than all his children (literally, sons), because he was the son of his old age—literally, a son of old age (was) he to him; not a son possessing the wisdom of advanced years (Onkelos), but a son born in his old age (Rosenmüller, Keil, Kalisch, et alii)which was literally true of Joseph, since he was born in his father’s ninety-first year. Yet as Joseph was only a year or two younger than the children of Bilhah and Zilpah, and as Benjamin was still later born than he, the application of this epithet to Joseph has been explained on the ground that Benjamin was at this time little more than a child (Keil), and had not much come into notice (Murphy), or perhaps was not born when this portion of the narrative was originally written (‘Speaker’s Commentary); or that Joseph had obtained the name before Benjamin’s birth, and that it had clung to him after that event (Inglis). Josephus (‘Ant.,’ 2.2, 1) gives another reason for Jacob’s partiality which is not inconsistent with the statement in the text, viz; the beauty of his person and the virtue of his mind, διὰ τε τὴν τοῦ σώματος εὐγένειαν καὶ διά ψυχῆς ἀρετής. And he made him a coat of many colors—literally, a coat (kithoneth, from kathan, to cover; vide Genesis 3:21) of ends (Keil, Lange), i.e. a tunic reaching to the ancles, and with sleeves reaching to the wrists, and commonly worn by boys and girls of the upper ranks (Josephus, ‘Ant.,’ 7.8, 9; 2 Samuel 13:18), or a coat of pieces (Kalisch, T. Lewis, Wordsworth); hence a variegated garment, χιτὼν ποικίλος (LXX.), tunica polymita (Vulgate), a coat of many colors (Murphy, ‘Speaker’s Commentary’). “Such garments are represented on some of the monuments of Egypt. At Beni-Hassan, for example, there is a magnificent excavation forming the tomb of Pihrai, a military officer of Osirtasen I; in which a train of foreign captives appears, who are supposed to be Jebusites, an inscription over one person in the group reading, “The Chief of the Land of the Jebusites. ‘The whole of the captives are clad in parti-colored garments, and the tunic of this individual in particular may be called “a coat of many colors”. It has been supposed that Jacob’s object in conferring this distinction on Joseph was to mark him out as the heir to whom the forfeited birthright of Reuben (1 Chronicles 5:1) was to be transferred (Kurtz, Lange, Gerlach, Bush, Wordsworth, ‘Speaker’s Commentary,’ &c.); but the historian only mentions it as a token of affection, such as was customary in those times for princes to bestow upon their subjects, and parents on their children. Roberts says the same thing is still done among the Hindoos, crimson, purple, and other colors being often tastefully sewed together for beautiful or favored children.

The not above goes into a lot of excellent detail regarding the “coat of many colors” and the implication of Joseph receiving it. We can notice that just as Jacob sews discord among his wives, by choosing a favorite overtly, he does the same with his sons.

Another thing to keep an eye on, going forward, is the future beyond the story. Joseph is preferred over Judah, and yet Judah receives the chief blessing AND is the son through which the Messiah comes. (Although there is also a not-well-known tradition that the Messiah comes through Joseph as well as Judah – see HERE from the scholar David C. Mitchell.)

In addition to Joseph tattling on his brothers, Jacob has now set him apart from – and above – his brothers with this coat of many colors. Tension then continue to rise within the family. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 37:4

And when (literally, and) his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they (literally, and they) hated him,—as Esau hated Jacob (Genesis 27:41; cf. Genesis 49:23)—and could not speak peaceably unto him—literally, they were not able to speak of him for peace, i e. they could not address him in such a way as to wish him well; they could not offer him the customary salutation of Shalom, or Peace.

In the next section we see that Joseph does not help his situation with his brothers.