Genesis (Part 166)

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

Genesis 37: 5-8

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 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.” 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.


This is a famous section of verses, with themes which will be repeated in the next section that is covered as well. We’ll start with The Pulpit Commentaries at verse 5:

Genesis 37:5

And Joseph dreamed a dream (in which, though, as the sequel shows, intended as a Divine communication, there was nothing to distinguish it from an ordinary product of the mind), and he told it to his brethren:—not in pride, since there is no reason to suppose that Joseph as yet understood the celestial origin of his dream but in the simplicity of his heart (Kalisch, Murphy), though in doing so he was also guided, unconsciously it may be, but still really, by an overruling providence, who made use of this very telling of the dream as a step towards its fulfillment (Lawson)—and they hated him yet the more—literally, and they added again to hate him.

It is difficult for me to believe that Joseph had no idea of how his brothers might react to his telling of this dream. Let’s see what Ellicott’s Bible Commentary thinks:

(5) Joseph dreamed a dream.—Though dreams as a rule do but arise from the mind being wearied with overmuch business (Ecclesiastes 5:3), or other trivial causes; yet as being from time to time used by God for providential purposes, they are occasionally described as a lower kind of prophecy (Numbers 12:6-8Deuteronomy 13:11 Samuel 28:15). In the life of Joseph they form the turning point in his history, and it is to be noticed that while revelations were frequently made to Jacob, we have henceforward no record of any such direct communication from God to man until the time of Moses. The utmost granted to Joseph was to dream dreams; and after this the children of Israel in Egypt were left entirely to natural laws and influences. (Comp. Note on Genesis 26:2.)

The note above kind of alludes to it, but God’s method of communication here continues a trajectory of being less direct and personal. God was a friend of Abraham, appeared to him regularly, and perhaps even sat with him in the flesh (Gen. 18:2.) From there, God appears less and less frequently, and somewhat less personally. Here Joseph hears from God through a dream.

Returning to the text, The Pulpit Commentaries describes Joseph’s explanation to his brothers of his dream:

Genesis 37:6

And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed. Though Joseph did not certainly know that his dream was supernatural, he may have thought that it was, the more so as dreams were in those times commonly regarded as mediums of Divine communication; and in this case it was clearly his duty to impart it to the household, and all the more that the subject of it seemed to be for them a matter of peculiar importance. In the absence of information to the contrary, we are warranted in believing that there was nothing either sinful or offensive in Joseph’s spirit or manner in making known his dreams. That which appears to have excited the hostility of his brethren was not the mode of their communication, but the character of their contents.

The note states that we must assume the best in Joseph in his reporting of this dream. I might counter, though, that the action may have been done for noble reasons AND with a knowledge of how his brothers would most likely react. To ignore Joseph’s knowledge of the latter would seem to be a diminishment of his intellect.

Ellicott explains the meaning of “stood upright” in the next verse:

(7) Stood upright.—Heb., took its station. It is the verb used in Genesis 24:13, where see Note. It implies that the sheaf took the position of chief. We gather from this dream that Jacob practised agriculture, not occasionally, as had been the case with Isaac (Genesis 26:12), but regularly, as seems to have been usual also at Haran (Genesis 30:14).

This note also points out that Jacob’s family is likely now practicing agriculture. We have not seen much from them in the way of crop-planting to this point. They have primarily been livestock managers.

The Pulpit Commentaries gives us the not-too-surprising (except maybe to Joseph) reaction of his brothers to this dream:

Genesis 37:8

And his brethren (who had no difficulty in interpreting the symbol’s significance) said to him (with mingled indignation and contempt), Shalt thou indeed reign over us?—literally, reigning, wilt thou reign? i.e. wilt thou actually reign over us? the emphasis resting on the action of the verb—or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? The form of expression is the same as that of the preceding clause. And they hated him yet the more (literally and they added again to hate him) for (i.e. on account of) his dreams, and for (or, on account of) his words.

It is interesting to consider that if Joseph had not told his brothers this dream, they would not have undertaken some of their subsequent actions – which led to the dream coming to fulfillment.

In the next section, Joseph continues to dream and he brings his father Jacob into it, too. That of course does not go well, either.