Genesis (Part 167)

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

Genesis 37: 9-11

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.


Joseph has another dream, much like the first, and again he tells his family about it. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 37:9

And he dreamed yet another dream,—the doubling of the dream was designed to indicate its certainty (cf. Genesis 41:32)—and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream moreand, behold, the sun (הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ, the minister, from Chaldee root שְׁמַשׁ, the pael of which occurs in Daniel 7:10and the moon—הַיּרֵחַ, probably, if the word be not a primitive, the circuit-maker, from the unused root יָרַח, = אָרַח, to go about (Furst); or the yellow one, from &#יָרַח יָרַק, to be yellow, ח and ק being interchanged (Gesenius)—and the eleven stars—rather, eleven stars, כּוֹכָבִים, globes, or bails, from כָּבַב, to roll up in a ball (vide Genesis 1:10)—made obeisance to me—literally, bowing themselves to me, the participles being employed ut supra, Genesis 37:7. It is apparent that Joseph understood this second dream, even more plainly than the first, to foreshadow, in some way unexplained, his future supremacy over his brethren, who were unmistakably pointed out by the eleven stars of the vision; and this remarkable coincidence between the number of the stars and the number of his brethren would facilitate the inference that his parents were referred to under the other symbols of the sun and moon. In the most ancient symbology, Oriental and Grecian as well as Biblical (Numbers 24:17), it was customary to speak of noble personages, princes, &c; under such figures; and the employment of such terminology by a nomadic people like the Hebrew patriarchs, who constantly lived beneath the open sky, may almost be regarded as a water-mark attesting the historic credibility of this page at least of the sacred record (vide Havernick, ‘Introd.,’ § 21), in opposition to Bohlen, who finds in the symbolical character of Joseph’s dreams an evidence of their unreality, and De Wette, who explains them as the offspring of his aspiring mind.

The note above explains the symbolism of the dream and points out that his having a second dream is indicative of the certainty of the message contained within both dreams. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary also notes something interesting regarding Joseph and dreams which begins here in this chapter:

(9) He dreamed yet another dream.—In Joseph’s history the dreams are always double, though in the case of those of the chief butler and baker, the interpretation was diverse.

Continuing on with verse 10, in The Pulpit Commentaries again:

Genesis 37:10

And he told it to his father, and to his brethren—whom it manifestly concerned, as, for the like reason, he had reported the first dream only to his brethren. That he does not tell it to his mother may be an indication that Rachel was by this time dead. And his father rebuked him,—either to avoid irritating his brethren (Calvin), or to repress an appearance of pride in Joseph (Lange, Murphy, Inglis), or to express his own surprise (Candlish) or irritation (Keil), or sense of the absurdity of the dream (Lawson), which he further demonstrated when he added—and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed! Shall I and thy mother

(1) “Rachel, who was neither forgotten nor lost” (Keil), who may possibly have been living at the date of the dream (‘Speaker’s Commentary’), though then Joseph could not ‘have had eleven brothers; who, being dead, was referred to in order to show the impossibility of its ever being fulfilled (Kalisch, Pererius); or

(2) Leah, as the chief mistress of Jacob’s household (Willet, Hughes, Inglis); or

(3) Bilhah, Rachel,s maid, who had probably acted as Joseph’s mother after Rachel’s death (Jewish interpreters, Grotius, and others); or, what seems more probable,

(4) the term “mother” is here introduced simply for the sake of giving completeness to the symbol (Kurtz, Murphy)—and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee—Joseph’s brethren ultimately did so in Egypt (Genesis 41:6); Joseph’s father practically did so when he recognized Joseph’s greatness and depended on him for support (Genesis 47:12). It is certain that Leah died before the immigration to Egypt (Genesis 49:31), and it cannot be determined whether Bilhah or Zilpah went to Egypt—to the earth. Jacob seems here, by intensifying Joseph’s language, to resent the claim which it conveyed.

The note points out the questions here regarding who the “mother / moon” symbol may have referred to, given that we know Rachel is now apparently deceased at this time.

This section concludes with a reiteration that Joseph’s brothers hate him. From The Pulpit Commentaries:

Genesis 37:11

And his brethren envied him. The verb קָנָא (unused in Kal), to become red in the face, seems to indicate that the hatred of Joseph’s brethren revealed itself in scowling looks. But his father observed the saying—literally, kept the word, διετήρησε τὸ ῥῆμα (LXX.). Cf. Daniel 7:28Luke 2:51.

Though verse 10 shows us Jacob rebuking Joseph, verse 11 lets us know that after the fact, he kept this dream in mind and spent time thinking about it – and perhaps what it might mean. Given what happens soon after, we can assume a grieving Jacob spends a lot of time thinking over these dreams.

An article at by Prof. Jack M. Sasson, titled Joseph and the Dreams of Many Colors, provides a lot of useful insight and focuses a lot on Joseph. Here is an excerpt below but the entire article is well worth your time:

The first essentially places the tale on its trajectory; for even when his brothers had other reasons to loathe Joseph, only when his father joined them as critic did their resolve to distance him hardened. As reported, the dreams themselves (about his brothers’ sheaves bowing to his; about stars doing the same, Gen 37:5-11), had moved from describing to practically interpreting, and so had merged roles that were kept strictly separate in antiquity. Thus, when in his second dream Joseph included sun, moon, and 11 stars among the kowtowers, he had already deciphered its import. No one in his family misread what he meant and Jacob’s indignant interpretation merely decoded the implicit and understood allegory already present in the dream.

With the dreams driving the plot, the Joseph narratives will not find a satisfying resolution until their fulfillment. Even as ten of his brothers were bowing down to him on their first encounter in Egypt, Joseph recalled his own dreams (Gen 42:8) and strove to actualize their main feature: that his brother’s earthly (sheaves) as well as their eleven cosmic (stars) representations will pay him obeisance. For this to happen, his father’s resolve to keep Benjamin away from Egypt had to be broken.

Joseph forces on his family (and on us) some of the most psychologically harrowing scenarios ever found in biblical narratives. Eventually, broken in spirit, keen to embrace his long-lost son, but also seduced by pharaoh’s promised land (Gen 45:19-20), Jacob abandons the Promised Land, receiving divine approbation while already on his way (Gen 46:1-5). He was to return there as a mummified corpse (Gen 50:1-14). His descendants, however, would enter an exile and enslavement that swallowed many centuries. So much for the gift of Joseph’s success.

From the article, you can derive that the two dreams represent both an earthly and a spiritual bowing. We also see that these verses set the direction of the narrative for the remainder of the Book of Genesis. Maybe most interesting to me is that this move to Egypt is not viewed necessarily as a good thing. We’ll examine that later in the Book and as we move forward.