Genesis (Part 168)

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

Genesis 37: 12-24

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.

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. 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.


This does not paint a great picture of Jacob’s other sons. Not liking Joseph due to jealousy or a perception that he might be arrogant is one thing, but reacting to those things by plotting to murder him? Let’s jump right in with The Pulpit Commentaries and verse 12:

Genesis 37:12

And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechemi.e. the modern Nablous, in the plain of Muknah, which belonged to Jacob partly by purchase and partly by conquest (vide Genesis 33:19Genesis 34:27). Shechem was at a considerable distance from the vale of Hebron, where the patriarchal family at this time resided.

The note alludes to the distance and we can remember that Jacob has already been in Shechem earlier in Genesis (this is where the rape of Dinah occurs.) Joseph has to travel a considerable distance then to join his brothers.

Continuing in TPC with the next verse:

Genesis 37:13

And Israel (vide Genesis 32:28Genesis 35:10said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock (literally, Are not thy brethren shepherding?) in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. Either he was solicitous of the safety of his sons while in the vicinity of Shechem (Lawson), or he hoped to effect a reconciliation between them and Joseph (Candlish). And he (i.e. Joseph, in response to this invitation, expressed a willingness to undertake a mission to his brethren, and) said to him, Here am I.

The commentary speaks about Israel’s motivation in sending Joseph. We might infer from the fact that Joseph is not with them already that a reconciliation is necessary. Ellicott’s Bible Commentary gives us some of Israel’s motivation in the next verse also:

(14) Whether it be well with thy brethren.—Jacob might well fear lest the natives should form a confederacy against his sons, and take vengeance upon them for their cruelty. They were too fierce themselves to have any such alarm, but Jacob was of a far more timid disposition.

The vale of Hebron.—The flocks and herds which formed the portion of Jacob’s cattle which pastured nearest home, occupied the country immediately to the north of Hebron as far as the tower of Eder; but he would no doubt pitch his own tent as near as possible to that of his father

Jacob wants Joseph to go and see how things are going. He has some good reason to believe that Joseph’s brothers might in danger there. It is worth considering that the brothers were in danger and that going without Joseph into this danger increased the animosity they felt toward him.

Joseph arrives and is apparently in the wrong place. From TPC:

Genesis 37:15Genesis 37:16

And a certain man (or simply a man) found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field (obviously seeking some thing or person): and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? And he said, I seek my brethren:—or, more emphatically, My Brethren I (sc. am) seekingtell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks—or, Where (are) they shepherding?

Genesis 37:17

And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to DothanDothaim, “the Two ells,” a place twelve miles north of Samaria in the direction of the plain of Esdraelon, situated on the great caravan road from Mount Gilead to Egypt, the scene of one of the greatest miracles of Elisha the prophet (2 Kings 6:13-18), and, though now a deserted ruin, still called by its ancient name. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan. “Just beneath Tell Dothan, which still preserves its name, is the little oblong plain, containing the best pasturage in the country, and well chosen by Jacob’s sons when they had exhausted for a time the wider plain of Shechem”.

We can see in this section that Jacob’s proverbial hand stretches quite far through his sons. Ellicott includes a similar note about the location of Dothan and what Joseph may have been doing when wandering in the fields of Shechem:

(17) Dothan.—This town was twelve miles north of Shechem, and is famous as being the place where Elisha struck the Syrian army with blindness (2 Kings 6:13-23) It is situated in a small but fertile valley, and Jacob’s sons, having exhausted the produce of the larger plain round Shechem, had moved northward thither. Not having found them at Shechem, Joseph did not know where to go, but wandered about “in the field”—the open downs—till he met some one who could give him information. Had he been a practised hunter, like Esau, he would have followed them by the tracks of the cattle.

Joseph does eventually find them and even at the sight of him, from a distance, they decide among themselves that they want to kill him. We are not told who the ringleaders of this plot are, only which brothers attempt in one manner or another to keep him from dying. From TPC:

Genesis 37:18

And when (literally, and) they saw him afar off, even (or, and) before he came near unto them, they (literally, and they) conspired against him (or, dealt with him fraudulently) to slay him

Genesis 37:19

And they said one to another (literally, a man to his brother)Behold, this dreamer—literally, this lord of dreams (of. Genesis 14:13Exodus 24:14)—cometh—expressive of rancor, contempt, and hatred.

Genesis 37:20

Come now therefore, and lot us slay him, and cast him into some pit (literally, into one of the pits or cisterns in the neighborhood), and we will say (sc. to his father and ours), Some (literally, an) evil beast hath devoured him (which will account for his disappearance); and we shall see what will become of his dreams—or, what his dreams will be.

Verse 20 gives us an indication that their primary source of anger may continue to be the dreams of which Joseph told them. That does not rule out though that perhaps they have faced some hardships unrecorded in the texts. We know for certain they were sent to these far off lands initially without him and we also know that Jacob unabashedly treated Joseph as his favorite son. Ellicott provides a note with more information regarding the type of pit into which Joseph was tossed and which brother was said to be the ringleader:

(20) Into some pit.—Heb., into one of the pits, that is, cisterns dug to catch and preserve the rain water. In summer they are dry, and a man thrown into one of them would have very little chance of escape, as they are not only deep, but narrow at the top. The Jewish interpreters accuse Simeon of being the prime mover in the plot, and say that this was the reason why Joseph cast him into prison (Genesis 42:24).

This would of course not be the first strike against Simeon. He and Levi were the chief orchestrators of the slaughter of Shechem. Continuing with TPC:

Genesis 37:21Genesis 37:22

And Reuben (the eldest son, and therefore probably regarding himself as in some degree responsible for Joseph’s safety) heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him—literally, Let us not destroy his life (nephesh). And Reuben said (further) unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness (i.e. into a dry pit that was near), and lay no hand upon him; that (the adverb indicates the purpose Reuben had in view) he might rid him (translated above deliver him) out of their hands, to deliver him (or, more correctly, to return him) to his father again.

The text here tells us that Reuben intends to see Joseph returned safely to Israel, but is willing to allow him to languish temporarily in a pit until he can make the arrangements. Ellicott also includes a lengthy and interesting note regarding verse 22 and a Christian interpretation of Joseph as a “type” of Christ:

(22) Into this pit that is in the wilderness.—Reuben apparently pointed to some cistern in the desolate region which girds the little valley of Dothan around. We learn from Genesis 42:21 that Joseph begged hard for mercy, and to be spared so painful a death, but that his brothers would not hear.

Though never represented in the Scriptures as a type of Christ, yet the whole of the Old Testament is so full of events and histories, which reappear in the Gospel narrative, that the Fathers have never hesitated in regarding Joseph, the innocent delivered to death, but raised thence to glory, as especially typifying to us our Lord. Pascal (Pensées, 2:9. 2) sums up the points of resemblance—in his father’s love for him, his being sent to see after the peace of his brethren, their conspiring against him, his being sold for twenty pieces of silver, his rising from his humiliation to be the lord and saviour of those who had wronged him; and with them the saviour also of the world. As too, he was in prison with two malefactors, so was our Lord crucified between two thieves and as one of these was saved and one left to his condemnation, so Joseph gave deliverance to the chief butler, but to the chief baker punishment. It would be easy to point out other resemblances, but, leaving these, it is important also to notice that Joseph’s history is likewise a vindication of God’s providential dealings with men. He is innocent, and pure in life, but wronged again and again; yet every wrong was but a step in the pathway of his exaltation. And like the histories of all great lives, Joseph’s adventures do not begin and end in himself. Upon him depended a great future. Noble minds care little for personal suffering, if from their pain springs amelioration for the world. Now Joseph’s descent into Egypt was: not only for the good and preservation of the people there, but was also an essential condition for the formation of the Jewish Church. In Egypt alone could Israel have multiplied into a nation fit to be the depositaries of God’s law, and to grow into a church of prophets.

I have included an excerpt from an article titled “Joseph, a Type of Christ” below:

“Shadow of what was to come, but the substance belongs to Christ” Col 2:17JosephChrist
1.Miraculous birth Jacob was 90 years old, Rachel was barren, Mary was a virginGen 30:22-24; 37:3
Mt 1:18; Lk 1:31-33
2.Spoke truth in exposing sinful behavior of others knowing he would be hated and ostracized.Gen 37:2
Mt 15:12; 23:1f; Lk 20:19; Mt 14:4
3.Both were shepherdsGen 37:2
John 10:11
4.Beloved sons of wealthy fathersGen 37:3Mt 3:17
5.Hated by his brothers without a causeGen 37:4,8Jn 7:5; 15:25; Mk 3:21
6.Hated for telling the truth and prophesyingGen 37:5John 8:40; 7:7; 3:32
7.Foretold of future exalted position as kingGen 37:5-8
Mt 24:30-31; 26:64
8.Destined to become kings from birthGen 37:8John 18:37
9.Both parents “treasured in their hearts” the news that their children would be a future king.Gen 37:11Lk 2:20, 2:19
(The original table at the link includes 75 comparisons)

Finishing the section with a note from TPC:

Genesis 37:23

And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colorsi.e. his coat of ends, or coat of pieces (vide on Genesis 37:3)—that was on him.

Genesis 37:24Genesis 37:25

And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. Cisterns when empty, or only covered with mud at the bottom, were sometimes used as temporary prisons (Jeremiah 38:6Jeremiah 40:15). And—leaving him, as they must have calculated, to perish by a painful death through starvation, with exquisite cold-bloodedness, paying no heed to his piteous outcries and appeals (Genesis 41:21)—they sat down (the callous composure of the act indicates deplorable brutality on the part of Joseph’s brethren) to eat bread (perhaps with a secret feeling of satisfaction, if not also exultation, that they had effectually disposed of the young man and his dreams):

These verses are worth keeping in mind when we try to understand how profoundly afraid Joseph’s brothers must have been much later when they re-encounter him again in Egypt. They plotted to murder him, brutally, because of a dream. After the passage of some time, perhaps they felt remorse and grew to understand how wicked this act really was.

Prof. Alan T. Levenson writes an article, “Why the Brothers Hate Joseph” at which seeks to explain how this hatred grew in the way that it did. I recommend a full read of the article, which also examines the underlying Hebrew text, but I will include the conclusion excerpt here below:

The implication of these three passages on our reading of Genesis 37 hardly needs comment. Had Joseph been the most ingratiating younger brother possible, he still needed to overcome all of his older brothers’ knowledge that their father loved the departed Rachel more than their mothers,[21] their resentment that only his birth warranted a return to Canaan, and that when confronting a potentially deadly situation, Jacob chose to protect Rachel and Joseph above all.

While the causes of the brothers’ hatred for Joseph in Genesis 37 are detailed plainly enough, they do not exhaust the fraught background, which careful readers should not neglect.

The jealousy and anger toward Joseph may have been grounded in a lot of reasonable circumstances. Conspiracy to commit murder, and human trafficking of one’s brother, are reactions which are way, WAY overboard. When I think of justifiable anger, an overreaction, and then immediate regret and remorse, for some reason my brain always thinks of a particular moment featuring the character Andy in the American version of “The Office.”

I like to believe that there was some immediate remorse from Joseph’s brothers.

Simon: [watching the caravan leaving with Joseph toward Egypt] “That was an overreaction.”