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Genesis 37

PARAGRAPH DIVISIONS OF MODERN TRANSLATION

NASB NKJV NRSV TEV NJB (follows MT)
Joseph's Dream Joseph Dreams of Greatness Joseph is Sold Into Slavery Joseph and His Brothers  
37:1-2a 37:1-4 37:1-2a 37:1-2a Joseph and His Brothers
37:2b-4   37:2b-4 37:2b 37:2
      37:3-4 37:3-4
37:5-8 37:5-8 37:5-8 37:5-7 37:5-11
      37:8  
37:9-11 37:9-11 37:9-11 37:9  
      37:10-11  
  Joseph Sold by His Brothers   Joseph is Sold and Taken to Egypt Joseph Sold by His Brothers
37:12-14 37:12-17 37:12-14a 37:12-13a 37:12-14
      37:13b  
      37:14a  
    37:14b-24 37:14b-15  
37:15-17       37:15-17
      37:16  
The Plot Against Joseph     37:17  
37:18-24 37:18-22   37:18-20 37:18-20
      37:21-24 37:21-25a
  37:23-28      
37:25-28   37:25-28 37:25-28 37:25b-27
        37:28-30
37:29-36        
  37:29-36 37:29-30 37:29-30  
    37:31-32 37:31-32 37:31-35
    37:33-35 37:33-35  
    37:36 37:36 37:36

READING CYCLE THREE

FOLLOWING THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR'S INTENT AT THE PARAGRAPH LEVEL

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

Read the chapter in one sitting. Identify the subjects. Compare your subject divisions with the five translations above. Paragraphing is not inspired, but it is the key to following the original author's intent, which is the heart of interpretation. Every paragraph has one and only one subject.

1. First paragraph

2. Second paragraph

3. Third paragraph

4. Etc.

 

CONTEXTUAL INSIGHTS

A. This begins the story of Jacob and his family (emphasizing Joseph) going into Egypt, which will dominate the remainder of the book of Genesis, chapters 37-50, with only two brief parentheses.

1. concerning Judah and Tamar (cf. Genesis 38)

2. concerning Jacob's blessing of the tribes (cf. Genesis 49)

 

B. This migration into Egypt and its consequences were prophesied in Gen. 15:13-16.

 

C.  The story of Joseph is different from the other historical narratives of Genesis.

1. YHWH does not appear directly to Joseph (nor do angels)

2. the story is lengthy, with a plot-line through several chapters

3. YHWH works in secret, hidden, theological ways (i.e., "the man," of 3:15-17)

4. the geography changes from Ur, Haran, Canaan to Egypt

 

WORD AND PHRASE STUDY

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:1-2a
  
1Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. 2These are the records of the generations of Jacob.

37:1 Because of the phrase found in v. 2a, which seems to be the author of Genesis's way of dividing his book, most commentators believe that v. 1 should go with chapter 36. Verse 1 really forms a twin to the geographical settlement of Jacob versus Esau.

▣ "in the land where his father had sojourned" This was part of the Abrahamic promise (Genesis 12, 15, 17; 28:4). The nomadic lifestyle and a promised destination were acts of faith.

37:2 "These are the records of the generations of Jacob" This is a recurring phrase which marks the divisions in the book by Moses (cf. 2:4; 5:1; 6:9; 10:1; 11:10, 27; 25:12, 19; 36:1, 9; and 37:2). It is uncertain if this phrase (or colophon) points forward or backward.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:2b-4
  
2bJoseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. 3Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. 4His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.

▣ "Joseph, when seventeen years of age" The age of Joseph at the time of his being sold by his brothers into slavery is significant when we later compare his age at the time that he stands before Pharaoh in Genesis 41:46 (30 years old). His final age is given in 50:26 (110 years old).

▣ "while he was still a youth" This term (BDB 654 II) can be used in the sense of "trainee" or "apprentice" (cf. Exod. 33:11, where it is used of Joshua's relationship to Moses). It is also possible that the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah were apprentices as well. Although they were in the field and acted as shepherds, they did not have sole responsibility for the flocks.

▣ "Bilhah" This is Rachel's maid. Some see Joseph as being identified with her sons because she probably continued to raise him after Rachel's death. From Gen. 30:5-7 we find that the other two sons of Bilhah are Dan and Naphtali.

▣ "the sons of Zilpah" This is Leah's maid and her sons are listed in Gen. 30:9-13. They are Gad and Asher.

▣ "And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father" The exact nature of this report and who it referred to is uncertain (same word used of the ten spies' report in Num. 14:37), but the naivety of Joseph is foreshadowed here. There is a series of acts which cause his brothers to hate him.

1. the bad report of v. 2

2. the special coat of v. 3-4, given to him by Jacob

3. his ostentatious dreams recorded in vv. 5-10

 

37:3 "Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons" Jacob's name was changed to "Israel" after he wrestled with the angel at the brook Jabbok (cf. Gen. 32:22-32). The name has several possible etymologies. I think the one that fits the context of Genesis 32 is, "may El preserve." See Special Topic at 32:28.

Jacob should have learned the problems associated with favoritism from his own childhood, but he was apparently oblivious to this. His favoritism sets the stage for the rejection of Joseph by his brothers.

"because he was the son of his old age" This is a somewhat unusual phrase because Benjamin was the youngest son of Rachel. It may mean after he had many other sons. Western literalism is a great danger in interpreting ancient Semitic texts. The rabbis and the Targums see this discrepancy and translate it as "a son having wisdom of advanced age." The following context will show that this is certainly not the case.

NASB"a varicolored tunic"
NKJV"a tunic of many colors"
NRSV, REB"a long robe with sleeves"
TEV"a long robe with full sleeves"
NJB"a decorated tunic"
LXX"a coat of many colors"
Peshitta"a rich robe with long sleeves"
JPSOA"an ornamental tunic"

The etymology of this Hebrew term (BDB 509 construct 821) is uncertain. Usually a tunic was a short-sleeved work garment which extended to the knees of men and women. It seems that this special tunic was either full-length, from the palms to the ankles (BDB 821), or multi-colored (LXX). Either way, it was obviously not a work garment. The only other reference to this tunic is in II Sam. 13:18, where Tamar wore the same type of garment, which is described as being appropriate for the virgin daughters of the king, therefore, implying royalty. It is possible that Joseph felt that his father knew he was to be the son of Promise because Reuben had been disqualified due to his sexual impropriety with Jacob's concubine and Simeon and Levi for the slaughter of Shechem (Genesis 34, cf. Gen. 35:22).

From The IVP Bible Background Commentary (p. 68):

"Egyptian paintings of this period depict well-dressed Canaanites as wearing long-sleeved, embroidered garments with a fringed scarf wrapped diagonally from waist to knee."

37:4 "His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers" This sets the stage for the brothers' rejection of Joseph.

▣ "hated" This verb (BDB 971, KB 1338, Qal infinitive construct) is used in vv. 4,5,8; also note Exod. 18:21; 20:5; 23:5; Lev. 19:17; 26:17; Deut. 5:9; 7:10,15; 12:31; 16:22; 19:11; 30:7; 32:41.

NASB "on friendly terms"
NKJV, NRSV,
LXX"peaceably"
TEV"in a friendly manner"
NJB"a civil word"
REB"harsh words"
JPSOA"a friendly word"

This is the Hebrew noun shalom (BDB 1022). His brothers could not even use the culturally typical greeting. They did not want him to have ease, health, and prosperity!

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:5-8
  
5Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6He said to them, "Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf." 8Then his brothers said to him, "Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

37:5 "Then Joseph had a dream" It needs to be emphasized that, up to this point in Genesis, God has communicated His will through dreams and visions (cf. 20:3; 28:12; 31:11,24). The people of the ANE recognized dreams as a valid source of revelation from the gods. Joseph's dreams were of such a nature as to rub salt in the wounds of his brothers' hurt feelings (cf. vv. 19-20).

37:7-8 "your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf" This was exactly the implication of Joseph's coat. It is fulfilled in Gen. 42:6; 43:26; and 44:14.

Verse 8 has two grammatical features (infinitive absolute and imperfect verb from the same root) which denote intensity.

1. to reign, BDB 573, KB 590

2. to rule, BDB 605, KB 647

This same grammatical feature is also used in v. 10

3. actually to come (and bow down), BDB 97, KB 112

 

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:9-11
  
9Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, "Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." 10He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?" 11His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

37:9 This dream is symbolic of Joseph's coming leadership as YHWH's provider and savior of his family. The fact that his mother (i.e., the moon) is already dead does not affect the literary thrust of the dream.

1. a prophetic foreshadowing to show God is in control of history

2. an aspect of Joseph's naivete

3. a way of setting the brothers against him and implementing God's plan of Egyptian asylum/slavery/exodus

The context could support any one of these interpretations. Joseph is not the key feature in this account. The key figure is YHWH and His eternal, redemptive plan to use Joseph for His purposes. Joseph is a moral person, but somewhat naive. Israel is saved by YHWH's actions, not Joseph's strengths.

37:10 "and his father rebuked him" This is a very strong Hebrew term (BDB 172, KB 199, Qal imperfect) which originally meant "to cry out" (cf. Jer. 29:27). It is often used of God rebuking the nations (i.e., Isa. 17:13). It is even the term used for YHWH rebuking Satan in Zech. 3:2.

▣ "Shall I and your mother" We need to remember that Rachel is dead by this time (cf. Gen. 35:19). Some assume that he still thought of her or that this refers to Leah, Rachel's older sister, or to Bilhah who raised him.

37:11 "His brothers were jealous of him" The verb (BDB 888, KB 1109, Piel imperfect) is parallel to "hated" (cf. vv. 4,5,8).

This fragment of v. 11 is combined with v. 28 and 39:21 and 45:4 in a combination quote in Stephen's sermon in Acts 7:9.

▣ "but his father kept the saying in mind" This reminds of us of how Mary kept the sayings concerning Jesus in her heart (cf. Luke 2:19,51). Jacob realized that God had revealed Himself many times in dreams to confirm the one who was to receive the patriarchal blessing. Not only did Jacob want to believe this, but so far, the historical events seem to infer that Joseph was to be the promised head of the covenant family. However, we learn from later chapters that God never appeared directly to Joseph as He did to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and that Judah will be the line of the Messiah, not Joseph.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:12-14
  
12Then his brothers went to pasture their father's flock in Shechem. 13Israel said to Joseph, "Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them." And he said to him, "I will go." 14Then he said to him, "Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring word back to me." So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.

37:13 "Israel said to Joseph" Exactly why Joseph's father sent him to check on his brothers is uncertain. Some have asserted (1) that he was trying to reunite the brothers or (2) that since Joseph had accurately informed him earlier (cf. v. 2), that he would do so again concerning the activity of the brothers and the welfare of the flock.

Starting here and through the rest of the chapter is a series of recorded dialogues between Jacob and Joseph.

1. "come," BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

2. "send," BDB 1018, KB 1511, Qal imperfect used in a cohortative sense

3. "I will go," there is no verb, but the common OT expression, "here I am," which NASB translates as "I will go"

4. "go," BDB 229, KB 246, Qal imperative

5. "see," BDB 906, KB 1157, Qal imperative

6. "bring word back," BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil imperative

 

37:14 "and bring word back to me" Joseph had done this before in v. 2.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:15-17
  
15A man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the field; and the man asked him, "What are you looking for?" 16He said, "I am looking for my brothers; please tell me where they are pasturing the flock." 17Then the man said, "They have moved from here; for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

37:15-17 "A man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the field" This unnamed man reveals the presence of God in this entire event (although His name does not appear). It is recorded exactly for that purpose! Because of other places in Genesis where angels are called "men" (i.e., chapter 18), this may have been an angel.

37:17 "Dothan" The name means "two wells" (BDB 206). Dothan is located on the major trade route which runs from Syria to Egypt. Notice on the map that Hebron, Shechem, and Dothan are the major cities which are located on this trading route. Later in biblical history, God will manifest His presence again at this place (cf. II Kings 6).

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:18-24
  
18When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. 19They said to one another, "Here comes this dreamer! 20Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, 'A wild beast devoured him.' Then let us see what will become of his dreams!" 21But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, "Let us not take his life." 22Reuben further said to them, "Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him" - that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father. 23So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; 24and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it.

37:18 "they saw him from a distance" This possibly refers to the ostentatious coat given to him by his father, which he probably always wore.

"they plotted against him to put him to death" The rare verb (BDB 647, KB 699, Hithpael imperfect) is parallel to hate in Ps. 105:25. This verb in the Piel stem is used by YHWH of the Midianites in Num. 25:18. The Qal participle is translated "swindler" in Malachi 1:14.

The murderous sin of Cain against Abel (Genesis 4) is confirmed again in fallen humanity. Self interest is the deciding factor!

37:20 "we will say" See v. 32. They premeditatively planned how to kill him, how to deal with his corpse, and how to cover their actions with their father.

"Then let us see what will become of his dreams" This may be an allusion to their own personal desire for inheritance, which they were afraid Joseph might usurp.

37:21-22 "Reuben" We cannot be certain about the exact motivation of Reuben, but from what is recorded at the end of v. 22, it seems to show that he felt a responsibility as the eldest son to protect his younger brother. It may have been that he hoped this would help to reinstate him with Jacob, in light of Gen. 35:22. I think that he really wanted to save Joseph, which can be seen by his reaction in vv. 29 and 30. This event clearly shows he has lost his influence and leadership among the brothers.

Notice Reuben's words.

1. "Let us not take his life," v. 21, BDB 645, KB 697, Hiphil imperfect used in a cohortative sense

2. "Shed no blood," v. 22, BDB 1049, KB 1629, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

3. "Throw him into this pit," v. 22, BDB 1020, KB 1527, Hiphil imperative

4. "But do not lay hands on him," v. 22, BDB 1018, KB 1511, Qal imperfect used in a jussive sense

Notice that Reuben's ulterior motive is stated.

1. that he might rescue him, BDB 664, KB 717, Hiphil infinitive construct

2. to restore him to his father, BDB 996, KB 1427, Hiphil infinitive construct

 

37:24 "they took him and threw him into a pit" We can understand something of the trauma this teenage boy experienced from what is recorded in Gen. 42:21, which describes his plea for help.

"without any water in it" This is obviously a dry cistern (not a well, but a water collector), which was so common in this area of Palestine. The rabbis say that they were full of snakes and scorpions, but this is only an assumption.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:25-28
  
25Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. 26Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him. 28Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.

37:25 "Then they sat down to eat a meal" This shows the callous disregard of these brothers.

"a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead" There is a fluctuation between the terminology used to describe these merchants (this is seen by source critics as evidence of multiple sources).

1. in v. 25 they are called Ishmaelites

2. in v. 28 they are called Midian traders

3. in v. 28, again, Ishmaelites

4. in v. 36 they are called Medanites (MT)

These are different names to refer to the same group as Jdgs. 8:22,24 shows. Also, the Midianites and the Medanites were both sons of Abraham through Keturah (cf. Gen. 25:2), but the mention of Medanites may be a scribal problem (Medanites, מדינימ; Midianites, מדנימ. This caravan may have been made up of several different family groups or just different names to refer to the same people.

"their camels were bearing. . .on their way to bring them down to Egypt" These spices and aromatic balms were characteristic imports of Egypt because they were used (1) for embalming; (2) for incense; and (3) for medicine. Gilead (from which they came) was famous for its balms.

37:26 "Judah said to his brothers" We do not know the true motives of Judah, as we do not know the true motives of Reuben, but it seems that he was trying to save his brother from being killed ("he is our brother," v. 27), although the motives stated are (1) to gain profit and (2) not to have innocent blood (i.e., murder) on their hands.

If Judah is trying to rescue his half-brother from death, then this is a positive way to characterize the son who would become the family line of Jesus. If Judah was acting according to the stated reasons then it shows that God's purposes were not based on the merit or worth of an individual (cf. Genesis 38), but YHWH's eternal redemptive plan for all humans (cf. Gen. 3:15; 12:3; Exod. 19:5; see the SPECIAL TOPIC: BOB'S EVANGELICAL BIASES at 12:3).

37:28 "sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver" Notice that the term "shekels" is in italics, which means it is not in the Hebrew text, but it is assumed (cf. 20:16; Jdgs. 17:2-4,10). It refers to a weight of money. We learn from Lev. 27:5 that younger slaves were sold for twenty shekels, while older slaves were sold for thirty shekels (cf. Exod. 21:32 or "fifty shekels (cf. Lev. 27:3)). We also know that slave trading was a cultural reality of Egypt during all of her history.

Some commentators interpret the "they" as Midianite traders pulling Joseph out of the pit and selling him to the Ishmaelites of v. 25. They assert that this was done without Jacob's sons knowing it and, therefore, this explains vv. 29-30 (Reuben's reaction to Joseph not being in the pit). However, this scenario does not explain v. 27! Often modern critics' techniques say more about them and their literary presuppositions than it does about ancient Hebrew historical narrative.

▣ "brought Joseph into Egypt" It is ironical that the route that they were following took Joseph within a few miles of his father's tent! However, it was God's will that Joseph go to Egypt.

NASB (UPDATED) TEXT: 37:29-36
  
29Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. 30He returned to his brothers and said, "The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?" 31So they took Joseph's tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; 32and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, "We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son's tunic or not." 33Then he examined it and said, "It is my son's tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!" 34So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, "Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son." So his father wept for him. 36Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh's officer, the captain of the bodyguard.

37:29 "Reuben returned to the pit. . .tore his garments" This was the traditional sign of mourning (cf. 44:13). Additional signs of mourning can be seen in v. 34 when Jacob finds out about the loss of Joseph. Reuben must not have been present as they spoke about their plan or when the brothers sold Joseph.

SPECIAL TOPIC: GRIEVING RITES

37:35 "Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him" Isn't it ironical that the very ones who sold Joseph are now trying to comfort his father over his loss. There has been some speculation about the term "his daughters." Does it refer to Dinah and others who were born later or does it refer to his daughters-in-law?

▣ "Sheol" This is a term (BDB 982) used for "the grave" or "the afterlife." It seems to have two possible Hebrew etymologies: (1) "to go down" and (2) "to ask," which would involve Sheol either asking for more human beings or for men asking questions about Sheol. It seems to me that Sheol in the OT and Hades in the NT are synonymous. From rabbinical literature, and some evidence in the NT, it seems to have been separated into two parts, the righteous and the wicked. See Special Topic: Where Are the Dead? at 15:15.

37:36 "Potiphar" This is a Hebrew name which seems to mean "he to whom (implied Re, the sun god) gave" (BDB 806). The longer form of this same name is found in the priest of On in Gen. 41:45.

▣ "Pharaoh's officer" The term "officer" is literally "eunuch" (BDB 710, cf. Esther 1:10; 2:3), but because he is married, the term here means "a courier" or "an official" (cf. I Kgs. 22:9; II Kgs. 8:6; 24:12) instead of a castrate.

▣ "the captain of the bodyguard" There are two possibilities regarding this term because it literally means "the chief slaughterer" (BDB 978 construct 371). Some think it means "the chief cook" (BDB 371, i.e., butcher) and base this on I Sam. 9:23-24. Others believe that it means "the captain of the bodyguard" based on Gen. 37:36; 39:1; 40:3,4; 41:10,12 and II Kgs. 25:8. It is surely possible that those close to the king (like his cooks) became his bodyguards.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS

This is a study guide commentary, which means that you are responsible for your own interpretation of the Bible. Each of us must walk in the light we have. You, the Bible, and the Holy Spirit are priority in interpretation. You must not relinquish this to a commentator.

These discussion questions are provided to help you think through the major issues of this section of the book. They are meant to be thought-provoking, not definitive.

1.  What seems to be the source of the tension between Joseph and his brothers?

2.  Describe the special tunic that Jacob had made for Joseph. What did it symbolize?

3.  Why did the biblical author include vv. 15-17?

4.  List the signs of mourning found here in vv. 29 and 34 and other parts of the OT.

5.  Describe your view of Sheol and how it relates to the NT term, Hades.

 

Related Topics: Bible Study Methods