Genesis 37:1-37:36 Pit Stop

generations… Joseph… snitch… not family harmony… sins of his father… love more… hated… dream God gave… murder… pit… sympathy and greed… works too well… kills the thing he loves… not dead yet…

Genesis 37:1-37:36

And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.

The contrast is presumably with the prior chapter; Jacob dwelt (yashab) in the land (‘erets) of his father (‘ab) Isaac and continued the promise, as opposed to Esau who moved away.

These [are] the generations of Jacob.

Interesting how Jacob doesn’t get his own generational (towl@dah) narrative until here, despite having had plenty of children. In some ways, I suppose you could view everything that happened before this as still being under the covering of (i.e., in reaction to) Isaac. Only now with Isaac dead does Jacob get to live his own story.

Though, from this point on, the focus is mostly on Joseph (though Judah gets ‘best supporting actor‘):

Joseph, [being] seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad [was] with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

Its interesting that Leah’s boys (ben) aren’t mentioned; perhaps as the eldest they had other duties, or only the sons of the concubines had gotten into trouble. I wonder if Joseph was a self-appointed snitch, explicitly sent as monitor; either way, not a good recipe for family harmony. Perhaps it was something Jacob needed to know, but using Joseph in this way was less than ideal.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he [was] the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of [many] colours.

Even less ideal. Israel repeats the sins of his father by favoring Joseph, and its going to cost them both dearly.

And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

Sigh. Israel of all people should know the damage caused by the lack of a father’s love (‘ahab). As if that wasn’t bad enough, Joseph adds fuel to the fire:

And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told [it] his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

An interesting sentence. One almost gets the impression that his brothers (‘ach) hated (sane’) him here just for having a dream (chalowm) — they’ll hate him later for the contents of the dream:

For, behold, we [were] binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.

And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.

See, what’d I tell you? Surprisingly, Joseph appears clueless about their grief. Perhaps he’s spoiled rotten and enjoys their discomfort, or as a loved child simply can’t imagine the depths of their pain. Either way, he does it again, and manages to tick off even more people:

And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.

And he told [it] to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What [is] this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?

Funny how they blame Joseph for receiving a dream God gave. Interestingly, though, his father responds differently than his brothers:

And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

Jacob somehow managed to get beyond jealousy (qana’) for the respect due him and instead heed (shamar ) what God might be saying (dabar) through the dream — perhaps by remembering his own dreams.

And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed [the flock] in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here [am I].

Well, this supports the “designated spy” hypothesis. The sheer idiocy of Jacob’s unthinking favoritism is maddening — though perhaps that is only because I know how the chapter ends. To be sure, Joseph doesn’t protest either; perhaps he’s just being obedient, but I can’t help but imagine he enjoys lording it over his older brothers. Little does he realize how much they resent it…

And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

Interesting how they plan their murder (muwth) against “this dreamer” (ba`al), not “their brother.” It always helps to depersonalize someone you intend to kill. It also shows how they’re redirecting their anger at Jacob’s favoritism (or their being unloved) towards Joseph’s seeming arrogance. First we hate, then we find reasons to justify our hate.

Plan A is to kill him in a pit (bowr):

Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.

Reuben the eldest, bless his heart, talks them down to Plan B:

And Reuben heard [it], and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, [but] cast him into this pit that [is] in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again

Perhaps having already shamed their father (‘ab) once, Reuben was more sensitive to his feelings. The guys go along with that:

And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, [his] coat of [many] colours that [was] on him; And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit [was] empty, [there was] no water in it.

Then opportunity knocks:

And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry [it] down to Egypt.

Judah, in a perverse mixture of sympathy and greed, suggests Plan C:

And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit [is it] if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he [is] our brother [and] our flesh. And his brethren were content.

The other guys like what they hear (shama`), and apparently make a killing (in the other sense):

Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty [pieces] of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

Reuben, alas, missed this change in plans:

And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph [was] not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child [is] not; and I, whither shall I go?

A plaintive cry; Reuben feels as lost as Joseph. Still, somebody (I suspect Judah again) has a plan:

And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood; And they sent the coat of [many] colours, and they brought [it] to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it [be] thy son’s coat or no.

Which works, as far as it goes:

And he knew it, and said, [It is] my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.

Only too well:

And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.

Ouch. That’s got to have hurt. The brothers wanted to steal Joseph’s father, not kill him. Perhaps that’s how each man kills the thing he loves, in a misguided attempt to own it.

Yet Jacob’s love did not quite kill Joseph:

And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, [and] captain of the guard.

Rather than digging a ditch, Joseph ends up among the high and mighty. The dream may have been interrupted, but is not dead yet. In fact, against all reasonable expectation, it is getting better. Though it will be many chapters before we see how.


God, teach me the power of holy dreams. Dreams that unify rather than divide. Amen.


My wife and I currently reading David Wilkinson’s excellent “Dream Giver” as we are praying through our dreams for the future. In the process, I’m developing a transformational vision for how to spend the next decade or two of my life. Funny how the passages this week tie in so closely with the Big Issues I’m dealing with, even beyond what I read into them.