Genesis 37:1

Between two stages of the history of the covenant family stands the genealogy of Esau's descendants. The text suggests a contrast between their course and that of the family of Jacob. On the death of Isaac Esau departed from Canaan with family and possessions (cf. Genesis 27:40). The desert and the valleys of Seir were more attractive than quietness of Canaan. Prosperity, such as he cared for, attended him. Among his family we read of dukes, or heads of tribes, and of kings. And what of the line of promise? - kings foretold to them (Genesis 17:6; Genesis 35:11). Yet while kings were reigning in Edom, Israelites were slaves in Egypt or wanderers in the desert. Is God slack to fulfill his word? (1 Peter 3:4). This is often a trial to believers (Psalm 73:3). But God's promises are sure, though the time may seem long. The fulfillment of promises of great blessings has almost always been slow, as we count it. Abraham waited long (Genesis 12:2). It was long ere the kingdom of Israel arose; far longer ere the promise of a Savior fulfilled (Genesis 3:15; Galatians 4:4); and still we wait for the Lord's return. The same truth appears in nature. Great and precious things are of slow growth (cf. Mark 4:5). Doctrinal lessons: -

1. Delay serves for the trial and strengthening of faith. Faith grows by enduring trial. Mark how often the faith of eminent saints has been tried. Without faith we cannot please God; for faith believes God's truth and love, and embraces his will. Unbelief charges God with untruth (Genesis 3:4; 1 John 5:10). Even in believers a leaven of unbelief may be at work. Trials are sent to cause faith to develop into other graces (James 1:3).

2. What springs up quietly is apt to fade quickly (cf. Exodus 3:11 with Haggai 1:2). Danger lest what seems to be faith be merely feeling.

3. The time that seems so long is not mere delay, but preparation. While the seed lies in the earth a process is going on, though unseen, without which the perfect plant could not be formed. Compare the expression, "the fullness of time" (Galatians 4:4), and the way in which all previous history prepared the way for the coming of Christ. These lessons apply equally to God's dealings with the world and with individuals. Practical lessons: -

1. Encouragement if disheartened by slow progress of Christ's kingdom: much labor among the heathen with little apparent result; or many efforts at home, yet ungodliness not checked. We have promises (Isaiah 55:11; 1 Corinthians 15:58). In his own time God will make them good.

2. In like manner if our own striving for personal holiness, or for good of others, seems to have little success. We require the training of disappointment to check pride (2 Corinthians 12:7), and God will see to the result (Galatians 6:9).

3. To bear in mind that we are but instruments in the Lord's hand (1 Corinthians 3:6). Every work to be performed "looking unto Jesus" (2 Corinthians 12:10). - M.

Joseph's is one of the most interesting histories in the world. He has the strange power of uniting our hearts to him, as to a well-beloved friend. He had "the genius to be loved greatly," because he had the genius to love greatly, and his genius still lives in these Bible pages.

I. JOSEPH WAS A HATED BROTHER. The boy was his father's pet. Very likely he was the perfect picture of Rachel who was gone, and so Jacob saw and loved in him his sainted wife. In token of love his father foolishly gave him a coat of many colours, to which, alas! the colour of blood was soon added. It was for no good reason that his brothers hated him. Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. Not that he was a sneaking tell-tale; but he would not do as they did, nor would he hide from his father their evil doings. God means the children of a family to feel bound together by bands that grapple the heart, and to stand true to one another to life's end. Reverence the mighty ties of kindred which God has fashioned. Joseph also teaches you never to make any one your foe without a very good reason. The weakest whom you wrong may one day be your master.

II. JOSEPH WAS A BLAMELESS YOUTH. Though terribly tempted, he never yielded. He was shamefully wronged, yet he was not hardened or soured. His soul was like the oak which is nursed into strength by storms. In his heart, not on it, he wore a talisman that destroyed sin's charms. The heavently plan of his piety disclosed all its beauty, and gave out its sweet odours in the wicked palaces of Potiphar and Pharaoh.

III. JOSEPH WAS A FAMOUS RULER. He entered Egypt as a Hebrew slave, and became its prime minister. He was the hero of his age, the saviour of his country, the most successful man of his day. He became so great because he was so good; he was a noble man because he was a thorough man of God.

IV. JOSEPH WAS A TYPE OF CHRIST. Joseph, like Jesus, was his father's well-beloved son, the best of brothers, yet hated and rejected by his own; was sold from envy for a few pieces of silver, endured a great temptation, yet without sin; was brought into a low estate and falsely condemned; was the greatest of forgivers, the forgiver of his own murderers; and was in all things the son and hope of Israel.

(J. Wells.)

I. As DISTINGUISHED BY HIS EARLY PIETY. His conduct was not back-biting, but a filial confidential report to his father.

1. It showed his love of truth and right. He would not suffer his father to be deceived by a false estimate of the conduct of his sons. He must be made acquainted with the truth, however painful, or be the consequences what they might to all concerned.

2. It showed his unwillingness to be a partaker of other men's sins.

3. It showed a spirit of ready obedience. He knew that a faithful report of the conduct of his brethren was a duty he owed to his father.


1. Because of his faithful testimony.

2. Because of his father's partiality.

3. Because of the distinction for which God had destined him.

(T. H. Leale.)


1. Jacob's favouritism for Joseph.

2. The scandal-bearing of Joseph.

3. The polygamy of Jacob.

4. The envy of the brothers.

II. JOSEPH'S MISSION TO SHECHEM. Observe here the bloodguiltiness of these brothers; they did not take Joseph's life, but they intended to take it; they were therefore murderers. Let us make a distinction; for when we are told that the thought is as bad as the crime, sometimes we are tempted to argue thus: I have indulged the thought, I will therefore do the deed, it will be no worse. This sophistry can scarcely deceive the heart that uses it; yet, merely to put the thing verbally right, let us strip it of its casuistry. The thought is as bad as the act, because the act would be committed if it could. But if these brethren of Joseph had mourned over and repented of their sin, would we dare to say that the thought would have been as bad as the act? But we do say that the thought in this case was as bad as the act, because it was not restrained or prevented by any regret or repentant feeling; it was merely prevented by the coming in of another passion, it was the triumph of avarice over malice. But all these brothers were not equally guilty. Simeon and Levi and others wished to slay Joseph; Judah proposed his being sold into captivity; while Reuben tried to save him secretly, although he had not courage to save him openly. He proposed that he should be put into the pit, intending to take him out when the others were not by. His conduct in this instance was just in accordance with his character, which seems to have been remarkable for a certain softness. He did not dare to shed his brother's blood, neither did he dare manfully to save him. He was not cruel, simply because he was guilty of a different class of sin. It is well for us, before we take credit to ourselves for being free from that or this sin, to inquire whether it be banished by grace or only by another sin.

(F. W. Robertson, M. A.)

1. We are taught here the evil of favouritism in the family. The balance, as between the different children in the same household, must be held evenly by the parents. No one ought to be the "pet" of either father or mother, for the "pet" is apt to become petted, haughty, and arrogant towards the others; while the showing of constant favour to him alienates the affections of the rest, both from him and from the parents. "Is that you, Pet?" said a father from his bedroom to a little one who stood at the door in the early morning knocking for admission. "No, it isn't Pet, it's only me," replied a sorrowful little voice; and that was the last of "pet" in that family. See what mischief it occasioned here in Jacob's household!

2. We may learn from this narrative how bitter is the antagonism of the wicked to the righteous in the world. The real root of the hatred of Joseph's brethren is to be traced to the fact that he would not consent to be one of them, and join in the doing of things which they knew that their father would condemn. His conscience was tender, his heart was pure, his will was firm. He was a Puritan and they were regardless, and they chose to set down his non-conformity to pride rather than to principle, and persecuted him accordingly. There is an immense amount of petty persecution of this sort going on in all our colleges, commercial establishments, and factories, of which the principals and the great world seldom hear, but which shows us that the human nature of to-day is in its great features identical with that which existed many centuries ago in the family of Jacob. What then? Are the upright to yield? are they to abate their protest? are they to become even as the others? No; for that would be to take the leaven out of the mass; that would be to let evil become triumphant, and so that must never be thought of. Let the persecuted in these ways hold out. Let them neither retaliate, nor recriminate, nor carry evil reports, but let them simply hold on, believing that "he that endureth overcometh."

3. The case of Joseph here brings up the whole question of our responsibility in regard to what we see and hear that is evil in other people. I have come to the conclusion that Joseph was by his father placed in formal charge of his brokers, and that it was is duty to give a truthful report concerning them, even as to-day an overseer is bound in justice to his employer to state precisely the kind of service which those under him are rendering. That is no tale-bearing; that is simple duty. But now, suppose we are invested with no such charge over another, and yet we see him do something that is deplorably wrong, what is our duty in such a case? Are we bound to carry the report to his father or to his employer, or must we leave things alone and let them take their course? The question so put is a delicate one and very difficult to handle. But I think I see two or three things that cast some little light upon it.(1) In the first place we are not bound by any law, human or divine, to act the part of a detective on our neighbour and lay ourselves out for the discovery of that in him which is disreputable or dishonest. We must have detectives in the department of police, and they are very serviceable there; but that every one of us should be closely watching every other to see what evil he can discover in him is intolerable, and we should discourage in all young people every tendency to such peering Paul Pryism.(2) Then, in the second place, when, without any such deliberate inspection on our part, we happen to see that which is wrong, we should, in the way in which we treat the case, make a distinction between a crime and a vice. A crime is that which is a violation of the civil law; a vice is that which, without violating the civil law, is a sin against God. Now suppose that what we see is a crime — the man, let us say, is robbing his employer — then my clear duty, if I would not be a particeps criminis, is to give information to his master, and let him deal with the case as he sees fit. On the other hand, if the evil is a vice — say, for example, sensuality or the like, which does not, directly at least interfere with his efficiency as a servant — then I must deal with himself alone. If he hear me, then I have gained him; but if he refuse to hear me, then I may say to him that, as he has chosen to pay no heed to my expostulation, I shall feel it my duty to inform his father of the matter; and then, having acted out that determination, I may consider that my responsibility in regard to him is at an end, unless, in God's providence, there is given me some other opening through which to approach him.

(W. M. Taylor, D. D.)

I. THE OCCUPATION OF HIS EARLY YEARS. Trained from youth to healthy labour and useful employment. Idleness, like pride, was never made for man.

II. THE ACCOUNT WHICH HE GAVE TO HIS FATHER OF WHAT HE HAD SEEN WHILE WITH HIS BRETHREN. When open and undisguised sin has actually been committed before our eyes, we are on no account to wink at it. It is a time to speak when, by reporting what is amiss to those who have power to restrain and correct it, we may either put an end to that evil, or bring those to repentance who have committed it. This, however, is both a difficult and painful duty, and it requires much wisdom and grace to perform it aright.


IV. THE MANNER IN WHICH HE SHOWED HIS PARTIALITY. Various ways may be found of showing our approbation of those that are good, without displaying those outward marks of distinction, which are almost certain to provoke the envy of others.


VI. JOSEPH'S REMARKABLE DREAMS. He dreamt of preferment, but not of imprisonment.

(C. Overton.)

1. Joseph, though the object of his father's tenderest love, was not brought up to idleness. The young man who is desirous of rising in the world, should not forget that the world's prizes are for those who win them on the field of toil.

2. It is impossible to determine whether it was Jacob's partiality and Joseph's superior merit which secured for him the office of superintendent of his brethren. Whatever may have secured him the situation, he seems to have proved himself equal to it.

3. Jacob's ill-disguised partiality for the son of endeared Rachel prompted him to an act injurious at once to himself, to Joseph, and to his other children.

(J. S. Van Dyke.)

I. This young man was taught to work.

II. He was placed in favourable circumstances.

III. He saw the iniquity of society.

IV. He remained uncontaminated in the midst of evil.

V. He sought to better society:


1. The Church's line is drawn by God's Spirit eminently opposite to the wicked.

2. The Church's generations are best made out from the best of her children.

3. Youth is eminently memorable, when it is sanctified, and gracious.

4. Gracious parents are careful, though never so rich, to bring up their children in honest callings. So Jacob did Joseph, &c.

5. God can preserve some pure, though conversing with wicked brethren, and relations.

6. Gracious dispositions cannot bear or favour the sins of nearest relations.

7. Souls grieved with sins of other relations bring the discovery to such as can amend them (ver. 2.)

(G. Hughes, B. D.)

In Joseph we meet a type of character rare in any race, and which, though occasionally reproduced in Jewish history, we Should certainly not have expected to meet with at so early a period. For what chiefly strikes one in Joseph is a combination of grace and power, which is commonly looked upon as the peculiar result of civilising influences, knowledge of history, familiarity with foreign races, and hereditary dignity. In David we find a similar flexibility and grace of character, and a similar personal superiority. We find the same bright and humorous disposition helping him to play the man in adverse circumstances; but we miss in David Joseph's self-control and incorruptible purity, as we also miss something of his capacity for difficult affairs of state. In Daniel this latter capacity is abundantly present, and a facility equal to Joseph's in dealing with foreigners, and there is also a certain grace of nobility in the Jewish Vizier; but Joseph had a surplus of power which enabled him to be cheerful and alert in doleful circumstances, which Daniel would certainly have borne manfully but probably in a sterner and more passive mode. Joseph, indeed, seemed to inherit and happily combine the highest qualities of his ancestors. He had Abraham's dignity and capacity, Isaac's purity and power of self-devotion, Jacob's cleverness and buoyancy and tenacity. From his mother's family he had personal beauty, humour, and management. A young man of such capabilities could not long remain insensible to his own destiny. Indeed, the conduct of his father and brothers towards him must have made him self-conscious, even though he had been wholly innocent of introspection. The force of the impression he produced on his family may be measured by the circumstance that the princely dress given him by his father did not excite his brothers' ridicule but their envy and hatred. In this dress there was a manifest suitableness to his person, and this excited them to a keen resentment of distinction. So too they felt that his dreams were not the mere whimsicalities of a lively fancy, but were possessed of a verisimilitude which gave them importance. In short, the dress and the dreams were insufferably exasperating to the brothers, because they proclaimed and marked in a definite way the feeling of Joseph's superiority which had already been vaguely rankling in their consciousness. And it is creditable to Joseph that this superiority should first have emerged in connection with a point of conduct. It was in moral stature that the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah felt that they were outgrown by the stripling whom they carried with them as their drudge. Either are we obliged to suppose that Joseph was a gratuitous talebearer, or that when he carried their evil report to his father he was actuated by a prudish, censorious, or in any way unworthy spirit. That he very well knew how to hold his tongue no man ever gave more adequate proof; but he that understands that there is a time to keep silence necessarily sees also that there is a time to speak. And no one can tell what torture that pure young soul may have endured in the remote pastures, when left alone to withstand day after day the outrage of these coarse and unscrupulous men. An elder brother, if he will, can more effectually guard the innocence of a younger brother than any other relative can, but he can also inflict a more exquisite torture.

(M. Dods, D. D.)

Feeding the flock.

We have in the text various statements respecting Joseph.

I. His feeding his father's flock.

II. His father's great love for him.

III. His brethren's hatred of him.

IV. His keeping company more especially with the humbler children of Israel, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, the two handmaids.

1. The description of the youthful Joseph, as feeding his father's flock, may well remind us of the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, who as the good Shepherd laid down His life for the flock of God, and leads His own sheep forth by the still waters of salvation, and makes them to lie down in the wholesome pastures of His Word (Psalm 80; Psalm 95:6, 7; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:22-31; Zechariah 13:7).

2. We are now to consider Joseph as the dearest of his father's sons, as a type of Jesus, the beloved Son of His Eternal Father. Joseph as he grew up was still more endeared to his father. The death of his mother would naturally lead Jacob to centre his affections still more absorbingly upon him. And it appears, that Joseph repaid the old man's warm affections by filial obedience and love. And parents value a dutiful and heavenly-minded child the more, when, like Joseph, he is preserved unpolluted by the bad example of his ungodly brothers. We have in the inspired narrative very early proofs of this partiality of the patriarch. "And he put the two handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost" (Genesis 33:1, 2). But it is time we directed our attention to One greater than Joseph. The love of the Father to the Lord Jesus immeasurably exceeds every love of which we have any experience in our own breasts. It passeth knowledge. Of all the sons of God, Jesus is certainly the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely in the sight of His eternal Father. Jesus is indeed "the only-begotten of the Father," His only-begotten Son. The obedience and love and filial sympathy of the Lord Jesus was, to use the language of men, the solace of Jehovah's heart when grieved with the ingratitude and vileness of the whole human family. He was a perfect Son, and the only perfect Son the world ever beheld. The zeal of His Father's house consumed Him. Throughout His whole life He was, like Joseph, separate from His sinful brethren, and mourned with His Father over their wickedness. The obedience of Christ to His Father was well pleasing to Him, and we are again and again informed throughout the Gospels that the Father delighteth to honour the Son, and viewed every step of His work on earth with the highest satisfaction.

3. His keeping company with the humbler children of his father, the sons of Bilhah, and the sons of Zilpah, the two handmaids. In how much higher a sense must it have been indeed painful in the extreme for the meek and lowly Saviour to live in the polluted atmosphere of our guilty world. What wonderful condescension what humility, that He should stoop from heaven to mingle with vile stoners here! Learn a lesson of forbearance and patience with sinners from our dear Redeemer.

4. And now let us briefly consider the last particular respecting Joseph, mentioned in my text; viz., the envy with which his brethren regarded him. As this envy will come again under our notice as we proceed further into the life of Joseph, we will now simply consider the result of it mentioned in the text: "They could not speak peaceably unto him." The higher a man rises in the estimation and friendship of some, the more he is hated and abhorred by others. The nearer a man lives and the closer a man walks with his heavenly Father, the more will he experience of this world's envy and the anger of the old serpent's seed. If Joseph drinks most fully of the sweets of his father's love, he must also drink most deeply of the bitters of his brethren's hate. If anything could disarm opposition and rob envy of his fang, surely it was the mild meekness and humility of that Man of Sorrows.

(E. Dalton).

Bilhah, Ishmaelites, Jacob, Joseph, Medanites, Midianites, Pharaoh, Potiphar, Reuben, Zilpah
Canaan, Chezib, Dothan, Egypt, Gilead, Shechem, Valley of Hebron
Canaan, Dwelleth, Dwelt, Father's, Jacob, Sojourned, Sojournings, Stayed, Stranger, Travels, Wherein
1. Joseph is loved by Jacob, but hated by his brothers.
5. His dreams and the interpretation.
12. Jacob sends him to his brothers, who counsel to slay him.
21. At Reuben's desire they cast him into a pit;
25. and afterwards sell him to the Ishmaelites;
29. while Ruben grieves at not finding him.
31. His coat, covered with blood, is sent to Jacob, who mourns him inordinately.
36. Joseph is brought to Egypt and sold to Potiphar.

Dictionary of Bible Themes
Genesis 37:1-11

     8730   enemies, of believers

Genesis 37:1-35

     5738   sons

Joseph, the Prime Minister
'And Pharaoh said unto his servants, Can we find such a one as this is, a man in whom the Spirit of God is? And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, Forasmuch as God hath shewed thee all this, there is none so discreet and wise as thou art: Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

The Trials and visions of Devout Youth
'And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. 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. 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. And when his brethren saw that
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

Man's Passions and God's Purpose
'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. 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. And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is
Alexander Maclaren—Expositions of Holy Scripture

Talmage -- a Bloody Monster
Thomas De Witt Talmage was born at Bound Brook, N.J., in 1832. For many years he preached to large and enthusiastic congregations at the Brooklyn Tabernacle. At one time six hundred newspapers regularly printed his sermons. He was a man of great vitality, optimistic by nature, and particularly popular with young people. His voice was rather high and unmusical, but his distinct enunciation and earnestness of manner gave a peculiar attraction to his pulpit oratory. His rhetoric has been criticized
Grenville Kleiser—The world's great sermons, Volume 8

The Crucifixion.
"He was oppressed, and He was afflicted, yet He opened not His mouth; He is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so He openeth not His mouth."--Isaiah liii. 7. St. Peter makes it almost a description of a Christian, that he loves Him whom he has not seen; speaking of Christ, he says, "whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see Him not, yet believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." Again he speaks of "tasting that the
John Henry Newman—Parochial and Plain Sermons, Vol. VII

The Sixth Commandment
Thou shalt not kill.' Exod 20: 13. In this commandment is a sin forbidden, which is murder, Thou shalt not kill,' and a duty implied, which is, to preserve our own life, and the life of others. The sin forbidden is murder: Thou shalt not kill.' Here two things are to be understood, the not injuring another, nor ourselves. I. The not injuring another. [1] We must not injure another in his name. A good name is a precious balsam.' It is a great cruelty to murder a man in his name. We injure others in
Thomas Watson—The Ten Commandments

Appendix 2 Extracts from the Babylon Talmud
Massecheth Berachoth, or Tractate on Benedictions [76] Mishnah--From what time is the "Shema" said in the evening? From the hour that the priests entered to eat of their therumah [77] until the end of the first night watch. [78] These are the words of Rabbi Eliezer. But the sages say: Till midnight. Rabban Gamaliel says: Until the column of the morning (the dawn) rises. It happened, that his sons came back from a banquet. They said to him: "We have not said the Shema.'" He said to them, "If the column
Alfred Edersheim—Sketches of Jewish Social Life

The Old Testament opens very impressively. In measured and dignified language it introduces the story of Israel's origin and settlement upon the land of Canaan (Gen.--Josh.) by the story of creation, i.-ii. 4a, and thus suggests, at the very beginning, the far-reaching purpose and the world-wide significance of the people and religion of Israel. The narrative has not travelled far till it becomes apparent that its dominant interests are to be religious and moral; for, after a pictorial sketch of
John Edgar McFadyen—Introduction to the Old Testament

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