Genesis 37:21
When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue Joseph from their hands. "Let us not take his life," he said.
God's Providence and Man's ResponsibilityJ.F. Montgomery Genesis 37:20, 21
The Representative ManR.A. Redford Genesis 37

I. GOD'S PURPOSES CARRIED OUT BY MEN IRRESPECTIVE OF THEIR OWN PLANS. The word to Abraham (Genesis 15:13) does not seem to have been thought of by Jacob. After long wandering he seemed to be settled in Canaan. But God was bringing to pass his word. Jacob's injudicious fondness for Joseph, the anger and murderous design of his brethren (cf. John 11:50; Acts 3:17), Reuben's timid effort for his deliverance (cf. Acts 5:88), Judah's worldly wise counsel (cf. Luke 13:31), Joseph's imprisonment by Potiphar, the conspiracy in Pharaoh's household, were so many steps by which the sojourn in Egypt was brought about. So in the founding of the Christian Church. The writing on the cross (John 19:20) pointed to three separate lines of history, two of them pagan, which combined to bring about the sacrifice of Christ and the spread of the gospel. So in the case of individuals. God's promises are sure (2 Corinthians 1:20). There may seem to be many hindrances, from ourselves (Psalm 65:3) or from circumstances; but no cause for doubt (Luke 12:32; Luke 22:35). Unlikely or remote causes are often God's instruments. The envy of the Jews opened for St. Paul, through his imprisonment, a door to the Gentiles which otherwise he would not have had (Acts 21:28; Philippians 1:13).

II. IT IS NO EXCUSE FOR WRONGDOING THAT IT HAS WORKED GOOD (Cf. Romans 9:19). The cruel act of his brethren brought about the realizing of Joseph's dreams, his greatness in Egypt, the support of the whole family during the famine, and the fulfillment of God's word; but not the less was it wrong (Genesis 42:21; cf. Matthew 26:24). Moral guilt depends not upon the result, but on the motive. God has given the knowledge of redemption to move our will, and the example of Christ and the moral law to guide our lives. The fulfillment of his purposes belongs to himself. He needs not our help to bring it to pass. It is not his will that we should forsake his immutable rules of right and Wrong, even for the sake of bringing on the fulfillment of prophecy. Much evil has sprung from neglect of this - e.g. the maxim, Faith need not be kept with heretics. God's will and promise, Psalm 37:3-5.

III. To EACH ONE THERE IS A HISTORY WITHIN A HISTORY. Our actions lead to their appropriate results (Galatians 6:8) at the same time that they tend to carry out God's purposes, whether we will or not. Each one is a factor in the great plan which in the course of ages God is working out (John 5:17). Men such as they are, wise or ignorant, guided by the Spirit or resisting him, loving or selfish, pressing upwards or following worldly impulses, all are so directed by a power they cannot comprehend that they bring about what he wills (Psalm 2:2-4). But along with this there is a history which concerns ourselves, which we write for ourselves, the issues of which depend immediately upon ourselves. To each a measure of time, knowledge, opportunity has been given, on the use of which the line of our course depends. Nothing can turn aside the course of God's providence; but upon our faithfulness or unfaithfulness depends our place and joy in it. Hence encouragement to work for Christ, however small our powers (1 Samuel 14:6). The little is accepted as well as the great; and as "workers together with him" (2 Corinthians 6:1) our work cannot be in vain. - M.

We will say, some evil beast hath devoured him.
This text is no part of revelation. It is a premeditated falsehood, agreed to and told by Joseph's brothers, to account for his absence.


II. THAT IT IS A CHARACTERISTIC OF WICKED MEN TO LAY THE BLAME OF THEIR SINS UPON OTHERS. "We will say, a wild beast," etc. From the very first it was so. Adam struck upon that mean device, and threw the blame of his sin upon his wife: "The woman that Thou gavest me." I know of no instance in the Bible that so clearly indicates the strength of the tendency as this. Some blame one thing or person, and some another; but, like Joseph's brethren, they know there is no "wild beast," and they must sooner or later confess their sins and say, "We are verily guilty."


(T. Kelly.)

I. THE VICTIM. Joseph. What were his crimes?

1. He had done his duty as superintendent of the shepherds; even though it must have been painful to him to convey bad tidings about his brethren, and painful to grieve his father's mind by doing so. Yet he only discharged the duty of his office. The fault was theirs, not his.

2. He had been marked as his father's special favourite and confidant. But they should have tried to be more worthy of trust themselves.

3. He had been favoured with wonderful dreams, in which their future subordinate relation was clearly indicated.


1. Ten against one. Cowardice of this. Combination of thought and strength for a wicked purpose.

2. Ten brothers against one brother. Fratricical struggles the worst of all. Of all relatives, such near ones as these should agree.

3. Ten men, and brothers, against a youthful brother. Might and numbers are not always a proof of right (once all the world was against our elder Brother).

4. Ten wicked men against one good man. "Though hand join in hand, wickedness shall not go unpunished."

5. Ten sons against a father. In plotting against Joseph they were fighting against Jacob. Those who oppose Jesus are rebelling against God.


1. The opportunity.

(1)They are away from home.

(2)They are alone.

(3)Joseph, in his coat of honour, approaches to inspect the flocks.

2. The conspiracy. "The dreamer cometh." All agree on one point. Joseph to be put out of the way. First resolve to kill him and tell a lie to hide the crime (ver. 20). Reuben intercedes, intending to rescue him (ver. 22). They agree to this, thinking he would die of starvation. Thus they would not shed his blood, and yet would take his life. They strip off his offending coat. Approach of the merchants. Judah would make a profit by the transaction. He little thought of the great profit his wickedness would yield (see Genesis 45:7, 8). Joseph is sold. Imagine his cries and tears, &c. (see Genesis 42:21). The remorse of Reuben, and the joy of the rest.

3. The consequences. One sin leads to another. They must resort to lying, &c. The trouble that comes upon Jacob (vers. 34, 35). Learn:

I. Innocent people are often surrounded by evil (Jo. 16:33).

II. Virtue and truth to be pursued, notwithstanding danger.

III. One sin leads to another. Ultimate concealment impossible.

IV. God makes the wrath of man to praise Him.

V. Jesus has saved us from going down into the pit, and has redeemed us from bondage.

(J. C. Gray.)

The tank in which Joseph's brethren cast him was apparently one of those huge reservoirs excavated by shepherds in the East, that they may have a supply of water for their flocks in the end of the dry season, when the running waters fail them. Being so narrow at the mouth that they can be covered by a single stone, they gradually widen and form a large subterranean room; and the facility they thus afford for the confinement of prisoners was from the first too obvious not to be commonly taken advantage of. In such a place was Joseph left to die — under the ground, sinking in mire, his flesh creeping at the touch of unseen slimy creatures, in darkness, alone; that is to say, in a species of confinement which tames the most reckless and maddens the best balanced spirits, which shakes the nerve of the calmest, and has sometimes left the blankness of idiocy in masculine understandings. A few wild cries that ring painfully round his prison show him he need expect no help from without; a few wild and desperate beatings round the shelving walls of rock show him there is no possibility of escape; he covers his face, or casts himself on the floor of his dungeon to escape within himself, but only to find this also in vain, and to rise and renew efforts he knows to be fruitless. Here, then, is what has come of his fine dreams. With shame he now remembers the beaming confidence with which he had related them; with bitterness he thinks of the bright life above him, from which these few feet cut him so absolutely off, and of the quick termination that has been put to all his hopes. Into such tanks do young persons especially get east; finding themselves suddenly dropped out of the lively scenery and bright sunshine in which they have been living, down into roomy graves where they seem left to die at leisure. They had conceived a way of being useful in the world; they had found an aim or a hope; they had, like Joseph, discerned their place and were making towards it, when suddenly they seem to be thrown out and are left to learn that the world can do very well without them, that the sun and moon and the eleven stars do not drop from their courses or make wail because of their sad condition. High aims and commendable purposes are not so easily fulfilled as they fancied. The faculty and desire in them to be of service are not recognised. Men do not make room for them, and God seems to disregard the hopes He has excited in them. The little attempt at living they have made seems only to have got themselves and others into trouble. They begin to think it a mistake their being in the world at all; they curse the day of their birth. Others are enjoying this life, and seem to be making something of it, having found work that suits and develops them; but, for their own part, they cannot get fitted into life at any point, and are excluded from the onward movement of the world. They are again and again flung back, until they fear they are not to see the fulfilment of any one bright dream that has ever visited them, and that they are never, never at all, to live out the life it is in them to live, or find light and scope for maturing those germs of the rich human nature that they feel within them. All this is in the way to attainment. This or that check, this long burial for years, does not come upon you merely because stoppage and hindrance have been useful to others, but because your advancement lies through these experiences.

(M. Dods, D. D.)

After this profound scheme no doubt there would follow a chuckle of triumph. The thing was so lucky in its plan, in its seasonableness, in its practicability; it seemed to meet every point of the case; it made an end of the whole difficulty; it turned over a new leaf in the history of the family. Let us understand that our plans are not good simply because they happen to be easy.

policy is not necessarily sound because it is necessarily final. In the case before us we see both the power and the weakness of men. Let us slay — there is the power; and we will see what will become of his dreams — there is the weakness. You can slay the dreamer, but you cannot touch the dream. You can poison the preacher, but what power have you over his wonderful doctrine? Can you trace it? Where are its footprints? Ten or twelve men have power to take one lad, seventeen years of age, to double him up, and throw him, a dead carcase, into a pit. Wonderful power! What then? "And we will see what become of his dreams." A word which perhaps was spoken in scorn or derision, or under a conviction that his dreams would go along with him. Still, underlying all the derision is the fact that, though the dreamer has been slain, the dream remains untouched. The principle applies very widely. You may disestablish an institution externally, politically, financially; but if the institution be founded upon truth, the Highest Himself will establish her. If we suppose that by putting out our puny arms and clustering in eager crowds round the ark of God, we are the only defenders of the faith and conservers of the Church — then be it known unto us that our power is a limited ability, that God himself is the life, the strength, the defence, and the hope of His own kingdom. The principle, then, has a double application — an application to those who would injure truth, and an application to those who would avail themselves of forbidden facilities to maintain the empire of God amongst men.

(J. Parker, D. D.)

The favoured son of Jacob was but a type of the Beloved of the Father. Joseph, in being thus murdered in the intention of his brethren, and, as it were, buried in the pit, yet preserved in order to be exalted to the right hand of royalty and power, was a type of Christ crucified, buried, risen, and glorified. Joseph was far away from his father when trouble overwhelmed him, and his loud cries for help died away in the distance without reaching the parental ear. And what were the words of Jesus in the depths of His affliction? (Psalm 22:1, 2). Pity from man He did not expect, and if His Father had but been near Him, He felt that He could brave every danger and endure every pain. Nay, that suffering would have lost all its sting, and sorrow its misery. But the bitter and the agonizing thing was to feel that He was alone — literally alone in His unparalleled sufferings. He had come to them on a better errand than Joseph's, and with a message of mercy from abetter than any earthly father. One would think that a herald from so august a court, and bearing so welcome a message, would have been hailed with acclamations of delight by the Jewish people. That people had long been looking anxiously for their long-promised Messiah. His deportment was far more lovely and prepossessing than Joseph's — His innocency of life and warmth of brotherly affection far exceeded Joseph's — He was the chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely. He pleaded with the Jews with a depth of pathos never equalled. Have you ever envied Christ? Do you envy Him His right to the throne of your heart, and have you usurped it, and seated yourself in that throne? There is such a thing, too, as envying the Lord Jesus, in the persons of His happy and highly-favoured followers. Let us cheerfully share our blessings with every afflicted Joseph who is east into the pit of adversity.

(E. Dalton.)

How were Joseph's brethren to secure themselves from the reproach of the world, and the indignation of their father? They would cast Joseph's body into some pit after they had killed him. But where were they to find a pit deep enough to hide him from the view of God? It was right not to disoblige their father; but was their God less to be regarded than their father? Many heathens will rise up in judgment against those professors of the true religion, who behave in such manner, as if it were a matter of indifference what sins they commit, if they can preserve their characters from suspicion. A certain Hindoo, trained up in the strictest sect of the religion of his country, had macerated his body to such a degree, that his life was in imminent danger. A Christian physician, who went to see him with the governor of the town, begged him to swallow an infusion of the Jesuit's bark in wine, which he thought might preserve his life. The religion of the Indian prohibited this cure. The physician promised that none should hear of it. But the poor Indian answered, that he could not hide it from himself, and chose to die, rather than violate his conscience.

(G. Lawson, D. D.)

Reuben's intention was good, and let all due credit be given to every man who has a good intention, a merciful object in view. No one of us has a word to say against such a man. But there are times when everything depends upon tone, precision, definiteness, emphasis. I am not sure that Reuben could not have turned the whole company. There are times when one man can play with a thousand. A little one can put ten thousand to flight. Why? Because wickedness is weakness. There is more craven heartedness among bad men than ever you can find among men who are soundly, living good. Is that a hard message to some of you? You know a very bold wicked man. Well, so you do; but that man is a coward. One day the shaking of a feather will cause him to become pale, and to tremble and turn round suspiciously, and timidly, as if every leaf in the forest had an indictment against him and all the elements in the universe had conspired to destroy him. Here is a call to us, most assuredly. We are placed in critical circumstances. Sometimes eight or nine men upon the board of directors have said that their plan will take this or that particular course. We believe that the plan is corrupt; we believe that it is wicked, displeasing to God, mischievous to man. What is our duty under circumstances such as these? To modify, to pare away, to dilute sound principle and intense conviction, to speak whisperingly, timidly, apologetically? I think not. But to meet the proposition with the definiteness of sound principle, and to be in that minority which in the long run is omnipotent — the minority of God. It is not easy to do this. Far be it from me to say that if I had been in Reuben's place I should take a more emphatic course. We are not called upon, in preaching God's truth, to say what we would have done under such circumstances; but to put out that which is ideal, absolute, final, and then to exhort one another, to endeavour by God's tender mighty grace to press towards its attainment.

(J. Parker. D. D.)

Bilhah, Ishmaelites, Jacob, Joseph, Medanites, Midianites, Pharaoh, Potiphar, Reuben, Zilpah
Canaan, Chezib, Dothan, Egypt, Gilead, Shechem, Valley of Hebron
Delivered, Delivereth, Got, Hands, Heareth, Hearing, Kill, Let's, Rescue, Rescued, Reuben, Saying, Smite, Tried
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 37:1-35

     5738   sons

Genesis 37:12-33

     5661   brothers

Genesis 37:17-22

     6634   deliverance

Genesis 37:17-23

     5817   conspiracies

Genesis 37:18-27

     8828   spite

Genesis 37:18-28

     5828   danger

Genesis 37:19-24

     4221   cistern

Genesis 37:21-22

     6253   temptation, avoiding causing
     6682   mediation

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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