And as they sat down to eat a meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying spices, balm, and myrrh on their way down to Egypt.
There are times when circumstances seem to favour bad men. Some of us are accustomed to teach that circumstances are the voice of Divine Providence. There is a sense — a profound sense — in which that is perfectly true. God speaks by combinations of events, by the complications of history, by unexpected occurrences. Most undoubtedly so. We have marked this. In many cases we have seen their moral meaning, and have been attracted to them as to the cloudy pillar in the day time and the fire by night. At the same time, there is another side to that doctrine. Here in the text we find circumstances evidently combining in favour of the bad men who had agreed to part with their brother. They sat down to eat bread — perfectly tranquil, social amongst themselves, a rough hospitality prevailing. Just as they sat down to enjoy themselves with their bread they lifted up their eyes, and at that very moment a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels. What could be more providential? They came in the very nick of time. The brethren hadn't to go up and down hawking their brother, knocking at door after door to ask if anybody could take him off their hands; but at the very moment when the discussion was pending and anxiety was at white heat, these circumstances so combined and converged as to point out the way of Providence and the path of right. Then we ought to look at circumstances with a critical eye. We ought first to look at moral principles and then at circumstances. If the morality is right, the eventuality may be taken as an element worthy of consideration in the debate and strife of the hour. But if the principles at the very base are wrong, we are not to see circumstances as Divine providences, but rather as casual ways to the realization of a nefarious intent. Let us be still more particular about this. I do not deny that these Ishmaelites came providentially at that identical moment. I believe that the Ishmaelites were sent by Almighty God at that very crisis, and that they were intended by Him to offer the solution of the difficult problem. But it is one thing for us to debase circumstances to our own use and convenience, and another to view them from God's altitude and to accept them in God's spirit.
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.
A company of Ishmaelites. 1.
Providence can make eyes to see, and such objects to be presented, which may occasion diversion of evil plots against the saints.
2. God orders travellers, and trades, and journies, to serve His own ends to His servants.
3. Accidental events to men are settled providences unto the servants of God.
4. Trade from land to land, about proper fruits of the respective countries, hath been, of old, ordered by Providence, for common advantage God allows and commends it (Genesis 49:13).
5. The same place may be aimed at by God and men, but upon several accounts (ver. 25).
6. Providence toucheth hearts as well as eyes of sinners to defeat cruel designs against His.
7. One spoiler may be wrought upon by God to cause others to desist from cruelty.
8. Thoughts of the unprofitableness of sin is a forcing means to avoid it.
9. Murder and concealment of blood bring no advantage to sinners (ver. 26.)
10. Hypocrites may judge there is no profit in one sin, but some in another.
11. Hypocrites may dissuade men from one sin, but incite them to others, Come, &c.
12. Malice of formalists to sincere Christians sticks not to sell them to bitter enemies of the Church.
13. God makes natural relation and motions to flesh sometimes to keep persons from cruelty.
14. God causeth the counsel of one conspirator to defeat the rest, and makes them concur to His ends (ver. 27).
15. Providence offers opportunity to sinners for doing their will, that His may be done.
16. Murderers are made deliverers by God at His pleasure and in His measure.
17. The most innocent souls may be sold for slaves when aimed by God to be lords.
18. A small price do wicked men put upon the best of God's servants, nay on His Son.
19. Gracious souls, surprised by the wicked in their honest ways, may be carried whither they would not.
20. Ishmaelites may carry innocents to Egypt for their ends, but God orders them thither for His own. So God maketh use of sinners. They bring him to make gain of him, God sends him to save and gain others.
From very early times, a lively caravan trade was entertained between Syria and the East Jordanic provinces on the one hand, and Egypt on the other; it brought the esteemed products of Arabia and the wares and merchandises of eastern Asia into the land of the Pharaohs; and in the course of time, the importation was conducted with all possible regularity, and on lines prudently chosen and marked out. We find, thai so early as the sixteenth dynasty, stations were formed, temples erected, and wells dug and protected, in the Arabian Desert, for the benefit of those who had occasion to pass through it in their commercial travels. Egypt had, at that period, already attained a great measure of the civilization of which it was capable; it enjoyed a strong government and well-organized public institutions; and the political and social relations were regulated on a firm basis. This sense of security favoured the development of comfort and luxury; the higher castes especially appreciated all that delights and embellishes life; their wants increased in an incredible degree; and they encouraged every undertaking which promised to gratify them. Among the articles in peculiar demand were all varieties of spicery and perfumes, required not only for the feasts and pleasures of the living, but for the embalming of the dead; the mummies generally emitted so delicious a fragrance that they were for generations kept in the houses of the relatives, arranged along the walls, and then only entombed; which practice, however, received, no doubt, its first impulse from the devoted love bestowed in Egypt on departed parents and relatives. The amount of spicery consumed for all these purposes was necessarily immense; and the caravan introduced in our narrative was exclusively laden with those costly commodities. The men who conducted it were Midianites (vers. 28, 36), a tribe partly nomadic, but partly actively engaged in commerce. But as the Ishmaelites commanded by far the greatest part of the caravan trade, all those who carried on the same pursuits were designated by their name.
()How true it is that we know not what a day may bring forth! Joseph goes out on his father's errand and never more returns to his father's house — does not see his father again, in fact, for twenty-two years. Of course the crime of his brothers was of the cause of this long separation between him and his venerable parent. But how often similar things occur even among ourselves! Some years ago a little boy was stolen from his home in Philadelphia, and though every means that affection could suggest or professional skill could devise have been used for his discovery, the mystery has never been cleared up, so that to this hour his parents are in most horrible suspense. In our own city, too, scarcely a week elapses without the announcement that some one has disappeared from home and business, and very frequently nothing more is heard of him. But, apart from such occurrences, which may be traced to the cunning and malignity of wicked men, and which are a disgrace to our much boasted civilization, how often it happens, in the simple providence of God, and without blame to any one, that those who part in the morning with the hope of meeting again in a very short while never see each other more on earth! The street accident causes death; or the sudden outbreak of fire in the building in which their office hours are spent cuts off all possibility of escape, and they are burned to ashes; or a panic in a crowded place of amusement which they visited has caused a great loss of life, and they are numbered among the victims; or a railroad collision has smashed the train in which they were passengers, and they are reported among the dead; or, without any such catastrophe, they have simply yielded to a sudden paroxysm of illness and passed within the veil. Who knows not how frequently such things are occurring in the midst of us, so that, as we have lately had occasion again and again to say, the proverb is verified that it is "the unexpected that happens." What then? Are we to have our hearts for ever darkened with the shadow of the possibility of such things coming to us? No; for that would be to make our lives continually miserable; but the lesson is that we should be ever ready to respond to the call of God, and should take short views of things by living, as nearly as possible, a day at a time. We need not borrow trouble on the strength of the uncertainty to which I have referred, for "sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof"; but we ought to be taught by it to finish every day's work in its own day, since its lesson is, "Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth."
()The very brightest and luckiest idea of all. He touched human nature to the very quick when he said, "What profit is it?" And instantly they seemed to convict themselves of a kind of thickheadedness, and said one to another, "Ah, to be sure, why no profit at all. Here is an opportunity of selling him, and that will turn to the account of us all. Sell is as short a word as slay. Sell! that will get clear of him. Let us sell. Sell! we shall have no blood upon our hands. Then we shall, perhaps, have a couple of shekels a-piece, and tossing them up in the air an inch or so, and catching them again, and hearing their pleasant chink. This is the plan, to be sure. This is the way out of the difficulty. We are sorry we ever thought of shedding blood; we shake ourselves from all such imputations. Let us sell the lad, and there will be an end of the difficulty." Selling does not always take a man out of difficulty. Bargain-making is not always satisfactory. There is a gain that is loss; there is a loss that is gain. There is a separation that takes the hated object from the eyes, yet that object is an element in society and in life — working, penetrating, developing — and it will come back again upon us some day greater than power, with intensified poignancy; and the man that was driven away from us a beggar and a slave may one day rise up in our path, terrible as an avenger, irresistible as a judgment of God. Well, his brethren were content. Men even say that they enjoy a great peace, and, therefore, that if circumstances are tolerably favourable, they say that on the whole they feel in a good state of mind. Therefore, they conclude that they have not been doing anything very wrong. Let us understand that vice may have a soporific effect upon the conscience and judgment; that we may work ourselves into such a state of mind as to place ourselves under circumstances that are fictitious, unsound in their moral bearing, however enjoyable may be their immediate influence upon the mind. I am struck by this circumstance, in reading the account which is before me, namely, how possible it is to fall from a rough kind of vice, such as, "Let us slay our brother," into a milder form of iniquity, such as, "Let us sell our brother," and to think that we have now actually come into a state of virtue. That is to say, selling as contrasted with slaying seems so moderate and amiable a thing, as actually to amount to a kind of virtue. Am I understood upon this point? We are not to compare one act with another and say, Comparatively speaking this act is good. Virtue is not a quantity to be compared. Virtue is a non-declinable quality. I know how easy it is, when some very startling proposition has been before the mind, to accept a modified form of the proposition, which in itself is morally corrupt; and yet to imagine, by the very descent from the other point, that we have come into a region of virtue. When men say, "Let us slay our brother," there is a little shuddering in society. We don't want to slay our brother. "Well, then," says an acute man, "let us sell him." And, instantly, amiable Christian people say, "Ay, ay, this is a very different thing; yes, let us sell him." Observe, the morality is not changed, only the point in the scale has been lowered. When God comes to judge lie will not say, Is this virtue and water? is this diluted vice? but, Is this right? is this wrong? The standard of judgment will be the holiness of God!
PeopleBilhah, Ishmaelites, Jacob, Joseph, Medanites, Midianites, Pharaoh, Potiphar, Reuben, Zilpah
PlacesCanaan, Chezib, Dothan, Egypt, Gilead, Shechem, Valley of Hebron
TopicsAromatic, Balm, Balsam, Band, Bearing, Behold, Bore, Bread, Bring, Camels, Caravan, Carry, Company, Eat, Egypt, Gilead, Gum, Ishmaelites, Ish'maelites, Ladanum, Lift, Lifted, Loaded, Meal, Myrrh, Perfumes, Raised, Sat, Seating, Sit, Spicery, Spices, Themselves, Tragacanth, Travelling
Outline1. 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 ThemesGenesis 37:25
4466 herbs and spices
5415 money, uses of
7447 slavery, in OT
LibraryJoseph, 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
"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.  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  Mishnah--From what time is the "Shema" said in the evening? From the hour that the priests entered to eat of their therumah  until the end of the first night watch.  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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