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Scripture reading – Genesis 37

Our chronological study of Genesis brings us to Genesis 37, a new crossroads in the Scriptures where the focus shifts from Jacob, now known as Israel, to his son Joseph. Joseph is one of the Old Testament’s most honorable and upright men.

A key detail to understanding the dynamics in this period of Joseph’s life is remembering that his mother had recently died giving birth to his brother Benjamin, Jacob’s twelfth-born son (35:16-19). Recalling Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife, and his first love, helps us appreciate the tragic events recorded in Genesis 37.

Being reminded that Jacob was a shepherd, a sojourner, he was “a stranger, in the land of Canaan” (37:1). The LORD had promised him, his father Isaac, and grandfather Abraham the land of Canaan for an inheritance (Genesis 12:1; 35:12); however, the possession of that land would not come to fruition until Israel returned from four hundred years of slavery in Egypt, and conquered and possessed the land.

Joseph was seventeen years old and was tending sheep with his half-brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, Jacob’s concubines who had each borne him two sons (37:2). We are not told what prompted Joseph to go to his father and deliver an “evil report” concerning his brothers. Still, I feel there is good reason to believe that jealousy might have prompted his brothers to treat him with disdain.

Growing up in a household we would describe in our day as a “blended home,” there was constant strife and contention between Joseph and his brothers. His mother’s recent death had no doubt left him vulnerable. His father favoring him with a “coat of many colours” (most likely a long sleeve tunic) indicated his favored stature in the home (37:3). “When his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him” (37:4).

In the providence and plan of God, the LORD prophetically revealed to Joseph in two dreams that he would one day have a position of authority in his brothers’ lives, and they would bow before him (37:5-11). Unfortunately, however, and unwisely, in my opinion, Joseph shared the prophetic nature of his dreams with his brothers, and they “envied him” (37:11).

A fateful day came when Joseph was bidden by his father to leave the safety of his home and inspect his brothers’ welfare and the flocks they tended (37:12-14). So Joseph traveled from his home in Hebron to Shechem (a distance of 40 miles, and infamous in our study for it was where Simeon and Levi had slain the men of that city, 34:25-31). Joseph arrived in Shechem but learned his brothers had moved on to Dothan (37:15-17), a town one hundred miles from home and on a main trade route to Egypt.

Perhaps recognizing Joseph’s coat from a distance, the brothers conspired at first to kill him (37:18-20). Finally, Reuben, the eldest brother, intervened and convinced his brothers to place Joseph in a pit (planning to return later to free him, 37:21).

The brothers then stripped Joseph of his tunic (37:23), and cast him into the pit (37:24). When they spied the approach of Midianite merchantmen traveling to Egypt, they, in Reuben’s absence, sold him as an enslaved person for twenty pieces of silver. Then, Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold to “Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, and captain of the guard” (37:25-28, 36).

Tragically, and adding to their grievous sins, Joseph’s brothers determined to deceive their father. They convinced him that a wild beast had killed Joseph and dipped his coat into the blood of a goat. Seeing the frayed condition of Joseph’s coat covered in blood, Jacob believed he was dead. In an act of utter grief, Jacob “rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days…[and said], “I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning” (37:34-35).

Closing thoughts – Providentially, the stage was set for Joseph to one day deliver his brothers from a famine, fulfill his dream, and stand over them as they bowed before him.

Questions to Consider

1) Why did Israel (Jacob) love Joseph more than his other sons? (Genesis 37:3)

2) Why did Joseph’s dreams provoke jealousy and anger in his brothers? (Genesis 37:5-11)

3) What are some things that provoke jealousy in a family?

4) Why is jealousy such a powerful emotion, and how can you address it righteously?

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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