Genesis 37


Jacob continues to sojourn in Canaan, 1.

Joseph, being seventeen years of age, is employed in feeding

the flocks of his father, 2.

Is loved by his father more than the rest of his brethren, 3.

His brethren envy him, 4.

His dream of the sheaves, 5-7.

His brethren interpret it, and hate him on the account, 8.

His dream of the sun, moon, and eleven stars, 9-12.

Jacob sends him to visit his brethren, who were with the flock

in Shechem, 13, 14.

He wanders in the field, and is directed to go to Dothan, whither

his brethren had removed the flocks, 15-17.

Seeing him coming they conspire to destroy him, 18-20.

Reuben, secretly intending to deliver him, counsels his brethren

not to kill, but to put him into a pit, 21, 22.

They strip Joseph of his coat of many colours, and put him into

a pit, 23, 24.

They afterwards draw him out, and sell him to a company of

Ishmaelite merchants for twenty pieces of silver, who carry him

into Egypt, 25-28.

Reuben returns to the pit, and not finding Joseph, is greatly

affected, 29, 30.

Joseph's brethren dip his coat in goat's blood to persuade his

father that he had been devoured by a wild beast, 31-33.

Jacob is greatly distressed, 34, 35.

Joseph is sold in Egypt to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh's guard, 36.


Verse 1. Wherein his father was a stranger] megurey

abiv, Jacob dwelt in the land of his father's sojournings, as the

margin very properly reads it. The place was probably the vale of

Hebron, see Ge 37:14.

Verse 2. These are the generations] toledoth, the history

of the lives and actions of Jacob and his sons; for in this

general sense the original must be taken, as in the whole of the

ensuing history there is no particular account of any genealogical

succession. Yet the words may be understood as referring to the

tables or genealogical lists in the preceding chapter; and if so,

the original must be understood in its common acceptation.

The lad was with the sons of Bilhah] It is supposed that our

word lad comes from the Hebrew yeled, a child, a son;

and that lass is a contraction of ladess, the female of lad, a

girl, a young woman. Some have supposed that King James desired

the translators to insert this word; but this must be a mistake,

as the word occurs in this place in Edmund Becke's Bible, printed

in 1549; and still earlier in that of Coverdale, printed in 1535.

Brought unto his father their evil report] Conjecture has been

busily employed to find out what this evil report might be; but it

is needless to inquire what it was, as on this head the sacred

text is perfectly silent. All the use we can make of this

information is, that it was one cause of increasing his brothers'

hatred to him, which was first excited by his father's partiality,

and secondly by his own dreams.

Verse 3. A coat of many colours.] kethoneth passim,

a coat made up of stripes of differently coloured cloth. Similar

to this was the toga praetexta of the Roman youth, which was

white, striped or fringed with purple; this they wore till

they were seventeen years of age, when they changed it for the

toga virilis, or toga pura, which was all white. Such vestures

as clothing of distinction are worn all over Persia, India, and

China to the present day. It is no wonder that his brethren should

envy him, when his father had thus made him such a distinguished

object of his partial love. We have already seen some of the evils

produced by this unwarrantable conduct of parents in preferring

one child to all the rest. The old fable of the ape and her

favourite cub, which she hugged to death through kindness, was

directed against such foolish parental fondnesses as these.

Verse 4. And could not speak peaceably unto him.] Does not this

imply, in our use of the term, that they were continually

quarrelling with him? but this is no meaning of the original:

velo yachelu dabbero leshalom, they could not

speak peace to him, i. e., they would not accost him in a friendly

manner. They would not even wish him well. The eastern method of

salutation is, Peace be to thee! shalom lecha, among the

Hebrews, and [Arabic] salam, peace, or [Arabic] salam kebibi,

peace to thee my friend, among the Arabs. Now as peace among

those nations comprehends all kinds of blessings spiritual and

temporal, so they are careful not to say it to those whom they do

not cordially wish well. It is not an unusual thing for an Arab

or a Turk to hesitate to return the salam, if given by a

Christian, or by one of whom he has not a favourable opinion: and

this, in their own country, may be ever considered as a mark of

hostility; not only as a proof that they do not wish you well,

but that if they have an opportunity they will do you an injury.

This was precisely the case with respect to Joseph's brethren:

they would not give him the salam, and therefore felt themselves

at liberty to take the first opportunity to injure him.

Verse 7. We were binding sheaves in the field] Though in these

early times we read little of tillage, yet it is evident from this

circumstance that it was practised by Jacob and his sons. The

whole of this dream is so very plain as to require no comment,

unless we could suppose that the sheaves of grain might have some

reference to the plenty in Egypt under Joseph's superintendence,

and the scarcity in Canaan, which obliged the brethren to go down

to Egypt for corn, where the dream was most literally fulfilled,

his brethren there bowing in the most abject manner before him.

Verse 9. He dreamed yet another dream] This is as clear as the

preceding. But how could Jacob say, Shall I and thy mother, &c.,

when Rachel his mother was dead some time before this? Perhaps

Jacob might hint, by this explanation, the impossibility of such a

dream being fulfilled, because one of the persons who should be a

chief actor in it was already dead. But any one wife or

concubine of Jacob was quite sufficient to fulfil this part of the

dream. It is possible, some think, that Joseph may have had these

dreams before his mother Rachel died; but were even this the case,

she certainly did not live to fulfil the part which appears to

refer to herself.

The sun and the moon and the eleven stars] Why eleven stars?

Was it merely to signify that his brothers might be represented by

stars? Or does he not rather there allude to the Zodiac, his

eleven brethren answering to eleven of the celestial signs, and

himself to the twelfth? This is certainly not an unnatural

thought, as it is very likely that the heavens were thus measured

in the days of Joseph; for the zodiacal constellations have been

distinguished among the eastern nations from time immemorial.

See Clarke on Ge 49:33.

Verse 14. Go-see whether it be well with thy brethren]

Literally, Go, I beseech thee, and see the peace of thy brethren,

and the peace of the flock. Go and see whether they are all in

prosperity. See Clarke on Ge 37:4. As Jacob's sons were now

gone to feed the flock on the parcel of ground they had bought

from the Shechemites, (see Ge 33:19,) and where they had

committed such a horrible slaughter, their father might feel more

solicitous about their welfare, lest the neighbouring tribes

should rise against them, and revenge the murder of the


As Jacob appears to have been at this time in the vale of

Hebron, it is supposed that Shechem was about sixty English

miles distant from it, and that Dothan was about eight miles

farther. But I must again advertise my readers that all these

calculations are very dubious; for we do not even know that the

same place is intended, as there are many proofs that different

places went by the same names.

Verse 19. Behold, this dreamer cometh.] baal

hachalomoth, this master of dreams, this master dreamer. A form

of speech which conveys great contempt.

Verse 20. Come now and let us slay him] What unprincipled

savages these must have been to talk thus coolly about imbruing

their hands in an innocent brother's blood! How necessary is a

Divine revelation, to show man what God hates and what he loves!

Ferocious cruelty is the principal characteristic of the nations

and tribes who receive not the law at his mouth.

Verse 21. Reuben heard it] Though Reuben appears to have been a

transgressor of no ordinary magnitude, if we take Ge 35:22

according to the letter, yet his bosom was not the habitation of

cruelly. He determined, if possible, to save his brother from

death, and deliver him safely to his father, with whose fondness

for him he was sufficiently acquainted. Josephus, in his usual

way, puts a long flourishing speech in the mouth of Reuben on the

occasion, spoken in order to dissuade his brethren from their

barbarous purpose; but as it is totally unfounded, it is worthy of

no regard.

Verse 23. They stripped Joseph out of his coat] This probably

was done that, if ever found, he might not be discerned to be a

person of distinction, and consequently, no inquiry made

concerning him.

Verse 25. They sat down to eat bread] Every act is perfectly in

character, and describes forcibly the brutish and diabolic nature

of their ruthless souls.

A company of Ishmaelites] We may naturally suppose that this

was a caravan, composed of different tribes that, for their

greater safety, were travelling together, and of which Ishmaelites

and Midianites made the chief. In the Chaldee they are called

Arabians, which, from arab, to mingle, was in all

probability used by the Targumist as the word Arabians is used

among us, which comprehends a vast number of clans, or tribes of

people. The Jerusalem Targum calls them Sarkin, what we

term Saracens. In the Persian, the clause stands thus: [Persian]

karavanee iskmaaleem araban aya. "A caravan of Ishmaelite Arabs

came." This seems to give the true sense.

Verse 28. For twenty pieces of silver] In the Anglo-Saxon it

is [Anglo-Saxon] thirty pence. This, I think, is the first

instance on record of selling a man for a slave; but the practice

certainly did not commence now, it had doubtless been in use long

before. Instead of pieces, which our translators supply, the

Persian has [Persian] miskal, which was probably intended to

signify a shekel; and if shekels be intended, taking them at three

shillings each, Joseph was sold for about three pounds sterling. I

have known a whole cargo of slaves, amounting to eight hundred and

thirteen, bought by a slave captain in Bonny river, in Africa, on

an average, for six pounds each; and this payment was made in

guns, gunpowder, and trinkets! As there were only nine of the

brethren present, and they sold Joseph for twenty shekels, each

had more than two shekels as his share in this most infamous


Verse 29. Reuben returned unto the pit] It appears he was

absent when the caravan passed by, to whom the other brethren had

sold Joseph.

Verse 30. The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?] The

words in the original are very plaintive,

haiyeled einennu, vaani anah, ani ba!

Verse 32. Sent the coat of many colours-to their father] What

deliberate cruelty to torture the feelings of their aged father,

and thus harrow up his soul!

Verse 33. Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces!] It is likely

he inferred this from the lacerated state of the coat, which, in

order the better to cover their wickedness, they had not only

besmeared with the blood of the goat, but it is probable reduced

to tatters. And what must a father's heart have felt in such a

case! As this coat is rent, so is the body of my beloved son rent

in pieces! and Jacob rent his clothes.

Verse 35. All his sons and all his daughters] He had only one

daughter, Dinah; but his sons' wives may be here included. But

what hypocrisy in his sons to attempt to comfort him concerning

the death of a son who they knew was alive; and what cruelty to

put their aged father to such torture, when, properly speaking,

there was no ground for it!

Verse 36. Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's] The word

saris, translated officer, signifies a eunuch; and lest any

person should imagine that because this Potiphar had a wife,

therefore it is absurd to suppose him to have been a eunuch, let

such persons know that it is not uncommon in the east for eunuchs

to have wives, nay, some of them have even a harem or seraglio

where they keep many women, though it does not appear that they

have any progeny; and probably discontent on this ground might

have contributed as much to the unfaithfulness of Potiphar's wife,

as that less principled motive through which it is commonly

believed she acted.

Captain of the guard.] sar kattabbachim, chief of

the butchers; a most appropriate name for the guards of an eastern

despot. If a person offend one of the despotic eastern princes,

the order to one of the life-guards is, Go and bring me his head;

and this command is instantly obeyed, without judge, jury, or any

form of law. Potiphar, we may therefore suppose, was captain of

those guards whose business it was to take care of the royal

person, and execute his sovereign will on all the objects of his

displeasure. Reader, if thou hast the happiness to live under the

British constitution, be thankful to God. Here, the will, the

power, and utmost influence of the king, were he even so disposed,

cannot deprive the meanest subject of his property, his liberty,

or his life. All the solemn legal forms of justice must be

consulted; the culprit, however accused, be heard by himself and

his counsel; and in the end twelve honest, impartial men, chosen

from among his fellows, shall decide on the validity of the

evidence produced by the accuser. For the trial by jury, as well

as for innumerable political blessings, may God make the

inhabitants of Great Britain thankful!

1. WITH this chapter the history of Joseph commences, and sets

before our eyes such a scene of wonders wrought by Divine

Providence in such a variety of surprising instances, as cannot

fail to confirm our faith in God, show the propriety of

resignation to his will, and confidence in his dispensations, and

prove that all things work together for good to them that love

him. Joseph has often been considered as a type of Christ, and

this subject in the hands of different persons has assumed a great

variety of colouring. The following parallels appear the most

probable; but I shall not pledge myself for the propriety of any

of them: "Jesus Christ, prefigured by Joseph, the beloved of his

father, and by him sent to visit his brethren, is the innocent

person whom his brethren sold for a few pieces of silver, the

bargain proposed by his brother Judah, (Greek Judas,) the very

namesake of that disciple and brother (for so Christ vouchsafes to

call him) who sold his Lord and Master; and who by this means

became their Lord and Saviour; nay, the Saviour of strangers, and

of the whole world; which had not happened but for this plot of

destroying him, the act of rejecting, and exposing him to sale. In

both examples we find the same fortune and the same innocence:

Joseph in the prison between two criminals; Jesus on the cross

between two thieves. Joseph foretells deliverance to one of his

companions and death to the other, from the same omens: of the two

thieves, one reviles Christ, and perishes in his crimes; the other

believes, and is assured of a speedy entrance into paradise.

Joseph requests the person that should be delivered to be mindful

of him in his glory; the person saved by Jesus Christ entreats his

deliverer to remember him when he came into his kingdom."-See

Pascal's Thoughts. Parallels and coincidences of this kind

should always be received cautiously, for where the Spirit of God

has not marked a direct resemblance, and obviously referred to it

as such in some other part of his word, it is bold, if not

dangerous, to say "such and such things and persons are types of

Christ." We have instances sufficiently numerous, legitimately

attested, without having recourse to those which are of dubious

import and precarious application. See the observation on

Clarke "Ge 40:23".

2. Envy has been defined, "pain felt, and malignity conceived,

at the sight of excellence or happiness in another." Under this

detestable passion did the brethren of Joseph labour; and had not

God particularly interposed, it would have destroyed both its

subjects and its object, Perhaps there is no vice which so

directly filiates itself on Satan, as this does. In opposition to

the assertion that we cannot envy that by which we profit, it may

be safely replied that we may envy our neighbour's wisdom, though

he gives us good counsel; his riches, though he supplies our

wants; and his greatness, though he employs it for our protection.

3. How ruinous are family distractions! A house divided against

itself cannot stand. Parents should take good heed that their own

conduct be not the first and most powerful cause of such

dissensions, by exciting envy in some of their children through

undue partiality to others; but it is in vain to speak to most

parents on the subject; they will give way to foolish

predilections, till, in the prevailing distractions of their

families, they meet with the punishment of their imprudence, when

regrets are vain, and the evil past remedy.

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