This article is part of a series of articles that resulted from my time preaching through the book of Genesis. The commentary on the passage is my own, resulting from hours of research and exegetical study. It is my intent to draw a biblical theology chapter by chapter through the book of Genesis that places the events of the narratives into the broad picture of the entire Bible, demonstrating the progressiveness of theology and the sufficiency of every Word of Scripture. It is my prayer that these articles are helpful to those seeking a better understanding of the book of Genesis and of the Bible as a whole. The sermon series and other resources can be found at www.fbcroxana.com.
As the storyline of Genesis has unfolded, three of Jacob’s sons have disgraced themselves. Reuben slept with his father’s concubine. Simeon and Levi murdered the men of Shechem to avenge for the rape of their sister. The text now highlights two other sons of Jacob. Judah, the fourth-born of Leah, is now in the running to receive the right of the firstborn due to the disqualification of Leah’s three older sons. Joseph, the firstborn of Rachel, is also in the running to receive the double inheritance. These next chapters contrast the two men, and highlight God’s divine choice.
1 Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the records of the generations of Jacob.
After much wandering, Jacob and his family were officially dwelling in the land of Canaan where Abraham and Isaac had dwelled. They were no longer living on the outskirts of it but were living in Hebron. He was expecting the fulfillment of God’s covenant, looking forward to the promised kingdom just as Abraham and Isaac had waited for it prior to him.
The next events transition the focus from Jacob to Joseph. There will be a contrast between Judah and Joseph as the reader wonders which son will receive the double portion of the inheritance and the scepter (whenever a king would arise in Israel). Though not the firstborn of Leah, Judah was the next in line to receive the double portion and scepter, because Leah first three sons had disqualified themselves. Joseph was the firstborn of Rachel, Jacob’s favored wife, but was eleventh in line in terms of age.
The history of Joseph and Judah begins:
Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.
Jacob’s open favoritism of Joseph sets the scene for a gruesome story. It was because of his favoritism that the brothers hated Joseph so much. They were envious, and their envy turned into hatred. In turn, their hatred presented itself in hostility.
5 Then Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
This is the first instance of prophetic dreams in the Bible. Others had been visited by God and angels in their dreams, but this is a prophetic vision revealed in a dream. There were others in the Bible who had such dreams, though they were by no means common. Such visions were understood to be from God, and could be understood with the help of a wise man of God. Joseph was a wise man of God, though in relating his dream to his brothers, he caused them to hate him all the more.
9 Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, “Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 He related it to his father and to his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have had? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow ourselves down before you to the ground?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.
Joseph’s dreams had made his brothers all the more envious, hateful, and hostile toward him. Though Jacob rebuked Joseph, he remembered the saying, and seems to have thought about it from time to time. Thus, when Joseph’s dreams were fulfilled, Jacob must have been astonished.
12 Then his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock in Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “I will go.” 14 Then he said to him, “Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock, and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
Having made the journey, Joseph could not find his brothers. Finally,
15 A man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the field; and the man asked him, “What are you looking for?” 16 He said, “I am looking for my brothers; please tell me where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 Then the man said, “They have moved from here; for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
If Jacob sent to look for Joseph, he would not find him, because he was no longer at Shechem. So the brothers saw their opportunity.
18 When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! 20 Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” 21 But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben further said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hands, to restore him to his father. 23 So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; 24 and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it.
Although Reuben had saved Joseph from being murdered by his brothers, Joseph was still in grave danger. There was no water in the pit, and he would die quickly if he was not rescued soon.
25 Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.
So Judah, in line for the double portion of the inheritance and the scepter of the kingdom, sold his own brother to some Ishmaelites, who were also their kinsmen. These in turn, sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt. Apparently Reuben was absent for the transaction, for
29 Now Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his garments. 30 He returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where am I to go?” 31 So they took Joseph’s tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; 32 and they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, “We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.” 33 Then he examined it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!” 34 So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, “Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.” So his father wept for him.
Jacob’s grief was so great that he would later be unwilling to send his youngest son with the ten brothers even though it meant that his entire household starve. No parent wants to endure such grief, and certainly would do everything to not have to experience it twice! However, unbeknownst to Jacob, Joseph had been taken down to Egypt by the caravan of Ishmaelite traders.
36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.
Judah stepped up as leader and sold Joseph into slavery. He led the brothers in deceiving Jacob into believing that Joseph had died by a wild animal attack. Judah probably thought that Joseph was as good as dead, and even if he did survive, he would never be heard from again. At this time, Judah was not walking according to the LORD or His covenant. He was living for himself. This will become evident in the next chapter.
Joseph walked with the LORD, and he received dreams from the LORD. In later chapters, he will continue to walk by faith, and God will use him to bring blessing upon the nations of the earth. It seems as if God’s blessing is upon Joseph, but Judah is the one who remains in the Promised Land. Who will receive the inheritance from Jacob?