Expositor's Dictionary of Texts
And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.Joseph and His Brethren
With the story of Joseph we come to the last division of Genesis. The development and progress of the household of Jacob, until at length it became a nation in Egypt, had Joseph as a pioneer. The fullness of the narrative is worthy of consideration. There is a fourfold value and importance in the record of Joseph's life. (1) It gives the explanation of the development of the Hebrews. (2) It is a remarkable proof of the quiet operation of Divine Providence overruling evil, and leading at length to the complete victory of truth and righteousness. (3) It affords a splendid example of personal character. (4) It provides a striking series of typical illustrations of Christ. Joseph exemplifies the testing and triumph of faith.
I. Joseph's Home Life.—Joseph was the child of Jacob's later life, and escaped all the sad experiences associated with the earlier years at Haran. His companions were his half-brothers, the grown-up sons of Bilhab and Zilpah. From all that we have hitherto seen of them they must have been utterly unfit companions for such a youth. The difference between the elder brethren and Joseph was accentuated by the fact that 'Joseph brought unto his father the evil report of his brethren'. It is sometimes thought that Joseph is blameworthy for telling tales, but there does not seem any warrant for regarding him as a mere spy. There was, however, something much more than this to account for the differences between Joseph and his brethren. The gift of a coat of many colours (or pieces), or rather the 'tunic with sleeves,' was about the most significant act that Jacob could have shown to Joseph. It was a mark of distinction that carried its own meaning, for it implied that exemption from labour which was the peculiar privilege of the heir or prince of the Eastern clan. And so when his brethren saw these marks of special favour, 'they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him'.
II. Joseph's Dreams.—The hatred of the brothers was soon intensified through the dreams that Joseph narrated to them. They were natural in form as distinct from any Divine vision, and yet they were clearly prophetic of Joseph's future glory.
III. In the Course of their Work as Shepherds Jacob's Elder Sons went to Shechem.—It is not surprising that Israel wished to know how it fared with his sons and with his flocks. He therefore commands Joseph to take the journey of inquiry. The promptness and thoroughness of obedience on the part of Joseph is very characteristic of him. It has often and truly been pointed out that Joseph seems to have combined all the best qualities of his ancestors—the capacity of Abraham, the quietness of Isaac, the ability of Jacob.
IV. Joseph's Brethren.—The conspiracy was all very simply but quite cleverly concocted, every point was met, the wild beast and the ready explanation. They shrank from slaying but not from enslaving their brother.
V. The Outcome.—Reuben seems to have been away when the proposal to sell Joseph was made and carried out. People are often away when they are most needed. They carried out their ideas with great thoroughness. Jacob refused to be consoled. We cannot fail to note the unutterable grief of the aged patriarch. There was no expression of submission to the will of God, and no allusion to the new name—Israel—in the narrative.
—W. H. Griffith Thomas, A Devotional Commentary, p. 3.
References.—XXXVII.—F. W. Robertson, Notes on Genesis, p. 135. XXXVII. 1-11.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 234. XXXVII. 3.—J. Vaughan, Sermons to Children (4th Series), p. 317.
Third Sunday in Lent
We will divide this subject into two parts. First of all, let us consider it from the point of view of the brethren, and then as it concerns Joseph.
I. The Attitude of the Brothers.—1. A distinction without a difference.—First of all, notice the distinction these men draw between actual murder and casting him into this pit and letting him die there. Do you know, we are sometimes inclined to draw the same distinction in our conduct towards people? Are there not a great many men and women who would rather cut off their right hand than take the life of another, though they will make the life of that other a living death? Put forth their hand to slay a brother? Not so; but by their words day by day, and by their conduct day by day, they will make the life of that friend, that one who perhaps should be very near and dear to them, a misery by unkind words and insinuations and suggestions, by unkind, thoughtless, careless conduct. And what of our relation to our Lord? There are many people who will not boldly throw Him over by joining the ranks of the atheists, who yet bring grief and sorrow and pain to His loving heart day after day.
2. Willing to receive gifts.—Notice also that these brethren were quite willing to receive the gifts brought by their brother Joseph, and yet cast him into the pit. Can you find anywhere a scene of greater callousness and cruelty than this scene? Again let us take care lest we do the same.
3. Evil minds find evil everywhere.—And then, while thinking of the brethren, notice how evil minds will always find evil, noisome, pestilent food wherever they come. What possible temptation to any man could be a caravan of merchantmen on their way down to traffic? and yet here are these brethren with minds bent on evil, falling under the temptation to wrongdoing found in such an innocent thing as a caravan of men going down to Egypt.
II. Lessons from Joseph.—Now let us turn our thoughts for a few minutes to Joseph; we may learn three very useful lessons from this incident.
1. Life is not easy.—First notice that life is not a very easy thing after all. Here is Joseph, no doubt as bright and beautiful a specimen of a boy as you would wish to see anywhere, full of good resolutions, full of high ideals, realizing God's blessing within him, realizing God's gifts and power working and expanding and growing within him. I suppose he thought that he was going to sweep away all difficulty, and then suddenly there comes this terrible thing, this awful difficulty. I suppose we all start more or less like Joseph started, thinking that we are going to make something of life, and that we are going, whatever happens to other people, straight ahead. But disillusionment comes before very long. There comes an awakening, and we find that life is a way beset with briars and thorns, that there are difficulties and dangers.
2. Difficulties meant to strengthen.—Here we learn that all these difficulties and trials of life are not sent to destroy but to strengthen. They are sent in the way of attainment. Joseph had a great life-work before him. He was to become ruler of a mighty nation, to save the life of a nation. He must be prepared for that work by the suffering, the toil, and the trial. Let us lay hold of that thought for our comfort. God wants you to do some great work in the world, not great perhaps as the world counts greatness, but some great and good work for Him. He wants your life to be a useful, noble, and true life, and the way he fits it is by trial, difficulty, danger, that you may be taught where strength is to be found, how truly to make life noble and successful.
S. No true life except by death.—We learn finally that there is no true life except by death. Joseph had to learn many bitter lessons in the dark and slimy pit. He had to learn that good resolutions and high resolves are not sufficient. God requires that you and I should die to ourselves and live unto Him.
References.—XXXVII. 19.—H. J. Wilmot-Buxton, Sunday Lessons, vol. i. p. 249. XXXVII. 23-36.—A. Maclaren, Expositions of Holy Scripture—Genesis, p. 240. XXXVII. 26.—A. G. Mortimer, The Church's Lessons, vol. ii. p. 269. XXXVII. 28.—J. Banstead, Practical Sermons, vol. i. p. 32. XXXIX. 2.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxvii. No. 1610. M. Biggs, Practical Sermons on Old Testament Subjects, p. 74. XXXIX. 8,9.—J. T. Bramston, Sermons to Boys, p. 109.
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 their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.
And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.
And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:
For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.
And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.
And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?
And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.
And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem.
And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.
And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?
And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.
And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.
And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.
And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.
Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.
And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.
And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.
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 it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?
Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.
Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.
And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.
And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?
And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;
And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son's coat or no.
And he knew it, and said, It is my son's coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.
And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.
And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.