Genesis 37
Pulpit Commentary Homiletics
Jacob may be said to fall into the background from this time until his parting benediction. The kingdom of God is represented in Joseph and his history. The main points in this chapter are -

I. GOD'S DISTINGUISHING GRACE TO JOSEPH, separating him from his brethren in character, in his father's affection, in the method of his life, in' the communications of the Spirit. Joseph is the type of the believer, faithful to the covenant, amongst both the Canaanitish heathen and the unfaithful children of the covenant, the patriarchs.

II. THE WORKING OF EVIL PASSIONS AND MORAL IMPURITY BROUGHT TO A CLIMAX THROUGH THE DEVELOPMENT OF GOD'S GRACE IN THE INDIVIDUAL. Joseph brought the evil report to Jacob. Joseph dreamed. Joseph was evidently both in himself superior to his brethren and more favored by God. That is the old story - the Cain spirit developed by contact with the Abel spirit. A time of special grace is always a time of special wickedness and judgment. Witness the advent of the Lord, the Reformation period, the revival of religion in the last century, leading on to the outburst of both wickedness and judgment at the end.

III. THE DREAMS OF THE PIOUS LAD WERE THEMSELVES STEPS IN THE COURSE OF REVELATION. The dominion which was foreshadowed was that of the spiritual kingdom over the unspiritual.

IV. THE PROVIDENTIAL FULFILLMENT OF THE PROMISE. Partly through the personal character of Joseph, partly through the evil passions of his brethren, partly through the apparently casual incidents of the neighborhood, partly through the Spirit of righteousness working in the heart of Reuben, partly through the weakness and fondness of Jacob. How strangely "all things work together" in God's hands 1 He weaves the web composed of many single threads into one united, orderly pattern as a whole in which we are able to trace his own thought and purpose.

V. Joseph in the pit while his brethren sit down to eat bread represents THE BELIEVER SUFFERING IN THE MIDST OF AN UNBELIEVING WORLD. A type of Jesus cast into the pit of his humiliation, while the Jewish people despised and rejected claims, his prophetic words, his evident favor with God, and by their transactions with Gentiles, the Romans, gave him up to what seemed to them ruin, but what was the crowning of his head with glory. We begin to see at this point that, as the Psalmist sang, "the word of the Lord tried him."

VI. THE DELIVERANCE Of Joseph and his transference to the sphere of his future triumph are EFFECTED THROUGH JUDAH IMMEDIATELY, THROUGH THE OTHER BRETHREN AND THE ISHMAELITES OR MIDIANITES SECONDARILY. These names of Judah, Ishmael, Midian remind us that the fleshly links which bind the descendants of Abraham together are not lost sight of by God, are called in to serve the purposes of grace, but not to take the place of the true spiritual work, which goes on in its own appointed channel. So in the history of the Church, while there are many secondary influences at work, still there is a remnant according to the election of grace in which there is the real continuity of Divine dealings.

VII. The genuine grief of Reuben, the barbarous inhumanity towards their father of the fallen sons, THE OVERWHELMING SORROW OF THE AGED, HEART-BROKEN JACOB, the rising up of all his sons and daughters to comfort him, are all beautiful and significant touches of nature in this history, which remind us that we are not "following cunningly-devised fables, and that God's gracious kingdom of truth and love does not annihilate the human in order to reveal the Divine, but puts its rainbow on the cloud.

VIII. THE INTRODUCTION OF EGYPT again into the history. Egypt is the type of the world, as built upon the foundation of fallen humanity alone, without the special grace of God, Into that bulk of the unrenewed race the leaven of the kingdom must be put. The connection between the covenant family and Egypt, which we trace in the history of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, as afterwards in their descendants, represents at once

(1) the thoroughly human character of the kingdom that God would set up in the earth, for the people of God found much in Egypt which they carried away with them afterwards, and assimilated to their own specially-communicated faith;

(2) the breadth of the promises of God - the separation of the one people was for the sake of all the families of the earth. - R.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, &c. Picturesque scene is the encampment of Jacob. How well the dark camel-hair tents harmonize with the general character of the spots in which they are pitched. Peace and purity should dwell there. Ten men of the tribe of Jacob are most depraved, but their characters only threw into brighter prominence that of Joseph. It is probable that Jacob gave greater attention to the training of Joseph than to that of his brethren. He showed favoritism also. His act of giving him a garb of varied color may not altogether have been so foolish and weak as sometimes it has been supposed to be. It was simply an ordinary Eastern way of indicating that Joseph was to be the future leader and sheik of the encampment. Think of Joseph's home life, and learn -

I. THAT AT HOME WE SHOULD, LIKE JOSEPH, LEARN TO PREPARE FOR FUTURE LIFE. Doubtless Jacob would tell Joseph of the promises of God to Abraham, of the tradition of the Deluge and the Fall; probably also of his own fleeing from home, and his dream in the desert, when he saw "the great altar-stair sloping through darkness up to God," and the angels ascending and descending. Joseph always afterwards has great faith in dreams. No book had he. The Bible was not written. Traditions and oral teaching formed his mental training.

II. AT HOME WE SHOULD ALWAYS HAVE SOME EMPLOYMENT. His father loved him too dearly to allow him to grow up in habits of idleness. He learned to handle the crook and to become a faithful messenger. No work is to be despised, for all may be a preparation for future usefulness.

III. AT HOME WE SHOULD NOT WILLINGLY BE WITNESSES OF WRONGDOING. The lives of Joseph's brethren were sinful, and their doings deceitful. Some things he is obliged to know about of which it is dangerous to keep silence. The welfare of the whole tribe was being risked by the elder brothers, and Joseph, fearing that, tells his father, or seeks counsel that he may be strengthened to resist evil influence.

IV. AT HOME WE MAY HAVE GLOWING VISIONS OF THE FUTURE. The two dreams concerning the sheaves, and the sun and moon and stars, brought hate from his brethren, but they had an influence on Joseph's after life. They were remarkably fulfilled. We all have some such visions. We build "castles in the air." The stern realities of life tone down our dreams. It is well to have some such dreams. Without them few make any advance in life. We are not to be like mere senseless stones, but growing plants. Better is it to bear fruit than to wait to become only the sport of circumstances. - H.

Go, I pray thee, see whether, &c. Joseph left home unexpectedly. He knew not when he left it to seek his brethren that he would never come back again. After a longer journey than he anticipated Joseph finds his brethren.

I. Like many leaving home, Joseph MET WITH FAITHFUL GUIDES. There are generally companions, teachers, ministers to help.

II. Like many leaving home, Joseph FELL INTO SNARES. He could not help himself. The snares were not such as were willingly entered. The wicked entrapped him. On his youth, far from home, defenseless, and kindly-intentioned, nine cowardly men fell.

III. Like many away from home, Joseph FOUND THAT GOD CARED FOR HIM WHEN HIS EARTHLY FATHER COULD NOT. Reuben was the means of saving him from death. Sold into slavery, he was still on the highway to eminence. We have to beware of hateful and murderous thoughts, remembering "that he that hateth his brother is" (so far as intent goes) "a murderer." In all journeyings we have to commit our way unto the Lord, and he will guide and defend. - H.

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.

And they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit. As a compromise Joseph had been thrown into a pit. His brothers at first intended to murder him. Their intention was almost as bad as a murder. The Scriptures tell us that "he that hateth his brother is a murderer." And one writer says, "Many a man who has not taken a brother's life, by indulgence of malevolence, is in the sight of God a more sinful man than many who have expiated their guilt on a scaffold." Joseph only was the gainer in that life was spared. To the brothers deep guilt appertained. They threw him into a pit to perish, thinking possibly to lessen guilt by avoiding the actual shedding of blood.

I. WE MUST EXPECT TO FIND PITFALLS IN LIFE. To Joseph the snare came suddenly. He was forced in. He had acted as he believed rightly in revealing the wicked deeds of his brethren, and he suffers for it. His brothers seize the first opportunity of bringing reprisals upon him for what they considered his officiousness. When alone they seized him. They were ten men to one stripling. Coward brothers! "In with him," they say. In the pit's depth is security, in its dryness speedy death. The pitfalls into which many stumble or into which they are drawn are such as these: circumstances being altogether unfavorable in life; or severe and overpowering temptations to some special sin, as intemperance, passion, or lust; or greed, or ambition, or spiritual pride. Debt, loss of character, and despondency are also deep pitfalls. If we come to love evil for itself, that is a very deep pit, and it adjoins that state which is hopeless. Many are drawn into these pits by carelessness, indifference, and neglect, while others are so entangled by circumstances and conditions of birth that the wonder is that they ever escape.

II. THERE IS OFTEN DELIVERANCE FROM THE DEEPEST PITFALLS. To Joseph it came at the right moment. It came in response to earnest desire. The brothers thought to make a profit by his deliverance, but God was saving him through their avarice and timidity. Joseph was helpless. His brothers had to lift him out. We must feel our helplessness, and then Christ is sure to deliver us from the pit of sin and despair. The brothers of Joseph had low and mercenary aims in lifting up their brother; Jesus is all love and self-sacrifice in the effort to save us. Nothing but the long line of his finished work and fervent love could reach souls. When brought up from the pit we shall not be inclined to praise ourselves. We shall ascribe all the glory to him who "brought us up out of the deep pit and fairy clay, and placed our feet upon a rock, and established our goings." - H.

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