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Genesis 37

37
Joseph’s Dream
1So Jacob (Israel) lived in the land #Lit of his father’s sojournings.where his father [Isaac] had been a stranger (sojourner, resident alien), in the land of Canaan. 2These are the generations of Jacob.
Joseph, when he was seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers [Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher]; the boy was with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s [#I.e. concubines (see note 22:24).secondary] wives; and Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. 3Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a [distinctive] #The meaning of this word is uncertain; some sources indicate that it refers to a long-sleeved tunic that reaches the ankles, essentially a light robe. In any case, the tunic was a visible reminder to Joseph’s brothers of their father’s favoritism toward him.multicolored tunic. 4His brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than all of his brothers; so they hated him and could not [find it within themselves to] speak to him on friendly terms.
5Now Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they #In both vv 5 and 8 “hated him even more” is properly translated, but there is an interesting play on words. The literal Hebrew says, “they added to hate”—the Hebrew word for “added” is the same for the word for Joseph—“they ‘Josephed’ their hate for him.”hated him even more. 6He said to them, “Please listen to [the details of] this dream which I have dreamed; 7we [brothers] were binding sheaves [of grain stalks] in the field, and lo, my sheaf [suddenly] got up and stood upright and remained standing; and behold, your sheaves stood all around my sheaf and bowed down [in respect].” 8His brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Are you really going to rule and govern us as your subjects?” So they hated him even more for [telling them about] his dreams and for his [arrogant] words.
9But Joseph dreamed still another dream, and told it to his brothers [as well]. He said, “See here, I have again dreamed a dream, and lo, [this time I saw] eleven stars and the sun and the moon bowed down [in respect] to me!” 10He told it to his father as well as to his brothers; but his father rebuked him and said to him [in disbelief], “What is [the meaning of] this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers actually come to bow down to the ground [in respect] before you?” 11Joseph’s brothers were envious and jealous of him, but his father kept the words [of Joseph] in mind [wondering about their meaning].
12Then his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13Israel (Jacob) said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing [the flock] at Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them.” And he said, “Here I am [ready to obey you].” 14Then Jacob said to him, “Please go and see whether everything is all right with your brothers and all right with the flock; then bring word [back] to me.” So he sent him from the Hebron Valley, and he went to Shechem.
15Now a certain man found Joseph, and saw that he was wandering around and had lost his way in the field; so the man asked him, “What are you looking for?” 16He said, “I am looking for my brothers. Please tell me where they are pasturing our flocks.” 17Then the man said, “[They were here, but] they have moved on from this place. I heard them say, ‘Let us go to #Located about twelve miles north of Shechem.Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
The Plot against Joseph
18And when they saw him from a distance, even before he came close to them, they plotted to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Look, here comes this #Lit master of dreams.dreamer. 20Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the #These were earthen tanks that were dug or carved into rocky ground (perhaps limestone), designed to collect rainwater in the desert during winters. Some were cavernous, with a staircase carved into one of the walls for access to the bottom. The cistern selected by Joseph’s brothers must have been deep enough to make escape very difficult for someone of his size, but constructed without a staircase or other means of access (other than a rope).pits (cisterns, underground water storage); then we will say [to our father], ‘A wild animal killed and devoured him’; and we shall see what will become of his dreams!” 21Now Reuben [the eldest] heard this and rescued him from their hands and said, “Let us not take his life.” 22Reuben said to them, “Do not shed his blood, but [instead] throw him [alive] into the pit that is here in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him [to kill him]”—[he said this so] that he could rescue him from them and return him [safely] to his father. 23Now when Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped him of his tunic, the [distinctive] #See note v 3.multicolored tunic which he was wearing; 24then they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25Then they sat down to eat their meal. When they looked up, they saw a caravan of #Descendants of Abraham and Hagar (Sarah’s maid, 16:15).Ishmaelites coming from Gilead [east of the Jordan], with their camels bearing ladanum resin [for perfume] and balm and #A valuable tree resin.myrrh, going on their way to carry the cargo down to Egypt. 26Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood (murder)? 27Come, let us [instead] sell him to these Ishmaelites [and #Descendants of Abraham and Keturah, his concubine.Midianites] and not lay our hands on him, because he is our brother and our flesh.” So his brothers listened to him and agreed. 28Then as the #The relationship between the Midianites and the Ishmaelites as they are mentioned here is unclear. It is possible, as some have suggested, that “Ishmaelites” came to be used as a general term for desert tribes, and that the same merchants are called by both names in this verse. This would also explain the reference to the “Midianites” in v 36. Another explanation, which was offered by the rabbis, is that Joseph was sold first to the Ishmaelites, who then sold him to the Midianites. Another possibility is that they were Ishmaelites from the area of Midian.Midianite [and Ishmaelite] traders were passing by, the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and they sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And so they took Joseph [as a captive] into Egypt.
29Now Reuben [unaware of what had happened] returned to the pit, and [to his great alarm found that] Joseph was not in the pit; so he tore his clothes [in deep sorrow]. 30He rejoined his brothers and said, “The boy is not there; as for me, where shall I go [to hide from my father]?” 31Then they took Joseph’s tunic, slaughtered a male goat and dipped the tunic in the blood; 32and they brought the multicolored tunic to their father, saying, “We have found this; please examine it and decide whether or not it is your son’s tunic.” 33He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces!” 34So Jacob tore his clothes [in grief], put #An uncomfortable material woven from goat hair and worn in mourning.on sackcloth and mourned many days for his son. 35Then all his sons and daughters attempted to console him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “I will go down to Sheol (the place of the dead) in mourning for my son.” And his father wept for him. 36Meanwhile, in Egypt the Midianites sold Joseph [as a slave] to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the [royal] guard.
37
Joseph Sold into Egypt. 1Jacob settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan.#The statement points ahead to 47:27, “Thus Israel settled in the land of Egypt, in the region of Goshen.” These two statements frame the Joseph narrative; the later material (47:28–49:33) is about Jacob; chap. 50 brings to a conclusion themes remaining from the earlier story. One aim of the Joseph story is to explain how Israel came to Egypt after sojourning so long in Canaan. 2This is the story of the family of Jacob.#The Joseph story is great literature not only in its themes but in its art. The stories show an interest in the psychology of the characters; everyone acts “in character” yet there is never a doubt that a divine purpose is bringing events to their conclusion. According to a literary analysis, vv. 1–4 set the scene; vv. 5–36 introduce the dramatic tension in the form of a conflict within the family; chaps. 38–41 describe the journeys away from their family of the eponymous ancestors of the two great tribes of later times, Judah (chap. 38) and Joseph (chaps. 39–41) and their preliminary conclusions; chaps. 42–44 detail the famine and journeys for food (chaps. 42, 43) that bring the brothers and (indirectly) the father into fresh contact with a mature Joseph who now has the power of life and death over them; 45:1–47:27 is the resolution (reconciliation of Joseph to his brothers) and the salvation of the family. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he was tending the flocks with his brothers; he was an assistant to the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah, and Joseph brought their father bad reports about them. 3Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him a long ornamented tunic.#Jacob’s favoring Joseph over his other sons is a cause of the brothers’ attempt on his life. Throughout the story, Jacob is unaware of the impact of his favoritism on his other sons (cf. vv. 33–35; 42:36). Long ornamented tunic: the meaning of the Hebrew phrase is unclear. In 2 Sm 13:18–19, it is the distinctive dress of unmarried royal daughters. The “coat of many colors” in the Septuagint became the traditional translation. Ancient depictions of Semites in formal dress show them with long, ornamented robes and that is the most likely meaning here. Possibly, the young Joseph is given a coat that symbolizes honor beyond his years. Later, Pharaoh will clothe Joseph in a robe that symbolizes honor (41:42). 4When his brothers saw that their father loved him best of all his brothers, they hated him so much that they could not say a kind word to him.
5#Joseph’s dreams of ruling his brothers appear at first glance to be merely adolescent grandiosity, and they bring him only trouble. His later successes make it clear, however, that they were from God. Another confirmation of their divine source is the doubling of dreams (cf. 41:32). Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers, they hated him even more.#Gn 42:9. 6He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had. 7There we were, binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf rose to an upright position, and your sheaves formed a ring around my sheaf and bowed down to it.” 8His brothers said to him, “Are you really going to make yourself king over us? Will you rule over us?” So they hated him all the more because of his dreams and his reports.#Gn 50:17–18.
9Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look, I had another dream,” he said; “this time, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10When he told it to his father and his brothers, his father reproved him and asked, “What is the meaning of this dream of yours? Can it be that I and your mother and your brothers are to come and bow to the ground before you?” 11So his brothers were furious at him but his father kept the matter in mind.
12One day, when his brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem, 13Israel said to Joseph, “Are your brothers not tending our flocks at Shechem? Come and I will send you to them.” “I am ready,” Joseph answered. 14“Go then,” he replied; “see if all is well with your brothers and the flocks, and bring back word.” So he sent him off from the valley of Hebron. When Joseph reached Shechem, 15a man came upon him as he was wandering about in the fields. “What are you looking for?” the man asked him. 16“I am looking for my brothers,” he answered. “Please tell me where they are tending the flocks.” 17The man told him, “They have moved on from here; in fact, I heard them say, ‘Let us go on to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19They said to one another: “Here comes that dreamer! 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns here; we could say that a wild beast devoured him. We will see then what comes of his dreams.”#Gn 44:28.
21#The chapter thus far is from the Yahwist source, as are also vv. 25–28a. But vv. 21–24 and 28b–36 are from another source (sometimes designated the Elohist source). In the latter, Reuben tries to rescue Joseph, who is taken in Reuben’s absence by certain Midianites; in the Yahwist source, it is Judah who saves Joseph’s life by having him sold to certain Ishmaelites. Although the two variant forms in which the story was handed down in early oral tradition differ in these minor points, they agree on the essential fact that Joseph was brought as a slave into Egypt because of the jealousy of his brothers. But when Reuben heard this, he tried to save him from their hands, saying: “We must not take his life.” 22Then Reuben said, “Do not shed blood! Throw him into this cistern in the wilderness; but do not lay a hand on him.” His purpose was to save him from their hands and restore him to his father.#Gn 42:22.
23So when Joseph came up to his brothers, they stripped him of his tunic, the long ornamented tunic he had on; 24then they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
25Then they sat down to eat. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels laden with gum, balm, and resin to be taken down to Egypt.#Gn 43:11. 26Judah said to his brothers: “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood?#Jb 16:18. 27Come, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” His brothers agreed.
28Midianite traders passed by, and they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern. They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver#They sold Joseph…silver: editors tried to solve the confusion, created by different sources, by supposing that it was the Midianite traders who pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him to Ishmaelites. In all probability, one source had the brothers selling Joseph to Ishmaelites, whereas the other had them cast him into the pit whence he was taken by Midianite traders. to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.#Ps 105:17; Wis 10:13; Acts 7:9. 29When Reuben went back to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not in it, he tore his garments,#Tore his garments: the traditional sign of mourning in the ancient Near East. 30and returning to his brothers, he exclaimed: “The boy is gone! And I—where can I turn?” 31They took Joseph’s tunic, and after slaughtering a goat, dipped the tunic in its blood. 32Then they sent someone to bring the long ornamented tunic to their father, with the message: “We found this. See whether it is your son’s tunic or not.” 33He recognized it and exclaimed: “My son’s tunic! A wild beast has devoured him! Joseph has been torn to pieces!”#Gn 44:28. 34Then Jacob tore his garments, put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned his son many days. 35Though his sons and daughters tried to console him, he refused all consolation, saying, “No, I will go down mourning to my son in Sheol.”#Sheol: see note on Ps 6:6. Thus did his father weep for him.#Gn 42:38.
36The Midianites, meanwhile, sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an official of Pharaoh and his chief steward.#Ps 105:17.