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Genesis 37

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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.
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Chapter 37
Joseph and his brothers
1Jacob lived in Canaan, the land where his father had lived. #37:1 God gave Jacob the new name ‘Israel’. See Genesis 32:28; 35:10. The Bible uses both names for the same person, but here we have used ‘Jacob’.
2This is the report about Jacob and his family.
Joseph was Jacob's son. When he was 17 years old, he took care of his father's sheep and goats. He did this together with his brothers. These were the sons of his father's wives, Bilhah and Zilpah. Sometimes Joseph told his father bad things about his brothers.
3Jacob loved Joseph more than he loved any of his other sons. This was because Joseph was born when Jacob was old. So Jacob made a special coat for Joseph. 4Joseph's brothers knew that Jacob loved him more than he loved them. So they hated Joseph. They could not say anything nice to him.
5One night, Joseph had a dream and he told his brothers about it. When they heard about the dream, Joseph's brothers hated him even more than they did before. 6Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Listen to what happened in my dream: 7We were out in the field tying the crops together into bundles. Then my bundle stood up. Your bundles stood in a circle round my bundle. And all your bundles bent down to respect my bundle.’
8Joseph's brothers said to him, ‘Do you really think that you will be like a king and rule over us like that?’ They hated Joseph even more because of what he told them about his dream.
9Then Joseph had another dream and he told his brothers about it. He said, ‘Listen to me. I have had another dream. This is what happened: The sun, the moon and 11 stars bent down in front of me.’ 10Joseph told his father and his brothers about the dream. Jacob, his father, was angry with him. He said to Joseph, ‘You should not tell us about a dream like that! Do you really think that I, your mother and your brothers will come and bend down in front of you?’ 11Joseph's brothers were very jealous of him. But Jacob thought carefully about what Joseph had said.
12One day, Joseph's brothers had taken their father's sheep to eat grass in the fields. This was near Shechem city. 13Jacob said to Joseph, ‘You know that your brothers have taken my sheep to eat grass near Shechem. I want you to go to them.’ Joseph replied, ‘I am ready to go.’ 14So Jacob said to Joseph, ‘Go and see if your brothers are well. See if the sheep have enough grass to eat. Then come back and tell me news about them.’ Then Jacob sent Joseph from the Valley of Hebron to go to them. 15When Joseph arrived near Shechem and he was walking in the fields there, a man met him. He asked Joseph, ‘What are you looking for?’ 16Joseph replied, ‘I am looking for my brothers. They have taken the sheep to eat grass. Please tell me where they are.’ 17The man said, ‘They have moved away from here. I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’
So Joseph went to look for his brothers. He found them at Dothan. 18But his brothers recognized Joseph, while he was still far away. Before he had arrived where they were, they decided on a way to kill him. 19They said to each other, ‘Here comes the man who likes to dream! 20We will kill him. We can throw him into one of the dry wells. We can tell people that a wild animal ate him. Then his dreams will never become true!’
21When Reuben heard this, he tried to save Joseph from the other brothers. He said, ‘We should not kill him. 22Do not even get his blood on your hands. Just throw him into this dry well here in the wilderness. But do not attack him.’ Reuben said this to save Joseph, so that his brothers would not kill him. Then later, Reuben could take Joseph back to his father.
23So Joseph arrived at where his brothers were. He was wearing his special coat, but they took it off him. 24Then they took hold of Joseph and they threw him into the empty well. It had no water in it.
25Then the brothers sat down to eat their meal. They looked up and they saw a group of Ishmaelites coming towards them. They were coming from the region that is called Gilead. They were riding on camels that carried spices, and different kinds of oils for medicine. They were taking them to sell in Egypt.
26Judah said to his brothers, ‘We could kill our brother and then hide his body. But then we will not get anything for ourselves. 27So, let us sell him to these Ishmaelites. We do not need to hurt him. Then we will not have to kill him. We should remember that he is our brother. He is our own relative.’ Judah's brothers agreed with what he said. 28When the Midianite traders came near to Joseph's brothers, they pulled him out of the dry well. They sold him to the Ishmaelites for 20 silver coins. The Ishmaelites took Joseph with them to Egypt.
29Later, Reuben returned to the dry well. He saw that Joseph was not there. He tore his clothes because he was very upset. 30Reuben went back to his brothers. He said to them, ‘The boy is not in the well! What can I do now?’ #37:30 Reuben was upset because he had tried to save Joseph. He was the oldest of all the brothers. Now he will have to tell his father that Joseph has gone.
31Then the brothers killed a goat. They took its blood and they put the blood all over Joseph's special coat. 32They took the coat back to their father and they told him, ‘We found this coat. Look at it. Tell us if it is your son's coat.’ 33Jacob saw that it was Joseph's coat. He said, ‘It is my son's coat! A wild animal must have eaten him! The animal has torn Joseph's body into pieces.’
34Jacob was so upset that he tore his own clothes. He put on clothes made from sackcloth to show how sad he was. He wept for many days because his son had died.
35All Jacob's sons and daughters came to comfort him. But Jacob was very sad, so they could not make him happy. Jacob said, ‘I will be sad until the day that I die, because my son is dead.’ Jacob wept because Joseph was dead.
36While this was happening, the Midianites took Joseph into Egypt. They sold him to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officers. Potiphar had authority over all of Pharaoh's guards.