1. Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was
a stranger—that is, "a sojourner"; "father" used
collectively. The patriarch was at this time at Mamre, in the valley of
Hebron (compare Ge 35:27);
and his dwelling there was continued in the same manner and prompted by
the same motives as that of Abraham and Isaac (Heb 11:13).
2. generations—leading occurrences, in
the domestic history of Jacob, as shown in the narrative about to be
Joseph … was feeding the
flock—literally, "Joseph being seventeen years old was a
shepherd over the flock"—he a lad, with the sons of Bilhah and
Zilpah. Oversight or superintendence is evidently implied. This post of
chief shepherd in the party might be assigned him either from his being
the son of a principal wife or from his own superior qualities of
character; and if invested with this office, he acted not as a
gossiping telltale, but as a "faithful steward" in reporting the
scandalous conduct of his brethren.
3. son of his old age—Benjamin being
younger, was more the son of his old age and consequently on that
ground might have been expected to be the favorite. Literally rendered,
it is "son of old age to him"—Hebrew phrase, for "a wise
son"—one who possessed observation and wisdom above his
years—an old head on young shoulders.
made him a coat of many colors—formed
in those early days by sewing together patches of colored cloth, and
considered a dress of distinction (Jud 5:30; 2Sa 13:18). The passion for various colors still
reigns among the Arabs and other people of the East, who are fond of
dressing their children in this gaudy attire. But since the art of
interweaving various patterns was introduced, "the coats of colors" are
different now from what they seem to have been in patriarchal times,
and bear a close resemblance to the varieties of tartan.
4. could not speak peaceably unto
him—did not say "peace be to thee" [Ge 43:23, &c.], the usual expression of good
wishes among friends and acquaintances. It is deemed a sacred duty to
give all this form of salutation; and the withholding of it is an
unmistakable sign of dislike or secret hostility. The habitual refusal
of Joseph's brethren, therefore, to meet him with "the salaam,"
showed how ill-disposed they were towards him. It is very natural in
parents to love the youngest, and feel partial to those who excel in
talents or amiableness. But in a family constituted as
Jacob's—many children by different mothers—he showed great
and criminal indiscretion.
Ge 37:5-36. The Dreams of
5. Joseph dreamed a dream—Dreams in
ancient times were much attended to, and hence the dream of Joseph,
though but a mere boy, engaged the serious consideration of his family.
But this dream was evidently symbolical. The meaning was easily
discerned, and, from its being repeated under different emblems, the
fulfilment was considered certain (compare Ge 41:32), whence it was that "his brethren
envied him, but his father observed the saying" [Ge 37:11].
12. his brethren went to feed their father's flock
in Shechem—The vale of Shechem was, from the earliest mention
of Canaan, blest with extraordinary abundance of water. Therefore did
the sons of Jacob go from Hebron to this place, though it must have
cost them near twenty hours' travelling—that is, at the shepherd
rate, a little more than fifty miles. But the herbage there was so rich
and nutritious that they thought it well worth the pains of so long a
journey, to the neglect of the grazing district of Hebron [Van De Velde].
13-17. Israel said, … Do not thy brethren
feed the flock in Shechem?—Anxious to learn how his sons were
doing in their distant encampment, Jacob despatched Joseph; and the
youth, accepting the mission with alacrity, left the vale of Hebron,
sought them at Shechem, heard of them from a man in "the field" (the
wide and richly cultivated plain of Esdraelon), and found that they had
left that neighborhood for Dothan, probably being compelled by the
detestation in which, from the horrid massacre, their name was
17. Joseph went after his brethren, and found them
in Dothan—Hebrew, Dothaim, or "two wells," recently
discovered in the modern "Dothan," situated a few hours' distance from
18. when they saw him afar off—on the
level grass field, where they were watching their cattle. They could
perceive him approaching in the distance from the side of Shechem, or
19. Behold, this dreamer
cometh—literally, "master of dreams"—a bitterly
ironical sneer. Dreams being considered suggestions from above, to make
false pretensions to having received one was detested as a species of
blasphemy, and in this light Joseph was regarded by his brethren as an
artful pretender. They already began to form a plot for Joseph's
assassination, from which he was rescued only by the address of Reuben,
who suggested that he should rather be cast into one of the wells,
which are, and probably were, completely dried up in summer.
23. they stripped Joseph out of his coat …
of many colors—Imagine him advancing in all the unsuspecting
openness of brotherly affection. How astonished and terrified must he
have been at the cold reception, the ferocious aspect, the rough usage
of his unnatural assailants! A vivid picture of his state of agony and
despair was afterwards drawn by themselves (compare Ge 42:21).
25. they sat down to eat bread—What a
view does this exhibit of those hardened profligates! Their common
share in this conspiracy is not the only dismal feature in the story.
The rapidity, the almost instantaneous manner in which the proposal was
followed by their joint resolution, and the cool indifference, or
rather the fiendish satisfaction, with which they sat down to regale
themselves, is astonishing. It is impossible that mere envy at his
dreams, his gaudy dress, or the doting partiality of their common
father, could have goaded them on to such a pitch of frenzied
resentment or confirmed them in such consummate wickedness. Their
hatred to Joseph must have had a far deeper seat. It must have been
produced by dislike to his piety and other excellencies, which made his
character and conduct a constant censure upon theirs, and on account of
which they found that they could never be at ease till they had rid
themselves of his hated presence. This was the true solution of the
mystery, just as it was in the case of Cain (1Jo 3:12).
they lifted up their eyes, … and, behold,
a company of Ishmaelites—They are called Midianites (Ge 37:28), and Medanites, in Hebrew
37:36), being a travelling
caravan composed of a mixed association of Arabians. Those tribes of
Northern Arabia had already addicted themselves to commerce, and long
did they enjoy a monopoly, the carrying trade being entirely in their
hands. Their approach could easily be seen; for, as their road, after
crossing the ford from the trans-jordanic district, led along the south
side of the mountains of Gilboa, a party seated on the plain of Dothan
could trace them and their string of camels in the distance as they
proceeded through the broad and gently sloping valley that intervenes.
Trading in the produce of Arabia and India, they were in the regular
course of traffic on their way to Egypt: and the chief articles of
commerce in which this clan dealt were
spicery from India, that is, a species of
resinous gum, called storax, balm—"balm of Gilead,"
the juice of the balsam tree, a native of Arabia-Felix, and
myrrh—an Arabic gum of a strong, fragrant smell. For these
articles there must have been an enormous demand in Egypt as they were
constantly used in the process of embalming.
26-28. Judah said, … What profit is it if we
slay our brother?—The sight of these travelling merchants
gave a sudden turn to the views of the conspirators; for having no wish
to commit a greater degree of crime than was necessary for the
accomplishment of their end, they readily approved of Judah's
suggestion to dispose of their obnoxious brother as a slave. The
proposal, of course, was founded on their knowledge that the Arabian
merchants trafficked in slaves; and there is the clearest evidence
furnished by the monuments of Egypt that the traders who were in the
habit of bringing slaves from the countries through which they passed,
found a ready market in the cities of the Nile.
they … lifted up Joseph out of the pit,
and sold him—Acting impulsively on Judah's advice, they had
their poor victim ready by the time the merchants reached them; and
money being no part of their object, they sold him for
twenty pieces of silver—The money was
probably in rings or pieces (shekels), and silver is always mentioned
in the records of that early age before gold, on account of its rarity.
The whole sum, if in shekel weight, did not exceed £3.
they brought Joseph into Egypt—There
were two routes to Egypt: the one was overland by Hebron, where Jacob
dwelt, and by taking which, the fate of his hapless son would likely
have reached the paternal ears; the other was directly westward across
the country from Dothan to the maritime coast, and in this, the safest
and most expeditious way, the merchants carried Joseph to Egypt. Thus
did an overruling Providence lead this murderous conclave of brothers,
as well as the slave merchants both following their own free
courses—to be parties in an act by which He was to work out, in a
marvellous manner, the great purposes of His wisdom and goodness
towards His ancient Church and people.
29, 30. Reuben returned unto the pit—He
seems to have designedly taken a circuitous route, with a view of
secretly rescuing the poor lad from a lingering death by starvation.
His intentions were excellent, and his feelings no doubt painfully
lacerated when he discovered what had been done in his absence. But the
thing was of God, who had designed that Joseph's deliverance should be
accomplished by other means than his.
31-33. they took Joseph's coat—The
commission of one sin necessarily leads to another to conceal it; and
the scheme of deception which the sons of Jacob planned and practised
on their aged father was a necessary consequence of the atrocious crime
they had perpetrated. What a wonder that their cruel sneer, "thy son's
coat," and their forced efforts to comfort him, did not awaken
suspicion! But extreme grief, like every other passion, is blind, and
Jacob, great as his affliction was, did allow himself to indulge his
sorrow more than became one who believed in the government of a supreme
and all-wise Disposer.
34. Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon
his loins—the common signs of Oriental mourning. A rent is
made in the skirt more or less long according to the afflicted feelings
of the mourner, and a coarse rough piece of black sackcloth or camel's
hair cloth is wound round the waist.
35. and he said, For I will go down into the grave
unto my son—not the earth, for Joseph was supposed to be torn
in pieces, but the unknown place—the place of departed souls,
where Jacob expected at death to meet his beloved son.