Commentary of the Old and New Testaments

Genesis 37

By Joseph Benson


Verse 2
Genesis 37:2. These are the generations of Jacob — The events or occurrences which happened to Jacob in his family and issue; as the word is used, chap. Genesis 6:9, and Numbers 3:1. The genealogy of Esau, which was brought in by way of parenthesis, being finished, Moses returns to the family of Jacob, and proceeds in his narration of their concerns. And it is not a barren genealogy like that of Esau, but a memorable, useful history. Joseph brought to his father their evil report — Jacob’s sons did that when they were from under his eye, which they durst not have done if they had been at home with him; but Joseph gave his father an account of their ill carriage, that he might reprove and restrain them.

Verse 3
Genesis 37:3. The son of his old age — Born when Jacob was ninety-one years old. Such children are commonly best beloved of their parents. Several of the ancient translations, Chaldee, Persian, Arabic, and Samaritan, render the words a wise or prudent son, old age being an emblem of prudence; one born old, wise above his years. Jacob’s other sons had in many things grieved and disgraced him; but Joseph, it seems, gave, while young, indications of that wisdom and piety which adorned his riper years. A coat of divers colours — Interwoven with threads, or made of pieces of divers colours. This probably was meant to signify that further honours were intended him; but it seems to have been an injudicious distinction, and excited the envy of Jacob’s other sons.

Verse 5
Genesis 37:5. Joseph dreamed a dream — Which it is probable he did not understand at first, and therefore, in great simplicity, told it to his brethren; for, had he understood it, he certainly would not have mentioned it to them, for he could not but know they were likely to make an evil construction and use of it. But God’s special providence was seen both in giving him these dreams, and in causing him to reveal them, because hereby it was made manifest, when the things which they signified came to pass, that these events had not happened by chance, but were of God’s ordering. It must be observed, that though Joseph was so young, as is here stated, yet his piety and devotion were such, that he was fitted thereby for God’s gracious discoveries to him: and as he had a great deal of trouble before him, God, in his great goodness, was pleased betimes to give him this prospect of his advancement, to support and comfort him.

Verse 7
Genesis 37:7. Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field — This was a secret intimation of the occasion of Joseph’s advancement, which was from his counsel and care about the corn in Egypt. Your sheaves stood round about — A posture this of ministry and service; and made obeisance to my sheaf — How wonderfully was this fulfilled when his brethren, making application to him for corn, came and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth!

Verse 8
Genesis 37:8. Shalt thou indeed reign over us? — See here, 1st, How truly they interpreted his dream! The event exactly answered this interpretation, Genesis 42:6, &c. 2d, How scornfully they resented it, Shalt thou, that art but one, reign over us, that are many? Thou that art the youngest, over us that are elder? The reign of Jesus Christ, our Joseph, is despised and opposed by an unbelieving world, who cannot endure to think that this man should reign over them. The dominion also of the upright in the morning of the resurrection is thought of with the utmost disdain. They hated him yet the more for his words — For this relation of his dream, which they imputed to his arrogancy.

Verse 9
Genesis 37:9. Yet another dream — The repetition of the same thing in another shape, might have taught them that it was both certain and very observable. Behold the sun and the moon — His father and mother, here signified by the sun and moon, were not represented in the first dream, because, in the event, his brethren only went at first to Egypt, and there did him obeisance, and it was not till afterward that his father went with them.

Verse 10
Genesis 37:10. He told it to his father — The dream was so strongly impressed upon his mind, and that, no doubt, by the Spirit of God, that he could not rest till he had acquainted his father with it. His father rebuked him — Not through anger or contempt of his dream, for it follows, he observed it; but partly lest Joseph should be elated with the idea of superiority over his brethren, and give place to pride on account of his dreams, and principally to allay the envy and hatred of his brethren. In his thus rebuking him, although in regard to Joseph without cause, Jacob is an example worthy of the imitation of all parents, who, when they observe any appearance of arrogance, self-exaltation, or aspiring after high things in any of their children, ought always to check it, as being a sinful disposition, and often productive of very evil consequences. Shall I and thy mother — Leah, his step-mother, one that filled his mother’s place, and was now Jacob’s only wife, and the mother of the family. Or he means, “Shall thy mother Rachel rise from the dead to come and join with me in worshipping thee?” In which sense of the words he seems to infer the idleness of the dream, the fulfilling of it being impossible.

Verse 11
Genesis 37:11. But his father observed the saying — The words of Joseph, or the dream which he told, well knowing that God did frequently reveal his will, or foretel future events by dreams, and perceiving something singular and extraordinary in this dream, and especially in its being doubled.

Verse 12
Genesis 37:12. To feed in Shechem — In the parts adjoining to Shechem, probably in the lands Jacob had purchased there. After the cruel and barbarous massacre which Jacob’s sons had been guilty of toward the Shechemites, it is a wonder they should venture to seek pasture for their flocks in that neighbourhood; but it is no wonder that their father should be anxious for their safety. It must be observed, however, as the LXX. make a difference in the spelling of the name of that place where they had so lately robbed and murdered the people, and this where they were now feeding their flocks, some suppose that this was not the same Shechem, but another at some considerable distance from it. Be this as it will, as either place was at least forty, if not sixty miles from Hebron, if Jacob had any idea of the envy and malice which actuated his other sons against Joseph, it is not to be supposed that he would have sent him among them, and have thus put his life in their hands. The providence of God, however, was in the whole affair, for his own glory, and the preservation of the lives of many.

Verse 18-19
Genesis 37:18-19. When they saw him they conspired against him — It was not in a heat, or upon a sudden provocation, that they thought to slay him, but from malice prepense, and in cold blood. Behold this dreamer cometh — Hebrew, this master of dreams; that covers his own ambitious desires and designs, with pretences and fictions of dreams. See the progress of vice! From envy and malice they proceeded to conspire against the life of their brother, and then contrived a lie to impose upon their own father!

Verse 21
Genesis 37:21. Reuben heard it — God can raise up friends for his people, even among their enemies. Reuben, of all the brothers, had most reason to be jealous of Joseph; for he was the firstborn, and so entitled to those distinguishing favours which Jacob was conferring on Joseph; yet he proves his best friend. Reuben’s temper seems to have been soft and effeminate, which had betrayed him into the sin of uncleanness; while the temper of the two next brothers, Simeon and Levi, was fierce, which betrayed them into the sin of murder, a sin which Reuben startled at the thought of. He made a proposal which they thought would effectually destroy Joseph, and yet which he designed should answer his intention of rescuing him out of their hands, probably hoping thereby to recover his father’s favour, which he had lately lost; but God overruled all to serve his own purpose of making Joseph an instrument to save much people alive. Joseph was here a type of Christ. Though he was the beloved Son of his Father, and hated by a wicked world, yet the Father sent him out of his bosom to visit us; he came from heaven to earth to seek and save us; yet then malicious plots were laid against him; he came to his own, and his own not only received him not, but consulted, This is the heir, come, let us kill him. This he submitted to, in pursuance of his design to save us.

Verse 24-25
Genesis 37:24-25. They cast him into a pit — To perish there with hunger and cold; so cruel were their tender mercies. They sat down to eat bread — They felt no remorse of conscience, which, if they had, would have spoiled their stomachs to their meat. A great force put upon conscience commonly stupifies it, and for the time deprives it both of sense and speech. A company of Ishmaelites — In Genesis 37:28; Genesis 37:36, they are termed also Midianites, or, as it is in the Hebrew of Genesis 37:36, Medanites. It seems these different tribes, which were descended from the sons of Abraham, Medan, and Midian, by Keturah, and of Ishmael, by Hagar, were joined in one caravan, or company of merchants, bringing spicery, balm, and myrrh upon their camels from Gilead, a place noted for these articles, and carrying them into Egypt.

Verse 26
Genesis 37:26. What profit is it if we slay our brother? — It will be less guilt and more gain to sell him. They all agreed to this. And as Joseph was sold by the contrivance of Judah for twenty pieces of silver, so was our Lord Jesus for thirty, and by one of the same name too, Judas. Reuben, it seems, was gone away from his brethren when they sold Joseph, intending to come round some other way to the pit, and to help Joseph out of it. But had this taken effect, what had become of God’s purpose concerning his preferment in Egypt? There are many devices of the enemies of God’s people to destroy them, and of their friends to help them, which perhaps are both disappointed, as these here; but the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand. Reuben thought himself undone because the child was sold; I, whither shall I go? — He being the eldest, his father would expect from him an account of him; but it proved they had all been undone, if he had not been sold.

Verse 31
Genesis 37:31. They took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid — It is difficult to say here whether their falsehood or their cruelly to their father be the more to be execrated!

Verse 35
Genesis 37:35. All his sons and all his daughters — Namely, Dinah and his daughters-in-law, for several of his sons were married; rose up to comfort him — In this his excess of sorrow to which he had imprudently and sinfully abandoned himself. He refused to be comforted — Resolving to go down to, the grave mourning, And yet there was no foundation for all this sorrow. Joseph, whose supposed premature and violent death he thus deeply and inconsolably lamented, was still alive and in health; and God was preparing him for, and conducting him to, a state of felicity and glory much beyond what Jacob could reasonably have expected or desired for him. Nay, and God by these very means, which had deprived Jacob of him for a time, was pursuing the measures which his infinite wisdom had devised to make Joseph the instrument of preserving Jacob and all his family from perishing by famine! Thus do we often mourn, with the bitterest anguish, those very ways and acts of Providence, which are designed to be productive of the greatest good to us; and consider as the greatest evils those things which God intends to be real and lasting blessings! Let us then learn to resign ourselves and all our affairs to the disposal of that infinitely wise and gracious Being, who is engaged, by promise, to make all things work for good to them that love and trust in him. And let us be aware that great affection to any creature doth but prepare for so much the greater affliction, when it is either removed from us, or imbittered to us: inordinate love commonly ends in immoderate grief.