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Notes on the Bible, by Albert Barnes, [1834], at

Genesis Chapter 37

- Joseph Was Sold into Egypt

17. דתין dotayı̂n Dothain, "two wells?" (Gesenius)

25. נכאת neko't "tragacanth" or goat's-thorn gum, yielded by the "astragalus gummifer", a native of Mount Lebanon. צרי tsērı̂y "opobalsamum," the resin of the balsam tree, growing in Gilead, and having healing qualities. לט loṭ, λῆδον lēdon, "ledum, ladanum," in the Septuagint στακτή staktē. The former is a gum produced from the cistus rose. The latter is a gum resembling liquid myrrh.

36. פוטיפר pôṭı̂yphar Potiphar, "belonging to the sun."

The sketch of the race of Edom, given in the preceding piece, we have seen, reaches down to the time of Moses. Accordingly, the history of Jacob's seed, which is brought before us in the present document, reverts to a point of time not only before the close of that piece, but before the final record of what precedes it. The thread of the narrative is here taken up from the return of Jacob to Hebron, which was seventeen years before the death of Isaac.

Gen 37:1-5

Joseph is the favorite of his father, but not of his brethren. "In the land of his father's sojournings." This contrasts Jacob with Esau, who removed to Mount Seir. This notice precedes the phrase, "These are the generations." The corresponding sentence in the case of Isaac is placed at the end of the preceding section of the narrative Gen 25:11. "The son of seventeen years;" in his seventeenth year Gen 37:32. "The sons of Bilhah." The sons of the handmaids were nearer his own age, and perhaps more tolerant of the favorite than the sons of Leah the free wife. Benjamin at this time was about four years of age. "An evil report of them." The unsophisticated child of home is prompt in the disapproval of evil, and frank in the avowal of his feelings. What the evil was we are not informed; but Jacob's full-grown sons were now far from the paternal eye, and prone, as it seems, to give way to temptation. Many scandals come out to view in the chosen family. "Loved Joseph." He was the son of his best-loved wife, and of his old age; as Benjamin had not yet come into much notice. "A Coat of many colors." This was a coat reaching to the hands and feet, worn by persons not much occupied with manual labor, according to the general opinion. It was, we conceive, variegated either by the loom or the needle, and is therefore, well rendered χιτὼν ποικίλος chitōn poikilos, a motley coat. "Could not bid peace to him." The partiality of his father, exhibited in so weak a manner, provokes the anger of his brothers, who cannot bid him good-day, or greet him in the ordinary terms of good-will.

Gen 37:5-11

Joseph's dreams excite the jealousy of his brothers. His frankness in reciting his dream to his brothers marks a spirit devoid of guile, and only dimly conscious of the import of his nightly visions. The first dream represents by a figure the humble submission of all his brothers to him, as they rightly interpret it. "For his dreams and for his words." The meaning of this dream was offensive enough, and his telling of it rendered it even more disagreeable. A second dream is given to express the certainty of the event Gen 41:32. The former serves to interpret the latter. There the sheaves are connected with the brothers who bound them, and thereby indicate the parties. The eleven stars are not so connected with them. But here Joseph is introduced directly without a figure, and the number eleven, taken along with the eleven sheaves of the former dream, makes the application to the brothers plain. The sun and moon clearly point out the father and mother. The mother is to be taken, we conceive, in the abstract, without nicely inquiring whether it means the departed Rachel, or the probably still living Leah. Not even the latter seems to have lived to see the fulfillment of this prophetic dream Gen 49:31. The second dream only aggravated the hatred of his brothers; but his father, while rebuking him for his speeches, yet marked the saying. The rebuke seems to imply that the dream, or the telling of it, appears to his father to indicate the lurking of a self-sufficient or ambitious spirit within the breast of the youthful Joseph. The twofold intimation, however, came from a higher source.

Gen 37:12-17

Joseph is sent to Dothan. Shekem belonged to Jacob; part of it by purchase, and the rest by conquest. Joseph is sent to inquire of their welfare (שׁלום shālom "peace," Gen 37:4). With obedient promptness the youth goes to Shekem, where he learns that they had removed to Dothan, a town about twelve miles due north of Shekem.

Gen 37:18-24

His brothers cast him into a pit. "This master of dreams;" an eastern phrase for a dreamer. "Let us slay him." They had a foreboding that his dreams might prove true, and that he would become their arbitrary master. This thought at all events would abate somewhat of the barbarity of their designs. It is implied in the closing sentence of their proposal. Reuben dissuades them from the act of murder, and advises merely to cast him into the pit, to which they consent. He had a more tender heart, and perhaps a more tender conscience than the rest, and intended to send Joseph back safe to his father. He doubtless took care to choose a pit that was without water.

Gen 37:25-30

Reuben rips his clothes when he finds Joseph gone. "To eat bread." This shows the cold and heartless cruelty of their deed. "A caravan" - a company of travelling merchants. "Ishmaelites." Ishmael left his father's house when about fourteen or fifteen years of age. His mother took him a wife probably when he was eighteen, or twenty at the furthest. He had arrived at the latter age about one hundred and sixty-two years before the date of the present occurrence. He had twelve sons Gen 25:13-15, and if we allow only four other generations and a fivefold increase, there will be about fifteen thousand in the fifth generation. "Came from Gilead;" celebrated for its balm Jer 8:22; Jer 46:11. The caravan road from Damascus to Egypt touches upon the land of Gilead, goes through Beth-shean, and passes by Dothan. "Spicery." This gum is called tragacanth, or goats-thorn gum, because it was supposed to be obtained from this plant. "Balm," or balsam; an aromatic substance obtained from a plant of the genus Amyris, a native of Gilead. "Myrrh" is the name of a gum exuding from the balsamodendron myrrha, growing in Arabia Felix. "Lot," however, is supposed to be the resinous juice of the cistus or rock rose, a plant growing in Crete and Syria. Judah, relenting, and revolting perhaps from the crime of fratricide, proposes to sell Joseph to the merchants.

Midianites and Medanites Gen 37:36 are mere variations apparently of the same name. They seem to have been the actual purchasers, though the caravan takes its name from the Ishmaelites, who formed by far the larger portion of it. Midian and Medan were both sons of Abraham, and during one hundred and twenty-five years must have increased to a small clan. Thus, Joseph is sold to the descendants of Abraham. "Twenty silver pieces;" probably shekels. This is the rate at which Moses estimates a male from five to twenty years old Lev 27:5. A man-servant was valued by him at thirty shekels Exo 21:32. Reuben finding Joseph gone, rends his clothes, in token of anguish of mind for the loss of his brother and the grief of his father.

Gen 37:31-36

The brothers contrive to conceal their crime; and Joseph is sold into Egypt. "Torn, torn in pieces is Joseph." The sight of the bloody coat convinces Jacob at once that Joseph has been devoured by a wild beast. "All his daughters." Only one daughter of Jacob is mentioned by name. These are probably his daughters-in-law. "To the grave." Sheol is the place to which the soul departs at death. It is so called from its ever craving, or being empty. "Minister." This word originally means eunuch, and then, generally, any officer about the court or person of the sovereign. "Captain of the guards." The guards are the executioners of the sentences passed by the sovereign on culprits, which were often arbitrary, summary, and extremely severe. It is manifest, from this dark chapter, that the power of sin has not been extinguished in the family of Jacob. The name of God does not appear, and his hand is at present only dimly seen among the wicked designs, deeds, and devices of these unnatural brothers. Nevertheless, his counsel of mercy standeth sure, and fixed is his purpose to bring salvation to the whole race of man, by means of his special covenant with Abraham.

Next: Genesis Chapter 38