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Bailey Sadler Class
SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON STUDY GUIDE - 2014
Theme: Overcome: Living Beyond Your Circumstances
What This Study Is About:
study is about the story of Joseph—a story of overcoming betrayal;
temptation; being forgotten; hard times; bitterness; and an earthly
mindset—which helps us to remember that
no matter what our situation may be, God is still at work for our good.
Overcome Being Forgotten
Overcome Hard Times
Overcome an Earthly Mindset
is at work, even when it’s not obvious.
Genesis 37:19-27; 39:1-2
The Peril of Hatred and Jealousy (Gen. 37:19-24)
People Abandon Us, God Is Always There (Gen. 37:25-27)
The Face of Human Betrayal, God Blesses Us (Gen. 39:1-2)
The Book of Genesis includes many familiar stories.
N. T. Wright noted, “It’s about God and greed and grace; about
life, lust, laughter, and loneliness.
It’s about birth, beginnings, and betrayal; about siblings,
squabbles, and sex; about power and prayer and prison and passion.
And that’s only Genesis.”1
Joseph is the primary human character in Genesis 37—50.
The six sessions in this unit will highlight key events in
Joseph’s life, beginning in this session with his betrayal by his
brothers. Joseph emerged on
the scene as a teenager. After
being sold to slave traders, Joseph worked in Egypt for Potiphar.
Although Potiphar was impressed with Joseph, Joseph was falsely
accused of sexual sin by Potiphar’s wife.
While in prison, Joseph interpreted dreams for two fellow
prisoners. One prisoner was
liberated, but he forgot about Joseph.
Eventually, however, Joseph was summoned to interpret Pharaoh’s
dreams. Impressed by
Joseph’s God-given ability to interpret dreams, Pharaoh’s dreams.
Pharaoh liberated Joseph and placed him in a high position in the
Egyptian government. Joseph
wisely guided the nation through a famine.
Joseph’s brothers visited Egypt, seeking food.
Throughout the story God was with Joseph.
At the end of Genesis, Joseph explained to his brothers that God
had used Joseph’s experiences for good even though the brothers had
intended evil for him.
Wright, Simply Christians [New
York; Harper San Francisco, 2006], 173.
SOURCE: Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
often is betrayal acted out in our society today?
Elements of betrayal is experienced in all walks of our
society—in our families; our workplaces; in social circles; in our
recreational activities; and, sad to say, sometimes even in our churches.
Why does this happen? This
session focuses on the story of Joseph being betrayed by his brothers.
We will look at the underlying causes of this betrayal and learn
that even in the midst of such a situation, God remains steadfast in His
love and support of His children. As
a child of His, we never need to feel alone and/or defeated when we may
find ourselves in a betrayal situation, even when the consequences may
seem overwhelming. We must
remember that no situation is too big for God, and that He will work all
things for good when we trust in Him.
Introduction is adapted from the following
Advanced Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Peril of Hatred and Jealousy (Gen. 37:19-24)
19 They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer! 20 Come on, let’s kill him
and throw him into one of the pits. We can say that a vicious animal ate
him. Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!” 21 When Reuben heard this, he
tried to save him from them. He said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben also said to them,
“Don’t shed blood. Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but
don’t lay a hand on him”—intending to rescue him from their hands
and return him to his father. 23 When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped off his robe, the robe
of many colors that he had on. 24 Then they took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty; there
was no water in it.
does the term “sibling rivalry” mean to you?
kind of issues do you think usually creates this kind of situation within a
you think the incident recorded in verse 2 played a part in the brother’s
attitude toward Joseph? Why, or why
was the significance of the coat Jacob had given to Joseph (vv. 3-4)?
part do you think this coat played in the brother’s attitude toward Joseph?
you think Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph played a part in fueling the
brother’s negative attitude toward Joseph?
are some things parent’s showing favoritism among children can create within a
did Joseph’s brothers call him a dreamer? (See vv. 5-11.)
were Joseph’s dreams so upsetting for the brothers? (See vv. 5-11.)
part do you think Joseph’s dreams played in creating the brothers animosity
had Jacob asked Joseph to do that would put him in touch with his brothers?
(See vv. 12-17.)
does verse 18 describe the relationship between Joseph and his brothers?
on verse 20, what had this animosity led the brothers to consider doing to
did they plan to cover up his death (v. 20)?
do you think was the real issue(s) between Joseph and his brothers?
brother tried to save Joseph’s life? What
was his plan to so (v. 21) ?
did Reuben suggest they put Joseph (v. 22)?
do you think Reuben was so adamant about not killing Joseph (v. 22)?
to vv. 23-24, what happened to Joseph when he came to the brothers?
you consider Joseph’s family to be dysfunctional? Why,
or why not?
People Abandon Us, God Is Always There (Gen. 37:25-27)
25 Then they sat down to eat a meal. They looked up, and there was a
caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying
aromatic gum, balsam, and resin, going down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our
brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay a hand on him,
for he is our brother, our own flesh,” and they agreed.
does verse 25 tell you about the mentality of the brothers after stripping off
his coat and throwing Joseph in the pit?
were the Ishmaelites? (See Digging Deeper.)
on verse 25, what do we know about the Ishmaelite caravan?
the caravan of Ishmaelites passed by, what did it prompt the brothers to do with
Joseph (v. 27)?
idea was it to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites (v. 26)?
do you think prompted this idea to sell Joseph (vv. 26-27)?
do you think the brothers all agreed to this course of action?
part did the Ishmaelites play in determining Joseph’s future?
this story had not been in the Bible, would you have thought that it was part of
God’s master plan? Why, or why
what ways was God at work in the events described in these verses?
does Romans 8:28 tell us about God’s role in the lives of His people?
Why do you think God may choose to work behind
the scenes in a believers life?
How do you think it benefits the believer to NOT
know how God is working in one’s life?
How does it make you feel knowing that God is at
work in your life, even when it’s not obvious?
Since God is always at work, what’s our
responsibility when we can’t see what He’s doing?
What do we learn in these verses about God’s
character and ability even when we are abandoned by others?
Lessons in Gen. 37:25-27:
may work behind the scenes rather than through miracles to accomplish His
can work through humans who may not even be aware of God’s role in their
plans for our lives may be bigger than anything we could imagine.
Betray, God Doesn’t (Gen. 39:1-2)
1 Now Joseph had been taken to Egypt. An Egyptian named Potiphar, an
officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard, bought him from the
Ishmaelites who had brought him there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in
the household of his Egyptian master.
Who was Potiphar?
was Potiphar’s position in Egypt?
does this tell us about his relationship with Pharaoh?
How could being a slave work for good in
does verse 2 tell us about Joseph? About
on verse 2, how would you describe Joseph’s relationship with God?
even in less than desirable circumstances for Joseph, did God bless him?
did being Potiphar’s household slave prove to be a blessing?
when God is working in the life of a believer, what is the responsibility of the
Colossians 3:22-25 (Ephesians 6:5-8) relate to the responsibility of the
believer in every circumstance?
How do you
think God blesses a believer when he/she may find themselves in adverse
What part do
you think the attitude of the believer plays in such circumstances?
How can a
believer cultivate and maintain a positive attitude in a situation like Joseph
found himself in?
How can a
believer guard against becoming discouraged when God may be working behind the
scenes and the results may not be made known for years to come?
Lessons in Gen. 39:1-2:
God is with
us even when we face difficult situations.
bring good out of bad situations.
bless us wherever we are.
Jesus is the
ultimate revelation of God’s love and concern for His people.
When we have lived
a long time, we likely have more than one occasion when we felt betrayed.
If you feel like you are in the pit of betrayal right now, how will you
respond? Few things are more
painful than the anguish and hurt that come as a result of betrayal by
someone from whom we least expect it.
Such an occurrence may cause us to wonder just who we can trust.
If not managed carefully, it can lead to bitterness and skepticism.
And we may wonder about God also.
How could He allow such a thing to happen to us when we had done no
We may not know
how Joseph felt or responded to the actions of his brothers.
But no matter, we know that it was Joseph’s relationship with God
that sustained him throughout this situation.
As we continue our study of the life of Joseph, we will learn more
about him and the work of the Lord in his life.
Knowing that God was working in the life of Joseph throughout his
life should give us pause to think about our relationship with God.
Are we focused on His work in our lives?
Do we really want to know what He wants to do for us and through
What has God
revealed to you from this session? We
know that God was with Joseph, but maybe the more important question
should be: “Was Joseph with God?”
We know the answer is YES! YES! YES!
So, how would you rate your relationship with God? On
a scale of 1 (on occasion) to 10 (constantly), rate how well you think God
is with you; then rate on the same scale, how well you think you are with
God? Is there a difference in
the two ratings? What do you
need to do to bring the two together at the highest level of the rating?
If God is constantly with you, what do you need to do to be
constantly with Him? Ask Him
for help! He stands ready to
are the implications of these truths for your life?
THE CHOICE IS YOURS, ISN’T IT!
REMEMBER, the safest place for a believer is in the
center of God’s will.
Lesson Outline, Introduction,
Discussion Questions, and Conclusion adapted from the following sources:
Ventures-Bible Studies for Life; Leader Guide; LifeWay Christian Resources
of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist
Convention; One LifeWay Plaza, Nashville, TN.
Focal Passage from three different translations of
King James Version: Genesis 37:19-27; 39:1-2:
they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. 20
Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and
we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will
become of his dreams. 21 And
Reuben heard it, and he
delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.
22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid
him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again.
23 And it came to pass,
when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph out of his
coat, his coat of many
colours that was on him; 24
And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was
empty, there was no water
in it. 25 And they sat down to eat
bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of
Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicey and balm and
myrrh, going to carry it
down to Egypt. 26 And Judah
said unto his brethren, What profit is
it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 27
Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon
him; for he is our brother and
our flesh. And his brethren were content.
1 And Joseph was
brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the
guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had
brought him down thither. 2 And the LORD
was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his
master the Egyptian. (KJV)
Version: Genesis 37:19-27; 39:1-2:
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to
each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him
and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal
devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to
rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22
“Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert,
but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and
take him back to his father. 23
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the
richly ornamented robe he was wearing—24 and they
took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no
water in it. 25
As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of
Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and
myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill
our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come,
let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he
is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
1 Now Joseph had been
taken down to Egypt. Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh’s officials,
the captain of the guard, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him
there. 2 The LORD
was with Joseph and he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian
New Living Translation: Genesis 37:19-27; 39:1-2:
19 “Here comes the
dreamer!” they said. 20 “Come on, let’s
kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A
wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he
came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22
“Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty
cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on
him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his
father. 23 So when Joseph arrived, his
brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24
Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was
empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then,
just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of
camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders
taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt. 26
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother?
His blood would just give us a guilty conscience. 27
Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders.
After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers
1 When Joseph was taken to
Egypt by the Ishmaelite traders, he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian
officer. Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.
2 The LORD was with Joseph, so he
succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.
The Peril of Hatred
and Jealousy (Gen. 37:19-24)
When People Abandon Us, God Is Always There
In The Face of Human Betrayal, God Blesses Us
Commentary for the focal passage comes from three sources: “The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old
Testament,” “The Genesis Record,” and
“The Complete Biblical Library Commentary,” and is provided for your study.)
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Genesis 37:12-36; Gen.
Joseph’s Journey to Egypt (37:12-36)
a minor difficulty in which he temporarily lost his way and had to seek help
from a stranger, Joseph found his brothers in Dothan. The purpose of this small
account of Joseph’s seeking his brothers can be seen by comparing it with the
brief and similar prelude to the second part of the story where he met his
brothers in Egypt (chs. 42-44). The symmetry of the two passages and the
verbal and thematic parallels serve to reinforce the sense in the narrative that
every event is providentially ordered. Here at the beginning of the Joseph
story, when Joseph’s brothers “saw him” (wayyir’u ‘otho v. 18)
approaching, they “plotted” (wayyith nakkelu) “to kill him” (lahamitho).
In the same way midway through the narrative, when Joseph first “saw his
brothers” (wayyar’ ‘eth -‘ehayw 42:7) in Egypt, he eluded
his brothers by “disguising himself” (wayyith nakker 42:7; NIV,
“pretended to be a stranger”) so that they did not recognize him and then
planned a scheme that, at least on the surface, looked as if he intended to kill
them (welo’ tamuthu 42:20; NIV, “that you may not die”).
37:19-36. The details of the
brother’s plans are given as well as their motivation. Behind their plans lie
Joseph’s two dreams. Little did they suspect that the very plans that they
were then scheming were to lead to the fulfillment of those dreams. In every
detail of the narrative the writer’s purpose shows through, that is, to
demonstrate the truthfulness of Joseph’s final words to his brothers: “You
intended it to harm me, but God intended it for good” (50:20). The first plan
was simply “to kill him” (wenahargehu 37:20), throw his body in
a pit, and then tell their father that an “evil” (ra‘ah; NIV,
“ferocious”) animal had eaten him. Again, the brothers punctuated their plan
with a reference to Joseph’s dreams in an obviously ironic statement:
“we’ll see what comes of his dreams” (v. 20; cf. 42:9). This
initial plan, however, is interrupted by Reuben, who, the writer tells us, saved
Joseph from their hands (vv. 21-22).
The reference to Reuben is countered later in
the narrative by a similar reference to Judah (v. 26). The writer
apparently wants to show that it was not merely Reuben who saved Joseph from the
plan of his brothers but that Judah also played an important role. Again we can
see the central importance of Jacob’s last words regarding Judah in 49:8-12.
In the end it is Judah who is placed at the center of the narrative’s focus on
the fulfillment of the divine blessing. It is the descendants of Judah who will
ultimately figure in the coming of the Promised Seed. Reuben’s plan is to
persuade the brothers merely to throw Joseph into a pit and, apparently, leave
him to die (vv. 21-22a). We learn from the narrative, however, that his
actual plan was to return later and rescue Joseph (v. 22b). Reuben’s plan
was partly successful. The brothers threw Joseph into the pit alive and left him
there. The reference to Joseph’s coat, by turning our attention briefly back
to the earlier events of the narrative, highlights the central point of the
story, namely, that the present plan is all part of a larger divine plan
foreshadowed in Joseph’s dreams.
The story takes an important turn with the
arrival of the “Ishmaelites” who were bearing spices down to Egypt (v. 25).
The “Ishmaelites” become the occasion for Judah to enter the story with the
suggestion that, rather than letting Joseph die (naharog v. 26) in
the pit, they could “sell him to the Ishmaelites” (v. 27). Only a
cursory account of Joseph’s fate follows in the text. The Ishmaelites, who are
also called “Midianites” in this narrative, arrive, and Joseph is sold to
them for twenty shekels (v. 28). They then take him to Egypt with them.
When the focus of the narrative returns to
Reuben and to the outcome of his plan to deal with Joseph, ironically it serves
only to underscore the role of Judah in the actual rescue of Joseph. Verse 29
suggests that Reuben had no part in the plan to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites.
He returned to the pit, expecting to find Joseph there and to rescue him, but
Joseph was not there. Reuben’s surprise is shown in his rage upon seeing that
Joseph is gone. Thus in no uncertain terms we learn that it was Judah, not
Reuben, who saved the life of Joseph. Ultimately the brothers must fall back on
their original plan of telling their father that a “ferocious” (ra‘ah
lit., “evil”; 37:33) animal had killed Joseph.
Once again the coat that Jacob had given to
Joseph provides the narrative link in the story. The symbol of the brothers’
original hatred for Joseph becomes the means of the father’s recognition of
his loss. In the end the blood-stained coat is all that remains of Joseph, and
upon seeing it Jacob tore off his own coat and exchanged it for sackcloth (v. 34).
Thus Jacob’s own fate and that of his sons is briefly sketched out in this
opening narrative. What happens to Joseph foreshadows all that will happen to
the sons of Jacob. They will be carried down into Egypt and will be put into
slavery. In this sense, then, Jacob’s final words set the focus of the
narratives to follow: “in mourning will I go down [‘ered] to the
grave [Sheol] to my son” (v. 35). Ironically, the Joseph narratives
conclude with Jacob’s going down (meredah 46:3-4) to Egypt to see
his son and then with his own death (50:24-26).
Joseph in the House of
conscious of the intervening Judah narrative, the text resumes the account of
Joseph, taking up where chapter 37 left off. As in 37:27, those who
have brought Joseph into Egypt are called “Ishmaelites,” while in 37:28, 36,
they are known as “Midianites.”
39:2-6. Verse 2 establishes
the overall theme of the narrative: “The LORD was with Joseph and he
prospered.” Verses 3-6 relate the theme to the specific series of events
to follow: Joseph’s blessing from the Lord is recognized by his Egyptian
master, and Joseph is put in charge of his household. Joseph’s sojourn in
Egypt, like that of his father, Jacob’s (30:27), has resulted in an initial
fulfillment of the Abrahamic promise that “all peoples on earth will be
blessed through you” (12:3). Thus we are told that “the LORD blessed the
house of the Egyptian because of Joseph” (v. 5). Such a thematic
introduction alerts the reader to the underlying lessons intended throughout the
narrative. This is not a story of the success of Joseph; rather it is a story of
God’s faithfulness to his promises. The last note about Joseph in this
introductory section (“Joseph was well-built and handsome,” v. 6) sets
the stage for what follows.
The Expositor’s Bible Commentary Old Testament; Frank
E. Gaebelein; General Editor; Zondervan Publishing House; A
Division of Harper Collins Publishers
Record, A Scientific And Devotional Commentary On The Book Of Beginnings: Gen. 37:18-28; 39:1-6
Rejected by His Brethren
Dothan was about twenty miles north of Shechem;
so it took Joseph at least another day to reach there. The word “Dothan” is
believed to mean “two cisterns,” and was presumably so named because of two
storage wells there. One of these cisterns was dry at the time Joseph’s
brothers were there, and it was into this well that they later decided to place
him. Possibly both wells were dry, so that the men were perhaps frustrated at
this point anyway, not finding water after they had led their flocks so far from
home. Students who stress the typological aspects of this narrative suggest that
the brothers represent the nation of Israel, wandering far from the Father’s
house while searching for greener pastures out in the world, but finding none.
“For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of
living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no
water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
In the further development of this type, Joseph
is believed to represent the Lord Jesus Christ, who was sent from the Father to
the chosen people, but who was rejected and slain by them. “He was in the
world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto
his own, and his own received him not” (John 1:10, 11).
Joseph’s experiences were divinely intended to foreshadow those of Christ,
Scripture does not actually say. In any case, Joseph’s own experiences were
very real and harrowing. He had incurred the murderous hatred of his brothers,
and as he approached them in Dothan, he little realized the awful deed they were
about to plan. Though it would be a terrible and bitter experience for him, in
the providence of God it would work together for good. He himself, with his
serious personal problem of pride and arrogance, needed to learn humility and
patience before his remarkable gifts of intellectual brilliance and political
leadership could be put to God’s use. His brothers, also, before they could be brought to genuine repentance
and spiritual maturity, as necessary for the founders of the tribes of Israel,
must be taught the awful consequences of sin and must themselves be brought low
in confession and humiliation. Then, the nation which would come from their
loins must also be prepared by suffering and divine deliverance to believe and
trust God and His promises, as well as to obey His laws. All of this, in the
providence of God, would be the ultimate outcome of the traumatic experience
Joseph was about to undergo as he approached his brothers in Dothan.
They saw him coming a great way off, recognizing
him by his colorful coat, which, as usual, he was wearing in pride of his
position. They had been, no doubt, fretting about Joseph and his presumptuous
dreams and boasts ever since they had left Hebron; in fact, it may very well
have been because of him that they had left in the first place. What should have
been a spirit of brotherly love and patient teaching of their younger brother
had turned into a bitter spirit of jealousy and revenge. He was only their
half-brother anyway. In view of their own background in a polygamous home, where
there was bound to be a certain amount of feuding among the different families,
combined with the low moral standards of the people with whom they had been in
contact all their lives, it is not too surprising that they finally came to such
a desperate decision as to do away with the problem which he had posed to them
by actually doing away with him!
They were far from home and paternal restraint.
As they saw him coming, they said sarcastically to each other: “Look yonder,
here comes that specialist in dreams!” The Hebrew word for “dreamer”
implies one who is a master at dreaming, perhaps suggesting that he is good for
nothing else. They had no doubt previously been muttering about Joseph, and
their anger had built to the point where they had actually discussed getting rid
of him somehow. Now, here he was, giving them the perfect opportunity. They
could slay him, throw him into one of the empty cisterns, and then report back
to their father that he had been killed by a wild animal. That would be the end
of his dreams!
Apparently this plan was hatched mainly by the
younger brothers, perhaps supported by Simeon and Levi, since neither Reuben nor
Judah would go along with it. Reuben, of all the brothers, would seem to have
the most cause to resent Joseph, since Jacob obviously intended to give Joseph
the birthright instead of him, the oldest son. His defense of Joseph is,
therefore, the more commendable. Though he had lost his right of primogeniture
through his incestuous relation with Bilhah, he must have truly repented of his
deed, and tried henceforth as best he could under the circumstances to exercise
the moral leadership which his firstborn position in the family should have
Reuben intended, if possible, to help Joseph
escape back to his father, but he knew the murderous intent of the other
brothers would not allow this immediately. He therefore persuaded them not to
slay him right then, at least, but to catch him and throw him into the pit
alive, perhaps letting him die of thirst rather than shedding his blood. They
well knew God’s primeval command against the shedding of human blood (Genesis
9:6). Though Simeon and Levi may have felt justified in shedding blood in the
matter of the Shechemites, they realized that there was no such justification in
this case; furthermore, Joseph was their father’s son, even though he had made
himself personally so obnoxious to them. Reuben was thus able to persuade them
against the overt act of fratricide.
Joseph evidently realized that Reuben was really
trying to save him; probably Reuben actually whispered words to this effect as
they later cast him into the pit. Years later, Joseph indicated he remembered
this by holding Simeon (the next oldest of the sons), rather than Reuben,
captive in his prison (Genesis 42:24).
Having decided what they were going to do, the
brothers laid hands on Joseph as soon as he reached them. The first thing they
did was to strip off the resented coat of many colors (or long-sleeved coat, if
that is what it was), his vaunted symbol of prestige. Then they threw him,
probably violently, down into the dry well.
Reuben had persuaded them not to kill Joseph,
doing this by craft rather than by overt moral leadership as, in his position of
the eldest, he should have exercised. Probably he had forfeited much of his
authority in his brothers’ eyes by his sin with Bilhah, so that they had no
great respect for him anymore. Simeon was, on the other hand, a strong-minded
moral zealot, as the affair at Shechem had demonstrated; and he no doubt was the
chief voice among the brothers on this occasion. After they had thrown Joseph
into the cistern, they probably discussed at some length what to do with him. It
was mealtime; so they sat down to eat while they were discussing it.
In the meantime, Reuben had left them, possibly
distressed at the whole situation and not wanting to argue with them further.
Perhaps he was intending, after they had left the locality, to come back by
himself and free Joseph. Or he might have gone to take care of the flocks, since
the others had apparently forgotten them. In any case, he was absent.
As they were eating, they saw other visitors
coming in the distance¾a caravan following the regular nearby trade route from
the mountains of Gilead down into Egypt. Gilead was a plateau region east of the
Jordan and extending down from about the Sea of Galilee to the Dead Sea. It was
in that area that Laban and Jacob had had their confrontation some years before.
It was a lushly forested region, specially known for its balms and spices.
The men in the caravan are called both
Ishmaelites (verse 25) and Midianites (verse 28). This is not a contradiction;
both Ishmael and Midian were sons of Abraham (Genesis 16:15; 25:2), and
their respective descendants were often together. The two names were often used
interchangeably (note, e.g., Judges 8:24, 26). Quite likely both
groups were present in this caravan.
With Reuben gone, and
most of the brothers still arguing that they should at least abandon Joseph to
die in the pit even if they didn’t actually shed his blood, Judah felt it was
now his responsibility to save his life. He was the fourth oldest of the
children of Israel, but the three older ones had already really forfeited their
right to leadership. With his older brothers Simeon and Levi, however, joining
with the rest who wanted to see Joseph dead, he really had little chance of
saving him. At least, so it seemed.
Seeing the Ishmaelites, however, gave Judah an
idea. Why not sell Joseph to them as a slave, whom they in turn could sell in
Egypt? That way, Joseph would be removed from any further influence in the
family¾which was what the brothers wanted most¾and still his life would be
spared and they would not be guilty of murder. After all, he was their
brother, and that should count for something. On top of that, they could
actually make a financial profit for themselves.
With these arguments he convinced his brothers
to sell Joseph into bondage, rather than to leave him to die in the pit.
Probably they thought also that, even though the pit was in the wilderness
(verse 22), there might still be some chance that some passer-by would rescue
Joseph, in which case they would be entertaining the grave risk that he would
return home and tell his father what they had done. Sending him as a slave into
Egypt was clearly the best way of handling the whole problem.
When the Midianites
reached them, they therefore hailed them and told them their proposition. After
bargaining a bit, they settled on a price of twenty pieces of silver as
Joseph’s price. All this time, Joseph had been pleading with his brothers in
“anguish of soul” (Genesis 42:21) from the bottom of the pit, but they would
not listen. The deal was struck, Joseph was drawn up out of the pit, delivered
over to the Midianites, and then carried by them down into Egypt. The price paid
for Joseph was later fixed as the price of dedication for a young man or boy
(Leviticus 27:5). The price of a mature slave was set at thirty pieces of silver
The narrative now returns to Joseph, upon whom
it centers throughout most of the rest of the Book of Genesis. Chapter 37
had closed with a brief mention of the fact that he had been sold by the
Midianites who purchased him from his brothers as a slave to an Egyptian officer
named Potiphar. The first verse of this chapter refers to these men as
Ishmaelites, indicating again that the two terms were essentially synonymous.
The Egypt into which Joseph entered was, of
course, a very ancient nation already. It was a highly civilized and organized
empire, yet one which was polytheistic and immoral in its faith and practice.
Egyptologists have never come to full agreement about Egyptian chronology,
though it is largely upon this chronology that much of the dating of ancient
history depends. The records of Manetho, an Egyptian priest of the third century
B.C., constitute the most complete set of king lists. Manetho listed thirty-one
dynasties (ruling families), giving the years of reign of each king within each
dynasty. It is not clear, however, how many of these may have been contemporary
dynasties in Upper and Lower Egypt, and how many ruled over the entire kingdom.
The first pharaoh (meaning “Great House”) was Menes, who was evidently the
first to unite the two divisions of Egypt. The actual date of Menes’ reign has
been variously estimated, all the way from 5500 B.C. to 2000 B.C.. Probably the
majority of Egyptologists date Menes at about 3100 B.C., but a vigorous group of
modern writers who have studied outside the usual tradition have offered strong
arguments favoring a reduction of the entire Egyptian chronological framework by
several hundred years. The question as to the number and duration of successive
Egyptian dynasties thus has to be regarded as still unsettled at this time, and
therefore also the particular pharaoh and date of Joseph’s sojourn in Egypt.
Probably most scholars believe that this was
during the reign of the Hyksos kings in Egypt. They were foreign invaders,
probably at least partially of Semitic stock, who came from the East and
conquered Egypt, according to the standard chronology, about 1720 B.C. They were
also called the “Shepherd Kings.” Many believe that it was because of their
Semitic origin that the rulers of Egypt in Joseph’s day treated the children
of Israel so well when Jacob and his family moved to Egypt. The Hyksos were
expelled from Egypt prior to Moses’ time, so that the pharaoh of the new
dynasty “knew not Joseph,” and soon began to persecute these Hebrew
“relatives” of the Hyksos. While this general background and its inferences
may be correct, they should not be regarded as firmly established.
Potiphar, to whom Joseph was sold, was captain
of Pharaoh’s bodyguard, and also probably in charge of political executions
ordered by Pharaoh. He is also called an “officer” of Pharaoh, the Hebrew
word being saris, meaning “eunuch,” or “chamberlain.”
It was evidently customary in ancient pagan countries, beginning with Sumeria,
to require prominent officers associated closely with the king’s court to be
castrated, perhaps to ensure full-hearted devotion to the duties required of
them and to minimize the possibility of their taking over the kingdom by
military coup to establish a dynasty of their own. Since Potiphar was a married
man, it would seem either that Potiphar had consented to such an operation after
he was married in order to acquire his high office or else that his wife had
married him for political or financial reasons rather than for normal marital
relations. In either case, it is perhaps understandable, though hardly
justifiable, that she would be prone to adulterous episodes from time to time.
Joseph was a highly intelligent and personable
young man, and Potiphar soon recognized his abilities, placing more and more
responsibilities on him. Though Joseph did have a natural problem with personal
pride, and it was probably in part because of this that God allowed him to pass
through so many difficult and humiliating experiences, he was indeed of high
moral integrity and industry, and the Lord therefore prospered his work for
Potiphar in an extraordinary way. It is not unusual that unbelieving employers,
though themselves indifferent to God, recognize that earnest Christians make the
best employees and hence desire to have them in their organizations. Honesty,
integrity, faithfulness, sobriety, and similar characteristics are genuine
assets to an employer; and such are the fruits of Christian faith and obedience.
It may even be that, because of these
attributes, the employee will occasionally have opportunity to give a word of
testimony to his “boss” as to the true source of the blessing that attends
his activities. This seems to have been the case with Joseph and Potiphar, since
“his master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord made all that he
did to prosper in his hand.” More and more responsibility did Potiphar turn
over to Joseph, until everything in his household and business affairs was under
Just as the Lord made everything Joseph did
“to prosper in his hand,” so will it be with Christ in His exaltation: “He
shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord
shall prosper in his hand” (Isaiah 53:10). It is a beautiful token of God’s
grace that He often blesses even the masters (or, in modern parlance, the
employers or supervisors) of those servants who are faithful to Him.
It is interesting that three times (verses 1, 2, 5)
Potiphar is specifically called an “Egyptian.” Since Joseph was in Egypt,
this would seem unnecessary, even tautological, except on the supposition that
Pharaoh and most of the rulers of Egypt were themselves not Egyptians,
as would indeed be the case if this was the time of the Hyksos dynasties.
Potiphar eventually came to trust Joseph so
implicitly that he no longer even bothered to check up on his own business. He
knew that he would prosper more by completely forgetting it all than by checking
the records, offering suggestions of his own, and so forth.
In addition to his assets of mind and character,
Joseph was of handsome physique and countenance. A similar statement was made
much later relative to young David (1 Samuel 16:12), whom God also selected for
a high calling and special service. On the other hand, even in the same context,
Scripture makes it clear that it is not such outward features that matter with
the Lord (1 Samuel 16:7), but the attitude of the heart. Absalom, for example,
was also of handsome appearance (2 Samuel 14:25), but his heart was vindictive
and filled with personal ambition and rebellion, and he came to a bitter end.
SOURCE: The Genesis Record, A Scientific
And Devotional Commentary On The Book Of Beginnings;
by Henry M. Morris; Foreword by Arnold D.
Ehlert; BAKER BOOK HOUSE’ Grand Rapids,
Complete Biblical Library Commentary: Gen. 37:18-28; 39:1-6:
37:18. When the brothers saw Joseph in the distance, they
probably recognized him easily by the long-sleeved, fancy tunic he was wearing.
It reminded them of the dreams and perhaps of Joseph’s superior airs, and of
his condemnation of their sins. Immediately they made him the object of a
knavish, crafty, murderous conspiracy. Because of the hatred of Joseph, they
were already murderers in their hearts (1 John 3:15).
contemptuous mockery of the dreams God had given Joseph, they called him the
"master" or lord of dreams. They may have meant this one who in his
dreams is master or lord over us. They planned to murder him and throw him down
into one of the cisterns which caught the runoff from the rains and were
commonly located at the bottom of the hills. These cisterns had narrow mouths
covered by a large rock and were pear-shaped, so it would be impossible to climb
out of them. The brothers would say some evil wild animal had eaten him. Then
they would see what would become of his dreams. They were still being sarcastic.
Notice that God was not considered in any of their plans.
37:21-22. Reuben was not in on the conspiracy. When he heard
about it, he rescued Joseph in advance by saying strongly "We will not take
life," and adding, "Let us not shed blood."
Then, as the elder brother, he commanded them to throw Joseph in a nearby
cistern in the wilderness (that is, in the uninhabited area between towns),
without putting a hand on him, that is to harm him physically.
Reuben, as the oldest of the brothers, also must
have had an understanding of how his father would feel. His secret purpose was
to rescue Joseph and take him back to his father, but that would not have been a
step toward the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams.
37:23-24. As soon
as Joseph arrived, his brothers stripped off the hated long tunic and threw him
into the cistern. Fortunately, it was far enough along in the rainless summer,
so the cistern was dry. Genesis 42:21 lets us know that Joseph did not take this
calmly. He begged them to let him live, but they turned a deaf ear and had no
bread was part of every meal, eating bread means to eat a meal. Thus, while the
brothers were enjoying a meal, they saw an Ishmaelite caravan coming from
Gilead, the rugged hills east of the Jordan River. The caravan was heading for
Egypt. Their camels were carrying spices (probably gum tragacanth, from a bush
in the pea family), balm (mastic, a resin from the mastic tree, Pistacia
lenticus), and Myrrh (labdanum, a soft gum resin from the rockrose, Cistus).
These gums and resins were used by Egyptians for embalming or for medicine.
took the leadership here and suggested there would be no profit in killing
Joseph and concealing his blood. He realized that throwing Joseph in the cistern
made them just as guilty of murder as if they had killed him outright. He urged
the brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites. He was their brother, their own
flesh, and they should not be guilty of killing him. If they sold him to the
Ishmaelites, they would not be guilty of laying a hand on him. The brothers
listened (and agreed).
37:28. The men in the caravan were Midianite merchants who
had joined with the Ishmaelites for business purposes, but were also known as
Ishmaelites (cf. Judg. 8:22-24).
The brothers then pulled Joseph out of the cistern and sold him to the
Ishmaelites for 20 shekels (weight) of silver. (Coins were not used until the
time of the Persians in the 5th century B. C.). Twenty shekels weighed about 7.3
ounces Troy weight. This was the standard price for a healthy, young slave in
Bible times. A mature slave would be sold for 30 shekels, the price for which
Jesus was betrayed. Joseph was brought to Egypt, the first step toward the
fulfillment of the prophecy of Gen. 15:13-14.
39:1. Notice again the contrast with 38:1. Judah was free
and his sin was his own choice. The dark picture of his sin in chapter 38 makes
the purity of Joseph in the following account stand out all the more. Joseph was
a slave and he was about to be tested again and again. The first test was to see
how he would react when he was made a slave to Potiphar. As the captain of the
king’s bodyguard and chief executioner, Potiphar must have been a man who was
severe and not easy to please.
of becoming bitter, Joseph trusted the Lord. His confidence in God’s promises
must have made him willing to commit his way to the Lord (Ps. 37:5). He must
have done everything he was asked to do as unto the Lord. Thus, the Lord was
with Joseph and honored his faith and faithfulness by making him successful in
his tasks in the household of his master. Potiphar could not help noticing this.
Perhaps Joseph gave testimony to the Lord. So Potiphar recognized that
Joseph’s God was making him successful in all he was doing.
39:4-6. Because Joseph found favor in Potiphar’s eyes, he
made him his personal attendant. Later, he made him overseer of his household
and over everything he had. That is, he became the business manager with
responsibility over all Potiphar’s possessions. It was not uncommon for a
trusted slave to be made a personal business manager (cf. the case of Eliezer,
Gen. 15:2). From that time the Lord blessed everything Potiphar owned, in his
house and in his field or farm property--on account of Joseph (for Joseph’s
sake). So completely did Potiphar trust Joseph, that he turned all of his
household and personal business over to him without asking Joseph to give any
account of it to him. Potiphar carried out his duties for the Pharaoh and paid
no attention to anything at home except to enjoy the food he ate. This
was important preparation for Joseph. The 17-year-old boy who was sold into
Egypt needed several years to learn how to handle business affairs before he
could fulfill the dreams God had given him.
The Complete Biblical Library Commentary
Database © 2009 WORDsearch Corp.; World Library Press, Inc.
Pits—The word pits
in Genesis 37:20 could be rendered “cisterns” (NIV).
A cistern or pit was dug into the ground to capture water.
They were often bottle-or pear-shaped, with a small opening at the top.
The prophet Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern by his enemies (Jer.
38:1-13). Jeremiah was an unpopular
prophet, considered by his enemies to be a traitor.
The cistern had no water in it, but Jeremiah landed in the mud (38:6).
Eventually Jeremiah was rescued by Ebed-melech, a Cushite court official
who sympathized with Jeremiah’s predicament.
A cistern would be a safe place to keep someone captive, since a human
could not climb out of the cistern easily. Ebed-melech,
for example, needed help of others to life Jeremiah our of the cistern.
Bible Study; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; One LifeWay Plaza,
Pit: The area in which Joseph’s brothers tended
Jacob’s flocks was dotted with open pits, some natural to the terrain, others
dug into the ground as cisterns for collecting water or to use as dungeons.
The particular pit into which Joseph’s brothers cast him (37:20) did not contain
any water, which may indicate that water was scarce.
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
The translation of a Hebrew
term that means “hole,” “pit,” or more often “well.” The difference
between cistern and well often is not apparent. The
innumerable cisterns, wells, and pools that exist in Palestine are
evidence of the efforts of ancient people to supplement the natural water
supply. The cistern of Palestine was usually a bottle or pear-shaped reservoir
into which water could drain from a roof, tunnel, or courtyard. The porous
limestone out of which the cisterns were dug allowed much of the water put into
the cistern to escape. After 1300 B.C. cisterns began to be plastered, which
resulted in a more efficient system of water storage. The mouth of a cistern was
sometimes finished and covered with a stone. Some cisterns have been found with
a crude filter to trap debris.
The biblical writers revealed that cisterns were used for purposes other
than holding water. Joseph was placed in a “broken” cistern by his brothers
(Gen. 37:20-29). The prophet Jeremiah was imprisoned in the cistern of Malchijah,
King Zedekiah’s son, (Jer. 38:6 NASB). In Jeremiah 14, the pagan
gods were symbolized as broken cisterns that could not hold water. Cisterns also
served as convenient dumping places for corpses (Jer. 41:7, 9).
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
or “coat” (KJV), mentioned in Genesis 37:23, was distinctive, a clear sign
to his brothers that their father Jacob favored Joseph.
A traditional translation describes the garment as a coal to “many
colors,” but the Hebrew might mean a “robe with long sleeves” or a “long
robe with sleeves” (NRSV). In 2
Samuel 13:18 the same kind of robe was worn by David’s daughter Tamar.
The robe was not the typical garment for working in the fields.
It pointed to Joseph’s special relation to Jacob and irritated his
brothers, who did not have such a special robe.
Years ago, a Broadway musical described the coat as the “amazing
Coat: The word for coat
in 37:23 can also be rendered as “robe,” or it can refer to a long
shirt-like garment or tunic. The coat
is described as being of many colors,
meaning it was made of different colors of cloth or was more ornate than the
garments most people would wear, especially working people.
The New Revised Standard Version describes it as a “long robe with
sleeves.” Ordinarily garments for
daily wear did not have sleeves and were of a shorter length to allow the wearer
freer movement in the daily work environment.
Therefore, Joseph’s coat not only was sign of Jacob’s special love
but suggested that he didn’t expect Joseph to spend a lot of time out in the
fields. As a result, the older
brothers developed such a deep hatred for Joseph that they could not bring
themselves to speak a friendly word to him (v. 4).
Herschel Hobbs Commentary; Family Bible Study; by
Robert J. Dean; LifeWay Christian
Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; 1 LifeWay Plaza, Nashville,
Jealousy is used in three senses in Scripture;
(1) as intolerance of rivalry or unfaithfulness; (2) as a disposition suspicious
of rivalry or unfaithfulness; and (3) as hostility towards a rival or one
believed to enjoy an advantage. Sense 3 approximates envy. God is
jealous for His people Israel in sense 1, that is, God is intolerant of
rival gods (Ex. 20:5; 34:14; Deut. 4:24; 5:9) One expression
of God’s jealousy for Israel is God’s protection of His people from enemies.
Thus God’s jealousy includes avenging Israel (Ezek. 36:6; 39:25; Nah.
1:2; Zech. 1:14; 8:2). Phineas is described as jealous with God’s
jealousy (Num. 25:11, 13, sometimes translated zealous for God). Elijah
is similarly characterized as jealous (or zealous) for God (1 Kings 19:10, 14).
In the New Testament Paul speaks of his divine jealousy for the Christians
at Corinth (2 Cor. 11:2).
5:11-30 concerns the process by which a husband suspicious of his wife’s
unfaithfulness might test her. Most often human jealousy involves hostility
towards a rival. Joseph’s brothers were jealous (Gen. 37:11) and
thus sold their brother into slavery (Acts 7:9). In Acts 17:5 a jealous
group among the Jews incited the crowd against Paul. Jealousy, like envy, is
common in vice lists (Rom. 13:13; 2 Cor. 12:20; Gal. 5:20-21).
Jealousy is regarded as worse than wrath or anger (Prov. 27:4). James
regarded jealousy (or bitter envy) as characteristic of earthy, demonic wisdom (3:14)
and as the source of all disorder and wickedness (3:16). (See Envy below.)
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
A painful or resentful awareness of another’s advantage joined with the desire
to possess the same advantage. The advantage
may concern material goods (Gen. 26:14) or social status (30:1). Old
Testament wisdom frequently warns against envying the arrogant (Ps. 73:3),
the violent (Prov. 3:31), or the wicked (Ps. 37:1; Prov. 24:1, 19).
In the New Testament envy is a common member
of vice lists as that which comes out of the person and defiles (Mark
7:22), as a characteristic of humanity in rebellion to God (Rom. 1:29), as
a fruit of the flesh (Gal. 5:21), as a characteristic of unregenerate life
(Tit. 3:3) and as a trait of false teachers (1 Tim. 6:4). Envy (sometimes
translated jealousy by modern translations) was the motive leading to the
arrest of Jesus (Matt. 27:18; Mark 15:10) and to opposition to the gospel
in Acts (Acts 5:17, 13:45; 17:5). Christians are called to avoid
envy (Gal. 5:26; 1 Pet. 2:1).
is sometimes a motive for doing good. The Preacher was disillusioned that hard
work and skill were the result of envying another (Eccl. 4:4). Paul was,
however, able to rejoice that the gospel was preached even if the motive were
envy (Phil. 1:15).
KJV rightly understood the difficult text in Jas. 4:5, recognizing that it
is a characteristic of the human spirit that it “lusteth to envy”.
Contrary to modern translations, the Greek word used for envy here (phthonos)
is always used in a negative sense, never in the positive sense of God’s
jealousy (Greek zealos). God’s response to the sinful longings of
the human heart is to give more grace (4:6).
SOURCE: Holman Bible Dictionary; General
Editor, David S. Dockery; Holman Bible Publishers; Nashville,
(ihsh' may ehl ite): Tribal
name for descendants of Ishmael. According to Genesis 25:12-16, Ishmael was
the father of twelve sons. The Ishmaelites were regarded as an ethnic group,
generally referring to the nomadic tribes of northern Arabia. The
Ishmaelites were not, however, exclusively associated with any geographic area.
References to them in the Old Testament are relatively few. The people to whom Joseph
was sold by his brothers are called Ishmaelites in Genesis 37:25.
JOSEPH A Man
By Terry W.
Terry W. Eddinger is the Benjamin Miller Professor of Old Testament and
vice president for academics at Carolina Graduate School of Divinity,
Greensboro, North Carolina.
IN GENESIS 37—50 depict a person of high moral
integrity. His name is Joseph.
Being the great-grandson of Abraham, the hero of faith (Heb. 11:8-19),
perhaps we would expect nothing less. Perhaps
we would expect integrity to be a family tradition for Joseph and that it would
come easily. Yet we would be wrong
to have such expectations.
What He Came From
Joseph grew up in a family that lacked
integrity. As Charles Swindoll
points out, Joseph’s family proved to be poor role models.1
He was the son of a master deceiver.
Jacob, Joseph’s father, spent much of his life tricking and deceiving
people, mostly members of his own family. Even
his name means “one who supplants.” He
deceived his father Isaac and cheated his brother Esau on at least two
occasions. Jacob was in the process
of deceiving his uncle Laban out of his flock when Joseph was just a boy (Gen.
30:23-43; 31:41). Even Joseph’s
mother Rachel stole her father Laban’s household gods when the family fled
from him and then she failed to tell the truth when confronted about it
(31:19,34-35)! Joseph’s brothers
proved they knew the art of trickery too. After
selling Joseph to Ishmaelites, they deceived their father by putting goat blood
on Joseph’s coat and then telling him that a wild animal had killed Joseph
Joseph’s childhood years did not
bode well for building his character. Joseph
was the youngest of Jacob’s sons except Benjamin.
He was the firstborn to Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife.
Jacob favored Joseph over his other sons and on one occasion gave him a
distinctive coat which indicated special favor or status (vv. 3-4).
This coat may have been one that a supervisor would wear and not that of
a day laborer,2 perhaps implying to his brothers that Joseph
outranked to them. Genesis tells us
that Joseph’s brothers hated him to the point they could not speak kindly to
him. This was partly because of his
favored status and partly because Joseph tattled to his father about his
brother’s wrong-doings (37:2,4). When
Joseph told his brothers about his dreams that reflected his self-importance,
they became jealous and hated him even more (vv. 5-11), even to the point of
wanting to kill him. Instead, they
sold him into slavery (v. 28). Up to
this time, Joseph had acted like a spoiled child before his family, being
insensitive to how his actions affected them.
The teenaged Joseph did not reflect the sage and person of moral
character that he would become in Egypt.
What He Became
demeanor changed on his forced journey from Canaan to Egypt.
He became the model of integrity. The
self-centered teenager became a responsible, selfless adult.
His brothers betrayed him. Potiphar
enslaved him. Potiphar’s wife
tempted him and falsely accused him. Potiphar
put him in prison. Through it all he
remained upright. He kept integrity
as a major character trait for the rest of his life.
We can learn several lessons about
integrity from Joseph’s adult life. First,
Joseph put forth his best effort despite his circumstances.
Joseph successfully took on responsibility, even when he was not the
primary beneficiary of his work. Although
a house slave, Potiphar recognized Joseph’s potential and promoted him to head
of the household (39:1-6). Likewise,
the captain of the guard placed Joseph over all the work at the prison where he
was confined (vv. 21-23). Pharaoh
recognized Joseph’s wisdom when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams.
Pharaoh promoted him to second in command over all Egypt (41:40).
In this capacity he effectively served as an administrator to save the
people from starvation during the seven-year famine (vv. 38-57).
Second, Joseph was a person of moral
character. Joseph demonstrated this
best in how he dealt with Potiphar’s wife.
He did not give in to her recurring advances (39:7-9).
Instead he fled, leaving his coat behind.
He did not violate the trust Potiphar had placed in him.
Unfortunately, Potiphar did not return the loyalty Joseph had shown him.
Third, Joseph forgave.
When he faced his brothers (without Benjamin) in Egypt about 22 years
after they sold him into slavery, Joseph did not take revenge for how they had
mistreated him. Instead, he tested
them to see if they had changed their ways before he revealed his identity.
Joseph accused them of being spies and dishonest and then put them in
prison for three days (42:8-17). He
questioned them to see if they would answer honestly; then he tested them.
Next Joseph put Simeon in jail and allowed the rest to return home.
Joseph required the brothers to bring Benjamin to Egypt as proof they
were telling the truth (v. 20).
The brothers passed their test on
several occasions. First, they
recognized and admitted they had mistreated Joseph wrong (vv. 21-23).
Joseph heard this confession although the brothers did not know he was
Joseph at the time. Second, they
brought Benjamin with them on their next journey to Egypt (43:15).
They treated Benjamin kindly in Joseph’s presence.
Joseph discovered they had spared Benjamin the ill treatment he had
received. Third, they attempted to
return the money they found in their sacks.
Earlier, Joseph had it placed there without their knowledge.
Joseph saw that his brothers had learned to be honest with material
things (vv. 19-23). Fourth, when
Joseph threatened to put Benjamin in jail, Judah asked to take Benjamin’s
place for his father’s sake (44:18-34). This
was the final proof; he knew his brothers had indeed changed.
Joseph’s revealing himself to his
brothers is not only a scene of great joy but also one which best shows
Joseph’s integrity and forgiveness. “Do
not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here” Joseph
said, “for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5).3
Rather than be angry and retaliate, Joseph kissed them and promised to
provide for them (vv. 9-15). “Joseph
could never have spoken such words of reassurance if he had not fully forgiven
his brothers.”4 A
similar scene occurred after their father Jacob had died.
The brothers were afraid Joseph would exact revenge.
They sent a message, asking for his forgiveness.
Hearing of their concern (and likely heartbroken), Joseph wept (50:17).
How did Joseph respond when he spoke to his brothers?
“’Do not be afraid for am I in God’s place?
As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order
to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.
So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little
ones.’ So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (vv. 19-21).
Joseph’s words and actions reflected what he had become—one of the
best examples of a person of integrity in the Old Testament.
Charles R. Swindoll, Joseph:
A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness (Nashville: Word, 1998), 19.
Robert E. Longacre, “Joseph” in Dictionary
of the Old Testament: Pentateuch, eds. T. Desmond Alexander and David W.
Baker (Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2003), 475.
All Scripture quotations are from the
New American Standard Bible (NASB).
Swindoll, Joseph: A Man of Integrity and Forgiveness, I44.
CULTURE In Joseph’s Time
Janice Meier is
adjunct instructor at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and William Carey
College, teaching in the areas of Old Testament, New Testament, and Hebrew.
name comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to add” (see Gen. 30:24), was added
to the clan of Jacob by divine providence. Joseph, the oldest son of Jacob’s
beloved wife Rachel, received favored treatment from his father. To his older
brothers, Joseph was an unwelcome addition to the family. Joseph’s
unpopularity with these brothers increased as he began to share his dreams of
domination over them. The brothers’ increased as he began to share his dreams
of domination over them. The brothers’ animosity toward Joseph culminated in
their act of selling him to some passing merchants (37:28).
was taken to Egypt. There he suffered imprisonment but eventually became
second-in-authority to Pharaoh due to his God-given ability to interpret dreams.
A central theme running through the stories of Joseph is that of divine
providence. The Lord was with Joseph, even in Egypt (39:2,3,21,23).
likely, Joseph’s rise to power occurred during the Hyksos rule in Egypt,
between approximately 1800 and 1550 BC. Who were the Hyksos, and what was life
in Egypt like under their control? Understanding the origins and culture of the
Hyksos provides much insight into how a Hebrew such as Joseph could have risen
to power in the Hyksos period.
Manetho, an Egyptian historian of the third century BC, comes information about
the Hyksos. Although none of Manetho’s writings survived, the Jewish historian
Josephus (first century AD) quoted Manetho. The designation “Hyksos” means
“shepherd kings . . . out of the eastern parts.” Obscurity surrounds the
beginning of the Hyksos dominion in Egypt. Probably the rulers at Thebes were
subject to the Hyksos during the fifteenth and sixteenth dynasties in the north.
No clear evidence indicates the Hyksos fully controlled the territory of Thebes
and the area to the south. The Hyksos established their capital at Avaris in the
Delta region. The Delta area, serving as the Hyksos base of operations, included
Goshen where Jacob’s descendants settled. Genesis 46:26-34 indicates
Pharaoh’s court was located near Goshen. Both before and following the Hyksos
era the capital city was Thebes in Upper Egypt.
Hyksos were not an ethnic unity. Because the Hyksos adopted the language of
Egypt when they arrived, the linguistic evidence for the composite ethnic
background of this group consists mainly of personal names. The only personal
names that can be identified with certainty are Semitic. Since Joseph’s
origins were Semitic, as likely were a majority of the Hyksos origins, Joseph
had an opportunity to rise to power during this period. Joseph apparently was
related ethnically to the Semitic Hyksos rulers. Native Egyptians, in contrast,
viewed the Semites with contempt.
prior to the era of Hyksos domination, the nation consisted of numerous small
landholders over whom Pharaoh ruled. After the Hyksos domination, Pharaoh
personally owned all the land of Egypt and the people became his servants.
During the famine, the Egyptians sold their land, their possessions, and
ultimately themselves into servitude in order to survive (see 47:15-21).
was Egyptian culture like under the Hyksos domination? Certainly these invaders
were not barbarians in many respects. Among the cultural changes associated with
the Hyksos invasion of Egypt was the introduction of the horse and chariot. In
Genesis 41:43 Pharaoh had Joseph ride in a chariot (see also 46:29; 50:9).
Superior weapons of bronze, heavier body armor, and a new type of earthen
fortress were introduced. Massive embankments erected of beaten earth surrounded
major Hyksos cities. Moats lay outside these embankments. The Hyksos exhibited
special skills in metallurgy and making jewelry. Fine linen was exported from
ancient Egypt. Observe the references to both jewelry and fine linen when
Pharaoh placed Joseph in charge of the land of Egypt (41:41-43). The Hyksos
supported art, commissioning various works. Also as active merchants, the Hyksos
introduced a new system of weights into Egypt.
story of Joseph in Genesis 37 – 50 reflects economic, social, religious, and
governmental aspects of Egyptian society during the time of the Hyksos rule.
Economic elements may be observed in Genesis 41:56-57 and 47:20-26. As the
severity of the famine increased, Joseph sold grain to the Egyptians and to
people from other countries. When the people’s financial resources had been
exhausted, they sold their livestock, lands, and even themselves into servitude
in exchange for food. Evidence from nonbiblical sources indicates that such a
major shift in landholdings occurred during the Hyksos period of rule. Joseph
established the law that a fifth of the produce in the land of Egypt belonged to
Pharaoh (47:26). This statement reflects the return of normal conditions and the
end of crop failures. In effect, Joseph levied a 20 percent tax. Joseph’s
economic policies highlight his skill as an administrator.
aspects of Egyptian society during the Hyksos period also appear in the story
about Joseph. Two verses indicate social practices the Egyptians regarded as
detestable. Genesis 43:32 records that the
Egyptians would not eat with Hebrews. Thus when Joseph’s brothers dined with
him, they were served separately from Joseph and from the other Egyptians eating
with them. In Genesis 46:34 shepherds are described as abhorrent to the
Egyptians. This latter fact probably influenced Pharaoh’s decision to permit
Jacob’s family to settle in the border area of Goshen, the good grazing land
located in the northeast part of the Delta (47:5-6).
practices described in 50:1-3,22-26 also reflect Egyptian customs. Both
Jacob’s and Joseph’s remains were embalmed according to the Egyptian custom
of mummification of kings and high officials. Mummification was expensive and
time-consuming. These burial procedures indicated Joseph’s social standing in
Egypt. He was both wealthy and influential. Through their practice of
mummification, the Egyptians believed that they were preparing the body for an
aspects of Egyptian culture during the period of Hyksos rule are evident in
references to Pharaoh’s dream, priests, wise men and magicians, and divination
practices. The nature of Pharaoh’s dream reflects Egyptian culture.
Appropriately Pharaoh’s dream included cattle, an object of many Egyptian
paintings. The word translated “reeds” in 41:2 has an Egyptian origin.
Pharaoh’s dream involved the welfare of cattle and grain, both dependent on
the Nile River, an object of Egyptian worship. The Hyksos worshiped a pantheon
of both Egyptian and Asiatic deities.
received special status in Egyptian culture as evidenced in Genesis 37 – 50.
Pharaoh gave Joseph Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, the high priest of On,
as his wife (41:45). This action indicates Joseph’s noble status. Joseph was
assigned the name Zaphenath-Paneah, meaning “the God speaks and he lives.”
Joseph’s authority as an administrator who brings life is affirmed in this
name. The name change also was a ceremonial act intended to draw Joseph
completely into the Egyptian court circle. When Joseph began buying Egypt’s
land, the priests’ land did not become Pharaoh’s (47:26). The priests
received a regular allotment from Pharaoh and had food enough from that
divination was practiced in the Hyksos period (44:5). The silver cup found in
Benjamin’s sack was used for divination. The king or Pharaoh erroneously
believed that knowledge of the future belonged to those with specially trained
skills in divination. Yet Egypt’s wise men and magicians could not interpret
Pharaoh’s dream (41:8). In contrast the biblical writer asserted that true
understanding comes only from God (41:16).
story of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt provides some insights into
governmental conditions during the Hyksos period. Joseph originally was sold as
a slave to Egypt. In that era slaves commonly were brought from Canaan to Egypt.
Joseph, the model servant, soon gained favor with his master Potiphar, one of
Pharaoh’s officials and captain of the guard (39:1-6). Out
of loyalty to both God and his master, Joseph rejected Potiphar’s wife’s
advances (39:9). Joseph’s moral stance resulted in imprisonment. Potiphar’s
wife referred to Joseph as a Hebrew (39:17), the term here designating a
socially rejected individual. The punishment Joseph received may indicate that
Potiphar was not convinced of Joseph’s guilt since he was only imprisoned
instead of being sold into base slavery or put to death for such action. Little,
however, is known of Egyptian or Hyksos laws related to such matters.
status advanced to that of second-in-command of the land of Egypt due to his
God-given ability to interpret Pharaoh’s dream (41:41). Joseph’s
installation ceremony described in verses 41-43 reflects actual Egyptian
practices. The words for “signet ring: and “fine linen” (41-42) have an
Egyptian origin. The chain about the neck signified honor. Joseph became the
authorized representative of Pharaoh and directory of the palace.
Joseph’s rise to such high status in Egyptian government is attributed to the
nature of the Hyksos rule. The biblical writer, however, repeatedly asserted
that Joseph’s status resulted from the Lord’s presence with him. (see
39:2,3,21,23). A young man away from all family influences in a foreign land
maintained his integrity, morality, and faith in God in the face of prolonged
and severe testing. The story of Joseph reveals his faithfulness, fortitude, and
forgiveness. Joseph, whose model character blesses our lives today, remained
steadfast because behind all his life’s circumstances, he recognized God’s
hand at work (45:5-8; 50:15-21).
His Life And Times
By D. Waylon
is professor of Old Testament, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary.
XCEPT FOR A
BRIEF TIME when he is seen as a brash young man
without tact and spoiled by his father, Joseph is one of the most wholesome
characters in the Old Testament. His
life serves as a positive example in numerous areas.
He made the best of discouraging circumstances; he rejected the advances
of his master’s wife; he saw God’ great purpose being worked out in his own
circumstances. His stories, found in
Genesis 37-50, are some of the most fascinating of any body of literature.
general story of Joseph is well known and, while Joseph is not mentioned in any
known Egyptian inscriptions, a number of parallels can be drawn between
Joseph’s life and stories which survive from ancient Egypt.
Joseph’s seduction is quite similar to the Egyptian “Tale of Two
Brothers,” in which an unsuccessful attempt was made to seduce the younger
brother. Another similarity concerns
the butler. Egyptian records
indicate that the butler’s place was well established in the court.
He acted as a trusted advisor. In
one famous trial the king’s butlers served with other officials as judges.
Thus, when the pharaoh had a dream, we are not surprised that the butler
accompanied the wise men and magicians who were summoned to interpret the dream
and then recommended Joseph as a discerner of dreams.
question of Joseph’s position and duties in Egypt still is a mystery, however.
In what capacity did he serve and what functions did he perform?
position Joseph held apparently was that of prime minister, called vizier in
Egypt. The vizier’s duties
described in Egyptian records correlate amazingly with the stories of Joseph in
the pharaoh, the vizier was the most important man in the government of ancient
Egypt. In the earliest times of
Egyptian monarchy, the pharaoh appointed his son as vizier.
As the government expanded and became more centralized, the vizier came
increasingly from the nobility or priesthood.
After the time of Joseph, the office of vizier was divided into two
positions. One vizier became
administrator at Memphis over Lower (northern) Egypt while another held sway at
Thebes over Upper (southern) Egypt. This,
no doubt, became necessary because of the complexity of the Egyptian state after
A summary of the duties of the vizier accords well with
Joseph’s responsibilities. Genesis
records the words of Pharaoh to Joseph:
Thou shalt be over my house, and according
unto thy word shall all my people be ruled; only in the throne will I be greater
than thou. And Pharaoh said unto
Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt; And Pharaoh said unto
Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without thee shall no man lift up his hand or foot in
all the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:40-44).
vizier served as the chief justice of the state and dispensed justice throughout
the land. He was the most powerful
man in the kingdom under pharaoh. As
state archivist, his office contained all the archives of the government,
including the registry of lands and wills. The
vizier administered the kingdom, receiving daily reports from the treasurer and
reporting directly to the pharaoh each day.
vizier, Joseph knew the pharaoh as well as any non-family member Joseph must
have been the man in the kingdom; all of the daily workings of government hinged
on his capabilities and hard work. Pharaoh
rightly called the vizier “the supporting post of the entire land.”1
With authority delegated to a vizier like Joseph, the pharaoh had the
freedom to move his armies out of Egypt to establish an empire or direct his
energies in other areas.
most favorable time for a foreigner in Egypt occurred during the Hyksos period,
about 1720-1550 BC. The Hyksos—“rulersof
foreign countries” is the meaning of the Egyptian word—were an array of
peoples, including Semites, Hittites, and Hurrians.
In a time of such foreign domination of Egypt, an outsider would have a
greater opportunity to rise to great heights.
In the fourteenth century BC, Akhenation promoted a Semite named Tutu to
a high position of power. Among his
duties were the inspection of public works and the reception of foreign
visitors. Other people of
non-Egyptian descent were given government positions during the second
millennium BC. Thus, nothing
particularly surprising can be found in Joseph’s elevation to power and his
family’s reception in Egypt.
installation as a vizier of Egypt probably followed a customary pattern.
Genesis 41:42-43 records the ceremony:
Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand,
and put it upon Joseph’s hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and
put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot
which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee; and he made him ruler
over all the land of Egypt.
Rekh-mi-Re, the vizier of Upper
Egypt under the reign of Thutmose (thoot-MOE-suh) III (1490-1436 BC), received a
similar appointment. Rekh-mi-Re
said: “I went forth clad in fine linen. I
reached the doorway of the palace gate. The
courtiers bent their backs, and I found the masters of ceremonies clearing the
The charge to the vizier is as
impressive as the ceremony of installation.
In a charge unexpected in such an age, the pharaoh commanded the vizier
to govern impartially and with kindness and humanity.
it does not mean giving attention (only) to himself and to his officials and
councilors, nor (yet) making [dependents] out of everybody.
[The] abomination of the god is partiality.
This is the instruction, and thus shalt thou act: ‘Thou shalt look upon
him whom thou knowest like him whom thou knowest not, upon him who has access to
thee like him who is far away.’”3
Horemhab (HAHR-im-hab, 1340-1310 BC)
paid special attention to the character of those who would serve in such a high
capacity. He called the two viziers
he appointed “perfect in speech, excellent in good qualities, knowing how to
judge the heart.”4
He attacked bribery as an affront to
justice: “Receive not the reward of another.
How shall those like you judge others while there is one among you
committing a crime against justice?”5 The
biblical record gives many indications that Joseph’s character suited the
office of vizier. He appears in the
Bible as a strong-willed, dedicated person who cared for the people around him.
He was one who could sacrifice immediate pleasure for long-term goals.
It was just such a man that the pharaoh wanted to serve over all the
The biblical account of Joseph’s
duties portrays two main areas of concern: (1) He ruled the land as governor
(Gen. 41:44; 42:6); and (2) he was in charge of the royal granary, thus spent
much of his time administering agriculture (Gen. 41:49).
From available Egyptian accounts, we
can ascertain more detailed duties that Joseph had.
The chief concern of the vizier may have been to dispense justice over
all the land. Each day, Joseph had
an audience with those seeking redress of some grievance. Every
morning people crowded to the hall of the vizier, the senior court in the land,
to be heard.
The courtroom setting must have been
impressive. When Rekh-mi-Re was
vizier, he sat “upon a judgment-chair,
with a matting on the floor, a matting
over him, a cushion under his back and a cushion under his feet, a [cape]
upon him, [and] a scepter at his hand.”6
In front of the vizier were forty leather straps or thongs which were the
symbol of his disciplinary authority. The
number of men around the vizier was impressive as well.
He sat with “the Chiefs of Southern
Tens on two sides in front of him, the Overseer of the Cabinet on his right
hand, the Supervisor of Clients on his left hand, and the Scribe of the Vizier
As chief judge, Joseph had to be
able to dispense justice according to fairness, custom, and precedent.
No codified law from this period in Egypt has been found.
Thus, wisdom in making crucial decisions played an important part in
Joseph’s life. Determining the
mind of the pharaoh was necessary since the vizier was pharaoh’s mouthpiece.
Even with his enormous power, the vizier recognized that he was subject
to pharaoh. Pharaoh expected the
vizier to give every man his due in accord with his previous instructions.
Thutmose III charged his vizier: “Would that thou mightiest act in
conformance with what I may say!”8
Matters of great significance for the nation were taken to the monarch.
One such example is the death penalty, which could be handed down only by
In the Joseph stories in Genesis,
the greatest emphasis is given to his supervision of the granaries.
During the seven plenteous years Joseph bought grain and dispensed it
during the seven lean years. But
Joseph’s tasks were more burdensome than this.
He supervised the cutting of trees, checked the water supply, sent out
the men to plow at harvest time, and received census reports of cattle.9
He heard each territorial dispute within two months, or in the case of
his own city, within three days.
In addition to the granary, Joseph
probably supervised the royal treasurer. Each
morning the chief treasure reported to Joseph.
Only after his report was made did Joseph give authority to open the
offices and carry out the business of the state.
collected by the vizier as well. The
tomb of Rekh-mi-Re depicts the vizier receiving dues from lower officials the
tribute from Asiatic vassal-princes and Nubian chiefs.10 A long
list of officials and their dues also has been found in the tomb of Rekh-mi-Re.
As royal archivist all
administrative documents required his seal and no document could be consulted
without his permission. In later
times viziers performed such tasks as helping end workers’ strikes and
settling disputes among local officials.
Genesis 41-40 says that Joseph was
over pharaoh’s house. This
probably included the local palace as well as the entire land.
Being over the house of pharaoh meant that he recruited the staff of the
royal household and dispatched all palace messengers.
In addition, he arranged the king’s travels and hired the royal
Joseph’s day-to-day activities
must have been quite demanding. The
statement in Genesis 42:6 that Joseph was ruler (governor) over the land fits
all the extra-biblical evidence concerning the work of the vizier.
As vizier he consulted daily with the pharaoh, the royal treasurer, and
other lesser officials. He conducted
daily hearings in his judgment hall and attended to the administrative affairs
of the land.
Concerning the duties of the various
viziers, Breasted stated that “it must have been this office which the Hebrew
narrator had in mind as that to which Joseph was appointed.”11
Without a man of such tremendous energy and insight, many people would
have suffered even more tragically during years of famine and want.
Joseph himself stated well the truth of the providence of God: “And as
for you (his brothers), ye thought evil against me, but
God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people
alive” (Gen. 50:20).
Wilson, The Burden of Egypt (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago Press, 1951), p.
Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press. 1969),
Breasted, A History of Egypt (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1909), p. 405.
Pritchard, Ancient Near Eastern Texts, p. 213.
Ibid., pp. 213-14.
Breasted, Ancient Records of Egypt, vol. 2 (Chicago: The Univ. of Chicago
Press, 1906), pp. 278-80.
Ibid., pp. 294-95.
Breasted, A History of Egypt, p.
SOURCE: Biblical Illustrator; LifeWay
Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; Nashville, TN 37234;
What Is The Answer
To & Where In The Bible Is This Week’s Trivia Question Found? (10/19/14)
What is made acceptable by the word of God and prayer?
Answer next week:
answer to last week’s trivia question : Who found bees and
honey in the carcass of what animal? (10/12/14) Answer: Two-part question: (1) Who? Samson; (2) What kind of animal? A lion;