The Plan of God in the Book of Genesis—Part 23

Joseph’s Dreams


VERSES 1-4  “And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.
“These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.
“Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.
“And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”

‘Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father [Isaac] was a stranger.’ This was the ‘Promised Land,’ but so far as the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob were concerned they were merely sojourners in it at that time. Their actual possession of the land will not be until they are raised from the dead and take their places among the other Ancient Worthies as “princes in all the earth.”—Ps. 45:16

Beginning with the second verse of this chapter is the unfolding of one of the most interesting stories ever written, the story of Joseph and his brethren. It possesses all the elements usually found in fictional dramas, yet it is a true account. In it are displayed the fallen human passions of jealousy and lust manifested in cruel intrigue of brother against brother, of mistress against servant, and friend against friend.

Also there are exhibited in the narrative those noble qualities of mercy and understanding, manifesting themselves in a willingness to forgive past injuries and to give glory to God for overruling the harm that was intended, to the great good of all concerned. And it is more than merely a true story of Joseph and his brethren, for in it are to be found striking similarities to the experiences of another favorite Son, even to Jesus, the beloved Son of God and Redeemer of the church and of the world.

‘Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, … and he made him a coat of many colors.’ Thus do we have the setting of the narrative, the reason for the jealousy of Joseph’s brethren. “Jealousy is cruel as the grave” (Song of Sol. 8:6), the Scriptures tell us, and this ‘green-eyed monster’ soon was able to stir up Joseph’s brethren to take action against him. At first it was merely a passive hatred they held toward Joseph, but nevertheless a hatred so intense that they found it difficult to even speak to him in a friendly manner.

VERSES 5-8  “And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.
“And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed:
“For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.
“And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.”

When Joseph’s brethren heard about his dream in which they were seen as bowing down to him, they hated him even more. Under the circumstances perhaps Joseph was indiscreet in relating his dream to his brethren, but he was a mere lad and certainly innocent of any desire to impress his brethren with his greatness. But his brethren were quick to grasp the meaning of the dream and their jealousy increased.

VERSES 9-11  “And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.
“And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?
“And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.”

Joseph’s second dream carried more sweeping implications than his first, for it signified that even his parents would bow down to him. It was a true forecast of coming events, but his father rebuked him for relating it. Probably Jacob sensed the jealousy of his other sons and realized that the telling of this second dream would but fan the flame of hatred and make it even more difficult to find a peaceable solution.

But Jacob was not jealous, hence his reaction to the forecast of Joseph’s rulership over the rest of the family was quite different. He rebuked him merely for telling the dream. As for what it might portend, ‘he observed the saying’—that is, he took note of it with the idea of watching the Lord’s providences in connection therewith.

VERSES 12-22  “And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem.
“And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.
“And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
“And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?
“And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.
“And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.
“And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.
“And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.
“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.
“And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.
“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.”

The hatred which Joseph’s brethren bore toward him was not reciprocated. He loved them, and had nothing but their best interests at heart. While apparently for some time they had not spoken to him peaceably, he was quite willing, when his father requested it, to look them up in distant fields for the purpose of seeking their welfare and to report back to his and their father. This Godlike characteristic of Joseph continued to manifest itself throughout his entire life.

Those who are pure of heart and who desire only good for others, even for those who may be opposed to them, seem often to be incapable of imagining the evil plotting which goes on in the minds of those whose hearts are filled with hatred. A thief always suspects that others are thieves; but the innocent and pure are quite likely to be trustful of others. This seems to have been Joseph’s attitude. Perhaps, if he had been warned, it still would have been difficult for him to believe that his brethren would take advantage of his insecurity in the open field, and lay hands on him for evil as they did.

It seemed to be the desire of all Joseph’s brethren, with the exception of Reuben, to kill the ‘dreamer,’ but Reuben persuaded them to modify their plans and to cast him into a nearby pit. His thought was that when he had the opportunity, and unknown to the others, he would restore Joseph to his father. This was to Reuben’s credit, although his effort was not wholly successful.

VERSES 23-28  “And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him;
“And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.
“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 spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.
“And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?
“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.
“Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.”

In agreeing to cast Joseph into a pit, Reuben’s brothers had no other thought, apparently, than that of leaving him there to die. But having left him in the pit, Judah’s intentions softened toward Joseph, and seeing an opportunity to dispose of him short of murder, he proposed that they do so by selling him to the Ishmaelites to be taken to Egypt as a slave. The others agreed to this, and it might be said on the part of all of them that this change of plans indicates that none of them were hardened criminals. They had been caught in a snare of jealousy and hatred, but when it came to the test they proved not to really be of the ignoble type who think nothing of committing cold-blooded murder.

VERSES 29-36  “And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes.
“And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?
“And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;
“And they sent the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no.
“And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.
“And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.
“And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
“And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.”

Reuben had not counted on his brothers changing their minds about Joseph, and was evidently not with them when he was sold to be taken to Egypt. He returned to the pit with the evident intent of freeing his younger brother, and returning him to Jacob. But he found the pit empty. He reported the matter to his brothers, and asked where he should go, evidently for the purpose of finding Joseph.

Bible stories seldom give all the details involved, and there is nothing said here of how Reuben was reconciled to the sale of Joseph, for the report that was prepared for their father would have the same tragic consequences as though his beloved son had actually been killed. Perhaps Reuben decided that it was useless to continue opposing the plans of his brethren, so he joined in the plot to deceive their father; and they did deceive Jacob.

When he saw Joseph’s coat of many colors smeared with blood, he reached exactly the conclusion his sons had reasoned he would. No doubt was left in his mind that the boy had been slain by a wild beast. Jacob was heartbroken. It was almost more than the aged parent could bear. He wept bitterly, and rent his clothes and put sackcloth upon his loins, ‘and mourned for his son many days.’

His family tried in vain to comfort him. He explained that he would continue to mourn for Joseph as long as he lived. But he did not express the thought in just this way. Instead, he said, ‘I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning.’ This is one of the very important texts of the Bible, although seldom recognized as such. This is because the translators have used the word ‘grave’ to translate the Hebrew word sheol used by Jacob in his statement, which reveals that he expected to continue mourning until he joined Joseph in sheol—believing, of course, that his son was dead.

This is the first time the word sheol appears in the Bible, but it is used many times in later books of the Old Testament. However, it is not always translated ‘grave.’ Thirty-one times this same word is translated by the English word ‘hell.’ The word sheol is descriptive of the only hell that is mentioned in the Old Testament; and in Jacob’s use of it, he reveals that, according to his understanding, Joseph—whom he thought to be dead—was in hell, or sheol, and that he expected to join him there when he died.

We find that this expression of sorrow on the part of Jacob is most revealing, for it shows that the righteous as well as the wicked go to the Bible hell when they die. The Bible hell, however, is not a place of torment, but merely the state of death—a condition which the Scriptures liken to sleep, and from which there will be an awakening in the morning of the resurrection. In Ecclesiastes 9:10, where the Hebrew word is again used and translated ‘grave,’ we are told that in this condition “there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom”—in other words, it is a state of unconsciousness.

In Genesis 37:36 we are informed that Joseph was sold to Potiphar in Egypt by the ‘Midianites,’ whereas in verse 28 it is stated that his brethren had sold him to the ‘Ishmaelites.’ In Genesis 39:1 we read that it was the Ishmaelites who sold him to Potiphar. This might seem to be contradictory, but is not actually so. The Ishmaelites were Arab descendants of Abraham through Hagar, whereas the Midianites were Arab descendants through Keturah. Apparently they were more or less associated, and sometimes were called by one name and sometimes by the other.

The army of Midianite Arabs defeated by Gideon and his little army of 300 had Ishmaelites among them, as revealed by Judges 8:24. Apparently they were distinguished from the Midianites only by the fact that they wore golden earrings. It is possible that the band of traders to whom Joseph was sold by his brethren was made up of both Midianites and Ishmaelites, hence as a group they are referred to first by one name, and then by the other.

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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