Genesis 37: Joseph’s Brothers Sell Him Into Slavery


Hebrew-English Text

I. Summary

Joseph is favored by Jacob/Israel but is hated by his brothers. Joseph relates two dreams about his own greatness, which causes his brothers to hate him even more. Instead of killing him, the brothers decide to sell Joseph into slavery. They tell their father that Joseph is dead but Joseph is actually a servant of Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh in Egypt.

II. Photo

Joseph is hated by his brothers: “[Joseph’s brothers] took him and cast him into the pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.” (v. 24)

III. Select Verses

1-2a: Now Jacob was settled in the land where his father had sojourned, the land of Canaan. This, then, is the line of Jacob: At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers…

3: Now Israel loved Joseph best of all his sons, for he was the child of his old age; and he had made him an ornamented tunic.

6-8: He said to them, “Hear this dream which I have dreamed:  There we were binding sheaves in the field, when suddenly my sheaf stood up and remained upright; then your sheaves gathered around and bowed low to my sheaf.” His brothers answered, “Do you mean to reign over us? Do you mean to rule over us?” And they hated him even more for his talk about his dreams.

9: He dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: And this time, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

IV. Outline

1. Jacob (called such) lived where his ancestors sojourned
2a. Introduction to Jacob’s story
2b-4. Joseph is hated by his brothers
    2b. Joseph helps with his brothers’ flocks but speaks ill of them to Jacob
    3. Israel (called such) loves Joseph the most and gives him a special garment
    4. The other brothers hate Joseph
5-8. Joseph’s first dream
    5. Joseph tells his brothers his dream and they hate him more 
    6-7. The brothers’ sheafs bow to Joseph’s in the field
    8. The brothers ask if Joseph wishes to reign and they hate him more
9-11. Joseph’s second dream
    9. Joseph tells his brothers that the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed to him
    10. Jacob chastises Joseph for his dream
    11. The brothers grew jealous, and Jacob kept the matter in mind
12-36. Joseph is sold into slavery
    12-14a. Israel sends Joseph to his brothers who are shepherding in Shechem
    14b-17. At Shechem, Joseph learns his brothers went to Dothan, so he follows
    18-20. The brothers decide to kill Joseph
    21-22. Reuben convinces the brothers to passively kill Joseph by throwing him in a pit so that he can secretly save him
    23-24. The brothers strip Joseph of his special garment and throw him in a pit without water
    25. A caravan of Ishmaelites passes by
    26-28. Judah convinces the brothers to sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites (called Midianites) instead of killing him  
    29-30. Reuben returns to an empty pit and confronts his brothers
    31. The brothers dip Joseph’s garment in blood
    32-35. Jacob (called such) is shown the garment and mourns for his son uncontrollably
    36. The Ishmaelites (called Midianites) sell Joseph to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh

V. Comment

Joseph is called Jacob’s “child of old age” in verse 3 despite the fact that Benjamin was born after Joseph. One explanation is that this passage understands Benjamin to be older than Joseph, meaning it contradicts the previous narrative. There is an alternative explanation too. According to the medieval Jewish commentator Rashbam, Joseph was Jacob’s “child of old age” for many years before Benjamin was born. This period of time solidified Joseph’s position as his favorite child.

Two ethnic designations are mentioned in the sale of Joseph, namely, the Ishmaelites (v. 25, 28) and the Midianties (vv. 28, 36). While Rashbam thinks the Midianites sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, the more straightforward explanation is that the Ishmaelites were the Midianites. The proof for this is verse 36, which says “the Midianites sold [Joseph] to Potiphar in Egypt.” If the Midianites sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites, the verse should have said the Ishmaelites, not the Midianites, sold Joseph to Potiphar in Egypt.

VI. Works Used

(see “Commentaries” page)

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