On Genesis, Part 47: Figures of the Messiah

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Genesis 37:1-36

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On Genesis, Part 47: Figures of the Messiah

In our last presentation of this commentary, Vessels of Destruction, we had discussed Genesis chapter 36, where there was a break in the narrative of the life of Jacob so that Moses could conclude his account of Jacob’s early years. So following the death Isaac he had then described the progeny of his brother Esau. Where Moses had listed the descendants of Esau, in addition to his Hittite wives it was also apparent that at least one family of the Horites were intermingled into his genealogy, and both Esau and his son Eliphaz were described as having taken wives from of that family. Then, comparing the earlier mention of Esau’s first wives in Genesis chapters 26 and 28, it is evident that over the course of time the situations with his wives had changed, and the offspring which are described in Genesis chapter 36 are from wives other than those, so the concise and incomplete account beckons questions for which there will probably never be answers.

But from the beginning, it is evident that the Edomites were mixed with two different branches of the Canaanites, both the Hittites and the Horites. However even this seems to be contradicted much later in Scripture, in Deuteronomy chapter 25 where we read that “12 The Horims also dwelt in Seir beforetime; but the children of Esau succeeded them, when they had destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their stead; as Israel did unto the land of his possession, which the LORD gave unto them.” This is repeated again, in part, a little further on in that same chapter. So while it seems to contradict the fact that Esau and his sons had intermarried with the Horites, the circumstances are not mutually exclusive. The Edomites evidently had displaced the Horites, since there is no apparent record of a specifically Horite or Hurrian presence having been prevalent in Mount Seir in later times. But at the same time they took their women as wives to the extent where one family of the Horites had been incorporated into Edom, and since so many Horite men are reckoned along with the genealogy of Esau, it is certainly plausible that they also had taken of the daughters of Esau.

In Genesis chapter 14 we are informed that in the time of Abraham, there were “6 … the Horites in their mount Seir, unto Elparan, which is by the wilderness.” When Jacob encountered Esau near the river Jabbok, as it is described in Genesis chapter 33, it is evident that the portion of Mount Seir in which he had dwelt, which we would identify with the range of mountains on the south and the east of the Dead Sea, was not very far away from the northern point of that sea, after which Jacob had turned west and entered into Canaan. But Elparan, which is the wilderness of Paran mentioned later in Scripture, stretches far to the south of the Dead Sea, and according to Genesis chapter 14 the Horites dwelt not only in a relatively small mountain, but throughout that entire area.

So it is evident that there must have been other families of the Horites in the world, other than those from which Esau and his sons had taken their wives, and at one time some of them may also have dwelt in Mount Seir. Isaac had died around 1675 BC, according to our chronology, and the account of Esau’s descendants must be from around that same time, as Esau had been having children long before the death of his father, and only three generations of his family, or in a couple of cases, perhaps four generations, had been recorded by Moses. Therefore the list of Esau’s descendants is relative to the time when Isaac had died, and Israel had gone to Egypt. The Horites are known to archaeologists as Hurrians, and several decades after the death of Isaac, around 1600 BC, a Hurrian empire known as the Mittani Kingdom began to arise in northern Mesopotamia, where it dominated its neighbors for over three hundred years. [1] In Scripture, the name Horite is mistakenly interpreted as Hivite, something which is also fully evident in Genesis chapter 36, and as Hivites they are mentioned throughout Scripture as late as 1 Kings chapter 9 and 2 Chronicles chapter 8, a confusion which occurs frequently for reasons which we have already explained. But in those later Scriptures, the Horites, or Hivites, which are mentioned had been dwelling in Canaan rather than in Seir or Edom. In any event, the Horites did not all disappear in Edom, and the blood of the Horites was also perpetuated in the descendants of Esau, many of whom are the Jews and the Arabs of today. Since Jacob went to Egypt during a time of a prolonged famine, it is even possible that the Horites who were also affected may have migrated elsewhere, or had been pushed out by the Edomite faction in competition for resources.

Now with that, there are many more picayune details in Genesis chapter 36, but we shall not dwell on them here. Rather, just as Moses had done, we shall also close the proverbial book on Esau, as neither him nor his descendants are mentioned again in Genesis after chapter 36. The more deeply we peer into ancient Biblical history, the darker the glasses become. In the balance of the writings of Moses, the Edomites are only mentioned in one passing reference in Exodus, and then the Israelites encounter them after the exodus, in Numbers chapter 20 where the Edomites had become hostile to them. From that point forward they are the enemies of Israel, which was their destiny from the time that Jacob and Esau had been born. So now, as Genesis chapter 37 opens, the focus of the narrative is once again upon Jacob, and where it commences, there is just one more reminiscent mention of his father Isaac before his own children are recounted.

However before we proceed with the account, there is also one more significant subject to discuss, which we shall mention in various ways as we proceed through this chapter. In the book of Genesis, in our estimation, there are several figures or types which hint at, presage or represent a Messiah. The first figure is the light come into the world which is declared in Genesis 1:3, which is not the physical light that man perceives. In our opinion, it is evident that the light of the opening statements of the account of Creation represents the coming presence of Yahweh God Himself within His Creation, which is not revealed to men until the advent of Yahshua Christ, the light come into the world which is declared in the Gospel of John and also more subtly in Luke chapters 1 and 2, where, on each occasion, Luke’s subjects had cited the words of the prophet Isaiah. Christ Himself had told His disciples, as it is recorded in John chapter 12, “35 … Yet a little the Light is with you. Walk while you have the Light, that the darkness may not overtake you, as he walking in the darkness does not know where he goes. 36 While you have the Light, believe in the Light, in order that you may be sons of Light….” Christ is the light of Genesis 1:3, which had never been seen by men, but He reveals Himself to men as He sees fit.

The second figure is apparent in the cherubs which guarded the east end of the garden of God to keep the way to the Tree of Life, which is a Messianic type because the east is where the sun rises, it is the direction from which the light comes after a period of darkness, and ultimately, in a wordplay which is relevant only in English, it is where the Son had risen. Christ being the Tree of Life, the cherubs are later found atop the Ark of the Covenant, guarding the mercy seat and the tablets of the law, whereby it is also revealed that the law is the path which leads to Him. The account of Abraham in the battle of the kings in Genesis chapter 14 may also be seen as a Messianic type, as Abraham had overcome five armies all much greater than his own. The angels come down from heaven to destroy Sodom are also a Messianic figure, representing the power of Yahweh come to destroy His enemies, and the desire of the men of Sodom to abuse them when they saw them is a reflection of how Christ was, and will be, despised by His enemies at the time of His coming. So both of these events seem to presage the Messiah of the Gospel, and of Revelation chapter 19 wherein He has promised to come down to smite His enemies for good. Besides these examples, perhaps there are other aspects of Genesis which presage a Messiah, and He exemplifies statements such as that found in Genesis 3:15, although a proper interpretation of the “seed of the woman” is not limited to Him alone. But none are more significant and more replete with types of Christ than that which is found in the life of Joseph.

Joseph is described as having been the favorite son of his father, Jacob, just as the earthly Christ was described as having been the μονογενής, which is the most beloved, Son of God, after a Hebrew idiom. Joseph was thrown into a pit by his own brethren, just as Christ had been reviled and executed by the Judaeans, by those of His own nation as well as by the Edomite Judaeans who were presumed to be His fellows, and placed into a grave, or pit, by His brethren. So the pit into which Joseph was thrown is representative of Hades, and also the grave into which Christ had been laid. Joseph would be rescued out of the grave and taken to Egypt, where he would later be in a position to save his people from the death of famine. Christ also went into the pit and was resurrected, thereby saving His people Israel from their sins, the same people whom Joseph had saved. So in all of these aspects, Joseph is certainly a figure of the Messiah, a type for Yahshua Christ, and there are other aspects of this which we shall also discuss here. So with this we shall proceed with our commentary and Genesis chapter 37:

37:1 And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. 2 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.

As a digression, the e-Sword reproduction of Brenton’s Septuagint is completely missing the text of verse 1 here, but Brenton himself has the text as an additional verse at the end of chapter 36.

The evil report is not related by Joseph to his father until verse 10 of this chapter. In the meantime, it will become clear as to why the report was evil, because Joseph himself had made his brethren envious, even if he was only being honest. When Jacob hears it, even he scolds Joseph, so that like Christ Himself, Joseph had suffered greatly on account of his honesty.

While we do not know precisely how long it was from the time of the birth of Joseph to that of his brother Benjamin, it must have been more than a few years, and most likely as many as fourteen or fifteen years. Since Dinah had been born no more than a year or two sooner than Joseph, and she was already old enough to go to Shechem and get raped, as the account is recorded in Genesis chapter 34, after he left Haran, at least fourteen or fifteen years must have already elapsed by the time of Jacob’s troubles in Shechem. As we have also already discussed, Genesis was not written in strict chronological order. Jacob was about 90 years old when he had left Padanaram, and Joseph had been a toddler at that time, perhaps as young as a year or so old. Isaac could not have died until Jacob was 120, and Joseph was about 30, so Isaac is actually still alive at the time when Joseph was taken.

According to the ages provided here in Genesis, there were about forty years from the time when Jacob left Haran until the time when he went to Egypt. Dinah was probably raped about fourteen or fifteen years into that forty-year period, when she was about sixteen to eighteen years old. Joseph was taken about fifteen or sixteen years into that same forty-year period, and Isaac died about thirty years into that period. The birth of Benjamin and the death of Rachel are recorded in Genesis chapter 35, just before the death of Isaac is recorded. In that chapter of Genesis, Jacob is described as having passed through Bethel, leaving Shechem after the rape of Dinah, while he had been on his way to Hebron where he had been reunited with Isaac. So it seems that Benjamin was born shortly before Joseph had been taken, not more than a year or two, since Rachel had died during Jacob’s journey from Shechem to Bethel to Hebron. Now, a short time later, we have the account of Joseph here in chapter 37, so Benjamin could have scarcely been a year or two old. These events in chapter 37 do not succeed those in chapter 35, but rather, they are a parallelism, they occurred in a frame of time within the events of chapter 35, and probably not all of them, but at least most of them, in the time between the deaths of Rachel and Isaac. Here, Jacob is in Hebron with Isaac, although Isaac is not again mentioned, and later in this chapter his sons are in Shechem feeding his flocks, which are about fifty miles away.

3 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.

This is the second time that Moses had referred to Jacob by his name of Israel, since Yahweh had announced his name in chapter 35, but from this point he had used Jacob and Israel interchangeably. In Genesis chapters 37 through 50, the name Jacob appears in 32 verses, and the name Israel in 31, but often in those passages it appears in a more general, impersonal sense in reference to his estate and his offspring. Where we read here that Jacob had loved Joseph more “because he was the son of his old age”, it seems plausible that this portion of the account had occurred during the years before the death of Rachel, that Jacob had made this coat for Joseph even before Benjamin was born. However even if Benjamin had already been born, he would have been an infant in the hands of a nurse at this early time, since Joseph could not have been taken more than a year or two after the death of Rachel. So in any event, Joseph was the most beloved son of Jacob, and that situation had incensed his brethren against him, even if it was a situation over which Joseph himself had no control:

4 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.

This may be describing a situation which had developed before the death of Rachel, before Benjamin was born, and which had persisted until the time when Joseph was thrown into the pit. Perhaps the fact that Joseph was with the sons of the handmaids also reflects some greater alienation which may have existed between himself and the sons of Leah. All of the sons of Leah were older than Joseph, from a couple of years older, in the case of Zebulun, to as many as thirteen years, in the case of Reuben. So these sons may have expected to be set in a line of precedence above Joseph, and for that reason they were envious of him. But the sons of the handmaids, in spite of the fact that they had also received a portion of the inheritance of Israel, and the fact that they were all also older than Joseph, actually could have had no such expectation, since they were the sons of servant women. Therefore they may not have justly had the same envy, as they were not of the same status as the sons of a wife, having been sons of bondwomen much like Ishmael had been. But here it seems that they were also nonetheless envious.

It is often speculated that the “coat of many colors” was made of tartan-like materials. Such materials have been found on diverse Europeans in early times, and the oldest known samples have been discovered as far east as modern China, although they did not belong to Chinese. The most notable of these is the discovery of the well-preserved remains of a so-called Chärchän Man, who wore trousers and garments woven with as many as six different colors of thread. He is commonly dated to about 1000 to 1200 BC, which is only speculation, and more scientific methods have dated him to be somewhat more recent. [2] But in any event, that discovery and others like it demonstrate that such intricately-woven cloths were indeed available in early times. This particular finding may predate the time of the Scythians who had later migrated into Europe as Kimmerians, Sakans, and Galatae, among whom tartans were discovered in archaeology which are dated to the Hallstatt period, centuries earlier than the time of Christ. Diodorus Siculus described Celtic tartans, and the Romans depicted them in their art. [4] But we would insist that other and related groups had preceded the Scythians into Central Asia from Mesopotamia and the Levant at somewhat earlier times. [5]

In any event, this “coat of many colors” did indeed distinguish Joseph apart from his brethren, which is suggested here, as such clothing had also represented a distinguished status in diverse places in later history. Roman men, for example, were restricted to wearing white togas, and only magistrates, priests and kings could add purple or red to their togas to distinguish their ranks, and therefore in Rome colored clothing was an indication of one’s social rank. Roman political candidates had made their togas white with chalk, which was called the toga candida. [6] This was named for the Latin word candidus which means white, bright or shining, and that is the origin of English words such as candid and candidate. Our word candid basically means truthful and straightforward, and the color white has always represented those ideals in our languages, like red reflects anger, blue sadness, and black death or mourning. The English, like the Romans, expected political leaders to have that quality, hence the English word candidate, and the Roman custom of wearing a bright white toga when running for office.

5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more.

The Septuagint manuscripts want the phrase “and they hated him yet the more”, which is evidently found in the fragments of the Dead Sea Scrolls copies of Genesis. Without knowing what the balance of the account may hold, it might seem that Joseph was a quite pretentious youth, having been the spoiled favorite of his father. But in truth, his actual character comes to light in the adversity which is about to come upon him, and how he would overcome that adversity, which reveals that he was actually quite forthright, honest and sincere, even to a fault. Joseph himself could not help having been his father’s favorite son, and with that alone having aroused the envy of his brothers, his candid demeanor only exacerbated that situation. But all of these circumstances made his future life as the temporal savior of his brethren possible in the first place, and without them he could not have been in that position so that he may do so.

Now Joseph describes his dreams to his brethren, and we do not know if he is with all ten of them, or if he is still only with the four sons of the handmaids. Here Jacob is in Hebron, and so are the sons of the handmaids, who are not as old as the four elder sons of Leah. Later these sons will go to Shechem, where the flocks already are, and the sons of Leah, or perhaps only some of the older sons of Leah, may have already been there, lest the sons of the handmaids would not have been distinguished here.

6 And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: 7 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. 8 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.

This situation presages the attitude of the Galileans who had despised Christ, as we read, in part, in Mark chapter 6: “3 ‘Is this not the craftsman, the son of Maria and brother of Iakobos and Ioses and Iouda and Simon? And are His brethren not here with us?’ And they were offended by Him. 4 And Yahshua said to them that ‘A prophet is not without honor except in his own fatherland and among his kinsmen and in his house!’” Again, in His own home town of Nazareth, after Christ had read from the book of Isaiah in a synagogue, and had spoken to those who questioned Him thereafter with words such as “Is He not a son of Joseph?”, as it is recorded in Luke chapter 4, after He had answered them we read: “28 And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these things, were filled with wrath, 29 And rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong.” While He spoke to them once He had grown to manhood, the people nevertheless had despised Him because they knew Him in His youth, or, at least, they thought that they knew Him.

Here Joseph is also portrayed as a prophet, since even the later prophets had received their own inspiration from visions and dreams. Some years later, in the court of the pharaoh, he was exalted from prisoner to governor on account of his correct interpretation of pharaoh’s dream. Now Joseph related a second dream to his brethren:

9 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.

Now it is evident that his father is also with them, so Jacob, Joseph, and the sons of the handmaids are all in Hebron, but it is not fully evident as to whether any of the other sons are with them. So we shall continue:

10 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?

The reference to Rachel may certainly have been a reference to a deceased Rachel, since verse 14 assures us that Jacob is now in Hebron, and Rachel had passed before he reached Hebron, which is fully evident in the narrative of his journey and her passing in Genesis chapter 35. So this seems to reveal a facet of Jacob’s worldview concerning the eternal state of the spirits of men, upon which we need not elaborate further. But even if Jacob was disturbed by this dream, and rebuked Joseph on account of it, he nevertheless took note of it in much the same fashion that Mary had taken to heart many of the things which had been said by and about her son Yahshua when He was young. So, for example, in reference to the coming of the magi we read in Luke chapter 2: “18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds. 19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.”

Therefore, concerning Jacob’s second dream we read:

11 And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

Ultimately, Joseph was taken out of the pit to become a ruler of Egypt under the pharoah, and also ruler over his own brethren, so as his dream here suggests, he came to rule over his own father and brethren who had come to Egypt in order to escape the famine, and as a result were placed under the authority of Joseph. This is another figure of the Messiah, as Christ was resurrected from the grave, taken out of the pit, to become King of his people, under the authority of Yahweh His father, since Christ is also both God and man, being Yahweh God incarnate.

Now perhaps all of Jacob’s ten older brothers had heard this dream, or perhaps here only the sons of the handmaids, the youngest of whom would be two or three years older than Joseph, would depart Hebron for Shechem. It is possible that they were all in Hebron, and the flocks were left with Jacob’s servants, or it is possible that only the sons of the handmaids were in Hebron, as they were mentioned explicitly at the beginning of the chapter. Thus we read:

12 And his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem. 13 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.

The infant Benjamin would, of course, still be with Jacob in Hebron, in the care of his nurse. So once Joseph departs here, Jacob will not see him again, and will believe that he is dead for at least the next 23 or perhaps 24 years. So he sends him off not knowing that he would never return:

14 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.

As we have probably already explained in earlier portions of this commentary, since the patriarchs had traveled the route along the mountain ridges from Shechem to Beersheba quite often, the site of ancient Shechem is nearly 50 miles north of Hebron by air, so it would be at least a little longer than that on foot. We can only guess why the flocks remained in Shechem, but it is evident that Isaac not yet being dead, perhaps the place where he had been in Hebron was not large enough for Jacob’s flocks in addition to his own. This is also suggested in Genesis chapter 36 where after the death of Isaac, speaking of Jacob and Esau we read: “7 For their riches were more than that they might dwell together; and the land wherein they were strangers could not bear them because of their cattle.”

Now Joseph arrives in Shechem, at least two days after he departed from Hebron:

15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? 16 And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.

Joseph must have actually explained more to the man than the statement reflects, or perhaps he could not have know whom the brethren of Joseph had been. But he does know the answer:

17 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.

Dothan, a site identified as Tel Dotan on modern maps, is about fifteen miles further north of Shechem, and Joseph would have to travel for at least one more day. Interestingly, Dothan is mentioned only one other time in Scripture, in 2 Kings chapter 6, in an account concerning the prophet Elisha. Scripture having been written so concisely, someone who is ignorant of the geography may read this chapter and think that all of this had transpired in just a few hours, and that maybe Joseph was not so far from home.

Now his brethren must have truly despised him for his dreams, and they must have been plotting against him as they brooded over what he had told them:

18 And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. 19 And 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.

Now, although Jacob had later called him “unstable as water”, Reuben acts with a hint of righteousness, although he must also have despised his brother:

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.

The ancient Greeks often exposed unwanted children to the elements, assuaging their consciences with the notion that the fate of such children was in the hands of their gods, as an excuse by which they imagined their own hands to be free of their blood. So the brethren evidently agreed to that, although Reuben was also the oldest and they should have consented to his words. Here Moses also stresses that Reuben’s suggestion was a ploy, as he truly wanted to save Joseph for the sake of his father.

23 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; 24 And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.

This may evoke the fate of the garments of Christ, recorded in Luke chapter 23: “34 And casting lots they divided His garments.” However here the brothers had another motive, aside from how much they had despised the “coat of many colors”. Furthermore, if they had left him with the garment, anyone finding him may have perceived of the wealth of his family and sought to bring or even sell him back to his father for some reward. The fact that there was no water in the pit may also evoke the words of Christ in John chapter 19: “28 With this, Yahshua seeing that He had already finished all things, in order that the writing would be completed, He says: ‘I thirst!’”

We may refrain from asserting that what happened to Joseph here was prophetic of the fate of Christ, but many of the experiences of David which he himself had recorded were also prophetic of the fate of Christ, and were cited by the apostles themselves in reference to Christ. So if we make the assertion, it is not unjust.

Joseph was cast into a pit, and emerged from it to save his brethren, the very brethren who had cast him into it. Likewise, Christ was slain by the Judaeans, and many of His brethren had consented. But Christ had emerged from the grave, having died so that He could save His brethren. While of course the salvation of Christ is much greater than the salvation of Joseph, Joseph is nevertheless a figure of the Messiah, a prophetic type for Christ and His sufferings. Noticing the parallels, and the great gap of time and history over which they had occurred, one should understand that the Scripture is true, that these events had happened in a way which points us to Christ. He had told the Pharisees that Moses wrote of Him, but they did not believe Him.

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 spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

These Ishmaelites were evidently traders on the caravan routes, and here it is evident that Ishmael must also have had a great number of children by this time. It is at least 150 years, and probably a little longer, since Ishmael was cast out of the presence of the young Isaac at the insistence of Sarah. The word Ishmeelites is usually spelled Ishmaelites in translation, but the King James Version is horribly inconsistent in its spelling of names. Only in Genesis chapters 37 and 39 does this errant spelling appear.

Envy and desire can indeed lead a man to commit murder, and here it must be understood that the purest of men, a Christian ideal which the sons of Israel represent above all other men, can also be driven to killing their own brethren. This is the state of man apart from God, as these men may have been familiar with the promises of Abraham which had been passed down to Jacob, but they were not at all familiar with the Word of God. Only recently, relative to this time, had Jacob commanded his sons to put away their idols, in the opening verses of Genesis chapter 35.

As Paul had written in Romans chapter 7: “7 Now what may we say? Is the law a sin? Certainly not! But I had not perceived sin, unless by the law; then also I had not acknowledged covetousness, unless the law said, ‘thou shalt not covet;’ 8 but the sin having taken a starting point by the commandment has accomplished in me all covetousness; for apart from the law sin is dead. 9 Now I was alive apart from the law once; but the commandment having come, the sin was revived, and I died. 10 And it was found to me that the commandment, which is for life, it is for death: 11 for sin having taken a starting point by the commandment, had seduced and killed me through it.”

Essentially, Paul had explained there that man does not know sin apart from the law, so until he hears the law, he does what is right in his own eyes. However once he hears the law, he is convicted of his sin and realizes the error of his ways. Paul’s words support this interpretation where he had written in Romans chapter 5 that: “13 … until the law sin was in the Society; but sin was not accounted, there not being law; 14 but death reigned from Adam until Moses, even over those who had not committed a sin resembling the transgression of Adam…”

So here we should recognize the fact that man is little better than a beast without God, as Solomon had written in Ecclesiastes chapter 3: “19 For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts; even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity.” As the young Elihu had said in Job chapter 35: “10 But none saith, Where is God my maker, who giveth songs in the night; 11 Who teacheth us more than the beasts of the earth, and maketh us wiser than the fowls of heaven?” Likewise, Solomon had written in his conclusion to Ecclesiastes, in the final verses of chapter 12: “13 Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: Fear God, and keep his commandments: for this is the whole duty of man. 14 For God shall bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good, or whether it be evil.”

Now Judah, the fourth eldest of the brothers, agrees with Reuben that they should not slay Jacob, and goes a step further to explain that they should not even let him die in the pit:

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.

Here Judah seeks mercy for Joseph, to some degree, on the grounds that he is their brother and of the same flesh. But he also evidently wanted to make some profit at his expense, so his motives were not entirely pure. So while Reuben did not want his brothers to kill Joseph outright, Judah’s plea is even more merciful, in spite of his greed and even if it is a little late. It is evident that his thoughts were inspired only when he saw the passing Ishmaelites. Here, however, it seems that certain Midianites, who also must have been travelling merchants, had found Joseph in the pit before Judah and his brothers had acted on his words:

28 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.

So the Midianites gained the unrighteous profit, which righteously deprived Judah of profiting from the ill fate of his brother. Ostensibly, they either heard Joseph calling from the pit, or they went to it hoping to find water, and found Joseph instead, which is more plausible. In the ancient world, the fate of men found in the wilderness or taken in robbery or in war was to be sold as slaves, if they were in decent enough physical condition to demand a price. In that same manner, women and children, male or female, would be sold into slavery for prostitution, or older women perhaps for menial servitude.

But even while Moses, having written much later, had known the fate of Joseph for that reason, it would not have been learned by Israel until a later time, after they had gone to Egypt. So here Joseph’s brothers would not have known that Midianites had found him in the pit, and therefore they would not have known what had happened to him:

29 And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. 30 And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?

Reuben’s question is evidently rhetorical, he does not know how he should tell his father about the disappearance of Joseph, since all along, as Moses described it, he was hoping to have saved him and return him to his father. Now he needed an alternative plan:

31 And they took Joseph's coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood; 32 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. 33 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.

Of course they knew it was Joseph’s coat, but perhaps they thought it might have been easier for them if Jacob himself had made that conclusion. And of course he did:

34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 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.

Jacob is not saying that he will go to the grave of Joseph, as I can imagine that the verse may be misinterpreted. Rather, his statement is a profession that he would mourn for Joseph until the time when he himself would die. As for the mention of daughters, while Jacob himself had only one daughter, it is possible that some of his older sons have already had children of their own.

And now the chapter on the life of Joseph seems to come to a close, as Jacob believes that he is dead, and it is not clear as to whether his brothers imagine that he still lived, so they would never be able to offer their father any hope. However as we read in the final verse of the chapter:

36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.

According to our chronology, the year is now about 1688 BC, but Jacob does not go to Egypt until about 1665 BC. In about twenty-three years, from the perspective of his father and his brothers, Joseph would be resurrected in Egypt, and he would save Israel from death in the seven years’ famine of pharaoh’s dream, something which would not have been possible if he had not first gone into the pit, in which he was reckoned to be dead. So this is indeed a figure of the Messiah.

This concludes our commentary on Genesis through chapter 37.


1 Mitanni, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mitanni, accessed February 15th, 2024.

2 The invention of trousers and its likely affiliation with horseback riding and mobility: A case study of late 2nd millennium BC finds from Turfan in eastern Central Asia, Ulrike Beck, Mayke Wagner, et al., Quaternary International 348 (2014) 224-235, https://www.spranglady.com/uploads/7/7/0/8/77084287/17_2014_beck_et_al._qi_348_224-235.pdf, accessed February 15th, 2024.

3 Tartan, Wikipedia, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tartan#Pre-medieval_origins, accessed February 15th, 2024.

4 8 Oldest Tartans in History, Oldest.org, https://www.oldest.org/culture/tartans/, accessed February 16th, 2024.

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6 The 6 Types of Togas Worn in Ancient Rome, Thought.com, https://www.thoughtco.com/six-types-of-toga-in-ancient-rome-117805, accessed February 16th, 2024.

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