Genesis 37:2-36 Joseph’s Beginning: The Beloved Son, Sent By his Father, Providentially Sold Into Slavery in Egypt by His Brothers

Posted on March 18, 2013. Filed under: Genesis: Answers to Life's Crucial Questions |

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Bryan E. Walker

 Scripture Reading, Genesis 37:2-11

            These are the generations of Jacob.

            Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

            Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

            Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

(Genesis 37:2-11 ESV)


Review/Introduction: Last week we were introduced to the tenth toledoth and to our text for today. The BIG ideas of these final chapters in Genesis include such things as the faithfulness of Joseph, how God’s sovereignty and Providence work out his plan for Redemption even in the tiniest of details, and how God brought a dysfunctional, even murderous family to the point of repentance and reconciliation. For Moses’ day we see that he is providing his people Israel with their founding story to show how great God is, how humble their origins were, and answer the question: Why did we end up in Egypt?


In our text today we shall see the beginnings of Joseph and how he was beloved of his father, obedient to his father, yet hated by his brothers. We see several images of Christ in these verses. The Main Gospel Point for us is that Joseph, though persecuted by his brothers for being chosen by God, faithfully proclaimed the gospel which had been delivered to him. Can we do any less?




Verse-by-Verse Exposition:


  1. A.     Joseph’s Beginning: The Beloved Son, Sent By his Father, Providentially Sold Into Slavery in Egypt by His Brothers, 37:2-36
    1. 1.      Title: The Generations of Jacob, 37:2a
    2. 2.      Joseph, Beloved of His Father, and His Dreams, 37:2b-11
      1. a.      Joseph the Shepherd: Beloved of his Father, Hated by his Brothers, vv.2b-4
      2. b.      Joseph the Dreamer: “Are you indeed to reign over us?” vv.5-11

(1). “Now Joseph had a dream”- this is the first dream we        have seen in Genesis where God is silent. Waltke writes,  p.500, “This revelation at the beginning of the story shows God as the Director behind the entire account….It forms a transition in the dominant means of God’s revelation from theophany in Genesis 1-11, to dreams and visions in Genesis 12-35, and now to providence in Genesis 36-50. These three stages resemble the three parts of the Tanak (i.e., the OT). In the Torah (“Law”), God speaks to Moses in theophany; in the Nebiim (“Prophets”), he speaks in dreams and visions; and in the Ketubim (“Writings”), he works mostly through providence.”

(2). Notice the ambiguity of the dreams. There is no clear   word from God so we are left to wonder if this is hubris on Joseph’s part or if this is a prophecy from God. Furthermore, what exactly is Joseph’s motive for sharing these dreams? We aren’t told. From one perspective it seems that Joseph is naïve to think that his dreams will not further agitate his brothers. But if Joseph is pure in heart, and trusting that God is the author of his dreams, then the dreams are a sign and a clear warning/prophecy to his brothers and father. Waltke takes a negative approach, writing, pp.500-501, “Joseph is also responsible for his own downfall, bearing tales about his brothers (37:2) even before Jacob’s preference for him is noted. He must gall them, insisting on telling his dreams to them and on repetitively sharing his second dream (37:9) even after they have begun to hate him ‘all the more’.” Victor Hamilton, however, takes a positive approach (p.410), “The text is silent on the issue of Joseph’s motivation in sharing this dream. If it is told out of arrogance, Gen.37 does not bother to make that point. The brothers are upset with Joseph, but the narrator is not. More than likely, the dream, and its recounting, is to be understood as an unsuspecting prophecy uttered by Joseph. God has a plan for his life, a destiny in his future, and Joseph spontaneously shares the enthusiasm that revelation spawns.”

(3). The brothers properly interpret Joseph’s dreams to mean that Joseph would rule and reign over them in the future; hence their hatred for their little brother. It is not just Joseph they hate, but the idea presented in the dreams. Waltke, p.504, “It isn’t just Jacob’s favoritism or Joseph’s manner that the brothers hate. It is the dream. Many today, like the brothers, are offended by the doctrine of God’s election….God deals justly with all, but he has mercy on some.”

(4). “Now Joseph….they hated him even more.” There may be a wordplay here as Joseph’s name means “add to” (see 30:24) and the root of “more” means “to add to” sounding like Joseph’s name. The dreams of Joseph add to their hatred for him.

(5). Notice that there are two dreams. Last week we discussed the use of doubles in the story of Joseph.

(6). We must ask the question, Why Joseph? Why did the Lord choose Joseph for these dreams and the historic role he would play? What we can see in the story of Joseph is a character of remarkable strength, faith and purity. If one takes the positive interpretation of Joseph, he is an outstanding young man. The principle is that God will sometimes use those who are faithful in the small things for bigger things! This is still all of God’s sovereign choice, wisdom and grace, the most faithful of men does not deserve to be used by God for he is still but a sinner. Ross writes, p.599, “Through these dreams God confirmed Jacob’s choice of his faithful son to be the leader.”

(7). Another question is why would a shepherd dream of sheaves of grain at harvest? A practical answer is that shepherds were frequently used as laborers during the harvest. But this dream points forward to the coming famine and the need for food the brothers would experience. This dream is fulfilled in 42:6.

(8). The obvious problem with the second dream is that Jacob asks, “Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” Jacob interprets it to mean that the 11 stars are the brothers and the sun and moon are himself and Jacob’s mother. But we know that with the birth of Joseph’s 11th brother, Benjamin, his mother, Rachel, died. The statement of Jacob then, is difficult. One possible solution is that Bilha, Rachel’s maid and Jacob’s concubine, took over the motherly duties of Rachel and cared for Joseph and Benjamin. This could account for Joseph’s tending sheep with Bilha’s sons and Zilpah’s. Since Rachel is not specified in this verse, and another solution is available that would make sense, this does not count as a contradiction.

(9). “His brothers were jealous of him but his father kept the saying in mind.”  When Joseph’s brothers correctly interpreted the dreams to mean that he would one day rule over them they rejected the idea immediately. Calvin writes, vol.2, p.262, “Here it is plainly shown to us that the paternal favor of God towards the elect, is like a fan to excite against them the enmity of the world….The sons of Jacob, however, were but too acute interpreters of the dream; yet they deride it as a fable, because it was repugnant to their wishes. Thus it often happens that they who are ill-disposed, quickly perceive what is the will of God: but, because they feel no reverence, they despise it. To this contumacy, however, succeeds a stupor which destroys their former quick-sightedness.”

(10). APPLY: Although we do not know for sure Joseph’s motives in sharing his dreams, I will give him the benefit of the doubt and say that he was motivated by excitement that his dreams must have come from the LORD and that he was genuinely sharing it as the gospel to his brothers. This was God’s revelation to him, and it was part of God’s plan for him to share that revelation, even though we know it led to some immediate consequences that were not good for Joseph. Faithfulness to the Lord DOES sometimes open up bigger opportunities-but hardships as well. Those who are faithful to Divine Revelation – the Word of God in our day- can expect the world to hate us and spitefully use us. So the question for us is this: Are We going to faithfully proclaim the gospel the Lord has entrusted to us? Under all circumstances? Regardless of persecution, rejection, humiliation?

(11). APPLY: Even as Believers, do we sometimes rightly understand the text, yet rebel against the meaning of the text? Do we at times openly reject God’s will for us? These lessons on the final chapters of Genesis will demonstrate that God is sovereign in all things, including the things that cause us to suffer. Can we, like Joseph, persevere?

CONCLUSION: When we are clothed in the righteousness of Christ as those who have repented and trusted in Christ, the world will hate us because of who has shown favor to us, our Heavenly Father. And then as we share the Revelation He has given us by his grace, the world hates us even more. But we are called to be obedient to our Father as Joseph was, and faithful to share that Gospel.


Next Week: While my goal to go completely through chapter 37 was not met this week, I do hope to finish this chapter next week and maybe, possibly move on to begin the literary analysis of ch.38.

  1. 3.      Joseph Betrayed By His Brothers, Sold into Slavery, 37:12-36
    1. a.      Joseph: Sent by His Father, Providentially Delayed  37:12-17
    2. b.      Joseph’s Brothers Conspire Against Him, 37:18-24
    3. c.       The Rise of Judah, Joseph Providentially Sold to Egypt, 37:25-28
    4. d.      Jacob Mourns the “Death” of Joseph, 37:29-35
    5. e.      Epilogue: Joseph Providentially Sold to Potiphar, 37:36



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