Summary of passage: The brothers (notice Joseph is conspicuously absent) were grazing sheep near Shechem when Jacob/Israel sent Joseph to check up on them and make sure all was well.
When Joseph arrived in Shechem, the brothers had moved on to Dothan. The brothers saw him coming and plotted to kill him. The mocked him by calling him dreamer and planned to kill him and throw him in a cistern and tell Jacob that a ferocious animal killed him.
But Reuben tried to rescue Joseph. He suggested not to shed blood and just to throw him into a cistern and then come back later. Basically, just to teach Joseph a lesson was his plan.
So the brothers stripped him of his robe and threw him into an empty cistern. The brothers then sat down to eat their meal when a caravan of Ishmaelites appeared heading to Egypt to sell spices. Judah (interestingly the fourth born and the one whom Jesus will come from) sees dollar signs so he suggests why don’t they sell their brother to the Ishmaelites? They will be rid of Joseph AND have money in their pockets. ALL agreed.
So the brothers pulled Joseph out of the cistern and sold him for 20 shekels of silver (note the obvious reference to Jesus here who was betrayed for 30 pieces of silver) to the Midianites.
Reuben who apparently was not there during all of this but where he went and why is uncertain returns to find Joseph gone. He tears his clothes (obviously upset) and questions his brothers.
They took Joseph’s coat and spread goat’s blood all over it. They presented this to Jacob/Israel who concluded a ferocious animal did tear Joseph to pieces.
Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned his son for days. All tried to comfort him but he refused them. Jacob wept.
The Midianites sold Jacob in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guards.
5) Joseph went to the Valley of Hebron as instructed but not finding his brothers, he inquires of them and is told they went to Dothan. So Joseph follows them to Dothan. He is rewarded by being thrown in a cistern and sold as a slave.
6a) Reuben and Judah
b) Genesis 42 says that Joseph pleaded for his life. I imagine he screamed at the top of his lungs. He probably tried to reason with them, saying he wouldn’t boast any more. He probably even tried bribes like giving them his precious coat or something. I’m sure he asked why they were doing this to him. I’m sure he shed some tears.
c) This question to me seems to be justifying what happened to Joseph by drawing the parallel. There is no justification for throwing someone in a pit, plotting their murder, and selling them into slavery. Joseph did not deserve what happened to him no matter what sins he had committed (which weren’t that bad compared to murder and the like).
Joseph’s crime was boasting. We suffer the same when pride rules instead of humbleness. We are often blinded to people and things around us and our lives become self-centered instead of God-centered.
However, I submit that you can’t fault a 17 year-old kid for being prideful and full of hubris. Especially if you compare to today’s society where 30 somethings never grow up and are the same way. If anyone is to blame, it’s Jacob and Rachel who spoiled him rotten and created the discord between the brothers. Joseph did not deserve to suffer.
d) They were both stripped of their clothing according to the passages and they were watched over and guarded.
7a) 20 sheckels. 30 silver coins.
b) He had been the favored, the special one, the coddled one, the one chosen to receive the birthright. And now he’s a slave. It must have been a huge adjustment. Imagine your freedom and world gone completely and now you must do hard labor and answer to others.
c) The same. When bad things happen, we think God doesn’t care, that He’s turned His back on us and is allowing our suffering. We often don’t equate it to future good for it is hard in the moment to do so. We ask “Why is God allowing this to happen in our lives?” We pray and wait. That’s all we can do.
8a) Personal Question. My answer: I would say both. There are other ways God could have chosen for Joseph to rise to be the number two guy in Egypt and save the lives of many people–many ways that did not involve suffering. But Joseph did have to learn some hard lessons about living for others, being grateful, and turning to God always.
I think of Naomi and Ruth who lost everything but still believed in God. They both had to do back-breaking labor in order to survive but in the end Ruth married Boaz and he provided for them both. They had to have God at their center before good things happened.
Jacob had to work hard before he was able to return to the Promised Land. He had to be taught hard lessons the hard way. Moses killed a man and had to live in Midian for 40 years as a shepherd before God called him. Job lost everything in a test of faith by God.
The Bible is full of examples where God inflicts us with hardships in order to grow us and our faith–not only for us but for those around us and in Joseph’s case for an entire nation.
b) Joseph’s dreams were an encouragement for they told Joseph his family and Israel would bow to him.
Conclusions: What was Reuben doing while the brothers dispatched Joseph? Most likely he was trying to get them to move on so he could return unknowingly to free Joseph since no one else liked his plan.
Can you imagine the brothers sitting callously by, calmly eating their meal, while Joseph is screaming at the top of his lungs, pleading with them not to harm him and to let him go free? This just shows the depth of the brothers’ hatred for their little brother, the effect Jacob’s favoritism had on them, and how deep the devil had twisted their hearts.
Also, their is no sign of remorse on the brothers part upon presenting their father with Joseph’s coat. They are aloof, indifferent, and callous to the core.
How plausible is the excuse to Jacob that wild animals killed him? What wild animals lived in Canaan during this time that could cause such a bloody death? Lions, bears, crocodiles, and cheetahs used to roam ancient Israel. So this is very plausible.
[Side Note: When we think of lions, we think of the African lions that roar on the plains in Africa. Few people know that there is actually another lion species, the Asiatic Lion, that used to roam Asia as well. However, due to the Romans import of wild animals for the Gladiatorial fights, this species was decimated. Due to man’s penchant for cheap thrills, most of the rest were eradicated with the advent of firearms. There is now only a tiny population in a pocket in India and some in zoos. Sad, sad, sad. Man is capable of such good but he is also capable of such harm.]
[Side Note to the Side Note: Many people don’t think of gladiatorial fights with wild animals. But the Romans imported thousands and thousands of wild animals that included lions, elephants, tigers, cheetahs, etc to fight with the gladiators over hundreds of years. The Romans virtually eliminated some species from the face of the planet. They inflicted so much damage (such as the Asiatic Lion) that these species still have not recovered. And the people of Rome (not just the leaders) stood by and watched this slaughter week after week and even called for more. Fascinating study if you ever get the chance. But incredibly sad at how God commissioned us to care for the animals and instead we kill them off for no other reason than to watch them fall. Probably some twisted heart within us that says ‘Better them than me.’]
It is tempting to think Jacob kept Joseph back from tending the flock because he wanted to protect him. But by Jacob sending Joseph out into the desert by himself to check up on his brothers, this idea is proven wrong. Joseph faced robbers, other men who would do him harm, as well as animals and the elements. This shows to me that Joseph stayed behind because he wasn’t required to work like his brothers were–another example of favoritism shown.
End Notes: In Leviticus 27:5, God sets the price of those dedicated to the Lord based on ages and those between the age of 5 and 20 (the age of Joseph) is 20 shekels of silver–the same Joseph is sold for.
Reuben is not the good guy here despite his show of tearing his clothes. It would only have taken one brother to stand up and say, “This is wrong!” and it wouldn’t have happened. Reuben complicitly and cowardly agrees in his actions when he left the scene. It usually only takes one person with the courage to stand up for what’s right and man’s inherent morals kick in. But if no one does, then crowd mentality kicks in and chaos ensues (see this commentary on crowd mentality and Jesus HERE).
God fingerprints are everywhere here. For example, the cistern was empty. Normally, it would have been full of water but it wasn’t so Joseph would have been drowned. That was God.
Hard to believe the Messiah came from Judah when we read Judah’s actions here. However, we are about to see how selling Joseph to the Midianites begins a series of events and circumstances that leads to the most powerful man in the world at that time–the Pharaoh of Egypt. And only God can weave a web that intricate and create something that impossible.