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Ge 37:1-4. PARENTAL PARTIALITY.
1. Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger--that is, "a sojourner"; "father" used collectively. The patriarch was at this time at Mamre, in the valley of Hebron (compare Ge 35:27); and his dwelling there was continued in the same manner and prompted by the same motives as that of Abraham and Isaac (Heb 11:13).
2. generations--leading occurrences, in the domestic history of
Jacob, as shown in the narrative about to be commenced.
3. son of his old age--Benjamin being younger, was more the son
of his old age and consequently on that ground might have been expected
to be the favorite. Literally rendered, it is "son of old age to
him"--Hebrew phrase, for "a wise son"--one who possessed
observation and wisdom above his years--an old head on young shoulders.
4. could not speak peaceably unto him--did not say "peace be to thee" [Ge 43:23, &c.], the usual expression of good wishes among friends and acquaintances. It is deemed a sacred duty to give all this form of salutation; and the withholding of it is an unmistakable sign of dislike or secret hostility. The habitual refusal of Joseph's brethren, therefore, to meet him with "the salaam," showed how ill-disposed they were towards him. It is very natural in parents to love the youngest, and feel partial to those who excel in talents or amiableness. But in a family constituted as Jacob's--many children by different mothers--he showed great and criminal indiscretion.
Ge 37:5-36. THE DREAMS OF JOSEPH.
5. Joseph dreamed a dream--Dreams in ancient times were much attended to, and hence the dream of Joseph, though but a mere boy, engaged the serious consideration of his family. But this dream was evidently symbolical. The meaning was easily discerned, and, from its being repeated under different emblems, the fulfilment was considered certain (compare Ge 41:32), whence it was that "his brethren envied him, but his father observed the saying" [Ge 37:11].
12. his brethren went to feed their father's flock in Shechem--The vale of Shechem was, from the earliest mention of Canaan, blest with extraordinary abundance of water. Therefore did the sons of Jacob go from Hebron to this place, though it must have cost them near twenty hours' travelling--that is, at the shepherd rate, a little more than fifty miles. But the herbage there was so rich and nutritious that they thought it well worth the pains of so long a journey, to the neglect of the grazing district of Hebron [VAN DE VELDE].
13-17. Israel said, . . . Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem?--Anxious to learn how his sons were doing in their distant encampment, Jacob despatched Joseph; and the youth, accepting the mission with alacrity, left the vale of Hebron, sought them at Shechem, heard of them from a man in "the field" (the wide and richly cultivated plain of Esdraelon), and found that they had left that neighborhood for Dothan, probably being compelled by the detestation in which, from the horrid massacre, their name was held.
19. Behold, this dreamer cometh--literally, "master of dreams"--a bitterly ironical sneer. Dreams being considered suggestions from above, to make false pretensions to having received one was detested as a species of blasphemy, and in this light Joseph was regarded by his brethren as an artful pretender. They already began to form a plot for Joseph's assassination, from which he was rescued only by the address of Reuben, who suggested that he should rather be cast into one of the wells, which are, and probably were, completely dried up in summer.
23. they stripped Joseph out of his coat . . . of many colors--Imagine him advancing in all the unsuspecting openness of brotherly affection. How astonished and terrified must he have been at the cold reception, the ferocious aspect, the rough usage of his unnatural assailants! A vivid picture of his state of agony and despair was afterwards drawn by themselves (compare Ge 42:21).
25. they sat down to eat bread--What a view does this exhibit of
those hardened profligates! Their common share in this conspiracy is
not the only dismal feature in the story. The rapidity, the almost
instantaneous manner in which the proposal was followed by their joint
resolution, and the cool indifference, or rather the fiendish
satisfaction, with which they sat down to regale themselves, is
astonishing. It is impossible that mere envy at his dreams, his gaudy
dress, or the doting partiality of their common father, could have
goaded them on to such a pitch of frenzied resentment or confirmed them
in such consummate wickedness. Their hatred to Joseph must have had a
far deeper seat. It must have been produced by dislike to his piety and
other excellencies, which made his character and conduct a constant
censure upon theirs, and on account of which they found that they could
never be at ease till they had rid themselves of his hated presence.
This was the true solution of the mystery, just as it was in the case
26-28. Judah said, . . . What profit is it if we slay our
brother?--The sight of these travelling merchants gave a sudden
turn to the views of the conspirators; for having no wish to commit a
greater degree of crime than was necessary for the accomplishment of
their end, they readily approved of Judah's suggestion to dispose of
their obnoxious brother as a slave. The proposal, of course, was
founded on their knowledge that the Arabian merchants trafficked in
slaves; and there is the clearest evidence furnished by the monuments
of Egypt that the traders who were in the habit of bringing slaves from
the countries through which they passed, found a ready market in the
cities of the Nile.
29, 30. Reuben returned unto the pit--He seems to have designedly taken a circuitous route, with a view of secretly rescuing the poor lad from a lingering death by starvation. His intentions were excellent, and his feelings no doubt painfully lacerated when he discovered what had been done in his absence. But the thing was of God, who had designed that Joseph's deliverance should be accomplished by other means than his.
31-33. they took Joseph's coat--The commission of one sin necessarily leads to another to conceal it; and the scheme of deception which the sons of Jacob planned and practised on their aged father was a necessary consequence of the atrocious crime they had perpetrated. What a wonder that their cruel sneer, "thy son's coat," and their forced efforts to comfort him, did not awaken suspicion! But extreme grief, like every other passion, is blind, and Jacob, great as his affliction was, did allow himself to indulge his sorrow more than became one who believed in the government of a supreme and all-wise Disposer.
34. Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins--the common signs of Oriental mourning. A rent is made in the skirt more or less long according to the afflicted feelings of the mourner, and a coarse rough piece of black sackcloth or camel's hair cloth is wound round the waist.
35. and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son--not the earth, for Joseph was supposed to be torn in pieces, but the unknown place--the place of departed souls, where Jacob expected at death to meet his beloved son.