Now, the passage shifts from the lineage of Esau to the genealogy of Jacob. The chapter begins with the inharmonious relationship among Jacob’s children that was between Joseph and his brothers. In the course of the narrative, we can learn how favoritism crippled the family’s harmony and how God guides the dysfunctional family through Joseph in his dreams.
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- “Being seventeen years old” (37:2): In Hebrew, the expression can literally be translated as “a son of seventeen years.” Joseph was born to Jacob in his ninety-first year (Gen 41:46, 47, 45:11, 47:9). Thus, Joseph’s seventeenth year would make Jacob a hundred and eight years old—literally the son of Jacob’s old age.
- “The lad was with the sons of Bilhah…” (37:2): The term ”lad” in Hebrew can interchangeably refer to a subservient role of “servant” (Gen 18:7, 41:12; Judg 19:11;
1 Sam 9:8; Ruth 2:6). Therefore, here in Gen 37:2, Joseph was more of a helper, serving and following the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah in terms of shepherding work.
- A bad report (37:2): Such a phrase can literally be translated in Greek-Septuagint as “a blameable fault” or “evil-flaw.” Joseph was trying to find his brother’s flaw and expose it to his father.
- A tunic of many colors (37:3): The expression can literally be translated in Hebrew as “a tunic reaching to palms and soles, with long skirts and sleeves.” In addition, the Greek-Septuagint literally translated the phrase “many colors” as “variegated” or “embroidered, ornamented.” Traditionally, such a tunic was commonly worn by boys and girls of the upper ranks. [ref]
- “They…could not speak peaceably” (37:4): Literally, this expression can be translated in Hebrew as “they spoke nothing peaceful to him” or “they were not able to speak of him for peace.”In other words, they could not address him in such a way as to wish him well, offering him the customary salutation of Shalom or Peace.
- “Shall you…reign over us…have dominion over us” (37:8): The construction of such a phrase in Hebrew grammar shows the intensification of improbability from the point of view of Joseph’s brothers. Thus, the literal translation of the words of Joseph’s brothers emphasizes the questioning of Joseph’s improbability to rule and dominate, “will you actually reign over us” or “do you intend to reign.” Furthermore, the Greek-Septuagint literal translation gives the reader additional view of the phrase, showing even more emphasis on Joseph’s improbability to reign over the brothers. It can be translated as such “while you are not dominating, will you dominate over us?”
- And his brothers envied him (37:11): The verb “envy” in Hebrew literally can be translated as “to become red in the face.” The usage of this specific verb in Hebrew indicated the scowling looks of the brothers toward Joseph.
- “His father kept the matter in mind” (37:11): The sentence can be translated literally in Hebrew as ”his father treasured the word in his memory” or as “his father kept the word mentally with the implication of duration” in the literal Greek-Septuagint.
What does the phrase “this is the history of Jacob” tell us about God’s preparation to fulfill His promise to the forefathers? See also Gen 48:21-22.Hide Answer
The phrase “this is the history of Jacob” marks the starting point of Joseph’s life journey from Genesis 37 to Genesis 50. While the phrase concludes the journey of the third patriarch, Jacob (Gen 48:21), it also depicts the beginning of God’s preparation for the descendants of Israel to walk on their journey to the promised land (Gen 48:22). The calamities which befell Joseph, the son of Jacob’s old age, serve God’s greater purpose to preserve the Israelites from famine and to guide them for their future journey to the Promised Land of Canaan.
How does your history of life reflect God’s guidance for a greater purpose in your present life? How do the life stories of the previous-generation members complete the larger picture of your present church growth?(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
What was the similarity between the brothers-Joseph’s rivalry in Gen 37 and Leah-Rachel’s rivalry in Gen 30?Hide Answer
The rivalry between Leah and Rachel in Gen 30 was a rivalry between sisters. They were both competing to excel within their family starting from the contention to gain their husband’s love (Gen 30:15-16) and to beget more children (Gen 30:17, 23-24) up to competing for status in the family, especially through Rachel’s incidence of stealing her father’s teraphim (Gen 31:34). Similarly, the rivalry between Joseph’s brothers and Joseph was a rivalry between siblings. Just as Leah and Rachel tried to get their husband’s attention, Jacob, the brothers and Joseph also wanted the favor of their father, Jacob. As the ones who were older and more experienced in their line of work, the brothers could not accept the thought that Joseph, who was just a lad and a follower of them, would someday dominate over them because of his dreams. The brothers rejected the idea of Joseph to be their ruler (Gen 37:8).
How was the struggle between Joseph and his brothers in Gen 37 similar to the one between Jacob and Esau in Gen 25:23? How did his own struggle affect Jacob in his blessing toward Joseph’s two sons in Gen 48:18, 19? See also Gen 48:17-19.Hide Answer
The struggle between Jacob and Esau was already prophesied by the Lord since they were in their mother’s womb. The book of Genesis 25:23 reminded the readers how the older, Esau, would serve the younger, Jacob, in the future. Similarly, the struggle between Joseph and his brothers was already foreshadowed through the dreams of Joseph. The dreams in Gen 37 confirmed how the brothers, in the future, would serve and bow down to their younger brother, Joseph.
When Jacob experienced the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams in Egypt, where the whole family now served under Joseph’s rule and dominion, Jacob knew God did not bestow His blessings based on human effort. Therefore, upon blessing the sons of Joseph, Jacob remained firm in his conviction to bless the younger one using his right hand (Gen 48:17). Jacob knew that the younger one would be greater than his brother, and his descendants would become a multitude of nations (Gen 48:19).
How did the behaviors of Joseph build up the hatred and envy of his brothers? Showing off his father’s favoritism;Hide Answer
Joseph knew that his father loved him more than all his brothers. Joseph also realized that his father only made a tunic of many colors just for him (Gen 37:3). Showing off his father’s favoritism upon him, Joseph wore that tunic of many colors to search for his brothers in the field. Even from afar, the brothers could easily recognize Joseph through his exceptional tunic (Gen 37:18, 23), reminding them of their father’s favoritism toward Joseph and making them hate him even more.
Revealing a bad report;Hide Answer
Joseph’s father loved him more than all his brothers. This fact of favoritism alone had already caused hatred in the heart of Joseph’s brothers (Gen 37:4). For a seventeen-year-old teenager, revealing a bad report and speaking ill about his brothers (Gen 37:2) elevated his status as “Jacob’s favorite” even more in the eyes of his father and degraded his brothers’ characters even worse. Furthermore, Joseph’s mentioned act had caused a rift in his relationship with the brothers.
Gloating over his dreams;Hide Answer
As a teenager, Joseph was assigned to follow and help his brothers (Gen 37:2, 13-14) in their shepherding work. When Joseph shared his first dream with his brothers, they knew the dream’s representation right away concerning Joseph’s elevated status over them (Gen 37:8). Joseph knew that his brothers hated him because of the dream (Gen 37:8), and yet, he again shared his second dream, gloating over its detail. The result of his gloat was obvious, Joseph’s brothers envied him (Gen 37:9-11) and hated him all the more.
Why did Joseph’s brothers hate and envy him so much?Hide Answer
Joseph’s brothers hated him and could not speak peaceably to him because they saw that Jacob, their father, loved Joseph more than all his brothers (Gen 37:4). Jacob had twelve sons and yet he emphasized his favor and love only toward Joseph. Such an act of favoritism by their father caused their hatred toward Joseph.
Furthermore, Joseph’s brothers envied Joseph because of the contents of his dreams. Upon hearing the dreams, Joseph’s brothers knew the meaning right away that Joseph was to excel above them, to reign and dominate them (Gen 37:8, 10-11). But the brothers could not accept the idea of Joseph, the lad who helped and followed them in their shepherding work (Gen 37:2), would one day reign over them. Thus, when the content of the second dream (Gen 37:9) supported the content of the first dream, Joseph’s brothers knew that there was a bigger element of truth in those dreams and they became envious toward Joseph.
What are the things that can make us feel envious toward our fellow brethren in Christ? And what is the result of such a feeling?Hide Answer
There are certain things that can make us feel envious toward our fellow brethren in Christ. When we start comparing ourselves with one who is more capable of conducting more church works or possessing more talents to perform in different fields or excelling more in a certain area of church work, we will eventually feel inferior. Harboring such a feeling will cause us to feel envious toward our fellow brethren in Christ. When this happens, we will no longer consider our brethren in Christ as a companion but rather as a threatening competitor. Thus, such an attitude will only bring us into a tense and highly competitive servitude instead of a glad and joyful servitude that is pleasing to the Lord.
The Scriptures give us examples and admonitions on how to hold ourselves from being envious toward our fellow brethren in Christ who have more talents than ourselves. The book of Numbers 11:28-29 explained how Joshua, Moses’ assistant, tried to forbid Eldad and Medad from prophesying in the camp. But Moses’ answer was that he wished all the Lord’s people were prophets and the Lord would put His Spirit upon them. Moses did not view Eldad and Medad as competitors or a threat to his position as a prophet of God. On the contrary, Moses would have been glad if the Lord had called and chosen more people to be prophets and put His Spirit upon them. Thus, from Moses’ example, we can learn that more talented people at church means they can become helpers to work for the Lord and the load of His work can be shared accordingly.
Furthermore, in his letter to the Corinthians, the apostle Paul explained that the Spirit manifests different gifts to different individuals (
1 Cor 12:5-11). Just like in the parable of talents (Mt 25:14-23), the Lord gives each one of us individually one or more unique gifts so that we can serve Him and conduct His work according to the different field needed. There is simply no need for an envious feeling toward one another because each one of us will be focusing on a different work field based on our different unique talents to complete the larger picture, all for the glory of His name.
Finally, the apostle Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian members, admonished that love does not envy or is puffed up (
1 Cor 13:4). According to his letter, if we claim to love God and our brothers and sisters in Christ, we should not feel envious when our brethren can perform better in terms of church work or have more talents to conduct several varieties of work at church. Instead, we should love them even more and continue praying for them that God may guide and keep them to the end. In addition, we should thank the Lord for adding more workers to do His work because His work is plenty but the workers are indeed few. Therefore, the additional talented members are like added arrows in God’s quiver, ready to be used by Him to perform His work whenever needed.
From Jacob’s mistake, what can we learn as parents to improve the relationship between our children and to minimize the hatred and envy among themselves?Hide Answer
The brothers’ hatred and envy toward Joseph was triggered by Jacob’s style of parenting. There were several ways that Jacob could have done to improve the relationship among his sons.
First, Jacob could have stopped playing favoritism with his sons. According to the book of the Genesis, though Jacob cared for Joseph’s brothers—by sending Joseph to “go and see if it is well with [the] brothers” (Gen 37:14)—Jacob “loved Joseph more than all his children” (Gen 37:3). Jacob might not have realized it, but by showing that he loved Joseph more than all his brothers (Gen 37:3), Jacob created a hatred in the heart of Joseph’s brothers. Although Joseph was the son of Jacob’s old age, Jacob could have been more sensitive and considerate of the feelings of Joseph’s brothers. Instead of making a tunic of many colors for Joseph only, Jacob could have produced identical tunics for all the brothers, making them all feel special and appreciated.
Second, Jacob could have attempted to discipline Joseph. As a lad, Joseph was known for telltaling on his brothers and speaking ill of them (Gen 37:2). After hearing it from Joseph, Jacob could have sternly warned Joseph that telltaling a bad report about his brothers would only distance and worsen his relationship with his brothers. In addition, knowing that Joseph’s brothers hated Joseph because of his first dream, Jacob could have disciplined Joseph concerning his habit of blurting things out without thinking.
Third, Jacob could have conducted family meetings to clear miscommunications among his sons. For example, when the brothers could not speak peaceably with Joseph due to their hatred (Gen 37:4)—as their father—instead of just ignoring this conflict, Jacob could have called them all in a family meeting and could have discussed openly about their conflict and try to settle it in peace.
The book of Genesis 37 narrated how Jacob favored and loved Joseph more than all his brothers. But Jacob’s favoritism was influenced by his family background. Previously, his father, Isaac, also showed favoritism for Jacob over Esau. According to Genesis 25:27-28, Isaac loved Esau because he ate of his game and because Esau was a skillful hunter and a man of the field. Though the Lord prophesied that the older would serve the younger, Isaac still insisted on giving the blessing to ”master over [one’s] brethren” to Esau (Gen 27:29). Such favoritism caused Jacob to trick his brother, Esau, to sell his birthright (Gen 25:33) and to trick his father into blessing him (Gen 27:18-29).
How did the dreams of Joseph serve as a calling of God and a consolation of God to him? As God’s calling;Hide Answer
Joseph dreamed the dreams twice (Gen 37:5, 9) with similar content and meaning. Through the dreams, the Lord was showing Joseph His guidance toward the purpose of Joseph’s life. The given dreams served as a prophecy for Joseph’s future. Later in his stay in Egypt as a ruler, Joseph remembered his dreams and how they were finally fulfilled through his journey. But most importantly, Joseph recognized the purpose of his dreams that it was God who had sent him to Egypt (Gen 45:8-9) to make a way for the preservation of Israel and his family. Although at that moment, Joseph was still a lad, a son of his father’s favor and a follower of his brothers in their shepherding, the Lord showed Joseph the calling of his future and a larger purpose of his life to prepare him in saving Jacob’s whole family and upcoming descendants.
As God’s consolation;Hide Answer
Even before Joseph got his dreams, his brothers had already hated him (Gen 37:4). Joseph lost his mother while he was young. Although he grew up with the sons of Bilhah—the maidservant of Rachel—and the sons of Zilpah–the maidservant of Leah, he was living his adolescent life as if ostracized by his brothers. They hated Joseph and they could not speak peaceably to him (Gen 37:4). Moreover, Joseph’s bringing “a bad report” (Gen 37:2) about his brothers was a dilemmatic action. On one hand, Joseph was assigned by his father to “go and see” his brothers’ wellbeing (Gen 37:14) and to bring back the report, good or bad. On the other hand, the brothers hated Joseph because of such an action. Thus, the dreams served as a consolation of God to Joseph. Amid hatred and jealousy, the dreams lifted Joseph in a position above his haters. And in the midst of rejection, the dreams placed Joseph as one who was to be respected and obeyed.
Today, how has God’s calling manifested in your life? And how has His calling serve as a consolation in your life?(The answer is empty)Hide Answer
Why did Joseph dreamed his dream twice? What was the significance of the second dream in relation to the first one? See also Deut 19:15 and 4:25-26.Hide Answer
Joseph dreamed his dream twice. Although the dreams were different, the content and the meaning of both dreams were one. While the first dream consisted of the brothers’ sheaves and Joseph’s, the second dream consisted of a sun, a moon, eleven stars and Joseph (Gen 37:7, 9). The purpose of the second dream was to confirm and to intensify the content of the first dream. The second dream summed up that Joseph would be ruler over the whole family of Jacob.
In addition, the book of Deuteronomy mentions how two or three witnesses will establish a certain matter (Deut 19:15). And the book gave further example of how Moses would call on heaven and earth as witnesses against Israel if they were to do evil in the sight of the Lord (Deut 4:25-26). Thus, not only the quantity of two dreams which Joseph had dreamed serve as testimonies to establish the truth behind the meaning of his dreams, but the dream of the heaven, represented by celestial bodies, and the dream of the earth, represented by the field, act as witnesses to confirm the divine origin of Joseph’s dreams.
How did the seventeen-year-old Joseph use the divinity of his dreams as a leverage against his brothers’ hatred toward him?Hide Answer
There were several ways Joseph used the divinity of his dreams as a leverage against his brothers’ hatred toward him. Although Joseph knew his father favored him more than all his brothers (Gen 37:4), he realized that his brothers did not share the same mind as his father. His brothers despised him and merely saw Joseph as a lad and as a follower of them (Gen 37:2). Previously, Joseph did not have a good relationship with his brothers. But by sharing the content of his dreams with them, Joseph made it even worse. Joseph gloated over his dreams to show to his brothers that he had uniquely experienced divine dreams which none of his brothers had ever experienced. In addition, Joseph wanted his brothers to know that the envied and the hated-Joseph whom they knew now would then be the Joseph whom they would bow down to.
The example of Joseph using the divinity of his dreams as a leverage against his brothers’ hatred toward him serves as a warning for us. In his teenage years back home, as his father’s favorite son (Gen 37:3), Joseph was not only self-absorbed but he also was not tuned in to God like David (
1 Sam 17:32-36). At that time, Joseph used his dreams to show to his brothers how unique and divine his personal experience was compared to the rest of the brothers and how he would one day be greater than all his family. Similarly, the book of 1 Samuel shared how King Saul eventually was abusing his God-established kingship for his personal gain. Though Saul was chosen by the Lord ( 1 Sam 9:17), he eventually abused his kingship to maintain his personal honor and glory ( 1 Sam 13:11, 15:30) at the cost of disobeying the commandment of the Lord ( 1 Sam 13:13) and sinning against God ( 1 Sam 15:24). Likewise, we may have intentionally or unintentionally abused our position as church workers for our personal gain, such as: to achieve more respect from the members or to secure our position as church leaders. But such an abuse will cause us not only to stray from the truth and the will of God but it will lead us to serve the lust of our flesh.
How did Jacob respond to Joseph’s second dream? And how did it remind Jacob of his own experience of God’s oracles in Gen 25:23 and 27:29? How did it influence Jacob on blessing Joseph’s two sons in Gen 48:17-20?Hide Answer
In responding to Joseph’s second dream, Jacob kept the matter in mind (Gen 37:11). Although Jacob initially rebuked Joseph of his dreams (Gen 37:10) and the brothers quickly judged Joseph and envied him for the dreams (Gen 37:8, 11), his father, Jacob, kept the matter of the dreams in his mind. Jacob knew that the dreams were not ordinary because both dreams were portraying similar meaning. Although Jacob initially rebuked Joseph of his dream, he pondered it in his mind. The content of Joseph’s dream was strikingly similar, especially with Jacob’s own experience with God’s oracles. Just as the brothers of Joseph would bow down to him, the oracles of God had prophesied that Jacob’s older brother would serve him (Gen 25:23), and the sons of Jacob’s mothers would bow down to Jacob. Apart from relating Joseph’s dreams to his personal experience in the past, the dreams also influenced Jacob to bless Joseph’s two sons not according to the firstborn tradition. Jacob used his right hand to bless the younger one, saying that the younger brother would be greater than the older one, and he set apart the younger one before the older one (Gen 48:19-20).
Compare the response of Jacob in keeping the matter of the dreams in his heart with that of Mary in Lk 2:19 and 2:51. What can we learn from Jacob’s and Mary’s examples about keeping a certain thing in heart?Hide Answer
Similar to Jacob keeping the matter of Joseph’s dreams in his mind, Mary, the mother of the Lord Jesus, was keeping the matter concerning her son in her heart. In the gospel of Luke, the shepherds who visited Mary, Joseph and the Babe shared the saying which was told to them by the Angel of the Lord (Lk 2:17). While everyone who heard it marvelled, Mary kept all those things and pondered them in her heart (Lk 2:19). Furthermore, the gospel of Luke shared how, as a teenager, Jesus would rather be about His father’s business in the temple at Jerusalem than coming home with Mary and Joseph (Lk 2:48-49). While the action of the teenaged Jesus would have been considered by others as rebellious and disrespectful, Mary kept all those things in her heart (Lk 2:51).
From the examples of Jacob and Mary, we can learn two things. First, we should not judge someone or a certain event hastily. Just as Jacob rebuked Joseph for his second dream and Mary reprimanded her son, Jesus, for straying on their journey home, we may hastily judge someone based on one’s action without giving enough consideration to its reason or background. Second, we ought to observe and analyze whether certain things will take place accordingly or are true according to what have been said. Instead of quickly marvelled at the saying concerning Jesus’s future, Mary kept all things in her heart. Likewise, Jacob did not brush off nor hastily believe the dream of Joseph; but he kept the matter in his mind; observing whether things would take place according to his dream. Such an attitude of observing and analyzing can be found in the example of the brethren in Berea. The book of Acts narrated how the Berean brethren searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether the preaching of the apostles were true (Acts 17:11). Such an attitude is necessary, for example, when we hear of an allegation of wrongdoing. Instead of hastily coming to judgment, we ought to patiently observe and carefully analyze whether the allegation is true.
What were the contents of Joseph’s first and second dream?Hide Answer
The first dream of Joseph pictured Joseph and the brothers in the field binding sheaves. Strangely, while Joseph’s sheaf arose and stood upright, the brothers’ sheaves stood all around and bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf (Gen 37:5-7). The second dream of Joseph focused on Joseph and the celestial bodies. In it, the sun, the moon and the eleven stars bowed down to Joseph.
Why were both dreams considered provocative to Jacob and Joseph’s brothers?Hide Answer
Both Jacob and Joseph’s brothers considered that the dreams of Joseph were provocative. After hearing Joseph, the brothers hated him and Jacob, his father, rebuked him. They knew right away the representation of those dreams. The first dream provoked the brothers’ hatred because their sheaves, which represented themselves, were bowing to Joseph’s. Then the second dream of Joseph not only provoked Joseph’s brothers but also provoked his father to rebuke Joseph. While the eleven stars represented Joseph’s eleven brothers, Jacob knew that the sun and the moon represented Joseph’s parents, himself and the mother of Joseph. Joseph was his son and yet in Joseph’s dream, Jacob along with Joseph’s mother and eleven brothers bowed down to Joseph. Bowing down to one’s own son was not only uncustomary for Jacob but was also considered a great insult.
How did each part of the dreams’ representation play an important role toward their fulfillment in the latter years of Joseph’s life journey? See Gen 41:22, 42:5-6, 43:26-28, 44:14, 50:18 The representation of sheaves;Hide Answer
The picture of sheaves in Joseph’s first dream represented several “grain-events” that would occur in Joseph’s latter years. First, the sheaves would represent the plenty harvests of grain-heads in Pharaoh’s first dream (Gen 41:22). Second, the sheaves would represent the decision of Joseph to collect and to fill the granaries of Egypt after he became a ruler of Egypt, second to Pharaoh (Gen 41:40, 48). Third, the sheaves would represent the famine in Canaan which forced Joseph’s brothers to go down to Egypt to purchase grain (Gen 42:5).
The representation of bowing down;Hide Answer
The depiction of the brothers’ sheaves bowing down to Joseph’s represented several occurrences that would happen between Joseph and his brothers in Egypt. The brothers’ first “bowing” was mentioned when the brothers came to Egypt to meet the governor of the land, Joseph (Gen 42:6). Next, the “bowing” was mentioned again when Benjamin accompanied the brothers to meet Joseph the governor (Gen 43:26, 28, 44:14). Finally, the “bowing” occurred for the third time when all the brothers met Joseph after the death of their father (Gen 50:18).
The representation of the sun, the moon and the stars;Hide Answer
The illustration of the sun, the moon and the stars in Joseph’s dream represented an important event which would happened in Joseph’s latter years. Upon hearing Joseph’s second dream, Jacob interpreted the dream as a representation for the whole family unit (Gen 37:10). Later, the dream of Joseph was fulfilled when Joseph gave his father and his brothers the best land in Egypt and provided his father, his brothers and all his father’s household with bread (Gen 45:10-11). In other words, as a whole family unit, Jacob’s household was under the ruler and governance of Joseph. Indeed, the sun, the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to Joseph.