GENESIS - CHAPTER 37
A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
Copyright 2000 James Melough
37:1 “And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.”
In chapter thirty-six we have been given the genealogy of Esau, who represents the flesh, and who dwelt in Seir, which in the very meaning of the name shaggy: hairy: goat-like speaks of sin. Esau was also called Edom, and in both of these names we find that the meanings are connected with the earth, and therefore, with death. Of Jacob, however, it is said that he “dwelt in the land of Canaan,” the divinely designated dwelling place of God’s redeemed people, where they would enjoy every blessing that God could bestow as the reward of obedience. Like Esau, he also had two names: Jacob, the name by which he was first called; and Israel, the name later bestowed by God.
As Jacob he represents the believer as a man in an earthly body, and in connection with that name therefore, we find a great deal of the activity of the old nature; but as Israel, he represents the new nature, and a believer walking according to that nature.
It is emphasized that the land of Canaan was “the land wherein his father was a stranger,” and in this we are reminded that all of the patriarchs were similarly pilgrims and strangers in Canaan, and that their inheritance of the promises made to Abraham would be in resurrection, and not while they were in these weak, sinful, earthly bodies. This principle holds good for all men of faith. It is in resurrection that we will inherit our promised blessings.
37:2. “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.”
The thought of resurrection continues to be emphasized, for Jacob gives place to Joseph. It is in him that we are now to be shown the multiplication of Jacob. The old nature must give place to the new.
In Esau we have been shown the literal perpetuation of the ungodly line, and also the symbolic perpetuation of the flesh; but in Joseph we are being shown the literal perpetuation of the godly line of faith, and also the symbolic presentation of the Lord Jesus Christ, Who is the Life of the Spirit.
Since Joseph was only a man (and since no man, except Christ, is perfect) we know that his life was not one of sinless perfection, but the Holy Spirit has preserved for us only those parts of Joseph’s life which were flawless, so that we might see in him something of the flawless perfection of the One he typifies, the Lord Jesus Christ. The parallel of the type with the Antitype is set before us at the very beginning. Humanly speaking his birth was impossible. His mother had been barren. Humanly speaking Christ’s birth was also impossible. Mary was a virgin. The years between Joseph’s birth, and his coming forth now to do his father’s business, are passed over in silence, save for the brief mention in Ge 33:2 where we read that he and his mother were placed last in the line that was to meet Esau. There is a similar silence between the birth of Christ and His coming forth to do His Father’s business, interrupted only by the brief mention in Lk 2:42-52 where at twelve years of age, He is found in the temple questioning the doctors of the law.
It is through Joseph that Jacob is to be multiplied, and his name, fittingly means let him add. Here, too, the type points to Christ, for He is the Great Increaser. He is the “corn of wheat” that fell into the ground and died, but Who, out of that death, has brought forth “much fruit.” He is the only begotten Son of the Father, but by dying he has brought “many sons unto glory” (Heb 2:10).
His age is given as being seventeen years, and this, like every number in the Bible, has a message for us. We have noted in earlier studies that when dealing with prime numbers greater than seven the method of interpretation seems to require the removal of “one,” the number of God, and the factoring of the remainder. Applying this method, then, to Joseph’s age we have 1+24 or 4x4 or 2x8. Since one is the number of God, the first truth being taught in the mention of Joseph’s age is that it represents a life inseparably linked to God. Two is the number of witness or testimony, four of earthly testing, and eight, of a new beginning. The additional truth being taught, then, is that it is a life that was to be a witness for God in the face of testing, and in addition, the portrait of a life that would have a new beginning. And Joseph’s life is the revelation of all these things. It was a life in which God was always first, as it was also the witness to a faith that no testing could destroy. And as to the new beginning, we have at least two examples: one, when he was brought to Egypt as a slave, but promoted in Potiphar’s house, and two, when he was brought out of the dungeon and set over the affairs of Egypt.
He “was feeding the flock with his brethren.”
Like the One he represents, he was a good shepherd caring for his father’s sheep in company with his evil brethren who were also supposed to be caring for the sheep. Their care, it would seem, left much to be desired, for “Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.” The type was fulfilled when Christ, the Good Shepherd, cared for “the lost sheep of the house of Israel,” even while those who were His brethren according to the flesh, and who were supposed to be the shepherds of God’s flock, proved themselves worthy only of rebuke.
“... and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah.” His life continues to be the typical parallel of Christ’s. In our study of Ge 29 we noted that Bilhah and Zilpah represent characteristics of the legalism that marked the Jewish leaders whom the Lord denounced. As the evil conduct of Joseph’s brethren furnished only material for an “evil report,” so did the evil conduct of Christ’s “brethren” furnish also only material for a similar testimony by Him. “The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil” (Jn 7:7).
37:3. “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 colors.”
In regard to this love which adumbrates the love of the Father for the Son, it is significant that it is said that “Israel (not Jacob) loved Joseph....” Jacob represents what pertains to the old nature; Israel, the new. It is only the new nature that loves Christ.
The reason for Israel’s love of Joseph was “because he was the son of his old age,” and in this we are perhaps being reminded that it was “when the fullness of the time was come,” that “God sent forth His Son....” (Ga 4:4). Christ, we know, is coequal and coeternal with the Father, but it was after countless ages that the Son “born of a woman” came forth in human form to be, metaphorically, “the Son of His ‘old age’.”
Israel had ten sons born before Joseph, and of that nation to which he gave his name it is written “Israel is my son, even my firstborn” (Ex 4:22). Israel was God’s “son,” His firstborn, but Christ (as to His humanity) was “the Son of His old age.” (It is to be hoped that spiritual intelligence will preserve anyone from making the wrong inference that the eternal God, the I AM, could ever grow old, or that anyone is a son of God in the same sense as the Lord Jesus Christ). As Reuben was Jacob/Israel’s firstborn, so was the nation of Israel God’s firstborn; and as Joseph was, in a sense, the second firstborn (he was Rachel’s firstborn), so was Christ God’s “second firstborn,” and in this we see again the demonstration of the principle that “He taketh away the first, that He may establish the second” (Heb 10:9). The natural must give place to the spiritual.
“... and he made him a coat of many colors.” Garments are to the body what habits are to the life, and wherever we find clothing mentioned in Scripture we should look for a spiritual lesson relating to righteousness. The first truth imparted by the newly acquired knowledge of the guilty pair in Eden was that they were naked: they had lost the righteousness of untried innocence. In Isa 64:6 we read that “... all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags,” and in Re 19:8 it is written “... for the fine linen is the righteousnesses of saints.”
There can be little doubt that it was the integrity of Joseph’s life that caused Jacob to love him above all his other children, and to express that love in the gift of this “coat of many colors.” Many translations render it “pieces” rather than “colors,” but what is of importance is not the deciding of that question, but knowing what the coat represents. It was not only the symbol of Jacob’s love, it was also the symbol of Joseph’s righteousness which merited that love. Since Joseph is clearly a type of Christ, we see in the many colors or pieces of the coat, then, a symbol of those righteousnesses of Christ which called forth the commendation of the Father, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased” (Mt 3:17).
37:4. “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.”
To accuse Jacob of a partiality that justified the brethren’s hatred of Joseph is to ignore the reason for Jacob’s preference. Something of the character of these brethren is disclosed in their treacherous slaughter of the Shechemites; in Reuben’s lying with his father’s concubine; and of evil in general as indicated in verse 2. There was no evil recorded of Joseph, and there is, in fact, everything to indicate that he was a young man of exceptional moral integrity, for example, note his reaction to the temptation offered by Potiphar’s wife. Jacob’s love for Joseph was not the result of blind, unreasoning emotion: it was an intelligent response to the impeccability of Joseph’s life. It doesn’t require exceptional spiritual discernment to see in these brethren an accurate picture of those, who according to the flesh, were the “brethren” of Christ; and in Joseph, an equally accurate picture of the Lord Jesus Christ.
37:5. “And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren and they hated him yet the more.”
In past ages God frequently communicated with men through dreams, and in these dreams which revealed symbolically Joseph’s future exaltation, we have a type or symbol of the Scriptures which also declare, explicitly as well as symbolically, the future exaltation of Christ. The hatred evoked by Joseph’s revelation of the dreams simply foreshadows the hatred aroused in the hearts of the Jews by the Lord’s declaration of what was written in the Scriptures concerning Himself.
37:6. “And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed.”
Joseph’s call to his brethren to hear the contents of his dreams, foreshadows the Lord’s invitation to Israel to hear what the Scriptures had to say of Him. Those dreams were no less the revelation of the mind and will of God than are the Scriptures: they have, in fact, become part of the Scriptures, and the brethren’s rejection of the dreams anticipates the Jews’ rejection of the Scriptures concerning Christ.
37:7. “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.”
The binding of sheaves tells us that this was a harvest scene, and it appears to be identical with the one mentioned in Matthew chapter thirteen. There the Lord Himself interprets the symbols, “The field is the world ... the harvest is the end of the age” (Mt 13:38-39). In Mt 3:12 it is written with reference to Christ, “Whose (winnowing) fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his (threshing) floor, and gather his wheat into the garner, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” The wheat therefore, represents believers, so that the symbolic truth being declared in the bowing sheaves is that they represent, not only Joseph’s brethren in the future, when having confessed their sin, and having been reconciled to their brother, they bowed before him; but they represent also the converted nation of Israel that will bow at the feet of Christ when He returns to establish His millennial kingdom at the end of the Tribulation.
There is a significant difference between the sheaf that represents Joseph and the sheaves that represent his brethren: of his sheaf alone is it said that “my sheaf arose, and also stood upright.” The sheaf lying prostrate on the field speaks of death, and the same sheaf, risen and standing upright, speaks, of course, of resurrection. In its application to Joseph it points to figurative death and resurrection, but in its application to Christ it points to a death and resurrection that were literal.
37:8. “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.”
The word reign relates primarily to the rule of a king, but the word dominion (rule) relates also to any form of rule. The words of these evil brethren, then, might be paraphrased, “You will neither rule over us as a king, nor will you exercise any kind of rule over us.” Their rejection of him was absolute, and it simply anticipates the completeness of the Jews’ rejection of Christ. But in rejecting Joseph’s rule they were also rejecting God’s rule over them, for Joseph was to rule by divine appointment. The same is true in regard to the Jew’s rejection of Christ.
It was Joseph’s declaration of the revelation given by God, not any wrong against his brethren, that evoked their hatred, and so was it with Christ, of Whom it is written, “They hated me without a cause” (Jn 15:25).
37:9. “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.”
This second dream, under a different set of symbols, declares the same truth as the first: Joseph would one day be exalted. But there is also an indicated enlargement of his rule in this second dream. The bowing sheaves represent only the obeisance of his brethren, a fact that seems to be confirmed in that he appears to have told the first dream only to his brethren, and not to his parents. But he told the second dream also to his father who clearly understood it to be the foretelling of a coming day in which he and Rachel would also bow to Joseph.
One reason for the repetition of the message under two separate dreams is undoubtedly the same as that given to Pharaoh in regard to his two dreams that foretold the coming of the seven years of famine to follow seven years of plenty, “... it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass” (Ge 41:32). Joseph’s promotion was also
established by God, and would soon be brought to pass. Christ’s promotion is likewise assured by God.
There would appear to be another reason, however. In the first dream the scene was earthly, involving sheaves and a field, but the second was heavenly, involving sun, moon and stars. In its application to Joseph it may be that this second dream is intended to foretell the subjection of Egypt to his rule. That the sun, moon and stars are symbolic of earthly rule or rulers is clearly indicated in Ge 1:16, “And God made two great lights, the greater light to rule the day, and the lesser light to rule the night: he made the stars also.” It seems therefore, that the governmental power of Egypt is depicted in these heavenly bodies. Their doing obeisance to Joseph, therefore, may symbolize the administration of Egypt as being under Joseph.
It may be, however, that another truth is being conveyed under the symbolism of the second dream. We have noted already that both dreams go beyond Joseph, and find their ultimate fulfillment in the Lord Jesus Christ, so that this second dream may depict the submission of spiritual Israel, the Church. The earthly Israel is portrayed by earthly symbols, the heavenly Israel, by heavenly symbols. There may be also in this second dream the symbolic annunciation of the truth declared in Php 2:9-11, “Wherefore God also hath highly exalted Him, and given Him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”
The eleven stars point very obviously to Joseph’s eleven literal brothers, but as a number, eleven conveys a deeper truth. The removal of one, the number of God, leaves us with ten, the number of divine government, so that in the obeisance of these stars we are being taught that it will be by God’s exercise of His governmental prerogative that all things will be made subject to Christ.
37:10. “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?”
We have noted already that Jacob represents the old nature in the believer, as Israel does the new, and everything points to the fact that the rebuke came from the Jacob, rather than the Israel nature. There is implied in the rebuke a refusal on the part of Jacob to accept the fact that he too would have to bow down to Joseph, and in this is demonstrated again the refusal of the old nature to be subject to Christ. This resolves the problem of determining what the sun is meant to represent in the present context. It is the symbol of the nation of Israel as a physical entity whose spiritual entity is portrayed in the moon, the symbol of Joseph’s mother. As to His humanity, it was the nation of Israel that was Christ’s “father,” but as to what He was spiritually, it was the godly remnant within the apostate mass of the nation that was His “mother.” Jacob’s rebuke, with its implied refusal of Joseph’s dominion, anticipates the rejection of Christ’s dominion by the mass of the nation of Israel. But in the foretold subjection of Jacob to Joseph we are being shown that Israel, physically as well as spiritually, will yet be made to bow to Christ.
It is significant that at this time Rachel, Joseph’s mother, was dead, so that her foretold obeisance requires her resurrection. All the signs around us point to the fact that that day of Israel’s “resurrection” is near. Spiritually, Israel died and was replaced with the Church, but following the rapture of the Church (an event that is imminent), she will be resurrected, and restored to her place on the earth, first as God’s witness to the nations, and then, in the Millennium, as chief of all those nations.
37:11. “And his brethren envied him but his father observed the saying.”
The reaction of Joseph’s family continues to foreshadow the reaction of the nation of Israel to Christ. Most of them envied and hated Him, while a small minority (Nicodemus, and Joseph of Arimathaea, for example) believed.
37:12. “And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem.”
Shechem means shoulder, and as has been noted in earlier studies, represents the place of security into which a man is brought by faith (see notes on chapter twelve, verse six). In the present context it speaks of that place of security into which God had brought the nation of Israel when He delivered them from their Egyptian bondage, and brought them into the land of Canaan. In these brethren who had been sent to “feed their father’s flock in Shechem” therefore, we see a picture of the Jewish leaders of Christ’s day. They, too, had been sent by God to feed His flock, but, like these evil brethren, they too, had failed to remain in the place to which they had been sent.
37:13. “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.”
It isn’t difficult to see in this a picture of God sending His Son down to earth where His “brethren” were supposed to be feeding God’s sheep, nor is it difficult to see in Joseph’s ready obedience a type of the Lord Jesus Christ’s obedience to His Father’s will. It is in keeping with this typical picture that it is Israel, and not Jacob, who sends Joseph to seek the welfare of these brethren.
37:14. “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.”
Israel’s concern for his sons and for the flocks is the symbolic declaration of God’s concern for all men. The impartiality of that love is seen in that these evil sons represent the Jewish leaders, while the flocks represent those under the care of those same leaders. God loved the scribes and the Pharisees no less than He loved the common people, even though He was fully aware of the fact that they would reject and crucify His Son. The extent of that love is expressed in the words of Christ, Lk 23:34, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
The use of the plural “flocks” rather than the singular “flock” reminds us that God cared, not only for the nation of Israel, but also for the Gentiles. Jews and Gentiles alike are represented by the lost wandering sheep, “All we like sheep have gone astray....” (Isa 53:6), “... we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin, as it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one” (Ro 3:9-10). As Israel sent Joseph because of his concern for his sons and his sheep, so did God send Christ. And in regard to that obedient Son we read in Jn 10:15-17, “... I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice, and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd. Therefore doth my Father love me, because I lay down my life....”
It was Israel/Jacob’s ignorance of the state of both sons and sheep that prompted him to send Joseph, and there can be no doubt that had he known what the outcome would be he would never have sent this best loved son. It was with perfect knowledge that God sent His only Son, and in this we see a love that is beyond comprehension.
Hebron means communion, and in Joseph’s departure from that vale of Hebron we have a picture of the departure of the Lord Jesus Christ from that place where He and the Father had enjoyed perfect communion for eternal ages past.
37:15. “And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou?”
It seems that Joseph, having failed to find his brethren at Shechem, was searching for them when this nameless man found him. The man’s question clearly indicates that Joseph’s “wandering” was not that of one who was lost, but rather of one who was searching for someone or something that was lost. While to unbelief, the earthly life of Christ may seem to have been simply an aimless wandering, faith recognizes that it was a purposeful search for those, who like lost sheep, had wandered in rebellion away from God.
37:16. “And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks.”
As Joseph sought his brethren (departed from the place to which their father had sent them) so did the Lord Jesus Christ seek His “brethren” (also departed from the place to which God had sent them). It was the Lord Himself Who declared, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Lk 19:10).
37:17. “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 means double decrees: double sickness. An alternative rendering of the first meaning is laws, making Dothan the symbolic announcement of Israel’s spiritual condition when the Lord came to earth seeking them. They too had gone to “Dothan.” They were occupied with laws and law-keeping, but for all their outward form, the Lord declared of them, “This people draweth nigh unto me with their mouth, and honoureth me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. But in vain they do worship me, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men” (Mt 15:8-9).
The second meaning double sickness points to another aspect of Israel’s spiritual state: they were sick, and the sickness was two-fold. Nationally their glory had departed and they were under the heel of the Roman oppressor; and as to their relationship with God, it was in the days of Christ as it had been in the days of Isaiah, “... the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint. From the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it, but wounds, and bruises, and putrefying sores: they have not been closed, neither bound up, neither mollified with ointment” (Isa 1:5-6).
It was a nameless manservant who was sent to seek a bride for Isaac, Ge 24; it was a nameless manservant who was sent by Joseph to bring back his brethren, Ge 44; and it was a nameless manservant who led the disciples to the upper room where they ate the last passover, Mk 14:13. They are all types of the Holy Spirit, and so is this nameless man who informed Joseph of the whereabouts of his brethren. Joseph’s following the man’s directions is the symbolic declaration of the truth that the Lord Jesus Christ walked every step of the way from the manger to the cross in perfect submission to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
37:18. “And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.”
This continues to picture the attitude of Israel. Long before the Lord Jesus Christ came to earth, God had sent prophets who were persecuted and murdered, leading the Lord to exclaim, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee....” (Mt 23:37). The “brethren” of Christ, like the brethren of Joseph, “when they saw Him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.”
37:19. “And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.”
Their bitter hatred found expression in their derisive description of him as “this dreamer.” Similar mocking derision expressed the Jews’ hatred of Christ.
37:20. “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.”
Someone has given the advice that when we find a “therefore” in Scripture we should attempt to determine what it is there for. In the present context it takes us back to verse four, “When his brethren saw that their father loved him ... they hated him,” and to verse eight, “And they hated him yet the more for his dreams.” He was hated, not because of any evil in him, but because his goodness rebuked the evil of his brethren. And so was it also with Christ. The determination of Joseph’s brethren to kill him is simply a foreshadowing of Mt 12:14. In response to the Lord’s goodness in healing a withered hand, “The Pharisees went out, and held a council against Him, how they might destroy Him.”
As Joseph’s brethren would make an imaginary “evil beast” responsible for his death, so would the Jews make Rome responsible for the death of Christ. And the motive was the same in both cases: it was an attempt to frustrate the declared purpose of God to promote both Joseph and Christ.
37:21. “And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, Let us not kill him.”
Their decision to kill Joseph wasn’t unanimous. Reuben dissented. Nor was it a unanimous decision of the Sanhedrin to slay Christ. There was at least one dissenter. “And there was a man named Joseph, a counsellor, and he was a good man, and a just: (the same had not consented to the counsel and deed of them,)....” (Lk 23:50-51).
At this point it might be advisable to take time to note what is being represented by the persons mentioned in this section. Jacob is being brought before us now, not as a type of the individual believer, but as a type of the Father sending the Son to seek the lost. Joseph and Benjamin we have seen already to be types of Christ: Joseph portraying Him as the lamb that must die; Benjamin, as the lion that must reign. Jacob’s other sons, in the present context represent the Jewish leaders. Reuben therefore, represents those of the rulers who were believers, as it is written, “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on Him, but because of the Pharisees they did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue” (Jn 12:42). Rachel, having produced the two sons who together represent Christ, has passed away. She therefore, in this present context, represents not the expression of Jacob’s spiritual life, but rather the godly remnant within the nation that produced Christ, and then faded from view so that He alone might be seen. He alone must have all the glory. On the mount of transfiguration Moses and Elijah disappeared, and the disciples “... saw no man any more, save Jesus only....” (Mk 9:8). John said, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (Jn 3:20). When Christ comes into a man’s life that man must fade from view and Christ only be seen in that life.
37:22. “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.”
In Reuben’s futile attempt to save Joseph some have seen a foreshadowing of Peter’s refusal to accept the necessity of the Lord’s death, and still others have seen in it an anticipation of Pilate’s futile attempt to deliver Christ from the hand of the Jews. While such applications may be made it seems to be more in harmony with the general typical picture of this section to view it as the refusal of the believers among the Jewish leaders to consent to Christ’s death.
The frequent Scriptural references to the pit as the abode of those who die under the anathema of God, support the generally accepted view that this pit into which Joseph was cast represents the place of death into which the Lord Jesus Christ was consigned by the Jews. Its having been dug before Joseph or his brethren ever came to the place is the symbolic reminder that the death of Christ was an event eternally foreknown by God.
37:23. “And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colors that was on him.”
The Lord was similarly stripped of His clothing as He was “cast into the pit,” that is, as He was crucified. The spiritual significance, however, goes far beyond mere literal coincidence. We have noted in many previous studies that garments are to the body what habits are to the life. When Adam, for example, had lost the righteousness of untried innocence, he discovered that he was naked. Joseph’s being stripped of his coat therefore, points to the fact that the Lord Jesus Christ was stripped by the Jewish leaders of His righteousness. They called Him a liar and a blasphemer.
37:24. “And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.”
There can be little doubt that these evil brethren intended the pit to be Joseph’s tomb, but “there was no water in it.” The death of the Lord Jesus Christ is referred to figuratively in the Scriptures under the symbol of overwhelming waters. In Ps. 69:1-2, for example, it is written, “Save me, O God, for the waters are come in unto my soul.... I am come into deep waters, where the floods overflow me.” Joseph’s death was figurative; that of Christ, literal. There was “water (death) in the pit” when He was cast into it.
37:25. “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.”
What is portrayed symbolically in his brethren’s sitting down to eat bread while Joseph was in the pit, had its fulfillment at the crucifixion. The Jews kept the feast of Passover and Unleavened bread while the Lord was on the cross and in the tomb.
The question as to whether it was Ishmeelites or Midianites who were involved in this transaction, is explained in The New Bible Dictionary. “The caravan was Ishmaelite, including under this designation Midianites or Medanites, the terms overlap. This interchange of terms is most plainly exhibited by Jg. viii.24, which explicitly states that the Midianites beaten by Gideon ‘had golden earrings, because they were Ishmaelites’.... both Medan and Midian are sons of Abraham by Keturah. The use of multiple terms in a narrative is indicative not of disparate documents but of typical Near Eastern stylistic usage.”
Ishmeelite has exactly the same meaning as Ishmael God will hear, and everything connected with these people who bought Joseph justifies our taking them to represent a company of believers. Not only does their name imply that they have called upon God and been heard, but they are coming from Gilead heap of witness: rolling for ever. Gilead speaks of Calvary, the true “heap of witness” to man’s ruin and God’s love, and the second meaning rolling for ever surely points to the eternal duration of that witness. And their animals are specifically declared to be camels, which in our study of Ge 24:10 we have seen to represent the believer’s body for the service of the new nature.
These Ishmeelites, then, represent those believing Jews who fearlessly confessed Christ after His crucifixion. With their camels they were bearing spicery, balm and myrrh to Egypt. The spicery speaks of the perfections of Christ; the balm, of the healing He brings to believing sinners; and the myrrh, of His death that brings life to men who are spiritually dead. And Egypt, of course, represents the world of business and pleasure living in careless independence of God. They also carried with them Joseph, type of Christ. The picture could scarcely be clearer. Here in Genesis God is declaring symbolically what would be fulfilled literally centuries later: a small company of believing Jews would carry Christ to the world through the Gospel.
37:26. “And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?”
Comment is scarcely needed here. Judah and Judas are but the Hebrew and Greek forms of the same name. Judah’s suggestion that Joseph be sold foreshadows the sale of Christ by Judas.
37:27. “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.”
We can dismiss any idea that there is even a hint of brotherly love in the words “for he is our brother and our flesh,” or that it was any diminution of their hatred that restrained them from murder. It is far more likely that they remembered the awful fate that had overtaken Cain for the murder of Abel, and were seeking to avoid a similar fate, being at the same time no less anxious to be rid of Joseph than had been Cain to be rid of Abel. Cupidity came to the aid of hatred, however, by suggesting that Joseph be sold and left to die by the hand of another. The Jews also exculpated themselves with regard to Christ by having the Romans crucify Him.
37:28. “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.”
We have noted already that the passing caravan was a mixed company of Ishmaelites and Midianites, and that these names were used interchangeably to describe them. The Holy Spirit’s employment of either name, however, isn’t capricious. It follows, in fact, the same purposeful pattern as has been traced in His selection of either Jacob or Israel to describe the same individual. Midian means contention: strife. Since believing Jews are portrayed by the Ishmeelites, the unbelieving Jews are represented by the Midianites. Both names indeed are particularly apt in describing the Jews of Christ’s day as a mixed company composed of both believers and unbelievers, the contention and strife of the latter continuing even after the Lord had been crucified.
The picture goes further, however. This company was on its way to Egypt, and we have seen that the Ishmaelites among them represent those believing Jews who carried the Gospel to the world following the crucifixion of Christ. The Midianites therefore, represent those unbelieving Jews who followed them, dogging their footsteps, spreading strife and contention in opposition to the Gospel.
And there is yet another side to the typological picture. Following their rejection of Christ, the nation of Israel had but a brief thirty-eight years left before they “went down to Egypt.” Upon the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus in A.D. 70, the Jews, believing and unbelieving alike, fled from the land, they “went down to Egypt,” i.e. they were scattered among the nations, and have been there ever since. This Ishmaelite-Midianite caravan on its way to Egypt therefore, is a symbolic portrait of the nation of Israel leaving the land in A.D.70 to find a dwelling place amongst the nations: some, believers, spreading the Gospel; others, unbelievers, spreading strife and contention.
The designation of the Midianites (representative of the unbelieving Jews) as merchantmen is also particularly appropriate: the Jews for the most part are the merchantmen among the nations.
“... and they (his brethren) drew and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites....” The Holy Spirit has been careful to use the name Ishmeelite rather than Midianite to describe those who bought Joseph, and for an obvious reason: the believer (the Ishmeelite) “buys” Christ, the unbeliever (the Midianite) “sells” him, see verse thirty-six.
The idea of a believer’s “buying” Christ in no way contradicts the clear truth of the Gospel that salvation is God’s gift to the believer. In Isa 55:1 we read “... come ye, buy, and eat, yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” The paradox of buying “without money and without price” is explained when we realize that the man who would have Christ must be willing to give up the world. This is the sense in which a man “buys” Christ, and this explains why it was the Ishmeelites rather than the Midianites who bought Joseph.
“... for twenty pieces of silver.” Certainly this foreshadows the truth that the Lord was sold for thirty pieces of silver, but there is a spiritual lesson to be learned from the number twenty. Its factors are 4 x 5, reminding us that the man who would “buy” Christ must be willing to fulfill his responsibility (five) to God even in the face of earthly testing (four). The second set of factors, 22 x 5 would remind us also that that responsibility involves testimony (two) both Godward and manward.
“... and they brought Joseph into Egypt.” Ishmeelite and Midianite both carried him to Egypt. That the type was fulfilled in the Apostolic age is clearly indicated in the words of Paul, “Some indeed preach Christ even of envy and strife, and some also of good will: the one preach Christ of contention, not sincerely, supposing to add affliction to my bonds: but the other of love, knowing that I am set for the defense of the gospel. What then? notwithstanding, every way, whether in pretense, or in truth, Christ is preached....” (Php 1:15-18).
37:29. “And Reuben returned unto the pit, and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit, and he rent his clothes.”
It must be kept in mind that the Gospel preached by the Lord was that which called Israel to repentance so that they might enter the millennial kingdom. His crucifixion therefore, must have seemed to the believing Jews the end of every hope, for it seems clear that few if any of them realized the necessity of His death. As the risen Christ walked with the two on the way to Emmaus He had to explain this truth to them, “Then He said unto them, O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken: ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into His glory?” (Lk 24:25-26). And later that same day He appeared to the others in the upper room, and said, “These are the words which I spake unto you that all things must be fulfilled which are written in the law of Moses ... concerning me. Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures ... thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day” (Lk 24:44-46).
Reuben’s sorrow therefore, upon discovering that Joseph wasn’t in the pit, pictures the sorrow of those who had trusted in Christ, and then seemed to have all their hopes dashed by His crucifixion.
37:30. “And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not, and I, whither shall I go?”
This must surely have been the question in the minds of the believers following the Lord’s death, and prior to their learning of His resurrection, “He is dead, and we, whither shall we go, what hope have we left?”
37:31. “And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats and dipped the coat in the blood.”
Christ is portrayed not only by Joseph, but also by the slain kid. It was the blood of that kid that covered the guilt of these evil brethren and enabled them to save their own lives, for had their deed been known they themselves must have been put to death. Joseph and the kid were inseparably linked together, for it was the blood of the latter that provided what Jacob accepted as proof of Joseph’s death. The Christ Who died and the Christ Who lives to reign are also inseparably linked together. The blood of the One is on the “coat” of the Other: they are one and the same Christ. Jacob accepted the blood of the goat as being the blood of Joseph. It was the blood and the coat that delivered the guilty brothers from blame, and even though it was a deliverance obtained by deceit, it was still as secure as one obtained by legitimate means. There could be no simpler declaration of the Gospel. When the guilty sinner, not as a deceiver, but as a penitent, presents God the Father with the blood of Christ, he is forgiven every sin. Joseph’s coat was, as it were, the basis for the blood that spoke of his death. Christ’s righteousness, symbolized in the coat, is the basis of redemption, for had His righteousness been less than perfect, He could not have “offered Himself without spot to God,” to make atonement for our sin, and to redeem our souls.
37:32. “And they sent the coat of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no.”
That blood-stained coat was to Jacob not only “proof” of his son’s death, but “proof” also of the innocence of Joseph’s brethren, for he assumed that a wild beast had killed his son. The exoneration secured for the brethren through their dissimulative presentation of his blood-stained coat is but a faint foreshadowing of the pardon bestowed on the sinner who presents God with the blood of Christ.
37:33. “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.”
Jacob might be deceived as to Joseph’s death, but not in regard to his coat, “he knew it.” God similarly knows “the coat” of His Son, for that coat is the symbol of Christ’s righteousness. But unlike Jacob, God can’t be deceived. When He sent His Son out of “the vale of Hebron” to seek the welfare of His brethren, it was with the full knowledge that those “brethren” would slay Him, and yet He was as willing to send Him as the Son was to come to earth, though He also was fully aware of what His “brethren” would do. Why? Because there was no other way by which man could be redeemed, and such was the love of God that He was willing to pay that redemption price.
37:34. “And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.”
Jacob’s mourning for Joseph is but a faint picture of what it meant for God to see Christ die.
37:35. “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’s grief was no passing emotion, and his words “I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning” assure us that his mourning would continue as long as he lived. That same statement assures us also that God will remember the death of Christ not just for the years of time, but for all eternity.
If there was no other way by which man could be redeemed (and there wasn’t), and God was willing to pay that price, how can men expect mercy when they reject what has cost God so much? Well might the writer of Hebrews ask, “How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?” (Heb 2:3).
37:36. “And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.”
We noticed in verse twenty-eight that while those who bought Joseph were a mixed company, sometimes called Midianites, sometimes Ishmaelites, it was the name Ishmeelite that was used to describe them when it concerned their buying him. The Holy Spirit, however, has been careful to use the name Midianite to describe them when it concerns the sale of Joseph.
We have noted already that the Ishmeelites God will hear represent believers, those who have “bought” Christ. The true believer will never “sell” the One Who is the way, the TRUTH, and the life, Jn 14:6. In Pr 23:23 men are exhorted to “buy the TRUTH, and sell it not.” The believer obeys that injunction.
Not so the “Midianite,” however. He “sells” Christ daily, for the Midianite represents the unbeliever.
We may presume that the Midianites made a profit when they sold Joseph to Potiphar, just as his brethren had when they sold him to the Ishmeelites. How paltry and tarnished those twenty pieces of silver must have become, however, to the brethren of Joseph as they witnessed daily the sorrow brought to their father by their evil deed! Judas quickly discovered the worthlessness of the once coveted thirty pieces of silver for which he sold Christ, and, unknowingly, his own soul.
Multitudes today “sell” Christ, as did Judas, that sale being symbolized in the Midianites’ sale of Joseph. These same spiritual “Midianites,” however, will discover, too late, as did Judas, the enormity of their folly. The gold that gleamed so brightly in the dim light of earth will be revealed for the tarnished worthless thing it is when exposed in the revealing light of eternity.
The price for which the Midianites sold Joseph; and Judas, Christ, is but the symbol of the worthless things for which men sell Christ, and with Him, their own souls.
The sale of Joseph by his brethren pictures Israel’s “sale” of Christ. The Midianites were but the instruments to carry Joseph from Canaan to Egypt, as the Romans were but the instruments by which Christ was taken from Israel and given to the Gentiles.
The Egyptian who bought Joseph was Potiphar, which means my affliction was broken. He represents those among the Gentiles who “buy” Christ, i.e., who trust Him as Savior. The aptness of his name is obvious. Every man who “buys” Christ can testify, “My affliction was broken.”
Since there are no words in Scripture used uselessly, there is significance in his being described as “an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.” Since Egypt is a type of this world, Pharaoh is a type of Satan, the evil prince of this world. Potiphar was an official of considerable rank: he was captain of the guard, literally, captain of the slaughtermen, or, executioners. He may well be a type of Paul the apostle to the Gentiles. He, too, had been of considerable rank: he was “a Pharisee of the Pharisees,” serving Satan, though he mistook it for service to God. And it is perhaps, significant that the word “slaughter” is used in connection with him, for in Acts 9:1 we read of him “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord....” The Christians whose blood he shed might well have called him a slaughterman. Potiphar was chief of the slaughtermen. Paul, looking back to the time when he slaughtered the Christians, described himself as the chief of sinners, “This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (Tim 1:15). The symbolic parallel between Potiphar and Paul may be more easily seen perhaps, when we remember that Potiphar was the first man mentioned in connection with Joseph’s being introduced to Egypt, as Paul was in connection with the introduction of Christ to the Gentile world, which Egypt represents, for Paul was specifically the Apostle to the Gentiles.