Joseph: The Purposes of God Fulfilled
Genesis 37 – 50
Genesis 37 – 50
O U T L I N E
Genesis 37. It is fitting that Genesis, the book of beginnings, would end with an extensive type of Christ. Joseph is the most complete type of Christ that we have in the Old Testament. Joseph’s name means “adding”. When we look at the first man, he is always a failure, he always takes away. But when we think of the Second Man, the Lord Jesus, he is always adding. Like Joseph, whose “branches run over the wall”, Christ does not only become a blessing to Israel, but to the Gentiles as well.
A Dispensational Outline. In the life of Joseph we have a type of God’s dispensational ways here in this world. In ch.37 we have Joseph hated and sold by his brethren, and presented as if dead to his father. This of course is a type of the coming of Christ to His earthly brethren the Jews, and their rejection of Him, and guilt in putting Him to death. Judah takes the lead in this, just as the Jews did in the time of our Lord. In ch.38 the scene changes, and all the brothers are out of the picture but one; Judah. He intermarries with the Canaanites, and has sons by her, which are wicked. Judah’s hypocrisy is exposed and he is forced to take responsibility for his actions. This pictures the Jews during the last 2000 years, scattered among the Gentiles, chastened by the Lord, but refusing to take responsibility. In the end, however, a remnant will confess the sin of the nation as regards their disobedience to God’s commandments. But there is another issue remaining; i.e. the guilt regarding Joseph. Joseph is down in Egypt, and receives his ill-treatment at the hand of the Gentiles, as he had previously at the hand of the Jews. Then Joseph is exalted in Egypt, and through the circumstances of the famine, his brethren are brought down to buy corn. There Joseph begins to work with them secretly to restore them. In a similar way, the Lord will work with the remnant of Israel to bring them to repentance in a national sense. Finally, Joseph reveals himself to his brethren, and the family is reunited, and brought to Egypt to live in a place of privilege. This represents what Israel will be to the Messiah in the Millennium.
Joseph and His Brethren: the Coat of Many Colors (37:1-4)
1 And Jacob dwelt in the land where his father sojourned — in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, fed the flock with his brethren; and he was doing service with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought to his father an evil report of them. vv.1-2 This is one of ten generations mentioned in Genesis, all beginning with the words “the generations of”, etc. Read more… It is striking that only Joseph is mentioned as the generation of Jacob, even though Jacob had twelve sons. This is fitting with Joseph as a type of Christ, who is the Only-begotten of the Father. Compare Joseph’s first seventeen years with Jacob’s last seventeen years (Gen. 47:28). The account of Joseph first opens with him functioning as a servant, feeding the flock of his father with his brethren. Joseph begins as a servant, in the same way the Son of man came (Matt. 20:27). Christ is told, prophetically, to “feed the flock of slaughter” (Zech. 11:4), which refers to the mass of the unbelieving Jews, destined to be slaughtered by the Roman general Titus. Zech. 11:7 could be translated, “So I pastured the flock marked out for slaughter, particularly the poor of the flock”. So, the Lord minister for 3 ½ years, preached the gospel of the kingdom, healed the sick, etc. It was public for the nation to see although they rejected it, but there was a little remnant that did have faith, and gathered around Him, called “the poor of the flock.” It is interesting that Moses, Joseph, and David were shepherds from youth. Perhaps this is what is meant by “a man after God’s own heart” (Acts 13:22)? Joseph’s brothers, the sons of the concubines, were bad shepherds. Joseph brought an evil report of these brothers to their father. Perhaps this is like John 7:7, which says Jesus testified of the world that the works thereof were evil, or like John 8:44, “Ye are of your father the devil, and the lusts of your father ye will do.” We find that Joseph wanted to be near his brethren, but did not go along with his brothers’ evil ways; he was “separate from sinners” (Heb. 7:26).
3 And Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was son of his old age; and he made him a vest of many colours. 4 And his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, and they hated him, and could not greet him with friendliness. vv.3-4 Jacob’s favoritism, though wrong in a family sense, is a type of the special place the Son has in the heart of God the Father; “The Father loveth the Son” (John 3:35), and the Son’s conscious enjoyment of His place and relationship. This what we sometimes call our Lord’s sonship glory. John says “and we beheld his glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father” (John 1:14). Joseph was the son of Jacob’s old age, because he was born after the rest of his brethren. It reminds us of God, who “last of all he sent unto them his son, saying, They will reverence my son” (Matt. 21:37). Joseph’s coat of many colors is a type of the Father’s delight in His Son. It was made of many colors or many pieces, representing the many glories of the Son that the Father delights in. We see this at the river Jordan, when a voice was heard from heaven, “This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”. God wanted everyone to know His beloved Son was His delight. It is interesting that in Matthew, where it was primarily a public witness to the nation of Israel, the voice said “This is my beloved Son…”. But in Mark and Luke, the voice said “Thou art my beloved Son…” because it was a personal confirmation to the Son. In a similar way, the coat of many colors was a witness to others, but also special for Joseph himself. The sign of special love for Joseph drew out of the enmity of his brethren. Joseph had a special place in his father’s heart, and it reminds us of the exclusive relationship the Son could claim, when He “said that God was his own Father” (John 5:18).
Joseph’s Dreams (37:5-11)
5 And Joseph dreamed a dream, and told it to his brethren, and they hated him yet the more. 6 And he said to them, Hear, I pray you, this dream, which I have dreamt: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the fields, and lo, my sheaf rose up, and remained standing; and behold, your sheaves came round about and bowed down to my sheaf. 8 And his brethren said to him, Wilt thou indeed be a king over us? wilt thou indeed rule over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams and for his words. 9 And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamt another dream, and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me. 10 And he told it to his father and to his brethren. And his father rebuked him, and said to him, What is this dream which thou hast dreamt? Shall we indeed come, I and thy mother and thy brethren, to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? vv.5-10 Joseph was given two dreams. Perhaps is was not wise of him to tell these dreams to his brothers, but they were given to him from the Lord. There may be a tinge of arrogance in this behavior, although it is hard to say. We know this from Psa. 105:19, where it speaks of Joseph in prison; “Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.” The Lord gave Joseph dreams that assured him of his future exaltation. These dreams sustained and encouraged Joseph when he was in the worst of circumstances. Perhaps when the butler and baker had dreams it may have jogged Joseph’s memory. The Word of the Lord (in the dreams) tried or tested Joseph’s faith, as to whether he believed what God had said. We cannot help but be reminded that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:10). Some feel that the first dream of “sheaves” refers to Christ exalted in the earthly sphere, and the second dream of “stars” refers to the exaltation of Christ in the heavenly sphere, as we get both in Ephesians 1:10. I have no difficulty with taking this view as an application, but I do not see it to be the actual interpretation of the passages cited. If we compare the following references, the previous definitions do not fit. In numerous scriptures, the figure of the stars is shown to be fulfilled in Israel, not the Church (Deut. 1:10; 10:22; 28:62; 1 Chron. 27:23; Neh. 9:23; Jer. 33:22; Heb. 11:12). In Revelation 12, the woman who gives birth to the man-child (Christ) has a crown of twelve stars on her head; an obvious reference to Israel. The same can be said of Joseph’s dreams. In the second dream, the stars bowed down to Joseph, referring to his natural brethren, the children of Israel (Gen. 37:9-10). The dream was repeated twice using first sheaves then stars for confirmation, much like the dreams of Pharaoh; “as regards the double repetition of the dream to Pharaoh, it is that the thing is established by God, and God will hasten to do it” (Gen. 41:32). Nevertheless, there is a difference between the dreams. The first dream concerned only Joseph and his brothers, while the second dream included his mother and father. It was when Joseph mentioned the sun and moon bowing down that Jacob was irked. The typical significance is this: not only would the Messiah be chief among His brethren the Jews, but He would be superior to the entire nation of Israel, the entire institution of Judaism, and the offices that pertain to it. This is why not only the eleven stars, but also the sun and moon bowed down. Joseph’s blessings, as a type of Christ, go even beyond those of Jacob and his progenitors (Gen. 49:25-26). Joseph’s brothers hated him even more because of his dreams. They knew exactly what those dreams meant, although they did not believe them. “The stone which they that builded rejected, this has become the corner-stone … the chief priests and the Pharisees, having heard his parables, knew that he spoke about them” (Matt. 21:41, 45). The “hard speeches” of the brothers in v.8 were preceded by “ungodly deeds” in v.2 (see Jude 15). Even Jacob in unbelief failed to grasp the significance of these things, and rebuked Joseph for telling the dreams.
11 And his brethren envied him; but his father kept the saying. v.11 Joseph’s brothers were filled with envy, because they must have sensed the truth of Joseph’s dreams, although they rejected them. We cannot help compare this with that scripture, “For he [Pilate] knew that for envy they [the Jews] had delivered him” (Matt. 27:18). Envy was their motivation. Also, Jacob rebuked Joseph, but “kept the saying”. This still falls short of Mary, who “kept all these things in her mind, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).
Seeking the Welfare of His Brethren (37:12-14)
12 And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock at Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock at Shechem? Come, that I may send thee to them. And he said to him, Here am I. 14 And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see after the welfare of thy brethren, and after the welfare of the flock; and bring me word again. And he sent him out of the vale of Hebron; and he came towards Shechem. vv.12-14 Jacob’s motive in sending Joseph was love, much love God’s motive in sending His only-begotten Son (John 3:16). The same motive sustained Joseph; he was seeking the welfare of his brethren. Joseph immediately obeys, saying “Here am I”. Joseph’s life is not so much a lesson on discipline, like his father Jacob, but service. This is why for Joseph, before honor came humility. But service must be motivated by love, as Joseph exemplifies here. All through Joseph’s life, he never lost sight of this mission; seeking the welfare of his brethren. Notice the place Jacob sent Joseph from. Hebron means fellowship or communion. From a place of communion, the Son was sent (John 1:2; 1:18). The only One who could declare the Father was He who is in the bosom of the Father. Communion is the secret of service. The brethren Joseph was seeking were not where their father expected them to be; “for the Son of man has come to seek and to save that which is lost” (Luke 19:10). Although many years passed, and although Jacob had no way of knowing, the final result of sending Joseph that day is that he would become the savior of the known world from the great famine. In a far greater way, God the Father “sent the Son to be the savior of the world” (1 John 4:14). Jacob must have suspected that his sons were into mischief, otherwise he wouldn’t have sent Joseph to visit them. But Jacob also underestimated the hatred of his sons, otherwise he wouldn’t have sent Joseph into a place of danger. But God the Father didn’t underestimate what Jesus would face; He knew fully the rejection His Son would encounter.
The Plot (37:15-22)
15 And a man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the country; and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? 16 And he said, I am seeking my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks. 17 And the man said, They have removed from this; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them at Dothan. vv.15-17 Not finding them, Joseph wandered in the country, determined to carry out his father’s will. It wasn’t that he was lost, but that they were far away, and he would not give up seeking his brethren. Dothan means ‘double sickness’. Man by nature has two problems: what he is and what he had done. He has the guilt of his sins, and the problem of the sin nature. God has condemned sin, and forgiven sins. Notice that while Shechem was far from home (Hebron), Dothan was about twice as far from home. The brothers were straying further away. They wandered away in self-will. The shepherd sought his sheep. But notice how Joseph refers to the brothers; he calls them “my brethren”.
18 And when they saw him from afar, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to put him to death. 19 And they said one to another, Behold, there comes that dreamer! 20 And now come and let us kill him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, An evil beast has devoured him; and we will see what becomes of his dreams. 21 And Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said, Let us not take his life. 22 And Reuben said to them, Shed no blood: cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness; but lay no hand upon him — in order that he might deliver him out of their hand, to bring him to his father again. vv.18-22 Contrast “saw him from afar” in Luke 15 with v.18. It is the heart of God versus the heart of man. Further on, the brothers stripped Joseph of his coat, but the father in Luke 15 said “bring forth the best robe and put it on him”. Totally opposite! Joseph’s brothers began to conspire when he was still afar off. We cannot help but think of the parable of the wicked husbandmen; “But when the husbandmen saw the son, they said among themselves, This is the heir; come, let us kill him, and let us seize on his inheritance” (Matt. 21:38). They said, “let us see what will become of his dreams”. They were mocking the dreams that God gave Joseph, which spoke of his glory. We are reminded of how the Son was mocked on the cross, “if thou be the Son of God, etc.”. They wanted to kill Joseph, and hide his body, and make up a believable story about being killed by a wild beast. It is interesting that the Gentile empires in Daniel are pictured as beasts. Perhaps this is a type of the Jews, who would blame the crucifixion of Jesus on “an evil beast” (the Roman Empire). It is true that the Romans were the instrument used (“by wicked hands”, Acts 2:23), but it was the Jews coordinating everything. How shocked the brothers would be years later to look back and see what had become of Joseph’s dreams. Reuben didn’t want the brothers to kill Joseph, but he would not stand up and put a stop to it. Surely, there are various degrees of guilt. Reuben wanted Joseph’s life and his father’s grief spared. Yet even in the trials of our Lord there were some who knew there was no fault in Him and yet still condemned the Lord. Reuben could have stepped up, but he didn’t. This was his character; “unstable as water” (Gen. 49:4). Later, Jacob would not trust Reuben. And we see something of this trait in Reuben’s family (see Judges 5:16). It reminds us of how many try to find a middle ground in regard to Christ. They don’t want to crucify Him, but neither do they want to believe on Him. They try to ride the fence, but this is not an option when it comes to deciding about Christ. Many people want to leave Joseph in the pit, so to speak. But Reuben was left guilty with the rest. The coming of Christ revealed the thoughts of many hearts (Luke 2:34). God will often orchestrate circumstances that force people off the fence; e.g. Herod and John the Baptist.
Joseph’s Capture and Enslavement (37:23-36)
23 And it came to pass when Joseph came to his brethren, that they stripped Joseph of his vest, the vest of many colours, which he had on; v.23 The coat of many colors was an object of the brothers hatred, and they lost no time stripping Joseph of it. “They part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture” (Psa. 22:18; see John 19:24, Matt. 27:35). The Jews likewise tried to strip the Lord of that which represented His relationship with His Father. Especially in John’s gospel we see this, as the Jews attacked the glory of His Person. But they could not take away His glory.
24 and they took him and cast him into the pit; now the pit was empty — there was no water in it. v.24 It says of the pit that “there was no water in it”. Humans need food and water to survive, but water is the more important of the two. While Joseph was thirsty in a pit with no water, his brothers sat down to eat bread (v.25). We cannot help but think of our Lord, who on the cross cried out, “I thirst”. And of the bystanders, “sitting down they watched him there” (Matt. 27:36). We know from other scriptures that Joseph was pleading with them; “We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us” (Gen. 42:21). But perhaps there is another application of the pit with no water in it. Water also speaks of judgment, and Joseph as a type of Christ falls short of One who passed through the waters of God’s judgment against sin.
25 And they sat down to eat bread; and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites came from Gilead; and their camels bore tragacanth, and balsam, and ladanum — going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 And Judah said to his brethren, What profit is it that we kill our brother and secrete his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites; but let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother, our flesh. And his brethren hearkened to him. vv.25-27 The caravan presented an opportunity for Judah, who apparently did not want Joseph’s blood on his hands, to convince his brethren to sell Joseph as a slave. Notice that Judah says “What profit…”. No doubt Judah was seeking to spare Joseph’s life, but his motives were mixed. He wanted to gain something from Joseph. Chapter 38 continues to develop Judah’s character. It is striking the Greek name for Judah is Judas, and we know that Judas Iscariot was the betrayer of the Lord Jesus. Judah took the lead in selling Joseph for twenty pieces of silver, and Judas Iscariot sold the Lord for thirty pieces of silver.
28 And Midianitish men, merchants, passed by; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty silver-pieces; and they brought Joseph to Egypt. v.28 In the law of Moses, the price to replace a dead slave that was accidentally killed was thirty pieces of silver (Exodus 21:32). This is the price that Judas and the chief priests agreed upon to deliver up the Lord Jesus. It is referred to as a “goodly price” in holy sarcasm (Zech. 11:12-13). They thought so little of their Messiah. Joseph was a young lad, and so he was only able to bring the brothers twenty pieces of silver. Selling a person into slavery against their will is condemned in the prophet Amos: “Thus saith the LORD; For three transgressions of Israel, and for four, I will not turn away the punishment thereof; because they sold the righteous for silver, and the poor for a pair of shoes” (Amos 2:6).
29 And Reuben returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his garments, 30 and returned to his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, where shall I go? vv.29-30 It would seem that neither Judah nor Reuben wanted to see Joseph killed, but Reuben wanted Joseph returned to Jacob, while Judah never wanted to see Joseph again, and wanted to make some money. Reuben was devastated to find that Joseph had been sold, and felt the weight of his responsibility. This is a very practical example of why neutrality it not an option when it comes to rejecting Christ. Reuben delayed, hoping for a chance to free Joseph without angering his brethren. But he was caught off-guard.
31 And they took Joseph’s vest, and slaughtered a buck of the goats, and dipped the vest in the blood; 32 and they sent the vest of many colours and had it carried to their father, and said, This have we found: discern now whether it is thy son’s vest or not. 33 And he discerned it, and said, It is my son’s vest! an evil beast has devoured him: Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces! 34 And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. vv.31-34 It is solemn to realize that only thirty years before, Jacob had deceived his father, and now his boys were deceiving him. Jacob and Rebecca even killed a kid of the goats for it’s skin, and the brothers killed one for its blood. The government of God was certainly at work in Jacob’s life. Jacob appears to have been thoroughly fooled by his sons, but later on (we don’t know how much later) he began to suspect foul play. “And Jacob their father said unto them, Me have ye bereaved of my children: Joseph is not, and Simeon is not, and ye will take Benjamin away: all these things are against me” (Gen. 42:36). Jacob blamed his sons for the loss of Joseph. It is interesting that when Christ appears (Rev. 19:13) He is said to be wearing “a vesture dipped in blood”, which is a token of the avenging character of His appearing, as a man of war. Yet earlier in Revelation the Lord is seen “as a lamb, as it had been slain”. This is a picture similar to Joseph’s coat dipped in blood; i.e. evidence of a violent death.
35 And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted, and said, For I will go down to my son into Sheol mourning. Thus his father wept for him. v.35 Jacob refused to be comforted, and yet they tried. How hard-hearted they were, to see their father weep his heart out, and still continue to deceive him. And they continued to hid the truth for twenty years!
36 And the Midianites sold him into Egypt, to Potiphar, a chamberlain of Pharaoh, the captain of the life-guard. v.36 Joseph disappears now into Egypt. To the brothers, he was gone forever. The lifespan of a slave in the ancient world was often very short. But God had other plans!