Genesis 37:1-36

Daybreak for Students

Genesis 37:1-36

OVERVIEW
DAYBREAK
Genesis 37
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 . . . And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 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. — Genesis 37:22, 26-27

Some circumstances in life require that we stand for what is right in spite of the personal cost. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and theologian, was arrested by the Gestapo during World War II for his opposition to Adolf Hitler’s euthanasia programs and genocide against the Jews. In April of 1945, knowing that his death at the hands of the German SS was imminent, Bonhoeffer penned the following words as a final communication of his convictions: “Faint not nor fear, but go out to the storm and the action, trusting in God whose commandment you faithfully follow . . . ” Twenty-three days before the Nazis’ surrender, inside the walls of the Flossenbürg concentration camp, guards marched into Bonhoeffer’s cell and led him away to the gallows. To his last moment of life on earth, this brave man remained committed to standing against evil. 

An SS doctor who witnessed Bonhoeffer’s execution wrote, “I was most deeply moved by the way this loveable man prayed, so devout and so certain that God heard his prayer . . . He climbed to the steps of the gallows, brave and composed . . . I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.”(1) Bonhoeffer took a courageous position against the evil of the Nazi regime, and paid the ultimate price for doing so.

Contrast Bonhoeffer’s stand against what he knew was wrong with Reuben and Judah’s actions in today’s text. Our focus verses reveal that both Reuben and Judah were reluctant to accede to the plan to slay Joseph. Reuben intervened initially, and Judah actually persuaded his brothers to abandon their plan to kill Joseph outright. However, both men failed to protect their younger brother by taking a firm position against the evil intentions of the others. And they both joined in the conspiracy to cover up the fact that Joseph had been sold into slavery, and deceived their aged father into thinking his son was dead. 

There may come a time in your life, or perhaps there already has, when you will witness a wrongdoing or be pressured to do the wrong thing, and will have to make a choice. Will you stand against wrong and risk judgment, persecution, or embarrassment by doing so? Or will you choose to sidestep the issue, pick a solution that seems “the lesser of two evils,” or simply look the other way? 

Standing fearlessly for right is the honorable and just thing to do. Let us learn from the courage of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and purpose to be people of integrity!

BACKGROUND

This chapter covers Joseph’s dreams and the resultant jealousy of his brothers, the selling of Joseph into slavery, and the brothers’ deceit of their father regarding Joseph’s disappearance.

The story of Joseph begins in verse 2 of this passage, opening a new section in the Book of Genesis. With this text, the narrative shifts to the next generation. Like his father Jacob, grandfather Isaac, and great-grandfather Abraham, Joseph was a chosen man. The hand of God on his life was evident in each situation, ruling and overruling the plans and decisions made by men. 

Historians conclude that the “coat of many colors” given to Joseph by his father (verse 3) may have been a long, colorful, embroidered or striped robe with wrist-length sleeves. Ancient writings suggest that it may have been an ornamental tunic such as royalty might wear. The clothes worn by the brothers were no doubt utilitarian and appropriate attire for those who tended and protected the livestock. The finer coat given to Joseph could have indicated he would not be involved in such physical labor. Whatever the case, the coat was a symbol of Jacob’s preference for Joseph, and as such, was resented by his brothers. Joseph’s recitation of his dreams, which implied that he would one day rule over his brothers, intensified their hatred. 

At his father’s bidding, Joseph traveled from Hebron to Shechem, approximately a three-day journey, to the area where his brothers were thought to be tending their flocks. Upon arrival, he found his brothers had gone on to Dothan, between thirteen and twenty miles to the north. Dothan lay along a major trade route to Egypt. There, the jealous brothers first plotted to kill Joseph but instead sold him into slavery. 

The reference to Midianites and Ishmeelites (verse 28) could suggest there were two different groups, but the terms refer to the same traveling merchantmen. The goods they carried included the gum of various plants that was used in Egypt as medicine and to embalm. The price of twenty pieces of silver was probably the average price of a slave.

AMPLIFIED OUTLINE

(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II.   The early history of the chosen race
     D.   Joseph
           1.   Joseph and his brothers’ hatred (37:1-11)
           2.   Joseph’s mistreatment by his brothers (37:12-24)
                 a.   The search by Joseph (37:12-17)
                 b.   The plot by his brothers (37:18-24)
           3.   Joseph sold into Egypt (37:25-36)
                 a.   The Ishmaelites’ bargain (37:25-28)
                 b.   The lie and the sorrow (37:29-36)

A CLOSER LOOK

  1. What action of Jacob aroused the envy and anger of Joseph’s brothers?

  2. Why is it important that we take a stand against wrong?

  3. What can we do to develop courage when taking a stand is necessary?

CONCLUSION

Standing up against evil is not always easy, but it is vital that we do what is right.


1.    Gushee, David P., “Following Jesus to the Gallows,” Christianity Today, 3 April 1993, page 27; 
Barnett, Victoria, “Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Ecumenical Vision,” Christian Century, 26 April 1995, page 454