One must understand the situation within Jacob's family.
Problems had existed from the very beginning.
Jacob had arranged to marry Rachel. But... Rachel's father, Laban, and older sister,
Leah, conspired to deceive Jacob on his wedding night by covering Leah's face and
sending her to him instead of Rachel.
Not only had Jacob given his loving affection
to Leah... affection that was meant for Rachel... Jacob was now irreversibly obligated
to Leah. He had been disgraced and betrayed. But he bargained honorably again for
Rachel... committing himself to another seven years of servitude. 29:17-31
Leah ever-after seemed to believe that she had been spurned. She believed
so surely that Rachel was her competitor... that she even named her sons
according to her damaged feelings. Thus... it is not hard to conclude that her sons
were raised quite aware of Leah's complaints against both Jacob and Rachel. There
was a reality problem... and there was a respect problem.
On the other hand... Leah may have been just continuing her conspiracy. If everyone
else believed her side of the story... she was the one, and
not Rachel, who had been betrayed... betrayed by an outsider. She could control Jacob
by the hatred of everyone else towards him... through fear... and could control Rachel,
as well. Jacob was enslaved to Laban... and through manipulation... he was also
at the mercy of Leah.
What is certain is... Leah acted very strangely. She seems to be living her
life in terms of obligations only... and not in terms of affection or of love. She seems to
believe that affection can be forced from her husband and
that she was entitled to Jacob's love by the force of contract alone. This is not the
way of Jacob's fathers who married one woman only... a woman to whom they gave
Leah bore four sons to Jacob. Rachel could not endure having her sister bear
children while she was barren, so she gave her maid, Bilhah, to Jacob to have
children for her. Bilhah bore two sons.
When Leah saw that she wasn't conceiving fast enough, she sent her own maid,
Zilpah, to Jacob to have children on her behalf. Zilpah bore two sons. Leah
conceived again and gave birth to another two sons and a daughter, Dinah.
Rachel finally conceived a child. This was Jacob's eleventh son, Joseph. After a
time, she conceived Benjamin. She died in childbirth with Benjamin... just after
arriving in Canaan.
This is how Jacob's sons were named.
29:32 to 30:24
Reuben-- ("See! A son!")-- Leah saying
"surely the Lord has looked
upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me"
Simeon-- ("to be heard")-- Leah saying
"because the Lord hath heard
that I was hated, he hath therefore given me this son also"
Levi-- ("to adhere" or "to join")-- Leah saying
"now this time will my
husband be joined unto me, because I have born him three sons"
Judah-- ("praise")--Leah saying
"now will I praise the Lord"
Dan-- ("judged")-- by Bilhah-- Rachel saying
"God hath judged me, and
hath also heard my voice"
Naphtali-- ("a prevailing wrestler")-- by Bilhah-- Rachel saying
wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister and I have prevailed"
Gad-- ("a troop" or "a fortune")-- by Zilpah-- Leah saying
"a troop cometh"
Asher-- ("blessedness" or "happy")-- by Zilpah-- Leah saying
am I for the daughters will call me blessed"
Issachar-- ("gives hire or recompense")-- by Leah-- Leah saying
hath given me my hire for I have given my maiden to my husband"
Zebulun-- ("dwelling")-- by Leah-- Leah saying
"God hath endued me with a good dowry;
now will my husband dwell with me, because I have born him six sons"
Joseph-- ("may the Lord give me another")-- by Rachel--
"God hath taken away my reproach" and
"the Lord shall add to me another son"
Benjamin-- ("son of the right hand") by Rachel--
(Benoni-- "son of sorrow")
These brothers of Joseph and Benjamin were a violent group and shameful men.
We see what they do as a ruthless gang in the story of the city of Shechem.
They usurped the authority of Jacob, and massacred the entire town.
Jacob was disgraced by them.
This massacre was supposedly done to protect the honor of Dinah... but one must note
that... Dinah was never asked what her wishes were... and she was staying willingly
in the house of this young man of Shechem... in the house of the chief of the
town of Shechem. This young man was called "honorable" by the writer of Genesis.
34:1 -- [paraphrased: Dinah had gone out to hang out with the girls. The son of the
prince of Shechem "took" Dinah. He loved her and spoke kindly to her. He offered
anything to marry her. Jacob held his peace until his sons returned. Dinah's brothers
34:13-31 -- "And the sons of Jacob answered Shechem [the boy] and
Hamor, his father, deceitfully, and said, because he had defiled Dinah their sister:
And they said unto them, We cannot do this thing, to give our sister to one that
is uncircumcised; for that were a reproach to us:"
[paraphrased: so if they all became
circumcised, then they would inter-marry and become one people. If not Jacob's clan would
go. They agreed, and all the men of Shechem were circumcised so that Shechem could
34:19 -- "And the young man deferred not to do the thing, because he had
delight in Jacob's daughter: and he was more honourable than all the house of his
34:25-27 -- [paraphrased: and when they were sore] "... Simeon and Levi took
each man his sword, and came upon the city boldly, and slew all the males." and
"The sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and spoiled the city, because they had defiled
their sister. They took their " [animals]"... and that which was in the city, and that
which was in the field. And all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they
captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house."
35:5 -- "... and the terror of God was upon the cities that were round about
them, and they did not pursue after the sons of Jacob."
Jacob was outraged at their violence. He expresses concern for his own life.
34:30 -- "And Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, You have troubled me to make
me stink among the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites;
and I being few in number, they shall gather themselves together against me, and
slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house."
Then, when Joseph was seventeen, something occurred...
37:2 -- "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."
We are not told what this "evil report" was... but it could well have been about
the sons of Leah. However... it immediately follows in this story that Joseph was given a
beautiful coat. Joseph's "coat of many colors" was the coat of a prince... the kind of
coat that shepherds did not wear to the field.
Jacob had had this coat made for Joseph.
It was surely the gift he gave him when he named him to be inheritor. There would be no
more speculating by the other brothers about who would inherit, and what would be done
with that inheritance... if, indeed, this was the subject of that "evil report."
The beautiful coat left no doubt that Joseph was Jacob's favored son.
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.
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."
But, as is shown in the genealogy of Joseph, he was only 7 years younger than
Reuben, the first born. It may be that the script was meant to read, "he was preferred
to take charge in Jacob's old age."
The next event after Joseph is given his coat... is that all the brothers
were sent to the fields of Shechem to feed the flock... not just a group of them,
sent to Shechem... the site of Jacob's shame...
all the brothers... except Joseph. 37:13
And, so we see... at the age of 17, Joseph was given the job of checking up on his older
brothers... he was now their overseer. They would remain lowly shepherds... having to
work in the fields, (or... perhaps they were being sent away). At any rate, they now knew
that it was Joseph who was chosen to follow Jacob as chief of the clan. Joseph arriving
in his princely coat would only press this point to them. But they would "never show
obeisance to Joseph"... like Joseph's dream had foretold.
We know that Joseph surely had been educated well, and even at 17 was a
capable man. It is why he prospered so well as a slave in Egypt. The brothers
do not seem to have had an education. Not one of them had ever struck out on
his own, as was the tradition for those who did not inherit. Each and every one
of them remained in Jacob's camp. Jacob likely did not trust these sons of Leah
enough to arm them with an education. But Jacob had surely been training
Joseph in the management of the estate.
The brothers' lot was to be sent to the fields. There might well have been
some discussion about inheritance. Reuben, firstborn son... had gone to bed with
Bilhah, his father's concubine. 35:22 Was he presuming to take the role
of chieftain... taking even Jacob's wife? Would he claim his birthright by force?
Reuben might have even discussed what he would do for his brothers when he
inherited Jacob's fortune.
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?' And Joseph said, 'I seek
my brothers; tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks?'"
These brothers surely had sold the flock when Joseph had gone to find them...
the day that he was nearly killed. The caravan was coming through and they were
in town possibly to claim whatever inheritance they could get... since they had just
seen how Joseph had been favored.
At any rate... the flock was not in the family field that Jacob had bought, the caravan
was coming through, and Joseph had just been named inheritor. It raises many
possibilities. If the flock was sold, Jacob says nothing about it.
But... he had lost Joseph.
The brave stories of Reuben and Judah... leaders among the brothers, and the
strongest candidates to inherit the vast estate (since Simeon and Levi weren't
likely to be considered)... these stories about Joseph's kidnapping were likely
their own versions of what happened that day... written down the way it was
told to Joseph later... in Egypt.
37:20 -- [the brothers said] "... 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. And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their
hands; and said, Let us not kill him. 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."
37:26 -- "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 Ishmaelites, and
let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren
were content. Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and
lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces
Reuben was going to help Joseph, but was "shocked" to discover that the
others had already taken him away. The story does not say just where Reuben had
been in the meantime... as he certainly wasn't protecting Joseph.
Judah was the very man who saved Joseph's life by suggesting that they sell
him to the Midianites instead of killing him. But the intention was to rid themselves
of the chosen inheritor so that one of the "brothers" could take his place.
The idea was to take the inheritance away.
They could do that without killing Joseph.
By the time they had migrated to Egypt Jacob's sons had proved themselves to be
a violent and immoral bunch. Reuben had lain with Jacob's concubine. Simeon and
Levi had led the massacre of an entire town. Judah, who wore the
signet of a prince... had paid a harlot with it... and had had children by this woman he
thought was a harlot, but who turned out to be his son's widow... (a complicated
story, that one was). 38:18
38:7-10 -- "the Lord slew Judah's son for his wickedness." then
"slew the other one also."
This would make an interesting modern-day murder mystery story.
And yet it was all of them. All of these brothers had shown no respect for Jacob.
They faked Joseph's death and surely made a pact that not one of them ever
broke. They had let Jacob mourn for twenty-two years, thinking that his most loved son
had been killed. Not one of them came forth so that Joseph could be found and saved...
if he was still alive.
Joseph (writing Genesis) includes the argument of the brothers in Egypt, when they
blamed their arrest and trouble on what they had done to Joseph... how Joseph had
cried out for help.
42:21 -- "And they said one to another, 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. And Reuben answered
them saying Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye
would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required. And they
knew not that Joseph understood them; for he spake unto them by an interpreter."
Would these men have really confessed this while this powerful and suspicious Egyptian
was standing before them... interpreter or not?... a man anxious to imprison them?
Wouldn't they have been cautious about being misunderstood? Would they have
argued about this around anyone but themselves?
Also... after twenty years, would these brothers still be arguing when some problem
arose... saying that it was due to what they had done to Joseph? We know that
kidnapping Joseph was only one of the awful things the brothers had done...
and only one of the problems that had arisen.
It would make more sense for this argument to ensue... AFTER they had
discovered that it was Joseph who had every power over them... one of
those arguments where co-conspirators say, "NOW what are we going to do?"
... with Reuben, the leader, looking for cover.
It would make more sense for Joseph to have purposely arranged to see what his
brothers would do when they learned who he was. They were staying in his house,
and he had the ability to listen to their private conversations. He surely would have
been very interested to see their private reactions.
Joseph made great pains to reiterate that he did not seek revenge from his brothers.
But... we know with certainty that the thought of what they had done... repeatedly
brought him to tears. We know that Joseph forgave his brothers for what they had
done to him. But... it is never mentioned... what they had done to their father, Jacob.
Jacob... who had been enslaved, away from his ailing father, Isaac, who had needed
Jacob's help... Jacob... who had barely managed to flee that enslavement with his life...
Jacob... who had tragically lost the love of his heart, Rachel... and who was
left alone to fend for himself among his violent and conspiring sons... surely Joseph
wept for his father, as well. And it is not mentioned... that Jacob ever forgave any
It cannot be overstated... Joseph was a great master... and a prophet. That he
appears so understated in the course of history... never named as the
author of this Hebrew history... is just more proof of his wisdom. Would anyone
trust the words of the man who had been sold into slavery by his own brothers?
Would the story of this legacy survive... if it was known outright that
Joseph had written the history of their lives... and had set in motion the return of the
tribe to Canaan?
No. The legacy must survive... the line of Jacob must survive... there was too much