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.
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 their love.
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--
wrestlings have I wrestled with my sister and I have prevailed"
Gad-- ("a troop" or "a fortune")-- by Zilpah--
"a troop cometh"
Asher-- ("blessedness" or "happy")-- by Zilpah--
am I for the daughters will call me blessed"
Issachar-- ("gives hire or recompense")-- by Leah--
hath given me my hire for I have given my maiden to my husband"
Zebulun-- ("dwelling")-- by Leah--
"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 were outraged.]
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 marry Dinah.]
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 father."
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
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, but all...
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
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 of silver."
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
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 of them.
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 at stake.