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Friday, December 1st, 2023
the Week of Christ the King / Proper 29 / Ordinary 34
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Bible Commentaries
Genesis 37

The Church Pulpit CommentaryChurch Pulpit Commentary

Verse 3


‘Israel loved Joseph more than all his children.’

Genesis 37:3

Joseph was most loved because he was a son born to Jacob in ‘old age’—over ninety. Benjamin was perhaps too young to allow of unusual affection being developed or exhibited. Joseph was the son of the loved Rachel, and from chapter Genesis 39:6, we may gather that he inherited his mother’s beauty.

I. He received a special token of affection.—His father ‘ made him a coat of many colours,’ i.e. a long tunic with sleeves, such as was worn by the upper classes, and compounded of pieces of cloth chosen either for value or variety of colour. It is the delight of love to lavish gifts upon its object. What mother but likes to see her child gaily dressed! Many birthday tributes are the modern representatives of Joseph’s ‘coat.’

II. Even the favourite was trained to work.—He shepherded the flock in the company of the handmaids’ sons, it may be supervising them because of his higher descent. Verse 7 speaks, too, of ‘ binding sheaves.’ Honest labour is good for soul and body, restrains from temptation, strengthens the faculties and muscles, and makes us useful to others. Not so many diversities of occupation then as now. Strange idea that a ‘gentleman’ should do nothing for his livelihood!

III. Dislike of sinful behaviour early manifested.—At this tender age Joseph was shocked at the conduct of his brothers, and brought to his father a ‘ report’ of their evil reputation in the district. Tale bearing is mean and to be rebuked, but we may believe that Joseph was afraid of the consequences likely to result from his brothers’ practices and judged it necessary to warn the patriarch. Too many youths would have first acquiesced and then indulged in the vices of their seniors.

IV. The lamentable result of partiality.—It was wrong of Jacob to display so immoderately his fondness for Joseph, and this entailed its own punishment in the hatred of the other sons felt towards this younger brother, and in the consequent resolve to be rid of his presence. Affection too easily begets jealousy, and prudence, to say naught of propriety, counsels our avoidance of an undue exhibition of fondness for one relative to the exclusion of others. Another grievous picture of home life! They ‘ could not speak peaceably,’ i.e. utter the usual greeting to Joseph, as if now a brother should be too much enraged to say ‘good morning’ to us. When the demon of hatred takes possession of the heart, the fountain of speech is poisoned, and the waters that issue are bitter and deadly.


(1) ‘A manifest principle observed by Mrs. Wesley in the education and training of her family was that of thorough impartiality. There was no pet lamb in her deeply interesting flock; no Joseph among her children to be decked out in a coat of many colours, to the envy of his less loved brethren. It was supposed by some of her sisters that Martha was a greater favourite with Mrs. Wesley than the rest of her children, and Charles expressed his “wonder that so wise a woman as his mother could give way to such partiality, or did not better conceal it.” This, however, was an evident mistake. Many years afterwards, when the saying of her brother was mentioned to Martha, she replied, “What my sisters call partiality was what they might all have enjoyed if they had wished it, which was permission to sit in my mother’s chamber when disengaged, to listen to her conversation with others, and to hear her remarks on things and books out of school hours.” There is certainly no evidence of partiality here. All her children stood before her on a common level with equal claims, and all were treated in the same way.’

(2) ‘Fathers should cherish love for their children, as strong as Jacob’s. They can never love too well those whom God has given them. But loving their children, they should not copy Jacob altogether. They should love all of them. And if some one is very much nicer than the others, they should try to love the others so much that they will become nice as well. And it is better, however our estimate of our children may vary, not to let our kindness to them vary. This “coat of many colours” was a mistake. A coat of one colour would have been equally comfortable and equally warm, and would not have provoked the envy of the rest.’

Verse 18


‘They conspired against (Joseph).’

Genesis 37:18

The scene changes. Dothan was, and is, on the line of traffic between the East and Egypt; it was quite natural, therefore, that a company of merchants, camels and servants should pass along. A happy (?) thought now struck the brethren, as this picture rose to view, and, on the suggestion of Judah, they at once sold their young brother for twenty pieces of silver—about £3, as he was only a boy.

There is curious irony in this transaction, as the Midianites were the descendants of Abraham through his union with Keturah. Thus do these men oppress the children of promise.

I. A striking feature in the narrative is the discomfiture of Reuben on returning to the pit.—Joseph is gone! Could you not imagine such a possibility, Reuben? Feeble, wicked compromises will avail no more than the rending of your garments!

‘Is there no balm in Gilead?’ asked the prophet, and the question is proverbial. These Midianites (or Ishmaelites) were carrying sweet spices from Gilead to Egypt; but we may be sure that they had no balm sweet enough to heal poor Joseph’s breaking heart, as he is thus torn away from the past.

II. How hard and terrible is sin!—Some would have us believe that sin is only weakness, imperfection, and ignorance. How fearfully selfish it is! The offended vanity—the amour propre—of these men cares nothing about the state of Joseph’s feelings. He may go to Egypt, or elsewhere. He may die a cruel death. Anything! Nor do they care about their father’s feelings either. He had sent Joseph after their welfare. They send him Joseph’s coat dipped in blood.

Jacob naturally inferred—as he was meant to do—that Joseph was rent in pieces by some wild beast. And many, many days he mourned for the bright and interesting dreamer who was gone. And when, with strange perversity, these murderers would have comforted him, Jacob—with the olden determination—resolves to mourn on until he enters the grave— Sheol: not the tomb so much as the abode of the departed. Thus he had his ideas of future life. The words most certainly warrant the interpretation that his mourning would end, not in extinction, but in re-union.

III. Let us notice again, how awful is the indifference of the sinners brought before us.—For many a long year they never felt their guilt. They could eat, and drink, and sleep, and work—and even comfort their father. They felt secure. But they were startled at length ( Genesis 42:21). Moreover,

Two people look at a boy. One can see only a butt for ridicule, a good object for missiles, cuffs and blows, or of cruel indifference. The other person sees not only a human being, but future greatness—Joseph, Adam Clark, Walter Scott, etc., etc. What makes the difference between those people? Which type do you belong to?

IV. Lastly, suffering souls rejoice!—We know that Joseph suffered. Long after it came to his brothers, and they described to one another the ‘anguish’ of his soul as he vainly cried for mercy ( Genesis 42:21). Perhaps to-day you think that your cry is neither heard by God nor man. Fear not. ‘God shall lift up thy head.’ And just as only we can be soothed by the thought of our suffering being fellowship with Christ, so also can we alone truly love one another through Him. It is ‘Jesus only.’ Native amiability, ordinary ‘good-nature,’ is about as reliable as Reuben of old. The best of people need a Saviour.


(1) ‘Was Jacob reproved for his own weakness? The coat now so stained with blood had played a fatal part in this tragedy, and he was responsible for it.

Did he remember? There, in yonder tent, a pale, colourless old man of 168 years, his own father, is quietly fading out of life. How had he treated him when, long ago, he seemed on the verge of the grave? Yes, someone else had played a trick with a kid of the goats, and that someone was Rebekah, his mother, lying to her feeble husband for the sake of her favourite son. What a Nemesis there is in history ( Genesis 27:9).’

(2) ‘Both the despair of Jacob and the despair of Joseph were mistakes, for had they seen what God was providing for them, they would have rested calmly in peaceful hope, knowing that God would do all things well.

Let us remember that amidst all the sin and wickedness, and misery of the world, God is reigning, and He will bring all things that seem dark and sad to some issue which will repay all the pain by which it has been reached.’

Bibliographical Information
Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Genesis 37". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://studylight.org/commentaries/eng/cpc/genesis-37.html. 1876.
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