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Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 37". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
commentaries/ eng/ tbi/ genesis-37.html. 1905-1909. New York.
Exell, Joseph S. "Commentary on "Genesis 37". The Biblical Illustrator. https://studylight.org/
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The history of Joseph
Joseph’s is one of the most interesting histories in the world.
He has the strange power of uniting our hearts to him, as to a well-beloved friend. He had “the genius to be loved greatly,” because he had the genius to love greatly, and his genius still lives in these Bible pages.
I. JOSEPH WAS A HATED BROTHER. The boy was his father’s pet. Very likely he was the perfect picture of Rachel who was gone, and so Jacob saw and loved in him his sainted wife. In token of love his father foolishly gave him a coat of many colours, to which, alas! the colour of blood was soon added. It was for no good reason that his brothers hated him. Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. Not that he was a sneaking tell-tale; but he would not do as they did, nor would he hide from his father their evil doings. God means the children of a family to feel bound together by bands that grapple the heart, and to stand true to one another to life’s end. Reverence the mighty ties of kindred which God has fashioned. Joseph also teaches you never to make any one your foe without a very good reason. The weakest whom you wrong may one day be your master.
II. JOSEPH WAS A BLAMELESS YOUTH. Though terribly tempted, he never yielded. He was shamefully wronged, yet he was not hardened or soured. His soul was like the oak which is nursed into strength by storms. In his heart, not on it, he wore a talisman that destroyed sin’s charms. The heavently plan of his piety disclosed all its beauty, and gave out its sweet odours in the wicked palaces of Potiphar and Pharaoh.
III. JOSEPH WAS A FAMOUS RULER. He entered Egypt as a Hebrew slave, and became its prime minister. He was the hero of his age, the saviour of his country, the most successful man of his day. He became so great because he was so good; he was a noble man because he was a thorough man of God.
IV. JOSEPH WAS A TYPE OF CHRIST. Joseph, like Jesus, was his father’s well-beloved son, the best of brothers, yet hated and rejected by his own; was sold from envy for a few pieces of silver, endured a great temptation, yet without sin; was brought into a low estate and falsely condemned; was the greatest of forgivers, the forgiver of his own murderers; and was in all things the son and hope of Israel. (J. Wells.)
The commencement of Joseph’s history
I. As DISTINGUISHED BY HIS EARLY PIETY. His conduct was not back-biting, but a filial confidential report to his father.
1. It showed his love of truth and right. He would not suffer his father to be deceived by a false estimate of the conduct of his sons. He must be made acquainted with the truth, however painful, or be the consequences what they might to all concerned.
2. It showed his unwillingness to be a partaker of other men’s sins.
3. It showed a spirit of ready obedience. He knew that a faithful report of the conduct of his brethren was a duty he owed to his father.
II. As MARKED OUT FOR A GREAT DESTINY. III. AS THE OBJECT OF ENVY AND HATRED.
1. Because of his faithful testimony.
2. Because of his father’s partiality.
3. Because of the distinction for which God had destined him. (T. H.Leale.)
Jacob and Joseph
I. THE DIVISION FOUND IN JACOB’S FAMILY. Four reasons for this.
1. Jacob’s favouritism for Joseph.
2. The scandal-bearing of Joseph.
3. The polygamy of Jacob.
4. The envy of the brothers.
II. JOSEPH’S MISSION TO SHECHEM. Observe here the bloodguiltiness of these brothers; they did not take Joseph’s life, but they intended to take it; they were therefore murderers. Let us make a distinction; for when we are told that the thought is as bad as the crime, sometimes we are tempted to argue thus: I have indulged the thought, I will therefore do the deed, it will be no worse. This sophistry can scarcely deceive the heart that uses it; yet, merely to put the thing verbally right, let us strip it of its casuistry. The thought is as bad as the act, because the act would be committed if it could. But if these brethren of Joseph had mourned over and repented of their sin, would we dare to say that the thought would have been as bad as the act? But we do say that the thought in this case was as bad as the act, because it was not restrained or prevented by any regret or repentant feeling; it was merely prevented by the coming in of another passion, it was the triumph of avarice over malice. But all these brothers were not equally guilty. Simeon and Levi and others wished to slay Joseph; Judah proposed his being sold into captivity; while Reuben tried to save him secretly, although he had not courage to save him openly. He proposed that he should be put into the pit, intending to take him out when the others were not by. His conduct in this instance was just in accordance with his character, which seems to have been remarkable for a certain softness. He did not dare to shed his brother’s blood, neither did he dare manfully to save him. He was not cruel, simply because he was guilty of a different class of sin. It is well for us, before we take credit to ourselves for being free from that or this sin, to inquire whether it be banished by grace or only by another sin. (F. W. Robertson, M. A.)
The father’s favourite, and the brothers’ censor
1. We are taught here the evil of favouritism in the family. The balance, as between the different children in the same household, must be held evenly by the parents. No one ought to be the “pet” of either father or mother, for the “pet” is apt to become petted, haughty, and arrogant towards the others; while the showing of constant favour to him alienates the affections of the rest, both from him and from the parents. “Is that you, Pet?” said a father from his bedroom to a little one who stood at the door in the early morning knocking for admission. “No, it isn’t Pet, it’s only me,” replied a sorrowful little voice; and that was the last of “pet” in that family. See what mischief it occasioned here in Jacob’s household!
2. We may learn from this narrative how bitter is the antagonism of the wicked to the righteous in the world. The real root of the hatred of Joseph’s brethren is to be traced to the fact that he would not consent to be one of them, and join in the doing of things which they knew that their father would condemn. His conscience was tender, his heart was pure, his will was firm. He was a Puritan and they were regardless, and they chose to set down his non-conformity to pride rather than to principle, and persecuted him accordingly. There is an immense amount of petty persecution of this sort going on in all our colleges, commercial establishments, and factories, of which the principals and the great world seldom hear, but which shows us that the human nature of to-day is in its great features identical with that which existed many centuries ago in the family of Jacob. What then? Are the upright to yield? are they to abate their protest? are they to become even as the others? No; for that would be to take the leaven out of the mass; that would be to let evil become triumphant, and so that must never be thought of. Let the persecuted in these ways hold out. Let them neither retaliate, nor recriminate, nor carry evil reports, but let them simply hold on, believing that “he that endureth overcometh.”
3. The case of Joseph here brings up the whole question of our responsibility in regard to what we see and hear that is evil in other people. I have come to the conclusion that Joseph was by his father placed in formal charge of his brokers, and that it was is duty to give a truthful report concerning them, even as to-day an overseer is bound in justice to his employer to state precisely the kind of service which those under him are rendering. That is no tale-bearing; that is simple duty. But now, suppose we are invested with no such charge over another, and yet we see him do something that is deplorably wrong, what is our duty in such a case? Are we bound to carry the report to his father or to his employer, or must we leave things alone and let them take their course? The question so put is a delicate one and very difficult to handle. But I think I see two or three things that cast some little light upon it.
(1) In the first place we are not bound by any law, human or divine, to act the part of a detective on our neighbour and lay ourselves out for the discovery of that in him which is disreputable or dishonest. We must have detectives in the department of police, and they are very serviceable there; but that every one of us should be closely watching every other to see what evil he can discover in him is intolerable, and we should discourage in all young people every tendency to such peering Paul Pryism.
(2) Then, in the second place, when, without any such deliberate inspection on our part, we happen to see that which is wrong, we should, in the way in which we treat the case, make a distinction between a crime and a vice. A crime is that which is a violation of the civil law; a vice is that which, without violating the civil law, is a sin against God. Now suppose that what we see is a crime--the man, let us say, is robbing his employer--then my clear duty, if I would not be a particeps criminis, is to give information to his master, and let him deal with the case as he sees fit. On the other hand, if the evil is a vice--say, for example, sensuality or the like, which does not, directly at least interfere with his efficiency as a servant--then I must deal with himself alone. If he hear me, then I have gained him; but if he refuse to hear me, then I may say to him that, as he has chosen to pay no heed to my expostulation, I shall feel it my duty to inform his father of the matter; and then, having acted out that determination, I may consider that my responsibility in regard to him is at an end, unless, in God’s providence, there is given me some other opening through which to approach him. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Joseph at home
I. THE OCCUPATION OF HIS EARLY YEARS. Trained from youth to healthy labour and useful employment. Idleness, like pride, was never made for man.
II. THE ACCOUNT WHICH HE GAVE TO HIS FATHER OF WHAT HE HAD SEEN WHILE WITH HIS BRETHREN. When open and undisguised sin has actually been committed before our eyes, we are on no account to wink at it. It is a time to speak when, by reporting what is amiss to those who have power to restrain and correct it, we may either put an end to that evil, or bring those to repentance who have committed it. This, however, is both a difficult and painful duty, and it requires much wisdom and grace to perform it aright.
III. ISRAEL’S SPECIAL LOVE FOR JOSEPH.
IV. THE MANNER IN WHICH HE SHOWED HIS PARTIALITY. Various ways may be found of showing our approbation of those that are good, without displaying those outward marks of distinction, which are almost certain to provoke the envy of others.
V. THE IMPROPER FEELINGS AWAKENED IN THE BREASTS OF HIS OTHER CHILDREN.
VI. JOSEPH’S REMARKABLE DREAMS. He dreamt of preferment, but not of imprisonment. (C. Overton.)
Joseph the favourite son
1. Joseph, though the object of his father’s tenderest love, was not brought up to idleness. The young man who is desirous of rising in the world, should not forget that the world’s prizes are for those who win them on the field of toil.
2. It is impossible to determine whether it was Jacob’s partiality and Joseph’s superior merit which secured for him the office of superintendent of his brethren. Whatever may have secured him the situation, he seems to have proved himself equal to it.
3. Jacob’s ill-disguised partiality for the son of endeared Rachel prompted him to an act injurious at once to himself, to Joseph, and to his other children. (J. S. Van Dyke.)
Joseph’s first experience of life
I. This young man was taught to work.
II. He was placed in favourable circumstances.
III. He saw the iniquity of society.
IV. He remained uncontaminated in the midst of evil.
V. He sought to better society: (Homilist.)
1. The Church’s line is drawn by God’s Spirit eminently opposite to the wicked.
2. The Church’s generations are best made out from the best of her children.
3. Youth is eminently memorable, when it is sanctified, and gracious.
4. Gracious parents are careful, though never so rich, to bring up their children in honest callings. So Jacob did Joseph, &c.
5. God can preserve some pure, though conversing with wicked brethren, and relations.
6. Gracious dispositions cannot bear or favour the sins of nearest relations.
7. Souls grieved with sins of other relations bring the discovery to such as can amend them (Genesis 37:2.) (G. Hughes, B. D.)
In Joseph we meet a type of character rare in any race, and which, though occasionally reproduced in Jewish history, we Should certainly not have expected to meet with at so early a period. For what chiefly strikes one in Joseph is a combination of grace and power, which is commonly looked upon as the peculiar result of civilising influences, knowledge of history, familiarity with foreign races, and hereditary dignity. In David we find a similar flexibility and grace of character, and a similar personal superiority. We find the same bright and humorous disposition helping him to play the man in adverse circumstances; but we miss in David Joseph’s self-control and incorruptible purity, as we also miss something of his capacity for difficult affairs of state. In Daniel this latter capacity is abundantly present, and a facility equal to Joseph’s in dealing with foreigners, and there is also a certain grace of nobility in the Jewish Vizier; but Joseph had a surplus of power which enabled him to be cheerful and alert in doleful circumstances, which Daniel would certainly have borne manfully but probably in a sterner and more passive mode. Joseph, indeed, seemed to inherit and happily combine the highest qualities of his ancestors. He had Abraham’s dignity and capacity, Isaac’s purity and power of self-devotion, Jacob’s cleverness and buoyancy and tenacity. From his mother’s family he had personal beauty, humour, and management. A young man of such capabilities could not long remain insensible to his own destiny. Indeed, the conduct of his father and brothers towards him must have made him self-conscious, even though he had been wholly innocent of introspection. The force of the impression he produced on his family may be measured by the circumstance that the princely dress given him by his father did not excite his brothers’ ridicule but their envy and hatred. In this dress there was a manifest suitableness to his person, and this excited them to a keen resentment of distinction. So too they felt that his dreams were not the mere whimsicalities of a lively fancy, but were possessed of a verisimilitude which gave them importance. In short, the dress and the dreams were insufferably exasperating to the brothers, because they proclaimed and marked in a definite way the feeling of Joseph’s superiority which had already been vaguely rankling in their consciousness. And it is creditable to Joseph that this superiority should first have emerged in connection with a point of conduct. It was in moral stature that the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah felt that they were outgrown by the stripling whom they carried with them as their drudge. Either are we obliged to suppose that Joseph was a gratuitous talebearer, or that when he carried their evil report to his father he was actuated by a prudish, censorious, or in any way unworthy spirit. That he very well knew how to hold his tongue no man ever gave more adequate proof; but he that understands that there is a time to keep silence necessarily sees also that there is a time to speak. And no one can tell what torture that pure young soul may have endured in the remote pastures, when left alone to withstand day after day the outrage of these coarse and unscrupulous men. An elder brother, if he will, can more effectually guard the innocence of a younger brother than any other relative can, but he can also inflict a more exquisite torture. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Feeding the flock
Joseph feeding his father’s flock
We have in the text various statements respecting Joseph.
I. His feeding his father’s flock.
II. His father’s great love for him.
III. His brethren’s hatred of him.
IV. His keeping company more especially with the humbler children of Israel, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, the two handmaids.
1. The description of the youthful Joseph, as feeding his father’s flock, may well remind us of the great Shepherd and Bishop of our souls, who as the good Shepherd laid down His life for the flock of God, and leads His own sheep forth by the still waters of salvation, and makes them to lie down in the wholesome pastures of His Word (Psalms 80:1-19; Psalms 95:6-7; Isaiah 40:11; Ezekiel 34:22-31; Zechariah 13:7).
2. We are now to consider Joseph as the dearest of his father’s sons, as a type of Jesus, the beloved Son of His Eternal Father. Joseph as he grew up was still more endeared to his father. The death of his mother would naturally lead Jacob to centre his affections still more absorbingly upon him. And it appears, that Joseph repaid the old man’s warm affections by filial obedience and love. And parents value a dutiful and heavenly-minded child the more, when, like Joseph, he is preserved unpolluted by the bad example of his ungodly brothers. We have in the inspired narrative very early proofs of this partiality of the patriarch. “And he put the two handmaids and their children foremost, and Leah and her children after, and Rachel and Joseph hindermost” (Genesis 33:1-2). But it is time we directed our attention to One greater than Joseph. The love of the Father to the Lord Jesus immeasurably exceeds every love of which we have any experience in our own breasts. It passeth knowledge. Of all the sons of God, Jesus is certainly the chiefest among ten thousand and the altogether lovely in the sight of His eternal Father. Jesus is indeed “the only-begotten of the Father,” His only-begotten Son. The obedience and love and filial sympathy of the Lord Jesus was, to use the language of men, the solace of Jehovah’s heart when grieved with the ingratitude and vileness of the whole human family. He was a perfect Son, and the only perfect Son the world ever beheld. The zeal of His Father’s house consumed Him. Throughout His whole life He was, like Joseph, separate from His sinful brethren, and mourned with His Father over their wickedness. The obedience of Christ to His Father was well pleasing to Him, and we are again and again informed throughout the Gospels that the Father delighteth to honour the Son, and viewed every step of His work on earth with the highest satisfaction.
3. His keeping company with the humbler children of his father, the sons of Bilhah, and the sons of Zilpah, the two handmaids. In how much higher a sense must it have been indeed painful in the extreme for the meek and lowly Saviour to live in the polluted atmosphere of our guilty world. What wonderful condescension what humility, that He should stoop from heaven to mingle with vile stoners here! Learn a lesson of forbearance and patience with sinners from our dear Redeemer.
4. And now let us briefly consider the last particular respecting Joseph, mentioned in my text; viz., the envy with which his brethren regarded him. As this envy will come again under our notice as we proceed further into the life of Joseph, we will now simply consider the result of it mentioned in the text: “They could not speak peaceably unto him.” The higher a man rises in the estimation and friendship of some, the more he is hated and abhorred by others. The nearer a man lives and the closer a man walks with his heavenly Father, the more will he experience of this world’s envy and the anger of the old serpent’s seed. If Joseph drinks most fully of the sweets of his father’s love, he must also drink most deeply of the bitters of his brethren’s hate. If anything could disarm opposition and rob envy of his fang, surely it was the mild meekness and humility of that Man of Sorrows. (E. Dalton)
Israel loved Joseph more than all his children
Partiality in the family
IT WAS NATURAL.
1. On account of a kindred spirit.
2. On account of pleasant associations.
1. It was revealed for the comfort of Joseph.
2. It was manifested in such a manner that the other children could take offence.
III. IT PRODUCED HATRED.
1. Their hatred took a wrong direction.
2. Their hatred overcame their humanity. (Homilist.)
Evils of partiality in the family
I. PARTIALITY SHOWS WEAKNESS IN THOSE EXERCISING IT.
II. PARTIALITY OFFENDS THOSE OVERLOOKED.
II. PARTIALITY INJURES THE ONE IT IS INTENDED TO BENEFIT.
IV. PARTIALITY LEADS TO ESTRANGEMENT IN THE FAMILY.
V. PARTIALITY RESULTS IN MANY SINS AND MANY SORROWS. (J. Henry Burn, B. D.)
Jacob’s affection for Joseph not misplaced
Enabled to study characters, alike by long experience and natural shrewdness, he was eminently fit to discover the spirit of Joseph’s accounts; and had he detected a vile motive, his heart would have turned from the slanderer; for he had himself thoroughly completed his moral purification. Further, the general conduct of the brothers were such as to let unfavourable statements appear at least as no deceitful fabrications. And, lastly, depravity and meanness are totally at variance with those noble qualities of Joseph’s mind, which we shall soon have opportunities to unfold, and which alone could make him the worthy medium of the great plans of Providence. Too young to listen to prudence, and too generous to regard expediency, his pure and susceptible mind repeated in harmless innocence what passed among his brothers; and open and communicative, he knew no artificial reserve. He, therefore, is not even liable to the reproach of carelessness; for he would have seen no wrong in his conduct, even had his attention been directed to it; following the unrestricted impulses of his nature, he had not yet commenced to reflect upon his feelings, or to control and direct his emotions. But was it not blamable on the part of Jacob, so decidedly to prefer one son to all the others? Ought not a father to bestow an equal share of affection upon all his children? This question is but partially to be answered in the affirmative. Certainly, the natural love of a father, which is the result of the close relationship, is very generally equally ardent towards all his children; he will, with the greatest sacrifices, support, educate, and protect all his offspring. But another affection, based upon esteem or internal affinity of characters, may be superadded to the natural love, as will frequently be the case with parents of strongly-marked mental or moral organization; and thus that love is produced which is the emancipation from the blind rule of instinct, and consists in the prevalence of reason and moral liberty. And if it is not reprehensible in a father to feel more strongly for the children in whom he finds his own existence more distinctly renewed, or who are more susceptible of culture and refinement, it can, at the utmost, only be deemed an imprudence if the predeliction is manifested before the less beloved children. But though it is no moral offence, it may become a source of envy, strife and domestic discord. This truth was neglected by Jacob when he made for his favoured son Joseph a long and costly robe. The ample and folding garments of persons of wealth and distinction were not seldom composed of, or covered with, pieces of various costly stuffs, tastefully arranged--ambitious vestments, well calculated to account for the feelings of animosity on the part of Joseph’s brothers. (M. M. Kalisch, Ph. D.)
It is interesting to read the testimony of men at once great and good, to parental fidelity and affection. Said Lamartine, the celebrated French author: “The future state of the child depends in a great measure upon the home in which he is born. His soul is nourished and grows, above all, by the impressions which are there left upon his memory. My father gave me the example of a sincerity carried even to scrupulousness; my mother, of a goodness rising to devotion the most heroic . . . I drank deep from my mother’s mind; I read through her eyes; I felt through her impressions; I lived through her life.” Further on, he says: “I know that my mother wished to make me a happy child, with a healthy mind and a loving soul, a creature of God, not a puppet of men.” Again, he adds: “Our mother’s knee was always our familiar altar in infancy and in boyhood. She elevated our thoughts to God as naturally as the plant stretches upward to the air and light. When she prayed along with us and over us, her lovely countenance became even sweeter and gentler than before, and when we left her side to battle with the world, we never forgot her precepts.” The child of the wisest and best may go wrong, for there are seeds of evil in every heart. But the rule is that God’s blessing on affectionate fidelity secures a happy and useful life here, with the assurance of heavenly awards in the hereafter. (Henry M. Grout, D. D.)
Another 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 a 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. (J. Kirk.)
A coat of many colours
Joseph’s coat of many colours
It may remind us--
I. OF THE DRESS WHICH EARTHLY PARENTS PREPARE FOR THEIR CHILDREN. Respecting which consider--
1. They toil to procure it, working hard and long.
2. They exercise thought in selecting. Have to consider size, season, material, appearance.
3. They have to inspect it often. How it has been used; how it wears; does it need repair.
4. They have to renew it often. The best will wear out or be out-grown 1 Samuel 2:19).
II. OF THE ROBE WHICH OUR HEAVENLY FATHER PREPARES FOR THOSE WHO LOVE HIM.
1. We need clothing for the soul, as well as for the body (1 Peter 3:3-4; 1 Peter 5:5). God knows what things we have need of, even if we are unconscious of our need (Revelation 3:17).
2. We cannot make, or purchase, soul-clothing. We must receive it as a free gift. Only God can give it (Revelation 3:18).
3. For earnest, persevering, asking--accompanied by watching--we may obtain the robe of righteousness, the garment of salvation. This robe Jesus wrought for us.
4. This robe will fit well, look well, wear for ever. It is a white robe. White includes all the colours (explain). Hence it is a coat of many colours.
5. It is a court dress (explain) in which to enter the great King’s presence. Learn:
(1) Be careful of clothes. Those who cannot earn them may lesson their parent’s expenses and labour and anxiety by taking care of them.
(2) Keep your soulclothes unspotted from the world. Beware of sin-stains, and of self-righteous cleansing and patching. (J. C. Gray.)
I. THE MANY-COLOURED COAT, The margin says many “pieces.” May have been “many colours” as well. Such coats are not uncommon for young people in the East at this day (“Ranwolf’s Travels,” pt. I., p. 89), in Syria, Persia, and India. Made probably of strips of variously-coloured cloth. This Jacob gave to Joseph because he was a “ son of his old age; “ a phrase understood by most to mean that Jacob was an old man when Joseph was born; but which Dr. Jamieson says means that Joseph had--to use a familiar phrase--an old head on young shoulders. This coat maybe regarded--
1. As a gift of affection. It may be questioned how far it was wise to show special love in so marked a manner. Jacob, knowing his other sons, must have been sure that their envy would be excited.
2. As a reward of merit. Some reward less noticeable would have been better. Joseph was made overseer, or chief shepherd, for such is the meaning of Genesis 37:2, and hence it might be also--
3. A badge of office.
II. THE EVIL EFFORT. If Joseph were a mere tale-bearer he would be blamable. But as chief shepherd he was bound to state what was the conduct of his brothers, if they were under-shepherds.
III. THE WONDERFUL DREAMS. Dreams in that age more influential than with us. No sure word of prophecy. Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob had had wonderful dreams, or rather visions. Such had, doubtless, been often related. Hence these sons of Jacob were prepared to consider dreams with much reverence and awe. But believing them to be Divine messages, they should not have been angry. It is clear that their hearts were not right with God, or they would not have opposed His will. Learn:
1. To guard against the appearance of partiality in our families.
2. God is no respector of persons.
3. To abstain from the appearance of evil, that there be no evil report concerning us. (J. C. Gray.)
Joseph’s coat of many colours
It was customary in those times for princes to give to their subjects, and parents to their children, valuable garments as tokens of esteem. These garments were of different texture and material, and were more or less valuable according to their quality. The art of manufacturing cloths is of very great antiquity. Wool, cotton, and flax were all used in these fabrications both by the Hebrews and the Egyptians. The colours generally used were white, purple, scarlet, and black; but party coloured cloths, or plaids, were also much esteemed. Such garments are represented on some of the monuments of Egypt. At Beni-Hassan, for example, there is a magnificent excavation, forming the tomb of Pihrai, a military officer of Osartasen I., in which a train of foreign captives appears, who are supposed to be Jebusites, an inscription over one person in the group reading, “The Chief of the land of the Jebusites.” The whole of the captives are clad in party-coloured garments, and the tunic of this individual in particular may be called “a coat of many colours.” “A coat of many colours” Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Some, however, are of opinion that it was not a plaid, but a garment of patch-work, the word rendered “colours” being in the margin “pieces.” In reference to the narrative, Mr. Roberts, in his “ Oriental Illustrations of the Sacred Scriptures,” observes: “For beautiful or favoured children precisely the same thing is done at this day. Crimson, and purple, and other colours are often tastefully sewed together. Sometimes the children of Mahometans have their jackets embroidered with gold and silk of various colours.” (Thornley Smith.)
Imprudent testimonies of regard
Parents ought to love most affectionately those children who best deserve their love; but they ought not to hurt, instead of benefiting, the children whom they love, by imprudent testimonies of their regard. Joseph might have lived happily in his father’s house without a garment of divers colours; but he could not wear it without encountering the hatred of all his brethren. (G. Lawson, D. D.)
They hated him
Choice respects to any, from parents, above all others, usually make such favourites to be envied.
2. Flesh and blood usually hate that which grace affects and loves.
3. Sin, and envy specially, put men out of a capacity of doing duty to relations.
4. Where hearts are full of hatred, mouths speak not peace but bitterness and scorning. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
Causes of envy
Notice now what are the three things for which we are prone to envy others.
1. Their privileges. Joseph was envied because his father favoured him. Asaph was “envious at the foolish,” when he “saw the prosperity of the wicked” (Psalms 73:3). Against this David warns us--“Fret not thyself because of evil doers”--“Fret not thyself because of him who prospereth in his way” (Psalms 37:1-7).
2. Their prospects. Joseph was envied because of the destiny foreshadowed by his dreams. Walter Scott envied his school-fellow the prize he seemed certain to win. This again, how common I Many a boy stands aloof from his comrades, and joins little and without heart in their sports, because he has fixed his hopes--his ambition if you will--on some object to be gained. Now the others will not envy him in the sense of wishing to be as he is; but they resent his presuming to have objects higher than theirs.
3. Their piety. Joseph was envied because he held aloof from his brothers’ sins. It is not so now? (E. Stock.)
The happiness of other men is poison to the envious man. The odious passion of envy torments and destroys one’s self, while it seeks the ruin of its object. Beware of envy; you know not to what it tends. Beware of all its fruits; you will find them to be deadly, when they have time and opportunity to ripen. Joseph’s brethren did not proceed to extremes of cruelty when they were first seized with this baleful passion. They “could not speak peaceably to him,” but they entertained no thoughts of killing him, till their envy had by indulgence acquired a greater degree of strength. Their “lust conceived and brought forth sin; and when their sin was finished, it brought forth death” to Joseph in their intentions. They contracted the guilt of his blood, although they did not shed it. They were chargeable with intended murder in the sight of men, when they cast Joseph into the pit; but in the sight of God they were chargeable with this crime as soon as they began to hate Joseph; for “he that hateth his brother in his heart is a murderer.” (G. Lawson, D. D.)
The baleful nature of envy
“Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy?” (Proverbs 27:4). Even a brother is sometimes exposed to its influence. Like the wild tornado which, as it sweeps along, destroys the loveliest flowers, and leaves the garden desolate as the wilderness, it has cut down many a youth of promise, and turned many a peaceful home into a scene of sadness and distress. We may say of it as Seneca says of anger, to which it is intimately allied: that it is a vice decidedly against nature; for it divides instead of joining, and in some measure frustrates the end of Providence in human society. “One man was born to help another; envy makes us destroy one another. Nature unites, envy separates; the one is beneficial, the other mischievous; the one succours even strangers, the other destroys the most intimate friends; the one ventures all to save another, the other ruins himself to undo another.” (Thornley Smith)
When Sir Walter Scott was a boy at school, his efforts to gain a prize seemed all to no purpose, on account of the superior memory of one of his companions, who never failed to say his lessons perfectly. Walter did well, but now and then he would make a slip. In vain he strove to be first; he was always second, but could not oust his schoolfellow from the top place. One day, watching his rival repeating a long task without mistake or hesitation, Walter noticed that his fingers were perpetually fidgeting a particular button on his waistcoat. A thought struck the envious lad. Could it be? He would see. An opportunity soon occurred, and he cut off that button from that waistcoat while its owner was asleep. Next day the class stood up. Number one began, and as the first words left his lips, his fingers might be seen feeling for the familiar button. They felt for it in vain; and the hapless boy stopped, then stammered, then stopped again, and broke down altogether. Utterly unconscious of the cause, he racked his memory in despairing amazement, but he could not remember a line, and Walter stepped to the top of the class. Not a very serious trick, many boys will say. I choose it on this very account, as an illustration of what envy will lead to. Our object in this lesson should be to show envy at work in ordinary daily life, working all manner of mischief, just because its wickedness is not appreciated. An illustration of some murderer, whose crime was instigated by envy, would not answer our purpose. Our Sunday scholars would condemn the sin with horror, utterly failing to see the less glaring, but in God’s sight not less hateful, fault of their own hearts and tongues and lives. Our illustrations should be such as will enable us effectively to say, like Nathan, “Thou art the man!” “Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur.” But it is not enough to show the hideousness of envy. We must show the beauty of the “ charity” which “envieth not.” Thus: What should Walter Scott have done? Let the button alone? Yes; hut more than that. He should have honoured his companion, and rejoiced in his success. Ah, that is hard! (E. Stock.)
Envy soon finds an opportunity
When envy has fully formed its purpose of cruelty, it very speedily sees and seizes an opportunity for carrying it through. The great dramatist, indeed, has represented one of the most unscrupulous of his characters as excusing himself after this fashion: “How oft the sight of means to do ill deeds makes ill deeds done”; but then it is only the envious and malicious man who is on the outlook for means to do ill deeds, and therefore it is to him only that the perception of them offers a temptation. If King John had not been wishing to make away with Arthur, the presence of Hubert would not have suggested to him that he had found a fit instrument to do what he desired. Just as love keens the vision to such a degree that it sees ways of service that are invisible to others, so hate quickens the perception, and finds an occasion for its gratification in things that would have passed unnoticed by others. The brothers of Joseph, therefore, being filled with envy towards him, soon had an opportunity of working their will upon him, and they seized it with an eagerness which showed how intensely they hated him. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Joseph dreamed a dream
The dreams of Joseph
Destined superiority to brethren and parents is the one grand idea that comes out in the strange visions of the night recorded here.
1. This idea was evidently a Divine communication.
2. This idea was expressed at different periods and in different symbols.
3. This idea was felt by all to have a Divine significance.
I. THE VISIONS OF YOUTH. The young generally create bright visions of the future. This tendency serves--
(1) To increase the amount of man’s happiness on this earth.
(2) To supply a mighty stimulus to our mental powers.
(3) To intimate what human nature would have been had there been no sin.
II. THE JEALOUSIES OF SOCIETY. Jealousy is a passion that springs from the fear of a rival enjoying advantages which we desire for ourselves.
1. It is very general.
2. It is an unhappy feeling.
3. It is unchristian.
III. THE DESTINY OF VIRTUE.
1. There is much in a virtuous life itself to ensure advancement.
2. Advancement is pledged by God Himself to a virtuous life.
1. The fate of eminence. To encounter jealousy. Heed it not. March on.
2. The path of glory. Virtue. The beginning may be difficult, but the end will be everlasting life. (Homilist.)
The favourite son
I. JOSEPH’S DREAMS.
II. JOSEPH’S DISTRESS.
III. JOSEPH’S DISAPPEARANCE.
1. He was separate by a superior destiny, of which his youthful dreams were permitted to give a dim, indefinite glimpse.
2. He was separate by reason of the fondness of his father for aim, on the one side, and by the envy and enmity of his brethren, on the other.
3. He was separate by the banishment from his home in Canaan to the land of Egypt, where the Midianites sold him to an officer high in the service of the Egyptian king.
4. And over all the chances and changes of his life God ruled. Joseph’s history remarkably illustrates Paul’s saying in Romans 8:28. Let us remember this, and try from our earliest youth to serve God faithfully, and to suffer our trials patiently, as Joseph did. (W. S. Smith, B. D.)
1. Good souls whom men hate for their goodness, God chooseth to reveal His mind more graciously to them.
2. God hath by dreams, in time past, revealed His future providences about His Church unto men.
3. Young years, addicted to godliness, are made capable of great and sweet discoveries from God (Genesis 37:5).
4. It is duty to declare God’s will revealed concerning His purposes to His Church, though it please not men (Genesis 37:6).
5. Dark, but certain, have been the revelations of God in times past, concerning His providence to His Church (Genesis 37:7; Genesis 37:9).
6. God in bringing about the salvation of His Church, makes parents and brethren stoop to His instruments. Superiors to inferiors.
7. God maketh persons in themselves adverse to His providences, yet to be interpreters of His revelations (Genesis 37:8).
8. The Lord hath usually foretold the salvation and advancement of His Church, but not the way; Joseph dreams not of prisons.
9. Carnal relations are apt to hate and envy their very brother, when God sets him up above them.
10. The way and means of comfort which man despiseth, God useth yet to do them good who hate it. So here.
11. Gracious souls that wait for the Church’s delivery may yet have regret against the means discovered (Genesis 37:10).
12. Grace in those souls checks their regret, and makes them observe, and keep God’s discoveries to them (Genesis 37:11). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
How to judge of a dream
When a person told his dream in relating religious experience, Rowland Hill said, “we do not despise a good man’s dreams, but we will judge of the dream after we have seen how you act when you are awake.”
Ambition’s brilliant dreams
A youth of rare promise was Joseph. From his aptitude in creating and divining dreams, we may infer his fondness for quiet contemplation. His mind was active; he lived much in the future; he loved to roam amid unseen realities. Yet Joseph was not a perfect man. As every rose has its attendant thorn, so blemishes appear on his young soul. A sense of superiority and self-importance was fast springing up, under the unwise partiality of his father It was a tiny rift which would soon spoil the music of his life; a little cloud that would soon cover the whole horizon.
I. OBSERVE THE RAW MATERIAL OF THESE DREAMS. Every part of the history proceeds in a manner the most natural. It was the season of summer, and Joseph had been sharing with his brethren the labours of the harvest-field; for in Syria corn comes to maturity much earlier than in England. Overwearied with the excitements of the harvest, what more natural than that a busy imagination would weave into his dreams the stirring scenes in which he had just played a part? Touching the second dream, we must remember that, in the East the vocation of shepherds require their presence, in turn, during the hours of night, when wild beasts seek their prey. In that translucent atmosphere, and amid those cloudless skies, the lamps of heaven gleam with a brilliance unknown in Western climes. Again, by the natural processes of human thought, such a scene would furnish fit elements for the young man’s dreams. Even nature moulds a man.
II. OBSERVE THE ARTIFICER OF THESE DREAMS. Not only does mystery appertain to heavenly things, there is mystery unfathomed within ourselves. Who can expound to us the philosophy of our dreams, yet these are full of significance. Aspirations, ambitions, projects, which during the day were kept in reserve, locked in secret by the monarch Will, now freely disport themselves, and the man’s real self is seen in the mirror of his dreams. The prospect of eminence and rule rose before his eye, awake or asleep, like a glittering imperial crown, until that which at first was a vague possibility grew into a mental certainty. The conviction was rooting itself that he was to be a king.
III. OBSERVE THE OVER-RULING PURPOSE OF GOD. Although Joseph was conscious that he was free to choose his own course in life, free to frame ambitions, yet he was free only within certain limits, within a fitting circle: choice and will could act. Nevertheless the will of God encompassed and controlled the whole. There is no such thing as fatalism. We are moulding our own destiny, both temporal and eternal. We can catch at times a whispering of God’s voice even in our dreams. (J. D. Davies, M. A.)
Joseph has clear intimations of his future greatness
We are told in these verses that Joseph had intimations given him of his future greatness; that God revealed to him by dreams that, notwithstanding his brethren’s present hatred and envy, they should one day come and bow themselves down before him. The happy end of all his troubles was thus mercifully made known to him, that he might be supported under them, and be strengthened to endure the depths of affliction into which his brethren were soon to plunge him. These dreams would doubtless often recur to his memory as he lay in the Egyptian prison, and cheer and comfort him as he felt the iron enter into his soul. And Joseph, in thus having his high destiny revealed to him at the commencement of his career, was a type of our dear Saviour. In all his sufferings on earth he was sustained and cheered by the joy that was set before him. The Father gave him this for the same reason that He gave Joseph early intimations of his future dignity, to cheer and solace his depressed spirit while rudely buffeted and tossed to and fro on the billows of earthly sorrow. We have thus seen, that the Father made known to Jesus as He did to Joseph the greatness that awaited Him, in order to sustain Him as He passed through the dreary waste of trouble that stretched far away between Him and the promised glory. We have seen also that Jesus, as well as Joseph, made mention of His coming dignity to His brethren. We shall now see that the result was the same in both cases. They hated him yet the more for his words, and said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? So far from receiving Jesus as the Saviour when He clearly intimated to them that He was the Messiah, and proved it most convincingly by a thousand miracles, they despised and rejected Him. (E. Dalton)
The sanguine temperament of youth
It is worthy of remark, that Joseph’s visions were such as predicted only advancement and honour; his perils and imprisonment formed no part of his dreams. At this stage of the history, we are reminded of the sanguine hopes and lively anticipations which usually animate the minds of the young. (T. Gibson.)
His brethren went to feed their father’s flock
Joseph leaves his father to seek his brethren
Do you discover in this any type of the Redeemer?
Does it remind you of one who left a far better home, and descended from the bosom of a far more illustrious father, to travel through this wilderness world in quest of his wicked and wandering brethren? Brethren, there is a closer analogy between the two cases than appears at first sight. It was at his father’s command that Joseph abandoned the comforts of his father’s home and became a wanderer in search of his brethren; and it was equally at the command of His Father that Jesus came down from His eternal home in the bosom of the Father, to seek and to save our fallen race. We sadly overlook this in our theology. The Lord Jesus, then, did not come into our world unsent. He was “the Messenger of the Covenant,” the Sent of the Father. He did not come to do His own will, but the will of Him that sent Him. The obedience of Jesus to His Father, however, infinitely surpasses the obedience of Joseph. Joseph might have anticipated danger, but he could not certainly know that his brethren would treat him roughly and cruelly. Jesus came into the world, having a perfect knowledge of every indignity that awaited Him. Imagine yourselves each a beloved Joseph sent forth by a fond father to your brethren with a message of peace and love; speak to your fellow sinners in this way--talk to them of the glories of your Father’s home--point them to an everlasting resting-place in a Saviour’s arms--entreat them no longer to wander in the wilderness. (E. Dalton.)
They conspired against him to slay him
The conspiracy to murder Joseph
AN EXAMPLE OF THE RAPIDLY DOWNWARD COURSE OF EVIL.
II. AN EXAMPLE. OF THE BOLD DARING OF SINNERS.
III. AN EXAMPLE OF GUILT INCURRED EVEN WHERE PURPOSE HAS NOT RIPENED INTO ACT.
IV. AN EXAMPLE OF DEGREES OF GUILTINESS EVEN AMONG THOSE WHO HAVE LENT THEMSELVES TO ONE DESIGN. (T. H. Leale)
Joseph with his brethren
I. MAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF JEALOUSY.
1. Jealousy leads a man to slander.
2. Jealousy leads to falsehood.
3. Jealousy hardens the heart.
4. Jealousy leads to crime.
II. MAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF MERCY.
1. The merciful are in the minority.
2. The merciful lose sight of self.
3. The merciful are always ready to assist others. (Homilist)
1. The sight of the righteous, whom the wicked hate, is an occasion of working mischief and evil to them.
2. The looks of the wicked is for the mischief of those good souls, who look and seek for their peace.
3. Subtlety and conspiracy for death is the wicked’s practice against innocent gracious souls (Genesis 37:18).
4. The wicked encourage each other in evil matters to committing them.
5. Vile persons jeer and scorn the revelations of God under terms of contempt. Dreamer (Genesis 37:19).
6. Sinners persecute the saints for God’s revelations to them.
7. Providence suffers sinners to breathe death and destruction to saints, when they effect it not.
8. Murderers themselves are ashamed to own blood-guiltiness, therefore seek to hide it.
9. Brother’s blood is not pitied with men of sin.
10. Evil men design to frustrate the counsels and revelation of God by their crafty and cruel practices (Genesis 37:20). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. In evil counsels against the saints, God overpowers the heart of some to frustrate bloody designs of others.
2. God makes evil projected against His servants to come to the cognizance of those that shall defeat it.
3. Deliverance is effected sometimes for the saints by such as hate them enough.
4. Providence causeth the counsel of one evil man to prevail against others, for His saint’s good (Genesis 37:21).
5. God puts an awe upon some to counsel others not to shed blood.
6. Pretence of a worse death providence ordereth to be made by men to save His from death wholly.
7. Fratricide is made horried to evil men by God for saving His own.
8. Respect to paternal honour may sway with men of bad resolutions, to abstain from evil and offering violence to a brother (Genesis 37:21-22). (G. Hughes, B. D)
1. Under Providence innocent souls come in their integrity into the hands of spoilers.
2. Simple, honest hearts, may think of coming to brethren when it is to cruel destroyers.
3. Unnatural treacherous dealers stick not to take a garment from a brother.
4. Garments of pleasure may expose men to envy and spoil by wicked hands (Genesis 37:23).
5. Violent hands are soon layed even upon an innocent brother by envious and enraged spirits.
6. Brethren degenerate into spoilers, stick not at it to bury an innocent brother alive.
7. God emptieth the pits of water where He will not have His innocents perish.
8. Dry pits of trouble are in God’s Use, tokens of deliverance. Joseph shall come out (Genesis 37:24). (G. Hughes, B. D)
Reuben’s attempt to save Joseph
He boarded the train which he could not arrest, but he boarded it with the purpose of ultimately controlling it and so preventing a catastrophe. The motive was good, but I am not quite so sure about the policy. It savours a little too much of worldly wisdom for me, and little good came out of it in the end. We have seen it tried here often enough in politics, and almost always with this result: that the well-meaning men who have gone into a questionable movement under the idea that they could thereby guide it into something that would be at least harmless, have been themselves outwitted and befooled. It would have been just about as easy for Reuben to have stood out against the persecution of Joseph altogether as it was for him to protest against the shedding of his blood, and it might have been equally efficacious. At any rate it would have exonerated him from the guilt which they all alike ultimately incurred. His plan was to deliver Joseph, but in a way that was itself deceptive, for he seemed to be doing one thing while he was really seeking another. His proposal was that they should put Joseph into a pit. That to them looked to be a refinement on their cruelty, for it left him to starve to death, while they had meant that he should be slain out of hand. As such, therefore, it commended itself to their acceptance. But his secret intention was to come back by himself when the others should be out of the way, and then take him out and return with him to his father. It was well meant, and not very badly planned either; but then it required that a very careful watch should be maintained, and just there the instability of Reuben’s character came in to mar it all; for, thinking that now the crisis was past, he wont away and took no further oversight of the matter, and in his absence it was all upset. For the moment, however, it looked as if he had succeeded, for the others accepted his suggestion, and after stripping Joseph of his hated coat, they put him into one of those cisterns which were so common in Palestine, and which, when dry, were sometimes, as in the case of Jeremiah, used as a prison. Lieutenant Anderson, of the Palestine Exploration Enterprise, thus writes regarding them: “The numerous rock-hewn cisterns that are found everywhere would furnish a suitable pit in which they might have thrust him; and as these cisterns are shaped like a bottle, with a narrow mouth, it would be impossible for any one imprisoned within it to extricate himself without assistance. These cisterns are now all cracked and useless; they are, however, the most undoubted evidences that exist of handiwork of the inhabitants in ancient times.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
Evil for good
Joseph put himself to so much trouble to find out his brethren that he might inform himself and his father of their welfare; but they took advantage from his love to wreak their hatred upon him, as if they had been devils in flesh and blood, rather than patriarchs in the Church. It is too common with discontented men to say that none were even so ill-used as themselves. But let us consider how Joseph was used, how David was used, how Christ Himself was used, by those men from whom they had most reason to expect kindness. (G. Lawson.)
Joseph’s brethren conspire against him
I. The Scriptures expressly prohibit envy (Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 23:17). God prohibits envy, then, because it is rebellion against His just authority, an insult to His honour, and a denial of His attributes of wisdom and justice and truth. It is also a passion which is infinitely removed from His own pure nature. God prohibits it also because it cannot exist with peace and happiness. Where envy enters happiness departs. Like the buckets of a well, they cannot both descend into the depths of the human heart together. The absence of envy is spoken of in Scripture as a mark of a renewed mind, the characteristic of a soul born of God (Titus 3:3).
II. The Lord has, however, given us something more than precepts against envy in His word. To prohibit it ought to be enough, and it will be enough with the child of God to make him loathe and abhor a thing so detestable in the sight of his heavenly Father. The Lord has added to these precepts many most instructive illustrations of the pernicious effects of this base passion. He points us to the fugitive Cain, as he rushes from His presence, his brow stamped with the brand of infamy, and his hand steeped in the life-blood of his righteous brother, and He says, “Behold the effects of envy.” He points us to the distracted family of Jacob in their rival tents, Rachel envying Leah her children, and Leah envying Rachel the first place in their husband’s affections, and He says, “Behold the misery and torment produced by envy.” To what a fiend does envy reduce the man! These unnatural children appear to have had no more compassion for their father than for Joseph; perhaps they even secretly enjoyed the thought of disappointing and grieving him by dashing to the ground all his hopes of his favorite son’s advancement. “Let us kill him,” say they, “and then he cannot rule over us.” And is there nothing, in this conspiracy of his brethren against Joseph, to remind us of a similar conspiracy against God’s beloved Son? Joseph was here in the strictest sense a type of Christ. Envy endangered His life at its first commencement, and the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem may teach us how a man may become envious at the predicted royalties of an infant, as well as at the actual prosperity of those of riper years. His own brethren after the flesh in his after life conspired against Him, and why? Envy was at the root of all their conspiracies. They treated His claim to the Messiahship as a dream. And in their treatment of Jesus they discovered as strong a hatred of His Father, whom they also called their Father, as did Joseph’s brethren towards their father. So evident was this that Jesus Himself says of them,” Now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father (John 15:24). There is one more point which makes the type perfect. The steps the brethren of Joseph took to prevent his exaltation over them, actually helped forward the very thing they wished to prevent; so inscrutable are the ways of God in His providence, “He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him.” The same was the ease with Jesus. God permitted His enemies to go just far enough to accomplish His purposes and to defeat their own. By crucifying Jesus the Jews effectually fulfilled His most ardent wishes, and promoted the benefit and advancement of believers which they meant to hinder. (E. Dalton.)
The world’s treatment of dreamers
To-day we do not like the dreamers who have seen visions which involve us more or less in decay and inferiority. It is not easy to forgive a man who has dreamed an unpleasant dream concerning us. We cannot easily forgive a man who has founded an obnoxious institution. If a man has written a book which is distasteful to us, it is no matter, though he should do ten thousand acts which ought to excite our admiration and confirm our confidence, we will go back and back upon the obnoxious publication, and whensoever that man’s name is mentioned, that book will always come up in association with it. Is this right? Ought we to be confined in our view of human character to single points, and those points always of a kind to excite unpleasant, indignant, perhaps vindictive feelings? The world’s dreamers have never had an easy lot of it. Don’t let us imagine that Joseph was called to a very easy and comfortable position when he was called to see the visions of Providence in the time of his slumber. God speaks to man by dream and by vision, by strange scene and unexpected sight; and we who are prosaic groundlings are apt to imagine that those men who live in transcendental regions, who are privileged occasionally to see the invisible, have all the good fortune of life, and we ourselves are but servants of dust and hirelings of an-ill-paid day. No; the poets have their own pains, and the dreamers have their own peculiar sorrows. Men of double sight often have double difficulties in life. Don’t let us suppose that we are all true of inspiration. It is not because a man has had a dream that he is to be hearkened unto. It is because the dream is a parable of heaven that we ought to ask him to speak freely and fully to us concerning his wondrous vision, that we may see further into the truth and beauty of God’s way concerning man. (J. Parker, D. D.)
God in dreams
They insulted the Sovereign of the world, while they persecuted their poor brother. They intended to frustrate the Word of the Lord, and hoped they would bring to nothing the counsels of the Most High. Presumptuous creatures! did they think they were stronger than the Almighty? If they had cut Joseph into a thousand pieces, the Word of the Lord would have stood firm and sure. It would be far easier to arrest the sun in his course, than to hinder the performance of any promise that God has made to His people. “His counsel shall stand for ever; the thoughts of His heart to all generations.” They might, no doubt, imagine that they were fighting, not against God, but against a presumptuous boy, who fondly dreamed of rising into honours above his equals or superiors, and that Joseph’s arrogance well deserved to be humbled. They did not perhaps think that Joseph’s dreams were from God; but why, then, were they so much piqued with his dreams? Might they not have suffered them to pass from their memories like other vanities, which pass away the moment in which they make their appearance? Must a man be hunted day after day, till he is chased out of the world, for a silly dream? But if their spirits had not been blinded by envy, they might have either seen that there was something more than ordinary in Joseph’s dream, or at least have seen good reason to suspend their judgment. It was not a good excuse that they did not know the dreams to be from God. They ought to have known with certainty that they did not come from God, before they ventured to turn them into derision. (G. Lawson, D. D.)
A remarkable dream
In “a sketch of my life-work,” which appears in the Christmas number of the Methodist, Gee. Smith, of Coalville, says:--“One night, in the summer of 1868, I had a remarkable dream, which, strange to say, was repeated three nights in succession. Thousands of poor little children clustered round me, with looks and cries which pierced my soul. I was toiling to drag them to the top of a mountain. Just as I was giving up the struggle, Mr. Gladstone joined in my effort, and just as we both were giving up, our good and noble Queen come to the rescue, and we landed them all at the top. A similar dream occurred during the early part of my canal crusade.”
Dreams but not dreams
“Carnal men hear of the beauty of holiness, of the excellency of Christ, of the preciousness of the covenant, of the rich treasures of grace, as if they were in a dream. They look upon such things as mere fancies, like to foolish dreams of golden mountains, or showers of pearls.” “This their way is their folly.” When scientific men describe to us their curious experiments and their singular discoveries, we know them to be persons of credit, and therefore accept their testimony: why do not men of the world do us the like justice and believe what we tell them? We are as sane as they, and as observant of the law of truth: why, then, do they not believe us when we declare what the Lord has done for our souls? Why is our experience, in the spiritual world, to be treated as a fiction, any more than their discoveries in chemistry or geography? There is no justice in the treatment with which our witness is received. Yet the Christian man need not complain, for in the nature of things he may expect it to be so, and the fact that it is so is a confirmation of his own beliefs. In a world of blind men, an elect race to whom eyes had been given, would be sure to be regarded ae either mad or false. How could the sightless majority be expected to accept the witness of the seeing few? Would it not touch their dignity to admit that others possessed faculties of which they were destitute? And would it not be highly probable that the blind would conspire to regard the men of eyes as fanatical dreamers or deluded fools? Unrenewed men know not the things which are of the Spirit of God, and it is by no means a strange thing that they should deride what they cannot understand. It is sad that those who are dreamers, in the worst sense, should think others so, but it is by no means so extraordinary as to cause surprise. Oh, my Lord, whatever others may think of me, let me be more and more sensible of Thy presence, and of the glorious privileges and hopes which are created in the heart by Thy grace. If men should even say of me as of Joseph, “behold this dreamer cometh,” it will not grieve me so long as Thou art with me, and Thy favour makes me blest. (C. H.Spurgeon.)
We will say, some evil beast hath devoured him
Plottings of iniquity
This text is no part of revelation.
It is a premeditated falsehood, agreed to and told by Joseph’s brothers, to account for his absence.
I. THAT WICKED MEN DARE NOT TRUST EACH OTHER TO EXPLAIN THINGS, BUT MUST AGREE TO FALSIFY AND DECEIVE. “We will say.”
II. THAT IT IS A CHARACTERISTIC OF WICKED MEN TO LAY THE BLAME OF THEIR SINS UPON OTHERS. “We will say, a wild beast,” etc. From the very first it was so. Adam struck upon that mean device, and threw the blame of his sin upon his wife: “The woman that Thou gavest me.” I know of no instance in the Bible that so clearly indicates the strength of the tendency as this. Some blame one thing or person, and some another; but, like Joseph’s brethren, they know there is no “wild beast,” and they must sooner or later confess their sins and say, “We are verily guilty.”
III. THAT WICKED MEN FEEL THERE IS A TIME COMING WHEN THEY MUST MAKE OUT A CASE--MUST TELL HOW THINGS HAPPENED, “We will say, an evil beast,” etc. (T. Kelly.)
I. THE VICTIM. Joseph. What were his crimes?
1. He had done his duty as superintendent of the shepherds; even though it must have been painful to him to convey bad tidings about his brethren, and painful to grieve his father’s mind by doing so. Yet he only discharged the duty of his office. The fault was theirs, not his.
2. He had been marked as his father’s special favourite and confidant. But they should have tried to be more worthy of trust themselves.
3. He had been favoured with wonderful dreams, in which their future subordinate relation was clearly indicated.
II. THE PLOTTERS.
1. Ten against one. Cowardice of this. Combination of thought and strength for a wicked purpose.
2. Ten brothers against one brother. Fratricical struggles the worst of all. Of all relatives, such near ones as these should agree.
3. Ten men, and brothers, against a youthful brother. Might and numbers are not always a proof of right (once all the world was against our elder Brother).
4. Ten wicked men against one good man. “Though hand join in hand, wickedness shall not go unpunished.”
5. Ten sons against a father. In plotting against Joseph they were fighting against Jacob. Those who oppose Jesus are rebelling against God.
III. THE PLOT.
1. The opportunity.
(1) They are away from home.
(2) They are alone.
(3) Joseph, in his coat of honour, approaches to inspect the flocks.
2. The conspiracy. “The dreamer cometh.” All agree on one point. Joseph to be put out of the way. First resolve to kill him and tell a lie to hide the crime (Genesis 37:20). Reuben intercedes, intending to rescue him (Genesis 37:22). They agree to this, thinking he would die of starvation. Thus they would not shed his blood, and yet would take his life. They strip off his offending coat. Approach of the merchants. Judah would make a profit by the transaction. He little thought of the great profit his wickedness would yield Genesis 45:7-8). Joseph is sold. Imagine his cries and tears, &c. Genesis 42:21). The remorse of Reuben, and the joy of the rest.
3. The consequences. One sin leads to another. They must resort to lying, &c. The trouble that comes upon Jacob (Genesis 42:34-35). Learn:
I. Innocent people are often surrounded by evil (John 16:33).
II. Virtue and truth to be pursued, notwithstanding danger.
III. One sin leads to another. Ultimate concealment impossible.
IV. God makes the wrath of man to praise Him.
V. Jesus has saved us from going down into the pit, and has redeemed us from bondage. (J. C. Gray.)
Joseph’s confinement in a tank
The tank in which Joseph’s brethren cast him was apparently one of those huge reservoirs excavated by shepherds in the East, that they may have a supply of water for their flocks in the end of the dry season, when the running waters fail them. Being so narrow at the mouth that they can be covered by a single stone, they gradually widen and form a large subterranean room; and the facility they thus afford for the confinement of prisoners was from the first too obvious not to be commonly taken advantage of. In such a place was Joseph left to die--under the ground, sinking in mire, his flesh creeping at the touch of unseen slimy creatures, in darkness, alone; that is to say, in a species of confinement which tames the most reckless and maddens the best balanced spirits, which shakes the nerve of the calmest, and has sometimes left the blankness of idiocy in masculine understandings. A few wild cries that ring painfully round his prison show him he need expect no help from without; a few wild and desperate beatings round the shelving walls of rock show him there is no possibility of escape; he covers his face, or casts himself on the floor of his dungeon to escape within himself, but only to find this also in vain, and to rise and renew efforts he knows to be fruitless. Here, then, is what has come of his fine dreams. With shame he now remembers the beaming confidence with which he had related them; with bitterness he thinks of the bright life above him, from which these few feet cut him so absolutely off, and of the quick termination that has been put to all his hopes. Into such tanks do young persons especially get east; finding themselves suddenly dropped out of the lively scenery and bright sunshine in which they have been living, down into roomy graves where they seem left to die at leisure. They had conceived a way of being useful in the world; they had found an aim or a hope; they had, like Joseph, discerned their place and were making towards it, when suddenly they seem to be thrown out and are left to learn that the world can do very well without them, that the sun and moon and the eleven stars do not drop from their courses or make wail because of their sad condition. High aims and commendable purposes are not so easily fulfilled as they fancied. The faculty and desire in them to be of service are not recognised. Men do not make room for them, and God seems to disregard the hopes He has excited in them. The little attempt at living they have made seems only to have got themselves and others into trouble. They begin to think it a mistake their being in the world at all; they curse the day of their birth. Others are enjoying this life, and seem to be making something of it, having found work that suits and develops them; but, for their own part, they cannot get fitted into life at any point, and are excluded from the onward movement of the world. They are again and again flung back, until they fear they are not to see the fulfilment of any one bright dream that has ever visited them, and that they are never, never at all, to live out the life it is in them to live, or find light and scope for maturing those germs of the rich human nature that they feel within them. All this is in the way to attainment. This or that check, this long burial for years, does not come upon you merely because stoppage and hindrance have been useful to others, but because your advancement lies through these experiences. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Evil and mistaken policy
After this profound scheme no doubt there would follow a chuckle of triumph. The thing was so lucky in its plan, in its seasonableness, in its practicability; it seemed to meet every point of the case; it made an end of the whole difficulty; it turned over a new leaf in the history of the family. Let us understand that our plans are not good simply because they happen to be easy.
Let us understand that a policy is not necessarily sound because it is necessarily final. In the case before us we see both the power and the weakness of men. Let us slay--there is the power; and we will see what will become of his dreams--there is the weakness. You can slay the dreamer, but you cannot touch the dream. You can poison the preacher, but what power have you over his wonderful doctrine? Can you trace it? Where are its footprints? Ten or twelve men have power to take one lad, seventeen years of age, to double him up, and throw him, a dead carcase, into a pit. Wonderful power! What then? “And we will see what become of his dreams.” A word which perhaps was spoken in scorn or derision, or under a conviction that his dreams would go along with him. Still, underlying all the derision is the fact that, though the dreamer has been slain, the dream remains untouched. The principle applies very widely. You may disestablish an institution externally, politically, financially; but if the institution be founded upon truth, the Highest Himself will establish her. If we suppose that by putting out our puny arms and clustering in eager crowds round the ark of God, we are the only defenders of the faith and conservers of the Church--then be it known unto us that our power is a limited ability, that God himself is the life, the strength, the defence, and the hope of His own kingdom. The principle, then, has a double application--an application to those who would injure truth, and an application tothose who would avail themselves of forbidden facilities to maintain the empire of God amongst men. (J. Parker, D. D.)
Joseph cast into the pit
The favoured son of Jacob was but a type of the Beloved of the Father. Joseph, in being thus murdered in the intention of his brethren, and, as it were, buried in the pit, yet preserved in order to be exalted to the right hand of royalty and power, was a type of Christ crucified, buried, risen, and glorified. Joseph was far away from his father when trouble overwhelmed him, and his loud cries for help died away in the distance without reaching the parental ear. And what were the words of Jesus in the depths of His affliction? (Psalms 22:1-2). Pity from man He did not expect, and if His Father had but been near Him, He felt that He could brave every danger and endure every pain. Nay, that suffering would have lost all its sting, and sorrow its misery. But the bitter and the agonizing thing was to feel that He was alone--literally alone in His unparalleled sufferings. He had come to them on a better errand than Joseph’s, and with a message of mercy from abetter than any earthly father. One would think that a herald from so august a court, and bearing so welcome a message, would have been hailed with acclamations of delight by the Jewish people. That people had long been looking anxiously for their long-promised Messiah. His deportment was far more lovely and prepossessing than Joseph’s--His innocency of life and warmth of brotherly affection far exceeded Joseph’s--He was the chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely. He pleaded with the Jews with a depth of pathos never equalled. Have you ever envied Christ? Do you envy Him His right to the throne of your heart, and have you usurped it, and seated yourself in that throne? There is such a thing, too, as envying the Lord Jesus, in the persons of His happy and highly-favoured followers. Let us cheerfully share our blessings with every afflicted Joseph who is east into the pit of adversity. (E. Dalton.)
No pit can hide from God’s eye
How were Joseph’s brethren to secure themselves from the reproach of the world, and the indignation of their father? They would cast Joseph’s body into some pit after they had killed him. But where were they to find a pit deep enough to hide him from the view of God? It was right not to disoblige their father; but was their God less to be regarded than their father? Many heathens will rise up in judgment against those professors of the true religion, who behave in such manner, as if it were a matter of indifference what sins they commit, if they can preserve their characters from suspicion. A certain Hindoo, trained up in the strictest sect of the religion of his country, had macerated his body to such a degree, that his life was in imminent danger. A Christian physician, who went to see him with the governor of the town, begged him to swallow an infusion of the Jesuit’s bark in wine, which he thought might preserve his life. The religion of the Indian prohibited this cure. The physician promised that none should hear of it. But the poor Indian answered, that he could not hide it from himself, and chose to die, rather than violate his conscience. (G. Lawson, D. D.)
Good intentions must be boldly carried out
Reuben’s intention was good, and let all due credit be given to every man who has a good intention, a merciful object in view. No one of us has a word to say against such a man. But there are times when everything depends upon tone, precision, definiteness, emphasis. I am not sure that Reuben could not have turned the whole company. There are times when one man can play with a thousand. A little one can put ten thousand to flight. Why? Because wickedness is weakness. There is more craven heartedness among bad men than ever you can find among men who are soundly, living good. Is that a hard message to some of you? You know a very bold wicked man. Well, so you do; but that man is a coward. One day the shaking of a feather will cause him to become pale, and to tremble and turn round suspiciously, and timidly, as if every leaf in the forest had an indictment against him and all the elements in the universe had conspired to destroy him. Here is a call to us, most assuredly. We are placed in critical circumstances. Sometimes eight or nine men upon the board of directors have said that their plan will take this or that particular course. We believe that the plan is corrupt; we believe that it is wicked, displeasing to God, mischievous to man. What is our duty under circumstances such as these? To modify, to pare away, to dilute sound principle and intense conviction, to speak whisperingly, timidly, apologetically? I think not. But to meet the proposition with the definiteness of sound principle, and to be in that minority which in the long run is omnipotent--the minority of God. It is not easy to do this. Far be it from me to say that if I had been in Reuben’s place I should take a more emphatic course. We are not called upon, in preaching God’s truth, to say what we would have done under such circumstances; but to put out that which is ideal, absolute, final, and then to exhort one another, to endeavour by God’s tender mighty grace to press towards its attainment. (J. Parker. D. D.)
A company of Ishmaelites
Providence can make eyes to see, and such objects to be presented, which may occasion diversion of evil plots against the saints.
2. God orders travellers, and trades, and journies, to serve His own ends to His servants.
3. Accidental events to men are settled providences unto the servants of God.
4. Trade from land to land, about proper fruits of the respective countries, hath been, of old, ordered by Providence, for common advantage God allows and commends it (Genesis 49:13).
5. The same place may be aimed at by God and men, but upon several accounts (Genesis 37:25).
6. Providence toucheth hearts as well as eyes of sinners to defeat cruel designs against His.
7. One spoiler may be wrought upon by God to cause others to desist from cruelty.
8. Thoughts of the unprofitableness of sin is a forcing means to avoid it.
9. Murder and concealment of blood bring no advantage to sinners (Genesis 37:26.)
10. Hypocrites may judge there is no profit in one sin, but some in another.
11. Hypocrites may dissuade men from one sin, but incite them to others, Come, &c.
12. Malice of formalists to sincere Christians sticks not to sell them to bitter enemies of the Church.
13. God makes natural relation and motions to flesh sometimes to keep persons from cruelty.
14. God causeth the counsel of one conspirator to defeat the rest, and makes them concur to His ends (Genesis 37:27).
15. Providence offers opportunity to sinners for doing their will, that His may be done.
16. Murderers are made deliverers by God at His pleasure and in His measure.
17. The most innocent souls may be sold for slaves when aimed by God to be lords.
18. A small price do wicked men put upon the best of God’s servants, nay on His Son.
19. Gracious souls, surprised by the wicked in their honest ways, may be carried whither they would not.
20. Ishmaelites may carry innocents to Egypt for their ends, but God orders them thither for His own. So God maketh use of sinners. They bring him to make gain of him, God sends him to save and gain others. (G. Hughes, B. D.)
From very early times, a lively caravan trade was entertained between Syria and the East Jordanic provinces on the one hand, and Egypt on the other; it brought the esteemed products of Arabia and the wares and merchandises of eastern Asia into the land of the Pharaohs; and in the course of time, the importation was conducted with all possible regularity, and on lines prudently chosen and marked out. We find, thai so early as the sixteenth dynasty, stations were formed, temples erected, and wells dug and protected, in the Arabian Desert, for the benefit of those who had occasion to pass through it in their commercial travels. Egypt had, at that period, already attained a great measure of the civilization of which it was capable; it enjoyed a strong government and well-organized public institutions; and the political and social relations were regulated on a firm basis. This sense of security favoured the development of comfort and luxury; the higher castes especially appreciated all that delights and embellishes life; their wants increased in an incredible degree; and they encouraged every undertaking which promised to gratify them. Among the articles in peculiar demand were all varieties of spicery and perfumes, required not only for the feasts and pleasures of the living, but for the embalming of the dead; the mummies generally emitted so delicious a fragrance that they were for generations kept in the houses of the relatives, arranged along the walls, and then only entombed; which practice, however, received, no doubt, its first impulse from the devoted love bestowed in Egypt on departed parents and relatives. The amount of spicery consumed for all these purposes was necessarily immense; and the caravan introduced in our narrative was exclusively laden with those costly commodities. The men who conducted it were Midianites (Genesis 37:28; Genesis 37:36), a tribe partly nomadic, but partly actively engaged in commerce. But as the Ishmaelites commanded by far the greatest part of the caravan trade, all those who carried on the same pursuits were designated by their name. (M. M.Kalisch, Ph. D.)
Circumstances favouring bad men
There are times when circumstances seem to favour bad men. Some of us are accustomed to teach that circumstances are the voice of Divine Providence. There is a sense--a profound sense--in which that is perfectly true. God speaks by combinations of events, by the complications of history, by unexpected occurrences. Most undoubtedly so. We have marked this. In many cases we have seen their moral meaning, and have been attracted to them as to the cloudy pillar in the day time and the fire by night. At the same time, there is another side to that doctrine. Here in the text we find circumstances evidently combining in favour of the bad men who had agreed to part with their brother. They sat down to eat bread--perfectly tranquil, social amongst themselves, a rough hospitality prevailing. Just as they sat down to enjoy themselves with their bread they lifted up their eyes, and at that very moment a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels. What could be more providential? They came in the very nick of time. The brethren hadn’t to go up and down hawking their brother, knocking at door after door to ask if anybody could take him off their hands; but at the very moment when the discussion was pending and anxiety was at white heat, these circumstances so combined and converged as to point out the way of Providence and the path of right. Then we ought to look at circumstances with a critical eye. We ought first to look at moral principles and then at circumstances. If the morality is right, the eventuality may be taken as an element worthy of consideration in the debate and strife of the hour. But if the principles at the very base are wrong, we are not to see circumstances as Divine providences, but rather as casual ways to the realization of a nefarious intent. Let us be still more particular about this. I do not deny that these Ishmaelites came providentially at that identical moment. I believe that the Ishmaelites were sent by Almighty God at that very crisis, and that they were intended by Him to offer the solution of the difficult problem. But it is one thing for us to debase circumstances to our own use and convenience, and another to view them from God’s altitude and to accept them in God’s spirit. (J. Parker D. D.)
The uncertainties that characterize our human existence
How true it is that we know not what a day may bring forth! Joseph goes out on his father’s errand and never more returns to his father’s house--does not see his father again, in fact, for twenty-two years. Of course the crime of his brothers was of the cause of this long separation between him and his venerable parent. But how often similar things occur even among ourselves! Some years ago a little boy was stolen from his home in Philadelphia, and though every means that affection could suggest or professional skill could devise have been used for his discovery, the mystery has never been cleared up, so that to this hour his parents are in most horrible suspense. In our own city, too, scarcely a week elapses without the announcement that some one has disappeared from home and business, and very frequently nothing more is heard of him. But, apart from such occurrences, which may be traced to the cunning and malignity of wicked men, and which are a disgrace to our much boasted civilization, how often it happens, in the simple providence of God, and without blame to any one, that those who part in the morning with the hope of meeting again in a very short while never see each other more on earth! The street accident causes death; or the sudden outbreak of fire in the building in which their office hours are spent cuts off all possibility of escape, and they are burned to ashes; or a panic in a crowded place of amusement which they visited has caused a great loss of life, and they are numbered among the victims; or a railroad collision has smashed the train in which they were passengers, and they are reported among the dead; or, without any such catastrophe, they have simply yielded to a sudden paroxysm of illness and passed within the veil. Who knows not how frequently such things are occurring in the midst of us, so that, as we have lately had occasion again and again to say, the proverb is verified that it is “the unexpected that happens.” What then? Are we to have our hearts for ever darkened with the shadow of the possibility of such things coming to us? No; for that would be to make our lives continually miserable; but the lesson is that we should be ever ready to respond to the call of God, and should take short views of things by living, as nearly as possible, a day at a time. We need not borrow trouble on the strength of the uncertainty to which I have referred, for “sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof”; but we ought to be taught by it to finish every day’s work in its own day, since its lesson is, “Boast not thyself of tomorrow, for thou knowest not what a day may bring forth.” (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
The very brightest and luckiest idea of all. He touched human nature to the very quick when he said, “What profit is it?” And instantly they seemed to convict themselves of a kind of thickheadedness, and said one to another, “Ah, to be sure, why no profit at all. Here is an opportunity of selling him, and that will turn to the account of us all. Sell is as short a word as slay. Sell! that will get clear of him. Let us sell. Sell! we shall have no blood upon our hands. Then we shall, perhaps, have a couple of shekels a-piece, and tossing them up in the air an inch or so, and catching them again, and hearing their pleasant chink. This is the plan, to be sure. This is the way out of the difficulty. We are sorry we ever thought of shedding blood; we shake ourselves from all such imputations. Let us sell the lad, and there will be an end of the difficulty.” Selling does not always take a man out of difficulty. Bargain-making is not always satisfactory. There is a gain that is loss; there is a loss that is gain. There is a separation that takes the hated object from the eyes, yet that object is an element in society and in life--working, penetrating, developing--and it will come back again upon us some day greater than power, with intensified poignancy; and the man that was driven away from us a beggar and a slave may one day rise up in our path, terrible as an avenger, irresistible as a judgment of God. Well, his brethren were content. Men even say that they enjoy a great peace, and, therefore, that if circumstances are tolerably favourable, they say that on the whole they feel in a good state of mind. Therefore, they conclude that they have not been doing anything very wrong. Let us understand that vice may have a soporific effect upon the conscience and judgment; that we may work ourselves into such a state of mind as to place ourselves under circumstances that are fictitious, unsound in their moral bearing, however enjoyable may be their immediate influence upon the mind. I am struck by this circumstance, in reading the account which is before me, namely, how possible it is to fall from a rough kind of vice, such as, “Let us slay our brother,” into a milder form of iniquity, such as, “Let us sell our brother,” and to think that we have now actually come into a state of virtue. That is to say, selling as contrasted with slaying seems so moderate and amiable a thing, as actually to amount to a kind of virtue. Am I understood upon this point? We are not to compare one act with another and say, Comparatively speaking this act is good. Virtue is not a quantity to be compared. Virtue is a non-declinable quality. I know how easy it is, when some very startling proposition has been before the mind, to accept a modified form of the proposition, which in itself is morally corrupt; and yet to imagine, by the very descent from the other point, that we have come into a region of virtue. When men say, “Let us slay our brother,” there is a little shuddering in society. We don’t want to slay our brother. “Well, then,” says an acute man, “let us sell him.” And, instantly, amiable Christian people say, “Ay, ay, this is a very different thing; yes, let us sell him.” Observe, the morality is not changed, only the point in the scale has been lowered. When God comes to judge lie will not say, Is this virtue and water? is this diluted vice? but, Is this right? is this wrong? The standard of judgment will be the holiness of God! (J. Parker, D. D.)
Sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver; and they brought Joseph into Egypt
Joseph sold into Egypt
A FAMILY FEUD THE FOUNDATION OF A NATIONAL CALAMITY. Bondage for four hundred years.
II. A DESPISED CLASS BECOMES THE INSTRUMENT OF GOD’S PROVIDENCES AND JUDGMENTS. Ishmaelites: the slave-traders of their day.
III. THE COMFORT OF DEATH FOR PERSONAL LOSS AND AWAKENED JUDGMENTS (Genesis 37:35). (W. R. Campbell.)
Joseph sold into Egypt
1. The narrative shows one of the not uncommon ways which God takes to prepare men for usefulness and blessing. The pathway to any eminence in usefulness, virtue, or joy, is commonly rugged. Muscular strength comes of abundant toil, mental vigour of hard study, moral force of temptation and discipline. It is by fire that gold is separated from its dross, and iron hardened into steel. Even the Captain of our salvation was made perfect through suffering. One cannot guess of how many noble lives the secret, if disclosed, would be found in some great trial. An Arab once bemoaned his fate thus: “Alas, I fear that God doth not remember me. I have no trials, nothing but ease and enjoyment.” You cannot make a great life out of sunshine alone. Nor need one lose heart if his whole earthly course seems to be under a cloud. As the discipline of youth may be for riper years, so that of one’s whole earthly career is for the ages beyond.
2. Again, the narrative shows how responsible parents are for the conduct and welfare of their children. One of the gravest errors in family training is that favouritism of which Jacob was guilty. On the one hand it engenders weak and offensive pride; on the other, angry and bitter resentment. Dissension is inevitable.
3. Here, again, we are impressed with the danger of sin in thought and feeling. Apparently, the criminal deed of Joseph’s brethren was wholly unpremeditated. It was an unhappy moment’s impulse. It has been said that “with one bound a soul sometimes overleaps all blessed restraints; we flee into crime as if the dogs of sinful desire were upon us.” We rush to deeds of which at other moments we thought ourselves incapable. The petted feeling grows to be so completely master, that we obey it when obedience has ceased to be a pleasure. Some of the world’s greatest criminals were not only sweet in childhood, but apparently amiable in youth. Let us never forget the tendency of sin to grow, and that as imperceptibly as does the plant or tree. It is also to be remembered that the guilt centres in the disposition rather than in the act. “God sees hearts as we do faces.” “The powder that is explosive and the powder that explodes do not differ.” “He that hateth his brother is a murderer.”
4. Yet again, we here learn something of the unmixed wickedness of the particular sin of envy. It is the opposite of that “charity out of a pure heart,” which, while it rejoices over a brother’s or sister’s good fortune, is itself thereby enriched; of that spirit which makes all another’s gains its own, which is the richer for its neighbour’s riches, the gladder for its brother’s gladness. As love is of heaven, envy is of hell.
5. Briefly, at least, we must notice the illustration we here have of the bitter outcome of sin.
(1) One part of this is a sort of necessity for more sin. No sooner is the heartless deed of Joseph’s brethren done than they begin to add other sins for its concealment.
(2) But the full outcome of sin in-eludes also much sorrrow. Witness the entreaties and tears of the lad Joseph; the distress of Reuben; the perplexity and fears of all. The comfortless, bereaved father is overwhelmed.
6. For God’s children, the culminating lesson of this fragment of history is one of patience and trust in life’s darkest hours. (H. M. Grout, D. D.)
Sold to the Ishmaelites
I. This narrative may remind us of THE UNCERTAINTIES THAT CHARACTERIZE OUR HUMAN EXISTENCE. It is “the unexpected that happens.” The lesson is, that we should be ever ready to respond to the call of God, and should take short views of things by living, as nearly as possible, a day at a time.
II. We may see from this narrative that THE BEGINNING OF SIN IS LIKE THE LETTING OUT OF WATER. What began in envy leads to murder, and that again gives birth to falsehood. Sin thus multiplies as rapidly as the Colorado beetle, and no matter what may be the first one, you may always call its name Gad, for you may surely say, “a troop cometh.” Therefore, if we would successfully resist it, we must withstand its beginnings. Especially is this true of envy, which is purely soul-sin--the hatred of a man for the good that is in him. Envy must be supplanted by the love of Christ.
III. We may learn that IN SEEKING TO DEFEAT GOD’S PURPOSES WE ARE ALL THE WHILE UNCONSCIOUSLY HELPING ON THEIR FULFILMENT. We cannot explain the “ law” of it, but we clearly see the fact. Oh the marvellous wisdom of that providence of God which thus, without doing violence to the will of any human being, lays all their actions under tribute for the furtherance of its designs! And what is the use of a man trying to thwart God’s purposes when, whether he will or not, everything he does only helps them forward? Surely it is better far to acquiesce in them, and find our happiness in the doing of His will!
IV. I note from this narrative that WE NO NOT GET RID OF A RESPONSIBILITY BY PUTTING IT OUT OF SIGHT.
V. THERE IS A RETRIBUTIVE ELEMENT IN OUR TROUBLES. Jacob, who deceived his father Isaac, is now deceived by his own children. One of his “chickens” came home “to roost,” and very bitter was the experience. (W. M. Taylor, D. D.)
I. JOSEPH ABUSED.
1. Stripped of his raiment (Genesis 37:23).
2. Taken by force (Genesis 37:24).
3. Cast into a pit (Genesis 37:24).
(1) Separated from the presence of men.
(2) Protected by the presence of God.
II. JOSEPH SOLE.
1. The ready purchasers (Genesis 37:25).
2. The mercenary plea (Genesis 37:26-27).
3. The paltry price.
III. JOSEPH MOURNED.
1. Cruel deception (Genesis 37:33).
2. Pitiable woe (Genesis 37:34).
3. Inconsolable sorrow (Genesis 37:35). (American Sunday School Times.)
Man’s passions and God’s purpose
I. THE BROAD TEACHING OF THE WHOLE STORY IS, THAT GOD WORKS OUT HIS GREAT PURPOSES THROUGH EVEN THE CRIMES OF UNCONSCIOUS As. As coral insects work, not knowing the plan of their reef, still less the fair vegetation and smiling homes which it will one day carry, but blindly building from the material supplied by the ocean a barrier against it; so even evildoers are carrying on God’s plan, and sin is made to counterwork itself, and be the black channel through which the flashing water of life pours.
II. THE POISONOUS FRUIT OF BROTHERLY HATRED. The swift passage of the purely spiritual sin of jealous envy into the murderous act, as soon as opportunity offered, teaches the short path which connects the inmost passions with the grossest outward deeds. Like Jonah’s gourd, the smallest seed of hate needs bat an hour or two of favouring weather to become a great tree, with all obscene and blood-seeking birds croaking in its branches. “Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer.” Therefore the solemn need for guarding the heart from the beginnings of envy, and for walking in love. The clumsy contrivance for murder without criminality, which Reuben suggested, is an instance of the shallow pretexts with which the sophistry of sin fools men before they have done the wrong thing. The mask generally tumbles off very soon after. The bait is useless when the hook is well in the fish’s gills. “Don’t let us kill him. Let us put him into a cistern. He cannot climb up its bottle-shaped, smooth sides. But that is not our fault. Nobody will ever hear his muffled cries from its depths. But there will be no blood on our hands.” It was not the first time, nor is it the last, that men have tried to blink their responsibility for the consequences which they hoped would come of their crimes. Such excuses seem sound when we are being tempted; but, as soon as the rush of passion is past, they are found to be worthless. Like some cheap castings, they are only meant to be seen in front, where they are rounded and burnished. Get behind them, and you find them hollow. “They sat down to eat bread.” Thomas Fuller pithily says: “With what heart could they say grace, either before or after meat?” What a grim meal! And what an indication of their rude natures, seared consciences, and deadened affections!
III. The ill-omened meal is interrupted by the sudden appearance, so picturesquely described, of THE CARAVAN OF ISHMAELITES WITH THEIR LOANED CAMELS. Dothan was on or near the great trade route to Egypt, where luxury, as well as the custom of embalming, opened a profitable market for spices. The traders would probably not be particular as to the sort of merchandize they picked up on their road, and such an” unconsidered trifle “ as a slave or two would be neither here nor there. This opportune advent of the caravan sets a thought buzzing in Judah’s brain, which brings out a new phase of the crime. Hatred darkening to murder is bad enough; but hatred which has also aa eye to business, and makes a profit out of a brother, is a shade or two blacker, because it means cold-blooded calculation and selfish advantage instead of raging passion.
IV. Leaving Joseph to pursue his sad journey, our narrative introduces for the first time REUBEN, whose counsel, as the verses before our lesson tell us, it had been to cast the poor lad into the cistern. His motive had been altogether good; he wished to save life, and, as soon as the others were out of the way, to bring Joseph up again and get him safely back to Jacob Genesis 42:22). Well meant and kindly motived as his action was--and self-sacrificing too, if, as is probable, Joseph was his destined successor in the forfeited birthright--his scheme breaks down, as attempts to mitigate evil by compliance and to make compromises with sinners usually do. The only one of the whole family who had some virtue in him, was too timid to take up a position of uncompromising condemnation. He thought it more politic to go part of the way, and to trust to being able to prevent the worst. That is always a dangerous experiment. It is often tried still; it never answers. Let a man stand to his guns, and speak out the condemnation that is in his heart; otherwise he will be sure to go farther than he meant, he will lose all right of remonstrance, and will generally find that the more daring sinners have made his well-meant schemes to avert the mischief impossible.
V. THE CRUEL TRICK BY WHICH JACOB WAS DECEIVED is perhaps the most heartless bit of the whole heartless crime. It canto as near an insult as possible. It was maliciously meant. The snarl about the coat, the studied use of “thy son” as if they disowned the brotherhood, the unfeeling harshness of choosing such a way of telling their lie--all were meant to give the maximum of pain, and betray their savage hatred of father and son, and its causes.
VI. AND WHAT OF THE POOR OLD FATHER? His grief is unworthy of God’s wrestler. It is not the part of a devout believer in God’s providence to refuse to be comforted. There was no religious submission in his passionate sorrow. How unlike the quiet resignation which should have marked the recognition that the God who had been his guide was working here too! No doubt the hypocritical condolences of his children were as vinegar upon nitre. No doubt the loss of Joseph had taken away the one gentle and true son on whom his loneliness rested since his Rachel’s death, while he found no solace in the wild, passionate men who called him “father,” and brought him no “ honour.” But still his grief is beyond the measure which a true faith in God would have warranted; and we cannot but see that the dark picture which we have just been looking at gets no lighter or brighter tints from the demeanour of Jacob. (A. Maclaren, D. D.)
Joseph sold into Egypt
I. A BEAUTIFUL IDEAL OF WHAT A YOUNG CHRISTIAN SHOULD BE.
1. Having no fellowship with that which is evil.
2. As loved of the good.
II. THE SAD EXPERIENCES THROUGH WHICH MANY A CONSISTENT YOUNG CHRISTIAN PASSES.
1. Joseph was hated of his brothers because their father loved him.
2. Joseph was cruelly treated by his brothers.
3. There are lighter and darker shades among the wicked.
III. THE SORROW WHICH CRUEL TREATMENT CAUSES,
IV. THE TENDER PROVIDENCE OF GOD IS SEEN IN THE DISPOSAL OF JOSEPH IN EGYPT.
1. His promotion in Potiphar’s house proves this.
2. That he reached the rulership of Egypt through his experiences in Potiphar’s house, proves it. Lessons: The permissions of God are full of mystery, but also full of grace.
2. The story of Joseph proves the possibility of youthful piety, and that Christian character may glow in adversity. (D. C. Hughes, M. A.)
Apparent disaster often real advancement
The chief peril which threatened Joseph was the foolish partiality of his father. Under this unwholesome influence he was likely enough to become vain, insolent, overbearing. So it was best that he should be removed from this mischievous hot-house of favouritism into a more bracing climate; where, under biting winds and nipping frosts, his virtues would be well rooted. Fortune’s frowns serve our well-being, as much--perhaps more--than fortune’s smiles. If friends of God, no harm can ever befall us.
I. WE SEE HERE INNOCENCE PROVOKING MALICE TO VILER DEEDS. Without question, the presence of a righteous man brings to light the baseness of the wicked. Just as the summer sun quickens the growth of noxious weeds, and makes the stench of a foetid sewer still more odious; so the influence of a saintly character exasperates base men to do their worst. The presence of the Son of God on earth provoked Satan to put out prodigious efforts of malice. To a vitiated palate even food will produce vomiting. The beneficent errand of Joseph obtained only opprobrium and ill.nature. “Behold,” said they, “this dreamer cometh.” Then this was the worst thing malice could lay to his charge. In this respect also Joseph was a type of Jesus Christ. The only accusation men could prefer against either was that he had aspired to be a king. Yet this was not merely a prophetic assertion; it was a divinely appointed office; it was a certain destiny. The righteous man must inevitably rule.
II. WE SEE HERE WICKEDNESS RAPIDLY MATURING ITS FRUITS.
1. Sin is a hardening and a blinding process. It treats its victims as the Philistines treated Samson--puts out their eyes. They saw not Joseph as a brother; they saw him only as a dreamer. They saw only the gain of twenty dollars--about a dollar a piece; they were blind to the tremendous loss.
2. Under favourable circumstances sin speedily develops. Hatred soon grew into murderous conspiracy, into rude violence, into lying, deceit, avarice, fraud; into base traffic of a brother’s flesh--the sum of all villainies. In the fields of nature some plants will bear ten thousand seeds; but this plant of sin is yet more prolific in effects.
3. Yet sin is temporarily checked by a sense of responsibility. Reuben alone of the eleven sought the deliverance of Joseph.
4. Sin defeats its own ends. When the innocent lad was led away an abject slave, had they baffled his dreams? They had helped the business forward.
III. WE SEE HERE THAT HARD SERVICE IS THE WAY TO SOVEREIGNTY. There is great truth in the maxim that “he would rule, must first learn to serve.” Napoleon I. rose to sovereignty because he served well in the lowest ranks of the French army. Jesus Christ is enthroned in the hearts of myriads because He has served them so faithfully and so generously. It is a law in mechanics that in proportion as a free body is forced downward, will it rise upward when the force is withdrawn. Nature helps a rebound. (J. Dickerson Davies,M. A.)
Anything better than confinement in the dry pit
To be brought out of a pit wherein there is no water, is in Scripture represented as a great deliverance. Joseph would learn in this pit to bear those other sufferings that were allotted to him. He was sold to foreign merchants. He was carried into a strange land, to be again sold as a slave. He was cast into a prison, where he lay for several years. But the remembrance of the pit wherein was no water, and of his fruitless cries for relief, would make him think that his condition, under all these circumstances of distress, was not so bad as it might have been, and as it once actually was. (G. Lawson, D. D.)
Joseph betrayed and sold for twenty pieces of silver
Joseph, in his betrayal into the hands of the Ishmaelites, was a distinct type of the Redeemer betrayed into the hands of the Gentiles. The name of the betrayer was the same. In the case of Joseph it was a brother who lifted up his heel against him; in the case of Christ, it was His own familiar friend in whom He trusted, which did eat of His bread (Psalms 41:9) that betrayed Him. In both eases it was covetousness which prompted the betrayer to the dark deed of treachery. In both cases the betrayer dissembled, and accomplished his wicked design under the mask of friendship. Do you observe how Judah speaks? How subtle is his argument, and yet how transparently hollow and treacherous and insincere! As hollow and as insincere as the kiss of Judas! Look at his speech. “Come,” said he, “and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh.” Oh what a contemptible vice is covetousness! The rest of his brethren readily consented to this proposal. The proposal itself, and their acquiescing in it, gives us a very painful view of the deceitfulness of the human heart. The proposal was a monstrous one; it was most cruel; and yet they ignorantly imagined that by adopting it they would be washing their hands of bloodguiltiness. They appear to have viewed it as an admirable contrivance, by which they would get rid of Joseph effectually, without loading their consciences with his death, just as though they would not be quite as responsible in the sight of God for the mischief done him by the Ishmaelites, as though their own hands bad wrought it. It is very melancholy to see the conscience of man thus deceiving him. And are there not other practices amongst us in which this same principle of drugging our consciences deceitfully can be traced? Is there no such thing as servants being employed to do what we would be ashamed to do ourselves? But perhaps we may discover something more than a practical lesson in this conduct of the patriarchs. May not their “Let not our hand be upon Him” remind us of the Jews? When Pilate said to them, “Take ye Him and crucify Him, for I find no fault in Him,” what did they say? “Oh no! let not our hand be upon Him; do you crucify Him; yes, crucify Him, by all means; but as for us, it is not lawful for us to put any man to death.” There are two other points in the text in which Joseph was a type of Christ. He was sold as a slave; Jesus was born under the law--a slave to perform all the rigid requirements of a law without mercy. Not one jot, not one tittle of that rigid law was ever relaxed for Him. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver, Jesus was sold for thirty. At what price do you value the Lord Jesus Christ? Is He, in your estimation, the pearl of great price? (E. Dalton.)
Joseph sold to Arabs
The passage of an Arab caravan towards Egypt, and its purchase of Joseph, is equally true to early times, and to the unchanging Eastern life of to-day. Sir Samuel Baker’s boy, Saat, had, in the same way as Joseph, been carried off while he was tending goats, by an Arab caravan; hidden in a gum sack, and finally taken to Cairo and sold as a slave. “All the world may perish, so far as we care,” said an Arab to Niebuhr, “if only Egypt remains.” And it was left to them even more in Joseph’s day than now, from the dislike of Egyptians to leave their country even for purposes of gain. The trade in “spices” was exceptionally great between the valley of the Nile and neighbouring countries; from the quantity used for embalming mummies, for burning as incense, or as disinfectants; for which they were in great repute. Even the names of the first and second of the three spices named--gum tragacanth, from Lebanon and Palestine generally, Armenia and Persia; balsam from the balsam-tree of Gilead; and lauda-num the gum collected still from the leaves of the cistus-rose--from Syria and Arabia, have been found in the list of two hundred drugs named in the temple-laboratory of Edfu; for each temple had its laboratory and apothecary. Even the twenty pieces of silver given for Joseph are exactly the price fixed under Moses as that of a male slave between five and twenty years of age (Leviticus 27:5); so nearly had human beings kept the same value for centuries. (C. Geikie, D. D.)
Sold into slavery
Mr. H. M. Stanley told an awful story of African slavery, in the Manchester Free Trade Hall. He said: “A slave trade was a great blight, which clung to Africa like an aggravated pest, destroying men faster than children could be born. He overtook a party of Arab marauders on the Congo in November, 1883, over 1,200 miles from the sea. They had utterly desolated a number of villages, massacred all the adult males who had not at once fled, and carried off the women and children. He never saw such a sight before. In a small camp 300 fighting men kept in manacles and fetters, 2,300 naked women and children, their poor bodies entrusted with dirt, all emaciated and weary through much misery. Here was the net result of the burning of 118 villages, and the devastation of forty-three districts, to glut the avaricious soul of a man who had constituted himself chief of a district some 200 miles higher up. Though over seventy-five years old, here he was prosecuting his murderous business, having shed as much human blood in three months as, if collected into a tank, might have sufficed to drown him and all his thirty wives and concubines. Those 2,300 slaves would have to be transported over 200 miles in canoes, and such as could not be fed would die, and perhaps 800--perhaps 900--of all the number would ever reach their destination.”
From the pit to slavery
In Joseph’s being lifted out of the pit only to pass into slavery, many a man of Joseph’s years has seen a picture of what has happened to himself. From a position in which they have been as if buried alive, young men not uncommonly emerge into a position preferable certainly to that out of which they have been brought, but in which they are compelled to work beyond their strength, and that for some superior in whom they have no special interest. Grinding toil, and often cruel insult, are their portion; and no necklace heavy with tokens of honour that afterwards may be allotted them can ever quite hide the scars made by the iron collar of the slave. One need not pity them over much, for they are young and have a whole life-time of energy and power of resistance in their spirit. And yet they will often call themselves slaves, and complain that all the fruit of their labour passes over to others and away from themselves, and all prospect of the fulfilment of their former dreams is quite cut off. That which haunts their heart by day and by night, that which they seem destined and fit for, they never get time nor liberty to work out and attain. They are never viewed as proprietors of themselves, who may possibly have interests of their own and hopes of their own. In Joseph’s case there were many aggravations of the soreness of such a condition. He had not one friend in the country. He had no knowledge of the language, no knowledge of any trade that could make him valuable in Egypt--nothing, in short, but his own manhood and his faith in God. His introduction to Egypt was of the most dispiriting kind. What could he expect from strangers, if his own brothers had found him so obnoxious? Now, when a man is thus galled and stung by injury, and has learned how little he can depend upon finding good faith and common justice in the world, his character will show itself in the attitude he assumes towards men and towards life generally. A weak nature, when it finds itself thus deceived and injured, will sullenly surrender all expectation of good, and will vent its spleen on the world by angry denunciations of the heartless and ungrateful ways of men. A proud nature will gather itself up from every blow, and determinedly work its way to an adequate revenge. A mean nature will accept its fate, anal while it indulges in cynical and spiteful observations on human life, will greedily accept the paltriest rewards it can secure. But the supreme healthiness of Joseph’s nature resists all the infectious influences that emanate from the world around him, and preserves him from every kind of morbid attitude towards the world and life. So easily did he throw off all vain regrets and stifle all vindictive and morbid feelings, so readily did he adjust himself to and so heartly enter into life as it presented itself to him, that he speedily rose to be overseer in the house of Potiphar. (M. Dods, D. D.)
Under the wise providence of God, helpers may come too late to so save oppressed.
2. Creatures as they intend, so may they do their utmost to save, when God will not have it so.
3. The pit, under God’s disposal, giveth up to sale, when it is intended unto freedom.
4. Nature is apt to be passionate to rending cloths upon disappointments (Genesis 37:29).
5. Brotherly affection disappointed, though not true, will make one fall upon disappointers with indignation.
6. Passiom may make men judge that not to be, which is, and so may make mourners.
7. Natural affection may put men to their wits’ end upon disappointments, and fears of worse events (Genesis 37:30). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
1. Hypocrisy may admit trouble in some evil, but conspires wilfully to do other. Reuben with them.
2. The coat of innocency may be made a cloak to cover cruelty.
3. Cruelty makes use of policy to hide itself from discovery. Kid’s blood for man’s.
4. Sinners’ subtlety sometimes to put it off from themselves, makes evil worse than it is. Blood without blood (Genesis 37:31.)
5. Beastly acting sinners use, to turn over their sins to beasts (so if the word be striking through).
6. The guilty have their harbingers, to conceal sin more cunningly.
7. Sin makes men shameless to bring the tokens of their wickedness to plead for them.
8. Sellers of brethren make not much to do that, which may kill their fathers.
9. Sinners use to make their refuge in lies, and so add sin to sin.
10. Impudent sinners, though they be conscious, yet make things doubtful unto others (Genesis 37:32).
11. Good men may be deceived by sinners, upon that which they know.
12. Gracious souls may be too credulous toward the wicked, who speaks falsely to them.
13. Over much credulity makes men receive that which afterwards they find false (Genesis 37:33). (G. Hughes, B. D.)
While in relation to some things men doubt where they ought to trust, with other matters they will feel quite certain, though they have good cause for questioning.
Consider the habit of taking certain notions “without doubt,” as it is illustrated in the case of Jacob.
I. THE HABIT IS DEPENDENT ON PREDISPOSITION. The sanguine are “without doubt” of success, where the cautious are “without doubt” of disaster. The despondent regard the world through darkened spectacles. It is no wonder that their prospects seem gloomy.
II. THE HABIT IS ENCOURAGED BY APPEARANCES. To Jacob appearances were sadly significant. What more evidence could be wanted? We should remember that all appearances may be against the true facts.
III. THE HABIT LEADS TO GREVIOUS MISTAKES. Jacob’s verdict was “without doubt.” Nevertheless, it was a wrong verdict. We talk of the evil of doubt. There are evils of positiveness.
IV. THE HABIT IS POSITIVELY MISCHIEVOUS. It causes distress when we are needlessly positive of a painful surmise. It does more harm. It paralyses our efforts to better a gloomy state of affairs.
V. THE HABIT MAY BE A PUNISHMENT OF FORMER UNTRUTHFULNESS. In his youth Jacob deceived his father; in his old age Jacob was deceived by his sons. He was cunning and wily. Yet he was over-reached, and suffered from the trickery of others. Worldly acuteness is no security against deception in matters that lie nearest to our heart. The fox may be out witted, while the lamb is spared in its simplicity. Application: See how the coprinciples work in various directions.
1. Domestic anxiety. Parents are often inclined to dread the worst of absent children lost to sight, and perhaps unheard of for years. Yet they may be as safe and prosperous as Joseph became.
2. Prospects for life.
3. Our spiritual condition. (W. F. Adeney, M. A.)
He refused to be comforted
Real and unreal consolations
Earth is so full of sorrows, and its sorrows are so various, and its cry for their healing so piteous and so importunate, that no man who lives can always stop his ears, if he can even steel his heart, against the demand for his sympathy and his ministration.
The world itself has its forms and its phrases of consolation; borrowed, no doubt, in name, from Christianity and the Bible, but divested, in the transfer, of their efficacy for healing, by being torn (as it were) from the context, and presented bare and solitary to the aching and thirsting heart. And the Church has its ministry of comfort; its ordained and consecrated representatives in things sacred, of whose profession it is one half, and not the least anxious and difficult half, to be at the beck and call of sorrow, whatever its kind or cause, for the express purpose of conveying to it, in Christ’s behalf, the consolations of the Gospel. Nevertheless, how many are they who, whether the world speaks or the Church, yet, like the patriarch in the text, “refuse to be comforted.” How small a part of the suffering of mankind as a whole, even in Christendom, is healed, or sensibly mitigated, by the comfort professedly offered it. Let us ask why. Let us take a few specimens of consolation, as the word is commonly understood, and see where and why they fail, and must fail, in doing the thing attempted. We need not, for our present purpose, distinguish accurately between different kinds of distress. Pain is pain, whether it has to do with mind or body, with circumstances or affections, with conscience or the soul. And as the malady is, in this sense, one in all cases, so the idea and principle of consolation, may be the same in very various applications.
1. Thus there is one kind of consolation, the least adroit, it may be, but not the least common, which practically consists in a disparagement of the suffering. This sort of comfort fails in both the essentials. First, it is unsympathizing; and secondly, it is unreal. A man could not thus speak who felt with you. This man is just getting rid of an irksome duty. He does not enter into your ease. Thus the comfort lacks sympathy, and must be refused. But it lacks reality too. It is not true that you exaggerate. Your pain is painful.
2. There is another kind of consolation, of which the characteristic is that it deals largely in false promises. The physician, conjured to be true, looks the patient in the face, and says she thing that is not. “He sees nothing to make him anxious. You may live for years.” He tells the next person he meets that you are a doomed man. You are anxious--you have cause to be so--about professional success. You confide your misgiving, your apprehension, your mortification, to your friend. To save himself, or to save you, a moment’s pain, he assures you that you are mistaken. “The next turn of fortune’s wheel will be in your favour. He has reason to hope, he almost knows, that your name stands next for an appointment.” To a third person he says plainly that you are a failure, that you have not a chance. Worse still is it, when the soul is the subject.
3. There is a still larger class of consolations which have this for their feature, that they use true words but apply them falsely. In mere carelessness, in worse than carelessness, in headlong headstrong presumption, a man has incurred a terrible, perhaps fatal, accident. There is instantly a chorus of comforters, it is the will of God. Worse than this: a son has been the plague of his home, the scourge of mother and sister, the ill example, the guide into all mischief, of brothers and schoolfellows! no change, save from worse to worse, comes over his youth; all manner of sin and wickedness is his sport and his occupation; at last he commits a crime, brings shame upon his name, reduces his family to misery and destitution--who cannot anticipate, even then, a view of the terrible history, whichshall lightly and confidently bring into it, if not for the sinner yet for the sufferers, the hand and counsel of God; bidding them believe that the whole aspect of it, for them at least, is one of blessing and hope and fatherly love? And so, when at last the grave closes over one whose whole life has been a denial and defiance of the Bible, whose last breath may have been the repudiation, not only of clergyman or sacrament, but of prayer, and of Christ, and of immortality itself; there are those who can see in all this nothing more than an idiosyncrasy or a misfortune, and who, not contented (as all ought to be) with silence and sorrow, with refraining from cruel judgments and ill-omened words, are ready to offer to the survivors the most cheerful and confident of consolations, as if over a deathbed of sweet hope, crowning a life of consistent, of Christ-like devotion. Brethren, the sight and the touch of suffering is keen and sensitive; and it must revolt against all this as an offensive obstrusion of an unreal and impertinent consolation. That which we could not say without cruelty in the individual instance, or in the house darkened by the calamity itself, we can say and we ought to say in general terms, while it may yet be for the admonition of men whose day of grace is not ended. Truth is not always comfort. We cannot always with propriety say in the moment of sorrow the word which nevertheless may be the true one, about the healing power of time, or the reparative processes of reviving interests and affections. But this has no exception; comfort cannot be without truth. Sympathy itself is dead, being alone. Let us who would be “sons of consolation,” take good heed to our truthfulness. This estimate of life and the Bible will alter the language of our consolations. It will make them entirely real, and in the same degree strongly supporting. We shall ask no man to call evil good, or to write sweet for bitter. When some terrible thing happens, and we are called to minister, we shall say, “Alas, my brother!” Let us sit and weep together over the mighty power of evil. Oh, how necessary was the Gospel! Oh, how intelligible has become the Cross! Oh, how desirable that last revelation--death and hell cast into the lake of fire--the tabernacle of God come down to earth, and tears wiped from off all faces! And then, although we cannot offer the false consolation, which confounds light and darkness, receives with an impartial and indifferent complaisance alike the good and the evil, sees a God (so called) equally in both and in neither, and encourages an easy, trivial, light-hearted passage, through a world “neither clear nor dark,” into another world, itself neither day nor night; yet we shall at least have realized God in His holiness, Christ in His necessity, life in its seriousness, heaven in its glory; we shall at least have renounced for ever that vile flattery which barters truth for a smile--that ignoble traggicing in great names, of which the Nemesis is the forfeiture of great realities. And the moral of it all is weighty and legible. If the battle is so sore around and within us; if good and evil are not words but things; if Christ and Satan are not phantoms but persons; if we must have a side, though we know it not, and he that is not with Christ must be against Him--let us be serious. The mere use of true words will help us.(Dean Vaughan.)
I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning
Jacob’s grief for his son
I. IT WAS DEEP AND OVERWHELMING.
II. IT WAS INCONSOLABLE.
III. IT CAST HIM UPON THE FUTURE. (T. H. Leade.)
“I will go down to the grave,” or to the world of departed spirits, “mourning for my son.” Jacob did not hope to see any more good in this world, when his choicest comfort in life was taken from him. He had the prospect of no days of gladness, when Joseph, the joy of his heart, was torn in pieces by wild beasts. But he did not know what joys were yet before him in the recovery of his long-lost son. We know not what joys or what sorrows may be before us in the course of our lives. Let us never despond while God’s throne continues firm and stable in heaven. Jacob had the prospect of sorrow while he lived in the world. He knew, and he ought to have rejoiced in the knowledge, that his sorrows would last only during his present life. The saints of God will indeed be in heaviness through manifold temptations, whilst they continue in this bad world. But they have good reason (if they had hearts) to rejoice with joy unspeakable, and full of glory, in the prospect of the unknown joys that lie beyond the grave. The present life is but a single night to their future life; and although sorrow may endure through the whole night, yet joy cometh in the morning. (G. Lawson, D. D.)