Genesis 36-38
(Joseph Sold into Slavery)
January 11th

Produced by The Listening for God Ministry
Copyright 2016

Please refer to one or more Bible versions of your choice to read this section. For your convenience, we have provided six links below, each of which takes you directly to today's chapters in a specific version:

Key Verse

One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him even more. He said, “Listen to the dream I had. We were all in the field tying up sheaves of wheat, when my sheaf got up and stood up straight. Yours formed a circle round mine and bowed down to it.”

- Genesis 37:5-7 (GNB)

Summary of Chapters

These chapters introduce the story of the lives of the grandchildren of Isaac, descendants of Abraham, Noah, and Adam.

The line of Esau’s descendants is summarized in chapter 36. Esau was the eldest son of Isaac, but had been cheated out of his inheritance by his brother Jacob. The chapter also notes that these people became the nation of Edom, a name that we shall see again and again in subsequent books.

In chapter 37, we meet Joseph, favorite son of Jacob and first-born of Rachel. His brothers were intensely jealous because of their father’s favoritism and Joseph’s arrogance. Joseph was younger than most of his brothers but strutted about in his colorful robe and bragged about dreams that symbolized a scene in which all the brothers and their father would bow down to him.

One day the brothers had an opportunity to put an end to their misery when they were with Joseph in the wilderness. They considered killing him, but cooler heads prevailed and they decided to sell him to a passing group of Ishmaelites instead:

    When Joseph reached his brothers, they ripped off the fancy coat he was wearing, grabbed him, and threw him into a cistern. The cistern was dry; there wasn’t any water in it.

    Then they sat down to eat their supper. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way from Gilead, their camels loaded with spices, ointments, and perfumes to sell in Egypt. Judah said, “Brothers, what are we going to get out of killing our brother and concealing the evidence? Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let’s not kill him—he is, after all, our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.

    By that time the Midianite traders were passing by. His brothers pulled Joseph out of the cistern and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites who took Joseph with them down to Egypt.

    - Genesis 37:23-28 (MSG)

The brothers convinced their dad that the apple of his eye was killed by a wild animal, so Jacob began to mourn. Meanwhile, Joseph’s original purchasers had traded him to one of the officials of the Pharaoh in Egypt.

Chapter 38 describes the attempts by Judah to ensure his line was perpetuated, but his sons were uncooperative and were killed by the LORD for their wickedness. Then, in a bizarre twist, Judah’s widowed daughter-in-law tricked him into sleeping with her and produced his first offspring: Twins named Perez and Zerah.

Reflection and Application

Joseph could have avoided a lot of suffering if he had acted with more humility. He can serve as a reminder to us of reasons for not boasting in our skills and talents. We are better off quietly using our skills and allowing others to praise us as they see fit. For their part, his brothers were not much better at keeping their pride in check. They could have gently taken Joseph aside and trained him in humility, but instead they kept score of his wrongs and built up a well of frustration and jealously that eventually overcame their conscience and good sense.

At this point, it looked like their might only be ten tribes of Egypt because the lines of Joseph and Judah did not look very promising. It looked as if Joseph’s dream would never come true. The brothers reckoned that they had successfully eliminated a constant irritant in their life as little Joseph would not be expected to survive a life of slavery. As for Judah, what good could possible come from the unexpected relationship with his daughter-in-law, Tamar?

Judah’s situation is just one of the infinite scenarios in which God transforms an apparently failed project into a great success. The tribe of Judah eventually became one of the most important ones in Israel and was the line from which descended the mighty king David and a humble carpenter. Matthew includes Tamar as one of the few women noted in the genealogy of Jesus – an aberration because of the embarrassing nature of the relationship and because women were never included in Jewish genealogies. The beginning of the genealogy of Jesus is shown below:

    This is the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah the son of David, the son of Abraham:

    Abraham was the father of Isaac,

    Isaac the father of Jacob,

    Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers,

    Judah the father of Perez and Zerah, whose mother was Tamar,

    Perez the father of Hezron,

    Hezron the father of Ram...

    - Matthew 1:1-3 (NIV)

But for Joseph, last seen dragged along behind a herd of camels, the situation would have looked hopeless to any reasonable man. Fortunately our Creator is not a man and is not limited to what we consider reasonable. His brothers had handed him off, but Joseph was still in God's hands. The first step in Joseph's rescue was his removal from the well and sale to the strangers, which is depicted in an 18th century painting by an Indian artist, which can be viewed at the following link: "Joseph is pulled out of the well"

The sense of hope and trust that Joseph may have felt is captured in the song "In Christ Alone," written by Stuart Townend and Keith Getty in 2005:

The Christian website interviewed Townend and Getty, who said they have received many emails from people who described how the song helped them get through difficult situations. The article notes that "One e-mail described how a U.S soldier serving in Iraq would pray through each verse of the song every day, and how the promises of God’s protection and grace helped to sustain him through the enormous pressures and dangers of life in a war zone (1)." This might have been the type of song that Joseph sang as he was carried away to a foreign land.

You can view a YouTube video of Townend and Getty's song by clicking the object below:

Questions and Prayers for Further Reflection

    Related Questions
    1. What areas of your life, if any, have you taken credit for that might be more accurately portrayed as the work of God?
    2. What preventive methods can you think of to help avoid falling into the trap of envy and jealousy?
    3. What other situations can you think of where God has taken a failure and made a great success out of it?
    Recommended Prayer
    Father, please help us to give credit where it is due and to be happy for other people's success.

    Suggested Prayer Concerns
    People sold into slavery in our era


    (1) Akins, Debra, "Song Story", July 22nd, 2004

    Looking Ahead

    Tomorrow's reading: Genesis 39-41 (Dream On)

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