Jan. 12 Reading: Genesis 35-37 Commentary
“So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?'” (Gen. 37:10).
Genesis 35 – Jacob Receives the Promise
In Genesis 35, God commands Jacob to return to Bethel, the place where God first appeared to him (see Gen. 28). God instructs him to do two things: 1) dwell at Bethel and 2) make an altar for worship. It’s the first time in the Bible that God has given a direct command to someone to build an altar.
Jacob obeys God’s instructions. He prepares himself and his family for worship by commanding all in his household to “…put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, and change your garments. Then let us arise and go to Bethel…” (v. 2-3). Jacob knows that it’s because of God’s provision and protection that he has prospered. He wants nothing to stand in the way of his time with God.
During this encounter at Bethel, God renewed His everlasting covenant with Abraham. He tells Jacob:
“…I am God almighty. Be fruitful and multiply; a nation and a company of nations shall proceed from you, and kings shall come from your body. The land which I gave Abraham and Isaac I give to you; and to your descendants after you I give this land.’ (vv. 11-13)
This is now the 8th time that God has expressed in some form or fashion His covenant with Abraham (see also 12:1-3; 13:14-17; 15:1-21; 17:1-22; 18:1-15; 22:15-18; 26:23-24).
Two Family Deaths
Rachel is again with child. But this time the birth does not go well. She dies giving birth to Jacob’s final son, who he names Benjamin (meaning “son of the right hand”).
We also read about the death of Isaac (vv. 27-29). He lived 180 years. It is noteworthy to see that Esau and Jacob come together to bury their father. It would seem their relationship differences had indeed been set aside as there is no mention of conflict between them here.
Genesis 36 – The Family of Esau
The genealogy of Esau is given in Chap. 36. Esau had not taken wives from his family of origin as Jacob had. Instead, he took Canaanite wives. So this introduced all the foreign gods into his household (brought by those foreign wives), making his family no different than the other families in Canaan. There is no indication given that Esau or his descendants served the one true God.
Be that as it may, God still blessed him. Esau wasn’t heir to the everlasting covenant with God but he too became a nation. That group of people is referred to as the Edomites.
Genesis 37 – Joseph’s Dream Sequence
Genesis 37 begins a new story arch in the book. The rest of the chapters (except for 38) will be devoted to Jacob’s second youngest son Joseph. He was 17 years old at the beginning of this narrative (v. 2).
Every family has some tension. Jacob’s was no different. In his case, it stemmed from several things.
One, he enlisted his son Joseph to report on the other brother’s activities while the worked as shepherds in the field. We aren’t told what happened but evidently on one occasion, Joseph brought home a bad report about his brothers.
Secondly, it seems Jacob loved Joseph more than the others because “…he was the son of his old age” (v. 3). Additionally, he was the son of Rebekah, his cherished wife. So to show his love for Joseph, he made him a special “…tunic of many colors” (v. 3).
Joseph’s brothers hated him for this. In fact, the anger was so great verse 4 says, “…they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” That must have made life difficult for Joseph. And it was really through no fault of his own.
The Dreams of Joseph
One thing that will mark Joseph’s life going forward is how God used dreams to communicate His intentions in the world. He begins here by giving Joseph two dreams that are related and point to something that will happen in the future (although no one knew it at the time).
In dream one, Joseph sees himself and his brothers binding sheaves in the field. All of a sudden, Joseph’s sheaf stood upright. Then, his brother’s sheaves also stood upright and bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf.
The interpretation of this dream can only mean one thing to Joseph’s brothers – he will rule over them one day.
In dream two, the same type of scenario happens. Except in this case Joseph told his father and his brothers that, “…the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me” (v. 9). To this statement, Jacob rebukes Joseph saying, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” (v. 10).
Had Joseph kept these dreams to himself instead of telling everyone, perhaps the tension with his brothers would not have escalated. But his brothers envied him all the more after this incident.
Joseph’s Bitter Brothers
On another occasion, Jacob asks Joseph to go report on his brother’s activities in the field. This was probably not a wise move given that this reporting had caused problems before.
How deep was the brother’s hatred and envy of Joseph? Verse 18 tells us that when they saw him approaching in the distance (wearing his distinct tunic), they,
“…conspired against him to kill him…’Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!'”
The eldest brother Reuben hears of this plot and convinces his brothers to spare Joseph’s life. He convinces them to throw Joseph into a pit, with the intent of returning at some point to rescue Joseph. But when Reuben had left them (probably to tend to the flock somewhere), the brothers sell Joseph to a caravan of Midianite traders passing by for 20 shekels of silver.
Reuben is distraught when he finds out. But at this point, nothing can be done. Joseph is gone, taken by the Midianite traders down to Egypt (v. 28).
The Ultimate Deception
The brothers took Joseph’s colored tunic that they had stripped off him, killed a young goat, and dipped the coat in its blood. Upon returning to Jacob they ask, “We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?” (v. 32). Of course Jacob recognizes it and is in despair thinking that his beloved son from his beloved wife has been devoured by some wild animal.
This incident is one of the ugliest deceptions in the entire Bible. So many cold-hearted, unthinkable actions and lies. And done against (Joseph) and to (Jacob) family members no less.
But, even though it didn’t seem like it, God was putting the wheels of a plan in motion for Joseph’s life that even his brothers could not stop.
Questions to Consider:
Jacob’s powerful directions to his family in Gen. 35:2-3 serve as an example to us all. Which of his three actions (put away, purify, arise and go) do you struggle with the most? How do you work through family tension? What future plans is God putting on your heart? Can you trust Him to let them unfold even in the face of difficulty?
What other points would you want to know about in our Genesis 35-37 commentary? Email us here with questions or comments.