Beckett: Genesis 37:18-22 Bible Study

(Words in italics are words not found in the Hebrew text but need to be supplied in the target language, English. Words underlined are a Hebrew idiom. Words in brackets [] are in the text but not needed in the English translation to make sense of the text.)


Hebrew Translation

They saw him from a distance before he came near them, and they acted deceitfully toward him in order to kill him. They said to one another, “Behold, the lord of dreams has come to this place! Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the cisterns, and we will say a wild animal ate him, then we will see what will become of his dreams!” But when Reuben heard them, he rescued him from their hand and said, “Let us not take his life.” Then Reuben said to them, “Let us not shed his blood. Throw him into this cistern that is in the wilderness, and let us not stretch out a hand against him,” so that he might rescue him from their hand and to return him to his father.

Commentary

One of the first things I should’ve said at the beginning of this Bible study series is that this entire account of Joseph’s story is filled with sin: Jacob’s favouritism, Joseph’s arrogance, his brothers’ envy and hatred, his brothers’ selling him into slavery and lying to their father about it for years, and the sexual sin between Judah and Tamar. This whole story is absolutely rife with sin. Joseph’s story teaches us many things, especially its Christology concerning the coming of Christ. Yet one of its best teachings, I think, is how absolutely messy and disgusting sin is, as well as God’s unfathomable mercy to spite sin by using it for His good salvific purpose.

We are now entering the climax of Joseph’s story—he is about to be sold into slavery, although at first his brothers’ intention was to kill him. Fortunately for Joseph, Reuben stepped up and “rescued” him from the blood seeking hands of his brothers. I am of the opinion that this “rescue” is being used ironically. Reuben rescued Joseph’s life from the hands of his brothers, but he didn’t rescue him from them entirely. Instead, he offers a different approach to deal with Joseph.

Instead of killing him, Reuben thought, let’s simply throw him into this specific cistern! That’ll solve our problems! Thus, we see Reuben’s hypocrisy. Reuben may not have wanted Joseph to be killed, but he still wanted to be rid of him just like the rest of his brothers. Reuben had the opportunity to completely save Joseph from his brothers’ hands. Instead, he thought it better to throw him into a cistern. Yet if they only threw him in the cistern, Joseph would eventually die of thirst and hunger. A little later, it would be Judah who devises the plan to sell him to some passing Ishmaelites and deceive their father. But more on that on another date. We will also see Reuben’s hypocrisy again when he realises what his brothers did in his absence.

It should be noted that Joseph’s brothers calling him “the lord of dreams” is not a reverent recognition of his gift. They’re mocking him. Imagine them saying sarcastically, “Behold, ‘the lord of dreams’ has come to this place,” exchanging laughter with one another. They already hate him so much that they’re willing to kill him. Such an exclamation, then, can only be of derision, not reverent acknowledgement.

Christology

This derision could be a foreshadow of the derision of Christ. Just as Joseph’s brothers mocked him for being the “lord of dreams,” so the Romans and the Jews would mock Jesus for being the King of the Jews and the Son of God during His suffering and crucifixion. Upon His cross, Pontius Pilate nailed His crime in Aramaic, Latin, and Greek, “INRI,” each letter translating to, “Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews.”

The Roman soldiers mocked Jesus by placing a crown of thorns on His head as the “supposed” King of the Jews (Matthew 27:27-31). And those who passed by Jesus on the cross mocked Him, saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross,” and the Jewish chief priests and scribes and elders also mocked Him, “He saved others; He cannot save Himself. He is the King of Israel; let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him. He trusts in God; let God deliver Him now, if He desires Him. For he said, ‘I am the Son of God.'” Even the thieves who were crucified alongside Him mocked Him (Matthew 27:41-44)!

Joseph’s brothers hated him and mocked him for his gift of dream interpretation, and they sought to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery. The Jews hated Jesus for His claim to forgive sins, accused Him of blasphemy, and mocked Him as they delivered Him over to crucifixion to be killed, dying for our slavery to sin. “For our sake He made Him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). As we are slaves to sin (cf. John 8:34; Romans 6:15-23), Christ became a slave to sin although He knew no sin in order to deliver us from our slavery.

Related Readings

Genesis 37:1-5 Bible Study
Genesis 37:6-11 Bible Study
Genesis 37:12-17 Bible Study

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