Genesis 37:23-25 (Hebrew translation)
When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic of various colours that was on him. Then they took him and threw him into the cistern, and the cistern was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat to eat food. And they lifted their eyes, and behold, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead—their camels carrying spices, balsam, and myrrh—walking down toward Egypt.
How did Joseph’s brothers know these Ishmaelites were coming from Gilead and going toward Egypt? Much as when I once lived in Clayton, Missouri affixed between I-64 and Ladue, knew that a person exiting the highway has just come through St. Louis and is going towards Ladue if they continue on Clayton Road. Certain roads lead to certain places, especially in ancient times when there weren’t many roads.
What must’ve been going through the minds of Joseph’s brothers when they sat to eat food? It’s sort of an odd interjection in the text. “They threw him into the cistern… then they sat to eat food.” Why did Moses—the author of the Pentateuch—find it important to add this small detail to this part of the story? We can only speculate.
Here is my speculation: Perhaps they were thinking about what to do next. I imagine they were thinking: “We just threw him into the cistern. There’s no coming back from this. If we change our minds, take him back to father, surely he will tell him what we did to him and we will be punished for it. So, what do we do now?” So, they sat and they ate as they pondered what they should do next.
Then, as “luck” would have it, Ishmaelites arrive! There is their answer! In the next text, we will see what they decided to do with Joseph—what they believed would solve all their problems. But what does this text have to do with you and me? On the surface, absolutely nothing. This is Joseph’s story, not your story or my story. I could allegorise it for you, but I don’t condone such poor exegesis and preaching.
Yet I will say this because we can at least relate to Joseph on a small scale: Joseph was having quite a bad day, and neither would the many days that follow his coming journey be good days. Yet as you continue to read Joseph’s story, you come to discover that God was present with Joseph throughout each day, and Joseph didn’t even realise God was present until much, much later.
This kind of experience, I believe, is something we all share in common with Joseph. There are times when we experience a really bad day and sometimes this lasts for weeks, months, or even years. It might not be to the extent of Joseph’s story—being stripped of your nice clothing, thrown into an empty cistern, and sold into slavery by your own family—but you and I have bad days that are so bad that we begin to lose hope. I can recall many times in my own life where I see God was present in a troubling situation many years ago but didn’t realise it at the time.
Yet just as God was present with Joseph during these bad days even when he didn’t realise it, so God is present with you during your bad days even when you don’t realise it. Like Joseph, you may not even realise God is with you, but you can trust that He is, for God is not a God who abandons His people.