1 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.
2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.
5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. – Genesis 37:1-11 ESV
After providing a brief of Esau’s life and lineage, Moses shifts the focus back to Jacob. But rather than provide a similar genealogical treatment of Jacob’s life, Moses chose to narrow down his narrative to the life of one particular descendant of Jacob – his 11th son, Joseph. The story shifts from the clan of Esau living in the region of Edom to the family of Jacob living in Canaan, the land of promise. Jacob had returned to Hebron, where he was raising his 12 sons and one daughter. This was familiar territory to Jacob because it was at Hebron that his grandfather, Abraham, had settled after parting ways with Lot (Genesis 13:18). It was while he was living in Hebron that Abraham received a message from God.
“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:15-17 NLT
It was in Hebron that Abraham purchased land from the Hittites to serve as a burial place for his wife, Sarah. And years later, Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael would bury him alongside Sarah in the same cave on the very same land.
His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah, near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite. This was the field Abraham had purchased from the Hittites and where he had buried his wife Sarah. After Abraham’s death, God blessed his son Isaac, who settled near Beer-lahai-roi in the Negev. – Genesis 25:9-11 NLT
When Isaac died at the ripe old age of 180, his sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him in Hebron as well.
So Jacob returned to his father, Isaac, in Mamre, which is near Kiriath-arba (now called Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac had both lived as foreigners. Isaac lived for 180 years. Then he breathed his last and died at a ripe old age, joining his ancestors in death. And his sons, Esau and Jacob, buried him. – Genesis 35:27-29 NLT
The cave of Machpelah near Hebron had become the family burial plot, so it made sense for Jacob, the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham, to settle his family in the same vicinity. Geographically, Hebron was located dead center in what would eventually become the nation of Israel. It was from that vantage point that God gave Abraham a panoramic view of the surrounding territory that would one day become the inheritance of his descendants.
“Look as far as you can see in every direction—north and south, east and west. I am giving all this land, as far as you can see, to you and your descendants as a permanent possession. And I will give you so many descendants that, like the dust of the earth, they cannot be counted! Go and walk through the land in every direction, for I am giving it to you.” – Genesis 13:14-17 NLT
And, years later, when Jacob was on his way from Hebron to Mesopotamia to escape the anger of his brother, God visited him in a dream and delivered virtually the same message He had given to Abraham.
“I am the Lord, the God of your grandfather Abraham, and the God of your father, Isaac. The ground you are lying on belongs to you. I am giving it to you and your descendants. Your descendants will be as numerous as the dust of the earth! They will spread out in all directions—to the west and the east, to the north and the south. And all the families of the earth will be blessed through you and your descendants. What’s more, I am with you, and I will protect you wherever you go. One day I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have finished giving you everything I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:13-15 NLT
Jacob had returned to Hebron where he now ruled as the patriarch of the family. Yet Moses does not make Jacob the hero of his story. Instead, he turns the reader’s attention to Joseph, one of the youngest of Jacob’s 12 sons. But Joseph was somewhat unique in that he was the first son to be born to Rachel who, for years, had suffered from barrenness. And while Leah, her sister and the second wife of Jacob, had given him six sons, Rachel remained without a child. Until God had intervened.
Then God remembered Rachel’s plight and answered her prayers by enabling her to have children. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son. “God has removed my disgrace,” she said. And she named him Joseph… – Genesis 30:22-24 NLT
And Moses indicates that Joseph enjoyed a certain degree of parental approval that his siblings found objectionable.
Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. – Genesis 37:3 NLT
And to make matters worse, Jacob exhibited his favoritism for Joseph by giving him a fancy robe, which further incited his brothers against him. By the time Joseph was 17-years-old, he was the apple of his father’s eyes and the bane of his brothers’ existence. He was both loved and despised. And Joseph seemed to have enjoyed his favored status. He appears to have become his father’s eyes and ears, watching his older siblings and ratting them out if they did anything wrong.
Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing. – Genesis 37:2 NLT
Not exactly the best way to win friends and influence enemies. So, between the blatant favoritism and the tattle-telling, Joseph developed a less-than-favorable relationship with his 10 older brothers.
…his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him. – Genesis 37:4 NLT
And it wouldn’t be long before their anger turned into action. They would soon learn that their brother was more than just an informant and a teacher’s pet. He was an arrogant, boastful dreamer. This runt of the litter was having literal dreams of greatness filled with delusions of grandeur, and it infuriated them. It would be one thing to write this all off as the behavior of an innocent child, but Joseph was 17-years-old. He should have known better. But there seems to be a degree of pride in this young man. What else would explain his eagerness to tell his older brothers about his dreams? He must have known that his brothers disliked him, and surely he knew that the content of his dreams was not going to be received well.
…when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. – Genesis 37:5 NLT
And it’s easy to understand why. His dream had used symbolic imagery of bundles of wheat displaying anthropomorphic characteristics. But his brothers had not missed the point. Their younger brother was clearly attempting to portray himself as their better, and they were furious.
“So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them. – Genesis 37:8 NLT
Perhaps it was just a case of naiveté. Maybe Joseph didn’t really know what he was doing and was sharing his dream with his brothers in the hopes that they might help him decipher its meaning. But that seems unlikely. As will become clear as the story unfolds, Joseph was far from an empty-headed dreamer. He was a very smart and resourceful young man. He had to be aware of his brothers’ hatred for him. And, in seeing their response to his first dream, he would have known that their jealousy of him and hatred for him was at an all-time high. But that didn’t stop him from sharing the content of a second dream.
Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!” – Genesis 37:9 NLT
Just reading that sentence makes me cringe in disbelief. What would possess Joseph to share this dream with his brothers? I think he knew exactly what it meant and he was eager to share it with his “eleven” brothers. And, not only that, he wanted his father and mother to hear the content of his dream as well.
It’s important to note that these dreams were not like those his father had experienced. There were no sightings of angelic beings or words of instruction from God. It would have been obvious to Moses and his original audience that these dreams were divinely ordained. But there is no indication that Jacob or his sons received them this way. In fact, Jacob was very familiar with dreams as mediums through which God spoke, but he did not view Joseph’s dream in that light.
…his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” – Genesis 37:10 NLT
But we know the rest of the story. Joseph was being given a glimpse into the future fate of Israel. None of them understood the ramifications of Joseph’s dream, but God was clearly conveying His plan to elevate Joseph to a place of prominence and primacy. This favorite son of Jacob would soon find himself basking in the favor of Pharaoh. What none of the characters in the story understood was that they were about to take an unexpected detour. Their journey to possess the promised land was about to take them to a place they never could have imagined. And it was all part of God’s preordained and perfectly formulated plan.
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