Genesis 37

2 Joseph's brothers resented him for "telling on them." They thought that everything was fine as long as they were not caught. Instead of doing something about their bad behavior, they chose to hold a grudge.
3 Most parents have a favorite child. For some, this favoritism comes about because of personality characteristics. Here the favoritism comes about because of the circumstances of when Joseph was born. Joseph was the son of Israel's favorite wife. Joseph was born when Israel was already old. Thus, it was like becoming a father and grandfather at the same time. It was a rare and special event to have a child in one's old age. Joseph was also a completely honest young man. His honesty "stepped on people's toes," but Israel knew he could rely on Joseph with confidence. Joseph's older brothers were less reliable.

Israel displays his favoritism by giving Joseph a special coat. It may have been pieced together, dyed, or otherwise ornamented. It was unique and very prominent. Israel was not bashful about letting the world know that he loved Joseph more than he loved his other sons. Likewise, Joseph was not shy about being recognized as the favored son.

4 Jealousy is a terrible thing if left unchecked. Joseph's brothers refused to deal properly with their circumstances. Instead of looking at how they might improve themselves, they looked at getting rid of the person that was standing in their way. Whether you are in the role of favored child or not, you should carefully evaluate how you deal with the situation. Remember that God loves you immensely. If you need direction on love, turn to God, and He will not disappoint you.

This jealousy also had two other facets. First, Joseph had a different mother, so it was easy to single him out as different. This alienation based on kinship is known by anyone born on the "wrong side of the family." However, the twist here is that Joseph was born on the "right (i.e., favored) side of the family." Second, it was apparent that Joseph was going to be the heir of Israel's great estate, although he was the second youngest of the brothers. So greed, resentment, and jealousy are all wrapped up in a tight package here.

The brothers focused on Joseph because he symbolized what they could not become. Joseph can not be blamed because he did not create the situation, but the brothers' jealousy still festered into bitter resentment. It is tragic to see siblings that are so embittered towards one another that they can not speak peaceable to each other. Family members who have lived and grown together should have the advantage in working out their differences in a loving manner.

5 Joseph's dream indicated that he would become greater than his brothers. The brothers thought this was an arrogant thing to proclaim. Perhaps it would have been more tactful for Joseph not to say anything to his brothers.
8 Joseph was the heir apparent, and if he did receive the birthright and the blessing, he would indeed rule over his brothers. Though the brothers thought they would never bow before their brother, they would eventually do so unknowingly.
9 Joseph's second dream indicated that he would also become greater than his father and mother.
10 In ancient times, the father was always considered greater than his descendents. For Joseph to indicate that he would become greater than his father, mother, and his ten older brothers was considered shocking and disrespectful.
11 For the brothers, this added fuel to their rage. Israel, though disturbed and offended by the dream, still considered it. With his various experiences with God, he had come to learn that anything was possible. He himself, though the youngest son, had attained the birthright and the blessing of Abraham. God sometimes goes against what humans expect or consider normal. Our traditions, rules, and discoveries do not prevent God from overruling.
13 It had probably been some time since Israel had heard from his sons since shepherding could sometimes keep them away for months at a time. With fatherly concern, Israel was worried and wanted to hear how they were doing. He knew he could rely on Joseph to find them and bring back an accurate report. He sent them some homemade food that they would not have in the open field.

It is important to see that while Israel favored Joseph, he still cared about his other sons.

Joseph had probably done this several times and was not concerned about going again. He may have even been excited to get a chance to get out in the countryside and see his brothers.

15 It was probably common to find people wandering in the fields. The roads were rough, unmarked, or nonexistent; there were no maps for common people; and there were no communication systems to use if you got lost. Those who have wandered around fields would appreciate how frustrating it is to find someone or something. Fortunately, a man finds Joseph and happens to know where the brothers went.
17 This was probably overheard at a well while watering the sheep. Dothan was about thirteen miles north of Shechem.
18 Joseph was easily distinguishable, and probably very visible in his special coat. The brothers' jealousy bubbled to the surface, and their synergistic hatred turned into a plot to kill him. If the brothers had taken an objective overview of the situation, they would see that their father's favoritism was not Joseph's fault. Furthermore, the bad report had not damaged their relationship with their father, only their egos. Finally, Joseph's "arrogance" and condescending dreams did not warrant murder. Joseph had done nothing wrong, and yet his brothers wanted to kill him in a jealous rage.
20 Focusing on the dreams Joseph had, they thought they could prevent the dreams from happening if they killed their brother. It seems that they did not know that the dreams were prophecies from God, and God's Will can not be circumvented.

This is the first in a long line of Israeli plots to kill their own prophets (Mat 23:37). It seems to be human nature to reject God's will when it is not to our liking. Since the offended are not in a position to hurt God, they take out their frustrations on the messenger. If they had looked at their situations objectively, they would have seen that disposing of the messenger did not make the message any less valid.

21 Now Reuben was not necessarily of more noble character. He saw this as an opportunity to get back into his father's good graces. If Joseph was "lost" or "killed," he knew Israel would be greatly grieved. If later Reuben returned Joseph, then his father would be so grateful he might restore Reuben as heir of the household despite the incident with the concubine. At the same time, Ruben would be backstabbing his other brothers by revealing their complete contempt for their little brother.

Reuben's plan was rife with hypocrisy. His appeal to his brothers was to not shed their brother's blood, but to allow Joseph to die of "natural causes" (i.e., starvation). They failed to see that it would still be murder. They would not directly cause Joseph's death, but their deliberate neglect would still make them directly responsible for his death.

23 Apparently it took quite a while for Joseph to get to them. The brothers attacked him and threw him into a pit as planned.
24 Cisterns were typically hollowed out carvers with narrow openings at the top. During the wet season, they would fill with water that could be drawn out during the dry season. Anyone who fell in a cistern would find it impossible to escape unassisted. Fortunately, there was no water in the cistern, so Joseph did not drown.
25 Now Reuben wandered off somewhere (or was tending the sheep), while the rest of the brothers ate dinner. They callously had their fill while hoping that Joseph would die of starvation. While they ate, they saw some merchants going by. The merchants were descendants of Ishmael, their grandfather's half-brother.
27 While this change in action may seem noble, the real motivation is greed. Instead of killing Joseph outright, they could sell him -- easing their conscious and lining their pockets at the same time. Slaves had no rights and their masters often treated them harshly. They probably figured that "sheltered" Joseph would never survive such a life. Even if he did, he could not amount to anything or escape. They felt it would be fittingly ironic that the one who dreamed he would rule his brothers would instead be a slave among foreigners.

By further pushing away the direct responsibility for Joseph's ultimate demise, the brothers thought they could ease their conscious even more. Nonetheless, they would still be guilty because this was a calculated attempt to kill Joseph. Analogously, this would be like blaming the hit man rather than the one who hired him.

28 Merchants carrying expensive good often found protection from robbers by forming large caravans. Ishmaelites and Midianites often traveled together.

It is not said whether the Midianites knew they were enslaving one of their relatives. On the other hand, if the enmity between the "rejected" sons of Abraham and Israelites was already presant, they may have relished the opportunity to contribute to the brothers' infighting.

Twenty shekels (eight ounces) of silver was the common price for a slave of Joseph's age, and was easily divided among the ten brothers. A silver shekel was equivalent to four day's wages. Thus, for a few months of wages the brothers sold Joseph into a lifetime of slavery. In the end, each brother received just a little more than a week's wages for selling Joseph.

29 Now Reuben probably returned late at night to make sure that Joseph was still alive. He obviously had not seen any of the other brothers since before dinnertime. When he did not find Joseph, he tore his cloths because he figured that this was his last hope for reconciliation with his father. Not only that, he would now be the bearer of bad news, not good. On top of that, since he was the oldest, Israel might hold him accountable for what happened.
31 The callousness of this deception is shocking. Not only had they essentially killed Joseph by selling him as a slave, they were now going to make it appear to their father that his favorite son had died. This would cause him great grief, but the brothers only cared about themselves. Since it would be "obvious" that Joseph was dead, there would be no search parties.

When we lie and deceive, we hurt others. It is also shown repeatedly that such lies are found out.

32 The brothers "play dumb" and pretend not to recognize Joseph's unique coat.
33 The "beauty" of this deception is that the brothers did not have to tell a lie. While the brothers did not lie in words, they lied by bringing false evidence. Israel jumped to his own conclusion, and the brothers did not correct his mistaken assumption.
34 Israel was indeed greatly grieved, and would not be comforted. This is probably more than the brothers expected, but they kept their secret.
36 At least for the time being, this looked like a promising position -- servant in a rich and powerful man's house. This would prove to be a training ground for servanthood, and eventually for spiritual testing.