Genesis 37:12–36: Joseph the Captive
The first part of the story of Joseph set the stage in an ominous direction. We read about Joseph’s faithfulness, but we also read about the brothers’ ever-increasing hatred for Joseph. We have no indication that Jacob knows anything about the murderous intentions developing in the hearts of his sons, a naiveté that sets up the horrifying story that we will study in Genesis 37:12–36. Here, we see Joseph walk right into an ambush, narrowly escaping with his life, but only by being sold into slavery in Egypt. Even so, this story is not written to lament the misfortune of Joseph, as deeply as he suffers here. On the contrary, we are subtly reminded at every stage of this passage that it is the Lord himself who is personally, powerfully, and providentially in control over the intricate details of Joseph’s life. By implication, this passage has a powerful message for us about the Lord’s providential guidance of the many details of our own lives, including our suffering. Here we are reminded of what the Apostle Paul puts so powerfully in Romans 8:28: God works all things together for our good.
1) In how many ways does the beginning of this passage hint at the suffering that Joseph will experience when he finally encounters his brothers? Why does shepherding in Shechem strike such an ominous note (v. 12; cf. Gen. 34)? What are we reminded of when Jacob instructs Joseph to “see” the “peace” of the brothers and the “peace” of the flock (v. 14; cf. Gen. 37:4)? How does the long distance from Hebron to Shechem, and then Shechem to Dothan, make Joseph vulnerable?
2) In how many ways does this passage underscore the extent of the evil of Joseph’s brothers? How does this passage inform us about the motivations of Joseph’s brothers? What does Reuben want? Why? What does Judah want? Why? What do the Ishmaelite and Midianite traders want? Why? How does this evil contrast against Joseph’s willingness to go (v. 13) and his diligence to finish the job and find his brothers (v. 15–17)?
3) In how many ways do we see the providential hand of the Lord through all of this? How does the Lord providentially send Jacob to his brothers in the first place? How does the Lord providentially ensure that Jacob has no protection? How does the Lord providentially prevent the brothers from killing Joseph? How does the Lord providentially rebuke Jacob for the sins of his youth, when he deceived his own father, Isaac?
4) How do we reconcile the great evil committed against Joseph with the providential goodness of God? Later, Joseph will say to his brothers, “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen. 50:20). Much later, the Apostle Paul will write, “for those who love God all things work together for good” (Rom. 8:28). How do the Scriptures demonstrate that God is not the author of evil, but that he nevertheless gives boundaries to evil and orders evil for our ultimate good (WCF 5.4)? How do you understand this doctrine? Is it a comfort to you? Why or why not?