Joseph Is Sold into Slavery

Genesis 37

The well known story of Joseph and his brothers opens with his family living in the area of Hebron in the land of Canaan. After many years spent elsewhere, Joseph’s father Jacob had returned to Hebron (Genesis 35:27-29), for that was where Jacob’s father Isaac had settled and where Isaac’s father Abraham had purchased some land to serve as the family burial place (Genesis 23). Joseph’s brothers had gone to Shechem far north of Hebron to graze the family flocks, but apparently Joseph stayed behind. Joseph had earlier angered his brothers and even his father by telling them about some dreams he had that seemed to suggest they would all bow to him one day. Jacob eventually sent Joseph to Shechem to check on his brothers. When he arrived, he did not find his brothers, but another man told him that he overhead his brothers saying that they should go to Dothan. As Joseph was approaching Dothan, his brothers saw him and plotted to kill him, but the oldest brother, Reuben, persuaded them only to throw him into an empty cistern. As the brothers sat down to eat their meal, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders coming from Gilead on their way to Egypt. Their camels were loaded down with gum, balm, and myrrh, which matches Jeremiah’s later association of Gilead with balm and medicinal ointments (Jeremiah 8:22; 46:11). The traders were no doubt making their way to the international trade route that passed near the coast. So instead of killing Joseph, his brothers sold him to the traders, whom the story now refers to as “Midianites.” Both Ishmaelites and Midianites were largely nomadic peoples, and it may be that the term Midianites could be used to refer to any transient group of people, such as a trade caravan. After the Midianites reached Egypt they sold Joseph to Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard.

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