Genesis 37


“Genesis 37-50 is often called the ‘Story of Joseph,’ but this is something of a misnomer. As the introduction in 37:2 makes clear, this is the story of the family of Jacob (in Hebrew ‘the generations of Jacob’). Joseph is, of course, a key player in the story, but so are his brothers and his aging father Jacob.  Genesis 37-50 has been called a ‘short story’ or ‘novella.’ It has all the ingredients of good storytelling: a cast of characters with good and bad traits, the tale of how an insignificant Israelite achieves success in the international  arena (what some call the rags-to-riches plot), plenty of intrigue and dramatic crises, and a powerful ending.  But what is most striking about this text is how these elements have been shaped into a powerful theological ‘Torah’ or instruction on the ways of God in our world.” (Barry J. Beitzel, ed., Biblica: The Bible Atlas, [Australia: Global Book Publishing, 2006], 124)

Genesis 37:2 Joseph, being seventeen years old… brought unto his father their evil report

Joseph’s age in this story is important.  He lacks the maturity to see how his actions are perceived by his brothers.  He is the messenger boy, sent back and forth to his brothers tending the flocks.  It seems that he had bad news to tell his father.  The report likely reflected negatively on his older brothers who began to see Joseph as a tattler.

The pattern is similar to young David when he went to the front to visit with his brothers.  Like Joseph, David’s skill and intelligence were underrated by his brethren, “Eliab his eldest brother heard when he spake unto the men and Eliab’s anger was kindled against David, and he said, Why camest thou down hither? And with whom has thou left those few sheep in the wilderness?  I know thy pride and the naughtiness of thine heart for thou art come down that thou mightiest see the battle.” (1 Sam. 17:28)

Genesis 37:3 Jacob loved Joseph more than all his children

Obviously, Joseph was the firstborn son of his beloved Rachel.  He loved Rachel more than Leah or his concubines; it is natural, therefore, for him to favor Joseph and later Rachel’s second son Benjamin over the others.  Parental purists might find fault, but the scripture is painting the picture of real people, not perfect people, made great by the promises given them by God and the covenants they kept.  Do we not aspire to the same in spite of our imperfections?

Jacob loved Joseph.  Jesus loved John; that is how he received the title, “John the Beloved.”  Many feel sorry for the other sons because Jacob especially loved Joseph.  Do they also feel sorry for the rest of the Apostles because Jesus loved John? (John 13:23)

Furthermore, the special relationship of Jacob and Joseph, like Abraham and Isaac, is a type for the relationship between Heavenly Father and his beloved Son, Jesus Christ.  Jacob also had a beloved son, in whom he was well pleased.

“Joseph of Egypt was a type for Christ, Joseph Smith, and the Latter-day tribe of Joseph (i.e., Ephraim and Manasseh).

“Joseph served as a type for Christ in the following ways:

  1. Both were granted a new name: Joseph was denominated Zaphnath-paaneah by Pharaoh (Gen. 41:45) Jesus' divine name was Christ.
  2. Both were good shepherds.
  3. Both were known as the most loved of their father.
  4. Both were clothed in authority and power of their father. Joseph, for instance, was given the ‘coat of many colours’ (Gen. 37:3), a symbol of priesthood authority.
  5. Both were revelators, and revealed things pertaining to the future (JST, Gen. 50:24-38; Matt. 24).
  6. Both were fully obedient to the will and wishes of their fathers and responded to their calls to serve, saying, ‘Here am I’ (Gen. 37:13; Abr. 3:27).
  7. Both were promised a future sovereignty, speaking equally of a temporal and an eternal role.
  8. Both were betrayed by their brothers, at which time they were stripped of their garments.
  9. Both were cast into a pit-Christ to the world of spirits, Joseph into an empty cistern.
  10.  Both were betrayed with the utmost hypocrisy (Gen. 37:27; John 18:31).
  11.  Both were sold. It was Judah that sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver (Gen. 37:26-28), as it was Judas (Greek for Judah) who sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matt. 26:15).
  12.  The blood-sprinkled coat of each was presented to his father. Joseph's coat of many colors was dipped in the blood of the goat (Gen. 37:31-32) the blood of Jesus Christ as the blood of the scapegoat, a sin offering, was symbolically presented to the Father.
  13.  Both blessed those with whom they labored in prison (Gen. 39:21-23; D&C 138).
  14.  Both were servants, and as such all that they touched were blessed.
  15.  Both were tempted with great sin and both refused its enticements (Gen. 39; Matt. 4:1-11).
  16.  Both were falsely accused: Joseph by Potiphar's wife, Christ by false witnesses.
  17.  Both stood as the source of divine knowledge to their day and generation.
  18.  Both were triumphant, overcoming all.
  19.  Both were granted rule over all (Gen. 41:40; 1 Pet. 3:22).
  20.  Both were thirty years old when they began their life's work (Gen. 41:46; Luke 3:23).
  21.  Both were saviors to their people, giving them the bread of life. Joseph saved his family with a temporal salvation; Christ as the Bread of Life saves the family of mankind with a spiritual salvation.
  22.  The rejection of both brought bondage upon the people.
  23.  Both were unrecognized by their people (Gen. 45:3-5; D&C 45:51-53).
  24.  Both would be recognized and accepted by their brothers only at the ‘second time’ (Acts 7:13; D&C 45:51-53).
  25.  As Joseph's brothers bowed to him in fulfillment of prophecy, so all will yet bow the knee to Christ (Gen. 43:26-28; D&C 76:110).
  26.  Through both, mercy is granted to a repentant people. As Joseph's brothers sought forgiveness of him, so Christ's brothers will eventually seek forgiveness of him.
  27.  After the reconciliation, Israel is gathered. Having manifest himself to his brothers, Joseph charged them to return and bring their father and families to Egypt. So it shall be in the last days. After Israel have returned to their God, they, like Joseph's brothers, shall be sent to bring all the family of Israel into the kingdom ruled by Christ.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie and Donald W. Parry, A Guide to Scriptural Symbols [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1990], 71-72)

Genesis 37:3 he made him a coat of many colours

Joseph’s “coat of many colours” has become legendary. Yet, the language used may not be an accurate description of the garment. In fact the word “garment” may be a better description. A modern Torah commentary gives alternate translations such as “Ornamental Tunic. [Although] the meaning is not clear. Others translate as ’a coat of many colors,’ or ‘a robe with sleeves.’” (W. Gunther Plaut, Torah: A Modern Commentary, p. 244) Yet, apocryphal sources indicate that the garment was “the garment of Adam” which had been handed down from one patriarch to the next. This, in part, explains the anger of Joseph’s elder brothers when they learned that he would be the recipient of the garment. It represented the next link in the patriarchal priesthood—and it was going to Joseph not Reuben.

“In Alma 46:21-24 we read of a particular ceremony associated with the story of Joseph's garment. Because Jewish tradition indicates that Joseph's garment was the high priestly garment of Adam, this passage may have more meaning than previously supposed.” (Donald W. Parry, Temples of the Ancient World, p. 695, footnote 50)

Hugh Nibley

Here the survival of Joseph's garment guarantees and typifies the survival of Joseph (Alma 46:24).

In the tenth century of our era the greatest antiquarian of the Moslem world, Muhammad ibn-Ibrahim ath-Tha'labi, collected in Persia a great many old tales and legends about the prophets of Israel…Among other things, Tha'labi tells a number of stories, which we have not found anywhere else, about Jacob and the garment of Joseph. In one… there were in the garment of Joseph three marks or tokens when they brought it to his father… According to ad-Dahak that garment was of the weave [pattern, design] of Paradise, and the breath [spirit, odor] of Paradise was in it, so that it never decayed or in any way deteriorated [and that was] a sign [omen]. And Joseph gave them that garment, and it was the very one that had belonged to Abraham, having already had a long history…

Note here that there were two remnants of Joseph's garment, one sent by Joseph to his father as a sign that he was still alive (since the garment had not decayed), and the other, torn and smeared with blood, brought by Judah to his father as a sign that Joseph was dead. Moroni actually quotes Jacob (“Now behold, this was the language of Jacob”) as saying: “Now behold, this giveth my soul sorrow; nevertheless, my soul hath joy in my son” (Alma 46:25-26)…

“These interesting little details are typical apocryphal variations on a single theme, and the theme is the one Moroni mentions; the rent garment of Joseph is the symbol both of his suffering and his deliverance, misfortune and preservation.” (An Approach to the Book of Mormon, p. 218-20)

Neal A. Maxwell

The Book of Mormon gives us a prophecy of Jacob that we do not find in Genesis:

   Moroni said unto them: Behold, we are a remnant of the seed of Jacob; yea, we are a remnant of the seed of Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces; yea, and now behold, let us remember to keep the commandments of God, or our garments shall be rent by our brethren, and we be cast into prison, or be sold, or be slain.

   Yea, let us preserve our liberty as a remnant of Joseph; yea, let us remember the words of Jacob, before his death, for behold, he saw that a part of the remnant of the coat of Joseph was preserved and had not decayed. And he said—Even as this remnant of garment of my son hath been preserved, so shall a remnant of the seed of my son be preserved by the hand of God, and be taken unto himself, while the remainder of the seed of Joseph shall perish, even as the remnant of his garment. (Alma 46:23-24.)

We likewise learn that prescient Joseph saw not only the coming famine in Egypt, but he also "truly saw our day." (2 Nephi 3:5.) Twice he exclaimed joyfully over the promise given to him that the Lord would raise up a seer out of his seed. (2 Nephi 3:16-18.) In fact, the many prophecies of Joseph in Egypt (which we have yet to receive) are characterized thus: "For behold, he truly prophesied concerning all his seed. And the prophecies which he wrote, there are not many greater. And he prophesied concerning us, and our future generations; and they are written upon the plates of brass." (2 Nephi 4:2.) (Plain and Precious Things [Salt Lake City: Deseret Book Co., 1983], 82)

Genesis 37:5  Joseph dreamed a dream

Joseph turned out to be a prophetic dreamer.  He both received dreams and interpreted them.  Each of us receives revelation in different ways. One of the most common for Joseph was dreams.

Marion G. Romney

Now I know, my brothers and sisters and friends, and bear witness to the fact that revelation from the Lord comes through the spoken word, by personal visitation, by messengers from the Lord, through dreams, and by way of visions, and by the voice of the Lord coming into one’s mind.

Most often, however, revelation comes to us by means of the still, small voice. (Ensign, May 1978, 50)

Genesis 37:8  Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us?

Nobody wants their younger brother ruling over them.  Laman and Lemuel knew how this felt:  “Our younger brother thinks to rule over us; and we have had much trial because of him; wherefore now let us slay him, that we may not be afflicted more because of his words.  For behold, we will not have him to be our ruler; for it belongs unto us, who are the elder brethren, to rule over this people.”   (2 Ne. 5:3)

“Human nature being as it is, it was not strange that they were irritated.  They could justify among themselves the anger they felt by charging that their father was unjust. But there was a subtler and less conscious reason for their resentment.  They must have recognized that Joseph, with his bright, imaginative spirit, was more attractive than they were.  Perhaps there was real cause why his father should prefer him; but that was exactly what they did not choose to admit. 

“If they had been men of more magnanimous spirit, they would have thought and felt differently. If they could not share Jacob’s fondness for the little brother, they could have treated it with amusement; there was nothing in it that did them too serious harm…

“Consider the families today in which one child, usually dowered by God, wakes only the hostility of others in the family because they do not want to grow.” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 752-753) 

Genesis 37:10-11 his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed?... but his father observed the saying

Jacob has mixed emotions.  His first instinct is to rebuke Joseph for his insolence.  After all, who does Joseph think he is?  But then his feelings change.  Unlike his other sons, he is able to give some credence to Joseph.  Like Mary who kept all things in her heart (Lu. 2:51), Jacob remembered what Joseph had said.  He considered its fulfillment to be possible no matter how improbable it seemed at the time. 

Genesis 37:18-19 before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him

Orson Hyde

Behold the inconsistency of his elder brethren! If his dreams were of God, it was a sufficient cause of great joy to them, that they could have a ruler of divine appointment; and hence worse than madness to oppose him. If his dreams were not of God, they had no cause to fear his elevation to the ruling power. But his dreams were of God, and the means which they adopted to prevent their fulfillment proved, under the overruling hand of Providence, to be the very means to bring about the things foreshadowed by them.

It is not infrequently the case, that plans and measures devised by the greatest cunning, ingenuity, and wisdom of the wicked against God's chosen, prove to be the most impressive and happy means to bless and exalt those against whom these plans are laid. (Journal of Discourses, 2:204)

Genesis 37:20 let us slay him… and we shall see what will become of his dreams

“The effective impact of Joseph’s biography is created by the device of what Aristotle called ‘dramatic reversal,’ which he considered essential to good drama and which is often found in Greek writing.  Fate thwarts the will of man by turning the effect of his actions to its own purposes rather than to his.  Joseph is sold by his brothers so that they may be rid of the dreamer, yet the dreams come true, the slave becomes master, hatred turns to love, and the rejected one saves his brothers’ lives. In sum, man cannot alter the overriding purposes of divine power.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, ed. by W. Gunther Plaut [New York, The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981], 242)

Genesis 37:21 Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him.

History has not been kind to Reuben.  Well known is his transgression with his father’s concubine, Bilhah.  Later, Jacob would say that Reuben was “unstable as water” (Gen. 49:4).  However, this little vignette is a bright spot for Reuben.  He is the one who intends to protect Joseph.  He stays the hand of bloodshed; he considers the grief of his father; he considers the fate of Joseph.  Unaware that Judah has decided to sell him for money, he returns to the pit with the obvious intention of saving him.

 He deserves all the credit we can give him for saving Joseph, for in saving Joseph, he would eventually save himself and his family.

“Two things probably motivated Reuben to try to save Joseph’s life.  First, as the oldest son (35:23), he was most responsible to his father for the safety of his young sibling.  Second, after having sexual relations with his father’s concubine, Bilhah (35:22), Reuben was undoubtedly attempting to get back in Jacob’s good graces.”  (The Apologetics Study Bible, T. Cabal [Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007], 61)

Genesis 37:22 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites

“The Midianites (25:2,4) and Ishmaelites (25:12-18) were closely related as descendants of Abraham (though not Sarah).  At this time the two peoples must have enjoyed a close working relationship, since their names are used interchangeably.” (The Apologetics Study Bible, T. Cabal [Nashville: Holman Bible Publishers, 2007], 62)

“The Midianites were a dominant nomadic people associated with the lineage of Midian (son of Abraham and Keturah) living principally in the northern region of the Arabian Peninsula and emerging from time to time in the chronicles of Israelite history.  Joseph was sold to a caravan of Midianites by his jealous brethren (see Gen. 37:28), this caravan group subsequently selling him into Egyptian hands (see Gen. 37:36).

“When Moses fled from Egypt he lived among the Midianites and married Zipporah, daughter of Reuel (or Jethro), the prince of Midian (see Ex. 2:11-21; 3:1; 4:19).  Following the Exodus (see Ex. 18:1), the Midianites provided guidance to Moses and the Israelites during their wanderings in the wilderness, acting in their behalf ‘instead of eyes’ (Num. 10:31).  The history of the relationship between the Israelites and the Midianites from that time forward was marked from time to time by milestones of severe conflict.” (Unlocking the Old Testament, Ed Pinegar, Richard Allen, [American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2009], 58)

Genesis 37:22 sold Joseph… for twenty pieces of silver

Christ was betrayed for thirty pieces of silver—the price of a slave.  Joseph was also sold for the price of a slave, but there was a price differential.  For slaves less than 20 years old, the price was only twenty pieces, “Twenty pieces of silver [was] the redemption price for a five to twenty-year-old male.” (The Torah: A Modern Commentary, 246)  Joseph was 17 at the time.  Joseph and Jesus were worth more than twenty or thirty pieces of silver, but the poignancy of public rejection and being sold for the price of slaves affected both.

Genesis 37:23 they stript Joseph out of his coat

The opposite of being clothed in the robes of righteousness is to be stripped of one’s clothing.  Like Christ was stripped of his robe before his crucifixion, Joseph is stripped of his special coat.  The divestiture is symbolic of being stripped of one’s authority, power, or position.  Could the brothers forever prevent Joseph from exerting authority over them by taking away his coat?  Like the Roman soldiers, Joseph’s brothers assume the authority to divest him of his inheritance—as if they had the power.

Whatever protection man would attempt to remove from Joseph, God would replace.  As Isaiah said, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness” (Isa 61:10).

Genesis 37:24 they took him, and cast him into a pit

“Joseph is thrown by his brothers into a pit—a dreadful physical fact. But morally and spiritually, too, it may often seem that the soul of man is in a pit. The realization of this may come with shocking suddenness. Joseph at one moment walked in the sunlight in his coat of many colors; the next moment he was down in stifling darkness.  One moment he seemed to have no need of anything; the next moment he had agonized need of everything.  So with human souls.  From self-sufficiency they may be plunged into paralyzing helplessness and desperate need of God. Yet at Joseph’s worst moment there were unsuspected forces moving for his release.  God’s purpose working through its own instruments would carry his life on to deliverance and great destiny.  Beyond this verse in Genesis comes the sound of Ps. 40:2, ‘He brought me up also out of a horrible pit, out of the miry clay, and set my feet upon a rock.’” (The Interpreter’s Bible, ed. by G. A. Buttrick et al [New York, Abingdon Press, 1952] vol. 1, p. 754-755) 

Genesis 37:26-27 Judah said… What profit is it if we slay our brother… Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites

The following commentary is not politically correct.  If anyone is easily offended, they are invited to stop reading this paragraph.  For the record, the idea to sell Joseph and make some money was Judah’s.  His descendants are famous in the annals of history for making a profit.  As a people, they are portrayed as more interested in profits than prophets. Here, Judah sets the stage for all of his descendants.  But should we encourage stereotypes?  Of course not!  This one just helps us remember which brother wanted to make a buck off Joseph.

“Stereotypes of Jews are caricatured and generalized representations of Jews, often of a racist nature. [Jews]… have been stereotyped for over 2,000 years as scapegoats for a multitude of societal problems.  Antisemitism continued throughout the centuries and reached a climax in the Third Reich during World War II. Jews are still stereotyped as greedy, nit-picky, stingy misers and are often depicted in caricatures, comics, and propaganda posters counting money or collecting diamonds. Early films such as Cohen's Advertising Scheme (1904, silent) stereotyped Jews as ‘scheming merchants.’” (

Genesis 37:31 they… killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood

The blood of this kid goat prefigures the blood of the Lamb.  The blood represents sin.  In the case of the brothers, the blood represents their sin in selling Joseph.  In the case of Christ, the blood represents the sins of the world.  In both cases, the protagonist is sinless. In both cases, the protagonist would save those who had shed the blood of the innocent.  Joseph would save the house of Israel; Jesus would save both Jew and Roman.

Genesis 37:33 Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces

Why would Jacob conclude that Joseph had been ripped to pieces?  The Genesis account merely states the brethren dipped the coat in blood, but the Book of Mormon tells us that the coat was all ripped up as well, so as to indicate a violent death.  Moroni spoke of “Joseph, whose coat was rent by his brethren into many pieces.”  (Alma 46:23)  Jacob merely assumed that Joseph was still in the coat when it was “rent in pieces.”

Genesis 37:34 Jacob rent his clothes

Rend or Rent. (1) In biblical times the rending of clothes was a token of grief (Gen. 37:34). (2) The rending of a garment was also a way of dramatizing horror at what was deemed blasphemous or impious (Matt. 26:65; Acts 14:14). (3) It was also associated with the making of an irrevocable decision.” (Joseph Fielding McConkie, Gospel Symbolism [Salt Lake City: Bookcraft, 1999], 269)

Genesis 37:36 the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar… captain of the guard

L. Tom Perry

And they took their seventeen-year-old brother and sold him as a slave to a caravan going into Egypt, a strange land, where they spoke a strange tongue and had strange customs. But the Lord was with this remarkable young man, and he seemed never to be discouraged. Though a stranger, a slave, his countenance must have radiated a special spirit. When offered for sale, he was purchased by a captain of the king’s guard. It was only a short time before Joseph had so distinguished himself to the captain that he made him ruler over his house. In authority he was the first servant; and he was made overseer over all the captain had, and the captain put his complete trust, his properties, his income, into the hands of Joseph. (“Trust in the Lord,” Ensign, May 1978, 51–52)