Genesis 37 – A dreamer and his brothers

When a dreamer grows up in a dysfunctional family, there will be conflict. It’s no surprise that Joseph and his brothers don’t get along, but the degree of dislike is shocking. Unfortunately for Joseph , many of the themes of Genesis come into sharp focus in his life.

When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. Genesis 37:4-5


Joseph’s father favors him greatly, a practice Jacob (now called Israel) learned from his own parents. Parents should love and bless their children, but they should not be partial to one over another. If they do show favoritism, it will sow seeds of bitterness that bear poison fruit. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) Yet the track record of Genesis is full of strife between siblings, beginning with Cain and Abel, continuing through Jacob and Esau, and now reaching a peak in young Joseph.

Genesis doesn’t directly condemn polygamy, but instead shows us its complicated and undesirable consequences. Abraham’s sexual relationship with Hagar produces a tribe, the Ishmaelites, that will remain in conflict with the descendants of Isaac. Jacob fathers children with four women, and there is no sweet unity among them.

Deception fills chapter after chapter of the Bible’s first book, especially in the life of Jacob (whose name may mean deceiver). Jacob’s boys learned that lesson well, and use it on their teacher/father to hide what they have done to their brother.

Joseph has dreams that come from God, and he is not the first one to receive them. Already Abimelech, Jacob, and Laban have received divine messages in dreams. Genesis contains nearly one-third of all the dreams mentioned in the Bible. God uses the dreams to reveal himself and his plans, and to intervene on behalf of his people.

The slave-trading Midianites carry captive Joseph off to Egypt, and nothing good happens in Egypt according to the accounts in Genesis. In Genesis, and most of the Bible, Egypt is a godless place where God’s people sojourn at great risk to their faith. But Joseph’s God-given dreams promise that something good may yet come out of this dark place.


11 thoughts on “Genesis 37 – A dreamer and his brothers

  1. A few thoughts:
    1) Strange that God seems to show favor to Abel over Cain, for reasons unclear.
    2) From a strict reading of scripture, you cannot show that polygamy is forbidden. Rather, it is the wisdom of the teaching office of the Church that shows us this truth. Even Martin Luther realized this fact.
    3) John Steinbeck gets a nice title for a novel.
    4) Without Hagar, one of the great novels of English literature would have begun, “Call me Issac”.

    • Not until the New Testament, when the qualifications for deacons and pastors mention that they should be the husband of one wife, does the Bible make it plain. However, the results of polygamy are repeatedly shown to be harmful. Very funny about Moby Dick.

  2. But that just speaks to the requirements of a bishop, not of a layperson. No where does it state that common folk should avoid polygamy. Martin Luther was accurate on this point (no so much on others). 😉

    • To take something of a different tack: I don’t think we can safely argue that polgyamy is sin, precisely because Scripture doesn’t indicate it as such.

      (That it’s stupid is pretty inarguable.)

      • From Dr. Jonathan Sarfati on The clearest evidence that monogamy is God’s ideal is from Christ’s teaching on marriage in Matt. 19:3–6. In this passage, He cited the Genesis creation account, in particular Gen. 1:27 and 2:24, saying ‘the two will become one flesh’, not more than two.
        Another important biblical teaching is the parallel of husband and wife with Christ and the Church in Eph. 5:22–33, which makes sense only with monogamy—Jesus will not have multiple brides.

      • Well, to be clear, I wouldn’t argue that polygamy is ideal – I’d just argue that it fits into the category of “not ideal, but also not sinful.” (I’d put, say, getting a bad sunburns in that category, too, though to a much lesser degree.) Both of the passages you point to are fine examples of cases where monogamy is praised – but that’s not the same as saying that the alternative is necessarily sin.

        Perhaps a better example than sunburns: in the same passage where Paul commands monogamy of deacons, he commands that they should have obedient children. Is it God’s ideal that a man’s children should be obedient to him? Certainly yes! Is the man necessarily sinning if his children are disobedient? Definitely not – and so the man can live in a way that’s not God’s ideal without necessarily being in sin for it.

        (One might counter that the children are in sin in this case, which is likely true but, I think, kind of tangential to my point.)

        To consider other circumstantial evidence, there are a number of places where we would really expect condemnation of polygamy to appear; God is not hesitant to condemn a wide range of sexual sins in Leviticus and doesn’t hesitate to rebuke the patriarchs forcefully for their sin. Yet at no point does he either list polygamy as forbidden or condemn David or the rest for this sin; indeed, it’d be difficult to make the case that the authors of the Old Testament view these multiple marriages as sinful acts. This seems very peculiar, if it’s truly sinful!

        (To reiterate: I think it’s polygamy is profoundly unwise! This is by no means a defense of it – only a caution regarding what standards we require before declaring something an offense before God.)

  3. I heard a very interesting lecture today where the theologian was making the point that the “New Testament” is actually not the 2nd half of the Bible. It’s actually the New Covenant. The word in Greek is interchangable. And the sacrament preceeded the document by decades. In fact the first reference to the collection of writings occurs in about 190 AD where it is called “the books of the new testament”. Jesus refers to this once and only once. The New Testament, the New Covenant, is actually the Eucharist, not the last 27 books of the Bible. But thats a topic for another day.

    • I agree with you that the New Testament is the New Covenant, fully explaining what Jeremiah first revealed in Jer 31:33: God would change our hearts, give us new hearts that desired to keep his law since no man could keep his law on his own.

  4. I can attest to the consequences of polygamy because I myself came from a dysfunctional family where worst of all, I’m the illegitimate one and my mom was the “other woman” of my married dad. I happen to be the youngest of all and I feel very much for Joseph because my half-siblings, their mother and relatives all didn’t treat me well because well its not easy to accept that your dad had an affair and impregnated another woman and we were the product of that affair. I only happened to met dad and all of them after my mother died (No wonder my mom named me after him, I happened to be born at the date when the weekly Torah portion focuses on the life of Joseph. I was born and circumcised as a Jewish and one of the naming customs is adopting names based on the Torah portion on the week of the date a baby is born). However during the time of Abraham and Jacob, God allowed polygamy to bear many children.

    However I don’t agree that New Testament changed polygamy, it was actually the 10 Commandments that polygamy became a sin (6. Thou shall not commit adultery and 9. Do not covet your neighbor’s wife). The NT simply reinforces the law God gave to Moses in Exodus.

    Going back to the story, what made the brothers hate Joseph isn’t because he is their half-brother but because he was the favorite son of their father Jacob and it is understandable and normal for siblings to get jealous to the favored kid (usually the youngest), half or full sibling. And then here came the dreams which fueled the brother’s anger even more to the point of almost killing Joseph. Again what made the brothers angry and made their father Jacob annoyed isn’t because of those dreams but because of the idea that the younger Joseph would rule over the older brothers and their father and mother, which is also understandable. The brothers already hated the fact that their dad favored him and then their much hated brother would someday rule over them. Worse is that despite knowing his older brothers already hated him, he still had the nerve to tell them about these dreams although Joseph never intended to appear boastful and arrogant to them as he was too young and innocent to understand the dreams. Still it was like a triple whammy for him.

    Please correct me if I am wrong because I’m just new to Christianity (though as a Jew, I still follow Jewish laws and customs but accepted Yeshua ישוע as the Messiah.)

    • I think your insights are all accurate. Thank you for sharing. Keep digging deep in God’s word from both the old and new covenants as you mature in your faith. One thing you can see from the Bible is that a troubled past is no obstacle to God blessing you and using you.

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