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A Practical Commentary On Holy Scripture by Frederick Justus Knecht D.D.

[Gen. 37]

JACOB had twelve sons, and he loved Joseph above all the others, because he was young and very good. And Jacob made him a coat of divers colours. One day, when the brothers were all tending their flocks, some of them committed a most wicked crime. Joseph, being shocked and angry, told his father, on his return home, what he had seen. From that time forward, his brothers hated Joseph, and could not speak to him kindly. Joseph had once a remarkable dream which he thus related to his brothers: “Hear my dream: I thought we were binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf arose, as it were, and stood, and your sheaves, standing about, bowed down before my sheaf.” His brothers replied: “Shalt thou be our king? Or shall we be subject to thy dominion?” And they hated him more than ever. Joseph also dreamed that the sun, the moon and eleven stars worshipped him. His father rebuked him, saying: “What meaneth this dream? Shall I, and thy mother, and thy brethren, worship thee upon the earth?” But Jacob thought within himself that perhaps God had destined Joseph for great things.

One day, when the sons of Jacob had gone with their flocks to Sichem, Jacob said to Joseph: “Go and see if all things be well with thy brethren and the cattle!” He obeyed, and went in search of them. When they saw him afar off, they said: “Behold, the dreamer cometh. Let us kill him and cast him into some old pit, and we will say some evil beast hath devoured him; and then it shall appear what his dreams avail him.” Reuben, the eldest of the brothers, hearing this, sought to deliver Joseph out of their hands, and said to them: “Do not take away his life, nor shed his blood, but cast him into this pit.” This he said, because he wished to restore the boy to his father. When Joseph drew near to his brothers, they forthwith stripped him of his coat of divers colours, and cast him into the pit, in which, happily, there was no water. Then they sat down to eat bread, and saw some foreign merchants passing by, with camels, carrying spices, balm and myrrh into Egypt. Juda then said to his brothers: “What will it profit us to kill our brother? It is better that he be sold, and that our hands be not defiled, for he is our brother.” The others agreed, and, the merchants having come up, they drew Joseph out of the pit, and sold him for twenty pieces of silver. Joseph wept and besought them to have pity upon him, but in vain. The merchants took him away with them into Egypt.

Reuben, being absent at the moment, knew nothing of this wicked bargain. On going to the pit into which Joseph had been cast, and not finding him there, he rent his garments in despair, saying: “The boy doth not appear, and whither shall I go?” The other brothers remained quite unconcerned. Having killed a kid, they dipped Joseph’s coat in it, and sent it to their father, saying: “This we have found; see, if it be thy son’s coat, or no.” The father, knowing the coat, said: “It is my son’s coat; a wild beast hath devoured Joseph.” Then he rent his garments, and putting on sackcloth, mourned his son a long time. His children gathered around and strove to soothe his grief, but he would not be comforted, saying: “I will go down to my son into the grave, mourning.”

Innocent youth. It is impossible not to love the innocent and obedient Joseph, who did not follow his brothers’ evil example, and who was such a joy to his father! Nothing is more beautiful than a holy, untarnished youth. God’s blessing rests on him as it did on Joseph; for it was on account of Joseph’s holy and innocent youth that God chose him for such high things. He who passes his youth in innocence, and is a joy to his parents, will look back to his young days with pleasure, even when he is an old man. On the contrary, if a man stains his beautiful youth with sins and vices, and is a grief to his parents, the memory of his early days will be as a gnawing worm to him for the rest of his life.

Revealing the faults of others. Now, was it nice or right of Joseph to tell his father about his brothers’ sin? One says ‘Yes’, and another says ‘No’; and both are apparently right. If Joseph had taken pleasure in revealing his brothers’ sin, and had hoped to bring punishment on them by doing so, he would have acted very wrongly. He would also have sinned, had he revealed the wrong done to anyone but his father; for that would have been a sin of detraction. Joseph, however, had no bad intention, when he told his father what he knew, but acted out of true love both for God and his brothers, in order that his father might warn them and exercise supervision over them, and that thus his brothers might mend their ways, and not offend God any more. The revelation being necessary, it was Joseph’s duty to make it. If he had kept silence about his brothers’ sin, he would have shared the guilt of it. Had he not told his father, he would have been to blame, if his brothers had sinned again in the same way. You can learn an important rule from Joseph’s conduct on this occasion: Never reveal the faults of others without necessity; but you must (and more especially, if you are asked) reveal them to those who have the right to know, such as your parents, masters &c.; and this, in order that the wrong-doing may be stopped.

Dreams. Joseph’s dreams are called supernatural, because they were sent by God, and had a prophetical meaning. God has often shown men His will by means of dreams. Take, for example, the three kings whom God commanded in a dream not to return to Herod (New Test. VIII). Such dreams are supernatural, because they have a hidden meaning, and God reveals His will through them. It might happen, even now, that God should make known something to some holy person by means of a dream; but in a general way, dreams mean nothing, and are quite ordinary and natural. We possess the teaching of Jesus Christ, by which to know the will of God; and we must pay no attention to dreams and omens, or we shall sin by superstition.

The power of passion. The example of Joseph’s brethren shows us, once more, to how many sins one passion can lead. The beginning of these men’s sin was envy. Hatred, abusive language, and thirst for blood grew from it. They were heartless and cruel, turned a deaf ear to Joseph’s lamentation, and sold him into the miseries of slavery. They lied to their father (“We have found this coat &c.”), embittered his life, and counterfeited compassion for his grief. What a multitude of sins; and they all sprang from envy! Therefore, envy is a capital sin.

The evil consequences of one venial sin. This story teaches us that small causes (such as little faults and venial sins) produce great effects, and have very evil consequences. It was weak-minded and foolish of Jacob to parade his preference for Joseph; but this, in itself, was not a great sin. However, it roused the envy of his other sons, and brought much suffering and sorrow both upon Jacob and Joseph. So let us be on our guard against even the smallest faults.

Omission of what we ought to do. Reuben and Juda were the two brothers who sinned less than the others. Juda, at least, saved Joseph’s life; and, as for Reuben—well, it might be said that he had no share in his brothers’ sin, because he wished to save Joseph, and took no part in selling him. Nevertheless, he cannot be exonerated from blame. He ought to have openly and decidedly opposed his brothers’ blood-thirsty plan, and boldly protected Joseph. Then, after he learnt that Joseph had been sold, he ought to have told the truth to his sorrowing father, who would have sent to Egypt, to seek and ransom Joseph. Reuben, therefore, sinned by omitting to do what he ought to have done.

God can make good come out of evil. Joseph’s brethren said to themselves: “If we sell Joseph to be a slave in Egypt, his dreams will come to nothing, and he will never rule over us.” But God’s wisdom decreed that it was in Egypt that Joseph was to be exalted, and his brethren humbled before him.

Immortality of the soul. Jacob knew and believed that he would, one day, rejoin Joseph, even though he were dead. He knew that everything does not finish with death, but that there is an eternal life to come after this passing one.

APPLICATION. Take great pains to deserve the love of your parents by your conduct.

Do you wish for smart clothes? Do you wish to be distinguished from other children by your finery? God does not look to the clothes, but to the heart adorned with many virtues.

Perhaps you have often published abroad the faults of others without any necessity. On the other hand, you may have concealed what you know, from those set over you, who have a right to know. By doing so you have shared in the guilt of others.

You see in Jacob’s case how very strong is the love which parents have for their children. Should not children be very grateful for the love and care shown them by their parents, and try to be a joy to them? Ask yourself if you have ever vexed, irritated, or grieved your parents, and resolve that, for the future, you will be a joy to them by your obedience and diligence. And do not forget to pray every day for them.

Joseph’s brethren scoffed at him as a dreamer. Do you not often tease your brothers and sisters or companions, and give them abusive names? You must not let this bad habit take possession of you, for you do not like others to give you such names. Do unto others as you would they should do to you!








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