Jacob was now on his way back to Canaan to see his father. But he was very much afraid of what his brother Esau would do. For, Esau had planned to kill him when he left Canaan twenty years before.
Facing the worst, Jacob arranged for Rachel and her son Joseph to stay the greatest distance behind. That was because Rachel was the wife he especially loved, and Joseph was his favorite son. Then Jacob moved up past the other groups of his family and servants and went out to meet Esau (Gen. 33:1-2).
Esau and his four hundred sturdy men pulled to a halt a short distance from the front of Jacob’s caravan. Jacob, ahead of the others, was so close that he could see his brother staring at him.
Would a spear or an arrow hiss out from those warriors and find its mark in his chest?
Trusting in God that no harm would come to him, Jacob bowed seven times toward his brother, as was the custom then when one party wished to give respect to another party. After each bow, he moved a few paces closer to Esau.
After the seventh bow, he straightened up to look squarely at his brother for the first time in twenty years (v. 3).
For a few moments there was silence, and nothing happened. Then Esau, who had dismounted from his camel, rushed forward to seize Jacob – and hug him! They were so happy to see each other that they wept. Thus God answered Jacob’s prayer.
When Jacob’s family saw that Jacob and Esau had met as happy brothers, the wives and children and servants came near Esau and bowed.
“Who are these people?” Esau asked. “God has been good to me,” Jacob replied. ‘These are my two wives, my eleven children and my wives’ handmaids and our servants and workmen.”
Esau was pleased at the sight of the crowd of courteous people. Looking about, he saw the flocks of sheep, goats, cattle and many camels and donkeys. Looking behind him, he could see the flocks of stock he had passed on the way to meet Jacob. They were returning because Esau had not stopped long enough to learn that they were intended as a gift to him from Jacob.
“What are those flocks I passed on the way here to meet you?” Esau asked. “I wanted you to think well of me,” Jacob replied. “They were gifts for you.”
“But I don’t need more animals,” Esau said. “I have plenty. Keep them for yourself.” “Please accept them,” Jacob said. “I am so thankful that God has spared you and caused you to be friendly with me that I want to give you these things.”
Esau could see that Jacob would be unhappy if he didn’t accept the animals, so he took them (Gen. 33:10-11).
Esau then suggested that both their caravans go together back to Seir, where Esau lived. But Jacob knew that Esau and his men liked to move swiftly. Because there were small children in Jacob’s caravan, and flocks to be herded, Jacob would have to proceed slowly. When Esau realized how matters were, he left for his home with the understanding that he would meet Jacob later.
At the same time, Jacob’s caravan set out behind Esau, but continued on to Canaan, where Jacob bought land and settled down (v. 17).
After Jacob returned to Canaan, he had one more son, named Benjamin. It was wonderful to have so many sons, but when this twelfth one was born, his mother died. Jacob was very sad to lose the wife he especially loved (Gen. 35:16-20).
He had other sorrows while he lived in Canaan. His daughter, Dinah, had gotten into trouble when she attended a pagan festival of the Canaanites. This, in turn, brought trouble to her grown brothers, who wrongly thought they had reason to act brutally and dishonest at times (Gen. 34:1-2).
Meanwhile, Jacob’s favorite son, Joseph, grew into a young man. By the time he was seventeen he was working hard helping take care of his father’s livestock. His brothers did the same kind of work, but they weren’t friendly with Joseph because their father did special favors for him (Gen. 37:3). Joseph told his father about some of the wrong things his older brothers had done, and that caused them to dislike him.
To make matters worse, Joseph dreamed some dreams that seemed to show that he would some day become an important person, and that his brothers would come to look upon him with much greater favor (Gen. 37:5-11).
Not long after these things took place, Jacob’s ten older sons moved the flocks about sixty miles from home. After they had been gone several days, and no word had come from them, Jacob began to worry. Because of some of the cruel things Simeon and Levi had done, the brothers were not liked by the other people in that region, and for that reason Jacob feared that they might have been attacked. Therefore he sent Joseph to try to follow them and to return to him with any news.
It was a long trip on foot for a lad of seventeen, but a few days later, after making inquiries from people in that area, he came upon his brothers herding their flocks.
When they saw him coming, their hatred and jealousy toward him grew even more. They didn’t want him to be keeping an eye on them and then making a report to their father.
“We should kill him,” muttered one of the brothers whose name was Simeon. “I’m all for that,” said another. “We could throw him into a den or a hole and say that a wild beast attacked him,” one of them suggested.
“Let us not shed blood,” spoke up Reuben. He pointed to a deep pit that had once been a well. “It would be better to put him down there and let him starve.”
Reuben wasn’t as cruel as the other brothers with him. His plan was to later rescue Joseph from the pit and send him back to his father. “We’ll do it your way, Reuben,” the other agreed.
Excited to at last find his brothers, Joseph hurried happily toward them, shouting their names. But he halted when he came close enough to notice their deep scowls.
“Well, if it isn’t Joseph the dreamer!” one of the brothers sneered. Suddenly Joseph found his arms pinned behind him and held tightly by those who had stepped up to seize him. “Rip his coat off!” someone yelled.
The coat that Joseph was wearing was a special, many-colored coat his father had given him. It was just one more reason why the other sons were envious. The coat was jerked off him, and he was lifted up and dropped into the pit Reuben had shown to his brothers.
Joseph landed on the loose, dry gravel and dirt at the bottom of the old well, and so was unhurt. He got to his feet and tried to scramble out. But the loose soil only fell in when he touched it, and he could see that it was useless to try to climb out.
Joseph thought at first that his brothers were playing a trick on him. He couldn’t believe that they would really be cruel enough to leave him in the old well to die. After a while he called up to them to let him out, but they only laughed and continued eating their noon-time meal.
However, Reuben was not among those who laughed at Joseph. He had gone to watch the flocks while the others ate, and he planned to return after the others had gone out to their flocks. Then he would rescue Joseph.
But Reuben didn’t see the caravan of Midianites who approached (Gen. 37:28 and 25:2). They were on their way to Egypt to sell spices. When the other brothers saw the caravan, an idea came to one of them. “These Midianites buy and sell most anything, including slaves,” said Jacob’s son Judah, “let’s sell Joseph to them and they can sell him in Egypt as a slave.” The brothers agreed. Some of them waved to the approaching caravan to get them to stop. The brothers told them that they had a young man in the nearby pit they would like to sell to them. Some of the caravan got down off their mounts and looked into the pit.
After much arguing and bargaining, it was agreed that the Midianites would pay for Joseph what would be equal to about fifteen dollars in our present money.
Imagine selling a human being for only fifteen dollars! But hatred causes many evil things, and the hatred toward Joseph by his brothers was an example of what terrible things can happened when people let hate, instead of love, come into their minds.
After the Midianites had given twenty pieces of silver for Joseph, a rope was lowered and Joseph was pulled out of the pit. Then they seized him and tied him on the back of one of the camels. Right after that the caravan moved on.
Things had happened so quickly that Joseph wasn’t sure what was going on. But when the caravan continued on toward the south, he shouted to his brothers to rescue him. But the brothers just stood and watched the caravan move away, glad that at last they were rid of the brother they didn’t like.
A little while later Reuben returned to the old well into which Joseph had been thrown. By this time, the other brothers had gone back to their flocks. On finding that Joseph wasn’t in the pit, Reuben hurried to his brothers to find out what had happened.
“Don’t worry about Joseph,” they told him. “He’s still alive. We sold him to a caravan of Midianites headed for Egypt.”
Reuben was so filled with grief to hear this that he ripped apart some of his clothes.
The brothers knew that they would have to explain to their father what had become of Joseph. They took the coat they had taken from him and dipped it in the blood of a goat that they butchered. A few days later, when they returned to Jacob’s place, they acted very sad.
“What is the matter?” Jacob asked as he hurried out to meet them. “Where is Joseph?”
“Is this Joseph’s coat?” asked one of the sons, holding out the blood-stained coat. “I had it made for him. Where did you find it?” “We found it in the desert,” was the reply.
“My son has been killed by some wild beast!” Jacob cried. Jacob was so sad at the thought of losing his favorite son that he was very close to illness for many days. Meanwhile, his other sons tried to comfort him. But they didn’t dare tell him the truth about what had happened to Joseph. It was a cruel way to treat their father. Each feared to tell the truth because of what the other brothers would do to the one who would tell. And all of them feared what Jacob would do if he learned that his son had been sold as a slave.
While Jacob was feeling sorrowful about what he thought was his son’s death, Joseph was taken down into Egypt by the Midianites traders. There, in a slave market, he was put up for sale to any one who would pay the best price.
Among those who needed a healthy, young male slave was a man named Potiphar. He was captain of the guard in the service of the king of Egypt, and, as such, was a powerful and important man (Gen. 37:36).
Potiphar bought Joseph and put him to work in his household doing all kinds of tasks. As the days passed, Potiphar noticed that Joseph was more capable and trustworthy than his other servants.
Because Joseph followed God’s laws and was honest, hardworking and anxious to do his best, he was put in charge of all the servants on Potiphar’s household. You will remember that God’s blessing was on Laban’s household because Jacob served God. Now there was a blessing upon Potiphar’s household because of Joseph’s’ obedience.
Meanwhile, God was causing certain events to take place with Joseph because He had a plan in mind that, through Joseph, would affect the whole world for thousands of years. You will see what that plan was as you continue reading what happened to Joseph and those who lived after him.
Matters went well until Potiphar’s wife began to like Joseph. It wasn’t long before she thought as much of him as she did her husband. Joseph knew that such a thing shouldn’t be, and one time he told her so (Gen. 39:7-8). This made her so angry that she snatched off Joseph’s jacket as he was leaving. Then when servants were close at hand, she called out to them for help. When they rushed to see what the matter was, she held up Joseph’s jacket and told them that Joseph had been cruel to her, but had fled when she cried out. When Potiphar came home, she told him the same untrue story. Potiphar was very angry. He ordered soldiers to seize Joseph at once and put him in the king’s prison (vs. 16-20).
Time passed, during which the man in charge of the prison noticed that Joseph was obedient to prison rules, and that he was an intelligent person who could help to keep order in the prison (vs. 21-23). Here God stepped in again to cause Joseph to find favor with the head jail keeper. Before long Joseph was in charge of prison matters under the head jail keeper. However, he had to go on living in the dungeon, even though he enjoyed a fairly high office.
Be watching for the next installment of The Story of the Bible.