Study Guide

Joseph's Brothers in Book of Genesis

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Joseph's Brothers

The Good, the Bad, and the Jealous

Joseph's ten older brothers are the jealous type. Dad loves Joseph more, so they come snapping along with their irrational hatred (37:4) and put their heads together to plot a way to kill him (37:18).

How many ancient brothers does it take to screw Joseph? Well, apparently ten isn't enough, because they fail—big time.

Most of the brothers (Simeon, Levi, Zebulun, Issachar, Dan, Gad, Asher and Naphtali) blend together in Genesis. But there are three stand-outs worth a second look: Reuben, Judah, and Benjamin.

The Good Ones

When the other brothers plan to murder Joe and throw his body into a pit, Reuben convinces them just to throw him down there alive. His secret motive? He intends to come back later and save him (37:22). Unfortunately, Rueben's do-gooder intentions are foiled. Judah, in a less-than-courageous attempt to do right, suggests selling Joseph into slavery instead of killing him (37:26). After all, he says, he is our brother. When Reuben comes back to the pit, little bro is gone (37:29).

Years later, when their father is concerned about Benjamin being hurt, Reuben offers the lives of his own sons as a noble, albeit gruesome, money-back guarantee that he'll watch out for Benji (42:37). As an older man, Judah's aims at goodness hit closer to the mark. He offers a guarantee to protect Benjamin, just like Reuben, but he puts himself on the line as ransom (43:8).

This passage offers us fodder to munch on: can a virtuous act end up causing more harm than good, especially if it's only halfway virtuous (like Judah's) or done with lackluster courage (like Reuben's)?

Baby Brother

Along with Joseph, Benjamin is the only other son of Rachel, who happened to be Jacob's favorite wife (35:18). Needless to say, Benjamin and Joe are quite close.

Actually, we might want to just call him Ben because Mom and Dad couldn't quite agree on the rest of his name. Rachel names him Ben-oni, "son of my sorrow," realizing she is about to die. Jacob, happy that his preferred wife has a second son after years of competition with her sister, changes his name to Benjamin, "son of the right hand." Remember the importance of names in Genesis?

Not surprisingly, Ben is the darling of the family, especially after Jacob believes Joseph is dead. Dad becomes super-protective since he's the last link to Jacob's true love. With this Daddy's pet, the other brothers join in the doting. After they see what dumping Joseph did to their father, we guess they have some guilty consciences (37:34-35).

P.S. Who bought Joseph, anyway? The Ishmaelites or the Midianites? Check out an interesting discrepancy in the text (37:25 versus 37:36) that reminds us that Genesis was most definitely compiled from more than one source over an extensive period of time.

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