Joseph’s ten older brothers were taking care of the flock in the fields near Shechem, which was nearly 50 miles from Hebron, where the tents of their father, Jacob, were spread. And Jacob wished to send a message to his sons, and he called Joseph, and said to him, “Your brothers are near Schehem with the flock. I wish that you would go to them, and take a message, and find if they are well, and if the flocks are doing well; and bring me word from them.”
That was quite an errand for a boy to go alone over the country, and find his way, for fifty miles, and then walk home again. But Joseph could take care of himself, and could be trusted; so he went forth on his journey, walking northward over the mountains, past Bethlehem, and Jerusalem, and Bethel—though we are not sure any of those cities were then built, except Jerusalem, which we know was already a strong city.
When Joseph reached Shechem, he could not find his brothers, for they had taken their flocks to another place. A man met Joseph wandering in the field and asked him, “Whom are you seeking?” Joseph said, “I am looking for my brothers, the sons of Jacob. Can you tell me where I will find them?” And the man said, “They are at Dothan; for I heard them say that they were going there.” Then Joseph walked over the hills to Dothan, which was fifteen miles further.
Plotting Against a Brother
And his brothers saw him afar off coming towards them. They knew him by the bright garment; and one said to another, “Look, that dreamer is coming! Come, let us kill him, and throw his body into a pit, and tell his father that some wild beast has eaten him; and then we will see what becomes of his dreams.”
One of his brothers, whose name was Reuben, felt more kindly toward Joseph then the others; but he did not dare to oppose the others openly. Reuben said, “Let us not kill him; but let us throw him into this pit, here in the wilderness, and leave him there to die.”
But Reuben intended, after they had gone away, to lift Joseph out of the pit and take him home to his father. The brothers did as Reuben told them; they threw Joseph into the pit, which was empty. He cried and begged them to save him, but they would not. They calmly sat down to eat their dinner on the grass, while their brother was calling to them from the pit.
After the dinner, Reuben chanced to go to another part of the field so that he was not at hand when a company of men passed by with their camels, going from Gilead, on the east of the river Jordan, to Egypt, to sell spices and fragrant gum from trees to the Egyptians. Then Judah, brother of Joseph’s brothers, said, “What good will it do us to kill our brother? Would it not be better for us to sell him to these men, and let them carry him away? After all, he is our brother, and would it be better not to kill him?”
His brothers agreed with him, so they stopped the men who were passing and drew up Joseph from the pit; and for twenty pieces of silver, they sold Joseph to these men, and they took him away with them down to Egypt.
After a while, Reuben came to the pit, where he left Joseph and looked into it, but Joseph was not there. Then Reuben was in great trouble, and he came back to his brothers saying, “The boy is not there! What shall I do?”
Deceiving Their Father
Then his brothers told Reuben what they had done, and they all agreed together to deceive their father. They killed one of the goats and dipped Joseph’s cat in its blood, and they brought it to their father, and they said to him, “We found this coat out in the wilderness. Look at it, and see if you think it was your son’s.” And Jacob knew at once. He said, “It is my son’s coat. Some wild beast has eaten him. There is no doubt that Joseph has been torn in pieces!”
And Jacob’s heart was broken over the loss of Joseph, all the more because he had sent Joseph alone on the journey through the wilderness. They tried to comfort him, but he would not be comforted. He said, “I will go down to the grave mourning my poor lost son.”
So the old man sorrowed for his son Joseph, and all the time his wicked brothers knew that Joseph was not dead, but they would not tell their father the dreadful deed that they had done to their brother, in selling him as a slave.
A Slave in Potiphar’s House
The men who bought Joseph from his brothers were called Ishmaelite because they belonged to the family of Ishmael, who was the son of Hagar, the servant of Sarah. These men carried Joseph southward over the plain which lies beside the great sea on the west of Canaan, and after many days they brought Joseph to Egypt. How strange it must have seemed to the boy who had lived in tents, to see the great river Nile and the cities, thronged with people, and the temples and the mighty pyramids!
The Ishmaelites sold Joseph as a slave to a man named Potiphar, who was an officer in the army of Pharoah, the king of Egypt. Joseph was a beautiful boy, cheerful and willing in spirit, and able in all that he undertook, so that his master, Potiphar, became very friendly with him, and, after a time, he placed Joseph in charge of his house and everything in it. For some years Joseph continued in the house of Potiphar, a slave in name, but in reality the master of all his affairs and ruler over his fellow servants.
Trouble with Potiphar’s Wife
But Potiphar’s wife, who at first was very friendly to Joseph, afterward became his enemy because Joseph would not do wrong to please her. She told her husband falsely that Joseph had done a wicked deed. Her husband believed her and was very angry at Joseph and put him in the prison with those who had been sent to that place for breaking the laws of the land. How hard it was for Joseph to be charged with a crime, when he had done no wrong, and to be thrust into a dark prison among wicked people!
But Joseph had faith in God, that at some time all would come out right, and in the prison he was cheerful and kind and helpful, as he had always been. The keeper of the prison saw that Joseph was not like the other men around him, and he was kind to Joseph.
In a very little while Joseph was placed in charge of all his fellow prisoners and took care of them, just as he had taken care of everything in Potiphar’s house. The keeper in the prison scarcely looked into the prison at all, for he had confidence in Joseph, that he would be faithful and wise in doing the work given to him. Joseph did right and served God; and God blessed Joseph in everything.
The King’s Dream
One night King Pharoah dreamed a dream, in fact two dreams in one. And in the morning he sent for all the wise men of Egypt, and told them his dreams; but there was not a man who could give him the meaning of them. And the king was troubled, for he felt that the dreams had some meaning, which it was important for him to know.
Then suddenly the chief butler, who was by the king’s table, remembered his own dream, in the prison two years before, and remembered, too, the young man who had told its meaning so exactly. He said:
“I do remember my faults this day. Two years ago King Pharoah was angry with his servants, with me and the chief baker, and he sent us to prison. While we were in prison, one night each of us dreamed a dream, and the next day a young man in prison, Hebrew from the land of Canaan, told us what our dreams meant; and in three days they came true, just as the Hebrew had said. I think that, if this young man is in prison still, he could tell the king the meaning of his dreams.”
Then King Pharaoh sent in haste to the prison for Joseph, and Joseph was taken out and he was dressed in new garments and was led in to Pharoah in the palace. And Pharoah said to Joseph,“I had a dream, and there is no one who can tell what it means. And I have been told that you have power to understand dreams and what they mean.”
And Joseph answered Pharoah: “The power is not in me; but God will give Pharoah a good answer. What is the dream that the king has dreamed?”
“In my dream,” said the Pharoah, “I was standing by the river; and I saw seven fat and handsome cows come up from the river to feed in the grass. And while they were feeding, seven other cows followed them up from the river, very thin, and poor, such miserable creatures as I had never seen. And the seven lean cows ate up the seven fat cows; and after they had eaten them, they were as lean and miserable as before. Then I awoke.
“And I fell asleep again, and dreamed again. In my second dream, I saw seven heads of grain growing upon one stalk, large and strong and good. And then seven heads came up after them, that were thin and poor and withered. And the seven thin heads swallowed up the seven good heads, and afterward were as poor and withered as before.”
And Joseph said to the King Pharoah, “The two dreams have the same meaning. God has been showing to King Pharoah what He will do to his land in the coming days. The seven good cows and the seven good heads of grain mean seven years. The seven lean cows and the seven thin heads of grain also mean seven years. The good cows and good grain mean seven years of plenty, and the seven lean cows and lean heads of grain mean seven poor years. There are coming to the land of Egypt seven years of plenty as has never been seen; and then for seven years there shall be such need that the years of plenty will be forgotten, for the people will have nothing to eat.”
And King Pharoah said to Joseph:
“Since God has shown you all this; there is no other man as wise as you. I will appoint you to do this work, and to rule over the land of Egypt. All the people shall be under you; only on the throne of Egypt, I will be above you.”
And Pharoah took from his own hand the ring which held his seal and put it on Joseph’s hand, so that he could sign for the king, and seal in the king’s place. And he dressed Joseph in robes of fine linen and put around his neck a gold chain. And he made Joseph ride in a chariot, which was next in rank to his own. And they cried before Joseph, “Bow the knee.” And thus Joseph was ruler over all the land of Egypt.
This edited version of Joseph’s story appeared in the 1904 book Hurlbut’s Story of the Bible, by Rev. Jesse Lyman Hurlbut. Using everyday language, “the Bible stories are made plain,” the author said.
Siblings can be trouble, as Joseph learned, but God had a plan for the young Israelite’s life. What the brothers intended for evil, God turned to good.
In the opening of the story, we see that Joseph’s brothers harbor great animosity toward him. Two major reasons for the brothers’ feelings are given in Genesis 37:1–11. What are the two reasons? Read Matthew 7:3–5. In light of these verses, what do you think Jesus would say to Joseph’s brothers about their anger toward their younger brother?
Dreams are a critical part of Joseph’s story. Read Genesis 40:1–23. Who was behind the dreams of the cupbearer and the chief baker? What was the purpose of these dreams? Read about the dream of Joseph, the husband of Mary, in Matthew 1:2o; the dream of the Magi, in Matthew 2:12; and the dream of the Apostle Paul, in Acts 16:9. Does God still use dreams today? Read Acts: 2:17.
Do you see any parallels between the lives of Joseph and Jesus? Read Genesis 37: 18–28. Joseph’s brothers first plot to kill him and then betray him for a few pieces of silver. Like Joseph, Jesus’ life was sold away by his brothers. Read Matthew 26:14–16.
Years after he was sold into slavery, Joseph dramatically reveals his true identity to his brothers. Read Genesis 45:1–15. This is a foreshadowing of an event yet to come in the life of Jesus and the Disciples. Read Luke 24:36–43 and 1 Corinthians 15:6.
Read the complete story of Joseph’s life in Genesis, chapters 37 to 50.