Who sold Joseph into slavery?

Discussion in 'OT Historical Books' started by Filter, May 2, 2019.

Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.
  1. Filter

    Filter Puritan Board Freshman

    As I've been studying through Genesis, I've come across a question which I have not thought of before. Of course, of everything I've been taught or have read, Joseph's brothers were those who sold Joseph to the Midianites (or Ishmaelites or Medanites (v.36) - they tend to put these groups all as the same people.

    However, I've come across some who have postulated that it was actually the Midianites who pulled Joseph out of the pit (וַֽיִּמְשְׁכוּ֙ leaves it ambiguous as to who pulled him out) and then sold him to the Ishmaelites. Simultaneous to this is when Judah came up with the idea to sell Joseph into slavery; however, he was beat to the punch. When Reuben came to the pit and saw that Joseph was gone, according to this thought, it wasn't because the brothers had already sold him, it was because the Midianites pulled him out and sold him! Reuben returns to the brothers, lamenting over the loss of Joseph. Interestingly, there is no record of the brothers explaining that they sold him. Presumably, they may have then themselves went to the pit, found it empty, and realized they needed a story for his disappearance that didn't involve them throwing him into a pit and leaving him. If they had told Reuben they sold him, then it is wondered why none of the brothers (especially Reuben) wouldn't have try to console Jacob by telling him that they sold him.

    Either way, these commentators agree, the brothers were guilty of evil and not exempt from sin.

    It caught my attention, and I was wondering if anyone had come studied this or has any thoughts on it.
  2. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    It doesn’t say “Joseph’s brothers” in that verse. I do think it was his brothers because Joseph tells them later they meant it for evil but God meant it for good.
  3. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    Gen 37:28 is ambiguous as to whether it was the Midianites or the brothers who sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites. However, the former theory relies on the Midianites and the Ishmaelites being two distinct groups (so that one can sell him to the other); yet in v.36, once Joseph arrives in Egypt it is the Midianites who sold Joseph, indicating that the Midianites and Ishmaelites are the same group. From that, we can deduce that "they" in v.36 must be Joseph's brothers, as the CSB and NIV make explicit.
  4. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

    26 So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our Brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.


    Sin, if not fought, usually snowballs (think of David). Here the brothers plan evil and further have no issue with a lie to their father. They had shame and sought to preserve more of their own honor than to tell their father the truth. However they only further demonstrated that they lacked honor from the picture we have the benefit of seeing. While Rueben may have been “less” guilty in degree, he still sinned in lying to his brothers instead of speaking the conviction he felt internally and complying with the lie to the father.:detective:
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
  5. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

    I disagree.

    The brothers clearly conspired to sell the man in v27 to the Ishmaelites. A textbook aspect of slavery, regardless of how many times Joseph changed hands.

    Then we see an exchange occur by “selling” to the Ishmaelites v28.

    The verse regarding the Lord using evil for good, does not bring clarity regarding the detail of “who actually sold Joseph”. Rather this verse deals more with “motives” and “purposes” regarding Joseph’s slavery.

    Sure it supports that what the brother’s did was evil, but it does not say “Joseph’s brothers directly sold him into slavery”.:detective:
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
  6. Romans922

    Romans922 Puritan Board Professor

    It is clear from the text:

    1) that the brothers desired (v27) to sell him to the Ishmaelites.
    2) That whoever lifted Joseph from the pit also sold him to the Ishmaelites (v28).
    3) The Ishmaelites who bought Joseph are called Midianites (V36). For the Ishmaelites had bought Joseph in v.28, are now the ones selling him in v.36. It makes no sense for the Midianites to sell them to a different group of Ishmaelites, and then the Midianites holding Joseph in slavery again later, then selling him to Potiphar. Thus, Ishmaelites in v.28 = Midianites.
    3) The only possible conclusion then is: a) the Ishmaelites and Midianites are the same people, and b) that Joseph's brothers sold him and thus they lifted him out of the pit.
  7. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

    Haven’t you seen the Dreamworks movie Joesph: King of Dreams?
  8. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    You disagree that the verse doesn’t say “Joseph’s brothers”? All you have to do is go to the verse and see that it doesn’t say “Joseph’s brothers”. It just doesn’t no matter if you want it to lol
  9. G

    G Puritan Board Junior


    I believe the verse and others in the passage DO tell us that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. That is why I said “I disagree” with you. The original language may not literally say “Joseph’s brothers” in v28, but the passage and further the verse clearly indicate that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery.

    Further the verse you used to conclude the same fact far less directly deals with the question “who sold sold who?” . If so, then show me? Hopefully that clarifies what I mean by “I disagree”. Apologies for anything unclear.

    @Romans922 walks through the clarity of the passage.
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
  10. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    My original post was to clarify that the verse didn’t have “Joseph’s brothers” in it. I did that because you put it in the verse as though you were quoting the Bible which is misleading. As far as the verse I used not being supportive evidence of his brothers selling him, I’ll explain later bc right now I’m on break and have to go soon.
  11. G

    G Puritan Board Junior


    I assure you I was not trying to mislead anyone. I literally copy and pasted an English translation. You quoted a post I deleted prior to you posting on the thread. I made a copy/paste error (NLT instead of NKJV) in that post. If you will go back and look at my post, you will see the NKJV is what is reflected. Forgive my copy/past error.

    P.S. I believe I can see and anticipate the supportive nature of the verses in Genesis 50. However I find the passage in Genesis 37 to be more supportive of the conclusion (which is the same) we both are drawing. Genesis 45:4 makes it even more certain. So I think our only difference would be the clarity of who sold Joseph from the passage in Genesis 37 alone.:detective:

    P.S. For me Genesis 37 is clear & Genesis 45 concretes it further. Genesis 50 deals with the specific OP question more vaguely and more specifically deals with the Lord taking something fallen men intended for evil, but God using it for good.
    Last edited: May 2, 2019
  12. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritan Board Junior

    Victor P Hamilton:

    "These traders are identified as Midianites and Ishmaelites. Judg. 8:22–28 state clearly that Midianite and Ishmaelite are overlapping, identical terms. In other words, the two names were used interchangeably to refer to North Arabian caravaneers who branched off through Gilead (v. 25) from the main transport route on the way to Egypt."
  13. Reformed Bookworm

    Reformed Bookworm Puritan Board Junior

    Victor P Hamilton Genesis 37:25–27 (NICOT Ge 18–50):
    "The brothers’ treatment of Joseph has not diminished their appetite. While he is trapped in a cistern from which there is no possible escape, they sit down and eat. A group of passing caravaneers (Midianites/Ishmaelites) on their way to Egypt gives Judah another idea of what to do with Joseph. He suggests that they sell Joseph to these traders. Judah thus joins Reuben in having second thoughts about the outright murder of Joseph."

    Nahum Sarna:
    "The discrepancy in names has been variously explained by traditional commentators. Genesis Rabba 84:20, followed by Rashi, postulates that Joseph was traded several times. Ibn Ezra identifies the Ishmaelites with Midianites on the basis of Judges 8:24, which relates that Midianites possessed golden earrings “because they were Ishmaelites.” This passage suggests that the term “Ishmaelite” was used as an epithet for “nomadic traders” rather than in an ethnic sense. “Midianite,” on the other hand, indicates a specific ethnic affiliation. Even if the two names are indicative of originally distinct narrative strands that have here been interwoven, it must have been the close connection between
    Ishmael and Midian in biblical tradition—both being offspring of Abraham (25:1–2, 12)—that led to their fusion.
    The fact that all those who had a hand in the sale of Joseph into foreign slavery were his own kinsfolk serves to heighten the tragedy."

    Kenneth Matthews Genesis 37:28 (Genesis 11:27–50:26 (NAC)):
    "The unusual trifold repetition of “Joseph” in the Hebrew text, “pulled and brought up Joseph … sold Joseph … and took Joseph,” signals the importance of this verse for the episode. “His brothers pulled Joseph up” (NIV) interprets the ambiguous subject of the action, lit., “they pulled Joseph up,” which may refer to the Midianites (e.g., HCSB, NAB, REB) or to the brothers (e.g., NLT). Since the Midianites and Ishmaelites are best understood as identifying the same traveling band (see comments on v. 25), v. 28b shows that it must have been the brothers who brought him up and sold him. Joseph’s accusation coincides well with this understanding (45:4–5). Otherwise the Midianites and Ishmaelites were two different groups, and the former sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites who went down into Egypt, but this would contradict the narrative at 37:36 and 39:1."
  14. OPC'n

    OPC'n Puritan Board Doctor

    Grant, I don't believe that God would state that the brother's evil sin was placing Joseph in a hole and just having the intension of selling him. When Joseph stated that God meant it for good we have to have a "What did God mean for good?" The "what" can't just be them placing Joseph in a hole or them just having the intention of selling Joseph because those two actions wouldn't lead to anything. There had to be an action by them that led to an ultimate good. What was the ultimate good? The ultimate good was that Joseph was now in power and could supply many people with food. How did he get to Egypt to be in power? He was ultimately sold into slavery there. By whom? Well, by the Ishmaelites/Midianites (same people), but the brothers started the ball rolling when they sold him to the Ishmaelites. I used this verse to help support the verse (Genesis 37) the OP used in its question. If he felt Genesis 37 wasn't clear enough to make a decision on who sold Joseph, then Genesis 50 would help to clarify it.
  15. Contra_Mundum

    Contra_Mundum Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger Staff Member

    Everything that needs to be said, has actually been said already. I would just like to add one thing that has not been alluded to (to my knowledge). There is at least one authoritative commentary on the passage, Act.7:9. "And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt."

    The basic biblical-theological reckoning that comes out of this text is the manner in which Joseph becomes a redeemer-figure, against the evil aims and intentions of his own people (cf. Jn.1:11), becoming a savior of the world (cf. Gen.41:56-57) besides that of his own people (Gen.47:12). Mk.15:10, "For he knew that the chief priests had delivered him for envy."
  16. bookslover

    bookslover Puritan Board Doctor

    Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ismaelites for twenty shekels of silver (Genesis 37.28, ESV)

    The "they," in the context, is Joseph's brothers, shown by the fact that the Ismaelites did not sell him to themselves. He was sold to them by his brothers.
  17. G

    G Puritan Board Junior

    Thanks for expressing your point further.
  18. Filter

    Filter Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you for your replies, they are indeed insightful and helpful. One other question that I have is if anyone knows why there is a difference in terms in verse 28 vs verse 36 (mid-ya-nim vs m-dah-nim)? Is it simply a change in vowels due to the definite article being attached to the front? I'm still quite novice as Hebrew.
  19. iainduguid

    iainduguid Puritan Board Sophomore

    It's not due to the definite article. Elsewhere the name of the people seems to be always midyanim, and a different nation is called medan in Gen 25:2. Most likely, though, the yod has either dropped out accidentally, or it is simply a defective spelling. The homonym madon (meaning strife or contention) shows up in the plural as both medanim and midyanim in Proverbs.
    • Informative Informative x 2
    • List
Thread Status:
Not open for further replies.

Share This Page