25 “Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.” (Genesis 37:25–28 (ESV)
Who exactly were the Ishmaelite/Midianite traders traveling in a caravan from Gilead to Egypt? The Midianites consisted of five families, linked to Abraham through Midian, son of the concubine Keturah. Abraham sent them away, with all his other sons by concubines, into the east (Gen. 25:1–6). Thus the Midianites are found inhabiting desert borders in Transjordan from Moab down past Edom.
The Midianites were desert-dwellers associated with the Ishmaelites and Medanites (Gen. 37:28, 36).We see the partial overlap of these three terms, not only from today’s text but also in Jdg. 8:24, when Gideon defeated the Midianites. They were said to have been Ishmaelites because of their use of gold ear or nose-rings.
Moses had a Midianite wife, Zipporah, father-in-law, Jethro/Reuel (Ex. 2:21; 3:1, etc.), and brother-in-law, Hobab (Nu. 10:29; Jdg. 4:11). As a man of the desert, Moses asked Hobab to guide Israel in travelling through the steppe (or ‘wilderness’) (Nu. 10:29–32).
The Midianites in today’s text were traveling down to Egypt to engage in commerce. They had camels bearing gum, balm and myrrh. Gum was a pleasant smelling spice. Balm was also a pleasant smelling spice which was also used as a medicine. Finally, myrrh was also a perfumed extract from leaves. All of these resins were expensive, profitable and used for medicines, perfumes and candies.
It was while the brothers were eating that they noticed the caravan. Their calloused hearts toward their brother reveals itself as they sit down to casually eat their lunch.
Dr. R. C. Sproul writes, “Today’s passage dispels with great force any doubts that the hearts of Joseph’s brothers were dark and calloused. Immediately after casting Joseph into the pit, the other sons of Jacob have no problem sitting down to enjoy a meal (Gen. 37:25). There is a great deal of irony in all this. Originally, they planned to attribute Joseph’s death to being ripped to shreds (vv. 19–20), yet the brothers reveal themselves as the true beasts in this story when they can dine after assaulting him. The brothers later recall how they ignored Joseph’s cries for mercy from the pit (Gen. 42:21), and this indifference shows how vile they truly were.”
The brothers’ cold hearts toward Joseph soon gave way to a mercenary affection for money and profit. To murder Joseph will yield nothing. However, to sell him into slavery will yield a tidy financial sum. Joseph’s brother were not immune from such gross sin, and neither are we.
John Calvin comments, “Since the patriarchs fell into such a state of insensibility, let us learn from their example to fear, lest by the righteous anger of God the same lethargy should seize upon our senses.”
More to come.
Soli deo Gloria!