Now Joseph’s brothers saw him from a distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. They said to another, “Here comes this master of dreams! Come now, let’s kill him, thrown him into one of the cisterns, and then say that a wild animal ate him. Then we’ll see how his dreams turn out!” – Genesis 37:18-21 (NET)
Just before these, as we are introduced to Joseph, we learn about his dreaming of dreams, and their implication that one day, his father, his mother, and his brothers will all bow down to him. Coupling this with the fact that he was his father’s favorite---being the son of his father’s favorite wife---and had received special gifts due to that favored status, it is understandable why it is that his brothers did not care for him.
So much of what we see in the life of Joseph is a pre-reflection of themes that will eventually be found in the life of Jesus. As we hear the words of his brothers, do we not also hear those that presented themselves as opponents of Jesus? Can we not hear the scribes and the Pharisees, along with the other leaders of the people of Israel in Jesus’ day, with whom Jesus would not align Himself and with whom He would not come into agreement, saying “let’s kill Him and see how His dreams turn out”? Obviously, we do not have to look very far to find the plot to kill Jesus, as we find it executed in the pages of the Gospels.
As the story progresses, we find that “When Joseph reached his brothers, they stripped him of his tunic, the special tunic that he wore” (37:23). This was the famed “coat of many colors” with which we are all familiar. This was the special gift from his father that indicated his special status and invoked the ire of his siblings. Following that, “they took him and threw him into the cistern” (37:24a). This was done because Reuben, Joseph’s oldest brother (the first son of Jacob and his first wife Leah), convinced the rest of his brothers not to kill Joseph. Reuben had said, “Let’s not take his life!... Don’t shed blood! Throw him into this cistern that is here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him” (37:21b-22a). Following this, we are given a special glimpse into Reuben’s mindset, as we read “Reuben said this so he could rescue Joseph from them and take him back to his father” (37:22b). This was probably so that Reuben could make a return to his father’s good graces, after having sexual relations with one of his father’s wives (35:22).
A bit later, “they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead” (37:25b). We should note that “Ishmaelites” would have been family, related to their great-uncle Ishmael, the brother of their grandfather, Isaac. This adds an interesting dynamic to the story. The Ishmaelites were heading to Egypt, so Judah said “What profit is there if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let’s not lay a hand on him, for after all, he is our brother, our own flesh” (37:26b-27a). His brothers agreed to this and struck the deal. Theoretically, by not killing him, and merely selling him as a slave, his brothers believed that they would have not have his blood on their hands. We then go on to find out that Reuben was not a party to this, and was quite dismayed upon learning that this had occurred.
Thinking back to the connection between the lives of Joseph and Jesus, we can see that link in the continuing demonstration of Joseph’s brothers’ animosity towards him. When Jesus is betrayed by Judas, he is betrayed to Jewish leaders. These would have been Jesus’ brethren. They wanted to kill Jesus, and successfully brought a charge of blasphemy against Him, which would merit the death penalty. However, they did not carry out the execution themselves. Jesus’ blood was not going to be on their hands. Rather, they drew Jesus out of the metaphorical (and possibly literal) pit into which he had been placed, and carried Him to the Romans, in order to bring about His demise. In a sense then, much like Joseph’s brothers believed to be the case, if the Romans also found Him guilty and carried out the sentence of death, then Jesus’ blood was on them.
Finally, it could be said that the entrance of Joseph into Egypt was the beginning of the people of Israel’s sojourn in Egypt. His presence there marked the beginnings of the first exile from the land of promise, which would be rectified by the Exodus under the leadership of Moses a few hundred years later. Just as Joseph was sold into Egypt by the Ishmaelites, to whom he had been handed by his brothers, Jesus was effectively sold into the exile of death by the Romans, to whom He had been handed by His brethren.