TRUSTING that there would be little trouble, Jacob nevertheless arranged for Rachel and her son Joseph to stay behind the other people in his caravan. That was because Rachel was the wife he especially loved and Joseph was his favorite son. Then he moved up past his family and servants on his way to meet Esau. (Gen. 33:1-2.) Esau and his four hundred men came to a halt a short distance from the front of Jacob's caravan. Jacob, ahead of the others, was so close that he could see his brother staring at him. He bowed seven times toward his brother, as was the custom then when one party wished to show respect for another party. After each bow, he moved a few paces closer to Esau. After the seventh bow, he straightened up to look squarely at his brother for the first time in twenty years. (Verse 3.)
Jacob Meets Esau Face to Face
For a few moments there was a strained silence. Then Esau, who had dismounted from his camel, rushed forward to seize Jacob — and hug him! The two brothers were so happy to see each other that they wept. Thus God answered Jacob's prayer. When Jacob's family saw that the two brothers had met as close friends, the wives, children and servants came near and bowed. Jacob explained that they were his two wives, his twelve children and his servants. Esau was pleased at sight of the courteous people. Then, looking behind him, he saw an approaching crowd of sheep, goats, cattle, camels and donkeys. "What's this?" Esau asked. "I passed it on the way to meet you." "You passed it too swiftly," Jacob smiled. "These are gifts I sent out ahead for you!" "But I have no need for stock," Esau said. "I have plenty. Keep them for yourself." "I am so thankful that God has spared you and caused you to be friendly with me that I want to give you these things"' Jacob said. Esau could see that Jacob would be disappointed if the stock were refused, so he gladly accepted. (Gen. 33:8-11.) Then he suggested that their caravans go together back to Seir, where Esau lived. Jacob knew that with their children and greater numbers of animals, they would tiresomely hold back his brother and their men, who would naturally move much faster. The two agreed that Esau's group should go on ahead, and that Jacob's caravan would follow at a slower pace until turning off to the north into Canaan, where Jacob later bought land for his many animals. (Verse 17.) After Jacob and Rachel had arrived in their new land, there was a twelfth son, Benjamin. Unhappily, Rachel died at the time. (Gen. 35:1620.) Before this sorrowful event, Jacob's daughter Dinah attended a pagan festival of the Canaanites and got into trouble. Some of Dinah's brothers were so enraged that they acted in a brutal manner that was distressing to their father. (Gen. 34:25-31.)
As time passed, Jacob's favorite son, Joseph, grew into a young man. At age seventeen he was helping take care of his father's livestock. His brothers did the same kind of work, but they disliked Joseph because their father favored him. (Gen. 37:3.) To make matters worse, Joseph told his brothers that he had dreamed about becoming an important person. (Gen. 37:5-11.) Later, when the ten older sons had moved their animals about sixty miles away, and had been gone for several days, Jacob began to worry. He feared that they might have been attacked by men who had reason to dislike them. He sent Joseph to find them and return with any news. It was a difficult task for young Joseph, but after many inquiries and much travel, he came upon his brothers herding their animals. When they saw him coming, they decided that the opportunity had come to handle him as they had long wanted to without interference from their father. Excited at having found his brothers, Joseph hurried happily toward them, shouting their names. He halted when he came close enough to notice deep scowls on most of their faces.
"Well!" one of the brothers sneered. "If it isn't Joseph the dreamer!" Suddenly Joseph felt his arms pinned painfully behind him by those who had stepped up to seize him. "Rip his coat off!" someone yelled. The coat Joseph was wearing was a bright, many-colored one his father had given him. Because it was special, it was one of the reasons why his brothers were envious. After they jerked off the wanted coat, they dropped Joseph into a nearby deep but narrow pit. The lad landed on loose, dry gravel at the bottom of what had been a well, and so was unhurt. He got to his feet and tried to scramble out, but the loose rock fell in when he touched it. He could see that it was useless to try to climb out. Joseph at first thought that his brothers were playing a trick on him. He repeatedly called up to them to help him. The only response was an Occasional laugh as they started eating their noon meal. One of the brothers, Reuben, wasn't cruel enough to laugh at his young brother's plight. He had gone to watch the flocks while the others ate together, and planned to return and rescue Joseph after the others returned to their animals. (Gen. 37:22.) He didn't see the caravan of Midianites approaching that area. They were traveling southwest to Egypt to sell spices. When the other brothers saw the Midianites, and that they were going to pass by very closely, an idea came to one-of Jacob's sons. "These Midianites buy and sell almost everything, including slaves," Joseph's brother Judah observed. "Why not sell Joseph to them? They could resell him at a profit in Egypt as a slave!" There was instant agreement among the brothers. They waved down the approaching caravan, and told the caravan captain that they had a young man they wanted to sell as a servant. The captain was urged to dismount and look at Joseph. After he saw the lad, there was much arguing and bargaining. Finally it was agreed that Joseph would be sold for a small sum. It was a ridiculous price for a human being, but the Midianites felt they had out-bargained Joseph's brothers, who were relieved to get rid of their young brother for any amount. With ropes the Midianites pulled their purchase out of the hole. Not knowing exactly what was happening at the time, Joseph struggled to get free and shouted to his brothers for help. They only watched idly as he was dragged away, and divided up the twenty pieces of silver the Midianites had paid them.
Reuben Returns to the Well
A little later Reuben came back to the well pit. On finding that Joseph wasn't there, he rushed back to his brothers, who had gone back to their flocks, and excitedly informed them that Joseph was missing. "He must have escaped!" some of them said, and all pretended to be concerned. Reuben was so disturbed that he ripped some of his clothing apart. His brothers dared not tell him what happened lest he tell their father, to whom they knew they would have to make some kind of explanation. Later, they took Joseph's coat and smeared it in the blood of a goat they killed. A few days later, when they returned home, they acted very sad. "Is this Joseph's coat?" asked one of the sons, holding out the blood-stained garment. "It is!" exclaimed Jacob, staring fearfully at it. "I had it made for him. Where did you find it?" "We found it out in the desert", was the reply. "I didn't know about that!" Reuben spoke up. "We kept it from you because we didn't want you to worry," was the explanation to Reuben.
"My son must have been killed by some wild beast!" Jacob moaned. He was so sad at the thought of losing his favorite son that he was close to illness for many days. His sons tried to comfort him during that time. Jacob would have been better off to have known the truth but his sons were fearful of his anger.
Joseph Reaches Egypt
While Jacob was feeling depressed about what he thought was his son's death, Joseph was taken down into Egypt by the Midianite traders. There, in a slave market, he was put up for sale to anyone who would pay the best price. He was bought by Potiphar, the captain of the guard for the king of Egypt. His rank was that of a powerful and important man. (Gen. 37:36.) Potiphar put Joseph to work in his household doing all kinds of tasks. It wasn't long before he noticed that this new servant was more capable and trustworthy than others. That was because Joseph followed God's laws. Honest, energetic and anxious to do his best, he was soon put in charge of all the servants in Potiphar's household. God's blessing had been on Laban's household because Jacob served God. Now there was a blessing on Potiphar's household because of Joseph's obedience to his Creator. Joseph wasn't aware of it, but he was beginning to be used in God's plan that would affect the whole world for thousands of years. Matters went well until Potiphar's wife began to like Joseph as much as she did her husband. Joseph knew that shouldn't be, and told her so. (Gen. 39:7-8.) This so displeased her that she snatched off Joseph's jacket as he was leaving the house. She called for other servants. When they hurried in, she held up Joseph's jacket, and told them that Joseph had been very insulting to her, but had fled when she had cried out. Her husband later was told the same untrue story. He angrily ordered soldiers to find Joseph and put him in the king's prison. (Verses 12-20.) Time passed, during which the man in charge of the prison noticed that Joseph was unusually obedient to the rules, and that he was an intelligent person who helped keep order there. (Verses 21-23.) God caused Joseph to find such favor with those in charge that before long he was next in authority under the head jail keeper. However, he had to go on living in the dungeon, even though he enjoyed a fairly high office.