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Judah's Brothers

INTRODUCTION: Jacob had been in Paddan Aram twenty years with his Uncle Laban. He had no children the first seven years, but in the second seven years he fathered eleven sons and one daughter by his two wives Leah and Rachel, and by two handmaids, Zilpah and Bilhah. When Jacob prepared to leave with his family, his uncle made another agreement with him to work during which he gained livestock and servants, but no additional children were born during that six year period. When Jacob entered Canaan, his children would have ranged in age from not less than six to not more than thirteen. Judah experienced his teenage years and early twenties with his other brothers in Canaan.

NOTE: All scripture is from the World English Bible.


Genesis 34 "1 Dinah, the daughter of Leah, whom she bore to Jacob, went out to see the daughters of the land. 2 Shechem the son of Hamor the Hivite, the prince of the land, saw her. He took her, lay with her, and humbled her. 3 His soul joined to Dinah, the daughter of Jacob, and he loved the young lady, and spoke kindly to the young lady. 4 Shechem spoke to his father, Hamor, saying, "Get me this young lady as a wife." 5 Now Jacob heard that he had defiled Dinah, his daughter; and his sons were with his livestock in the field. Jacob held his peace until they came. 6 Hamor the father of Shechem went out to Jacob to talk with him. 7 The sons of Jacob came in from the field when they heard it. The men were grieved, and they were very angry, because he had done folly in Israel in lying with Jacob's daughter; a which thing ought not to be done. 8 Hamor talked with them, saying, "The soul of my son, Shechem, longs for your daughter. Please give her to him as a wife. 9 Make marriages with us. Give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves. 10 You shall dwell with us, and the land will be before you. Live and trade in it, and get possessions in it." 11 Shechem said to her father and to her brothers, "Let me find favour in your eyes, and whatever you will tell me I will give. 12 Ask me a great amount for a dowry, and I will give whatever you ask of me, but give me the young lady as a wife." 13 The sons of Jacob answered Shechem and Hamor his father with deceit, and spoke, because he had defiled Dinah their sister, 14 and said to them, "We can't do this thing, to give our sister to one who is uncircumcised; for that is a reproach to us. 15 Only on this condition will we consent to you. If you will be as we are, that every male of you be circumcised; 16 then will we give our daughters to you, and we will take your daughters to us, and we will dwell with you, and we will become one people. 17 But if you will not listen to us, to be circumcised, then we will take our sister, and we will be gone." 18 Their words pleased Hamor and Shechem, Hamor's son. 19 The young man didn't wait to do this thing, because he had delight in Jacob's daughter, and he was honoured above all the house of his father."

COMMENTS: While Jacob's sons were in the field with his livestock, his daughter Dinah visited with some of the Canaanite females. But Shechem saw her and was so strongly attracted to her that he had sex with her; then he treated her with kindness because he wanted to take her as his wife. Shechem and his father went to Jacob to reach an agreement for a dowry to have Dinah, but Jacob took no action until his sons returned from the fields. Dinah's brothers were very angry but they dealt with Shechem and his father deceitfully. There intent was to take advantage of the painful recovery time the men of the town would experience after circumcision. Through their requirement of circumcision as they described it to Hamor and Shechem, it was now documented that all of Jacob's sons had been circumcised in accord with the covenant of Abraham.


Genesis 34 "20 Hamor and Shechem, his son, came to the gate of their city, and talked with the men of their city, saying, 21 "These men are peaceful with us. Therefore let them live in the land and trade in it. For behold, the land is large enough for them. Let us take their daughters to us for wives, and let us give them our daughters. 22 Only on this condition will the men consent to us to live with us, to become one people, if every male among us is circumcised, as they are circumcised. 23 Won't their livestock and their possessions and all their animals be ours? Only let us give our consent to them, and they will dwell with us." 24 All who went out of the gate of his city listened to Hamor, and to Shechem his son; and every male was circumcised, all who went out of the gate of his city. 25 It happened on the third day, when they were sore, that two of Jacob's sons, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword, came upon the unsuspecting city, and killed all the males. 26 They killed Hamor and Shechem, his son, with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and went away. 27 Jacob's sons came on the dead, and plundered the city, because they had defiled their sister. 28 They took their flocks, their herds, their donkeys, that which was in the city, that which was in the field, 29 and all their wealth. They took captive all their little ones and their wives, and took as plunder everything that was in the house. 30 Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, "You have troubled me, to make me odious to the inhabitants of the land, among the Canaanites and the Perizzites. I am few in number. They will gather themselves together against me and strike me, and I will be destroyed, I and my house." 31 They said, "Should he deal with our sister as with a prostitute?""

COMMENTS: When Hamor and Shechem convinced all the males in their city to be circumcised, Simeon and Levi moved on their plan, and killed all of those men. They took Dinah out of Shechem's house, and Jacob's sons came upon the dead, and plundered the city, because their sister had been defiled. They took all the livestock, all the wealth from the city, and took captive the women and children. This last action seemingly involved all of Jacob's sons. Jacob told Simeon and Levi these things troubled him, because it would make all of Jacob's company odious to the Canaanites and the Perizzites of the land. They would gather themselves together and would be able to destroy all of Jacob's family and all who were with him, by their overwhelming advantage in numbers. Simeon and Levi answered by saying Shechem should not have dealt with their sister as with a prostitute.

Since Dinah was born near the beginning of the last six years in Paddan Aram, she was no more than seven years old when they left there, and Simeon and Levi twelve or less at that time. Jacob and his family must have already been in Canaan for several years for Dinah to be mature enough to be desired by Shechem as a wife after he had sex with her and boldly offered a dowry. Simeon and Levi killed all the men of Shechem with the sword after they had confidently made a plan which was not child's play. We don't know the size of that city, but there were other cities in that general area which were the concern of Jacob.


Genesis 35 "1 God said to Jacob, "Arise, go up to Bethel, and live there. Make there an altar to God, who appeared to you when you fled from the face of Esau your brother." 2 Then Jacob said to his household, and to all who were with him, "Put away the foreign gods that are among you, purify yourselves, change your garments. 3 Let us arise, and go up to Bethel. I will make there an altar to God, who answered me in the day of my distress, and was with me in the way which I went." 4 They gave to Jacob all the foreign gods which were in their hands, and the rings which were in their ears; and Jacob hid them under the oak which was by Shechem. 5 They travelled, and a terror of God was on the cities that were around them, and they didn't pursue the sons of Jacob. 6 So Jacob came to Luz (that is, Bethel), which is in the land of Canaan, he and all the people who were with him. 7 He built an altar there, and called the place El Beth El; because there God was revealed to him, when he fled from the face of his brother. 8 Deborah, Rebekah's nurse, died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak; and its name was called Allon Bacuth. 9 God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan Aram, and blessed him. 10 God said to him, "Your name is Jacob. Your name shall not be Jacob any more, but your name will be Israel." He named him Israel. 11 God said to him, "I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations will be from you, and kings will come out of your body. 12 The land which I gave to Abraham and Isaac, I will give it to you, and to your seed after you will I give the land." 13 God went up from him in the place where he spoke with him. 14 Jacob set up a pillar in the place where he spoke with him, a pillar of stone. He poured out a drink offering on it, and poured oil on it. 15 Jacob called the name of the place where God spoke with him "Bethel."

COMMENTS: It was God who told Jacob to go up to Bethel to live, and to make an altar their in the place where God had appeared to him when he had fled from Esau. Jacob directed all in his household and all who were with him, to get rid of all of the foreign gods, to purify themselves, and to change their garments. The text does not tell if any of Jacob's sons had idols, but his instructions were to his family and all others who were with him, which now included the women and children of Shechem. Jacob hid the foreign gods and the rings from their ears under the oak which was by the city of Shechem. The text says the terror of God fell upon all the cities around, so there was no hostile pursuit as they traveled to Bethel. After they arrived there, Deborah, the nurse of Jacob's mother Rebekah died, and she was buried below Bethel under the oak. Just when Deborah had joined with Jacob's family is not given in scripture. It is possible that Jacob had at some time visited his father Isaac, and Deborah joined him as he left.

God appeared to Jacob again, when he came from Paddan Aram, and blessed him, and told him again that his name was now Israel, and no longer Jacob. God said to him, "I am God Almighty. Be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations will be from you, and kings will come out of your body." God said Jacob and his descendents would inherit the land that God had given to Abraham and to Isaac. After God went up from Jacob, he set up a pillar of stone in that very place and poured a drink offering and oil upon it. Jacob named that place Bethel.


Genesis 35 "16 They travelled from Bethel. There was still some distance to come to Ephrath, and Rachel travailed. She had hard labour. 17 When she was in hard labour, the midwife said to her, "Don't be afraid, for now you will have another son." 18 It happened, as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Benoni, but his father named him Benjamin. 19 Rachel died, and was buried in the way to Ephrath (the same is Bethlehem). 20 Jacob set up a pillar on her grave. The same is the Pillar of Rachel's grave to this day. 21 Israel travelled, and spread his tent beyond the tower of Eder. 22 It happened, while Israel lived in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine, and Israel heard of it. Now the sons of Jacob were twelve. 23 The sons of Leah: Reuben (Jacob's firstborn), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulun. 24 The sons of Rachel: Joseph and Benjamin. 25 The sons of Bilhah (Rachel's handmaid): Dan and Naphtali. 26 The sons of Zilpah (Leah's handmaid): Gad and Asher. These are the sons of Jacob, who were born to him in Paddan Aram. 27 Jacob came to Isaac his father, to Mamre, to Kiriath Arba (which is Hebron), where Abraham and Isaac lived as foreigners. 28 The days of Isaac were one hundred eighty years. 29 Isaac gave up the spirit, and died, and was gathered to his people, old and full of days. Esau and Jacob, his sons, buried him."

COMMENTS: This chapter covers a somewhat extended timeframe beyond the time period that will be covered in some subsequent chapters. This chapter opens with the description of the death of Rachel near Bethlehem as she gave birth to Benjamin, but there is no indication of the age of Jacob or his other sons at that time. Then there is a statement about Reuben having sex with Rachel's handmaid Bilhah, which Jacob knew about. There is no indication that Jacob took any action about this, nor is there any record of others knowing about it, including the two sons of Bilhah.

In the middle of this chapter there is a summary listing of the twelve sons of Jacob in birth order from each mother, which would not be quite the same order if the twelve were listed from the eldest to the youngest. The last narrative relates Jacob and Esau being together at Hebron as they buried their father Isaac, and it was in the burial plot that Abraham had purchased, though that is not detailed in this text. Isaac was 180 years old when he died, and therefore his twin sons would have been 120 at this time because Isaac was 60 when they were born. Genesis 25 "26 After that, his brother came out, and his hand had hold on Esau's heel. He was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when she bore them."

I omitted all verses in chapter 36, because the content is only about Esau and his descendents. There is no more mention of any of them in the book of Genesis after that chapter. Since there is no described interaction between Esau's family and Judah, chapter 36 offers no direct value to this study.


Genesis 37 "1 Jacob lived in the land of his father's travels, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. Joseph brought an evil report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a coat of many colours. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they hated him, and couldn't speak peaceably to him. 5 Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, "Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and behold, your sheaves came around, and bowed down to my sheaf." 8 His brothers said to him, "Will you indeed reign over us? Or will you indeed have dominion over us?" They hated him all the more for his dreams and for his words. 9 He dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, "Behold, I have dreamed yet another dream: and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me." 10 He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves down to you to the earth?" 11 His brothers envied him, but his father kept this saying in mind."

COMMENTS: This chapter resumes a more chronological description of events, as we find Joseph bringing an unfavorable report back to his father after being with the sons of Zilpah and Bilhah tending their livestock. Jacob had given Joseph a coat of many colors which set him apart as the most loved of his children, and those brothers couldn't stand him because of this. Joseph had a dream which caused them to hate him even more when he described it to them. When Joseph had the second dream, there is no hesitation indicated as he not only told the brothers again, but this time he also told his father. Jacob rebuked him regarding the implication from the dream that he would at some time have authority over the entire family, but the text states that Jacob "kept this saying in mind." It may be that Jacob wanted to be open to whatever God was preparing for the future.

Now for some relational chronology. Based on the seven year period of Jacob's children being born in Paddan Aram, and another six years before they left there: the family would have been in Canaan about ten years when Joseph, the youngest of the eleven brothers, was 17. Judah was probably about 20 years old, with Levi, Simeon, and Reuben all a little bit older at that time. Jacob would have been about 108 years old when Joseph was 17. The key to that difference in age between Jacob and Joseph comes from some later passages.

Genesis 41 "46 Joseph was thirty years old when he stood before Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh, and went throughout all the land of Egypt. 47 In the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly." When Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt, he was about 39 years old: 30 when he was appointed by Pharaoh, plus 7 abundant years plus 2 years of famine. Genesis 45 "5 Now don't be grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are yet five years, in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest."

When Jacob stood before Pharaoh, he was 130 years old and Joseph was 39, thus Jacob was about 91 when Joseph was born. Genesis 47 "9 Jacob said to Pharaoh, "The days of the years of my pilgrimage are one hundred thirty years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their pilgrimage." Joseph was born at the end of the second 7 year period in Paddan Aram, thus if Jacob was about 91 when Joseph was born, Jacob was about 77 when he first started to serve Laban 14 years earlier.


Genesis 37 "12 His brothers went to feed their father's flock in Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, "Aren't your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send you to them." He said to him, "Here I am." 14 He said to him, "Go now, see whether it is well with your brothers, and well with the flock; and bring me word again." So he sent him out of the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 A certain man found him, and behold, he was wandering in the field. The man asked him, "What are you looking for?" 16 He said, "I am looking for my brothers. Tell me, please, where they are feeding the flock." 17 The man said, "They have left here, for I heard them say, 'Let us go to Dothan.'" Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan. 18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said one to another, "Behold, this dreamer comes. 20 Come now therefore, and let's kill him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, 'An evil animal has devoured him.' We will see what will become of his dreams."

Genesis 37 "21 Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said, "Let's not take his life." 22 Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him" - that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. 23 It happened, when Joseph came to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his coat, the coat of many colours that was on him; 24 and they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it. 25 They sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt."

Genesis 37 "26 Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let's sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not let our hand be on him; for he is our brother, our flesh." His brothers listened to him. 28 Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They brought Joseph into Egypt. 29 Reuben returned to the pit; and saw that Joseph wasn't in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, "The child is no more; and I, where will I go?" 31 They took Joseph's coat, and killed a male goat, and dipped the coat in the blood. 32 They took the coat of many colours, and they brought it to their father, and said, "We have found this. Examine it, now, whether it is your son's coat or not." 33 He recognized it, and said, "It is my son's coat. An evil animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces." 34 Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, "For I will go down to Sheol to my son mourning." His father wept for him. 36 The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, the captain of the guard."

COMMENTS: The distance between Hebron and Shechem was about 50 miles so it would have been several days journey. Jacob had been keeping his favorite son near him in Hebron, but the other sons were developing their own herds of livestock and would begin to have families of their own. Jacob decided to send Joseph from Hebron to bring back a report about the sons of Zilpah and Bilhah who had last been known to be in Shechem, but had moved on to Dothan. In verses 12 through 20 the four sons of the two handmaid wives of Jacob saw an opportunity to kill Joseph who was approaching in his easily identifiable coat; and they planned to cover the murder with a lie to their father Jacob. Reuben heard the plan and saved Joseph by offering an alternative of placing him in a pit with no water. Joseph was stripped of his many colored coat and put into the pit. Reuben had hoped to go back secretly to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

However in an intervening time, Judah used the approach of a caravan heading for Egypt to propose another alternative to the death of Joseph, and subsequently he was sold for twenty pieces of silver. When Jacob's first born son Reuben returned to the pit, he was greatly distressed because Joseph was gone. The brothers all became complicit in the lie to their father as they later presented the special coat with much blood on it, suggesting Joseph had been killed by a beast. Jacob went into extreme mourning for his "dead" son. But Joseph was sold by the Midianites, and thus began a 22 year period before Jacob and his family would find Joseph alive in Egypt. Joseph's eventual exalted government position provided by the LORD would become a secure rescue from a widespread famine for Jacob's whole family.


Lord Jesus, this description of significant elements of Family life among the descendents of the patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Israel demonstrate many traits such as are common to man. Judah was a real person in a real family as he saw the erection of altars of worship by his father more than once. There were some very special situations of your provision during his youth and early adulthood, while there were also difficult circumstances of danger or sorrow. Judah was not a major character in the narrative of various events within the family during this period, but neither was he insignificant. The environment of being among his other family members would have made some lasting impact in his memory, as is still the case today for families that are together for a number of years. Family influence continued for Judah over several more decades throughout his lifetime. I thank you, Lord Jesus, for the many ways my parents and siblings, and then my own family in marriage, have added so much to my life. The blessings during both difficult and joyous times have become part of the rich experience of being a child of God after I believed in you by faith according to your grace. Hallelujah, amen.

Published 12 June 2017