The Story of Patriarchs and Prophets
by Ellen G. White
Chapter 19: The Return to Canaan
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The father's injudicious gift to Joseph of a costly coat, or tunic,
such as was usually worn by persons of distinction, seemed to
them another evidence of his partiality, and excited a suspicion
that he intended to pass by his elder children, to bestow the
birthright upon the son of Rachel. Their malice was still further
increased as the boy one day told them of a dream that he had
had. "Behold," he said, "we were binding sheaves in the field,
and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your
sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf." [p. 210]
"Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have
dominion over us?" exclaimed his brothers in envious anger.
Soon he had another dream, of similar import, which he also
related: "Behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made
obeisance to me." This dream was interpreted as readily as the
first. The father, who was present, spoke reprovingly—"What is
this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and
thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the
earth?" Notwithstanding the apparent severity of his words,
Jacob believed that the Lord was revealing the future to Joseph.
As the lad stood before his brothers, his beautiful countenance
lighted up with the Spirit of inspiration, they could not
withhold their admiration; but they did not choose to renounce
their evil ways, and they hated the purity that reproved their
sins. The same spirit that actuated Cain was kindling in their
The brothers were obliged to move from place to place to secure
pasturage for their flocks, and frequently they were absent
from home for months together. After the circumstances just
related, they went to the place which their father had bought at
Shechem. Some time passed, bringing no tidings from them, and
the father began to fear for their safety, on account of their
former cruelty toward the Shechemites. He therefore sent Joseph to
find them, and bring him words as to their welfare. Had Jacob
known the real feeling of his sons toward Joseph, he would not
have trusted him alone with them; but this they had carefully
With a joyful heart, Joseph parted from his father, neither the
aged man nor the youth dreaming of what would happen before
they should meet again. When, after his long and solitary journey,
Joseph arrived at Shechem, his brothers and their flocks were
not to be found. Upon inquiring for them, he was directed to
Dothan. He had already traveled more than fifty miles, and now
an additional distance of fifteen lay before him, but he hastened
on, forgetting his weariness in the thought of relieving the anxiety
of his father, and meeting the brothers, whom, despite their
unkindness, he still loved.
His brothers saw him approaching; but no thought of the
long journey he had made to meet them, of his weariness and
hunger, of his claims upon their hospitality and brotherly love, [p. 211] softened the bitterness of their hatred. The sight of the coat, the
token of their father's love, filled them with frenzy. "Behold, this
dreamer cometh," they cried in mockery. Envy and revenge, long
secretly cherished, now controlled them. "Let us slay him," they
said, "and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil
beast hath devoured him; and we shall see what will become of
They would have executed their purpose but for Reuben. He
shrank from participating in the murder of his brother, and proposed
that Joseph be cast alive into a pit, and left there to perish;
secretly intending, however, to rescue him and return him to his
father. Having persuaded all to consent to this plan, Reuben left
the company, fearing that he might fail to control his feelings,
and that his real intentions would be discovered.
Joseph came on, unsuspicious of danger, and glad that the
object of his long search was accomplished; but instead of the
expected greeting, he was terrified by the angry and revengeful
glances which he met. He was seized and his coat stripped from
him. Taunts and threats revealed a deadly purpose. His entreaties
were unheeded. He was wholly in the power of those maddened
men. Rudely dragging him to a deep pit, they thrust him in,
and having made sure that there was no possibility of his escape,
they left him there to perish from hunger, while they "sat down
to eat bread."
But some of them were ill at ease; they did not feel the
satisfaction they had anticipated from their revenge. Soon a company
of travelers was seen approaching. It was a caravan of Ishmaelites
from beyond Jordan, on their way to Egypt with spices and
other merchandise. Judah now proposed to sell their brother to
these heathen traders instead of leaving him to die. While he
would be effectually put out of their way, they would remain
clear of his blood; "for," he urged, "he is our brother and our
flesh." To this proposition all agreed, and Joseph was quickly
drawn out of the pit.
As he saw the merchants the dreadful truth flashed upon him.
To become a slave was a fate more to be feared than death. In
an agony of terror he appealed to one and another of his brothers,
but in vain. Some were moved with pity, but fear of derision kept
them silent; all felt that they had now gone too far to retreat. If
Joseph were spared, he would doubtless report them to the father, [p. 212] who would not overlook their cruelty toward his favorite son.
Steeling their hearts against his entreaties, they delivered him
into the hands of the heathen traders. The caravan moved on,
and was soon lost to view.
Reuben returned to the pit, but Joseph was not there. In alarm
and self-reproach he rent his garments, and sought his brothers,
exclaiming, "The child is not; and I, whither shall I go?" Upon
learning the fate of Joseph, and that it would now be impossible
to recover him, Reuben was induced to unite with the rest in the
attempt to conceal their guilt. Having killed a kid, they dipped
Joseph's coat in its blood, and took it to their father, telling him
that they had found it in the fields, and that they feared it was
their brother's. "Know now," they said, "whether it be thy son's
coat or no." They had looked forward to this scene with dread,
but they were not prepared for the heart-rending anguish, the
utter abandonment of grief, which they were compelled to witness.
"It is my son's coat," said Jacob; "an evil beast hath devoured
him. Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces." Vainly his sons and
daughters attempted to comfort him. He "rent his clothes, and
put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days."
Time seemed to bring no alleviation of his grief. "I will go down
into the grave unto my son mourning," was his despairing cry.
The young men, terrified at what they had done, yet dreading
their father's reproaches, still hid in their own hearts the knowledge
of their guilt, which even to themselves seemed very great.
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