Joseph – “The sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to me”

Ge 37:9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Cool.  Maybe.  Depends on what it means.  Why would the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bow down to someone – even if it was possible?

Maybe it would be good to put some context around this.  It’s from Genesis – chapter 37.  It was said by Joseph – you know – the kid with the coat of many colors.

Why are we looking at this?  Because of a question that came up in a class – about what the sun and moon represent.  Were they about Joseph’s father and mother?  Or did they represent something else entirely?  And, if it’s not about Joseph’s parents, then doesn’t that even put the eleven stars into doubt – were they really about his brothers?  Let’s find out.

Joseph’s Dreams

Ge 37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

Ge 37:2 This is the account of Jacob.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

Ge 37:3 Now Israel (the new name previously given by God to Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Ge 37:5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

Ge 37:8 His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

The opening quote was from Joseph’s second dream.  The one just presented was Joseph’s first dream.  In that first dream, each of Jacob’s sons was represented by a sheaf of grain – and while the sheaf representing Joseph stood upright, the ones of his eleven brothers bowed down to his.  The meaning to this one appears to be fairly obvious – and as we see in verse 8 – Joseph’s brothers weren’t happy about it at all.

But then things got worse.  Joseph had another dream.  And shared it.

Ge 37:9 Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

Ge 37:10 When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”

Ge 37:11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

This time, we see the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowing down to Joseph.  

Given the first dream – and the male dominated culture of the time, it seems reasonable to think that the sun is Joseph’s father, Jacob – the moon is Joseph’s mother, and the eleven stars are Joseph’s brothers.

However – there may be a problem with that thought.  Joseph’s birth mother – Rachel – was dead when he had the dream.  But, there’s a twist.  As usual with Jacob – things weren’t exactly straightforward.

Ge 28:1 So Isaac called for Jacob and blessed him and commanded him: “Do not marry a Canaanite woman. 2 Go at once to Paddan Aram, to the house of your mother’s father Bethuel. Take a wife for yourself there, from among the daughters of Laban, your mother’s brother. 3 May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful and increase your numbers until you become a community of peoples. 4 May he give you and your descendants the blessing given to Abraham, so that you may take possession of the land where you now live as an alien, the land God gave to Abraham.” 5 Then Isaac sent Jacob on his way, and he went to Paddan Aram, to Laban son of Bethuel the Aramean, the brother of Rebekah, who was the mother of Jacob and Esau.

Ge 28:6 Now Esau learned that Isaac had blessed Jacob and had sent him to Paddan Aram to take a wife from there, and that when he blessed him he commanded him, “Do not marry a Canaanite woman,” 7 and that Jacob had obeyed his father and mother and had gone to Paddan Aram. 8 Esau then realized how displeasing the Canaanite women were to his father Isaac; 9 so he went to Ishmael and married Mahalath, the sister of Nebaioth and daughter of Ishmael son of Abraham, in addition to the wives he already had.

Jacob’s Dream at Bethel

Ge 28:10 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Haran. 11 When he reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. 12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. 13 There above it stood the LORD, and he said: “I am the LORD, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. 14 Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring. 15 I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Ge 28:16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” 17 He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.”

Ge 28:18 Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. 19 He called that place Bethel, though the city used to be called Luz.

Ge 28:20 Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will watch over me on this journey I am taking and will give me food to eat and clothes to wear 21 so that I return safely to my father’s house, then the LORD will be my God 22 and this stone that I have set up as a pillar will be God’s house, and of all that you give me I will give you a tenth.”

Jacob Arrives in Paddan Aram

Ge 29:1 Then Jacob continued on his journey and came to the land of the eastern peoples. 2 There he saw a well in the field, with three flocks of sheep lying near it because the flocks were watered from that well. The stone over the mouth of the well was large. 3 When all the flocks were gathered there, the shepherds would roll the stone away from the well’s mouth and water the sheep. Then they would return the stone to its place over the mouth of the well.

Ge 29:4 Jacob asked the shepherds, “My brothers, where are you from?”
“We’re from Haran,” they replied.

Ge 29:5 He said to them, “Do you know Laban, Nahor’s grandson?”
“Yes, we know him,” they answered.

Ge 29:6 Then Jacob asked them, “Is he well?”
“Yes, he is,” they said, “and here comes his daughter Rachel with the sheep.”

Ge 29:7 “Look,” he said, “the sun is still high; it is not time for the flocks to be gathered. Water the sheep and take them back to pasture.”

Ge 29:8 “We can’t,” they replied, “until all the flocks are gathered and the stone has been rolled away from the mouth of the well. Then we will water the sheep.”

Ge 29:9 While he was still talking with them, Rachel came with her father’s sheep, for she was a shepherdess. 10 When Jacob saw Rachel daughter of Laban, his mother’s brother, and Laban’s sheep, he went over and rolled the stone away from the mouth of the well and watered his uncle’s sheep. 11 Then Jacob kissed Rachel and began to weep aloud. 12 He had told Rachel that he was a relative of her father and a son of Rebekah. So she ran and told her father.

Ge 29:13 As soon as Laban heard the news about Jacob, his sister’s son, he hurried to meet him. He embraced him and kissed him and brought him to his home, and there Jacob told him all these things. 14 Then Laban said to him, “You are my own flesh and blood.”

Jacob Marries Leah and Rachel

After Jacob had stayed with him for a whole month, 15 Laban said to him, “Just because you are a relative of mine, should you work for me for nothing? Tell me what your wages should be.”

Ge 29:16 Now Laban had two daughters; the name of the older was Leah, and the name of the younger was Rachel. 17 Leah had weak eyes, but Rachel was lovely in form, and beautiful. 18 Jacob was in love with Rachel and said, “I’ll work for you seven years in return for your younger daughter Rachel.”

Ge 29:19 Laban said, “It’s better that I give her to you than to some other man. Stay here with me.” 20 So Jacob served seven years to get Rachel, but they seemed like only a few days to him because of his love for her.

Ge 29:21 Then Jacob said to Laban, “Give me my wife. My time is completed, and I want to lie with her.”

Ge 29:22 So Laban brought together all the people of the place and gave a feast. 23 But when evening came, he took his daughter Leah and gave her to Jacob, and Jacob lay with her. 24 And Laban gave his servant girl Zilpah to his daughter as her maidservant.

Ge 29:25 When morning came, there was Leah! So Jacob said to Laban, “What is this you have done to me? I served you for Rachel, didn’t I? Why have you deceived me?”

Ge 29:26 Laban replied, “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one. 27 Finish this daughter’s bridal week; then we will give you the younger one also, in return for another seven years of work.”

Ge 29:28 And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. 29 Laban gave his servant girl Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her maidservant. 30 Jacob lay with Rachel also, and he loved Rachel more than Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.

Yeah – kind of messy.  And yet – it gets worse.

In the interest of keeping this somewhat shorter, here’s a table showing who gave birth to who – in what order – and the verses to check.

Jacob's children and their mothers

LeahZipah (Leah's servant)Bilhah (Rachel's servant)Rachel
Reuben (1)
Ge 29:31-32
Gad (7)
Ge 30:9-11
Dan (5)
Ge 30:1-6
Ge 30:22-24
Ge 29:33
Asher (8)
Ge 30:12-13
Naphtali (6)
Ge 30:7-8
Ge 35:16-20
Levi (3)
Ge 29:34
Judah (4)
Ge 29:35
Issachar (9)
Ge 30:14-18
Zebulun (10)
Ge 30:19-20
Dinah (11)
Ge 30:21
Jacob's children - 12 boys and 1 girl, along with their mother, birth order, and reference verses in Genesis

Feel free to check out the verses, if you haven’t already.  It reads like a modern-day soap opera.  Maybe worse.  It’s pretty much a spiteful / prideful competition to see who can give children to Jacob – by any means necessary.  

In any case, to consider Leah as the moon in Joseph’s dream seems like it would be ignoring everything that happened here.  Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, right from the start.  And even though Leah gave him more children that Rachel, Jacob’s favorite was Joseph.  And, when Jacob thought Joseph was dead, his favorite became Benjamin – Rachel’s other son.  It seems that if any of the women was going to be represented by the moon, it would have been Rachel.  Given that she passed away before the dream – there doesn’t appear to be an appropriate mother left to fill the position.

Not only is the moon reference to Joseph’s mother in question – the sun being a reference to Jacob is tenuous as well.

Ge 46:28 Now Jacob sent Judah ahead of him to Joseph to get directions to Goshen. When they arrived in the region of Goshen, 29 Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel. As soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.

Ge 46:30 Israel said to Joseph, “Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.”

You may have noticed – Jacob did not bow down to Joseph.  So we see Rachel could not have bowed down to Joseph, since she had already passed away.  And there’s no evidence that Jacob bowed down either.  Maybe we should check the brothers, just to be sure the eleven stars really did represent them.

Ge 42:1 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you just keep looking at each other?” 2 He continued, “I have heard that there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us, so that we may live and not die.”

Ge 42:3 Then ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with the others, because he was afraid that harm might come to him. 5 So Israel’s sons were among those who went to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.

Ge 42:6 Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. 7 As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked.
“From the land of Canaan,” they replied, “to buy food.”

Not looking good, is it?  That’s only ten of the brothers.  However, we also saw Joseph asking for the youngest brother (Benjamin) to be brought to him as well.  We see this when Benjamin is present –

Ge 43:1 Now the famine was still severe in the land. 2 So when they had eaten all the grain they had brought from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”

Ge 43:3 But Judah said to him, “The man warned us solemnly, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you will send our brother along with us, we will go down and buy food for you. 5 But if you will not send him, we will not go down, because the man said to us, ‘You will not see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ ”

Ge 43:6 Israel asked, “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother?”

Ge 43:7 They replied, “The man questioned us closely about ourselves and our family. ‘Is your father still living?’ he asked us. ‘Do you have another brother?’ We simply answered his questions. How were we to know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”

Ge 43:8 Then Judah said to Israel his father, “Send the boy along with me and we will go at once, so that we and you and our children may live and not die. 9 I myself will guarantee his safety; you can hold me personally responsible for him. If I do not bring him back to you and set him here before you, I will bear the blame before you all my life. 10 As it is, if we had not delayed, we could have gone and returned twice.”

Ge 43:11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be, then do this: Put some of the best products of the land in your bags and take them down to the man as a gift—a little balm and a little honey, some spices and myrrh, some pistachio nuts and almonds. 12 Take double the amount of silver with you, for you must return the silver that was put back into the mouths of your sacks. Perhaps it was a mistake. 13 Take your brother also and go back to the man at once. 14 And may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man so that he will let your other brother and Benjamin come back with you. As for me, if I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”

Ge 43:15 So the men took the gifts and double the amount of silver, and Benjamin also. They hurried down to Egypt and presented themselves to Joseph. 16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Take these men to my house, slaughter an animal and prepare dinner; they are to eat with me at noon.”

Ge 43:17 The man did as Joseph told him and took the men to Joseph’s house. 18 Now the men were frightened when they were taken to his house. They thought, “We were brought here because of the silver that was put back into our sacks the first time. He wants to attack us and overpower us and seize us as slaves and take our donkeys.”

Ge 43:19 So they went up to Joseph’s steward and spoke to him at the entrance to the house. 20 “Please, sir,” they said, “we came down here the first time to buy food. 21 But at the place where we stopped for the night we opened our sacks and each of us found his silver—the exact weight—in the mouth of his sack. So we have brought it back with us. 22 We have also brought additional silver with us to buy food. We don’t know who put our silver in our sacks.”

Ge 43:23 “It’s all right,” he said. “Don’t be afraid. Your God, the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks; I received your silver.” Then he brought Simeon out to them.

Ge 43:24 The steward took the men into Joseph’s house, gave them water to wash their feet and provided fodder for their donkeys. 25 They prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon, because they had heard that they were to eat there.

Ge 43:26 When Joseph came home, they presented to him the gifts they had brought into the house, and they bowed down before him to the ground. 27 He asked them how they were, and then he said, “How is your aged father you told me about? Is he still living?”

Ge 43:28 They replied, “Your servant our father is still alive and well.” And they bowed low to pay him honor.

A quick note on verse 28 – The translation could be ambiguous as far as the word “him” goes at the end.  Did they bow to pay honor to Jacob – or to Joseph.  Looking at the Hebrew, it looks like “him” refers to Joseph –

The text above is from the 1984 NIV, while the image is from the 2011 NIV.  The 2011 translation removes the ambiguity, but I still wanted to show the Hebrew to verify that the 2011 translation is the better of the two.

So – we know the eleven brothers bowed down to Joseph, but is that what the eleven stars was about?  For that, we have Joseph himself to answer the question.  Just after one of the passages we looked at above, Joseph remembers the dreams – and tells us that both the sheafs and the stars were representing his brothers.

Ge 42:8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Then he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.”

This begs a question (or two).  What were the meanings, including cultural, of sun and moon at that time?


The definition of the Hebrew word translated as sun is –

8121 שֶׁמֶשׁ [shemesh /sheh·mesh/] n f/m. From an unused root meaning to be brilliant; TWOT 2417a; GK 9087; 134 occurrences; AV translates as “sun” 119 times, “sunrising + 4217” nine times, “east side + 4217” twice, “windows” once, “eastward + 4217” once, “west + 3996” once, and “westward + 3996” once. 1 sun. 1A sun. 1B sunrise, sun-rising, east, sun-setting, west (of direction). 1C sun (as object of illicit worship). 1D openly, publicly (in other phrases). 1E pinnacles, battlements, shields (as glittering or shining).  1)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.


The definition of the word translated as moon is –

3394 יָרֵחַ [yareach /yaw·ray·akh/] n m. From the same as 3391; TWOT 913a; GK 3734; 26 occurrences; AV translates as “moon” 26 times. 1 moon.  2)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

This definition of moon isn’t really useful, so let’s look at the culture of the time for more clues.

Terms: Hebrew has two terms for moon: yareakh and levonah. The first is a common Semitic term, appearing as yrkh in Phoenician and as arkhu in Akkadian, where it is also the usual word for ‘month’ or one lunation. Yerakh also means month in Hebrew.

Levonah is a derivative of ‘white.’ In most biblical references, levonah is used in parallelism to shemesh, ‘sun,’ to describe the brilliant luminosity of the moon (Song of Sol. 6:10; Isa. 30:26). But in Isa. 24:23, levonah is used in parallelism to bosh, ‘shame,’ to evoke an image of colorlessness accompanying embarrassment.  3)Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 653). San Francisco: Harper & Row.

In Genesis 37:9, where we read about the second dream – the Hebrew word used is the first one, referring to months – in other words, a period of time.

Time.  We don’t learn this until Genesis 41, but we need to consider this passage when looking at the events surrounding Joseph –

Ge 41:1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.

Ge 41:5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.

Ge 41:8 In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

Ge 41:9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”

Ge 41:14 So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.

Ge 41:15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”

Ge 41:16 “I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”

Ge 41:17 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. 20 The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21 But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.

Ge 41:22 “In my dreams I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23 After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none could explain it to me.”

Ge 41:25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.

Ge 41:28 “It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.

Ge 41:33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”

Ge 41:37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God ?”

Ge 41:39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”

Sun and Moon and Eleven Stars

So we have time – 14 years – the moon. 

And we also have a famine throughout the land – from east to west – the sun.

And we have eleven stars – Joseph’s brothers.

I haven’t seen any commentary / Bible notes that draw this conclusion.  They tend to look at the sun as Jacob.  They also tend to look at the moon as Leah, recognizing that Rachel was no longer living.  

And yet, looking at the sun and moon this way – as the whole region and as a period of time, that we later learn is 14 years – do we not get a better picture of the events that are playing out?  This is especially true when we combine Pharaoh’s dream into the mix.  It lets us see a clue to God’s much larger plan, from the very beginning – before any of it started.

Remember what Joseph told his brothers –

Ge 45:4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! 5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. 6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will not be plowing and reaping. 7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.

Ge 45:8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. 9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. 10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. 11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

Yes – Joseph saves his family, because of God’s provision for them.

However – notice that saving the family wasn’t the entire plan – But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth.  God wasn’t preserving the whole earth for them – only a remnant.  The Hebrew word we see as remnant is –

7611 שְׁאֵרִית [shâʾeriyth /sheh·ay·reeth/] n f. From 7604; TWOT 2307b; GK 8642; 66 occurrences; AV translates as “remnant” 44 times, “residue” 13 times, “rest” three times, “remainder” twice, “escaped” once, and translated miscellaneously three times. 1 rest, residue, remainder, remnant. 1A rest, what is left. 1B remainder, descendants.  4)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

A remnant on earth was to be part of it.  Not even the main part – but what was left – even a place to escape to.  It’s interesting to remember that because of their failure to follow God, the future descendants of Jacob (aka Israel) would have to escape to someplace else at a later time.  When that escape happened, God would lead them, not to a residue or left over piece of land, but to a land flowing with milk and honey – events recounted in Exodus and subsequent books.

Before we go – one more twist

If this scenario hasn’t been messy enough for you, let’s make it a little more twisted.

Remember Joseph’s dreams?  The ones where objects bow down to him?  If you’re like me (before I did the research for this project), you probably thought Joseph’s dreams were from God.  Well – maybe they were – and maybe they weren’t.

Here’s the problem.  The Hebrew word translated as dream in those passages is the following –

2472 חֲלֹום [chalowm, or (shortened), chalom /khal·ome/] n m. From 2492; TWOT 663a; GK 2706; 65 occurrences; AV translates as “dream” 64 times, and “dreamer + 1167” once. 1 dream. 1A dream (ordinary). 1B dream (with prophetic meaning).  5)Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

So you see – the dreams could have been from God.  On the other hand, they could have been from Joseph, the spoiled son – being a little brat to his brothers.  Given all the attention from his father and the special relation that existed (before her death) between Jacob and Rachel (his mother) – it’s not out of the question.  These are the extremes.  The dreams could have been either of them – somewhere in between – or even one of each.  We just don’t know.

However – does it matter?  Consider this – if either or both of the dreams was from Joseph and not from God – then there’s a whole other meaning attached to when Joseph spoke with his brothers after Jacob’s death.

Joseph Reassures His Brothers

Ge 50:15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” 16 So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: 17 ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

Ge 50:18 His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

Ge 50:19 But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.

The traditional Christian way of interpreting Joseph’s dreams is about God using the harm intended to be inflicted on Joseph as a way to actually save Jacob’s whole family.  Earlier, we looked at how those dreams could also be seen to be a foretelling of how God would not only save Jacob (Israel), but also how God would later rescue all of the Israelites from the Egyptians – a very nice piece of symmetry. 

However, now we also see where this concept can also be extended to Joseph’s own dream(s) – adding yet another symmetrical element to the events of the time.  Now we potentially also have God taking Joseph’s own dream / statements that may have been intended to bring psychological harm to his brothers – and God having those words be the initial catalyst for the entire sequence of events!


We could twist sun and moon to be father and mother.  But then we have to ignore certain things that happened, and assume other things for which we have no evidence they happened.  And then we’ve put God in a kind of box – limiting what was foretold.

Or – we could avoid the problematic issues related to Rachel and the other mothers – and avoid having to assume that Jacob bowed down to Joseph, even though it was never recorded – and go with the cultural meanings attached to the sun and the moon.  Then, we’ve taken God out of the box, and see that He gave evidence of a grand plan that would take place over a very long period of time.

As I said – not supported in anything I’ve read.

But still – does that make it wrong?

Just a (very long) thought.


Series Navigation<< Protected from the Bible – What is faith?

References   [ + ]

1, 2, 4, 5. Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.
3. Achtemeier, P. J., Harper & Row and Society of Biblical Literature. (1985). In Harper’s Bible dictionary (1st ed., p. 653). San Francisco: Harper & Row.

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