What does Genesis 37:2 mean?Genesis is divided into sections by "generations," from the Hebrew word tōlēdot'. Each of these segments focuses on an important descendant of a certain patriarch. Prior sections were associated with names such as Adam (Genesis 5:1), Noah (Genesis 6:9), Terah (Genesis 11:27), and Isaac (Genesis 25:19). The section titled the "generations of Isaac" focused primarily on Jacob's story and ended with Isaac's death at the conclusion of Genesis 35. Genesis 36 briefly described the "generations of Esau." Now begins a new section: The "generations Jacob," focusing primarily on Jacob's son Joseph born to him by his beloved late wife Rachel (Genesis 30:22–24).
Joseph and his brothers were separated by bitterness and jealousy (Genesis 37:4, 8, 11). This one-sided sibling rivalry was grounded in extreme favoritism. Jacob, their father, deeply loved Joseph's mother Rachel (Genesis 29:30–31), while regarding Leah and his two slave-wives with much less care. A blatant example of this preference was a gift given to Joseph: the infamous "robe [coat] of many colors" (Genesis 37:3). Jacob's parents engaged in favoritism between their twin sons (Genesis 25:27–28), and Jacob has apparently not learned from their mistakes.
After working to pasture the flock with his half-brothers (Genesis 35:25–26), Joseph brought a "bad report" about them to his father. The nature of the report is not given. The Hebrew phrase used here is et dibbāt ām' rā'āh'. Sometimes a "bad report" can mean a smear; when dibbāt is used elsewhere in Genesis, it's associated with something misleading (Numbers 13:32; 14:36; 37) or slanderous (Proverbs 10:18; Ezekiel 36:3). Rā'āh' is broad, but can imply something hurtful, miserable, disagreeable, or even wicked. This unquestionably means the message made Joseph's brothers look bad. What's less clear is whether it was truthful.
This raises two possibilities. The first is consistent with the character seen throughout Joseph's life: that he honestly reported his brothers' severe misconduct. It's possible they were doing something so heinous that Joseph felt he had no choice but to tell his father. The second option is possible, but less likely: that Joseph exaggerated or invented criticism of his brothers when speaking to Jacob.
We're not explicitly told that Joseph felt angst towards his older brothers as they did for him. Nor does Scripture explicitly say Joseph did something immoral. However, his actions in this passage are consistently naïve (Genesis 37:5, 9). Regardless of the exact nature of his "bad report," it would have deepened the wedge between Jacob and his brothers.