What does Genesis 37:18 mean?
ESV: They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him.
NIV: But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
NASB: When they saw him from a distance, and before he came closer to them, they plotted against him to put him to death.
CSB: They saw him in the distance, and before he had reached them, they plotted to kill him.
NLT: When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him.
KJV: And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.
NKJV: Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him.
Verse Commentary:
Sent by his father Jacob, Joseph has travelled well north of home to find his 10 older brothers and the family flocks. This chapter has repeatedly revealed that Joseph's brothers hate him. This is driven mostly by their father's favoritism (Genesis 37:3–5). It's also bitterness towards Joseph (Genesis 37:2) and offense at the nature of his dreams (Genesis 37:5, 9). Jacob seems entirely clueless about the depth of their hate—otherwise he would not have sent Joseph into such a vulnerable state. Whether Joseph also realizes this, Scripture does not say.

As Joseph approaches their camp, the group sees him coming. They begin to discuss murdering Joseph outright. It's unclear how much time has passed since these ten men slaughtered the men of Shechem (Genesis 34:26–27), not far to the south of where they are now. Certainly, they are willing and able to kill when they feel justified. Joseph is in real trouble.
Verse Context:
Genesis 37:12–36 describes how Joseph's wildly resentful brothers finally get rid of him. They hate Joseph for being Jacob's favorite (Genesis 37:3) and for his grandiose dreams (Genesis 37:5, 9). When Joseph arrives alone at the camp of his brothers, very far from home, they have an opportunity. Only Reuben's intervention keeps them from killing Joseph outright. Instead, while Reuben is absent, the brothers sell Joseph to passing slave traders and later convince their father he has been killed by a wild animal. Joseph becomes a slave in an Egyptian home. Genesis 39 will return to Joseph's story.
Chapter Summary:
Joseph, 17, is deeply loved by his father Jacob and deeply resented by his ten older brothers thanks to Jacob's favoritism. Jacob gives Joseph a princely robe, and Joseph reports dreams that predict his family will one day bow before him. When alone with Joseph in the wilderness, the brothers decide to kill him. Reuben stops them, suggesting they throw him alive into a pit, instead. While Reuben is gone, however, the brothers sell Joseph to slave-traders, later convincing their father Joseph has been killed by a wild animal. Joseph is placed in the home of an Egyptian nobleman.
Chapter Context:
Following the death of Isaac and the story of Esau's people, Genesis begins a section called the "generations of Jacob." The story will focus primarily on Jacob's son Joseph. Joseph is deeply hated by his brothers. While alone with him in the wilderness, they sell him to slave-traders, who take Joseph to Egypt. Chapter 38 details some of the scandals which happened while Joseph was gone. Genesis 39 will resume a focus on Joseph's experiences.
Book Summary:
The book of Genesis establishes fundamental truths about God. Among these are His role as the Creator, His holiness, His hatred of sin, His love for mankind, and His willingness to provide for our redemption. We learn not only where mankind has come from, but why the world is in its present form. The book also presents the establishment of Israel, God's chosen people. Many of the principles given in other parts of Scripture depend on the basic ideas presented here in the book of Genesis. Within the framework of the Bible, Genesis explains the bare-bones history of the universe leading up to the captivity of Israel in Egypt, setting the stage for the book of Exodus.
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