● Gen 37:25b . . Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, their camels bearing gum, balm, and ladanum to be taken to Egypt.
In our day, the Ishmaelites would be driving diesel trucks loaded with flat screen TVs, 501 Levi jeans, Nike sports apparel, Apple iPhones, and Doritos.
The gum may have been tragacanth, or goats-thorn gum, because it was supposed to be obtained from that plant.
The balm (or balsam) is an aromatic substance obtained from a plant of the genus Amyris, which is a native of Gilead. In point of biblical fact, Gilead was famous for its balm (Jer 8:22, Jer 46:11). Balms were of medical value in those days.
The ladanum was probably labdanum, (possibly myrrh), a yellowish brown to reddish brown aromatic gum resin with a bitter, slightly pungent taste obtained from a tree (esp. Commiphora abyssinica of the family Burseraceae) of eastern Africa and Arabia.
Gilead was located in the modern-day country of Jordan-- a mountainous region on the east side of the Jordan River extending from the Sea of Galilee down to the north end of the Dead Sea. It's about sixty miles long and twenty miles wide. Its scenery is beautiful; the hills are fertile and crowned with forests. It was on Gilead's western boundary that Jacob confronted Laban in chapter 31, and also on Gilead's western boundary where Jacob grappled with the angel in chapter 32.
The land of Gilead connected to a major trade route (spice road) from Turkey and Mesopotamia to Egypt; and all points in between. Quite possibly the Ishmaelites were following a track that would eventually take them right down the very road that Hagar had taken towards Shur on her flight from Sarah back in chapter 16.
The Ishmaelites were a blended people consisting of the families of Ishmael and Midian, who were Abraham's progeny (Gen 16:15, Gen 25:2). The two ethnic designations-- Midianites and Ishmaelites --are interchangeable (e.g. Gen 37:28, Jdgs 8:24, Jdgs 8:26). Since the Ishmaelites were Abraham's progeny, then they were blood kin to Jacob's clan; ergo: blood kin not only to Joseph, but also to all the rest of the people of Israel.
● Gen 37:26-27 . .Then Judah said to his brothers: What do we gain by killing our brother and covering up his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, but let us not do away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh. His brothers agreed.
Judah's alternative made good sea sense. There was always the risk that somebody might rescue Joseph out of that tank and he would then high-tail it for home and tattle on his brothers for what they did to him. With him an anonymous slave, miles and miles away in Egypt, everything would work out just the way most of them wanted, and the brothers would get a little something in return for Joseph's hide.
● Gen 37:28 . .When Midianite traders passed by, they pulled Joseph up out of the pit. They sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who brought Joseph to Egypt.
The money in this instance isn't by weight as it had been in the purchase of Sarah's cemetery back in chapter 23. This money is by the piece; of which the precise nomenclature and value are currently unknown. They could have been any size and worth; depending upon international merchant agreements in those days. Joseph was sold at a price that Moses' Law later fixed for juveniles. (Lev 27:5)
Incidentally, Christ was sold out for thirty pieces of silver (Matt 26:15) about which the Bible says was a "lordly" price. (Zech 11:12-13)
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