Written by Chris Perver  
Thursday, 09 September 2021 20:32

Joseph – His name

When reading an English translation of the Bible, we can sometimes miss out on the significance of the meaning of people’s names and places that are mentioned in the Bible. Reading the Bible in Hebrew can add an extra depth of meaning to Scriptures that gets lost in the translation process.

Joseph’s name in Hebrew יוספ (Yosef) means ‘He shall add’. His mother Rachel gave him the name at his birth, saying, “The Lord shall add to me another son”, Genesis 30:24. Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn son, although she had already borne sons to Jacob through her handmaid Bilhah.

In Genesis 37 verse 3, we read of Israel’s love for his son Joseph. The Bible says Israel loved him more than all his children because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a coat of many colours. This is of course a picture of the love of God the Father for His Son Jesus Christ. Now the Bible doesn’t say that Jacob didn’t love his other sons, but they were envious of Joseph. They hated him because their father loved him the most. The same was true of the Lord Jesus Christ when He was in the world. The Lord could say “they hated Me without a cause”, John 15:25.

When Joseph tells his brothers the dreams in verses 5 and 8, we read that “they hated him yet the more”. The original Hebrew text says “they added to him more hatred”. So we see the significance of Joseph’s name coming out in a negative way in this chapter. The same word ‘to add’ will be used again later on in the story by Joseph himself concerning his brothers.


In Genesis chapter 37 verse 2, there is an unusual introduction to the character of Joseph. We read that “Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.”

In the English translation there seems to be something more going on here than is readily apparent. What is this ‘evil report’, and what has that got to do with Joseph feeding the flock? There seems to be no correlation between the two. We will find out the full significance of this unusual introduction later on in the chapter. In the English text, the phrase “feeding the flock”, or ‘shepherding’, is derived from just one Hebrew word רעה (ro’eh). The phrase “their evil report” comes from the Hebrew words דבתם רעה (dibtam ra’ah). As you can see, although they are different words, the word for ‘shepherding’ and ‘evil’ are spelled using the same letters in Hebrew. I think this is the correlation that links the two parts of this verse.

‘Shepherding’ is translated here as ‘feeding’, and is associated with the thought of caring for, nurturing and protecting the flock. The word ‘evil’ on the other hand is the complete opposite of that. Joseph would care for his people in the land of Egypt just as a shepherd cares for his flock. His brothers would do the exact opposite to Joseph, as we will see again later on in chapter 37.

Joseph is sent to seek the welfare of his brethren. Israel says in verse 13, “Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.” We see that Joseph is again associated with shepherding, in his care for his brothers. But when Joseph finally locates them, they respond to him with hatred. They say, “Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”, Genesis 37:20.

Why do they say ‘some evil beast’, and not just ‘some wild animal’? The word for ‘evil beast’ in Hebrew is חיה רעה (chayah ra’ah). Joseph is associated with shepherding and has the shepherd’s heart and cares for his brothers, but his brothers only have an evil heart towards him.

The same was true of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Lord Jesus Christ could say in John 10:11, “I am the Good Shepherd, the Good Shepherd giveth His life for the sheep”. He had the care of us on His heart, though we responded with a heart of hatred towards Him.

The evil report

The brothers take a kid of the goats from the herd and kill it and dip Joseph’s coat in the blood. And they send the coat to Joseph’s father saying, “This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no”. And Jacob responds by saying, “It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him”, Genesis 37:33. Here again the brothers are associated with the word רעה (ra’ah).

At the end of chapter 37 the story is brought full circle. At the beginning of the chapter it was Joseph who was bringing the evil report of the brothers to their father. Now it is the brothers who are bringing an evil report of Joseph to his father.

At the very end of the book of Genesis, when Joseph is reconciled with his brothers, the word רעה (ra’ah) comes up once again. Joseph says to the brothers, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”, Genesis 50:20. So we see that the Lord is able to take the רעה (ra’ah), the evil form of those three letters, and transform into the good form, the רעה (ro’eh), through the actions of Joseph. And He is able to do the same for us through what the Lord Jesus Christ has done for us upon the cross.

So as you can see, it can be interesting looking at these few words in Hebrew, and noting their unusual correlation to each another.