Who Sold Joseph: Ishmaelites or Midianites?
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr
Gen. 37:25-28 (KJV) And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt... And the Midianites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh's, and captain of the guard.
If you read the text carefully you will notice that it seemed a bit disjointed and perhaps even a bit contradictory. I mean, who did Joseph get sold to anyway, the Ishmaelites or the Midianites!? And in turn which one sold Jospeh into slavery in Egypt!?
We know from the Scriptures that Ishmael is a son of Abraham through Hagar (Gen. 16:1-16; 25:12) and Midian is also a son of Abraham through Keturah (Gen. 25:1-2). Some Rabbis believe that Keturah is Hagar who converted to Abraham’s faith and God and the name change indicated her conversion and Abraham took her back as a wife after the death of Sarah. Changing ones name upon converting to a religion is very common with Christians and Jews in foreign countries, indigenous folk who convert take on a Christian or Jewish name to publically profess their conversion. So at best Ishmael and Midian are brothers, at least; half-brothers, both having Abraham as their father.
Let’s see if we can clear this little conundrum up, shall we? According to the book of Jasher (Josh. 10:13, II Sam. 1:18) in chapter 42, the sons of Israel saw the Ishmaelites first on the horizon and either due to hilly terrain of that region the Midianites which were ahead of the Ishmaelites were hid in a valley behind a hill or because the Midianites came in the opposite direction of the Ishmaelites, which was more likely the case, the Sons of Israel, despite seeing the Ishmaelites first, ended up meeting the Midianites first. As the Midianites arrived in the area of Schechem where Israel’s sons were tending the flock, the Midianites happened upon the dry well or pit, where the sons of Israel threw Joseph into. They opened the mouth of the well intending to quench their thisrt and saw Joseph and pulled him up and out. By this time the sons of Israel found Joseph with the Midianites and ask what they were doing with their rebellious slave whom they tossed in the well to smarten him up. The Midianites offered to take Joseph off their hands and was sold to the Midianites first. As the Midianites left, they ran into the Ishmaelites headed their way and sold Joseph to them because they began to feel bad about what they had done and suspected Joseph was not a slave but a kidnapped victim. Thus Genesis 37:36 which says Midian sold Joseph into slavery in Egypt, should be understood in the context that via the Midianites Joseph was sold into Egypt by the hand of the Ishmaelites as stated clearly in Genesis 39:1
Gen. 39:1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmaelites, which had brought him down thither.
Mystery solved. So it pays to be familiar with the extra Biblical texts, especially ones mentioned by the Scriptures themselves such as the Book of Jasher.