Joseph Finds Some Guy in a Field

Joseph Finds Some Guy in a Field
Genesis 37:15

..when Joseph arrived in Shechem, a man found him wandering in the field… (from Gen 37:14-15, Berean)

Here is the Berean Bible‘s translation of Joseph’s search for his brothers:

Genesis 37:12-17
Some time later, Joseph’s brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks near Shechem. 13 Israel said to him, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flocks at Shechem? Get ready; I am sending you to them.”

“I am ready,” Joseph replied.

14 Then Israel told him, “Go now and see how your brothers and the flocks are faring, and bring word back to me.”

So he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron. And when Joseph arrived in Shechem, 15 a man found him wandering in the field and asked, “What are you looking for?”

16 “I am looking for my brothers,” Joseph replied. “Can you please tell me where they are pasturing their flocks?”

17 “They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph set out after his brothers and found them at Dothan. (Berean Study Bible)

The young patriarch Joseph is sent by his father Isaac to find his brothers, all of them older and none wanting anything to do with Daddy’s favorite, snooty son. The brothers have taken the family sheep to better pastures, and have travelled far from their Hebron valley home in southern Israel.

Immediately Bible Bits wonders if it is typical for shepherds of the era to travel 60 miles and more (straight-line air distance) to pasture their sheep. And does it take eleven full grown men to do so? But we’ll leave these questions for another day.

It’s a long way from Hebron to Shechem and Dothan

In his wandering and searching, Joseph comes to Shechem. In modern times this is (near) the city Nablus, and later in the Jewish and Christian scriptures, Shechem becomes the capital city of northern kingdom Israel, and site of significant nearby events involving Mount Ebal, Mount Gerizim, large gatherings, wells, women, and white-robed men looking like a crop of blooming cornsilk as they climb a hill.

We notice something in our passage which can be easily overlooked: an anonymous man.

From verses 14 and 15 in various translations:

Good News: Joseph arrived at Shechem and was wandering around in the country when a man saw him and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

Holman: So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron,i and he went to Shechem. A man found him there, wandering in the field, and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

New KJV: So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem. Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, “What are you seeking?”

NIV: When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

Who is this man? The Bible tends to not place throw-away characters in its story line, and so Bible Bits wonders what the ancient thinkers and modern scholars have to say about this fella.

Among the Aramaic language versions of the Jewish “Old” Testatment is one known as Targum Pseudo-Jonathan. Whether by straight translation of some earlier source (considered less likely), or by editorial insertion by a later scribe working from a Hebrew source (considered more likely), this translation (with exegetical modifications?) explicitly names Gabriel in 37:15.

Gen 37:15 And Gabriel in the likeness of a man found him wandering field. And the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, J. W. Etheridge trans., 1862)

Here is a bit more from this Aramaic source. Note the additional “embellishments” (?) not found in the standard Hebrew sources and English translations:

From Gen 37:12-17:
And his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shekem. And it was at the time of days that Israel said to Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed in Shekem? But I am afraid lest the Hivaee come and smite them, because they smote Hamor and Shekem and the inhabitants of the city. Come now; and I will send thee to them And he said, Behold me. And he said, Go, see the welfare of Your brethren, and the welfare of the flock, and return me word to the deep Counsel. But he sent him according to the deep counsel which was spoken to Abraham in Hebron; for on that day began the cativity of Mizraim.

And Joseph arose, and came to Shekem. And Gabriel in the likeness of a man found him wandering field. And the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? And he said, I seek my brothers; show me, pray, where they feed. And the man said, They have journeyed hence: for I heard beyond the Veil, that behold from to‑day would begin the servitude to the Mizraee; and it was said to them in prophecy, Hivaee would seek to set battle in array against them. Therefore said they, we will go unto Dothan.

And Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan. (Targum Pseudo-Jonathan, J.W. Etheridge trans., 1862)

One of our favorite commentators, John Gill (1600’s), points out the Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (which he refers to incorrectly as Targum Jonathan, which is a different animal) but adds also Pirke Eliezer and a source he calls “Jarchi.” From John Gill’s Exposition of the Entire Bible:

And a certain man found him,…. Many of the Jewish writers (l) say, this was an angel, the angel Gabriel, in the likeness of a man; but according to Aben Ezra, it was a traveller he met on the road; but it is more probable, as Schimidt observes, that it was some man at work in the field that came upon him and took notice of him:

and, behold, he was wandering in the field; in some field near Shechem, perhaps the same his father Jacob had purchased, and where he expected to have found his brethren, and was looking out for them, going to and fro in search of them; which the labouring man in the field observed:

and the man asked him, saying, what seekest thou? seeing him walking about, and first looking one way, and then another, concluded he was in search of something, either of some man or of some creature, a sheep or an ox that was lost; and therefore put this question to him, with a view to give him what direction and assistance he could.

(l) Pirke Eliezer, c. 38. Targum Jon. & Jarchi in loc.

In the 8th to 9th century writings of Rabbi Eliezer, the Jewish scholar declares our mystery man of the field near Shechem to be the angel Gabriel. From the Pirke (chapters) de-Rabbi Eliezer, which have copied from the edition at

Jacob said to Joseph: Joseph, my son ! Verily I have (waited) many days without hearing of the welfare of thy brethren, and of the welfare of the flock, as it is said, “Go now, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flock” [Genesis 37:14] . And the lad was wandering in the field, and the angel Gabriel met him, as it is said, “And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field” [Gen 37:15]. (The word) “man” (here in this context) is Gabriel only, as it is said, “The man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision” (Dan. 9:21).

We’ll see Daniel chapter 9 verse 21 below. In the meantime, Pirke Eliezer continues:

And (Gabriel) said to him: What seekest thou? He said to him: I seek my brethren, as it is said, “And he said, I seek my brethren” (Gen. 37:16). And he led him to || his brethren, and they saw him and sought to slay him…
[Our Pirke Eliezer quotes are from 38.9 and 38.10 in the 1916 Friedlander translation, in the Midrash collection at Sefaria is an excellent resource with well-presented documents of Jewish Biblical literature.]

By the way, the citation of Daniel 9:21, quoted in the Pirke Eliezer text above, comes in one of the more dramatic passages of the Bible. This Daniel appearance of angel Gabriel does not have any direct connection to our man-in-a-field passage of Genesis, but as we like to provide as much actual Bible text as possible in our Bible Bits, here is the context of Dan 9:21 as in the New American Standard Bible translation:

Daniel 9:20-27 Now while I was speaking and praying, and confessing my sin and the sin of my people Israel, and presenting my supplication before the LORD my God in behalf of the holy mountain of my God, 21 while I was still speaking in prayer, then the man Gabriel, whom I had seen in the vision previously, came to me in [my] extreme weariness about the time of the evening offering. 22 He gave [me] instruction and talked with me and said, “O Daniel, I have now come forth to give you insight with understanding. 23 “At the beginning of your supplications the command was issued, and I have come to tell [you,] for you are highly esteemed; so give heed to the message and gain understanding of the vision. 24 “Seventy weeks have been decreed for your people and your holy city, to finish the transgression, to make an end of sin, to make atonement for iniquity, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy [place.] 25 “So you are to know and discern [that] from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem until Messiah the Prince [there will be] seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with plaza and moat, even in times of distress. 26 “Then after the sixty-two weeks the Messiah will be cut off and have nothing, and the people of the prince who is to come will destroy the city and the sanctuary. And its end [will come] with a flood; even to the end there will be war; desolations are determined. 27 “And he will make a firm covenant with the many for one week, but in the middle of the week he will put a stop to sacrifice and grain offering; and on the wing of abominations [will come] one who makes desolate, even until a complete destruction, one that is decreed, is poured out on the one who makes desolate.” (NASB)

Our John Gill quote above sites a source he names “Jarchi.” This is a corruptly-named reference to an early (late 1000’s AD) Jewish writer named Shlomo Yitzchaki, known more commonly as Rashi. If we are understanding the Gill pointer correctly, this is a reference to another Midrash writing called Tanchuma Vayeshev, with origins prior to 800 AD.

From Tanchuma Vayeshev 2.3:

And Jacob said to him: “Go now, see whether it is well with thy brethren … and he came to Shechem. This place had previously been designated for punishment. Dinah was dishonored in Shechem, Joseph was sold in Shechem, and David’s kingdom was divided at Shechem: Jeroboam built Shechem in the hill country of Ephraim (I Kings 12:25). And a certain man found him (Gen. 37:15). The man referred to is none other than (the angel) Gabriel, as it is said: The man Gabriel (Dan. 9:21). And they saw him from afar … and they took him, and cast him into the pit (Gen. 37:18, 24). The pit was empty of water…
[again, our quotation is taken from]

Recent study Bibles, one-volume Bible commentaries, and even the heavy commentaries on Genesis are largely silent on the question of our man in the field. In our quick survey we find only the NIV First-Century Study Bible‘s offering, with this note:

37:15 A man. Who was this man? Was he an angel, a divine messenger, as some rabbis claimed? Was this a manifestation of God? Was he just a stranger? Mysterious divine encounters in the Bible often begin with an encounter with a man (see Ge 32:24; Jdg 13:6). What is clear: The “man” was crucial to the unfolding plot. Joseph may well have gone home without finding his brothers. (NIV First Century Study Bible)

And so, this is all we have found on our mystery man in a field. Surely there is more speculation to be found in the scholarly commentary literature.

If you want to pursue this man in a field, we suggest examining the places of Dothan and Shechem, and explore the notion that God uses these places more than once to do supernatural God-things. Note the head-scratching distance the brothers travelled — from Hebron to to Shechem to Dothan — and the distance Jacob sent his son Joseph to find them. One thing of which Bible Bits is certain is that God placed the brothers and Joseph and our man in the field in this Shechem-Dothan location. Neither the place nor the anonymous man are happenstance features of our God-driven story line. And so, examine the Bible for any other power-of-God events at Shechem and Dothan.

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We at Bible Bits are not scholars. If we goof up anywhere, please let us know. When getting down into the weeds of Jewish literature of Midrash and Talmudic commentary, the Aramaic language Targum versions, and the thicket of confusion surrounding things labelled “Targum Jonathan,” we are apt to describe things incorrectly. So please correct us if we get something wrong. 🙂

If you comment on our article, please cite and provide scripture, and bring scholarly Biblical commentary into the discussion.

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Thank you’s go to:

  • the fabulous Sefaria for the large repository of Jewish Biblical and Biblical commentary documents,
  • the International Organization for Targumic Studies and their Aramaic language Targum resources,
  • Bible Gateway for making many recent (commercial, non-public domain) commentaries available online,
  • Bible Hub for making a wealth of public domain commentaries online.

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God’s blessings to you! Please read the actual Bible for yourself! 🙂