37 12 Joseph’s brothers went to tend their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers tending the sheep at Shechem? I am sending you to them.”
And he said, “Here I am.”
14 Israel said to him, “Go! See how your brothers are doing and about the well-being of the flock, and bring word back to me.”
So his father sent Joseph from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 A man found him wandering in the field and asked him, “What do you seek?”
16 Joseph said, “I seek my brothers. Please tell me; where are they tending the sheep?”
17 The man said, “They have moved on from here. I heard them saying, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.
18 They saw Joseph from afar before he drew near to them. They cunningly plotted to cause his death. 19 They said to each other, “Here comes the master dreamer! 20 Now, let’s kill him and fling him into one of the pits! We’ll say a vicious beast devoured him! Then we will see what becomes of his dreams!”
Having sacked Shechem, it is to Shechem that Israel’s flocks find forage. Do the brothers still incite the fear of destruction if they are crossed? Is their presence adding insult to injury for other inhabitants of the area?
Israel is asking the known tattletale, Joseph, to go, gather information, and report back. This carries the potential for bad news for the brothers.
So it was that Joseph went from the heights of Hebron (here called a valley) to Shechem to find Israel’s flocks were not where they were expected to be.
While there is no textual warrant for seeing an unnamed man be the equivalent of visitors to Abraham or a wrestler with Jacob, their function is to forward the tension of the story. Already there is a tale to tattle—the brothers and flocks were not where Israel said they were to be. The stranger seems to have insider information about the whereabouts of the flocks—Dothan. [Note: Dothan is some 13 miles north of Shechem and on a major trade route between Egypt and Mesopotamia—the boundaries of our story.]
With little option than to follow this lead, Joseph went to Dothan and, there, found his brothers and the flocks they were keeping in the fields.
Would Joseph dare wear his easily identified, high-fashion cloak into the brambles of the wild? There is nothing so far to suggest otherwise, and so the brothers saw him at a further distance than might otherwise be the case.
With more time to consider what he was doing here—beyond being a spy for their father and knowing their presence in Dothan might not be defensible—their speculations could likely lead to plotting. The easiest solution is to follow Cain’s lead and provide an “accident” for their hated brother.
Blame is a solid first step for a conspiracy requiring drastic action. Is the fault Joseph’s? His brothers? Fate disguised as an unnamed co-conspirator? A setup by his father? Good ol’ G*D? Rachel? The storyteller? Readers needing excitement to stick with a story? Necessity? The stars? Is there any option to blaming?