Genesis 37:1-2a, “Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. This is the history of Jacob.”
As we move into Genesis 37 we see an obvious shift in Moses’ record. While we’ve already seen the narrative segue from Abraham to Isaac, then Isaac to his son Jacob, we’ll now see Joseph supplant his father Jacob as the central character in Genesis. Note: The phrase “this is the history of Jacob” was used by Moses to designate this particular transition.
It’s interesting to consider, but, even though Joseph was not apart of the Messianic line, an incredible 25% of the Genesis record is still dedicated to his story. More than Adam, Noah, or any of the other Patriarchs, the life of Joseph comprises of an astounding thirteen chapters.
I see three reasons why this is the case… First, this fascinating tale of Joseph being sold by his brothers into slavery, taken down into Egypt where he spent years as a slave and prisoner, only to later experience an improbable ascent into Pharaoh’s favor and therefore power was essential in explaining why and how the children of Israel found themselves living in the land of Egypt as opposed to the land that had been given to their father Abraham.
Secondly, it’s likely Moses intentionally focused on Joseph because his life illustrated an aspect of God’s grace that not only differed from those who’d came before him, but ends up being most relatable to the human experience.
It’s true that at this point in our travels through Genesis we’ve seen God’s grace manifest more often than not in a tangible and practical blessing. For example… As an act of grace God not only called Abraham out of Ur, but gave him a land for his inheritance and a son.
The interesting thing about Joseph is that, while his life is characterized by one tragedy after another (none of which he deserved), God’s favor was present nonetheless. Sure, while we’ll come to see God’s providence behind all of Joseph’s experiences, the fact remains that God’s grace specifically led him into every single hardship he faced.
You see Joseph’s life illustrates an aspect of the grace of God that’s often difficult to accept… Joseph suffered greatly because of God’s loving favor! As we’re going to see in the weeks to come it was specifically because God had a larger plan and purpose for Joseph’s life that he finds himself facing so many difficult circumstances.
Though Joseph would remain righteous throughout it all, the difficult reality is that his obedience ends up being the very reason his suffering continued and often increased. Friend, if you think obeying God and having Godly character is going to make your life easier, the life of Joseph will totally blow that notion out of the water. As we’ll see exemplified over and over again with Joseph, doing the right thing often yields a more difficult life.
And yet, most amazingly, the story of Joseph also illustrates the truth that there is always a divine purpose behind every trial! As we look at the life of Joseph over the coming weeks it will become abundantly clear the sovereign hand of God was indeed working through his difficulties. In the end Joseph suffered so that his family would be saved.
Understand… Not one of Joseph’s experiences were accidental. Though in the moment of affliction when it all but seemed Joseph’s present plight was nothing shy of yet another stroke of tragic luck, we will discover every single hardship and misfortune was intentionally allowed by God to accomplish His larger plan for Joseph’s life.
It’s with this in mind the story of Joseph directly challenges the common perspectives on human suffering. Though Buddha claimed suffering was the manifestation of Karmic Justice, the tale of Joseph presents the reality that good people can and do suffer unjustly.
While Darwinism would even go so far as to chalk up human suffering as simply being random chance, the story of Joseph tells us there is a divine purpose for all our experiences.
In a sense the life of Joseph practically confirms an overarching truth concerning God that Paul references in Romans 8:28. He writes, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” The sovereign will of God over all of our experiences is Biblically undeniable.
As we travel with Joseph witnessing one terrible thing happen to him after another, never forget God was allowing all of these things for a very particular and amazing reason.
Christian, your suffering, like Joseph’s, should not always be seen as the judgment of God and it’s never random. Every experience you face possess a divine meaning and purpose.
Friend, in this portrayal of “The Genesis of Grace” you need to know that while God’s favor always yields His blessings, there are blessings that can only manifest through suffering. Grace indeed led Joseph to the mountain top of power and prominence, but not before the journey took him through the valleys of envy, hatred, rejection, abandonment, pain, slavery, false-accusation, imprisonment, disappointment, doubt, and depression.
And it’s on account of these realities that, lastly, Genesis focuses on Joseph because he presents one of the most stark portrayals of Jesus Christ in all of the Old Testament.
Like Joseph, Jesus was also sent by His Father to His brethren (brethren who hated him because he was favored) only to speak the truth of God’s Word - that He’d be exalted. Like Joseph, Jesus was hated, rejected, and eventually sold out for twenty pieces of silver.
In the end, Jesus suffered because of God’s favor. Jesus even affirms in the Garden of Gethsemane that His place on the cross was indeed the very center of God’s perfect will for His life. And yet, like we’ll also see with Joseph, it would be through Jesus’ suffering that God was working out a much larger plan of salvation.
Before we dive into our story I think it would be beneficial to set some context for what we’re about to see happen in Joseph’s life - a bit of background for the narrative. Please remember that Jacob’s family and therefore Joseph’s home was a dysfunctional mess.
For starters, Jacob married two sisters (Leah and Rachel) and had children with two additional mistresses (Zilpah and Bilhah). As we approach Genesis 37 Jacob has a total of 13 sons from these four women. Because of the obvious competition that naturally arose between these rivals, Jacob’s one family really existed in four separate klans.
Sadly, Jacob’s preferential treatment of his ladies also carried over to their children as well. You’d think a man who’d grown up in a family devastated because of blatant parental partiality (Isaac favored Esau and Rebekah had favored Jacob) would have avoided creating such an environment, but not so with Jacob. Knowing Jacob is anyone really shocked?
Not only were the mistresses and their children given secondary status, but Jacob preferred the two sons given to him by Rachel (Joseph and Benjamin) more than those of Leah. There should be no real surprise such a family culture would inevitably foster sibling hostility.
Beyond the fact Joseph grew up in a dysfunctional family structure drawing the natural ire of his older brothers - simply on account he was the first born of Jacob’s favorite wife Rachel, it would also seem Joseph had a moral compass the others didn’t possess!
While unlikely Joseph remembered any of his time in Haran (it had been upon his birth that Jacob decided it was now time to leave his father-in-law Laban), in contrast his brothers spent their formative years surrounded by paganism. As such young Joseph witnessed the effects of worldly living and lax morals manifest in the very men he naturally admired.
Aside from seeing his oldest brother Reuben commit adultery by sleeping with his father’s mistress Bilhah (which I can imagine codified in Joseph’s mind the dangers of sexual sin), Joseph would have been in his early teens when the terrible events of Shechem occurred.
Joseph would have seen first hand the dangers of moral compromise. He would have heard about his sister Dinah being rapped and then watched as his brothers Simeon and Levi slaughtered even the innocent. There is no doubt Joseph purposed what kind of man he didn’t want to become by watching the very men his older brothers became.
It’s likely, on account of these older brother’s indiscretions and potential negative influence, Rachel and Jacob intentionally insulated Joseph by isolating him from the larger herd. Therefore, Joseph was likely given more personal time with his father than the rest, especially after Rachel died giving birth to Benjamin - which is in and of itself interesting.
Though Jacob had failed as a father to the others, because of his age Joseph spent more time around Israel (a man transformed by God) than he did Jacob (the man his father was in the flesh). I can imagine Israel imparted to young Joseph his love for the things of God.
It should also be mentioned that from the ages of 12 to 17 Joseph would also call his grandfather Isaac’s house in Hebron his home. Note: The timeline provided in Scripture indicates Isaac would have actually died twelve years after Joseph was sold into slavery. While his brothers were already working in the fields, young Joseph would have been afforded quality time with his grandfather. Imagine the lessons imparted to him from Isaac.
Finally, before we dive into our story it should also be noted that while Joseph came from a dysfunctional family (his nurture) and though his genetic makeup made him a natural schemer like his father Jacob (his nature) he was able to overcame both! Joseph was not bound by the destiny his nurture nor nature would have determined.
It’s fascinating, but aside from Jesus, Joseph is the only other character in the entirety of Scripture that we have no recorded instance of him sinning. More amazingly, unlike Jesus, Joseph didn’t have the benefit of a sinless nature. The fact this man with impeccable character and integrity came from such dysfunction removes all of our excuses.
Genesis 37:2b-4, “Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.”
Our story opens with a quick glimpse into the family dynamic. This “seventeen year old” Joseph is out in the fields “feeding the flock” along “with his brothers.” Though we aren’t told the specifics of what exactly transpired, it’s clear the “sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah” did something that proved most distressing to young Joseph.
Because of this Joseph felt an obligation to “bring a bad report of them to his father.” Even though our initial reaction might be to see Joseph’s actions in a poor light (who likes a tattle-tale), it’s likely whatever happened was so egregious Joseph had a responsibility to issue such a “report.” In a sense Joseph demonstrated tenacity and moral courage to act knowing full well his report would only exacerbate tensions between he and his brothers.
It’s sad, but we read “Israel loved Joseph more than all his children” - A fact not lost on the others as Jacob demonstrated this love by making Joseph “a tunic of many colors.”
In the original Hebrew the idea is that Joseph was given “a tunic reaching to the extremities” or literally “a long garment with sleeves.” One scholar further noted this phrase “referred to the shape of the tunic rather than the fabric.” While potentially colorful the idea of such a garment being given to Joseph indicated more than favoritism but status.
Even though Jacob’s first born son Reuben (who’s mother was Leah) would have been the rightful heir, because he’d sinned against his father by sleeping with Bilhah there was no question the birthright had now been extended to the first born son of Rachel - Joseph. Imagine how upset the others where at the notion they’d have to submit to a younger brother.
We’re told, “When his brothers saw that their father loved Joseph more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.” The language Moses uses to describe this situation is intense. “Hate” towards Joseph no doubt defined the attitude of their hearts… “Not speaking peaceably to him” relays how their hatred practically manifested.
Genesis 37:5-8, “Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, ‘Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.’ And his brothers said to him, ‘Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”
Genesis 37:9-11, “Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, ‘Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.’ So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, ‘What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?’ And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.”
First and foremost, these two dreams are relatively self-explanatory. Though the dreams don’t provide any of the specifics as to how, the what is crystal clear. At some point in the future, Joseph would be exalted to such a position of notoriety that his brothers and father would come and bow down before him in reverence.
Clearly Joseph sharing these dreams with the family didn’t help the mounting tension. After the first dream Moses tells us “they hated him even more.” Then following the second even Jacob feels as though Joseph was being insensitive openly “rebuking him.” You have to consider… Was Joseph tone deaf, dense, or was he simply that arrogant?
To understand what’s happening it’s important you keep in mind these dreams had a powerful impact on Joseph. He was fully convinced God revealed to him the future. The implications stirred his heart in powerful ways. They filled his life with meaning. These dreams were a vision from God into all of their future and would therefore serve as an anchor to Joseph’s soul even when his life took a turn. Joseph fully believed in God’s Word.
I don’t think you can blame Joseph for simply relaying the truth of divine revelation to the very people that revelation included. In actuality it appears by their ultimate reaction that, on account of these dreams “his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind,” even Joseph’s family sensed a measure of truth in what these dreams conveyed.
Sadly, this progression within the hearts of Joseph’s brothers from “hate” to “envy” would prove to be a terrible tonic. Initially they hated Joseph because of the favoritism show him by their father. Now, even beyond the unsettling implications of these dreams, these brothers “envied” the fact Joseph was receiving what appeared to be prophetic visions from God.
Congressional Minister William M. Taylor wrote of envy, “When envy has fully formed its purpose of cruelty, it very speedily sees and seizes an opportunity for carrying it through… The brothers of Joseph, therefore, being filled with envy towards him, soon had an opportunity of working their will upon him, and they seized it with an eagerness which showed how intensely they hated him… Envy is the hatred of man for the good that is in him, and so, it is the breath of the old serpent. It is pure devil, as it is also purely spiritual.”
Genesis 37:12-17, “Then his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. (This was 50 miles north.) And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ So he said to him, ‘Here I am.’
Then he said to him, ‘Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.’ So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem. Now a certain man found Joseph, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, ‘What are you seeking?’
So Joseph said, ‘I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.’ And the man said, ‘They have departed from here, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.” Note: Dothan (meaning two cisterns) was an additional 15 miles out from Shechem.
Genesis 37:18-22, “Now when Joseph’s brothers saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, ‘Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!’
But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, ‘Let us not kill him.’ And Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him’ - that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father.”
Upon seeing Joseph approaching their location in Dothan an idea surfaces in their collective psyche… Realizing the isolation Dothan provided, it dawns on them that they had perfect cover for the perfect crime. We’re told they “conspire” to kill Joseph, dispose of the body, before hatching a story that Joseph had been killed by “some wild beasts.”
Though ten of the eleven are immediately onboard with the plan, Reuben isn’t quite sold. Realizing the unlikelihood of stopping their murderous plans, Reuben decides to pull an old bate and switch. First he convinces his brothers not to kill Joseph, but to instead “cast him into a pit.” The logic - allowing Joseph to die a natural death was more humane.
Then, once his brothers moved on from that location, Reuben figures he’d have time to backtrack, rescue Joseph, and return him “to his father” safe and sound. Reuben reasons such an act of bravery may even bring him back into the good graces of his father.
What’s most disheartening about this situation is the deeper motivation they have for killing Joseph. They said, “We shall see what will become of his dreams!” Understand, the underlying purpose for killing Joseph was to ensure His dreams couldn’t come true. These brothers were actively seeking to deter the fulfillment of God’s Word.
Sadly, what these men failed to realize is the simple fact God’s Word never fails. God’s Word was going come to pass regardless of what they tried to do to stop it. How ironic that in actively seeking to resist God’s purposes they were unconsciously helping there fulfillment?
Genesis 37:23-24, “So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped him of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast Joseph into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal.”
What a scene! “They stripped Joseph of his tunic” before taking him and “casting him into a pit.” In their envy and fueled by their hatred Joseph’s brothers rip from him the very sign of his father’s favor. Their actions are cruel, merciless, loveless, and vindictive.
In recounting this event in Genesis 42 were given two additional details by these brothers. Not only was Joseph pleading for mercy the entire time, but these men were willingly ignoring the conviction of their conscious as “they sat down to eat.”
My guess is (as Joseph is crying out) these brothers take out some corned beef, slapping the meat between two pieces of rye bread, throwing in a slice of swiss cheese, before adding sauerkraut and some thousand island dressing - a great sandwich idea provided by Reuben!
Genesis 37:25-30, “Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.’ And his brothers listened.
Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes. And he returned to his brothers and said, ‘The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?’”
While the plan had been to leave Joseph in the pit to die a slow and agonizing death, upon seeing the opportunity to make a buck, these men choose to sell Joseph into slavery - all of which was completely unknown to Reuben. Imagine the scene from Joseph’s perspective.
Genesis 37:31-36, “So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, ‘We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?’ And he recognized it and said, ‘It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.’ Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days.
And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, ‘For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.’ Thus his father wept for him. Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.”
In closing it should be noted that because these brothers rejected God’s Word it was then only logical they proceeded to persecute the messenger. By their actions they detested who Joseph was and the reality of who God’s Word said Joseph would become.
Joseph was favored by his father and God’s Word prophesied that he’d eventually be exalted to a place of prominence above all his brethren. And yet, what Joseph didn’t know was that before he’d rise up it would be necessary he first descend down into the pit of despair. Doesn’t this story-arch already sound a lot like the plight of Jesus?
Finally, there is one more reality you should consider… Joseph was hated and therefore persecuted by immoral men because he was a moral man! The genuine nature of his character was intolerable because it served as a contrast to the other’s wickedness.
And since this was the case Joseph had to go! Once again William M. Taylor writes, “They banished him to get rid of that which was disagreeable; so those who are unprincipled become intolerant of the integrity of the upright who are working at their side, and do everything in their power to make them uncomfortable.” In 2 Timothy 3:12 Paul even promises that “all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.”
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