Have you ever been so jealous of someone that you couldn’t speak to them or perhaps you even hated them? This envy comes from deep insecurity and has led to the downfall of many people. The passage from Genesis 37:1-4,12-28 reveals the dangers of playing favourites. God constantly uses the lives of Bible characters to teach us, encourage us and warn us.
While nowhere is it stated that Joseph was a type of Christ, the similarities are too numerous to be accidental. Both were objects of a father’s love. Both were hated by their brethren. Their superior claims were rejected by their brethren. The brethren of both conspired against them to have them killed. Joseph was, in effect, slain by his brethren as was Christ. Both became a blessing to the Gentiles and gained a Gentile bride. As Joseph reconciled his brothers to him, and afterward exalted them, so will it be with Christ and His Jewish brethren.
Joseph’s commitment to the truth was stronger than his hesitation to tell his father about his brothers. Perhaps he learned that “honesty is the best policy” from hearing about how his father Jacob got into trouble with Laban and Esau. Joseph’s life story tells us that we need to do what is right regardless of the circumstances in which we find ourselves or how other people will respond.
Joseph was given to dreams through which he believed that God was speaking to him. The principle of faith was nurtured in his young life but might have been underlined when his father took the whole family back to Bethel after telling everyone to do away with foreign gods.
There are people in our lives who do not want our dreams to come true, but dreams do come true! We need to have dreams and we can have dreams because dreams come from God. He is the creative genius of the universe. He is constantly dropping creative thoughts into our minds. We have to receive dreams. We have to love them, nurture them, respect them, resource them. It’s one thing to have dreams, it’s another to do something with them. Dreams have a way of attracting the support that is needed from all kinds of people: the right people, the right resources, the right timing. God brings them together. That is how dreams get fulfilled.
Our dreams may shake up other people like Joseph’s dream did to his brothers. They may challenge their complacency and ruffle their feathers. Our dreams may cause others to be jealous. Our dreams may seem outrageous and unrealistic to people who know us. It is highly unlikely anyone will try to kill us or physically harm us but they may try to kill our dreams. They may be critical of our dreams and tell us why they can’t happen. They will discourage us from pursuing our dreams and tell us why they can’t be done.
We must protect the dreams God has given us. Dreams provide us with a purpose. They give our lives direction. They keep us focused. Dreams are pictures of our potential and blueprints of our vision. We must feed our dreams and find people who will encourage us to pursue them.
Some people don’t want to admit wrongdoing. Others say they do not want to become involved. Joseph possessed spiritual integrity and was willing to face abuse from his brothers for exposing their evil ways. We see an example of these evil ways in Genesis 38, which tells the story of Joseph’s brother Judah. God always tests our loyalty to Him by bringing circumstances into our lives that we may not understand or that may seem unfair and undeserved. This is His means of testing our attitude; of perfecting our patience as well as our faith in Him.
Commitment to the principles of truth, good, right, faith and work were key parts of Joseph’s life by the time he was seventeen. These principles served him well during traumatic events of his life. Joseph’s story shows how the mysterious ways of the Lord are threaded through all of mankind’s plans. God will ultimately triumph and His purposes will prevail. Joseph understood this, and he had the strength to endure.
It would be reasonable to expect that Jacob would have learned from his own family background that favoritism is not only out of place in a family, but it is also fatal to family harmony and well-being. But he had not learned, so Joseph was required to walk around wearing a magnificent tunic which spoke of favoritism and led to hostility. When parents insist on spoiling their children they make it difficult for those same children to grow up mature and complete. Joseph had to deal with negative peer pressure as well as unhelpful parental pressure.
The Hebrew phrase for “a coat of many colours” describes a robe with “long sleeves and skirts” rather than varied hues. Although Joseph’s coat was an ornamental, distinctive garment, the coat was significant for its symbolism, not its beauty: Joseph would be the heir of his father. Joseph’s 11 brothers had coats too. Their tunics were short-sleeved and short-waisted, making it easier for them to do their work.
Jacob’s preferential treatment of Joseph does not condone the actions of Joseph’s brothers. It points out to us as Christians that we should love everyone as Christ would. When people feel that love, it makes it easier for them to love each other in return.
Because it was the dry season, Jacob’s 10 older sons traveled from Hebron to find grasslands and water for their flocks. Joseph’s obedience to his father was courageous (considering the hostility of his siblings) and complete. When he did not find his brothers near Sechem as expected, he continued to Dothan, about 12 miles away by the roads of the day.
The brothers plotted to kill Joseph and throw him into a pit. Reuben, the oldest brother, convinced them to cast Joseph into the pit alive instead, with the secret hope that he might rescue Joseph later. This move saved Joseph’s life. Cisterns were dug as reservoirs for water, sloping downward and outward with a narrow opening at the top. A person thrown into one would be unable to escape because there were no handholds or footholds.
Judah, seeing a way to profit from their crime, recommended they sell Joseph as a slave. The sale was the same as death, but the brothers believed it would relieve them of direct responsibility. The price of twenty shekels of silver marks the integrity of this account; later in Israel’s history, a slave would be sold for 30 shekels of silver. Ironically, the traveling merchants were Ishmaelites, descendants of Ishmael, the first son of Abraham.
There are three lessons that we can learn from Jacob’s family and Joseph’s adversity:
- No enemy is subtler than passivity. When parents are passive like Jacob was with his other sons, they may eventually discipline, but by then the delayed reaction is often carried out in anger.
- No response is crueler than jealousy. If jealousy can grow and fester, it leads to devastating consequences. The jealousy Joseph’s brothers had toward him is a good example.
- No action is more powerful than prayer. The Bible doesn’t say so, but Jacob likely turned to God in prayer. How else could he have gone on with his life? Where else could he have turned for hope? Prayer brings power to endure.
How would we have faith if we were in Joseph’s place walking on the long road to Egypt? What long, lonely journeys have we made in our lives that have challenged our hearts or tired our bodies? God has filled the Bible with the experiences of real people with real problems. The Bible is our spiritual guidebook. If it is studied prayerfully and carefully, it will help us live in the 21st century. It will help us navigate the long journeys and rocky roads that we will face. God loves and wants to use us despite our faults and mistakes.
In times of questioning say:
FIRST: God brought me here; it is by His will I am in this place; in that I will rest
NEXT: God will keep me here in His love, and give me grace in this trial to behave as His child.
THEN: God will make the trial a blessing, teaching me the lessons He intends me to learn, and working in me the grace He means to bestow.
LAST: In God’s good timing He can bring me out again-how and when He knows.
What we have in this passage from Genesis is the beginning of an account of God’s providence. Through Joseph, a young and flawed man, God chose to save Jacob and his family and thereby set the stage for the founding of the nation of Israel. It is also a story of God redeeming His people-a story that must have given the Israelites comfort during their many trials-and a story that should give us comfort when things are going badly for us. It tells us that God is at work behind the scenes shaping the lives of his people-and thereby shaping history. When the night is darkest, this story holds out the promise of the dawn.
In the grand scheme of things, the story of the brothers’ sale of Joseph to traders heading to Egypt, traders who were descendants of outcastes, who ultimately serve to rescue an outcaste, is understood to be a sign of divine providence. Despite its messiness, this is the way things are supposed to be. Such things are not easy to understand. They’re not the same as God making lemonade out of life’s lemons. What it does suggest, however, is that God’s purpose can be resisted but not stopped. Not even family dysfunction can stop it.
Thanks be to God, AMEN
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible, New King James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013, pp. 52-53)
- Schofield’s Notes. Part of Wordsearch 11 Bible software package.
- Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 1: Genesis (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987, pp. 290-297)
- MacArthur, J.F. Jr.: The MacArthur Study Bible: New American Standard Bible (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Publishers; 2006)
- Allison Herrin, “So Long Insecurity.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- “Playing Favorites.” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- “The Long Road to Egypt.” Retrieved from Christianity.email@example.com
- “When We Ask ‘Why?’” Retrieved from Christianity.firstname.lastname@example.org
- Charles R. Swindoll, “Joseph: Lessons in Adversity.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
- Charles R. Swindoll, “Joseph: God’s Training Manual.” Retrieved from www.insightforliving.ca
- Pastor Rick McDaniel, “Dreams Come True.” Retrieved from Oneplace@crosswalkmail.com
- Richard Niell Donovan, “Exegesis for Genesis 37:1-4,12-18.” Retrieved from www.lectionary.org