Genesis 37: The Story of Joseph Begins
What we are about to observe in this last section of Genesis is two fold: Joseph must be prepared for his role of leadership and this will involve a 13 year journey whose hardships will humble Joseph and clear the path for fellowship with his brothers. These brothers will also have to deal with and come to an understanding of their sins in order to clear their consciences and prepare them to be the leader of Israels tribes.
Let us consider the circumstances in which Joseph at age 17 finds himself living.
His father, Jacob has 12 sons from 4 wives. Four of the sons are from the maid servants of Rachel and Leah- Dan& Naphtali( Bilah); Gad and Asher (Zilpah): six sons from Leah- Rueben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, and Zebulon; and two sons from Rachel- Joseph & Benjamin. One daughter- Dinah with Leah.
The family was in total disarray. As dysfunctional a family as you will ever see. There was Jacobs dealings with Esau, his 20 years with Laban, his favoritism for Rachel and Joseph. On top of that was the massacre at Shechem and the death of Rachel and his father Isaac.
Joseph was his favorite because he was the son he had with Rachel. But I believe the descriptions given of Rachel and Joseph tell us that Joseph looked like his mother. He got her good looks and his fathers business savvy and work habits. Rachel was described as lovely in form and beautiful. Joseph was described as well-built and handsome. Every time Jacob looked at Joseph- he saw his beloved Rachel.
Our story of Joseph begins with Joseph, a young man of seventeen tending the flocks with the four sons of the two handmaidens. I believe those 4 ( Dan, Naphtali, Gad & Asher) formed a natural team. They were bonded together due to their second class citizenship in the family.
We will see that all the brothers were jealous of Joseph.
We will observe that Joseph is a picture or foreshadowing of the Lord Jesus.
We do not want to over do this symbolism.
The Holy Spirits goal in the life of any believer is conform them to the image of Christ.
From this perspective we see Joseph as an example of how the world will attempt to conform Joseph just as it attempts to conform us. Paul writes in Romans 12- be not conformed by the world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.
These four sons of the two handmaidens and Joseph were close to each other in age. So let us consider them as 5 teenagers. Joseph is the outsider trying to get along as best he can with his brothers. He is viewed by these four as privileged and the favored son of Jacob.
As we look at these four sons- their names help us understand what they were like. For their names reveal their character and personality traits.
Dan- his name means judge. He had a clever way of making judgments on others. His cutting sarcasm could wound easily. (Dan came up with unflattering nick names, probably the one who first called Joseph- the dreamer.)
Naphtalis name means a hind let loose. Naphtali was wild, hated restrictions and scorned law and order. (A rebel.)
Gads name means troop. He liked being part of a gang, bullying people.
Ashers name infers he liked lifes luxuries, extravagance, lifes riches and pleasures. (Loved $)
Into this group, a natural team, resentful of Josephs favored position with their father Jacob- Joseph did not stand a chance. He was alone and unwanted.
If Joseph wanted to get along with these half-brothers, he would have to go along with them in their actions. Joseph was tempted to conform. Do this and he would be accepted by his half-brothers.
Ever been tempted to conform? Of course we have. Ever noticed your self- holding back saying what should be said for fear you will be criticized? We want to be accepted, especially at this age- those teen age years. They can be very cruel years- the teen years. The desire to be popular, successful, accepted and one of the group is a very strong temptation to conform.
We have all known and encountered the clever, critical Dans with their biting sarcasm.
We have dealt with the Gads of this world- the bully in phys ed who took your lunch money. Or caused you to cry on the play ground.
The Lord Jesus was the beloved of His Father and He sent him unto His own- but they received Him not- they rejected Him and despised Him. Even his own brothers were puzzled and somewhat embarrassed by their brother Jesus and believed not in Him.
After spending time with his half-brothers out in the field, tending the flocks Joseph returns with a bad report. Was Joseph a tattle- tale? What would we have him do? Lie by not telling the truth. Here was the second temptation the first temptation was to conform. The second temptation was to conceal the truth. Do you realize that a West Point Cadet takes an honor oath, that he will not only cheat or lie, but will never look the other way when he sees another cheat.
That is what character is about. It is about standing firm in the face of pressure to give in. We must remember that Jesus told us we must be holy as His Father in heaven is holy. I do not want this to sound wrong- but we must practice holiness. We must pursue holiness. We must rehearse in advance our reasons for standing firm. This is what God was teaching Joseph in the fields tending flocks with his brothers.
When you determine in your heart to live holy- to pursue holiness it will not be done accidentally. It will be done on purpose with purpose. We have three enemies who will try to conform us and mold us: the world, the flesh and the devil.
God was preparing Joseph. Joseph was a natural leader at 17- but he lacked maturity. He could be perceived in his attitude as prideful, even arrogant as we will see in his telling his family about his dreams. God would humble Joseph and the next 13 years of his life would be a furnace where the dross of pride would be burned away.
You see, Joseph had to learn that God never exalts a man for the mans sake but rather to glorify God. Joseph would be elevated to a high position- but he was prepared in a grave-like cistern, on a slave block , as a household servant in a strange land , and as a prisoner before God could trust Joseph with the power and exalted position he would attain.
So at this stage of his life, I doubt that many of us would have liked Joseph if we were his age and in his presence. He was after all, handsome, well-built, smart, intelligent, honest, and favored by his father. Joseph seemed to do everything right. He was the heir apparent even before his older brothers. Joseph was the kind of teenager who was liked by adults but not by his own age group.
Verse 3 tells us Jacob did not help the matter in that he obviously loved Joseph more than his brothers and gave him a coat of many colors. A coat or robe that spoke of authority.
Listen as Joseph tells his brothers of his dream and they hated him all the more. The first dream described in 5-7 was clearly understood by all: He told his brothers in the dream of sheaves that they would bow down to him. To which his brothers replied do you think we will ever bow down to you?
In the next dream- he tells of the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to him. At this dream, even his father rebuked him as the implication was that even Jacob and Leah would bow down to him. But Jacob did not forget this dream- he remembered this dream.
In spite of these conditions and the obvious animosity his brothers had for him, Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers once again. As God the Father sent His Only Begotten Son, so did Jacob also send his son Joseph
Joseph discovers his brothers have moved on from Shechem to Dothan. The name Dothan actually means two wells.
As Joseph approaches his brothers they plotted to kill him. ( Verse 18) After all- Levi and Simeon had killed before. Listen to this chilling plan as these cold-hearted brothers plan to kill their own brother.
Here comes the dreamer. Come now let us kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say a ferocious animal has devoured him. Then we will see what comes of his dreams.
Reuben the oldest brother attempts to rescue Joseph and says dont shed any blood just throw him in the cistern here in the desert. We are told Reuben was planning to come back later and rescue Joseph. Perhaps thinking he could get back in his fathers good graces- or maybe just knowing this was going too far.
Imagine, Joseph, only 17 coming to his brothers after hard travel. Perhaps even a little glad to see them and then they attack him like a pack of wild dogs. They immediately grabbed him and stripped him of his robe then threw him down in this empty well.
Verse 25 records how hard-hearted these men were. They sat down to eat while Joseph must have called out to them to rescue him. Maybe he thought at first this was just a prank- a hazing of the younger brother. But as the sun rose, and he called out each ones name to come get him out. Joseph must have realized it was not going to happen.
Then something occurs that if we are not careful we will miss the sovereignty of God. It was not by accident that at the same time God sent a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt coming from Gilead. Look at their cargo and see if it rings a bell. They were loaded with spices and balm and myrrh on their way to sell their goods in Egypt.
Jeremiah would ask this question in Jeremiah 8: Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people? Then in Jeremiah 30, we read: but I will restore you to health and heal your wound, declares the Lord. For as we know of the many names for our Lord one is the Balm of Gilead.
Joseph will learn of the healing balm of Gilead as the Lord becomes His Physician.
Judah comes up with the plan. What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come let us sell him and not have his blood on our hands. So they sell him to this caravan for 20 shekels of silver. Less than two pieces of silver apiece. They will come to loathe money as we will see later on. But we cannot help but see a picture of the betrayal of our Lord sold for 30 pieces of silver- that Judas came to loathe.
Now Rueben, the oldest brother, returns to the group to discover they have sold Joseph to a passing caravan. Reuben tears his clothes in sorrow- as he must have realized what this would do to their father.
Now watch this eerily familiar deception. Using a robe and the blood of a goat, the brothers prepare the deception. Remember what Jacob and his mother did to deceive his blind father, Isaac? They killed a goat and prepared it to taste like venison and Jacob dressed in Esaus robe to complete the masquerade. Now Jacob would be deceived by the blood of a goat and the robe of his beloved son.
I dont believe these sons, as hard-hearted as they might be were prepared for the depth of grief and sorrow this would cause their father.
Can you see the pain on their faces as they cannot look their father in the eye as they hear him all through the camp crying and wailing in his sorrow and mourning. They tried to comfort him but they could not. Jacob said I will go to my grave mourning Joseph.
How their consciences must have convicted them as we see a Sovereign God begin His work through the evil acts of men in order to save many.
What we are about to see in the story of Joseph and his brothers is the truth of Romans 8:28 portrayed in great detail. This verse known by many proclaims : And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose.
God did not force these brothers to act against their will in order to accomplish Gods sovereign purpose, rather God brings about His plan through the willing choices of men, for which they are accountable.
In a way we cannot understand, for Gods ways are higher than our ways; God causes man to make willing choices to do what they do.
Example : Acts 2: 23: ( Peter speaking: this Jesus delivered up according to a definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hand of lawless men.
This is what Joseph will come to understand as he looks back on the journey of his life and says to his brothers: You meant it for evil, but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done- the saving of many lives.
Do you understand how the Trinity works in the life of a believer?
- God the Father determines the agenda of our lives- orders our steps.
- God the Son communicates the Fathers agenda to us through His Word, and His life. He is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
- God the Holy Spirits task is implementation. He works in us a desire and the power to do Gods will.
Faithful is He who calls you who will also do it. ( I Thess. 5:24)