Joseph (Son Of Jacob)
Genesis 37 unfolds the destructive dynamics of a family that knew the true and living God and yet sinned against Him and each other by what they said and did. The presence of Joseph in the home didn’t create problems so much as reveal them.
Consider the destructive forces at work in this family. Forces that God in His grace overruled for their good. Where sin abounded, grace abounded more (Rom. 5:20).
Joseph, one of Jacob’s 12 sons, was obviously the favorite. Hated by his brothers for this, Joseph was sold to slave traders only to emerge as ruler of all Egypt. Through Joseph, we learn how suffering, no matter how unfair, develops strong character and deep wisdom.
As a youngster, Joseph was overconfident. His natural self-assurance – increased by being Jacob’s favorite son and by knowing of God’s designs on his life – was unbearable to his 10 older brothers, who eventually conspired against him. But this self-assurance molded by pain and combined with a personal knowledge of God, allowed him to survive and prosper where most would have failed. He added quiet wisdom to his confidence and won the hearts of everyone he met – Potiphar, the prison warden, other prisoners, the pharaoh, and after many years, even those 10 brothers.
Perhaps you can identify with one or more of these hardships Joseph experienced:
- He was betrayed and deserted by his family,
- Exposed to sexual temptation, and punished for doing the right thing;
- He endured a long imprisonment and was forgotten by those he helped.
As you read his story, note what Joseph did in each case. His positive response transformed each setback into a step forward. He didn’t spend much time asking why. His approach was
“What shall I do now?”
Those who met Joseph were aware that wherever he went and whatever he did, God was with him. When you’re facing a setback, the beginning of a Joseph – like attitude is to acknowledge that God is with you. There’s nothing like His presence to shed new light on a dark situation.
Joseph Goes To Meet His Brothers
So Jacob settled again in the land of Canaan, where his father had lived as a foreigner.
“How wonderful and pleasant it is when brothers live together in harmony!“ (Ps. 133:1) But Jacob’s family didn’t enjoy the blessings of unity because from its inception the home was divided. Jacob’s first two wives were rivals, and the addition of two concubines didn’t diminish the tension. When you have in a home one father, four different mothers, and twelve sons, you have the ingredients for multiple problems. Unfortunately, Jacob came from a divided home and brought the infection with him.
Why did the brothers hate Joseph so much?
Joseph Had Integrity
This is the history of Jacob.
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.
Genesis 37:2 (NKJV)
The sons of Bilhah were Dan and Naphtali, and the sons of Zilpah were Gad and Asher; and Joseph apparently was their assistant or apprentice, learning how to care for the sheep.
Nobody knew it at the time, but Joseph was destined for greater things, and yet he got his start as a servant (Matt. 25:21). It wasn’t easy for Joseph to work alongside his half-brothers because their way of life was different from his.
Were the boys robbing their father?
Were they getting too involved with the ways of the people of the land?
We don’t know what evil things the men were doing, but whatever their sin was, Joseph felt that their father needed to know about it. Joseph also knew what the other brothers were doing and reported that to Jacob.
Did Joseph have the right to inform on his brothers?
We’ve always held him in high esteem for his character, but in his youth, was he nothing but a teenage tattletale?
He certainly had no authority over his brothers and wasn’t accountable for their behavior, and he was in the fields to work with them, not to spy on them.
Subsequent events proved that, young as he was, Joseph did have common sense and discernment. Thus whatever his brothers were doing must have been terribly wicked or Joseph wouldn’t have mentioned it to his father. Perhaps Jacob suspected that his sons were doing evil things and asked Joseph what he knew. The boy certainly wasn’t going to lie to his father; and when Jacob talked to his sons about their behavior, the men immediately knew whom the informer was.
Joseph Was The Favorite Son
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other children because he came along when he was an old man. So Israel presented Joseph with a special robe he had made for him—a spectacularly colorful robe with long sleeves in it. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than the rest, they grew to hate him and couldn’t find it in themselves to speak to him without resentment or argument.
Genesis 37:3-4 (VOICE)
Having experienced the sad consequences of favoritism in his boyhood home (25:28) and during his years with Laban (29:30), Jacob should have had more sense than to single out Joseph and pamper him. But Joseph was the son of his favorite wife, Rachel, and the human heart sometimes plays tricks with the mind and makes people do strange things. However, it still wasn’t the wisest way to run the home.
In Joseph’s day, everyone had a rope or cloak. Ropes for used for warmth, to bundle up belongings for a trip, to wrap babies, to sit on, or even to serve as security for a loan. Most ropes were knee length, short-sleeved, and plain. In contrast, Joseph’s rope was probably of the kind worn by royalty – long sleeved, ankle length, and colorful. The rope became a symbol of Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph, and it aggravated the already strained relationships between Joseph and his brothers.
Favoritism in families may be unavoidable, but its divisive effects should be minimized. Parents may not be able to change their feelings toward a favorite child, but they can change their actions toward the others.
Reuben had forfeited his firstborn status because of his sin with Bilhah (35:22), and his next son, Simeon, had been involved with Levi in slaughtering the men of Shechem.
Furthermore, Jacob’s first four sons had Leah as their mother, and Jacob hadn’t intended to marry Leah. The full intent of his heart was to marry Rachel, but Laban had tricked him. Jacob might have reasoned, “In God’s sight, Rachel was my first wife, and Joseph was her firstborn. Therefore, Joseph has the right to be treated as the firstborn.”
If this is the way the brothers viewed the scenario, then it’s no surprise that they hated Joseph. Jacob knew their true feelings and even brought it up when he was on his deathbed. “Archers attacked him savagely; they shot at him and harassed him.“ (49:23).
Hatred is a terrible sin because it generates other sins, “Hatred stirs up quarrels, but love makes up for all offenses.“ (Prov. 10:12). “Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness” (1 John 2:9). Hatred in the heart is the moral equivalent of murder (Matt. 5:21-26). “Anyone who hates another brother or sister is really a murderer at heart. And you know that murderers don’t have eternal life within them.” (1 John 3:15).
Lessons From Joseph’s Life
What matters is not so much the events or circumstances of life, but our response to them. With God’s help, any situation can be used for good, even when others intend it for evil.