Genesis 37:2 Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers.
The early chapters of Genesis record the creation of the world (Genesis 1-2), our fall into sin (Genesis 3), the story of the flood (Genesis 6-9), the tower of Babel (Genesis 11), and a few other stories about God and the world.
But the world did not want God, so God turned to Abram saying, I will make you into a great nation. . . . and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you (Genesis 12:2-3). God changed Abram’s name to Abraham (Genesis 17:5), and gave him a son named Isaac (Genesis 21:1-3). Isaac had a son named Jacob (Genesis 25:26), whose name God changed to Israel (Genesis 32:28).
But if you are going to have a nation, you will need some people. So Israel had twelve sons (Genesis 35:22-26), who had families of their own. They became the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel (Genesis 49:1-28). This little nation became the primary setting for the rest of the Bible. Joseph is just one of the sons of Israel, but his story is so important that it takes up nearly a third of the book of Genesis (Genesis 37-50).
By way of introduction, two things should be noted. First, the story has a U shape. It starts well, turns bad, stays mostly bad, but ends well. This mirrors the life of Jesus Christ. He came down from heaven, lived a difficult life, but rose from the dead to reign in glory.
Second, this is a story of providence. Behind the scenes of Joseph’s life we perceive the hand of God who works for the good of those who love him (Romans 8:28). God is always at work in this story, even when he seems absent. This is a comfort to us, when our lives seem out of control.
Genesis 37:4 When his brothers saw that their father loved [Joseph] more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Jacob’s family is one of the most dysfunctional in the Bible—but there are others. Cain killed his brother Abel (Genesis 4:8). Abraham shared his wife with Pharaoh (Genesis 12:19). And David’s son committed incest (2 Samuel 13:14). Wherever sinners live together, there is trouble.
Joseph was actually part of the problem. He had a dream in which the sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to him (Genesis 37:9). He shared the dream with his family, but it would have been wiser to keep it to himself. Joseph’s family understood the dream to mean that, one day, they would bow down to Joseph—and they were offended by this. Joseph enjoyed the idea, but he did not know how difficult his life would become before his dream came true.
This is the Christian life in miniature. We know our story ends well, and that God is with us on every page. We are surprised when things go badly, but we know our glorious future will soon be here. Therefore, we always have hope.
Genesis 37:19-20 Here comes that dreamer! they said to each other. Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we will see what comes of his dreams.
Joseph’s brothers were away from home grazing the family’s sheep. Jacob sent Joseph to check on them, and they saw him from a distance. Joseph was wearing a special robe that their father had given him, and his brothers were so jealous that they wanted to kill him (Genesis 37:20).
We don’t always think of jealousy as a serious sin, but it can become a serious sin. Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy? (Proverbs 27:4), says Proverbs. Joseph’s brothers planned to kill him, but when they saw a band of merchants on their way to Egypt, they decided to sell him into slavery (Genesis 37:25-27). Then they dipped his robe in goats’ blood, gave it to their father, and let him draw his own conclusion. Some ferocious animal has devoured him (Genesis 37:33), he said.
Genesis 37:34-35 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. No, he said, I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave. So his father wept for him.
It must have been hard for the brothers to watch their father suffer for their sin. Children suffer for the sins of their parents (Jeremiah 32:18), but parents can also suffer for the sins of their children. Joseph’s brothers got what they wanted, but their father paid the price.
What no one realized was that God would use their wicked deed to elevate Joseph. God’s plan was for Joseph to rule over Egypt, and his brothers helped him get there. When things were at their worst, God was most at work. If God is for us, who can be against us? (Romans 8:31), wrote Paul. Our family can be against us. The world can be against us. The devil is against us. And life itself can seem against us. But if God is for us, there is no power in hell that can prevail against us. Believers always win in the end.
Reflection and Review
How did the nation of Israel begin?
Why is jealousy so dangerous?
How do we know that God is for us?