Reuben Returns (Joseph #7)

Reuben returned to the pit, and saw that Joseph wasn’t in the pit; and he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The child is no more; and I, where will I go?” 31 They took Joseph’s tunic, and killed a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood. 32 They took the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father, and said, “We have found this. Examine it, now, and see if it is your son’s tunic or not.”

33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s tunic. An evil animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn in pieces.” 34 Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. He said, “For I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” His father wept for him. 36 The Midianites sold him into Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, the captain of the guard.

Genesis 37:29-36 (WEB)

Reuben Returns

If you cast your mind back to an earlier part of the story, you will recall that Reuben was the one who convinced his brothers not to murder Joseph in cold blood. Instead, he talked them into leaving him in the pit and letting nature take its course. This somehow seemed more palatable to them.

Secretly however, Reuben had planned to return and rescue Joseph so that he could return him to his father, and claim the credit. This is pretty low…

Our passage today picks up the account and opens with Reuben’s return. His is more than a little dismayed to find Joseph gone!

Reuben tears his clothes as a sign of grief, or perhaps regret. It does not appear to be a sign of repentance, as he was not exactly acting out of the purest of motives. Rather he recognises that he won’t be able to “save the day” and claim the credit now. He is sorry of course, but for quite the wrong reasons.

I acknowledged my sin to you.

    I didn’t hide my iniquity.

I said, I will confess my transgressions to Yahweh,

    and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah.

Psalm 32:5 (WEB)

Psalm 32 is one of the Penitential Psalms or Psalms of Repentance. Here in verse 5, the psalmist asked to be forgiven for the iniquity of their sin – other translations say the “sinfulness of my sin.” See my post of the same name – The Sinfulness of my Sin.

Often when we are caught in wrongdoing, we are sorry for the consequences, not the sin itself. A bank robber is sorry he got caught red-handed, but would feel no guilt had they gotten away with it. Reuben, here, is likewise sorry for the consequences of his sin, not the wrongdoing itself.

The Cover Up

There is a possible gap between verse 30 and 31, as the text moves from Reuben’s cries straight to the brothers’ cover up of events. Presumably one of them told him what had happened in his absence.

Joseph is gone, and the brothers must now deal with the obvious. What will they tell their father? Taking Joseph’s coloured coat, they kill a goat and use its blood to stain the tunic. This will be evidence enough of Joseph’s supposed fate.

Taking it to Jacob, they ask him to identify it. In the absence of a body, this is the next best thing and they do not correct him (of course) when he assumes Joseph has been killed by a wild animal.

Look at the grief they inflict on Jacob! His heart is broken and he descends into deep mourning for many days. His other sons and daughters try to comfort him, but to no avail.

Did they feel any guilt, I wonder, as they looked upon their father during this time? He was so broken that he wished to go to Sheol – the place of the dead – so that he might be with his beloved son. Would a spark of remorse have been felt by any of them? The Bible does not record it.

To what lengths people will go to cover up their sinfulness. I see it in myself at times too. I make a mistake at work and there is clear temptation to sweep it under the carpet, or to give a version of events which look less unfavourable. Surely I am not alone in feeling such temptation in those moments?

Christians must not lie however. We must be honest and truthful, even if it means admitting we’ve done wrong and facing the consequences.

The passage, and this chapter, close by telling us that Joseph (meanwhile) is taken to Egypt and sold to a man named Potiphar, who is a servant of Pharaoh and the captain of the guard. This will later turn out to be another divine appointment for Joseph – but we’ll pick that up another day.

Every blessing to you!

Opportunity Knocks (Joseph #6)

They sat down to eat bread, and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spices and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not let our hand be on him; for he is our brother, our flesh.” His brothers listened to him. 28 Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. The merchants brought Joseph into Egypt.

Genesis 37:25-28 (WEB)

Joseph has found his brothers in the wilderness, and they hatched and executed a plan to capture him. Tearing off his coat of colours, they throw him into a pit. Having talked themselves out of killing him directly, they now plan instead to leave him to the elements.

Verse 25 opens by telling us that they sat down to eat bread. I am not sure if there is any significance to this in particular, but it strikes me that having captured and essentially murdered their brother, food might be the last thing on their minds! It takes a callous heart to condemn someone to death, and then in the next moments enjoy a hearty meal.

Perhaps the significance lies in the timing. The text tells us that while they were eating, they look up and see a caravan of Ishmaelites heading their way. Had they dumped Joseph in the pit and moved on, they may not have run into this group at all, and the rest of our story may have been quite different.

There are no such things as coincidences with God.

Opportunity Knocks

Judah is quick to come up with an alternative ending to Joseph’s life. Rather than murder him outright, he sees an opportunity. Judah sees the chance of making a profit by selling Joseph into slavery. He also adds that why should they shed his blood, after all, Joseph is their brother. His words show perhaps little respect for Joseph himself, but for the family. They all recognise that shedding one’s own brother’s blood is not exactly a righteous thing to do.

So they haul Joseph out of the pit, sell him to the merchants and gain a bag silver in return. We learn that the merchants are heading to Egypt, and surely the brothers expected that to be the last they would ever see of this dreamer. How wrong they would one day prove to be!

God has not been directly mentioned in any of this up to now. Clearly though, He is ever present in the account. God is the source of the dreams that Joseph has had, and surely God is the one who has preserved Joseph’s life at the hand of his brothers. Likewise, God decreed events to take place in such a way that these merchants just happened to be passing at the precise moment necessary.

God has a plan! And this is no less true for you. What happened to Joseph was truly terrible, and yet it was all part of the tapestry of God’s plan. As he lay in the pit, Joseph was likely questioning his dreams and wondering what on earth was to happen to him. Even in our darkest moments, we can cling on to the promises of God and know that they will never fail.

There is a well-known verse from Jeremiah which is often quoted, although I’m not certain if the context applies to all people at all times, but here you go:

For I know the thoughts that I think toward you,” says Yahweh, “thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you hope and a future.

Jeremiah 29:1 (WEB)

When you know Jesus, the future is bright. That does not mean there are no dark days ahead of us, but we can rely on Him to take us through. Whatever God’s plan is for you in this life, there is an eternity in paradise to look forward to.

To finish, let me ask you what opportunities may present themselves to you today? How can you be a blessing to someone, or to share your faith with a person who needs to hear it? Don’t just wait and see if an opportunity presents itself, ask the Lord for divine appointments where you can act as a light in this world.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!

The View from the Pit (Joseph #5)

Reuben heard it, and delivered him out of their hand, and said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father.

Genesis 37:21-22 (WEB)

To remind you where we are, Joseph was not popular among his brothers. In fact, the Bible makes clear that they hated him to point of not be able to speak to him kindly. Having shared with them some controversial dreams, their resolve against him has only been strengthened. Searching for them in the wilderness, an opportunity has presented itself to them to finally be rid of him for good. Putting it bluntly, they plan to kill him.

Reuben to the Rescue?

Reuben, hearing the plan to murder Joseph, delivers him out of their hand. It may sound as though Reuben has had a bout of conscience but in fact, his motives are purely self-serving.

Instead of shedding Joseph’s blood, an obvious crime, he convinces them to simply throw him into the pit and let him die “naturally!” To the brothers, this apparently seems less unsavoury than actually doing the deed itself. However, would God see them as guiltless for this? I hardly think so.

James, in his letter, says:

So any person who knows what is right to do but does not do it, to him it is sin.

James 4:17 (Amp)

If we know what is right, and yet refuse to do it, that is sin – plain and simple. For the brothers here, it is not as though they have stumbled across a Joseph who has accidentally fallen into a pit, and refused to rescue him… that would be sin enough! Instead, they plan to throw him in there themselves. Whichever way you shake it, to fulfil such a plan is no different from shedding his blood themselves.

Selfish Motives

We see from the final words of verse 22 that Reuben was not actually concerned about Joseph at all. His motives for rescuing him were purely selfish. He wanted to sneak back later on and pull Joseph out, claiming to be the one who had rescued him and gaining favour with his father.

I wonder if Jacob must take a slice of the blame here. Imagine being in a family where you felt you had to go to such lengths to obtain a father’s favour. Clearly Reuben’s actions are very wrong, but so was the favouritism which drove him to it.

In the pit

When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him; 24 and they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it.

Genesis 37:23-24 (WEB)

I wonder, as Joseph approached his brothers that day, if he had any idea what was coming. Even a naïve dreamer (if that’s what he was) must have known their feelings towards him. Perhaps he simply thought the best of them, and never expected them to act in this shocking way.

They strip him of his coat of many colours, and this, in their minds, would have been like ripping off Jacob’s favouritism from him. The coat would have been a sign of leadership too, and likewise they are saying, “You are not above us!” Throwing him into the pit is to throw him beneath them once and for all.

The text makes a point of saying that the pit (or water cistern) is empty. Why is this important – apart from the obvious consequences for Joseph? I want to address that at a later date – so stay tuned! Suffice it to say that I do not believe any detail is in the Bible for no reason.

Water cisterns were no small holes in the ground. The picture above shows the size and scale of some of these pits. We do not know how long Joseph was in there, but from the bottom he would have seen little but sky.

The Bible does not seem to reference Joseph prying all that much, but I can only imagine that as he sat or lay at the bottom of this pit, that he was praying earnestly for rescue. “Get me out of this pit, please God!” he might have said, and would we have prayed any differently? Yet God does answer his prayer (as we will see next time) but not into freedom, rather instead into slavery.

Similarly, if God had rescued Joseph completely in this situation, he would never have found himself in Egypt and in that place God had called him to. Joseph, if he was praying to escape the pit, was praying against God’s will and against his own dreams. That is something to pause on. When we pray, we pray from our human viewpoint and not from God’s stance. Could it be that some of our prayers of rescue are not answered because they would contradict God’s plans and our dreams? I’ll leave that with you…

Let our prayers be led by the Holy Spirit today and every day!

Evil (Joseph #4)

The man said, “They have left here, for I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”

Joseph went after his brothers, and found them in Dothan. 18 They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them, they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Behold, this dreamer comes. 20 Come now therefore, and let’s kill him, and cast him into one of the pits, and we will say, ‘An evil animal has devoured him.’ We will see what will become of his dreams.”

Genesis 37:17-20

After a time of searching, Joseph is directed to the town of Dothan where he finally catches up with his brothers. Suffice it to say they were not exactly thrilled to see him coming…

Coat of Many Colours

We have pointed out before that Joseph was wearing his coat of colours and this is no doubt a large part of how they saw him coming from afar. I do not want to draw an overly spiritual point out of this, but do people see you coming a mile off? Do they recognise your clothes, behaviour or attitude? Do they look forward to your approach, or does it fill them with dread as it does Jacob’s sons?

We ought to be properly dressed. Ephesians 6 instructs us to put on the armour of God, and Romans 13 tells us to clothe ourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. I want to write a fuller post on that subject another day, so won’t say a great deal more here.

However, just as Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, recognising him immediately, I want us – the church – to be immediately recognisable by those who look upon us. Let them see how we conduct ourselves, and spot our holiness, and by so doing draw them into relationship with our wonderful Lord.

The Plot and the Lie

The brothers decide they have had enough of this dreamer, and make a plan to kill him, toss him into a pit and then lie about it to cover it up. We have spoken of their hatred several times in this series so far, and now it bubbles up to a point where they intend to act on it. Surely the Lord Jesus was right when He said that to hate someone in your heart is to murder them.

It sounds absurd to say, but clearly the brothers knew this was not the right thing to do. No one who believes themselves in the right, then lies about it to cover it up. If it was all above board, then they would have had no need to lie. There is a lesson for us there too. If you find yourself “decorating” the truth, or just outright lying about something, then you likewise must know that it is wrong. When I walk into the office and find members of my staff quickly turning off their screens or hiding what they were doing, chances are they were not working!

Beyond that though, the brothers don’t just lie in the heat of the moment, but they plan to lie. Someone caught red-handed may try a bold story to get out of trouble, but it is a whole new level of deceit to plan to lie and cover up ahead of time.

They intend to pass the blame on to some “evil animal.” This is rich, as I know of no animals which are truly evil. Perhaps mistreated ones become mean or untrustworthy, but we would unlikely describe such an animal as evil. Humanity though, we were born with a sinful – evil – nature which corrupts us in every way. The only thing that can rescue us from this evil nature is the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He not only cleanses us from our sin, but puts a new nature inside of us, one free of corruption. Praise His Holy Name!

What Will Become of His Dreams?

The final line of our passage today may seem a bit throwaway. “We will see what becomes of his dreams.” It is a sneer almost; the brothers believe they will never see the dreams come to pass because they will end his life right here and now.

God’s plans are not so easily thwarted though.

Next time, we will see how Joseph escapes this murderous plot. For now though, Joseph’s dreams were a sign from God that He had a great plan for this young man’s life. God has a plan for you also. There may be those who try to end your dreams in the here and now, although I pray it is not in such a gruesome way! Nothing can stop God’s plan for your life, so rejoice in that truth today. His plan may not always be comfortable, but continue to trust Him with all of your heart and He will bring you safely to your heavenly home.

Joseph Searching (Joseph #3)

Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the sheep at Shechem. Get ready, and I will send you to them.”

“I’m ready to go,” Joseph replied.

14 “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.” So Jacob sent him on his way, and Joseph travelled to Shechem from their home in the valley of Hebron.

15 When he arrived there, a man from the area noticed him wandering around the countryside. “What are you looking for?” he asked.

16 “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph replied. “Do you know where they are pasturing their sheep?”

17 “Yes,” the man told him. “They have moved on from here, but I heard them say, ‘Let’s go on to Dothan.’” So Joseph followed his brothers to Dothan and found them there.

Genesis 37:12-17 (NLT)

We return to the story of Joseph today, and pick up a section of text which is, well, not apparently all that interesting! You can sum it up in a few lines. Joseph’s brothers go to pasture the flocks, and after a while Jacob sends Joseph to go check on them. Joseph can’t find them, and an unnamed man directs him to them. No great theological revelation there right?

Is this section just padding though? Is it just a build up to the real action scenes that follow? It is my firm belief that nothing is in the Bible by accident, and every single word is in there for a purpose. If so, what is the purpose here? Let’s walk through the text and see what we can find. And I do not claim to have all of the answers.

Ready To Go

The first thing I want to note is how ready Joseph is to serve his father and family. Jacob wants to check on his sons and the flocks, but doesn’t immediately give reasons. Is he potentially concerned about what they might be getting up to? Verse 14 is an instruction to go and see, and then return with a report. This may suggest concern on Jacob’s part, but it may also just be a fairly normal practice. Remember, they had no mobile/cellular phones in those days!

A few questions start to emerge here. Why was Joseph not with them? It could be that they simply did not want him around, so left him behind. It could have been that Joseph was favoured such that he did not have to go along, and could stay home and please himself.

Given the brothers’ hatred of Joseph, which they made little attempt to hide, neither Joseph nor Jacob showed any apparent concerns for sending the dreamer off into the wilderness to look for them. Clearly, neither had any idea of what the brothers would soon do, or were even worried about giving them such an opportunity.

Sending Joseph to bring back a report reminds us of the early verses in this chapter where Joseph had brought an evil/bad report back about some of the brothers. Perhaps he and/or Jacob made a habit of checking up on them. Why? Were they known for their not so exemplary behaviour?

Shechem and Dothan

Shechem is an interesting place to go and pasture the flocks. The last time we encountered Shechem, was in Genesis 34. This is a rather grizzly affair where one of Jacob’s daughters in defiled, and the brothers hatch a plan to take vengeance on the man and town of the same name. We do not know how much time has passed since those events, but it is probably advisable to steer clear of the place for a long while. That may explain Jacob’s concern for how they are getting on.

I cannot help but wonder if there is some prophetic or symbolic inference here. Joseph travels to Shechem – the place of recent violence – but does not find either the brothers or trouble there. The fact that they have moved on, and he too heads away from Shechem may allude to Joseph avoiding the same kind of violence the people of that place felt at the hands of the brothers.

I certainly do not want to read more into the text than is there, but as I mentioned above, every word and every place mentioned in the Scripture is there for a purpose.

Verse 15 sees Joseph arrive in Shechem, find nothing and encounters a man of the area. On the surface, he asks what Joseph is looking for, and then directs him to where his brothers have travelled on to. Again, the text could simply be reporting what happened, and there always danger of seeing things that are not there.

Likewise, however, some questions arise in my mind. Does Joseph bump into this man by accident? There is no such thing as coincidence in the Bible! Also, Joseph does not appear to introduce or identify himself to the man, so how does he know who “my brothers” are? The family of Israel were likely quite well known in that area of course, and we know from later events that Joseph was once again adorned with the coat of many colours. No ID required in that case!

Whenever I see an unnamed individual or servant in the Bible, I immediately ask if this is a representation of the Holy Spirit. That statement takes some explaining, but often in the Old Testament we see the Spirit of God prophetically depicted as a servant with no name – because He never testifies about Himself. In Genesis 24, an unnamed servant (named elsewhere) is dispatched by the “father” to obtain a bride for the “son.” This is prophetically similar to the Father sending forth the Holy Spirit to prepare the Bride of Christ.

Back to Genesis 37, this unnamed man directs Joseph away from Shechem (the place of former violence) and towards a place called Dothan. As far as I can tell, the only other time that this place was mentioned in the Bible was in 2 Kings 6.

In 2 Kings 6, we read of the Aramean king who was attacking Israel. Every time he formed a plan against them though, God would reveal this to Elisha – the man of God – and the plan would be thwarted. The King of Aram became so frustrated, he believed there was a spy in his ranks. It was told to him that Elisha was the one who somehow knew ahead of time, so the king sent to capture him. Where? At Dothan.

When the Arameans arrived however, they were met with a heavenly army that not even Elisha’s assistant could see. Elisha prayed, and the invading army became blind and he was able to lead them out and into captivity.

What does any of this have to do with Joseph? Well… truth be told, potentially nothing whatsoever! I do think it is interesting though that Joseph was heading into a place known for violence, was directed away by an unnamed man, and ends up going to Dothan. Dothan would later be the place of a great rescue. It could have been a slaughter, and yet God rescued Elisha and the rest in a miraculous way. Joseph is likewise rescued… although it may not seem like it.

If you know what happens next, then you know Joseph is sold into slavery. This is not a pleasant fate of course, but it is rather better than the brothers first idea, which is to kill him. As I say, without reading too much into the text, Joseph avoids violence (Shechem) and is instead led away into slavery (Dothan).

Let me restate that not every passage of the Bible has a hidden meaning, or some code you have to crack. I do not advise missing the obvious meaning of the text in favour of some other mysterious interpretation.

On the face of it, this text simply tells us that Joseph went to look for his brothers, and ultimately finds them. If we see other possibilities, then it is not wrong to explore them, but we must be very careful not to wander into heresy or falsity looking for things that simply are not there. I share what I have shared today to help us examine the text on different levels.

We will explore what happens to Joseph at Dothan next time. Thanks for reading.

He Dreamed a Dream (Joseph #2)

Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers, and they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: 7 for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and behold, your sheaves came around, and bowed down to my sheaf.”

8 His brothers asked him, “Will you indeed reign over us? Will you indeed have dominion over us?” They hated him all the more for his dreams and for his words. 9 He dreamed yet another dream, and told it to his brothers, and said, “Behold, I have dreamed yet another dream: and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars bowed down to me.” 10 He told it to his father and to his brothers. His father rebuked him, and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Will I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves down to the earth before you?” 11 His brothers envied him, but his father kept this saying in mind.

Genesis 37:5-11 (WEB)

Read part one of this series on Joseph here – Joseph’s Beginnings

Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it to his brothers. Many will question the wisdom of doing this in the generations since he had this dream. Before we even find out its contents, we learn that his brothers hated him all the more.

We learned in the previous post, and the earlier part of the chapter, that Joseph’s brothers hated him. This was largely down to his father’s favouritism causing them to feel like second-class sons. Joseph had also brought a bad report about them to his father, which did not exactly endear them to him. We now find out that Joseph shared the contents of a dream with them, escalating matters further.

The first dream

In this dream, Joseph describes how they were all binding sheaves in the field. This would have been an activity familiar to them all, but then the sheaves take on a life of their own and Joseph’s one stands upright. The other sheaves, representing the brothers then gather around and bow down to Joseph and his sheaf.

You do not need to be a master interpreter of dreams to figure out what this meant. Having lived in Joseph’s shadow for years, the brothers already believing their father thought them inferior to him, now hear Joseph himself saying that he is superior. This kind of dream would have been thought of as prophetic, and that he was proclaiming to them that they would one day bow before him.

Verse 8 again reiterates their hatred for him. In only a few short verses, we’ve been told a number of times of their hatred for him, which underlines the strength of their feelings. It also shows that they hated him not only for the dream itself, but also his words.

This is a point of debate. Should Joseph have told them? Let’s discuss that at the end.

The second dream

Joseph dreams a second dream, and again decides to share. This dream is similar, but instead of sheaves this time, it is heavenly lights. The sun, moon and eleven stars bow down before Joseph’s star. This dream, as before, is not difficult to interpret.

The distinction here is that it is not merely the eleven brothers who would bow down to him, but the “sun and moon” also. Jacob, in his rebuke of Joseph (which may have been long overdue), interprets these two things for us. Clearly, the sun and moon refer to Joseph’s father and mother. It is now not just the brother who would bow, but Joseph’s parents too. This is indeed a bold claim, as parental authority was very important in those days (and arguably should be no less so now).

After Joseph has shared both dreams with his family, their response is the same. They both question him, saying “Will we really?” I hear the sarcasm in their tone here, and yet the Bible does not record Joseph responding to either time of questioning. Is that because the answer is plain? At no point are we told that Joseph even questioned the dreams.

And this leads us on to the question I posed above – should he have told them?

Humility

To stand before a group of your peers, friends or family and say that one day they will all bow down before me does not scream “humility” does it? In fact, we might label it as arrogance or pride.

Yet, what is humility? It certainly isn’t the opposite of arrogance as we know it. An arrogant person, in our vernacular, is someone who displays an almost offensive level of self-importance – “self” is a key word here.

The opposite, as we know it, is humility. I think, however, we wrongly define it. We believe that a humble person is the opposite of arrogant. It is someone who is perhaps shy, or timid, or who fades into the background not wishing to speak up or be seen. This kind of extremity is not humility in my mind, and actually as someone who is naturally quite shy (and many will laugh at that very idea), I can say that shyness is not humility. A shy person is just as much focussed on themselves as the arrogant person. While an arrogant person promotes themselves and how wonderful they are, a shy person may lack self-esteem to the point where they do not speak up for fear of what others may think. Their attention is on themselves and how they are perceived.

Humility does not focus on self; not in the negative or in the positive. Humility is not self-centred, but God-centred.

Joseph was, believe it or not, very humble to stand before his family and say such things. God put these dreams in his mind, and he was so excited about what God had said to him, he just shared it. Were they truly loving or humble themselves, they would have been excited for him too.

How do you react when someone excitedly tells you they have been blessed with something you’ve been praying for (for yourself) for years? Are you excited for them, or are you jealous? Do you ask yourself what they’ve done to deserve it, or think in your heart – “I’m a more spiritual Christian than they, I read the Bible, I pray, I give, I… I… I…”

They knew the truth

Verse 11 closes out this passage by saying that the brothers were envious of Joseph, and that Jacob kept these things in his mind.

You cannot truly love someone you are envious of. To be envious is to say that you want what they have, or worse, that you believe you are more deserving of it than they are. That is not love. Love wants what’s best for them, and takes no account of what we do or don’t have.

The other thing that envy points out is that they believed it. Had they dismissed it as the fantasies of a daydreamer, then they would have had little need to be envious. The envy shows that they, in their hearts, did believe one day he would rise up above them.

Jacob, likewise, stored up these things in his heart. He kept them in mind, and also knew that these things would come to pass one day.

As I close, I realise I have not directly answered the question: should Joseph have told them? Perhaps, perhaps not. It shows some naivety on his part to think they, who already hated him, would somehow be pleased to hear this. We have no indication that God instructed him to share this with them. The things that God reveals to us are often deeply personal and should not be lightly shared with others.

Joseph was an inexperienced young man who was no doubt excited by what God had revealed to him. All of us would have felt the desire to share the good news with our loved ones, but let us not forget that not everyone will see God’s vision for our lives.

As I close, we will go on next to see what their intense hatred of Joseph leads his brothers to do. Had he not told them these dreams, would they have still done it? We don’t know. But we do know that God’s plan and purpose would have come to pass.

What has God revealed to you? What is His plan and purpose for your life? Don’t just let life unfold before you, seek God’s will and live for Him today and every day.

Joseph’s Beginnings (Joseph #1)

Jacob lived in the land of his father’s travels, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. Joseph brought an evil report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a tunic of many colors. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, and they hated him, and couldn’t speak peaceably to him.

Genesis 37:1-4 (WEB)

There has been much written about Joseph, whose life is described in the book of Genesis starting at chapter 37. You may know him as the young man who dreamed dreams and wore a rather colourful coat. For some time, I have wanted to write about him, and see what we can learn from his life. We may be familiar with the Hollywood or Broadway version of events, but what does the Bible actually say about him and what happened?

Let’s take a look at the life of this remarkable young man and learn what we can.

The story begins in the land of Canaan, where we find Jacob (Joseph’s father) living in the land of his forefathers – namely, Isaac and Abraham.

The story opens with Joseph being seventeen. Although it does not say so in the text above, Joseph was the first son of Jacob’s wife Rachel. Rachel was Jacob’s favourite wife, for he had two (Leah being the first) but also, as above, two concubines named Bilhah and Zilpah. Most of Jacob’s twelve sons were born to him via Leah, with Rachel bearing Joseph and Benjamin. Knowing these details will be important later!

The passage above says that Joseph was boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah – who were they? As mentioned, these were the sons of Jacob and the two concubines. They were Dan and Naphtali (of Bilhah) and Gad and Asher (of Zilpah).

An evil report

The first thing we learn about Joseph is the almost throw away remarks of these first few verses of chapter 37. We learn of his age (seventeen) but also that he grew up with these other boys. We are told that Joseph brought an evil report about them to his father. We do not know the nature of this, and so it is difficult to draw too many conclusions here.

Several scenarios are possible. It could have been a complete lie, for example, and Joseph just telling tales on his illegitimate brothers… but this seems very inconsistent with Joseph’s character elsewhere described in Genesis. Most likely, they were up to no good and Joseph told on them. The Bible does not record Jacob’s response.

Was this a good idea on Joseph’s part? It is hard to say without knowing more details. If one of my children were playing with matches, I would want one of the others to tell me about it. We can surmise that Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher weren’t best pleased with Joseph for this.

Some would accuse Joseph of naivety, particularly later when we read about his dreams and what he tells his family about them. This is likely true, but I think it also shows a great humility in Joseph which we will explore another time.

Having favourites

Verse three tells us that Jacob favoured Joseph over his brothers. It gives reasons for this; that Joseph was born to Jacob in his old age, but also that he was born of Rachel, Jacob’s favoured wife.

Jacob gave Joseph a tunic of many colours. This was quite a gift for a number of reasons. Brightly coloured clothing meant expensive dyes, and such a garment would not have been an everyday item. Such colours would have been reserved for the wealthy or people of some high importance. Kings, for instance, would have worn such items.

In addition, it would have signalled two major things to those who saw him wearing it. Firstly, it would have simply stood out from the rest. In a crowd of twelve brothers, Joseph would have been clear to see and marked out as special in some way. Secondly, colours of this nature would have meant leadership and superiority. Jacob was perhaps prophetically signalling Joseph’s rank above the rest.

Having favourites in a family is not a good idea. In a big family, there will always be those characters we get on well with and those we find it more difficult. Even our children can have a wide variety of personalities, and so, it can be easier to connect with some than others. The problem comes when we do not put an equal amount of effort into the relationships which are naturally more difficult. When we compare one child against another, it creates animosity. When we bestow expensive or special gifts on one, and not the other, the rest feel less valued and somehow less adequate.

This favouritism will lead to the major events of Joseph’s life. As we will see, Joseph will go through no small amount of suffering, and although it all turns out for God’s glory, what might have been different had Jacob been less obvious about who he favoured.

Hated

What is the result of Jacob’s favouritism? He brothers saw and knew it, and as a consequence, they hated Joseph. Each one was a son of Jacob, each one lived and served the family, and yet each one felt somehow less than Joseph was. Joseph’s actions of giving a bd report would have only added to this hatred (even if he had the best of intentions).

Hate is a powerful word. When my children use it in anger or in vain, I pull them up on it. Hatred should be reserved for evil and sin, and not tossed around lightly. Joseph’s brothers hated him, wishing him ill and later bringing it upon him.

Their hatred for him was so powerful that they could not even speak civilly to him. Imagine living in a household like this? The strife and tension would have been evident for all to see. To live in such an atmosphere would have been intolerable. We must also never underestimate the dangers of living in strife.

For where envying and strife is, there is confusion and every evil work.

James 3:16 (KJV)

Where there is strife, there is “every evil work!” Strife opens the door for the enemy to work in our lives, and we must shut that door at all costs.

Jacob’s actions led to the brothers of Joseph hating him. You may find yourself in a place where someone else’s actions have led you to feel hatred for someone else. Perhaps your parents did to you what Jacob did to Joseph’s brothers. I cannot imagine the pain you must feel for this. If you are able, pray about the situation and tell God how you feel. Ask Him to help you forgive and let go of the hatred. If you simply cannot right now, just bring your pain to the Father and let Him minister to you.

One of the things I love about the Bible is that it does not sugar coat anything. Jacob, Joseph and his brothers were a real family with real problems leading to real pain. Many of us can relate! As we study Joseph’s life, I pray that God will help us learn their lessons and not repeat their errors. In Jesus’ Name, Amen!