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)
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?
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.