Genesis 37.3-11 (NIV)
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”
His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then he had another dream, and he told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, “What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
The families we meet in Genesis seem stuck in a painful cycle.
Jacob, Abraham’s grandson, experienced the pain of favoritism growing up. Jacob’s brother, Esau, was their father, Isaac’s, favorite. Jacob was their mother, Rebekah’s, favorite.
Jacob had a favorite wife, Rachel.
Leah and Rachel, Jacob’s wives, competed for Jacob’s love. (Leah was always on the outside longing for her husband’s love.)
Jacob had 12 sons.
He had a favorite son, Joseph.
Joseph’s brothers hated him.
Jacob’s family was caught in a struggle.
How could Jacob not notice the way his other sons resented Joseph?
Joseph didn’t do much to improve relationships with his brothers either. If Joseph only would have been quiet about those dreams.
Genesis 37.12–36 (NIV)
Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, and Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.”
“Very well,” he replied.
So he said to him, “Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me.” Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”
“They have moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’”
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
“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’ll see what comes of his dreams.”
When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”
Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”
He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”
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.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
Joseph’s life was a roller-coaster.
Through his ups and downs, we hear again and again, “the Lord was with Joseph.”
The Midianite merchants sold Joseph to a guy named Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials.
The Lord was with Joseph in Potiphar’s house.
Potiphar noticed “the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did” (Genesis 39.3). Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his entire household … Potiphar only had to worry about what he would eat for lunch.
Joseph had been pulled out of a pit and placed in a position of power.
After a while Joseph caught Potiphar’s wife’s eye.
She tried to seduce Joseph, but Joseph wouldn’t have anything to do with her. Joseph wasn’t about to risk Potiphar’s trust.
One morning when Joseph was alone, working in the house, she approached Joseph. She took hold of his robe. Joseph ran away. She held on to the robe as Joseph ran. The robe stayed in her hand.
Potiphar’s wife cried out, she accused Joseph of trying to take advantage of her. Potiphar was furious. He threw Joseph into prison – the same prison where Pharaoh kept his prisoners.
Joseph was back in the pit.
The Lord was with Joseph in prison.
The Lord granted Joseph favor in the warden’s sight.
“The warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39.22-23).
Pharaoh threw his cupbearer and his baker into prison.
One day, Joseph noticed something was bothering them.
They said they had these crazy dreams and wanted to know what they could mean.
Joseph told them dream interpretations come from God. They told him their dreams.
The cupbearer’s dream meant he would be restored to his position in Pharaoh’s household. The baker’s dream meant he would be killed by Pharaoh.
Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him when the dream came to be.
For his birthday Pharaoh hosted a party. At the party the Pharaoh restored the cupbearer to his position and Pharaoh killed the baker.
The cupbearer forgot all about Joseph.
Joseph was still in the pit … stuck in prison two more years.
Then Pharaoh had a couple of dreams.
In the first dream seven healthy cows came out of the Nile river, then seven skinny and ugly cows came up out of the river and ate the seven healthy cows. In the second dream there were seven healthy and good ears of grain growing from a stalk.
Then seven sickly and sunburnt ears of grain sprouted and swallowed up the good ears of grain. The dreams troubled Pharaoh.
Pharaoh gathered his magicians and wise men – the people who should be able to interpret dreams. None of them had a clue. The cupbearer remembered Joseph. He told Pharaoh he knew a guy from prison who could interpret dreams. Maybe Joseph could help?
Joseph was rushed to Pharaoh.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I’ve had a dream, and no one can interpret it. I’ve heard you can interpret dreams.”
“I cannot do it,” Joseph answered, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires” (Genesis 41.16).
Pharaoh described his dreams.
Joseph told Pharaoh both dreams pointed to the same thing.
The cows and grain represented years. The healthy cows and grain were years of good harvests. The ugly cows and grain were years of poor harvests. The dreams were a warning. If Pharaoh acted fast he could take advantage of the good years and save up reserves of food to make it through the bad years.
Pharaoh asked his servants, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
Pharaoh offered Joseph a new position, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you” (Genesis 41.39-40).
Joseph again, was pulled out of a pit and placed in a position of power.
During the good years Joseph stored up grain. The famine came and people from all over Egypt … people from all over the world came bought food from Joseph.
Even Jospeh’s brothers traveled to Egypt to find food. Joseph knew it was his brothers, but they didn’t recognize Joseph. After a while, and a couple of trips back and forth to Egypt, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers. It was like they saw a ghost.
Now Joseph was the one with power.
He could take his brothers as slaves.
He could throw them in a cistern.
He could lock them up in prison.
He could even kill them.
Instead, Joseph wept.
He didn’t pay back the pain they caused.
“Do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here,” Joseph said, “because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45.5).
Joseph’s brothers and father moved to Egypt … after a while their father died andJoseph’s brothers worried that now, Joseph might want revenge.
They made another scheme.
So they approached Joseph, saying, “Your father gave this instruction before he died, ‘Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you’ … Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, “We are here as your slaves.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them” (Genesis 50.15-21).
Joseph didn’t respond to his brothers the way they acted toward him.
Joseph didn’t treat his brothers the way they expected.
Joseph stopped the cycle of brokenness and pain in his family.
Looking back, Joseph could see how God was faithful and working. His brothers did something terrible to him, they acted out of hatred and jealously when they sold Joseph into slavery. God did not will the evil Joseph’s brothers did. God does not want or will evil. The brother’s guilt and fear confirms their sin, but God brought good from it. Some of the good news in Joseph’s story is that where ever he was, God was with him … we see the promise of Emmanuel, God’s promise to be with his people … in pain and in joy.
There is also a challenge for us in Joseph’s story.
Joseph experienced all this difficult stuff – most of it was caused by the sin and brokenness and forgetfulness of other people – and somehow through all this, instead of growing bitter, and vengeful, Joseph grew to be a person who was faithful and kind. It must have hurt … he wept a lot, but Joseph didn’t use his power to get revenge and create more pain. Joseph broke a cycle of hurt and managed to bring life and healing to his brothers.
I see this in Christ’s call to us as his disciples.
Christ calls us to be people who end cycles of pain and violence, by being peacemakers and healers.
Christ calls us to bring health and wholeness to our communities by being loving and kind and serving people. In his letter to the Galatians, the Apostle Paul calls the church to embody the change their community needs: “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love. For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (Galatians 5.13-15).
I see this in Joseph. He embodied the change his family needed. He modeled grace and kindness. He let go of his right for revenge. He ended a cycle of pain and destruction as he loved God and loved his neighbors.