What the world deems news-worthy might not even make the back page of Heaven's news release. Joseph earned worldly plaudit's later in life when he strategically rescued Egypt from starvation during a 7-year famine, but it was his year's of slavery and imprisonment that earned him plaudits in Heaven.
“A TEENAGE DREAMER”
One of the great delights of preaching through the book of Genesis has been hearing people comment that they never realized how practical an Old Testament book can be. Genesis has been just a part of that dry, old, dead section that makes the Bible a little thicker than you’d really like it to be, and a little heavier. Not quite slim enough to fit into your purse or into your pocket. But, to be perfectly honest with you, I have, myself, been rather surprised at the richness that I have often overlooked or ignored. As a pastor, preaching through this book for the first time, I’ve often come to a passage in Genesis and I have read it and then I have stopped and said, “Okay Lord, nothing hit me that time.” I’ll read it again and again and again. And yet, perhaps as you have experienced, with the instruction of the Holy Spirit and being surrounded by books written by men who have come this way before me, Genesis has come alive. And it has been a real thrill, up to this point, to feed you from the pasture land of this great book.
I’ve been asked the question, “Why is it that we do study the Old Testament? If we are New Testament believers, is it really relevant?” And I appreciate that kind of question. In fact, let me answer that a little bit more than I normally have. Turn in your Bibles to Romans, chapter 15. Romans, chapter 15, where the apostle Paul tells us why we, in fact, should study the Old Testament. It is not a dead section of the Bible. It is not old. It should not be dusty. And he tells us in Romans, chapter 15, verse 4, why. He, in reference to the Old Testament book, says, “For whatever was written in earlier times” - you ought to write into the margin of your Bible, “O. T. or Old Testament,” because that’s what he’s referring to, in fact, let’s read it that way - “For whatever was written in - the Old Testament - was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” So, in studying the Old Testament, we have been given the promise of two things. First of all, present instruction. That is teaching that would edify the New Testament believer. I have not found anyone more than Joseph who could teach us anymore that Joseph. As one man wrote, “We will observe him and learn from him as he blazes a trail through the jungle of mistreatment, false accusations, undeserved punishment, and gross misunderstanding.” We’ll observe how he lives and how he acts. And what a future hope. We will learn from Joseph how to forgive others, how to be free from bitterness, how to have rock-solid faith. And, by the way, Joseph had rock-solid faith in a God that he never saw. God never appeared to Joseph. God never spoke directly to Joseph as he did Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob. And yet Joseph trusts Him. And we will learn how to trust Him too.
It’s interesting, before we begin the biography of Joseph, that there are only two people in the entire scripture that nothing negative is said about their character or their life. One is Joseph and the other one is Daniel. And it was fascinating to think that both of those men were sold into captivity. They were deposited into paganism when they had once been so secure in their home lives as young men. We have a lot to learn from this individual who will show us it is possible to live pure in an impure society. It is possible to have character in a morally chaotic society.
Let’s start in Genesis, chapter 37. You cannot help but notice the contrast between chapter 37 and, if you have been reading along, chapter 36. In fact, I think it’s a subtle contrast, because chapter 36 begins by listing the genealogy of Esau, Jacob’s brother, and it’s impressive. Count it sometime and you’ll find that Esau had five sons and, from that, he had 27 chiefs and 8 kings. Verse 1 of chapter 36, “Now these are the records of the generations of Esau (that is, - the king of - Edom).” And how impressive the genealogy is. Now you come over to chapter 37 and it says, “- Now - these are the records of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, when -he was yet - seventeen”. I think it’s an implication of contrast, that is, all that the world would consider impressive - the 27 chiefs and the 8 kings and the king of Edom, - as contrasted to a seventeen-year-old boy named Joseph. As I pondered the thought, it occurred to me that what the world would consider noteworthy may not even make the back page in heaven’s news release. While the world would consider Esau impressive and his genealogy something to take note of, God will spend chapter after chapter recording the life of one who starts out as a teenage boy.
I read a thought that illustrated this point. If Dan Rather had been living in 1809, his evening news would have centered, not on Britain or America but, on Austria. In fact, all eyes would have been on Napoleon as he swept across the canvas of civilization bringing emperors to their knees and controlling vast empires. What could have been more important on the international scene than Napoleon? Who more important? Who more noteworthy than this little dictator? And yet, in 1809, a teenager took a book from the shelf of his father’s library. He went out behind the barn and he began to read. And the phrase captured his thought as he read over and over again, “the finished work of Christ.” And that boy got on his knees and he accepted Jesus Christ. And not long after, J. Hudson Taylor, went to China and founded the China Inland Mission that literally would bring millions of Chinese to Jesus Christ. I think it’s interesting that we see a teenager compared to the impressive genealogy but yet God
finds THAT noteworthy and he takes note. And he wants us to as well.
Let’s begin, chapter 37, verse 1, “Now Jacob lived in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. These are the records of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was - only a teenager, or - still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel - another name for Jacob - loved Joseph more than all his sons,”. Now, he will give us, in this passage, two phrases that will occur now, to reveal to us the first thing that strikes me about Joseph’s biography. And that is the favoritism of his father toward Joseph. The first phrase is this, “because he was the son of his old age”. Now this isn’t Joseph’s fault or Jacob’s perhaps for considering Joseph a favorite of his, because the phrase could be translated, “the son of the ages.” It’s a reference to a child who is very perceptive and discerning, compliant and obedient. Joseph, the son of the ages, though he is seventeen, he has the maturity of a 20 or 30 or 40-year-old. He has the perception of one who is far beyond his years. And how easy it would be, as a father, to give more note to that boy who would be called a compliant child in the books today. He is the dream of every parent. Never a conflict out of Joseph. Always obedient. Can you parents, for just a moment, imagine that? I expect conflict around our home. I expect in daily portions. I can’t imagine a compliant child who would be considered a “son of the ages.” And yet Joseph was that kind of boy. And so Jacob is endeared to him as a result of this compliancy. In Joseph’s home, eleven brothers were constant trouble. They would grow up to be rebellious and immoral. And while they are growing up, Joseph is growing into a mature, obedient, Godly young man.
The second phrase that reveals perhaps, I think, an exaggerated favoritism, is the phrase, “and he made him” - last part of verse 3 - “a varicolored tunic.” Or a coat of many colors. Now, the many color idea comes from that culture where nobility would wear robes that had been expensively dyed. The literal Hebrew translation comes from the word, “pas (?not in my Hebrew dictionary?)” which is not many-colored but extremities or wristed. In other words, this tunic reached to Joseph’s wrists and his ankles. That was the garment of the nobility. It’s interesting that a person who would wear that garment would be obviously recognized as someone exempt from hard labor. You see, in that day, the men wore cut off tunics that came to their knees so that they could move easily and work and sweat. But here comes Joseph, dressed in a garment that reaches to his wrists and to his ankles. It was a garment of nobility. It literally meant, “Joseph, you don’t have to work. You are exempt from hard labor.” Perhaps an unwise move for his father.
So Joseph is given the honored position, obviously, as the heir to the blessing. But he is also given the favored position of one who oversees the work. Everybody else is working and Joseph, who is second to the youngest, is calling the shots. To make matters worse, Joseph, in the last part of verse 2, if you missed it, “brought back a bad report about them to their father.” Here he is, the straw boss, out on the scene not working. He’s watching and he notices the immorality of his brothers and so he goes back and he tells his father. Now, some commentators suggest that this is tattle-telling. I don’t think so. In fact, the more you learn about Joseph, the more you will learn that his conscience is easily pricked by immorality. And he feels a sense of duty to his brothers, who are bringing the family name through the mud. And so he goes back to his father, Jacob, and tells him what they are doing. What is Jacob’s response? It is characteristic. It is silent. Jacob is a classic example of a passive father who is unwilling to confront the sins of his sons. If I ignore it, maybe it will go away. If I excuse it, maybe it won’t seem so bad. It would be easier to ignore and excuse than confront. My friend, passivity in the home, silence in response to sin, will literally make this home an illustration of Proverbs 29, verse 15, “a child who gets his own way brings shame to his mother” - and father.
But you will note, if you’ve been studying with us, that Jacob’s passivity started years ago as he silently watched Leah and Rachel fighting for preeminence in the home. And then his daughter, Dinah, is raped and he is uncharacteristically silent of a father who would seem to leap at her defense. And then when his sons rise up and massacre an entire city, Jacob is silent. As his sons develop their immorality and it has become known, where’s Jacob? He’s quiet. And now his sons hate and openly disdain one of their own and Jacob never says a word. I want you to notice the inevitable response of Joseph’s brothers to such passivity and partiality. Verse 4, “And his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.” They literally could not speak to him “Shalom,” they could not say, “Peace” to him. They hated the sight of him.
“Then Joseph had a dream,” - verse 5. And I think, perhaps in his naiveté, he comes along and he shares his dreams with his brothers. You know the story. Let’s look quickly at it. Verse 6, “Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf.” Now Joseph’s had a legitimate dream and here this seventeen-year-old is going up to his brothers and saying, “Hey brothers, I had a dream and I was a sheaf in the field and all of you bowed down at my feet. What do you think of that?” Dream number one is basically this: Joseph is saying, “I am heir to Jacob’s blessing.”
Dream number two basically says, “I am the future leader of the Jewish nation.” Look at verse 9, “Now he had still another dream, and related it to his brothers, and said, ‘Lo, I have had still another dream; and behold, the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’” Now this has gone beyond just an ordinary field. Now Mom and Dad, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars, “You are bowing down to me.” That is, “I will be the ruler of the future Jewish nation.” “Isn’t that exciting, guys?”
It’s tragic that, instead of responding, they reacted. And, in fact, I think part of the problem is the fact that they were bitter against God, as I want to reveal in just a moment. Let’s look on at verse 12, “Then his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock in Shechem. And Israel” - or Jacob - “said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock’”. Note now that Joseph’s not with them anymore. He is no longer even working, he’s exempt, he has the coat. He says, “’Come, and I will send you to them.’ And he said to him, ‘I will go.’” That is, “Go and find out how they’re doing.” “Then he said to him, ‘Go now and see about the welfare of your brothers and the welfare of the flock’”. Verse 18, “When they saw him coming from a distance” - that is, the eleven brothers - “and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death.” Can you imagine the immorality that has so seeped into their hearts that now they will kill their half-brother. “Now then, come and let us kill him” - verse 20 - “and throw him into one of the pits”. They, by the way, are in Dothan and Dothan is literally translated, “Two Cisterns”. This is the place of two wells and they said, “Let’s go throw him in one of the two wells.” Well, note what they do, they will say, verse 20, middle part, “’A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see” - note this - “Then let us see what will become of his dreams! But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, ‘Let us not take his life.’” Reuben, by the way, is his full brother. “Reuben further said to them, ‘Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but do not lay hands on him’ - that he might rescue him out of their hands,” - he would come back later - “to restore him to his father. So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic”. You could almost see it, “Get that coat off! That has incensed us because of what it stands for.” That’s the first thing they did was they ripped it off his back. “They took him and threw him - verse 24 - into the pit. Now the pit was empty”. Evidently one of the cisterns didn’t have any water in it. And note the crassness of their character, they sat down to eat a meal. Another later passage of scripture tells us that while they are eating, they can hear the pleading of Joseph. The entreating as he calls out, “My brothers, please! Reuben! Judah! Can you hear me? Save my life!” And they were sitting there, within earshot eating a meal. How hard they had become. Verse 26, “Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood?’” “Here comes a caravan of Ishmaelites.” “Come” - verse 27 - “’and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers listened to him.” Then some Midianite traders passed by, so they pulled him up and lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver.” That’s the price of a crippled slave. “Thus they brought Joseph into Egypt.” Verse 31, “So they took Joseph’s tunic,” - that long sleeved thing they so despised - “and slaughtered a male goat, and dipped the tunic in the blood”. And it was fascinating as I read this, having studied Jacob, that while Jacob had one time deceived his father by slaughtering a goat and pretending to be Esau, now he is about to be deceived by the blood of a goat. “And they sent the varicolored tunic and brought it to their father and said, ‘We found this; please examine it to see whether it is your son’s tunic or not.’” That is, “We’re not going to actually lie to you, Dad, you make up your mind what you think happened.” “Then he examined it and said, ‘It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him; Joseph has surely been torn to pieces!’ So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him,” - they thought, “Man this has gone long enough.” - “but he refused to be comforted. And he said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.’ So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.”
The crimes of his brothers now yield three consequences, if you are following along in your notes. For Jacob, it meant incredible sorrow that would last until he sees Joseph again face to face. It will take years. For the eleven brothers, it now means living in guilt. And they will live in guilt because one day they see Joseph and their hearts are terrified by the recalling of that incident that played over and over in their minds. One day when Jacob will die, they will live in fear that Joseph now will retaliate. Their guilty consciences have robbed them of joy. Envy has been rottenness to their bones. For Joseph, it resulted in slavery.
Let me give you, in quick fashion, three principles of application from this passage from the lives of Jacob and Joseph and Joseph’s brothers. First, jot into your notes this thought, while parents may not be perfect, they MUST not be passive. We are living in a day and an age when, more than ever, the voice of instruction and correction and discipline, the voice of purity MUST be heard. By whom, the preacher? Absolutely. But I would agree with the old proverb that says, “ An ounce of motherhood is worth a pound of clergy.” It is time that they hear your voice, no longer refusing to ignore or excuse their sinful bent and their wayward path. Will your children howl in protest? Will they rise up, will they threaten, perhaps, to retaliate? Will they threaten you by rejection and say, “Mom, I don’t love you anymore.” Absolutely! I think that’s what motivated Mark Twain, though not a believer, he said something rather true. He said, “When I was fifteen, I thought my father was a fool. And then I turned twenty, and it amazed me how much he had learned in five short years.” I think the howling and the protesting is what motivated God, through his writer Solomon, to write into scripture, “Do not hold back discipline - though you discipline your child, - he will not die.” And I can’t help but chuckle because I can well remember giving my parents the idea that I was about to die. And children will do that as they manipulate and as they try to have their way, they’ll say, “Mom, Dad, if I can’t do that, if I can’t go there, if I can’t say this, I’ll die! I can’t live. I can’t go on.” Solomon says, “They won’t die.”
But you know, as I read this passage again, it struck me not only that Jacob lacked discipline but he also lacked expressions of love for his eleven sons. It’s interesting that you never see him doing anything for his other sons. And it led me to think, in fact it convinced me in my mind, that a parent who is unwilling to instruct, a parent who is unwilling to discipline and to correct, is a parent who in reality is not expressing biblical, genuine love for the child. And that’s what Solomon meant when he wrote these words, listen to this, “He who - refuses discipline - hates his son, but he who loves him disciplines him diligently.” A passive parent, like Jacob, is one who refuses to discipline and to express his love and, ultimately, Jacob is a parent who refuses or somehow ignores his children so that he is never involved in their lives. I don’t really think he was that involved in Joseph’s. He certainly wasn’t in the eleven sons. I don’t think there is a parent alive who, though not disciplining or not showing expressions, would say, “Hey, at least I’m involved though.” When is the last time we have taken our children to a park. When is the last time you called your son in college just to say, “I love you?” When is the last time we’ve sat on the edge of their bed and expressed our love for them. David Jeremiah records in a book that he has just written, “The average father has less than three meaningful encounters with his children everyday and each encounter lasts no more than 15 seconds.” Mom and Dad, it is time to put the newspaper away, to store the golf clubs, to put the vacuum away and to get involved now in the lives of our children.
I learned something from Joseph’s brothers from this passage. Jot into your notes that envy is actually a symptom of bitterness against God. This is clearly seen in their response to his dreams. Look back at chapter 37, verse 20, the last part, “We will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!” This strikes home. What if your little brother, if you had one, came up to you one day and said, “Hey, one day I’m going to be the president of the United States and you’re going to be the janitor that will clean the bathrooms outside the oval office and they had better be clean.” You know what you’d do? You’d fall on the ground in laughter. You’d hold your sides, “President of the United States, that’s great, keep it up! Sure, I’ll clean.” Why? Because you really don’t think it will come true. But Joseph’s dreams incensed them and angered them enough to make them want to kill him. Why? Because they knew Joseph’s dreams would come true. And their envy and their bitterness was really against, not Joseph but, God because God didn’t deal them that hand. Submit to that plan? No way! “We will not serve.”
From Joseph’s circumstances, let me give you this thought - while God’s blessings seem to stop, His plan never hesitates. Imagine the first 17 years of Joseph’s life, surrounded by loving attention, wearing the tunic declaring that he is the heir apparent. Total respect from his father and from the adults knowing here is the next patriarch. And now see him bound and fettered in a long line of slaves who are headed for Egypt. He will be sold to a man he has never met. He will be introduced to a country he has never been to. He will hear a language he does not understand. He will be abandoned. But yet one day Joseph will be God’s man in a foreign country who will insure the survival of the nation of Israel. That wouldn’t help him much now if you told him.
Be careful, men and women, how you measure the plan of God. We tend to equate His plan with long sleeved tunics surrounded by loving people. But His plan may mean the opposite. As you yield to Jesus Christ who, by the way, is illustrated by Joseph more than any other character in the Old Testament. I have read commentator after commentator, in fact one, Arthur Payne, comes up with more than 100 illustrations. It’s fascinating and it is a study in itself. For Jesus Christ also was the beloved son. He also was sent to His brethren. He also was rejected by them. He also was sold for a handful of silver. It’s interesting that Joseph went through that so his brethren would find food when famine came. Like that, Jesus Christ did THAT - for who? - for you! So that you and I could be fed. So that our souls that are parched and needy will find refreshment. As you yield to Him, the One who has tasted it all, you’ll come to recognize that His plan is right on schedule. Everything is going according to His purpose, according to HIS plan.