There are a lot of themes that are repeated throughout the book of Genesis. Some of these themes appear to be supernaturally caused by God to drive home a point. Other themes aren’t necessarily out of the ordinary but are recorded at the expense of other stories because they are important ideas worth repeating more than once.
One theme that is repeated several times in Genesis I don’t believe is a matter of emphasis however. It is just a matter of life. We have seen sibling rivalry on several occasions from Cain and Abel, Jacob and Esau, and now Joseph and his brothers.
Everyone knows that the best way to prevent fighting among children is to only have one child. Even then I’m not certain that it’s foolproof. Merissa is an only child and I have a feeling that she fought with herself growing up.
Needless to say when you have twelve kids, there are going to be some challenges along the way. Even when one side is guilty of starting a fight, rarely is the fight unprovoked although the provocation might not really be a legitimate reason. In the story of Joseph and his brothers we’ll see that there is provocation but the reaction certainly isn’t justified.
1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
2 This is the account of Jacob.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
We start out with a classic story about kids, the tattletale child. It might be a stereotype or my perspective as an older sibling but the younger sibling tends to be the tattletale. I know we have plenty of siblings here and I’d ask for verification of this but I think that I would get different accounts so it won’t help my theory.
In the case of this story, Joseph is child number 11 of 12 so he definitely classifies as a younger sibling. We’re told that Joseph is seventeen so he is in his teenage years. Age was looked at a bit differently then than now. Today a seventeen year old is still in school and if they go to college as many do still has five years until they get into the “real world”.
In Joseph’s case, he would have been learning the family business – shepherding – almost from the time that he was old enough to walk. At seventeen he would have been just as knowledgeable as his older brothers or any of the workers who were hired to tend the sheep.
On the other hand, he’s still seventeen and he’s not completely mature yet. Maturity is a matter of age and a matter of mind however. You and I both know seventeen year olds who are more mature than people in their 30’s and 40’s. Joseph is one of those seventeen year olds. But he is still not the man he will become and perhaps has a few rough spots to round out.
We’re not told what his brothers are doing wrong and it probably doesn’t matter. Unless it was something of the nature that endangered themselves or the flocks, it probably isn’t something that needs to be reported back to their father. Even if it is something very wrong, having their father told by Joseph is not going to make them happy. These are not two children picking on each other, these are grown men. They are unlikely to be happy about being tattled on and far more likely to hold a grudge.
3 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 a richly ornamented robe for him. 4 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.
The coat of many colors is what this story is known for but it is really just a part of the bigger picture of this story. Joseph may be a better behaved child than his brothers. But his father treats him better than his brothers regardless of his behavior.
We are told that Joseph is favored because he was born in Jacob’s old age. This is only part of the story however. Joseph is the oldest son of Rachel, Jacob’s preferred wife. Rachel had trouble conceiving and it wasn’t until after Jacob had six sons to Leah and another four to Rachel and Leah’s maidservants that Rachel became pregnant. Joseph is the son he wanted to the wife he wanted.
Joseph’s coat is not just any piece of clothing. It is expensive and extravagant. It wouldn’t even be rivaled by modern designers such as Armani or Vera Wang as it be hand made with much time spent on every detail. Such a show of favoritism is strike two again Joseph in his brothers’ minds.
5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 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.”
8 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.
We hear about illusions of grandeur and this dream seems to take the idea to the next level in the eyes of Joseph’s brothers. Joseph isn’t just thinking about great things, he claims to have literal dreams about ruling.
This is strike three against Joseph. He was a goody two shoes tattletale. He was clearly favored by their father. And now Joseph had that gall to their noses in all of it with fancies that he would rule over them.
Last month there was one major story in sports, particularly the NBA. The star player of the league had become a free agent and had the option of remaining with his current team of Cleveland which was also his hometown team, or he could go to greener pastures elsewhere where he would have a better chance of winning a championship. For those of you who don’t follow sports, let me explain how big of a story this was by saying that this decision has been literally talked about for over two years and teams had been fighting to clear the money necessary to hire this player for two years.
When the time came to make an announcement as to which team he would play for next season, Lebron didn’t just release a press statement or even hold a press conference the way that most people do. Instead he contacted ESPN to have an hour long special. The program was simply called The Decision. The deal with ESPN was that all advertising proceeds – several million dollars worth – would go to the Boys and Girls club.
With so many teams hoping to get Lebron on their team, most were going to be unhappy with the decision. But Lebron was not just criticized for his choice. He has been slammed for his arrogance in arranging an hour long special about his decision. He has been criticized for essentially dumping his hometown team in front of a national audience. He has been called an attention hog and immature. He has been criticized for a lack of self awareness or for not having a good PR team to declare that this was a disaster from the start.
I personally think that the issue is much simpler. I believe that this is a guy who knows what people want. Rather than simply release a press statement, he understood the attention that his decision was getting and decided to capitalize on it for some good. The fact that 13 million people tuned in to watch the announcement means that people were interested even if they thought it was foolish and arrogant.
That story is kind of the equivalent of Joseph’s position. He comes across as arrogant. His announcement was probably ill advised. If it had to be shared, there was probably a better way to do it than the way that he did it. Knowing that he would make his brothers mad, there might have been a better way to share it. Either Joseph was arrogant, he wasn’t completely self aware, or he simply didn’t care about his brothers’ reaction to his dream.
9 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.”
10 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 second dream is much like his first. Once again he tells his brothers and won’t get a good reaction for it. This time it involves his father and mother as well. They too bow down to him in his dream. We can’t really tell if Jacob is mad about Joseph’s dream because it seems arrogant or because it seems ridiculous. While his brothers are jealous, Jacob keeps it in mind because he knows the way God works.
This is a separation from the way that God has been working. To Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob God spoke directly. He gave them specific promises about their descendants and their inheritance. But with Joseph there is only a vague dream.
This is because the promise of descendants is beginning to be fulfilled. Previously the blessing was really only to one child. First to Isaac instead of Ishmael and Jacob instead of Esau. Now the promise is to all of Jacob’s children. Joseph has been singled out for blessing but it is not the same blessing and his fathers. All of his brothers will be a part of that blessing. Joseph’s blessing is specific to him.
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “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.”
21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing- 24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
The anger at Joseph boils over and his brothers seek to kill him. Reuben maintains a somewhat cooler head and prevents Joseph from being killed.
25 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.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 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.
28 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.
29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”
Instead of being killed or left to die in the bottom of the cistern, Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt.
31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”
33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”
34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him.
36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
Jacob the deceiver is deceived once again, this time probably worse than any other deception.
Meanwhile, God is at work, placing Joseph just where he needs to be in the house of Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials.