Joseph (Genesis) Part 1

Last week we talked about the wives of Jacob, Rachel and Leah. Jacob favored his wife Rachel over his wife Leah, but it was Leah who had the most children. Rachel for a long time couldn't, until finally she had a son. Does anyone remember that son's name? [Let them answer]

That's right. Joseph. Today we're going to talk about Joseph, and we'll see how Jacob's favoritism of Rachel affects his children. Please go get your Bibles.

Now can someone read Genesis 37:1-4?

37 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

In verse 2, Joseph is described as being seventeen, so a teenager, and a helper to his other older brothers, because remember he was younger then all of them by a lot. But it seems he also would report back to his dad what the brothers did, and he brought back a bad report. It doesn't say what happened or whether the brothers were doing bad stuff, so why do you think the Bible mentions this? [Let them answer.]

Well if your brother told on you--even if he was right--would you feel good about that? Wouldn't you resent him for it? So we're laying the ground work here that Joseph's brothers may not be very fond of him.

Then in verse 3 and 4 this is made more explicit. Because Jacob--who remember is now called Israel--loves Joseph the most. Because Joseph is the son of his favored wife and because Joseph is the baby. So he makes him what your Bible calls a "long robe with sleeves." My Bible calls it a "varicolored tunic." Another translation of the Bible I have calls it an "ornamental tunic" and also "a coat of many colors." Does this sound familiar to you guys?

So Joseph's dad makes him this very special coat to wear, and doesn't give one to his other children, which makes them all very jealous of Joseph. Have you guys ever been jealous when your siblings got something they wanted? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, me too. I think we all have, that's human nature. But for these brothers this was just one of many things that represented the fact that Jacob loved Joseph more than all the rest of them put together. And they resented Joseph for that.

Okay can someone read now Genesis 37:5-11

5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

9 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” 11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

So Joseph has a dream and goes to tell his brothers. Do you guys know what a "sheaf" is? It's a bundle of grain stalks that are tied together after a reaping. Here let me draw it for you. [Draw a rough semblance on the board. I did a google search of sheaves of grain for my reference for drawing it.]

In his dream the brothers are all binding together their grain into these sheaves. But then basically the other brother's sheaves bow to Joseph's, like this. [Draw rough semblance of the sheaves bowing down to Joseph's on the board. Basically the other sheaves sort of leaning or blown over towards his.]

Joseph's brothers don't react well to being told this, why? [Let them answer.] Right, because it sounds like Joseph is predicting they will all bow to him one day and he will rule over them.

Joseph, however, doesn't seem to see that his telling of these dreams makes his brothers unhappy--or if he does he doesn't care, because he tells them about another dream, in which the Sun, the Moon, and the stars all bow down to him.

Now this time his dad is there when he says this, and his dad reprimands him. Why do you think his dad is upset with Joseph for relaying this dream? [Let them answer.]

Joseph is basically implying that his whole family will bow to him. And they don't necessarily know if this is a dream from God or just the delusions of a teenage boy who thinks he's special. But even if it is from God--even if these are visions of the future where God is telling Joseph his plan for him--do you think Joseph should have told his brothers? [Let them answer.]

I think there is a time and a place for everything, and an appropriate way to share information. I think there would have been an appropriate way for Joseph to share his dreams. Probably by going to his father in private to share and maybe discuss with his old wise father what they mean. But announcing them to the whole family? Announcing these dreams that highly indicated that they will all serve Joseph one day? That’s boasting and arrogance.

Joseph was sharing his dreams out of arrogance and pride, out of a desire to look better in front of his brothers. Which is why I think Jacob reprimands him for it. He calls Joseph out on this arrogance. But the damage is done. Sharing the dreams just makes his brothers hate him even more.

So after this, Joseph’s brothers go out into the fields with the sheep, and a little while later, Jacob asks Joseph to go check in with them. Basically Jacob is asking Joseph to go check on the status of everything and come back. This does show that Joseph is given some sort of special job. All of his brothers are in the field except him. Jacob is definitely giving Joseph special treatment, the brothers aren’t wrong about that. But instead of working through these problems with their father, and trying to handle it like grown-ups, they hatch a plan. Can someone read Genesis 37:18-22?

18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

They see Joseph coming and they want to kill him. Seems a little extreme don’t you think? Have you guys ever been so mad or jealous of your siblings that you wanted to resort to violence? [Let them answer.]

I know I have. I’ve hit my siblings when I was mad or jealous. But that’s definitely not right. And what these brothers were planning was even more extreme then just hitting or punching. They wanted to murder him. And the only brother who at all seems alarmed is Reuben. Now remember, in the birth order Reuben is the oldest. He is the son of Leah and the first she had—making him Jacob’s oldest son. So by all accounts really, he should be the favored the son—the one who is getting the birthright and the blessing, all of that. But Reuben is also the leader because he is the oldest, and he is concerned by this idea of killing Joseph. He doesn’t want to do that—but he does still want to punish Joseph a little. Shake him up a bit, maybe humble him. I think there is a temptation with a lot of older siblings—and I know we have several of you who are the oldest in the room—to kind of view yourselves as having authority over your siblings. You’re the oldest and the one left most often in charge. But it is not Reuben's nor is it your place to punish your siblings for you parents.

Now if Rueben had wanted to have a talk with Joseph, brother to brother, and try to explain how Joseph’s actions are hurting his brothers? That would be reasonable. If Rueben had a talk with their father about how he thought Joseph was a little out of control and it was also hurting the other brothers? Also reasonable. But allowing the other brothers and himself to decide Joseph deserves to be punished? That is a step to far. It is not your place to punish your siblings. And as Rueben is going to see, it quickly gets out of hand.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, 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 agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

So Joseph shows up and his brothers steal his special robe and through him in a pit. It’s not a well—which is why the Bible clarifies there was no water in it. Just a hole in the ground that he wouldn’t be able to climb out of.

After that they decide to have lunch. It’s later in this verse implied that Rueben is not around at this part. Was he there when they put Joseph in the pit? Probably? But we’ll see in a later verse he’s not present for what one of the brothers is about to suggest.

They see a caravan traveling to Egypt and Judah—who is also one of Leah’s sons—has the idea that they should sell Joseph to the caravan, as a slave.

Now Judah might have thought he was sparing Joseph, because he might have thought that even though Rueben told them not to, they were still going to kill him. Or it’s possible he wanted to kill Joseph but since Rueben told them they couldn’t, he thought this was a way to get around that. Getting rid of their brother without dirtying their own hands.

So they sold Joseph into slavery.

They gave their own brother to strangers to take to a far away land and sell to strangers. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at my siblings that I wanted to do that.

Alright can someone now read Genesis 37:29-30?

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?”

So Rueben comes back and sees Joseph isn’t there and is surprised. But does he say “Oh no what happened to my baby brother, whom I love?” No! He basically says “Oh no! What’s going to happen to me? I lost my dad’s favorite son.”

Which kind of shows that Reuben's concern over Joseph wasn’t for Joseph’s life, but how Joseph’s disappearance might affect Reuben.

He’s also worried about what they’re going to do. They can’t tell their dad they sold his favorite son into slavery!

Can someone read Genesis 37:31-35?

31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him.

Basically, the brothers fake Joseph’s death. They kill a goat and cover Joseph’s special coat in the blood and take it to their father. And the worst part is perhaps that they don’t say “Hey, we found Joseph and he’s dead.” No, the act like they stumbled upon this bloody coat and are like “see if it belongs to your son.” Not our brother but your son. Have you guys ever done that? When you’re mad at your parents maybe and your talking to your sibling and you’re like “your dad is so awful” but he’s both of your dad. You’re just distancing yourself with your language. Or maybe you’ve heard your parents say that about you when you’re misbehaving. Your mom says to our dad “Your daughter” instead of “our daughter” because she’s irritated. It’s a verbal way of distancing yourself from someone. Of being like “this person isn’t mine, they’re yours.”

So Jacob sees the bloody robe and thinks Joseph is dead. And everyone tries to comfort him but he can’t be. His favorite son is dead. He says in verse 35 “I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Do you guys know what Sheol is? [Let them answer.]

Sheol is basically the Jewish place of the dead. It is NOT hell and it is NOT heaven. It’s more like a place of sleep. When a Jewish person died they would go there and basically sleep, regardless of whether they had been good or bad in life.

It’s rather complicated and off topic as to how this relates to our New Testament view of heaven and hell. And I’m not really smart enough on theology to talk about it in detail. But remember the Jewish people are God’s chosen people—through Abraham—and they had the Old Covenant. The rules were different for them under this Old Covenant than it is for us now under the New Covenant.

All that to say, Jacob was really sad and would rather be in death with his favorite son then up there living with his other sons.

I also want to mention that here, Jacob is deceived by his sons. This is a little bit of poetic justice, since Jacob deceived his own father when he stole Esau’s blessing—as we discussed a couple of weeks ago. He is now on the receiving end of a deception, and unlike Isaac who realized almost immediately he had been deceived, we’ll see that Jacob will think Joseph is dead for years, if not decades.

But let’s see what’s happening with Joseph. Because we’ve been talking about the brothers here and their reactions to Joseph and selling him. But if you were Joseph, how would you feel if your brothers sold you into slavery? [Let them answer.]

So let’s see what’s going on with Joseph. Let’s flip forward to chapter 39. Can someone read Genesis 39:1-6?

39 Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking.

Joseph reaches Egypt and is sold to a man named Potiphar. Potiphar is described as “an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” Another version I have says “a courtier of Pharaoh” and “a chief steward.” Either way, it’s clear this is someone way up on Pharaoh’s government and is someone Pharaoh trusts.

Remember the Pharaoh is the rule of Egypt, the head honcho. Pharaoh is the most important person in Egypt and Joseph is now a slave to someone Pharaoh trusts.

In verse 2 it says the Lord was with Joseph. Do you guys think Joseph felt like God was with him when his brothers sold him into slavery? [Let them answer.] Yeah, probably not. He probably felt abandoned and betrayed by everyone, and that might have included God for a time. But God did not abandon Joseph. He was with him even in Egypt—which wasn’t the promised land he was supposed to be living in.

These verses explain that God prospered Joseph in Egypt, while he was under Potiphar. Joseph worked hard and Potiphar noticed. So he put Joseph in charge of everything, basically making Joseph his right hand man. And the Bible says in verse 5 that Joseph was so good at taking care of everything, that Potiphar didn’t have to worry about anything except his food!

Joseph was in a crappy situation, a really crappy one. He had been sold as a slave. No one wants to be a slave and it’s one of the worst things I can imagine. His freedom, his ability to choose, his agency over his own life had been taken away. But Joseph worked hard despite his crappy situation and earned his master’s favor. For now.

Because these verses end in a way that seems kind of random. “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.”

Okay…what does looking good have to do with being a hardworking servant who is in charge of Potiphar’s whole house?

Well let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 39:7-10?

7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” 10 And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. 

Joseph was handsome and Potiphar’s wife notices, and she wants Joseph to sleep with her.

Joseph is a slave. Potiphar is his master’s wife. Now in ancient Egypt Potiphar’s wife sleeping with a slave may have not been viewed as wrong by the Egyptians. I don’t know. From her perspective, she may not have thought she was doing anything wrong. It’s even possible she and Potiphar could have some sort of agreement that they could sleep with whoever they want. Marriage contracts that dictated those sorts of things weren’t that uncommon in ancient Egypt. But from Joseph’s perspective, this was not the case. He lists two reasons why he can’t do it. (1) It would be an abuse of the trust his master has placed in him. (2) It would be an offence against God. This is adultery, which is not something God approves of.

There’s also a third reason why this is wrong in our modern sensibilities. Potiphar’s wife is in a position of extreme authority over Joseph. Remember Joseph is a slave. His life can be forfeit if he missteps. And Potiphar’s wife has the ability to ruin his life, as we’ll see. This is coercion—which basically means getting someone to do something through threats and force. And if you get someone to have sex with you through threats or force, that is rape. Potiphar’s wife was trying to rape Joseph.

So with that in mind, do you think Potiphar’s wife is going to settle for an answer of no? [Let them answer.] Well, let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 39:11-15?

11 One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, 12 she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14 she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; 15 and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”

So one day Joseph is alone in the house with Potiphar’s wife and she basically jumps him and tries to demand he sleep with her. He flees to get away from her, but she had grabbed onto his outer coat, so when he escapes, his coat gets left behind because she’s holding onto it.

Since she has his coat and she’s angry with him and no one saw what happened, she gathers all of her servants and basically tells them that Joseph tried to rape her, instead of the reality that it was the other way around. But she’s very mad at Joseph for defying her and wants to punish him. When Potiphar comes home, she tells him the same story. She lies.

Who do you think Potiphar is going to believe? His most trusted servant? Or his wife? [Let them answer.]

Well, let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 39:19-20?

19 When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison.

Potiphar becomes enraged and he has Joseph put in the pharaoh’s prison.

That’s not usually what we expect will happen when we follow God, right? Joseph did the right things in this scenario. He wasn’t arrogant or prideful like he was with his brothers. He was a good servant. He followed God’s commandment not to commit adultery, and does he get rewarded? No, for that he gets put in jail.

Joseph follows God not because there is a reward at the end, but because it’s the right thing to do, what God wants him to do. Sometimes we do the right thing, and we don’t get rewarded. Sometimes we tell the truth and we get punished. Sometimes we do no wrong and we get penalized. We live in a fallen world, and God doesn’t promise us prosperity.

So Joseph goes from being a favored son to a slave to a prisoner. At this point, it couldn’t get much worse. Sure they could kill him, but then he would just be dead, like his father already thinks he is.

Things are looking pretty grim for Joseph.

But we’ll see next week where this story goes. Because Joseph’s story doesn’t end in a jail cell. Remember those dreams he had at the very beginning, of all his brothers bowing to him. That is yet to come. And we’ll continue the story of Joseph and see how that all comes to pass next week.