When Life Doesn’t Seem to Make Sense – Genesis 37

When life doesn’t make sense
Genesis 37 10/27/19
We as God’s people are blessed beyond measure. We are!
For the living God of the universe determined that we would exist. He also chose us in Him before the foundation of the world that we would be holy and blameless.
And He accomplished that by giving us a great Savior.
And He continues to sanctify us through His wonder-working Word to us.
Yes, God changes us from the inside out as He changes our hearts so that the way we talk, and think, and act becomes more and more like Christ.
One of the ways God loves to change and grow our lives is by taking us through circumstances that don’t seem fair.
Trouble and trials hit that we just don’t seem to deserve.
Someone blames you for something you didn’t do.
You don’t get the grade you thought you deserved.
Others take advantage of you financially.
People make promises to you that they never keep.
And then there’s the nagging sense that others don’t seem to look out for your well-being after all the consideration you have shown them.
Friends, in response to such burdens, it’s not enough just to hear, “Well, you’re not alone.” Or “misery loves company.”
That’s all the world can tell you, “That’s life. It has its raw edges so get used to that.”
No, we need a message from God. We need to hear the encouragement He gives us from His Word that are a balm to our weary souls.
We need to be convinced that we are in His constant care no matter how bad things may look.
And God wants to show us that as we delve into how He works in the life of Joseph beginning in Genesis 37.
By the way, Joseph we shall see is a wonderful and likeable Bible character. He’s a great model for us.
We will see that Joseph was honest, wise, faithful, uncompromised and patient.
And he was a man of gutsy faith in the midst of tough trials.
Here’s what I especially love about Joseph’s life.
There’s so much in Joseph’s life that reminds us of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Well, chapter 37 gives us 3 movements in the inspired narrative:
The Rift, the Plot, and the Crime.
You recall last week we saw from verse 1 the big contrast. While Jacob’s twin Esau headed out of the Promised Land to Mt. Seir, Jacob leads his family into that Land of Promise also known as Canaan.
So it is, verse 2 transitions us to the records of the generations of Jacob. From the get go, the Spirit of God cherry picks one son of Jacob to set before us: Joseph. The others play background.
Continuing in verse 2 we are told: Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives.
We don’t have to try and guess how old Joseph is. He’s 17 just like.
Now 17 year olds may feel all grown up and ready to conquer the world. Look at Moses’s inspired commentary on Joseph at that age: “he was still a youth.”
Now, that’s not a put down. It’s an acknowledgment that he was not yet, biblically speaking, a man.
May I suggest to you the difference between a youth and a man?
It’s not a number. A mature man in God’s Word is marked by humility, self-control, protection, provision, and leadership.
Now did you notice with whom Joseph is pasturing here?
It’s not with all his brothers but only with 4 of them. Because we know the sons of Bilhah
(Rachel’s maid) were Dan and Naphtali (35:25-26).
And the sons of Zilpah (Leah’s maid) were Gad and Asher.
But something bad must happened in the field with those four brothers, because are told, “And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.”
God doesn’t want us to know if it was something evil those brothers said or something wrong they did to each other or to Joseph. Whatever it was, Joseph tells his dad Joseph.
Now, is Joseph being a tattle tale, and should he have kept his mouth closed?
Tough call. When it comes to siblings in the home, children should have the freedom to inform their parents about concerns they have, especially of their siblings. For the parents can then sort out how to deal with the problem.
These brothers would have been in their 20s by now, and we suspect something serious has gone down. Well, whatever it was, Joseph now knows about it.
And here’s where danger really hits. Verse 3: Now Israel (that’s Jacob) loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic.
You know that Jacob has 12 sons. And at this point Jacob is old, easily in his 90s.
Let’s ask, “Why does Jacob love Joseph more than the rest? For one, Joseph was the answer to the prayer of his barren and beloved wife Rachel.
And now that Rachel has recently died, Jacob feels especially drawn to Joseph.
Joseph, from what we see emerge in his character, would no doubt have been a compliant child who wanted to please his father.
Well, what are we to make of this tunic Jacob makes for Joseph. First, a tunic was like a super long T-shirt that would reach to the ankles.
Most translations say it was multicolored (that’s that way most I grew up picturing it). Yet the Hebrew word (passim) can also describe a long-sleeved or an ornamented tunic. It may well have made him look like a young prince.
Now Joseph’s special tunic is extremely significant in this story- that’s why it’s mentioned eight times.
You see, for Jacob to outfit his son with such a robe made a big statement. Here’s why. The expected rule of the day was called primogeniture. Primogeniture means the oldest child (Reuben in this case) gets the blessing and double portion from the father.
Yet Jacob seems to distinguish 17-year old Joseph as his future heir who would get the lion’s share of it all.
Well, look at the brothers’ reaction. Verse 4: 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.
Joseph’s jealous brothers knew Joseph was the apple of their dad’s eye. Every time they saw him wear his fancy tunic, they knew he was favored with special privileges. And that made them furious!
They were consumed with a violent hatred and deep aversion for Joseph.
The preferential treatment to Joseph made their blood boil so much that they couldn’t even talk to him without hate oozing out of their mouths.
Friends, don’t forget how showing favoritism drives a wedge and destroys relationships.
A week ago a bunch of the young people from InCourage came over to help Lonnie split some wood from a big tree in his yard.
They would set a wedge in a hunk of log and bang away with a sledgehammer. With every blow the wedge would force the log apart.
That’s what favoritism does in relationship. It drives an ugly wedge that tears people apart.
Take to heart the lesson. Guard your heart against playing favorites. Don’t cave in to the sin of partiality, showing preference to some and unfair treatment to others. That can be at home, school, work, with neighbors and friends.
The Pharisees practiced partiality. And they knew Christ did not. When they were trying to trip Jesus up in His words, they tell him this: “Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no
one; for You are not partial to any.” Matthew
22:16
Let’s bring James, the brother of our Lord into
the conversation on partiality:
James 2:1–4, 8-9 My brethren, do not hold
your faith in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ
with an attitude of personal favoritism. 2 For
if a man comes into your assembly with a
gold ring and dressed in fine clothes, and
there also comes in a poor man in dirty
clothes, 3 and you pay special attention to
the one who is wearing the fine clothes, and
say, “You sit here in a good place,” and you
say to the poor man, “You stand over there,
or sit down by my footstool,” 4 have you not
made distinctions among yourselves, and
become judges with evil motives? 8 If,
however, you are fulfilling the royal law
according to the Scripture, “YOU SHALL LOVE
YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing
well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are
committing sin and are convicted by the law
as transgressors.
Well, it goes from bad to worse in Jacob’s home.
Verse 5: Then Joseph had a dream, and when
he told it to his brothers, they hated him even
more. 6 He said to them, “Please listen to this
dream which I have had; 7 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 before we examine his dream, let’s step
back into this place in O.T. history.
Bear in mind, for all who lived in the ancient Near
East before 1500 B.C., they had no Scriptures.
God had not yet given His written word through
Moses.
But dreams were a common means through
which God communicated and predicted. They
were revelatory.
And those 11 brothers knew God spoke through
dreams. For they had certainly heard had
spoken to their forefathers Abraham, Isaac as
well as their father Jacob.
Now here’s what’s unusual about Joseph’s dream.
This is the first dream in the O.T. where we do
not hear actual words that God speaks. Up until
now, God has spoken to the individual with
words in the dream. Not now.
So we see, there’s a progression in how God
communicates.
In Gen. 1-11, God communicates through
theophanies- He comes in a human form. Then
in 12-25 God communicates audibly through
dreams and visions. In 36-50 we see God
communicating more inaudibly through dreams
and providence (circumstances).
Friends, there have been so many in our lifetime
who claim God has spoken to them in dreams.
Well, there’s something else to which God tells
us we better pay careful attention if we want to
hear His voice. That’s Scripture, His written
Word.
II Peter 1:19–21 So we have the prophetic
word made more sure, to which you do well
to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark
place, until the day dawns and the morning
star arises in your hearts. 20 But know this
first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture is a
matter of one’s own interpretation, 21 for no
prophecy was ever made by an act of human
will, but men moved by the Holy Spirit spoke
from God.
So it is God speaks to us through His inspired
Word. Before giving His Word, God used
dreams as a major means of communicating to
His people.
And those brothers definitely understood the
point of Joseph’s dream.
Verse 8: Then his brothers said to him, “Are
you actually going to reign over us? Or are
you really going to rule over us?” So they
hated him even more for his dreams and for
his words.
God’s people, the Jews understood the meaning of
dreams from God. In fact, no Jew in Scripture ever
needed an interpreter in order to grasp the point of
a dream. It was clear to them.
They know that sheaves bowing down in the
dream meant they would bow before Joseph. It
predicted he would rule over them.
And that makes them all the more furious and
hate-filled. They hate his dream AND they hate
that he would tell them his dream!
Children, imagine if your brother or sister told
you, “I had a great dream about you last night.
You were on your face before me and kissing my
feet. It was wonderful! Let me tell you, if you
knew it would come true and you would have to
treat your brother or sister like a king, I’m sure
you would have some problems with thatespecially
if they told you they had a dream like
that.
Now, it’s round 2 in Joseph’s dreaming: V. 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.”
Wow, God causes Joseph to have a second
dream about his future rule. And he shares it
with his brothers and his father Jacob.
The sun and moon (those refer to his parents)
and the 11 stars are his 11 brothers. And this
time you have all of these in his dream bowing
down before Joseph!
Now Jacob his father speaks up. Verse 10 tells us
he rebukes Joseph and says to him: “What is this
dream that you have had? Shall I and your
mother and your brothers actually come to bow
ourselves down before you to the ground?”
Two very interesting reactions to this vivid dream.
Verse 11: His brothers were jealous of him, but
his father kept the saying in mind.
Each of those brothers hated the thought of
every bowing before Joseph. And in their
jealousy, they wanted to be the ones that others
bowed before!
Jacob the father, though he reprimanded
Joseph, he didn’t just forget about it. He filed
those things away in his mind for future
reference.
His response parallels the response of Mary when
she heard the amazing words of the shepherds
who came to the see the Christ child.
Luke 2:19 But Mary treasured all these
things, pondering them in her heart.
Just like Mary, Jacob would have never
imagined the great ruler his son would one day
become.
Well, in the midst of the deep rift in Jacob’s
home, God was at work preparing the stage for
the great display of His glory.
Christian, when you are in the thick of life’s
strains, tension and rifts in relationships, rest
assured that God will use even those to fulfill His
purposes in your life.
From the rift in the home we now come to plot in
the field.
2. Plot 12-24 It’s at this point the drama in
Joseph’s life builds.
Verse 12: Then his brothers went to pasture
their father’s flock in Shechem. 13 Israel said
to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing
the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send
you to them.” And he said to him, “I will go.”
14 Then he said to him, “Go now and see
about the welfare of your brothers and the
welfare of the flock, and bring word back to
me.” So he sent him from the valley of
Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
Now Joseph’s brothers lead their flocks 50 miles
north from Hebron to Shechem. Shepherds can
lead sheep 6-8 miles a day, so it would have
taken those brothers nearly a week to reach
Shechem.
Remember, it wasn’t long before that two of
those brothers, Levi and Simeon, had massacred
the men of Shechem for defiling their sister Dina.
Well, it’s not hard to figure why Joseph didn’t
initially go with his brothers. We can be quite
certain that because of their hatred, he was the
last person they wanted to see or hear!
But Jacob the father begins to be concerned for
those other sons, and he asks Joseph to make
the journey and check on them.
Did you notice how Joseph responds? He
doesn’t say, “Are you kidding dad? Why my
angry brothers will probably kill me if I am with
them alone.” I’m not going. If you want to know
how they are doing, why don’t you go yourself?”
No, Joseph obeys. He say, “I will go!”
It makes me think of the response of the Son of
God when it was determined that He would leave
His home in heaven and go to earth to those
whom He knew would hate and want to kill Him.”
The response of Christ’s heart was, “I will go.”
For we know when He came to earth, He said to
His Father, “Behold, I have come to do Your
will.” Heb. 7:9
After many days of walking Joseph arrived in
Shechem. And watch how God so providentially
guided him:
15 A man found him, and behold, he was
wandering in the field; and the man asked
him, “What are you looking for?” 16 He said,
“I am looking for my brothers; please tell me
where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 Then
the man said, “They have moved from here;
for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ”
So Joseph went after his brothers and found
them at Dothan.
Now Dothan is another 13 miles (2 days by foot)
further to the north of Shechem.
Now put yourself in Joseph’s sandals. You get to
Shechem where your dad told you your brothers
went, but there’s no sign of them.
Where did they go? What direction did they
take? As you wander around confused, a
stranger walks up to you. He no sooner asks you
whom you are searching for that he tells you
where they are!
How could he possibly know? Well, some say he
just happened to be there when the brothers just
happened to say loud enough for him to hear,
“Let’s go to Dothan!” Nonsense!
O church, there’s no “just happened tos” here.
For there’s no such a thing as happenstance.
For God actively guides all things to His
appointed purpose.
Because of that we can bask in the providence of
God. What’s that?
It’s Romans 8:28 in action: “And we know that
God causes all things to work together for
good to those who love God, to those who
are called according to His purpose.”
For our God is in the heavens; He does
whatever He pleases. Psalm 115:3
It’s the glorious promise God gives through the
prophet Isaiah: “It will also come to pass that
before they call, I will answer; and while they
are still speaking, I will hear. Isa. 65:24
Beloved, never forget, whether it’s in your salvation, sanctification or something that seems somewhat insignificant, God always “works all things after the counsel of His will.” Eph. 1:11
And because of that we can say with the apostle Paul, “But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place.” II Cor. 2:14
Mark it well. Our God uses the great, the good, the bad and the ugly things of our lives to accomplish His plan.
That’s exactly what he did that day in Dothan. Continuing in v. 18: “When they saw him from a distance and before he came close to them, they plotted against him to put him to death. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer! 20 “Now then, come and let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; and we will say, ‘A wild beast devoured him.’ Then let us see what will become of his dreams!”
Those brothers as shrewd shepherds were trained to scan the distant horizon for any threats to their sheep.
So, when they spot Joseph whom they hate a long way off, they start mocking him.
And they hatch a plot to deal with him once and for all.
Murder and then throw him into a deep pit. Their explanation would then be that some wild animal had killed him.
Do you see the satanic ploy here? The dream was of God and they think they can keep it from ever being fulfilled by ending Joseph’s life.
So too, Satan thought he could destroy God’s plan by having Jesus murdered!
Well, the oldest brother, Reuben, however, doesn’t go along with the brothers’ plan.
Verse 21: But Reuben heard this and rescued him out of their hands and said, “Let us not take his life.” 22 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, to restore him to his father.
Reuben may be trying to regain favor in the eyes of his father after the odious sin he committed with Jacob’s maid Bilhah (25:22).
So he tells the brothers, “Throw him in that pit if you want, but alive and not dead.
Surprisingly, those hate-filled brothers follow Reuben’s suggestion:
V. 23 So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; 24 and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it.
Those brothers can’t wait to do two things: get their hands on Joseph and get the tunic off Joseph! And they shove him into a deep pit which would have been an empty cistern.
Archeologists have dug up dozens of ancient cisterns all over Israel. They weren’t wells with water from under the ground but were deep bottle-shaped pits cut out of limestone rock used by shepherds to store rainwater. They would be up to 20 feet deep. So, there was no way Joseph could get out of that deep pit.
From the rift in the family to the plot of the brothers and now we see the
3. Crime of the century 25-36
Guess what those brothers do after they throw Joseph into that well? Verse 25 tells us, “Then they sat down to eat a meal.”
O what callous hearts. Joseph is in that deep dark dungeon. He’s helpless. And he would have been pleading with them for mercy.
Yet they ignore his cries for help and sit there enjoying their meal. The late Donald Grey Barnhouse made this great observation about their hard hearts: “A physicist could compute the exact time required for his cries to go twenty-five yards to the eardrums of the brothers. But it took twenty-two years for that cry to go from the eardrums to their hearts.”
Because Gen. 42:21 tells us it was then they would remember what they did to Joseph that day:
O we see in these brothers the depravity of the human heart. And we continue to see shocking demonstrations of that in our day.
In October, 1994 , Susan Smith of South
Carolina claimed that her children had been
kidnapped.
Yet 9 days later she admitted to letting her car
roll into a lake drowning her sons – 3-year-old
Michael and 14-month-old Alexander.
O the depths of sin to which the human heart
not submitted to God can fall.
Jeremiah puts it so well: “The heart is more
deceitful than all else and is desperately sick;
Who can understand it?
And God answers his question saying, “I, the
LORD, search the heart, I test the mind, even
to give to each man according to his ways,
according to the results of his deeds.”
Jer. 17:9-10
Well, there’s a strange turn of events. Instead of
leaving Joseph in that pit to rot, they have
another idea. Continuing in verse 25:
And as they raised their eyes and looked,
behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming
from Gilead, with their camels bearing
aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their
way to bring them down to Egypt. 26 Judah
said to his brothers, “What profit is it for us
to kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27
“Come 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.
So providentially, Dothan was on the main route
between Damascus in the north and Egypt in the
south.
And at the perfect time, the Ishmaelite traders
(also known as Midianites- Judges 8:24) were
heading south to Egypt with products they could
sell.
When the brothers see the, Judah asks the
question, “What do we have to gain by killing
Joseph?” That’s all about pragmatics. What’s in
it for us?
And then he makes such an obvious point. We
shouldn’t kill him since, remember, he is our
brother.
So, Judah suggests they sell him to the traders
for profit. And that’s what they do:
Verse 28: 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. Thus
they brought Joseph into Egypt.
Moses in the original text puts it in rapid fire form.
The pulled Joseph…sold Joseph…took Joseph.
This marks a massive turning point in the history
of the nation of Israel. The date would have been
right around 1890 B.C.
And some have rightly called this, “the crime of
the century.” For wicked brothers sell their
young brother who was full of potential to be a
slave in Egypt.
By the way, historians know that the average price
for a slave during this time of the Middle Kingdom
was 20 shekels of silver!
The cruel deal is struck, and Joseph is hauled off
as a slave to Egypt.
It’s at this point we are told (v. 29): Now Reuben
returned to the pit, and behold, Joseph was
not in the pit; so he tore his garments. 30 He
returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is
not there; as for me, where am I to go?”
For some untold reason, Reuben was gone
when the other brothers sold Joseph to the slave
traders.
He’s perplexed, he doesn’t know what to do.
How would he ever explain this to his father?
So, he tears up his outer garments- that shows
how his heart was torn up.
Well, he and his brothers come up with a
coverup plan as they head home to Hebron.
Following in v. 31: “So they took Joseph’s
tunic, and slaughtered a male goat and
dipped the tunic in the blood; 32 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.”
O there’s so much irony here. Jacob the deceiver
is now deceived!
And it’s so similar as he had used goat skin and
his brothers garment to deceive his father years
before!
V. 33 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!” 34
So Jacob tore his clothes, and put sackcloth
on his loins and mourned for his son many
days. 35 Then all his sons and all his
daughters arose to comfort him, 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.
Sheol- it’s the first time we see it here in the
Bible. It’s not hell but stands for the place of the
dead. So Jacob is saying, “I will go to my grave
mourning the loss of Joseph.”
Now Jacob feels the sting of pain in being hurt as
he had hurt his brother and father in the past.
Wearing sackcloth was rough gunnysack like
material. It would irritate the skin and cause the
mourner to feel worse.
For over 20 years, Jacob would think their story
was true and grieve over Joseph who he thinks
is dead!
Well, the sovereignty of God does not excuse the
sinfulness of man.
For God hates all forms of lying and deception.
And so must we.
In Proverbs 6:16-19 we find a list of “six things
the Lord hates, yes, seven which are an
abomination to Him.
Two of them relate to deceit: a lying tongue,
and a false witness who utters lies.”
Proverbs 12:22 tells us: “Lying lips are an
abomination to the LORD, but those who deal
faithfully are His delight.”
But there is hope for deceivers. In Eph. 4:22 we
read, “that, in reference to your former
manner of life, you lay aside the old self,
which is being corrupted in accordance with
the lusts of deceit.”
And then in verse 25, “Therefore, laying aside
falsehood, SPEAK TRUTH EACH ONE of you WITH
HIS NEIGHBOR, for we are members of one
another.”
The apostle Peter tells us as Christians, that we
must put aside all malice and all deceit. And we
are to imitate Christ “WHO COMMITTED NO SIN, NOR
WAS ANY DECEIT FOUND IN HIS MOUTH.” I Peter
2:1,22
May our heart’s longing and prayer to God be that of Agur in Proverbs 30:8, “Keep deception and lies far from me….”
And He will as we walk by His grace in obedience to Him.
Well, it may look like all hope is lost. But we read in the final verse:
36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.
This story that seems like a tragedy will ultimately end in triumph.
Even at this point God shows us a shining ray of hope.
To whom is Joseph sold? Not to some Egyptian land owner to work in the fields. He’s sold to Potiphar, the official bodyguard of the Egyptian Pharaoh!!!
This was during the Middle Kingdom of Egypt which comprised its 12th dynasty.
Scholars suggest it would have been under the reign of the powerful Pharaoh Sesostris (1894-1878 BC).
Well, Joseph’s bondage anticipates the bondage of God’s people in Egypt. And it would bring great encouragement to them.
For they would see that God took Joseph through such a time that made no sense to use him in ways he would never have dreamed of.
Beloved, when life doesn’t seem to make sense, take courage. And place your faith in God.
For through it all, God will accomplish His perfect plan in you and through you.
The songwriter put it so well: I thank God for the mountains, and I thank Him for the valleys, I thank Him for the storms He brought me through. For if I’d never had a problem, I wouldn’t know God could solve them, I’d never know what faith in God could do. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to trust in Jesus, I’ve learned to trust in God. Through it all, through it all, I’ve learned to depend upon His Word.
Our heavenly Father…