Genesis Chapter 37
Joseph was 17 and was with his brothers pasturing their sheep. Joseph brought a bad report of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah to Jacob (37:2). Jacob/Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons and he made him a robe of many colors (and probably long sleeves) (37:3), and his brothers hated him for this.
Joseph's 1st Dream ~ King of the Sheafs
Joseph then had a dream that made his brothers hate him even more. He told them he dreamed he and his brothers were binding sheaves (bundling the harvest, like wheat, barley, etc.) in the field and Joseph's sheaf rose and stood upright. Then all his brothers sheaves gathered around Joseph's and bowed down to it (37:6-8).
Joseph's 2nd Dream ~ King of the Luminaries
Joseph then had a second dream that his brothers would hate him for even more. He told them he dreamed that the sun, moon and 11 stars were bowing down to him (37:9). But when he told it to Jacob and his brothers, Jacob rebuked him saying, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?" (37:10) His brothers were jealous, but it says, "but his father kept the saying in mind." (37:11)
Joseph's brothers were pasturing the flock near Shechem and Jacob sent Joseph to join them from the Valley of Hebron and see if they were doing well in order to bring back word to Jacob. After all, the rape of Dinah had happened only in Shechem a couple years before. A man (probably a Shechemite) found Joseph wandering in the fields and helped guide him to his brothers who had since moved to Dothan.
2 Plots - Murder & Rescue
As Joseph approached, his brothers saw him coming from a distance and the plotted to kill him partly because of his dreams. They planned to throw him in one of the pits/cisterns and then say that a fierce animal ate him. Reuben rescued Joseph from this fate saying they shouldn't take his life saying, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him." He said this with the intention to rescue him and restore him back to his dad, Jacob (37:22).
Both Plots Foiled for Judah's "Humaneness"
So when Joseph came to them they stripped him of his robe and threw him into an empty pit. They sat down to eat, and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead headed to Egypt. Judah suggested that they should sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites, and he saw this as the more humane way to treat their, "own flesh" completely missing the irony that they should treat their own flesh as they themselves would want to be treated (37:27). They all listened to him. So when the Ismaelite/Midianite traders passed by they lifted Joseph out of the pit, and sold him to them for 20 shekels of silver, and they took Joseph to Egypt.
Reuben must not have been in on the decision to sell Joseph into slavery, so when he returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was gone he tore his clothes (37:29). He went to his brothers and said, "The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?" (37:30) The reader gets the indication that Reuben, the firstborn, is responsible for his younger brothers, and how is he going to give an account to their father for Joseph. Further intensifying the situation is the fact that Joseph is Jacob's favorite son. They then took Joseph's robe, dipped it in blood and brought it to Jacob asking him to identify it and saying they "found it". Jacob identified it as Joseph's and they let him assume that a fierce animal devoured him. Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his loins, and he mourned for Joseph many days (37:34). The whole family tried to comfort him, but he refused saying, "No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning." (37:35) While all of this was going on the Ishmaelite/Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of the guard and officer of Pharaoh.
Thoughts on Genesis 37
As one reads this account it is difficult to see how the Lord is going to fully give His covenant blessings to this dysfunctional family. You would think Jacob would have learned not to incite brotherly strife by favoritism, especially after the history of his relationship with Esau. You'd think he would remember the stories that were being passed down about Cain and Abel as well. This family is far from what one might expect from the chosen line of the Yahweh. But in the providence of God this is how He is working out His plan to save a people. This chapter begins to paint the canvass upon which the Lord is going to paint a picture of Himself showing how He is a deliverer, a Savior, will full sovereign power over the evil intentions of Joseph's brothers. I like how Derek Kidner described this chapter: "The account of the dreams, coming at the outset, makes God, not Joseph, the 'hero' of the story: it is not a tale of human success but of divine sovereignty." (Kidner, 192)
It all begins with Joseph's dreams. First, we see that Joseph is probably a tattle-tale. He's sharing a bad report of His brothers (his brothers of Rachel and Leah's servants). We don't know what they were doing, and Joseph may be correct that what they were doing was wrong, but it doesn't bode well for him in the context of what happens next. Joseph dreams that all his brothers and even his parents will bow to him, he will rule his family. The combination of his father's favoritism, these dreams, and his tattling is a concoction that his brothers' sinful hearts consume and then fabricate into a plot to kill him. Joseph is either really arrogant or ignorantly naïve. Joseph's being chosen by his father as a favorite, combined with his seeming desire for what is right (in the face of the wrong his brothers were likely indulging in), mixed with his dreams of grandeur are exploding in his face, and he doesn't even know it.
Between two of Joseph's brothers God providentially saves Him to fulfill what He showed Joseph in the dreams. Note that neither Reuben nor Judah really "save" Joseph. Reuben tries to, but in God's providence his saving plan is thwarted. Neither one can make the claim of having saved Joseph here; however, God uses each of them to save Joseph from impending murder. First, Reuben, Jacob's firstborn son (by Leah), recommends they throw Joseph into a pit intending to later take him out and give him back to Jacob. Second, the brothers take Reuben's advice, but while Reuben is away, Judah, in a flare of self-deceived "altruism" offered up the idea that it would be better to sell Joseph into slavery. Jacob's sons seem to be easily influenced, especially when they can get rid of a brother tattle-telling, thereby ruining their sinful escapades; especially when they can get rid of a brother who claims to have dreamed he would rule them two times; especially when they can get rid of a brother, and in the process make some money. Besides, Joseph is Jacob's favorite, and I'm sure they thought if he's out of the picture all of their lots would be better off. Maybe they thought the covenant promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and now Jacob would primarily benefit them personally...especially if their clearly favored little brother is out of the way.
Think of the horror of Joseph. They're in the pasture land, a remote place where no one could hear his cries for help. He's stripped and naked, exposed to the elements. Has no food or water. Yet, his brothers are able to sit and enjoy a meal. They are heartless monsters. This family is beyond dysfunctional. They could have killed him aggressively, or they could have just left him naked in the pit, but Judah's plan sounds more appealing to the brothers. Slavery. Finally, if slavery to the Ishmaelites weren't enough, he was sold into slavery by the Ishmaelites to Potiphar in Egypt, the captain of the royal guard of Pharaoh. The scene is beginning to be set for how the power of God would be shown through fulfilling Joseph's prophetic dreams.
How This Points to Jesus Christ
Joseph's story begins to blow open the biblical category for an innocent sufferer. Yes, Joseph was a sinner, and yes, there was probably pride and ego wrapped up in proclaiming his dreams to his family; however, he is clearly undeserving of the kind of brutality his brothers inflicted upon him. Jacob's favorite and treasured son, one who would rule over all, is rejected by his brothers.
Why on earth, does the Bible create a category for an innocent sufferer like this? God's promise of a Messiah through the covenantal line has decisively come to Jacob. The only question remains, "How will God work to bring a Messiah to defeat the world, the flesh, and the Devil?" from this family. When Jacob had 12 boys it was pretty clear that the Lord was going to work something through this family, but this? Deception, murder, slavery, making money off of their brother's pain...surely this isn't the way God intends to bring a Messiah into the world, right? Wrong, God elevates a king, even here, through suffering, through trial, through depression, through all of these means.
Consider Jesus Christ. He was rejected by sinful men, sold out for not 20 shekels of silver but 30 pieces of silver by Judas. Jesus didn't bear the whips of Ismaelite/Midianite slave owners, but the cruel whipping/flogging inflicted by the institutionally trained murderers on behalf of the Roman state. Jesus was handed over to the Roman authorities to be crucified by His Jewish brotherhood who originally plotted to murder Him themselves. There was not a Reuben and Judah to be used in God's sovereignty to save Jesus. Satan tried in the temptation to redirect Jesus from the cross, Peter tried to lead Jesus away from the cross, after the feeding of the 5,000 they tried to make Jesus king. No, God's King of kings and Lord of lords is not exalted by earthly means, but through suffering. Jesus is the only Savior, but He's not the kind of Savior that avoids bearing the trial of hell His people deserve. He's the kind of savior king who faces hell square on and He triumphs for His glory and for the saving of His people. Jesus wasn't in this to save Himself, but to save people who were deserving only of God's wrath.
Friends, who do you identify with in Genesis 37? Joseph or the brothers? Friends, we are Joseph's brothers. We are rebels against God's chosen one. The irony of Jesus' death is that He was never the one who deserved it, we deserve it...God's wrath forever. Jesus had no Savior in His trial, He was doing the saving. Hallelujah, what a Savior!
So, as the story of Joseph progresses we will see that God has plans to exalt him even after the coming 13 years of misery. In the end Jesus was exalted by being lifted up on a cross, dying as a substitute for His people, being buried and then raised from the dead three days later. In the end Jesus was exalted by ascending to the right hand of God the Father almighty. Jesus' exaltation was through suffering. While Joseph's circumstances are clearly not saving in the same way Jesus' were, biblically the beginning of his trials here in Genesis 37 are creating a biblical category for us to understand the way that God brings salvation through suffering, even in the face of what appears to be utter hopelessness.