The Story of Joseph: Part 1
David gave this talk at Woodside Church (Bedford) in 2009, as part of their "Story of Joseph" series. Click here to download it.
God had decided to bless the nations of the world which were in sin and under His judgement. To do that He chose one family to work out His long-term purposes, and so God had called Joseph’s great grandfather Abraham, who was married to Sarah. Despite the fact that they were a childless couple, God promised "through your descendants all clans on earth will be blessed".
God’s plan was to work out His purposes of blessing by blessing a family that would multiply – receive God’s blessing and then bless others. Joseph, as we will see over the course of the series, became an outworking of what it is to be blessed and then bless the nations of the world.
However the problem was that this family that God wanted to use had certain sins/weaknesses that kept repeating themselves. Sometimes that happens today in families and then in cultures or nations. The issues for this family were:
- Jealousy – very deep.
These were repeated time and time again in the family – that is how ‘strongholds’ develop.
It happened first of all to Joseph’s grandfather Isaac. He had two sons, Esau and Jacob, but Isaac’s favourite was Esau, a great hunter, a "man’s man". His wife Rebekah’s favourite was Jacob. When it was the time for the father to give his blessing to his sons, Rebekah said to Jacob, "let’s steal the blessing for you". After they succeeded, Esau was furious and jealous, and threatened to kill Jacob.
Jacob ran away to his uncle’s house, where he met two cousins and fell in love with one. After a deception by their uncle – having to work 7 years – he gave the wrong daughter! Again Jacob’s favouritism - favoured Rachel not Leah – led to jealousy between wives. Leah had children, Rachel didn’t – and so they tried what was quite common in that culture, they gave the servant girl, Bilhah, to Jacob. Finally Rachel did have a child, but she had not been patient and trusted in God because of jealousy, conflict and rivalry. Their first child was Joseph. Later came a second child, Benjamin, but Rachel died in childbirth.
“Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
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,(Leah’s servant) his father's wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
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. 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. – Jealousy leads to hatred.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, "Listen to this dream I had: 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."
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.
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."
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 (Leah – chief wife – Rachel dead) and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Now his brothers had gone to graze their father's flocks near Shechem, and Israel (or Jacob – name had been changed) said to Joseph, "As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them." "Very well," he replied.
So he said to him, "Go and see if all is well with your brothers and with the flocks, and bring word back to me." Then he sent him off from the Valley of Hebron.
When Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, "What are you looking for?"
He replied, "I'm looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?" – Well known in Shechem.
"They have moved on from here," the man answered. "I heard them say, 'Let's go to Dothan.' "
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
"Here comes that dreamer!" they said to each other. "Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns (for storing rain water – often very muddy – Jeremiah put in one later) and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we'll see what comes of his dreams.”
When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. "Let's not take his life," he said. "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.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing- and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
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.
Judah said to his brothers, "What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 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.
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.
When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, "The boy isn't there! Where can I turn now?"
Then they got Joseph's robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 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."
He recognized it and said, "It is my son's robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces."
Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 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.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials, the captain of the guard.” (Genesis 37)
WHAT DO WE LEARN?
Corrosive power of wrong attitudes
Becoming entrenched in a family or culture is dangerous. Here we see the fruits of that - favouritism, jealousy, deception – and how it leads to preferring my own kind, sticking only to people I get on with.
Though here we see a wrong favouritism, the reality is that generally some will seem to be preferred to you in life – more money, less problems, get promotion at work, preferred in the church (apparently). So how do we respond? Jealousy is very powerful – particularly in certain cultures - and can lead to class envy and feeling downtrodden and reactive.
All that happened to him could have led to low self-worth in Joseph, but it didn’t. He had a dysfunctional family background – but that should not be a determining factor. Though we understand how people feel, in Christ we can overcome our background.
God is speaking
Joseph’s dreams were of God, as we will see later. Yet, he did not handle them well. There are times to share what God has said, times to hold it and pray. Learn to hear God but not hold it arrogantly. Gifts of the Holy Spirit are to make us feel humble – “God speaks to me! Amazing” - not arrogant.
God often gives gifts early, then spends a while teaching us how to use them, and so we should expect to encounter people who are gifted but have not yet learnt how to handle their gifting. What happened to Joseph was to lead him into difficult times in order for him to learn how to handle the gifts God has given him. Tough times can often either be learning times or embittering times – which are they for you?
Deception has terrible power
Jacob would not be comforted and had to live his life deceived as he deceived.
We reap what we sow
Made clear in Galatians 6:7. Jacob deceived others, and is now deceived by his own sons, but God uses it to bring him through to maturity, as we see later.
God’s grace (despite this family) and God’s hand are evident.
God will use someone in this family to bless the nations. Aren’t they disqualified? The truth is we are all disqualified without the grace of God. God’s hand was over this for good:
- The brothers were in a place where it could not be seen what happened.
- Reuben’s presence and absence are significant.
- The Ishmaelites happened to come by.
- They sold Joseph into a home of influence in Egypt.
- None of these things are just “coincidence”.
- We see how ingrained attitudes or strongholds develop in a family/culture.
- God’s grace and sovereign hand is equal to that in Joseph’s life.
- All of this shows that these things can be overcome in our lives too.