Joseph the Dreamer
- Feel sure that God is with us in times of trouble.
- Wonder how Joseph could tell that God was with him.
- Describe times when we have felt frightened and alone like Joseph did.
While we tend to think of Joseph as a kind of heroic figure in the Bible, the story doesn't start out that way. This seventeen-year-old boy comes across as something of a show-off and a tattler. Jacob loved Joseph, the son of his old age by his favorite wife, more than all his other sons. That can happen to parents, but to his discredit he showed it. Jacob gave Joseph an expensive and exclusive gift in the multicolor coat. His brothers hated him, and we can understand why.
Joseph had dreams, and in each one it turns out that he's at the center, shining with importance. Having a dream is one thing, but telling it to your brothers is another, especially when you know it's bound to make them even more jealous. Joseph was either naïve or malicious, for he related his dreams to his brothers with great gusto. He even succeeded in getting his father angry at him: "Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?" (Gen. 37:10).
The brothers get their chance for revenge when Jacob sends Joseph to check on them when they are away with the flocks. Earlier it was reported that Joseph had "brought their father a bad report about them," and now here comes the tattle-tale again. They spot him a long way off (probably the multicolor coat): "Here comes that dreamer!" With a quick acceleration of rage, they begin plotting to murder him. We can sense how deep their jealousy had become.
The plan was to kill Joseph and make it look like the work of a wild animal. Interestingly, the oldest brother, Reuben, wanted to spare Joseph and bring him back home. But the brothers took Joseph's "richly ornamented" robe, and threw him into a deep cistern.
Reuben was gone while the brothers sat down to eat and noticed a trading caravan passing by. One of the brothers injects another motive: greed. "What good will it do just to kill him? We can get rid of him and make some money too, if we sell him to the Ishmaelites." And that's what they did.
By the time Reuben returned it was all over. He tore his clothes, but the text doesn't say that the brothers told him what they had done. Perhaps they didn't tell him, and Reuben assumed that somehow Joseph had been kidnapped. At any rate, the brothers hatched a plan to soak the infamous robe in blood and bring it to Jacob. They didn't even have to lie to their father. All they did was show him the robe, and Jacob jumped to his own logical conclusion---that Joseph had been killed by an animal.
There was mourning and wailing in the tents of Jacob, who didn't see his son again till years later. The chapter ends on this ominous note: "The Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh's officials."
This is not a nice story. It's all about human pride, jealousy, greed, and violence. And there's not a word about God in it, until we get to 39:2---"The Lord was with Joseph." God is there, and God's purposes will come to fruition.
How would you describe Joseph as a teenage boy as depicted in this story?
How would you describe Jacob as a father?
Why do you think Reuben waffled on the decision to get rid of Joseph?
Make sure you don’t make Joseph into a hero at the expense of his jealous brothers. This story is not ultimately about good or bad behavior, but about God’s covenant faithfulness.
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