Today’s reading is Genesis 39:1-41:16, Matthew 12:46-13:23, Psalm17:1-15, and Proverbs 3:33-35. At the beginning of Chapter 37, we find that Jacob once again settled in Canaan, where his father had lived. The word “settled” caught my attention in verse one. He was finally settled. He had his 12 sons of promise, had grieved the death of Rachel, and was living in the land God had promised his ancestors. Life was good. However, more grief was coming and Jacob had unknowingly contributed to its entrance.
It started with the common problem of sibling rivalry. With twelve sons, it makes sense that this would be an issue at times. However, Jacob exasperated the problem greatly by opening preferring Joseph over the others. He said it was because Joseph was born in his old age. But he was not that much younger than some of his brothers. And he was not the youngest. But at this time, Benjamin would have been very young—maybe even still a baby or a toddler. Not quite old enough to really catch the attention of a busy father. And even if he had, surely Jacob was grieving the death of Rachel. Perhaps Benjamin still conjured sorrow, even though Jacob had wisely overridden the connotation of the name. But Joseph! He was pure joy. The long-awaited son by the beloved wife of his youth. And in his weakness, Jacob openly favored Joseph over all the others. And as a side note to parents and even grandparents. This is a bad idea. A terrible idea. One that leads to heartache and insecurity. Thankfully, our heavenly Father loves us equally, as seen by the fact that He sent Jesus for all of us, each of us. If only one had sinned, He still would have sent Jesus, so precious and individual is His love for us.
But Jacob was human. Jacob was flawed. He had grown up with the element of favoritism. His mother favored him, his father favored Esau. And he brought those old habits into his own family. He wove an atmosphere of jealousy within his family, which hit a tipping point when he decided to give Joseph a colorful coat. This coat would have represented a princely status and should have been reserved for the firstborn.
And Joseph, perhaps having been spoiled by his father since birth, understandably fell into the pattern of a self-centered son. As we look at yesterday’s reading, we see several negative patterns of behavior coming from Joseph. Genesis 37:2 we find that Joseph “reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.” What do you call that? A tattle-tail.
And then there was the telling of the dreams. Now, the dreams were from God. They were prophetic dreams. And they eventually came true. But let’s contrast Joseph’s immature reaction when he received a grand prophesy about himself with Mary’s reaction when she received the most amazing news of all—she would give birth to the Son of God and the Savior of the world; the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. She surely could have boasted. But instead we see humility.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered.
“May your word to me be fulfilled.” Then the angel left her.
But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.
Mary believed and waited. She believed and acted like a servant. She believed but she did not boast. She saw the words of God to her as a treasure and she pondered them.
In contrast, we see 17-year-old Joseph, who was 4 years older than Mary when her prophetic news came and who should have known better, anxious to brag to his brothers and even his father about the whispers of God about his future. What do you call that? Arrogance. An arrogant tattle-tail. No wonder his brothers didn’t like him. Their anger was understandable, but so very dangerous.
“When you are angry, do not sin.” (Psalm 4:4)
But even still, there is no excuse for what happened next. In a mob-type mentality, his brothers—these that were of the 12 sons of promise—hatched a plan that would set in motion a series of events that only God could redeem. At first they wanted to kill him. Rueben tried to intervene, but not with the integrity of a righteous one. He succumbed to peer-pressure and instead of defending Joseph, he simply hatched a different plan. He was going to go back and make it right, but did not have the opportunity to do so and suffered the consequences greatly for it. And so it is with us. Sometimes we plan to go along with sin for a season, thinking we can make up for it later. Often we can’t, and always there are consequences.
Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, and sold for silver coins. Remember Ishmael? He was also Abraham’s son, but through the manipulative scheme of an impatient woman. Sarah gave her servant, Hagar, to Abraham because she was tired of waiting on the Lord’s good plan. Ishmael was not the son of promise and here the consequences of not waiting on the Lord’s plan shows up two generations later. It is a bit confusing that this tribal group was referred to as Ishmaelites as well at Midianites. The Midianites were descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham and his concubine Keturah (Genesis 25:1-2). It is thought that all desert wanderers were referred to as Ishmaelites at the time, and points to intermarrying of the other sons of Abraham. Regardless, it was the sons born outside of the righteous line who now brought Joseph into slavery.
But God was not finished weaving the story. Throughout the story of Joseph, throughout the stories told throughout the Bible, for that matter, we see a gracious, patient God weaving a tapestry of redemption. I am thankful that this is true in my own life, as well.