God is always at work

Genesis 37: The Life of Joseph


This morning we are looking at Genesis 37, Where we meet for the first time Joseph the favoured son of his father, born of the beloved Rachel and in the last stages of his Fathers life.  We now enter into the final section of the Book of Genesis. As verse two informs us, we are about to hear of the line of Jacob through who Gods blessing and convenient will be carried.

Joseph Like Isaac and Jacob before him is introduced as a specially chosen member of his family – the one who through God will act and fulfil the promises that he made to Abraham. Like the rest of the stories and their characters we have looked at, one thing is for sure:  This is not a book about human success, this is not a story about the Triumph of Jacob in adversity, this is a book about Yahweh the God of Israel who reigns and works through sinful people.  The Josephine narrative is one of longest character narratives in the whole Bible, and it is an epic story. The German Novelist and Nobel Laureate Thomas Mann considered it such a great storyline that he created a three-volume work described as the “greatest creative work of the 20th Century.”

However this is no mere work of fiction, this is not just a great story.  This is a true historical account of Joseph who was favoured by his father and God.  It is a story with Christological Implications: Throughout the narrative, we see glimpses of Jesus in Joseph.  Joseph is a typological Jesus.

The Worst Family Line

Before we move to the main body of the text, it is important to remind ourselves of the background and family context, so we understand more of who Joseph is.  In the previous chapter Esau, his uncle has just moved off the Promised Land, in essence recognising Jacobs rights to it as they receive and live out the blessing his father gave him.

Three stories show us Josephs family situation:

  1. Simenon and Levi (Genesis 34): deceptive and violent. Do you remember the excellent sermon which Bryan preached on this problematic chapter (available on the website) The Son of Sheckhim had taken their sister Dinah against her will and then fallen in love with her and then wanted to take her hand in marriage. Dinah’s brothers are rightly angered by everything. They want to right this wrong; however, they go about it in the wrong way.  They do not seek justice; they seek revenge (through deception and murder).

  1. Ruben (Genesis 35:22): We see in Genesis 35 Ruben had sexual relations with Bilhah – his father’s concubine; he brought disgrace on his family through his sexual indulgence. It would not cost him until some 40 years later (Genesis 49) when Jacob is on his deathbed and declares that because of his actions he will not be treated as the firstborn. 1 Chronicles 5 also adds weight to this.  So we see that another brother lacks self-control and will indulge himself in whatever way he wants.  Actions through which he seemed to lose his rights as the firstborn son.  So some say that Jacob acted within his power to then grant such privilege to the Firstborn Jacob of his beloved Rachel.  Jacob receives the blessing of his father because Ruben has forfeited it.

  1. Judah (Genesis 38): We are introduced to Judah, another older brother. Who sin’s before God and his father when he sleeps with Tamar.  An act that would later cost him his birthright as the firstborn in so doing loses his birthright.

So, Here is a new generation of a family line, that seems no different to what has gone before them, they have all learned from their father and taken his traits.  Deceitful, Sinful, Violent:  trying to make their way in the world, without placing any trust in Yahweh.  In the midst of all this Chaos, there is one who is favoured by his father perhaps because he is different and stands out in this.  Jacob looks on Joseph and sees hope for a better future, someone in through who God can work.

A ROBE GIVEN IN LOVE: Tales, Favour and Rejection (1-4)

In the first four verse, we jump into the story of this mad family and from this first sections we learn something about Joseph.  He is 17 years old (a number that will be significant in the story), he has spent the first 17 years of his life living with and being loved by his father. In those years together the father has seen something different about him:  He is not like the other sons.  At the start of this tale he is out with some of his half-brothers tending the flock, something happens, and upon his return, he informs his father of the wrong actions of his brothers. It is an action that will alienate him from his brothers (no-one likes a tell-tale) however; it is also an action that shows us something of the future man Joseph will be.  He does not live in the same way, and he has a different ethic.

Interestingly, there are no recorded sins of Joseph in the whole tale, unlike his father and those around him.  It is not that he is without sin, but, he is different; A 17-year-old man who is living in a culture and family context where violence and sexual immorality reign, where favouritism is shown and jealousy and hate boil and somehow by the grace of God he is different.

We see more of why his father so loves Joseph, not only is he the firstborn of his beloved wife, he was also born in the latter stages of the life of Jacob.  Maybe the father sees a future for the family through the line of Joseph. However, it does not excuse the actions of the father who shows too much favouritism to one son and never seems to realise it himself.  The brothers see the treatment of their youngest sibling (the one who has yet even to work the fields)  and anger boils collectively inside all of them.   You can imagine bumping into one of them in the local shop, and all they want to talk about is Joseph and “oh if their father knew the real him.” Joseph was a scumbag. They would have no kind word to say about him because all they could see in him was their rejection.

This section reminds us that we live for Christ and we live differently to those around us and they may hate us for it.  Not only that, that there will be some in the same family who cannot fathom the blessing that the father gives us.  Like the Pharisees to Jesus.  We must be like Joseph and live differently in a world now that is not too dissimilar to what we have heard about so far.


In these next few verse, we see God appear to Joseph and speak directly in dreams:  Two dreams that were so simple that even his brothers could understand.  Both painted the picture that one day his family would bow the knee to him, we know the story and know that this was to be true. However,  imagine being the brothers who witnessed the favour lavished on the youngest son by the father when he had barely done any work and then listen to him as he spoke so boldly.

Some commentators have said that it shows the immaturity of Joseph because he spoke these dreams out.  Although it is not specified here, in Genesis dreams are customarily associated with Divine revelation, This is how God speaks and communicates primarily, with his chosen ones.  As Hebrews 1:1 reminds us these dreams carry the authority of divine revelation. Joseph had to articulate to his family what God was revealing to him because it concerned their future:  The reality was that God was not just revealing to Joseph concerning his fate: he was unveiling to a family how he would bring about their survival and redemption.

Additionally, if we were reading it in the original Hebrew we would get the sense of poetry,  This was not some faint memory that Joseph recalled a few days later and decided to tell his brothers in passing, the dream and revelation from God was so powerful that it compelled him to speak.

Throughout the entire Josephine narrative, all the dreams come in pairs. Informing the reader that the events dreamed about are a certainty.   Joseph has two dreams in quick succession, the second grandeur in image and power: The stars, the sun and the moon, will bow down to him. The two dream sequence reminds us God would sovereignly bring to pass the fulfilment of Joseph’s dreams: This certitude may be the reason that Joseph dared to inform his family of its content.

Joseph received Gods word and spoke it, in doing so he faced rejection and increased hate.  The lesson for us today who talk to God’s word and live by it is that we will face the same rejection and hate that he suffered from his brothers and we must be ready for it. We must also trust God who brought about this second dream and knew that our future is not a maybe its a certainty.  We speak Gods word, even knowing how people will react brothers because there may be one like the father (8) who hears and keeps the matter in mind and we trust that God still sits on his throne.


The next section of the passage begins with a concerned father.  The older brothers are hoarding their flocks about 50 miles away somewhere near Shechem: Given the recent massacre, you can understand the concern of Jacob.  He wants to know they are okay, so he decides to send the only son in the house. Actions that show great naivety by both him and Joseph. It’s incredible to think that they have never once noticed the hate held by the 11 to the 1.  Especially sending him wearing his fancy coat that rubs salt into the wounds of his brothers.  His brothers are not where he is looking; However God is with Joseph, a random character appears and him to Dothan about 12 miles on where nine of his brothers are resting.

You can picture the scene of them sitting  around the fire, and their conversation is consumed by ‘Joseph’ and how he is ‘Daddy’s Boy.’ The brothers cannot figure out how their father does not see him for what he is. They tell stories that reinforce their hate and prejudice, they talk about the fact that they are glad to get away from him.  Suddenly the mood changes as someone brings up the coat.  How they never got one so why should he?  Then at that point, the flowing and ornate coat becomes visible on a distant hill with Joseph as they grunt to each other: “here comes the dreamer! And 65 miles away from home they come up with a solution to their problems: Let’s just kill him!

Again we see (22-23) the sovereign God of heaven working out his plan through Ruben to protect his chosen one as he convinces his brother not to seek death, but, to merely putting him in the hole and leave him there.  No sooner does Joseph arrive in innocence, when he is set upon by his older brothers who strip him of his ornate robe and beat him before throwing him into a bottomless empty pit: this is not merely taking off a coat and then tossing him – akin to a prank –  into a hole.  The verbs here give a sense of brutality, the brothers like a pack of wild animals lay on Joseph and beat him close to death.  The favoured one of the father is beaten and rejected and descends into the darkest pit.  Sound familiar? In these few verses, we see a shadow of what would come, we know that salvation would come through the rejection of the chosen one.


The next section has a very dark beginning painting the brothers as psychopaths; they have just beaten their brother and thrown him into a dark pit: now, they sit listening to his whimpers and cries for help and calmly eat their meal.  Feeling satisfied and Smug with themselves again we God at work as their eye gaze in the distance a travelling caravan.

Immediately the Hebrew reader would know that this caravan people are a distant relative of the brothers; Sons of Abraham through Keturah (25:1) who had intermarried.  However the point was simple, these were a people outside the Covenant.  Judah the fourth born bypasses the blood thirst of his two older brothers (Simone and Levi) and suggests selling the brother.  The motive is unclear, yet the reality is simple: that such action saved the life of his brother. God was working out his plan as Joseph; now the rejected one was carried off into a foreign land.  He who had started the day as a prince now walked away bruised, beaten and a slave.  What does this section speak to you and me?  I see a challenge to our circumstance! Consider how easy it would have been for the hate that fostered in his brothers to now grow in Joseph, he would have every right to scheme revenge on the actions of his brothers and plan their death.  However, we see as the story progresses he does not.  Moreover, he would save them because Joseph was a man of Faith and trusts that God was working. When all else failed around him, he knew he could still Trust Yahweh.  He did not hate his brothers because he knew God was working even when not able to understand it fully. As he was carried away into an unknown Future, he trusted a God he knew and the truth that God was working out something greater.



The last section begin with Ruben returning from others flocks to find a empty pit.  The oldest son who has just lost his birthright returns to find that his brother has gone and with him the plan   Ruben’s plan of salvation.  Interestingly we see that he does care: he assumes that Joseph is dead and tears his clothes in mourning.  He seeks the other brothers and says to them: How can I escape this? His righteousness was short-lived, he does not attempt to rescue his brother and return the silver; instead, he joins in the cover-up as they seek to deceive their earthly father.

They take the robe that they Joseph had received in Love form his father, that they had torn in deep hate and they now use it as a tool of deception.  One more time Jacob the deceiver will receive something of his own medicine.  The brothers who had deceived the Sheckimites now trick their father to cover up their sin. There is also some amount of Irony here as Jacob who had once betrayed his father using a goat and clothing is now deceived by his sons in the same way.  Jacob sins have come full circle.

In response to the news of the apparent death of his favourite son Jacob is overcome by relentless Grief.  He declares that he will mourn his son until his dying day, and rejects the shallow and heartless offer of comfort from his children who would sleep every night knowing the part they had played.

So the chapter closes with a small side note, Joseph has been sold in Egypt to one of Pharaoh’s officials, while an earthly father was being deceived and mourning the apparent loss of his Son a Heavenly Father worked.  Joseph at 17 years old would find himself in one of the most influential houses in the land.  This was not a random accident,  Yahweh was working a bigger plan and picture. Israel’s human saviour was in place. God had planned it all. The awesome God of the Bible and all history was at work. In the darkest of moments, all hope was not lost, They are verses that remind us of the cross.  The moment when all hope seemed to have been lost as the son of God died a gruesome death, yet we know he would rise again.  We know that salvation can only come in this way and that when all hope seems lost there is one hope that stands – Jesus!


What a power passage this is, a passage where we see the mighty hand of God at work in the worst of human acts.  A passage where we see glorious shadows of the Messiah who was to come and a passage where we have someone to model our lives and faith off, even in the darkest of situations.

Firstly, let us be like Joseph, the 17-year-old boy who lived differently to the world around him when it would have been easier to fix it.  A boy who seeks to live to the Glory of God.  Let us be like him and speak the word of God even knowing what it may cost us to our friends and families.

Secondly, Let us see the shadows of Christ in this story and give thanks for the beauty of our saviour who knew no sin and gave his life for us.  Let us see the God who works all things to his purpose, who is at work in the midst of situations where there is no hope and let us Trust that no matter what we are facing God is working.


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