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A. Many people struggle with how God can allow such terrible things to happen in the world and still be a good and loving God. Well, one of the Bible’s stories which has been most helpful to those who come humbly seeking answers to this dilemma is the story of Joseph.
B. Joseph is such a great story! We’ll spend four week on it before we go back to finish James.
C. This is also a long and complicated story. I’m not going to spend a lot of time going over details.
D. Genesis 37:1-36 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. 5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. 9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “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?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. 12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. 29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes 30 and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
A. Genesis 37:1-11
1. You remember the story of Jacob’s wives (Gen.29:31-30:24) who bore him twelve sons and one daughter. He wanted to marry Rachel, but got tricked by her father Laban into marrying her older sister Leah first. But Rachel was the one he really loved.
a. Well, because Leah was unloved, God opened her womb and she bore Jacob his first four sons.
b. Then Rachel was jealous and talked Jacob into taking her maidservant Bilhah as a slavewife, and Bilhah bore Jacob two sons.
c. Well, this upset Leah and she gave her maidservant Zilpah to Jacob, who bore him two more sons.
d. So, that gets us up to 8. Then Leah bore Jacob’s 9th and 10th sons and Dinah, his only daughter.
e. Then, finally, God opened Rachel’s womb and she bore Joseph.
f. Then, years later, when it seemed like all the child-bearing was over, Rachel conceived one more time and bore Benjamin. But this birth was the end of beloved Rachel; for she died in childbirth.
2. What all this led to was a tier system among the sons.
a. The top tier contained Joseph and Benjamin, the two sons of Rachel, the one Jacob loved.
b. Then came the six sons of Leah.
c. And, on the bottom tier were the four sons of Bilhah & Zilpah, Jacob’s slave wives.
3. Benjamin was probably still a toddler when Joseph was seventeen years old, but even Joseph was more like a boy compared to his older brothers who were all full-grown men.
4. Even so, everyone knew that Jacob favored Joseph above the rest. That’s why Jacob gave Joseph some kind of a special coat (we don’t know exactly), which wasn’t just fancy clothes, but probably symbolic of the fact that he was being treated as the firstborn, a position which Reuben had forfeited (Genesis 35:22; 1Chronicles 5:1–2).
a. All this caused quite a bit of consternation among the brothers, and resentment toward Joseph.
b. The sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, on the bottom tier, were the most hardened toward this kid who was treated like a prince by their father. What made it worse was that whenever they said or did something Joseph thought inappropriate, Joseph would tell on them, bringing a bad report about them to their father. As a result, they couldn’t even speak nicely to their brother Joseph.
5. Then Joseph’s two dreams rubbed salt into their wounds.
a. Dreams are the turning points in the story of Joseph, all of them sent by the Lord.
(1) There’s the dreams of Pharaoh’s baker and wine taster which Joseph interprets in prison.
(2) There’s Pharaoh’s dreams about the seven years of plenty and seven years of want
(3) But the first dreams in the story were Joseph’s two dreams:
(a) Sheaf dream, where all of the other brothers’s sheaves bowed down to Joseph – Gen.37:5-8.
(b) Heavenly body dream with the sun, moon & eleven stars bowed down to Joseph – 37:9-11.
b. Now we don’t know Joseph’s attitude in relaying these dreams to his family, but we do know that they deeply offended Joseph’s already jealous brothers.
B. Genesis 37:12–35
1. In Gen.37:12-14 Jacob sends Joseph out with help for brothers who are tending the flocks.
2. But when he finds them, their anger boils over. Father Jacob isn’t around, and some of them want to kill their little brother. The older ones don’t want it to go that far, and so in the end they throw him into a pit and then sell him to a caravan of traveling traders headed to Egypt.
3. Then they put animal blood on Joseph’s coat and bring it to their father claiming to have found it.
4. Jacob, of course, assumes that his son Joseph has been killed by a wild beast, and grieves deeply.
5. In fact, Jacob’s grief over losing Joseph hangs over this story like a dark cloud of gloom - until he realizes that Joseph is alive and well in Egypt.
C. Now in future weeks we’ll read about how Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, and how God prospers him there, and how he suffers there, and how eventually he rescues his family, including the brothers who hated him, and is ultimately reconciled to Jacob & Jacob’s sons.
D. Christians have always seen Joseph as a Christ-figure, who leaves the comfort and glory at his father’s right hand, but in the end saving the very ones at whose hands he unjustly suffered and is exalted to a high place.
1. So, at many points in these four weeks, we’ll be referring to the Christ-connections of this story.
E. Let’s start there today.
1. At the beginning of this story Joseph has an exalted position:
a. Most loved by his father, destined to rule over his 10 older brothers
b. He lives very much at his father’s right hand.
2. But then comes his humiliation.
a. Joseph comes seeking the welfare of his brothers, but they are planning his demise. Like Jesus he sought brothers but found murderers instead.
b. John 1:11 “He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him.”
c. Deaf to his desperate cries for mercy, even enjoying a nice meal together while he languishes in the pit.
d. This is worse than murder. Hatred which breaks out in murder is bad enough. But this is hatred which also has an eye to business, to make a profit out of one’s brother. Instead of raging passion, it’s cold-blooded calculation and selfish advantage.
(1) It’s one thing if a person bursts out toward his brother and murders him. It’s another thing for him to sell him to human traffickers. And that’s more like what these brothers did to Joseph, just like Judas did to Jesus.
e. Jesus, the new and greater Joseph, was also sold to their enemies by the sons of Israel on account of jealousy, and by Judah/Judas in particular.
f. Rejected by his brothers, unjustly punished as if he had done great evil, he became a prisoner.
3. But amazingly he ended up saving them and forgiving them in the end. And he was exalted as their hero, even as they were humiliated for what they had done to him.
a. The humiliated exalted, the exalted humiliated. “Every valley shall be exalted, every hill made low.” “The first shall be last, and the last first.”
b. He was, in a sense, “the stone that the builders rejected” which became “the cornerstone.” Ps.118:22 – like Jesus.
c. Had he not been exalted in his dreams, he would not have suffered as a slave and a prisoner. If he had not suffered as a slave/prisoner, he would not have been exalted in Egypt or as Israel’s savior.
A. The first thing to mention is what this story says about the authenticity of Scripture.
1. OT people of God founded upon the patriarchs, and in particular the twelve sons of Jacob, who became the twelve tribes of Israel.
2. NT people of God founded upon the twelve disciples.
3. Yet, the story of both of these groups is quite sordid. Here we see the ugly underbelly of the OT 12, and the story of the disciples in the gospels isn’t a whole lot better.
4. Why would this be written and included in Scripture if they were just fictional stories to justify the origins of these groups?
5. The Bible doesn’t hide the flaws of its characters. It speaks the truth – even to a shocking extent.
B. But the greatest lesson of the story of Joseph is how God rules over the lives of His beloved, how God’s power is greater than human sin, and how God even uses human sin to accomplish His good and wise purposes.
1. This life is not a do-good and get-good-in-return life. Sometimes it seems closer to “No good deed goes unpunished.”
2. His brothers didn’t know what a treasure Joseph was. They treated Joseph like he was dung – worse than trash.
3. The Ishmaelite traders didn’t know what a treasure they had in their possession! He was just like a pot to sell in Egypt to make some money.
4. And it didn’t get much better in Egypt.
5. But Joseph was God’s treasure. And through it all, He handled Joseph with perfect care, making sure not one hair on his head was harmed.
6. God certainly allowed Joseph to suffer. And not just minor pain – intense and repeated.
7. But his suffering was needed: not just for others, but for himself – and for us!
8. And his suffering was not the end of the story, was it? The story ends with his exaltation, which couldn’t have happened apart from his suffering. What an amazing God!
9. Jesus never did anything wrong, and He was the most persecuted of all. And we walk on His path.
10. The righteous get persecuted. The righteous suffer pain, sometimes deep, profound pain.
11. But they are God’s treasures, and He never forsakes them.
12. And this life is also not the end of the story.
13. God is hardly even mentioned in this story. In fact, it seems like the things which happen are about as far away from God as possible. But in the end we find out that God was very much in it, even using evil acts done with evil intentions for His own wise and glorious purposes.
14. The story is about the darkness of human sin, but even more it is about how God’s sovereign grace is greater than the darkest evil.
15. God works even through people with the vilest intentions to accomplish His redemptive purposes.
a. Acts 4:27–28 “Truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Also, Acts 2:23.
16. What an amazing God who can turn violence and malice and tragedy into triumph and redemption!
17. There is much irony in God’s ways. Here human hatred is ultimately used to bring salvation to the haters, just like was true with the cross. God uses sin to work against sin, and evil against evil.
a. God sometimes sends deliverance in the form of unscrupulous slavers. That’s irony!
18. In fact, the ugliness of the first part of the story makes the beauty of the end of the story even more vivid.
19. You see, God is not limited by human sin and imperfection. God is not limited by human incompetence or by human greed or by human apathy or by human corruption. Even in their rebellion and sin, men fulfill God’s designs.
20. So God can be trusted in the face of calamity, in the face of persecution, in the face of loss, in the face of failure, in the face of temptation, in the face of danger, in the face of aloneness, in the face of financial lack.
21. We look out on a gloomy world and we think, “How can I be happy in such a world?”
22. Well, read the story of Joseph! You can be happy because in the midst of all the ugliness, you can know that you are much loved by the One who rules all things, and that the very things which look bleak and daunting are His tools for good in our lives.
23. In many ways this is an unpleasant story of jealousy and hatred. And yet, over the churning unrest, God’s rainbow of peace shines. The very sins and crimes done to Joseph were the very path to the fulfillment of God’s purposes.
24. And so it can be for us. Is there a rainbow of peace that shines over the tumult and trouble of your world? If you belong to Christ, the rainbow is there, though you may not see it.
C. This is true about our lives; this is also true about Christ’s church.
1. In the story of Joseph, the hope of the world lay in a dysfunctional family. Many times it’s not that far from the situation today in the church.
a. It’s impure. It’s torn by schisms. It’s fraught with fraud. It’s tormented by false teaching.
2. So many see dysfunctionality in the church and just leave. But the church is where Jesus lives. It’s His house, His family.
a. In the midst of all the dysfunctionality, the church is still the bride of Christ.
b. I don’t mean every church. And I don’t mean every person in church.
c. But Christ is still building His church. And the gates of hell won’t prevail against it (Matt.16:18).
3. The fact is, this is us! We are the church! We are the dysfunctional family which God loves and works with and even sees fit to use for the glory of His name!
4. People who give up on the church can see how it’s dysfunctional, but they often can’t see how they themselves are dysfunctional objects of God’s mercy – just like the rest of us!