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Genesis 37

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Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.

2 This is the account of Jacob’s family line.

Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

3 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 an ornate robe for him. 4 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.

5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 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.”

8 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.

9 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.”

10 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 and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Joseph Sold by His Brothers

12 Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 and Israel 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.

14 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, 15 a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”

17 “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. 18 But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. 20 “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—24 and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.

25 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.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 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.

28 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.

29 When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”

31 Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”

33 He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”

34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites r sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

S: How could Joseph’s brother’s be so twisted that they would resort to all sorts of evil DRAFT

C: Joseph’s brother’s were twisted by hatred from favoritism, twisted by lust for power and twisted by unrepented sin and shame over their history of evil… DRAFT


Introduction: <slide 1>

Sometimes subtle differences of perspective can lead to radically different takes on life. Take for instance the phrase, “Mary had a little lamb.” You might immediately think that I was talking about a nursery rhyme about a young lady and her ewe with a fleece as white as snow. But it could depend on who you asked. If you were in a hospital delivery ward you may be told that Mary was not taking visitors at the moment while she adjusts to having a new ‘wee lamb’, but if you went back a couple thousand years we might be talking about Mary who had given birth to Jesus Christ, our Lord. Wow! …Then again, Mary might be the lady at table 5 who just asked for the check. Perspective makes a huge difference. People make crucial decisions over what at first seems to be merely a matter of perspective.

<Slide 2>

I) Man’s perspective:

From our vantage point. From man’s perspective, this is a rough story to hear. How could we continue to hear about such a broken family and say with any candidness that they are people for us to emulate? They are more like an anti-type for us. We could do a whole sermon series on how not to be like the Patriarchs of Israel. Consider this for a moment…

What do we know:

Jacob favored Rachel over his other wives and, from vs3, apparently favors her children in the same way. Joseph and Benjamin, both called the ‘sons of his old age’, may have been for Jacob the vindication for all of the disparate romantic sentiments he had toward Rachel. If you could imagine the dynamic of a couple who reluctantly adopts out of despair, when they are suddenly surprised with natural children. The potential is there for favoritism, for neglect, for sorrow. This caused all sorts of strife in Jacob’s family. If we could look at causes for all of the chaos that followed Jacob, this favoritism would certainly be one of them.

Joseph felt a greater affection toward his father than toward his brothers. Sent out to shepherd the flocks as a young man, he recognized when they weren’t following the guidance set out by their father. Joseph reported that they were ‘up to no good’. Not just a ‘bad’ report, but a report about the evil deeds of his brother.

What are we unsure about?

Here’s one thing… Why Dothan? I did a load of research on this area and couldn’t find out why Jacob’s sons would go to a place like this, other than it was just a good choice of land for grazing flocks. Here is what I learned about Dothan—

<Slide 3>

From the IVP Bible Background Commentary it is "Located at Tell Dothan, this is an imposing site covering twenty-five acres. It is situated fourteen miles north of Shechem, on the main route used by merchants and herdsmen going north to the Jezreel Valley. It developed into a major city site in the Early Bronze Age (3200–2400 b.c.) and would have served as a natural landmark for travelers. The area around the city provided choice pasture land, thus explaining the presence of Joseph’s brothers."

From Easton’s Bible Dictionary we learn that it means"—“two wells”, a famous pasture-ground where Joseph found his brethren watching their flocks. Here, at the suggestion of Judah, they sold him to the Ishmaelite merchants (Gen. 37:17). It is mentioned on monuments in 1600.

It was the residence of Elisha (2 Kings 6:13), and the scene of a remarkable vision of chariots and horses of fire surrounding the mountain on which the city stood. It is identified with the modern Tell-Dothan, on the south side of the plain of Jezreel, about 12 miles north of Samaria, among the hills of Gilboa. The “two wells” are still in existence, one of which bears the name of the “pit of Joseph” (Jubb Yusuf)."

I kept racking my brain to understand 'why this place?' and what significance it might have. But that’s all I could find. It didn’t occur to me that the significance of this place was not that it had good pasture lands. It is significant to our understanding of this passage for two reasons. First, Jacob does not own this land, nor the wells near it. We learned earlier in Genesis 35 that people feared these men, and perhaps they were imposing themselves on the people who had a legitimate right to tend their flocks here. Maybe this was one of the evils that Joseph was reporting to their father, we don’t really know. The second important thing we can learn about Dothan, is more about what it is not. If Dothan was not Jacob’s land, then Shechem was… Were Joseph went first… The importance of Dothan is that it is not Shechem! Jacob’s brothers could not stand to be in the presence of their own sin, the town were they had murdered every man and sold every woman and child into slavery, the town where they had robbed the possessions of their hosts. They could not stand to stay in this place, mere footsteps away from their own evil history. Christ told us something about this kind of heart when he said, John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20 For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21 But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” Jacob’s sons could not stand to be in the light, confronted by their own evil, so the slinked into the shadows.

<Slide 4>

What do we presume?

We often accuse Joseph of being the naïve son, who couldn’t keep his mouth closed, or wasn’t sensible enough to give his own brothers some space. I’ve seen it in sermon after sermon, but I’d like to give you a simple comparison… Saying that is akin to saying that a child is responsible for their own neglect or scorn when they can’t perform to the expectations of their parents; it’s akin to saying that a woman is at least partly at fault for sexual assault or even simply the lustful thoughts of another because she dresses a certain way… It would be like me blaming my wife or kids for irritating me when I’m trying to concentrate on something else ‘more important’. We need to call a condition a ‘condition’ These are not causes, we need to let Jacob’s sons take responsibility for their own evil; that is the cause. You see, we are not good! Man, because of a sinful nature, is evil. We are bound to evil in every way possible. We are not as evil as we could possibly be, no, but we need to challenge this notion that mankind is basically good. No other religion in the world can fully deal or face the reality of evil, because none of them recognize that we are essentially evil! We are in a desperately lost condition, trapped in a pit like Jospeh’s, and without hope of escape. Like our sinful condition, Joseph’s conditions seems hopeless.

You may have heard the saying:

“The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”

—EDMUND BURKE, attributed

Friends, this is true, but more true than we realize… because in Joseph’s world, in our world… innately good men don’t exist. “ –Romans 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Joseph was a prophet to the men, representing the will of his father, and because of that they despised him and rejected him and discarded him into a pit…

II) God’s Perspective:

This is why we need to take our eyes out of the pit of man’s perspective. In at least two senses I think we can gain a greater appreciation for God’s perspective on this Narrative.

Christ said, ‘why do you call me good? No one is good but God’ We can learn how the good God uses our circumstances, even when others mean evil, to accomplish what is Good. This is an incredibly tragic story of strife and division between brothers who should be united under the headship of their dad. But favoritism combined with their own histories of evil had culminated in not only their willingness to kill their hosts, like in Shechem, but even to kill their own kin. Perhaps trying to gain favor with Jacob again, Reuben tries to stop the madness, but it already appears that the brothers in charge are Levi and Simeon, who led their brothers to attack Shechem. Judah wisens up a bit as though, when he shows some of his God-given leadership to sway his brothers further from their evil course. It says, ‘they listened to him’. This is no mistake, Judah doesn’t suggest this… he commands it! This is a hint for us that there is more at work than the evil intentions of the sons of Jacob. The kingly blessing of the promise had passed over Reuben for his incest, over Levi and Simeon for their shamless murdering of innocents and now squarely rests with Judah.

We read a further hint about the higher directions of God from the narrative when the other decendents of Abraham, Midian and Ishamel, arrive. They were people who had learned to make their fortunes in the shipping and handling business; Ishamael’s mother was Egyptian. The narrative closes, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.”

Roman’s 8:28-30 reads: 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. 30 And those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.

Little did they know that God was orchestrating their salvation and the fulfillment of His promise to them and their fathers through even these acts of evil.

In another sense, we gain a deeper understanding of God’s perspective when we look at the similarities of this story to the story of our Savior, Jesus Christ. Like a prophet, even though he is fully God, Christ came, born as a man, with a message for us. Like Jacob’s sons we, the whole human race, rejected him and crucified him on a cross, and put him into a dark pit… But so much like our God, he had a different perspective on this than we did. The Gospel of John describes Christ not as being taken to the cross, but as intending to go there. We put him there?! Yes, but he went there of his own will. We drove in those nails, as a race rejecting him, yes. But God poured out His wrath there for us. We sent him to that pit of a grave, yes, but ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this, that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.’ All along, he was in control, and along we didn’t know it… until he got up from that grave.

Illustration: Corrie Ten Boom and forgiveness (Invite the worship team to come forward)

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him—a balding, heavyset man in a gray overcoat, a brown felt hat clutched between his hands. People were filing out of the basement room where I had just spoken, moving along the rows of wooden chairs to the door at the rear. It was 1947 and I had come from Holland to defeated Germany with the message that God forgives.

“It was the truth they needed most to hear in that bitter, bombed-out land, and I gave them my favorite mental picture. Maybe because the sea is never far from a Hollander’s mind, I liked to think that that’s where forgiven sins were thrown. ‘When we confess our sins,’ I said, ‘God casts them into the deepest ocean, gone forever. …’

“The solemn faces stared back at me, not quite daring to believe. There were never questions after a talk in Germany in 1947. People stood up in silence, in silence collected their wraps, in silence left the room.

“And that’s when I saw him, working his way forward against the others. One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights; the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor; the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin. Betsie, how thin you were!

[Betsie and I had been arrested for concealing Jews in our home during the Nazi occupation of Holland; this man had been a guard at Ravensbruck concentration camp where we were sent.]

“Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, Fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

“And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course—how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

“But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. I was face-to-face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

“ ‘You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk,’ he was saying, ‘I was a guard there.’ No, he did not remember me.

“ ‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein,’ again the hand came out—’will you forgive me?’

“And I stood there—I whose sins had again and again to be forgiven—and could not forgive. Betsie had died in that place—could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

“It could not have been many seconds that he stood there—hand held out—but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

“For I had to do it—I knew that.

“I knew it not only as a commandment of God, but as a daily experience. Since the end of the war I had had a home in Holland for victims of Nazi brutality. Those who were able to forgive their former enemies were able also to return to the outside world and rebuild their lives, no matter what the physical scars. Those who nursed their bitterness remained invalids. It was as simple and as horrible as that.

“And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion—I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. ‘… Help!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’

“And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“ ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

“For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former guard and the former prisoner. I had never known God’s love so intensely, as I did then”

Applications: Jacob’s sons were ill content with their circumstances and driven to evil because of it. How does this apply to us today?

Marriage and greener pastures…

Work and Fairer Weather Work

School and Freedom

Kids and Getting Out on Your Own

Parents and Worry (If only they were older and more independent…)

In a moment we are going to gather in the fellowship hall to hear about God’s perspective. Tonight, <Name> and <Name> have asked us to join them to celebrate their decision to be baptized. So I’d like to ask everyone to move over to the fellowship hall after this last song of worship. We’ll have a great time of fellowship to follow as well. A very fitting way for us to remember the significance of Christ’s perspective in our redemption. Celebration <Let us pray>

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