Beloved Son, Hated Brother
Topic: Sovereignty of God Passage: Genesis 37:1–37:36
“BELOVED SON, HATED BROTHER”
1 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 the 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 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.
Back in the late-60s and early-70s, a number of rock-operas based on biblical narratives became all the rage. Perhaps you are old enough to remember—if not the original release, then the subsequent revival in latter years—of musicals entitled “Godspell,” “Jesus Christ Superstar,” and the one that started them all, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.”
Due to the success of those musicals, many who made no claim to being “Christian” and had little-to-no-knowledge of the Bible whatsoever soon became familiar with some of stories told in Scripture. At the time, I naively thought that had to be a good thing...and perhaps in one respect it was. But as I later learned, a little biblical knowledge can be more harmful than good. That is particularly true if one does not get the story-line correctly.
Let me explain what I mean by using “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” as an example. The account of Joseph is one of the most well-known stories of all time. It is the tale of a hero who overcomes all the odds, surviving childhood and the dangers of early adulthood to become a great man of his time. It has all the elements of a gripping story—conflict, envy, murderous intentions, sexual temptation, desperate circumstances, improbable coincidences, and even supernatural interventions. Who wouldn’t love a story like that? And what better medium to tell it than through music and drama?
But if we think of the story of Joseph only in those terms, we will miss its real significance. That is because it is actually a part of a much larger narrative, one that speaks of God’s dealings with humanity. In short, it is a picture of Divine sovereignty. Even in places where the name of God is not mentioned and His presence not seen, He is nonetheless active in every scene that unfolds. Joseph was a man who went through life trusting God when God was both unseen and apparently silent.
The story of this one man story covers the final one-fourth of the book of Genesis...chapters 37 through 50. This is the portion of God’s Word where you and I will be camping for the several weeks. As we do, I believe we will see with great clarity that we all live our lives under the authority of God’s Word...whether we are aware of it or not.
As we begin our journey, please look again at the familiar passage that was read and reviewed for you a few moments ago...the 37th chapter of Genesis. There are five major movements or “scenes” found in this opening chapter of Joseph’s story. I would like for us to walk through them together and try to get a handle on what the Lord may be doing in the life of this young man...and, by extension, what He may be doing in our lives as well.
This entire passage is one characterized by dysfunction and deception among the members of a family with which God had covenanted to grant blessing to “all the families (or ‘people groups’) of the earth.” It was a promise first made to Abram (cf. Genesis 12:1-3), then to his son Isaac (cf. Genesis 26:3-5), and then to his son Jacob, whose name was later changed to “Israel” (cf. Genesis 28:14-15). Dishonesty and disunity had characterized this family for generations: first, Isaac with Ishmael...then, Jacob with Esau...and now, as we are about to see, with Joseph and his brothers. As we shall come to understand, it is God—not Joseph—who is the “real hero” of the story. This is, therefore, not a tale of human success, but of Divine sovereignty.
The account of Joseph begins in verses 1 through 11, where we are exposed to...
The dysfunction of Joseph’s family (Genesis 37:1-11).
When we are introduced to him, Joseph is just seventeen years old and working alongside his brothers as a shepherd. Right away we are informed that his father “loved (him)...more than any other of his sons.” You will recall that Jacob had fathered twelve sons from his four wives, which would have created a perfect breeding ground for family disharmony. From the very beginning, Rachel had been and had remained Jacob’s “first love,” but she had been unable to conceive and bear him an heir. In time, however, the Lord removed her barrenness and blessed her and Jacob with a son...and then another. The first of these they named Joseph. But he did not arrive until ten other sons had already been born to his three other wives.
Given his love for Rachel, it may have been only natural that Jacob would have favored Joseph above his brothers. But his favoritism toward this “son of his old age” became deliberately blatant when “he made for him a robe of many colors.” It was an act that further aggravated an already fragile relationship between Joseph and his brothers. To put it bluntly—as Scripture does—“they hated him” and had no kind words for him. And while the text doesn’t say it quite yet, this “hatred” doubtless ispilled over to their father as well.
Parenthetically, this “technicolor” coat may not have been what it is so often portrayed to be. The meaning of the Hebrew term (“kethoneth”) is uncertain. The only other place where we find a comparable use of the word is in 2 Samuel 13:18, where “the virgin daughters of the king (were) dressed” in a similarly described garment. The Jewish Study Bible has chosen to translate it as an “ornamental tunic.” It was probably a long robe with decorative embroidery. What it looked like, however, was not as important as what it represented: family privilege and authority. In other words, favoritism.
In the course of time, Joseph had two dreams, the content of which he unwisely shared with his brothers, and at least one of them with his father. In both dreams—one of a heavenly and the other of a earthly nature—the brothers were depicted as “bowing” before him. In response, twice it is said that “they hated him even more” and “were jealous of him.” After the second dream, even “his father rebuked him,” and the scene closes by telling us that Jacob “kept the saying in mind,” no doubt wondering what it all meant.
We cannot be certain how much time may have elapsed before the “second scene” opens. Joseph is by now a few years older. Whereas in verse 2 Joseph was seen “pasturing the flock with his brothers,” he is not with them in verse 12. It seems that their absence from the family home was beginning to trouble Jacob, so he dispatched his favored son to go and search for them and to check on their well-being. In verses 12 through 17 we read of...
The discovery of Joseph’s brothers (Genesis 37:12-17).
Jacob was well aware of the animosity the older brothers had toward Joseph, so it is a little curious why he would have sent him so far away from home—apparently by himself—on such a dangerous assignment. When one steps back for a moment, however, isn’t this precisely what God the Father would do centuries later with His beloved Son? And in just the manner that the Greater Son would one day respond, Joseph agreed to go willingly.
Pasture lands were spread out over many miles in that time, and often shepherds—particularly those with exceptionally large flocks—were known to travel many miles to find adequate space. What’s more, weather conditions at different times of the year necessitated moving their flocks from location to location.
When Joseph arrived in Shechem, the brothers were not there. For whatever reason, a man he came upon told him, they had moved on to Dothan, about a day’s journey away. The curtain falls on “Scene Two” in verse 17, where we are told, “So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.”
However much time had expired, it was not enough for the “hatred” and “jealousy” of the brothers to have been overcome. The truth is that such harmful attitudes seldom improve over time apart from truly repentant hearts and sincere attempts at reconciliation. We find none of that here. Instead, in verses 18 through 24, we are made privy to...
The design for Joseph’s demise (Genesis 37:18-24).
Verse 18 is chilling. Rather than any warm family reunion, the test says that the brothers “saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired to kill him.” “To kill him!” “Hatred” inevitably leads to murder! The legal term for murdering a brother is “fratricide.” And the Scriptures say that “Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him” (1 John 3:15). Shades of Cain and Abel (cf. Genesis 4:8)!
In terms of our relationships with others, this is one of those verses we may prefer to avoid and pass by too quickly. As respectable Christians we may never say we ‘hate’ another person. We just want them to go away...and stay away. Really, saints?
It was that attitude that Joseph’s brothers had toward him. So when they saw him coming, they began plotting to do away with him. “They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits.” Hurriedly they concocted an explanation for the dastardly deed that was already simmering in their depraved minds: “We will say that a fierce animal has devoured him.”
But then one of them—Reuben, who may not have been immediately aware of his siblings’ sinister plot—spoke up and said, “Let us not take his life.” This was the same Reuben who had the most to lose by letting his youngest brother live. Being the firstborn, it was Reuben who should have been preeminent among the brothers. Just two chapters earlier, we learn that this oldest son had fallen out of family-favor because he committed incest with his father’s concubine (cf. Genesis 35:22). But now we find him coming to Joseph’s aid. Seemingly out of nowhere, this sudden flash of morality or pang of conscience seems totally unexpected.
A careful reading reveals that Reuben was not making a moral appeal to his brothers. Instead, he sought to carry out his own plan by going behind their backs. He suggested that they “throw him into...(a) pit,” hoping to “hide” their little brother, and then come back later “that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.” Perhaps the guilt of slaying a brother was too much for even their hardened hearts, so the brothers appear to hastily agree with Reuben’s plan to “throw him into...(the) pit.” Either way, they would rid themselves of Joseph. And perhaps in some sick way, by not directly shedding his blood their guilt-feelings would be more easily assuaged.
In a matter of time, Joseph arrives on the scene. But before he can open his mouth and share greetings from their father, he is taken by force, “stripped...of his robe”—the very robe Jacob had made for his beloved son, the sight of which caused the smoldering embers of “hatred” and “jealousy” to once again become enflamed with rage—and they cast him into a pit in the middle of nowhere.
Perhaps you have been in the bottom of your own pit recently. Verse 22 tells us that the pit in which Joseph was cast was “in the wilderness.” It is a place where none of us ever wants ever to be. And yet often within the biblical narrative it is “the wilderness” that is found to be the place of God’s providential protection and the place where God’s sovereign plan begins to be unveiled.
The brothers—except for Reuben at this point—had given Joseph over to death. And now as the curtain drops on “Scene Three,” we see Joseph languishing at the bottom of a deep hole in the ground. No doubt he knew his brothers hated him, but never would he have suspected that their abhorrence of him would have gone this far.
Meanwhile, as “Scene Four” opens, our disdain for the brothers is further intensified as we see them sitting down “to eat” a meal while discussing...
The determination of Joseph’s worth (Genesis 37:25-30).
Can you imagine digesting a meal properly while the cries of a family member ring in your ears from a nearby pit ring in your ears in which you had helped place him? Specifically how Reuben planned to “rescue” Joseph we are not told. Perhaps he would volunteer to stand watch while his brothers slept that night, and then slip over to the pit with a long rope and pull him out. Whatever he was thinking, we will never know, for as they were eating we read in verse 25, “And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites (later referred to as “Midianites”) coming from Gilead” on their way to Egypt with merchandise to sell.
Suddenly, it is Judah who comes up with an alternative plan this time. If it was not necessary to murder their brother by cold blood, but maybe—just maybe—they could still rid themselves of him and make a few bucks in the process. Judah’s scheme is spelled out in verses 26 and 27: “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” His words drip with feigned compassion!
The greedy brothers agree and, as the caravan approached, Joseph was drawn up from the pit. I’m sure that there must have been some bargaining and negotiating before the two parties settled on a price of “twenty shekels of silver,” the price of a young slave of inferior quality. The value has been estimated to be about $200 by today’s standard...a mere pittance for the life of a brother.
How reminiscent of the diabolical act of Judas when he bargained to betray Jesus to His enemies (cf. Matthew 26:14-16). Although that disciple was not the one who directly drove the nails into the hands and feet of our Lord, would anyone deny that he was any less culpable?
Joseph is taken to Egypt, where the rest of his story—covering the remainder of Genesis—will play out. At this point in the narrative, the brothers believed themselves to have seen the last of the brother for whom they harbored so much “hatred” and envy.
But how would they explain what had happened? That is always the dilemma of those who would plot and scheme. Did any one of them actually think that they might not be the next “victim” of the diabolical group of which they were a part? After all, commit one crime and the next one is easy...especially when “jealousy” and “hatred” are the motives? Here in the chapter’s final scene, we witness...
The deceiving of Joseph’s father (Genesis 37:31-36).
Remember Reuben? Apparently he had been far enough away at the time the transaction with the “Midianites” had taken place. Perhaps he had earlier dismissed himself from his brothers and was already drawing up the blueprint for rescuing Joseph from the pit. Arriving at the place and finding the pit now empty, “he tore his clothes” in an expression of intense grief. Quickly he “returned to his brothers,” and with a panic-stricken tone, blurted out, “The boy is gone; and I, where shall I go?”
As the oldest brother, the responsibility for the safety of them all rested with him. How would he ever be able to face his father again? As verses 31 and 32 reveal, he had grossly underestimated the level of his brothers’ deviousness. We read, “Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 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.”
The road marked “deception” is a long and winding one, and it always ends up as a “dead-end” street. To leave their father wondering whatever might have become of the son he loved so much is an unimaginable act of cruelty that exposes the degree of “hatred” they harbored for him as well. When Jacob realized that the blood-stained robe that he now held in his hands was indeed the very one that he had made for Joseph, he entered a state of mourning that was inconsolable. As we picture this scene, we cannot help but find ourselves grieving with him.
But before we close out this initial episode in what will grow into the later life of Joseph, there is an underlying irony of which Jacob is not yet aware. You may recall that there was an occasion when Jacob himself played the role of the deceiver. That was the day when he wore “the skins of young goats” (cf. Genesis 27:16) in order to assume his brother’s identity and deceive his father. In so doing, he stole the family blessing from his brother Esau. And now years later, Jacob is the one who is being deceived...remarkably through the slaughter of a goat.
This chapter ends on a further troubling note. The night will get darker before the light breaks through. By the yet unseen and yet sovereign hand of God, Joseph is transported to Egypt where the members of the caravan cash in on their meager investment by selling him “to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.”
Unbeknownst to any of the characters in this story, the hand of providence is just beginning to turn in this young man’s life. And the life of his family—and in time, the life of the entire nation—will be seen to have been a part of God’s grand plan to bring blessing to “all the families of the earth.”
In our walk through this chapter, I wonder how many parallels you were able to note from Joseph’s experience with the life of our Lord Jesus Christ. That is not coincidental, for you see Joseph is a “type” of Christ. Throughout the Old Testament there are many persons, places, and events that not only foreshadow the life and ministry of Jesus, but at times “fill in the gaps” and supply information about our Redeemer that the New Testament doesn’t spell out in precise terms.
Not every aspect of a biblical “type” is meant to bear a direct correlation in every respect to its antitype. We must, therefore, be on firm scriptural footing before risking going beyond its intended application. Here in chapter 37, we can clearly see that Joseph and Christ are alike in the following ways:
- in their father’s affection. Both were the dearly beloved of his father,
- in their father’s commission. Both were sent by the father to find their brothers, and
- in their brother’s evaluation. Both were rejected and sold for the price of a slave.
More often than not, envy and jealousy become the expressions of “hatred.” Though he was not perfect and at times acted with immaturity and lack of discernment, Joseph possessed character qualities that were superior to those his brothers. In a far greater way, the Lord Jesus wore a standard of righteousness that exposed the sin of those among whom He walked. In each case, the only way to eliminate the comparison was to do away with the man.
But as we shall further see in coming weeks, God’s hand remains on all the affairs of His universe. God planned the life of Joseph...just as He planned the life of His Son. Even so, He has planned the circumstances your life, as well. You see, the life of Joseph illustrates the sinfulness of man and the sovereign grace of God.
Practically, what this says to each of us is that all the circumstances in our lives—from the most mundane daily routines to the most euphoric, from the most tragic and difficult times to the most joyful, all of them—are ordered by the sovereign God with whom there is no chance or random occurrence.
If there are any people who should know the truth and consistently model that truth, it is those who have turned from sin and entrusted themselves to the grace of God through the redemptive blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. In other words, the Church for which He died. I recently read the following reminder from a dusty volume that I pulled from my bookshelf: “Forgiven sinners standing together at the cross cannot be at enmity with each other.”
We have all—every last one of us—been stained and soiled by our sin, and are in constant need of the cleansing power of Christ’s blood. No one of us is more righteous than any other. The only hope for any of us is found in Jesus Christ.
Given our diversity of backgrounds and circumstances, we will not always find harmony on every issue with every other believer. And yet, in the local church, we have agreed to covenant together for a cause greater than our own thoughts and opinions. As a friend of mine recently said, “Divisiveness in church is lying about God.”
That is why the Lord’s Supper is sometimes called “communion.” It represents a “coming together” on common ground...that common ground upon which stands an “old rugged cross.” It is the practice of our church, before we come to the Table, to recommit ourselves to one another and our mission to make disciples by making him known by reading our church covenant together.
As follow-members of this local body, I ask that you consider what you are pledging to one another in the sight of our sovereign and all-seeing God. Jesus cautioned us, saying, “If you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” (Matthew 5:23-24).
I invite the members of Temple Hills Baptist Church to now stand and read our covenant pledges that we make to one another.
More in The Life of Joseph: Lessons in Sovereignty
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