Relationships – Joseph and his Brothers

And Jacob did so. He finished the week with Leah, and then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel to be his wife. Laban gave his servant Bilhah to his daughter Rachel as her attendant. Jacob made love to Rachel also, and his love for Rachel was greater than his love for Leah. And he worked for Laban another seven years.
When the Lord saw that Leah was not loved, he enabled her to conceive, but Rachel remained childless. Leah became pregnant and gave birth to a son. She named him Reuben, for she said, “It is because the Lord has seen my misery. Surely my husband will love me now.”

  • Genesis 29:28-32

Then God remembered Rachel; he listened to her and enabled her to conceive. She became pregnant and gave birth to a son and said, “God has taken away my disgrace.”  She named him Joseph, and said, “May the Lord add to me another son.”

  • Genesis 30:22-24

Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
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.
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. 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.
Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 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.”
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.
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.”
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?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 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.
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, a man found him wandering around in the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?”
He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are grazing their flocks?”
“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. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “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.”
When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “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.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing—and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
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.
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 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.
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.
When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”
Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 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.”
He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”
Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. 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.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

  • Genesis 37:1-36

Links are here provided for Genesis 42, Genesis 43, and Genesis 44.

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping. But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt. Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay. You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have. I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’

  • Genesis 45:1-11

A Quote

[Genesis 45:4-5] ” ’The Lord does what is right’ (Psalm 11:7). God never gives up.
“When Joseph was dropped into a pit by his own brothers, God didn’t give up. When Moses said, ‘Here I am, send Aaron,’ God didn’t give up. When the delivered Israelites wanted Egyptian slavery instead of milk and honey, God didn’t give up. When Peter worshiped him at the supper and cursed him at the fire, he didn’t give up.
“And when human hands fastened the divine hands to a cross with spikes, it wasn’t the soldiers who held the hands of Jesus steady.  It was God who held them steady God, who would give up his only Son before he’d give up on you.”

  • Max Lucado, Six Hours One Friday

What Do We Know about their Relationship?

Rachel was loved and Leah not so much.  The favoritism spread to the sons of the wives.  Joseph, as the scripture says, arrived when Jacob was much older, but Rachel being his favorite had a lot to do with Joseph being his favorite.  In Genesis 33, not quoted above (in last week’s lesson), Israel (with his name change hours old) placed the concubines and their sons in front of his advance, then Leah and her sons.  Joseph and Rachel were behind the others.  If Esau was after blood, having wanted to kill Jacob when Jacob left, his anger might subside by the time he got to Joseph.  The other brothers saw this.

Then the bad reports by Joseph to his father added to the hatred that was brewing due to clear signs of favoritism, but wait, the hated little brother has dreams that even have his father bowing down to him, ramping up the hatred.  To borrow the title from the musical, the “Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” was the straw that broke the camel’s back.  Sure, Jacob’s older sons were cheating customers and cheating Jacob, but don’t shower the tattletale with gifts.

In the plot to rid themselves of the spy in their midst, only two of the brothers have even a short moment of clarity of mind.  Reuben says to place Joseph in the pit (cistern) with the intent that once the anger subsides, he will retrieve Joseph and send him back to his father, but Reuben is not around at the crucial moment.

Judah was the other who thought clearly, but his motive may have been mixed, thus we will discuss his actions in the next section.

Joseph, as Pharoah’s chief minister, had forgiven his brothers, understanding God’s plan that had unfolded.

What Can We Infer about their Relationship?

Getting to Judah’s motive.  Was he also thinking of preserving Joseph’s life from his bloodthirsty brothers, or did he see the opportunity to make quick money while eliminating the spy?

I have mixed feelings over Simeon being left in prison after the first trip to Egypt.  He was the second born son of Israel, but since Reuben was gone when the traders came by, was Simeon in prison for being the oldest of the group that sold Joseph?  Or did he actively take part in the negotiations to sell Joseph?  Or was there yet other reasons to choose Simeon, not related to the selling of Joseph?

In What Ways Can We Fill in the Gaps about their Relationship?

The forgiveness of his brothers is something that could be inferred easily, but when.  Was it easy to forgive them on the caravan ride to Egypt or did Joseph not resolve to forgive his brothers until he saw them walk in, begging for food for their families?  Sometimes seeing someone that always had the upper hand on you in dire straits can melt away a hundred grudges.  Did Joseph, at the moment of seeing his brothers bow down to him, remember the dreams that his brothers had ridiculed?

What Can We Learn from this Relationship?

Administrative note:  I could have placed the relationship between Laban and Jacob here, but there was so much cheating and back-stabbing by both parties that it would come down to a lesson on what not to do.

I want to focus on the assignment to Joseph to spy on his brothers.  That is a no-win situation.  His brothers hate him for doing it.  If he did not do it, Joseph would disappoint dear old Dad.

I once had a superintendent that called me into his office.  Before he approved my expense report, he wanted to know where the bar tab was hidden.  The company refused to pay for the bar tab, and he, as a superintendent had seen all the tricks, ever since he had been in my position, hiding the bar tab.  I simply stated that I did not drink.  He laughed.  He had never thought of that.  Everyone hid the bar tab in his mindset.  After having a thirty-minute heart-to-heart, which most of the department never got with the superintendent, he looked me in the eye and told me that my boss was a wonderful dreamer and a “nice guy,” but he was as loose with governmental rules as the worst crook in the county jail.  The superintendent assigned me the job of keeping my boss out of jail.  The assignment was impossible to win.  If I failed to do what he asked, he would fire me.  If I did what he had told me, my boss would fire me.  My boss did not “fire” me, but he removed me from a key project for refusing to do as ordered.

A year later after the superintendent’s assignment, my boss had been given $100,000 of budget without designation for any part of the department.  Before I knew it, he had given the full $100,000 to each of five contractors and instructed each to overspend the $100,000 by ten percent.  Then, with the heads of the five contractors in one meeting, he instructed me to by a mini computer (a small mainframe computer at the time) with the undesignated $100,000.  I refused to do so on two accounts.  1) The computer cost was in excess of a ten percent overrun on the $100,000 and 2) The company rules about purchasing that type of computer was very specific and would not allow me to do so.  Until that moment, I had no idea that the boss had gone behind my back to the five contractors, that supposedly all reported to me.  The five contractors each got up to ask if that was the same $100,000 they had been “given?”  My boss had to admit that he had $100,000; he had spent $550,000 of the $100,000; and he attempted to add another $150,000 to the overrun.

The boss got a promotion for his little “mistake”, and I nearly got fired.  Yes, I can see how Joseph was between a rock and a hard place.

We have another case of brother jealousy, another case of clearly showing favoritism, but it did not lead to murder, as in Cain and Abel, or a threat of murder, as in Esau and Jacob.  In fact, Joseph, in seeing God’s hand in all that was done, diffused the enmity amongst all parties.  “Yes, you sold me into slavery, but if all the problems that I faced as a result, led to God’s plan of saving the people of Egypt and Canaan from starvation and reuniting our family, then I am okay with it.”

If we could treat all of our minor slights among family members, especially with our spouse, as Joseph did in this case, a lot of our problems in our relationships would go away.

And as Beth Moore said, and I paraphrase a bit, when we no longer feel the warmth of God’s love, it means we’ve moved away from the fire.  So, to maintain that relationship with God, we need to remain in contact with God and trust in Him even more.

What Have We Learned thus far?

In shifting this section a bit, we have learned to:

  • Own our own mistakes and not blame others.
  • Be faithful to God, and worship properly, in the proper spirit.
  • Do not show favoritism among family members, but always go to God.
  • Forgiveness is extremely important for none of us are perfect except for God.
  • And to love, love, and love.

A Closing Prayer

We might all think of taking a pound of flesh, especially when we are sold into slavery for doing what Dad told us to do anyway, but Joseph chose to forgive.  It led to the reunification of the family.  We have too much strife in this world, with people cancelling other people and never forgiving entire groups of people, even though the people in that group may have never meant harm.  Laying aside the slights of the past and addressing the issues is easily said, but often, one side of the argument is willing to lay aside the differences while the other never will.  The answer is so easy in that we can forgive.  Yet, there are so few who attempt to forgive and even less who are successful.
In Thy Name we pray,

Soli Deo Gloria.  Only to God be the Glory.

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