Introduction: We return this week to the strife of Jacob’s family life in Genesis 37. To be sure, the strife between Joseph and his brothers will end with the triumph of God’s Providence, as Joseph himself will declare to his brothers in Gen. 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good….” However, there are plenty of ups and downs until we get to that triumphant conclusion. As believers, we find ourselves in the same position as Jacob and his family. With Joseph we affirm our hope that God’s good plan will have the last word. But how to endure all the heartbreaks along the way? The answer is to become ‘Bible detectives,’ as we will do this week, in order to trace the bright line of God’s Providence as He “works all things for our good” even through the trials and strife.
Monday: read Genesis 37:1-4. Some scholars suggest that Joseph’s coat from his father expressed more than a father’s preferential treatment and was actually a type of overseer’s coat; that is, a garment that showed Joseph was the heir and the trusted executor of his father’s estate. This trusted role we see, for example, in Joseph’s bringing an “evil report” of his brothers’ behavior in Gen. 37:2. I don’t think we should interpret this as a spoiled brat’s tattle-tailing. For look how this bad report bears itself out later in the chapter in the murderous plan which his brothers spring on Joseph in Gen. 37:18-20. Such an evil plan cannot be excused. No wonder his father entrusted all to Joseph, recognizing as he did the violence and untrustworthiness of his older sons – remember these older boys pillaged Shechem in Gen. 34:25-27. There are many years and many miles to go before Joseph’s brothers bow the knee to God’s purpose for their lives. Until then, Jacob, with God-given discernment, will not entrust himself or his estate to them.
Meditate and Pray: Let us ask God to make us people whom our elders, like Jacob with Joseph, can rely on. Ask God to give us as a church the spirit of 1 Timothy 5:1-2: “Do not rebuke an older man harshly, but exhort him as if he were your father. Treat younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, and younger women as sisters, with absolute purity.”
Tuesday: read Genesis 37:5-11 & 48:10-19. As we see God reveal Joseph’s future exaltation to him through dreams, we can understand on a human level how hard it would be even for Joseph’s father to accept these dreams’ authority. As Jacob’s rebuke of Joseph in Gen. 37:10 shows, it is a hard lesson for any father to see God exalt one son over other members of the family. This was especially difficult in the Old Testament culture, where the oldest would normally receive a double inheritance. Strange that Jacob should forget how God had exalted him, the younger of the two, over his brother Esau. One day Jacob would learn this lesson again when he would put his right hand of blessing on the head not of Joseph’s oldest, Manasseh, but on the head of younger Ephraim (Gen. 48:14). With the same kind of displeasure Jacob showed over Joseph’s dreams, Joseph would try to put the eldest of his sons first in Gen. 48:17-18. And so the lesson of the “last being first and the first last” goes on through history, despite our self-righteous protests. “It’s not fair” is an argument which cannot reach to God’s sovereign freedom to “choose the weak things of this world.”
Meditate and Pray: It is good for our spiritual muscles to begin early in the week with this reminder of God’s sovereign choice of Joseph over his brothers. Have we been chosen to see and understand Gospel truths which other “older and more worldly wise” folk never stop to consider? Let us thank the God who was under no obligation to choose us for His Grace and Favor that He has revealed Himself to us in this way – Titus 3:4-5!
Wednesday: read Genesis 37:5-11. How tragic to see Joseph’s family offended at dreams which promised so much blessing. Little did these brothers know how glad they would be one day to bow low before Joseph in order to obtain precious wheat to keep from starving. This is the meaning of the sheaves of wheat bowing down in the first dream in Gen. 37:5-7, with its exact fulfillment in Gen. 42:6-9 when Joseph’s brothers do indeed bow. The second dream also promises exaltation for all Joseph’s family, beginning with his father and mother, who are symbolized as nothing less than the ‘sun and the moon’ in Joseph’s dream, Gen. 37:9. The family’s reactions of more hatred and even a fatherly rebuke show how little Jacob and his family appreciated the great privileges which would be theirs as they dined “as stars, sun and moon” at the table of none other than Joseph “the prince of Egypt” (Gen. 43:24-26). Both dreams, in short, speak of exaltation and blessing for the whole family. Too bad they overlooked such promises of Divine favor in their blind jealousy and unbelief against Joseph and Joseph’s God.
Meditate and Pray: The Gospel challenges us in the same way as it challenged Joseph’s family: abundant inheritance in Christ can be ours – even “being seated with him in the Heavenly places” – if we will simply bow low and acknowledge Him as Lord of all. Simple? Satisfying? Yes. Surely we are amazed, then, at the perverse pride of many who refuse all the riches that could be theirs because bowing the knee is so inconceivable to them. Ask God to give you a renewed sense of thankfulness for the Grace given you to “bow the knee.” “Lord, please help us every day to be willing to bow to your agenda; your goals; your desires for our lives. Thank you ahead of time for all the blessings that flow to us when we do in fact take the lowest position.” Amen.
Thursday: read Genesis 37:11-16. Jacob had many burdens weighing him down as, with understandable concern, he sends Joseph to inquire as to his brothers’ welfare in Gen. 37:12-14. They were supposed to be at Shechem, about 60 miles away. Perhaps Jacob worried about such proximity to these Shechemites, whom the very same sons of Jacob had made life-long enemies in Gen. 34:26-30. Add to that their hatred of Joseph the Dreamer and Jacob had much to concern him. How do you think the Lord comforted him at this time? Well, note how the Spirit of God was beginning to work in Jacob – perhaps prompting him to reconsider the dreams of Joseph and convincing him that these dreams were actually from the Lord. As Gen. 37:11 says, “Jacob kept the matter in mind.” Often simply knowing that God is still communicating with us; that He has not forgotten us – even if we don’t understand His dealings with us – is enough to begin to bring us peace in the midst of turmoil.
Meditate and Pray: May the Lord help us in perplexing times to hold onto these words from Augustus Toplady’s hymn, ‘Your Harps, Ye Trembling Saints:’
When we in darkness walk,
nor feel the heavenly flame,
then is the time to trust our God,
and lean upon His Name.
Soon shall our doubts and fears
subside at His control;
His lovingkindness shall break through
the midnight of the soul.
Friday: read Genesis 37:17-22. The cruelty of Joseph’s brothers comes out in their murderous plan to kill their favored brother. In this way they hoped to be rid not only of him but also those naggingly powerful dreams. As Bill Harrell puts it: “Very likely these brothers begrudgingly realized that the dreams may indeed have been prophetic indicators of the future…” Most of all, thank God for how Reuben the eldest is moved to stand up for the life of his brother, planning in Gen. 37:22 to safely return him to his father. Perhaps we ought to see the softening effect of God’s grace upon the eldest here. Had he not already broken his father’s heart with the sin of incest in Gen. 35:22?
Meditate and Pray: Thank God for the memories of past sin which He can use to humble us and draw us closer in reliance upon Him. Paul also asks the Ephesians to remember their past lives of sinful bondage in Ephesians 2:11-13 and to compare it to their now “being brought near by the blood of Christ.” May the Lord always keep our memories clear of our past failures and His ongoing grace.