When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him in a pit. (Genesis 37:23-24)
Please open your Bible at Genesis 37, where we are continuing our series on Joseph. Last week we considered Joseph, the loved and favored son. Today we are looking at Joseph, hated and despised by his brothers. The whole Bible story revolves around a son who is loved and favored by God, yet hated and despised by the world.
We see this in microcosm in this story of Joseph. Written hundreds of years before Christ, this story shines the light on who he is, and who we are, so that we will come to bow before him. The central theme of the story is that the one who the brothers despise is the one on whom their hopes depend.
God spoke to Joseph in dreams that came to him with all the force of the Word of God. Joseph told the dream to his brothers. That is, he spoke the Word of God to them, and it was not well received. Speaking the word of God proved costly for Joseph. Today we will see the extent of that cost.
Today we take up the story at Genesis 37:12. I want to draw your attention to three themes:
Compassion from the heart of God, compulsion in the human heart, and comfort for the believer’s heart.
Compassion from the Heart of God
His brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. (Genesis 37:12)
These brothers are living in quiet rebellion against Jacob’s choice of Joseph. They resisted and rejected the word of God that Joseph would be lifted up. Yet here they are doing the father’s work out in the fields and tending the father’s flocks.
If you had met these brothers and asked them what they were doing they would have told you, “We are serving the father. We are engaged in his work.” They are doing the father’s work, but they do not share the father’s heart.
This is a common theme in the Bible. You see this in the story of the prodigal son. The elder brother did the father’s work but he did not share the father’s heart. Doing the father’s work is a very poor substitute for sharing the father’s heart.
Today, I want you to see the love of the Father for these rebel sons. Jacob’s sons have made his name stink in the land. But Jacob has not cut them off. He loves them. He cares about them. He seeks their good, even when they continue to rebel against him.
The love of God the Father and of his favored son is seen in three ways:
Love that sends
Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” (Genesis 37:13)
The fact that the brothers were at Shechem would have given Jacob reason for concern. We saw last week that Shechem was the place where the brothers committed the atrocity that made the name of Jacob stink in the land.
So here were the brothers grazing the same land that belonged to the men they had brutally killed. The men of Shechem were dead, but there would be other clans in the neighborhood who might feel it was for them to take action for revenge, or who feel that they need to protect their own families in case something similar should happen to them.
Jacob loves these boys and he is concerned for them, even when they have sinned against him. So he calls Joseph, “Come, I will send you” (Gen. 37:13). And Joseph says, “Here I am,” (Gen. 37:13). Abraham, and later Isaiah, says the same thing.
Here is the son who is available to go out on a dangerous journey for his father. And here is the father who is sending the son on a dangerous journey because of his great love for the sons who have made his name stink in the land.
The father seeks the good of those who rebel against him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word” (Gen. 37:14). And it was Jesus who said, “As the Father has sent me – so I am sending you. I am sending you out as sheep among wolves.”
Love that seeks
“I am seeking my brothers.” (Genesis 37:16)
The son says, “Here I am.” He leaves the father’s house, goes out from the place where he is protected, and sets out on a dangerous journey. Having been sent, his mission is to seek the brothers. So he comes to Shechem, and the brothers aren’t there.
Now at this point it would have been reasonable for Joseph to return to his father and say, “Dad, I went to Shechem and they weren’t there.” But Joseph doesn’t do that. We are told that a man found him wandering in the fields (Gen. 37:15), up and down Joseph walks looking for the brothers.
Joseph found the brothers at Dothan (Gen. 37:17). That was a journey of about 64 miles! Most of us have never walked 64 miles. Some of us have run a marathon: 26 miles. Well, double that and then add another half again and you have the length that Joseph went to seek his brothers. He went after them! He would not give up. Thank God the Son of God doesn’t do that either. He doesn’t give up on us when we are not where we’re supposed to be.
Love that suffers
When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him in a pit. (Genesis 37:23-24)
We are given more insight into the suffering of Joseph. Later on, when the brothers reflected on what happened, they said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen” (Gen. 42:21).
After this, it says that they sat down to eat, but it wasn’t a quiet meal. Joseph was pleading with his brothers, but they did not listen. He was begging them for mercy with tears. This tells us something about the brothers. Their hearts are hard, callous, and without mercy.
That makes us think of Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, when his soul was overwhelmed with sorrow. Joseph was sent by the father but now, in the pit, he was alone. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
There is great love in the heart of the Father and the Son for the worst of sinners. While we were still sinners Christ dies for us. God has compassion and pity towards people who are lost. When you come to see that the God of the Bible is this kind of God it is very difficult to keep on fighting against him.
Compulsion in the Human Heart
I’ve use the word “compulsion,” because I want us to see that sin is much more than a list of the things we do that are wrong. Sin is a power that resides in the human heart against which we must do battle. John Owen said, “Always be killing sin, or sin will be killing you.”
We see the compulsions of the human heart manifest themselves in a number of ways here in the story.
His brothers were jealous of him. (Genesis 37:11)
Suppose someone you know comes into money. You’ve been friends with another person (or couple) for some time and your life has been much the same as theirs. Then one day they come into money. Maybe they married into money, or else their business thrived, or they were given some unusual success, and very quickly their life is quite different from yours.
The godly response to this is to rejoice with those who rejoice, which is always harder than to weep with those who weep. The godly response is to find as much pleasure in what has come to them as you would if it had come to you! But that isn’t easy.
When good comes to another person, one of two temptations will come to you: One is to covet, and the other is to envy. Coveting is when you want what they have. Envying is when you don’t want that person to have what they have been given. Coveting wants to gain something for yourself. Envying wants to deny something to someone else.
There is a desire to hurt in envy. Coveting is saying, “I want the same as you.” Envy says, “I don’t want you to have more than me.” There is a meanness of spirit about it. “Envy makes the bones rot” (Prov. 14:30). It eats you up from the inside.
Joseph’s brothers would have been quite happy if Joseph was their equal. But God has said that Joseph will be lifted up, and they don’t want him to have that.
If God blesses you, don’t be surprised that others may envy you. Rejoicing with those who rejoice is a rare grace in a selfish world. It is a beautiful grace, but it is not a common grace.
Very few people have the grace to do this well.
This sin of envy is the root of the resentment towards God that lurks in the human heart. God has said that his loved and favored son, Jesus Christ, will be exalted. Before him every knee will bow. But there is a compulsion in the human heart that says, “We do not want him to have that. We will not have this man to reign over us.”
They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. (Genesis 37:18)
What was in Joseph’s mind as he was searching for the brothers? We are not told what he was thinking. Perhaps this would be an opportunity to sit down with them away from home and to build a better relationship? Perhaps they could talk about the Word of God together?
Perhaps this would be the moment when God would bring a great change in their hearts?
But before Joseph ever gets near, they have made their decision about him, “They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him” (Gen. 37:18). How different it might have been if the brothers had allowed him to come near.
It is a great mistake to make decisions about God when you are still far from him. If you would let him come near, if you would let him speak to you, if you would open your Bible with a humble heart, you would end up taking a better path. But if you insist on making your decision about God while you are still far from him, there can only be one outcome.
The brothers made their decision about Joseph while he is still a long way off, and so when he arrived their minds were already made up. They took him and threw him into the pit, and then they sat down to eat (Gen. 37:25).
How is that possible? We know from Genesis 42:21 that they saw the distress of his soul. Joseph begged them, but they did not listen. How could their hearts have been so hard? The Bible speaks very clearly about the effects of sin in the life of a sinner. Here’s what it says:
If you look at a number of different translations of Ephesians 4:19, speaking about the condition of sinners, each one adds to our insight about men and women “having lost all sensitivity” (NIV), who “have become callous” (ESV), “being past feeling” (KJV).
Sin has an erosive effect on the conscience and in the heart, so that sinning gets easier for the sinner over time. Sensitivity towards the pain of others is diminished. Awareness of guilt before God no longer feels like an issue. The more you sin, the easier it gets to sin more.
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. (Genesis 37:20)
Through the intervention of Rueben and of Judah, in whom we see the beginning of grace at work, Joseph’s life was spared. So instead of being killed, Joseph was sold to the Ishmaelite traders who took him to Egypt.
But still the sons go back and perpetrate the lie. They dip Joseph’s coat in the blood of an animal, and they engage in this great deception: “We found this coat. Please tell us if it is the one that belongs to Joseph.” Jacob says that it is.
Some people live in open defiance of God, but most people are much more subtle. Most people present themselves as the Father’s loyal sons. They place the mask of religion over their own resistance to the claims of Jesus Christ. They come to worship and they lie to God.
This part of the story is given as a warning for us. Sin is a power, a compulsion in the human heart. Apart from the grace of God, the human heart is going to manifest itself in envying, resisting, and lying.
Envying God as you deny the crown rights of Jesus Christ over your life. Resisting God as you decide against him, even when you are far from him, and then harden your heart against his pleadings and shut your ears to his voice. Lying to God as you come into his presence as if you were one of his loyal and faithful servants, when the truth is that you are actively resisting and rejecting his son. The only hope for the human heart is the compassion of the Savior, the Deliverer of the sent Son of God.
Comfort for the Believing Heart
Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 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. (Genesis 37:34-35)
Jacob was beside himself with sorrow over his loss. He tore his garments. He put on sackcloth and mourned for his son. Day after day it was the same – more and more sorrow.
The sons and daughters tried to comfort him. Imagine that! They are the cause of the sorrow through their great deception. Jacob lives with the misery of his loss. The brothers live with the misery of their lies. What a miserable home it must have been.
Jacob refused to be comforted. The words of the brothers were all hollow to him, and that’s why he said, “I shall go down to Sheol (the place of the departed in Old Testament times) to my son, mourning.”
Jacob was saying, “This life holds nothing for me now. Everything I have lived for has gone. There’s nothing left for me. I will live in the sorrow of my great loss for the rest of my days.”
That is intense grief and some of you may be saying, “I know what that is like.”
Matthew Henry says, “We must never say ‘we will go to our grave mourning,’ because we know not what joyful days God may yet reserve for us.” 1
Joseph was the son in whom Jacob had placed his hope. We saw this last time. One by one the older sons had chosen a wretched path. Joseph was different. Perhaps there would be hope for the family in him. Now Jacob grieves because he is gone. His hope was in Joseph and if Joseph died, hope dies for Jacob.
The great answer to Jacob’s grief is that Joseph is alive: “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him to Potiphar in Egypt, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Gen. 17:36). The son you grieve for is alive! He is in a far country. He has a special place in the purpose of God. You grieve because you do not see him, but a day is coming when you will see his face.
The Son who is our hope is alive. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came to seek and save the lost.
His own people conspired against him. He was sold for silver. He was beaten, crucified, dead, and buried. But God raised him up out of the pit and exalted him to the highest place. The One who was despised is the One on whom our hopes depend, and the day is coming when we will see his face!
We know what it is to grieve. But our grief is different because we have hope! There is comfort for the believing heart. Weeping endures for a night but joy comes in the morning.
Prayers of response
- Ask God to fill you with the compassion that sends, seeks, and suffers.
What do you know of this? God, deliver me from being easily discouraged in seeking. Give me the relentlessness of the good shepherd who goes after the sheep and simply will not give up. Give me strength to endure suffering, and help me to remember when doing your will is costly that the good shepherd gave his life for the sheep.
- Ask God to deliver you from the compulsion that envies, resists, and lies.
Deliver me from a sour spirit that sees the blessings of others and asks, “What about me?” Teach me to rejoice with those who rejoice. Bring me to your feet so that I may hear you when you say, “Come, let us reason together.” Save me from a life of pretense. Deliver me from using religion as a mask to cover my resistance to the claims of Jesus Christ on my life.
- Ask God to strengthen you through the comfort of his son who lives.
Father, help me in the grief and sorrow of loss to know that your son lives, and that in him sorrow can never have the final word.
© Colin S. Smith
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