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January 4, 2015

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.  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.  (Genesis 37:3-4)

We begin today a new series on the life of Joseph, so please open your Bible at Genesis 37.

To many of us this story is familiar, but to some it may be new.  Here’s an outline of the story:

Joseph is one of 12 brothers, born through different mothers to Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, to whom God had given great and precious promises.

God’s hand was on Joseph in a special way, and for this reason, he was hated by his brothers.

The brothers sold Joseph as a slave and he was taken to Egypt where he suffered greatly.  But God loved Joseph and caused him to be promoted to the highest office in the land, giving him charge over the food supply for the whole nation.

In time, famine came to Canaan where Joseph’s brothers were, so they came to Egypt to get food, not realizing that the man in charge was their own brother.  So the one they despise becomes the one on whom all their hopes depend.

Over these next weeks, we will follow the first part of this story from Genesis 37 through to chapter 41, and God willing, we will return to the second half of the story later.

The title for our series is Snapshots of a Godly Life.   I’ve chosen this title because Joseph is presented to us as a model or an example of godliness.  Nothing bad is ever said about him.

One reason for this may be that he is clearly presented as a foreshadowing or a type of Jesus Christ.  A type is someone who points forward to Christ.

One writer, A. W. Pink, draws over 100 parallels between the life of Joseph and the life of Jesus. 1 You’ll be glad to know that we aren’t going to look at every one of them!

Joseph no doubt had his faults and failings like any of us, but the record passes over them because the point of the story is to floodlight how God would bring redemption to the world through his favored Son, Jesus Christ.

I want us to read this story in two ways: First, to see the glory of the One who calls us to a godly life.  I want us to see Jesus in the life of Joseph.  The whole Bible is about him; it is all pointing to our need of him and to the glory of the One who meets our need.

Second, this is a snapshot, not only of the One who calls us to a godly life, but also of that life to which we are called.  What does a godly life look life?  What can we expect if we walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ?  What will it take for us to be useful, as Joseph was, in the work of God’s great kingdom?

One writer points out what we can learn from the story of Joseph: How to overcome envy and face adversity, how to resist sexual advances and plan for the future, how to forgive those who wrong us and dispel doubts about forgiveness, how to have faith in God’s promises, and how to recognize the sovereignty of God, even in the wrongs done to us by others. 2

This first snapshot of a godly life, I’ve called “Loved and Favored.”  We begin in Genesis 37.  Joseph is 17 years old.  This is a great story for all the students.  Joseph is 17, a teenager, and he is in a pretty tough environment.  Joseph’s brothers were not good people.

Three Stories from the Book of Genesis

  1. The story of Simeon and Levi (Genesis 34)

Joseph’s brothers made a deal with the Shechemites, the extended family of a man called Shechem, who had fallen in love and slept with their sister Dinah.

The brothers were outraged, but then they made a deal with Shechem that they would be at peace with him and blend the families, if all of their men were circumcised.  The men of Shechem agreed, but while they were still recovering, and in no position to fight, the sons of Jacob launched an assault on the city and destroyed it completely.

Jacob says to Simeon and Levi, “You have brought trouble on me by making me stink to the inhabitants of the land” (Gen. 34:30).  In other words, “You’ve dragged my name through the mud!  Who will ever take me at my word?  No one will respect this family ever again.”

  1. The story of Rueben (Genesis 35)

While Israel lived in that land, Rueben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine.  And Israel heard of it.  (Genesis 35:22)

Rueben was the firstborn son, but he brought disgrace on the family through his sexual indulgence.  James Boice says,

This was an offense for which Rueben lost not only his father’s favor but also his birthrights as the firstborn son.  Since Rueben had forfeited his rights, Jacob exercised his sovereign choice and appointed Joseph his heir.  This is the true meaning of what we have long called Joseph’s coat of many colors. 3

Jacob drapes the coat on Joseph, and what is he doing in that act?  He is saying, “You are the one!  You are the heir.  Reuben has forfeited it.”  And of course, when the brothers saw this, they hated him for it. 4

  1. The story of Judah (Genesis 38) 

Here we read the account of Judah and Tamar.  Suffice it to say that this is another story showing another of the brothers to be sexually promiscuous.

Judah is a man without sexual boundaries.  Behind him he leaves a trail of broken hearts and wounded lives as he sins his way further and further away from God.

Joseph is 17 years old.  He is surrounded by peers who can’t be trusted, are prone to violence, and are sexually out of control.  Some of you in high school know what that’s like.  You are surrounded by people whose lifestyle and choices are deceitful, violent, and promiscuous and you are finding yourself under all kinds of pressure.

Thank God there was one man who was different.  His name was Joseph.  This background helps us to understand what we read next.

Joseph Loved and Favored by his Father

Now Israel [Jacob] loved Joseph more than any other of his sons.  (Genesis 37:3)

Joseph was greatly loved.

Now the obvious comment on this is that showing favoritism to one child over another causes all kinds of trouble in families.  Some of you may have suffered under this.  Your brother or sister seemed to have a hold on the heart of your father or your mother and nothing you said or did would ever change that.

There was a history of favoritism in this family line.  Isaac loved Esau, Rebecca loved Jacob.  Jacob had grown up with this, and so it is easy to assume that he was simply reproducing what he had learned in his childhood.  But I think there is something more here.

Jacob had twelve sons, but only two of them were born through Rachel, who had always been his first love.  One was Joseph, the other was Benjamin, the youngest of them all (Gen. 35:24).  They were, in the words of verse 3, the “sons of his old age.”

The older sons had grown up and one-by-one they have taken a path that broke his heart. Many parents know what that is like.  You have a son or a daughter who has made choices with bitter results.  At the beginning of this new year you cry out, “Oh God, intervene!”

Put yourself in Jacob’s shoes: You have a large family and one after another you have seen your children taking a destructive path.  They are not walking in the ways of the Lord.  Your children lie to you, deceive you, and are sexually promiscuous.  You are cut to the heart by the life they have chosen, and however much you love them, there is a great sadness and disappointment that weighs on your soul.

What is the future for this family?  Where is God at work in all of this?  But you have another son, much younger than the rest, and he is different.  There is a godliness about him and you think to yourself, “Maybe there is still hope!  Maybe he will have some influence on the others.  Maybe God isn’t finished with this family yet. 

Joseph was loved and favored by his father, but he was also loved and favored by God.

Joseph Loved and Favored by God 

God spoke to Joseph in a very special way, through his dreams.  Throughout the Bible, there is progress in the way that God communicates with his people.

Hebrews says this clearly, “Long ago, at many times and in many ways, God spoke to our fathers by the prophets” (Heb. 1:1) God used multiple ways of communicating direct revelation with his people in ancient times.   One example of this is that God revealed his future plans to Joseph in a dream.

In ancient times, God spoke through the prophets, “But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son” (Heb. 1:2).  We have the clearest possible communication from God in Jesus Christ.  All that God promises to us and all that he requires of us is made known in Jesus, who we know through the Scriptures.

So, Christians should not fret about interpreting their dreams.  If you want to know what God is saying to you, read your Bible!  And any other experience you might happen to have should be tested against the bar of the Scriptures.

But in those early days there was no Bible.  God made himself known by appearances called “theophanies,” and in this story, God spoke through dreams.

The point of Joseph’s dreams is very simple.  God would lift Joseph up above his brothers, and this is exactly what happened.  Joseph, who they despise, becomes the one on whom their hopes depend.

The whole point of this story is to direct our attention to a greater Son who was loved and favored by God his Father – the One who would be despised and rejected, betrayed and sold for silver, the One who would go down to the lowest place and then be exalted to the highest place.  Jesus Christ, the despised and rejected One, the hope of all who bow before him.

These dreams came to Joseph with all the force of the Word of God.  God was revealing the future to Joseph.  The impact on this on his heart and mind must have been extraordinary.  Joseph was not in the position of waking up in the morning, peering over his corn flakes, and saying, “I had a strange dream last night, wonder what it meant.”  No!  “God spoke to me last night, and he showed me what will come to pass.”

It has often been suggested that Joseph should have kept his dreams to himself.  It’s easy to paint him as arrogant, self-opinionated, and overbearing.  But Joseph’s dream was the Word of God, not only for him, but also for the whole family.  How could he possibly keep it to himself?

But telling the Word of God was very costly for Joseph, as the telling of the Word of God will sometimes become costly for us.  The brothers hated him because he is loved and favored by his father.  Now they hate him even more because he was loved and favored by God.

You see that in verse 8.  When Joseph told them the dream, the brothers “hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.”  They said to Joseph, “Are you indeed to reign over us?  Or are you indeed to rule over us?” (Gen. 37:8).

You see what they are saying, “Never in a thousand years!”  And yet the whole story is given to show us that the one they despise becomes the one on whom their hopes depend.  They will come to see that their lives and futures will be in the hand of this loved and favored son.

God spoke to Joseph in a second dream confirming the same revelation that he would be lifted up.  Again Joseph tells the dream, and you can imagine Jacob saying to himself, “Oh no, here we go again,” so “his father rebuked him” (Gen 37:10).

But then we have this fascinating comment in verse 11: Joseph’s “brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind“ (Gen. 37:11).  What if this is true?  What if God is really in this?  Could this be what I have been hoping and praying and longing for?  Could it be that Joseph will be the means of a great change in the lives of my rebellious sons?

We just finished celebrating Christmas, and what Jacob did here is an awful lot like something Mary did, who “treasured up” the words that the angel told her, “pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  Christ became one with us, being born into the human family.  God is his Father, and by taking our flesh, we are his sisters and brothers.

There is trouble in this family into which he comes – lies, violence, sexual abuse, exploitation, sexual promiscuity, and the erosive power of drink and of drugs.  What a grief it must be to the heart of God.

But Christ becomes one with us.  He enters the dysfunctional human family.  Like Joseph, he is different from his brothers.  And the hope of all his sisters and brothers lies in him.  Joseph received the Word of God.  Jesus Christ is the Word of God.  He is the Word made flesh.

He is the One who is loved and favored by the Father in heaven.  Jacob put the coat on his Son, Joseph, setting him apart and saying to him, “You are the one!”  God the Father set the Holy Spirit on his Son, Jesus, and said, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11).  Jesus Christ is loved and favored by God!

Jacob endured the agony of seeing his own sons break his heart as they made his name stink in the land.  Some of you fathers and mothers know what that is like, the burden of a rebel son or daughter.  God knows the agony of sons who break his heart, “I raised children and they have rebelled against me.”  Who said that?  God did! (Isaiah 1:2).

Some of you are saying, “What did we do wrong?”  No one is a better father than God, who says, “I raised children and they have rebelled against me.”  The only hope for these rebellious children was a Son who would be different.

Jesus Christ is that Son!  He is the One in whom there is hope for all the others.  God the Father points to his Son and says to us today, “I love him!  I am pleased with him!  He will be exalted, and in him, there is hope for all of you.

There is hope for the person who has been sexually promiscuous.  There is hope for the person who has been deceived.  There is hope for the person who has been abused or exploited.  There is hope for the person whose life has been devastated by drink or drugs.

What is the response of the human family to this loved and favored Son?  “He came to his own and his own did not receive him” (John 1:11).

Jesus told a parable that sums up the response of the human family to the loved and favored Son.  A certain man trusted gifts to his servants, and told them to engage in his business until he should return.  But the citizens hated him and sent a delegation after him, saying, “We do not want this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14).

That is straight out of the story of Joseph.

Never, Sometimes, and Always
I want to offer in closing, just three observations from this opening scene in the story – never, sometimes, and always.

Never underestimate the antagonism toward God that resides in even the most respectable human heart 

We are God-haters by nature.  The sinful mind is hostile to God (Rom. 8:7).  The Bible does not say that we are neutral to God, but that we are hostile to God.

Our hearts need to be delivered, not only from a few sins and mistakes, but from a fundamental mindset that resists the authority of God over our lives. We will not have this man to reign over us.  That’s why Jesus was crucified.  That is why he was despised and rejected.  But the One who is despised is the One on whom all our hopes depend.
Sometimes receiving the Word of God will isolate you from your friends

Joseph received the Word of God, believed it, and shared it with those for whom it was given.  The result is that he is hated, isolated, and sometimes he must have felt very alone.

That’s not easy.  Joseph was 17 years old, and none of his brothers want to hang out with him.  They don’t want anything to do with Joseph and the reason is the Word of God.  Some of you have experienced this.

When Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, let him take up his cross and follow me,” he was telling us that if we speak his Word in this world will share the pain and sorrow of his rejection.  But it is better for you to lose friends than to lose Jesus Christ.

And remember: However much your friends may despise the Word of God, they need it and on it their hopes depend!  How else could we see men like Simeon and Levi and Rueben and Judah in heaven, and they will be, except by the grace of God that came to them through the faithfulness of Joseph?

How else will the redemption of the brothers come about?  Joseph must tell them the dream, so that when it comes true they see the hand of God at work and come to bow before him!  In some sense, the redemption of the brothers hangs on the faithfulness of Joseph, who speaks the Word of God to them and puts up with their rejection.

Your unbelieving friends at school and at work need you to love them enough to speak the Word of God, as it relates to them, and put up with their foolish rejection of it, and probably their foolish rejection of you as well.  That’s what it takes.  Christians who say, “My loyalty to God matters more than my loyalty to my friends and my brothers.”

What we need in this country is churches that will say, “Finding favor with God matters more to us than finding favor with the world.”  God’s Word must be spoken with grace and with humility and with clarity, irrespective of how it is received and what it will cost.

What you must remember, what you need to keep in mind is that the rejection that Joseph experienced is not the end of the story.
Always remember that Christ is loved and favored by God (and in him that love and favor is extended to you)

God has one Son, Jesus Christ.  He has always been loved and favored, and he always will be.  In this Son lies the hope of all his sisters and brothers.  When you are in Christ, the love and favor of God are upon you.

There will be times in your life when you may find yourself asking, “Why?  Why, Lord, have you allowed so much pain in my life?”  Look at the story of Joseph and you will see that God knows what he is doing, and he never wastes the pain and suffering of his people.

Out of these hardest things in the life of Joseph, God’s redeeming power is at work.  It’s not only despite the painful things in your life, but through them and even because of them, that the great purpose of God for you and for those he has placed around you moves forward.

If you should come to a time when it seems that everybody is against you, you can say, “God is for me, in Jesus Christ.”  If you should come to a place where you feel alone, and wonder, Who  really loves me?”  You can say, “God loves me with an everlasting love in Jesus Christ.”

When it seems that other people have all the advantages and all the opportunities; favor is given to them and not to you, you can say, “In Christ, God has shown me his favor.  I have every spiritual blessing in Christ and he has lavished this upon me.”  And this is true for every person who is in Jesus Christ.

© Colin S. Smith

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