JOSEPH THE SPOILED BRAT
We continue this morning with the Old Testament story of Jacob. Over the past few weeks, we’ve learned about Jacob’s checkered past. He deceived his father Isaac and his brother Esau. After this he fled to his Uncle Laban who fooled him into marrying both of his daughters. Last week, Jacob returned home with his large family and his wealth and large family was welcomed by his brother Esau who clearly had forgiven his younger brother for his earlier deceitful ways.
Today’s story begins about fifteen years later. Much has changed. Jacob’s favourite wife Rachel has died while giving birth to her second son Benjamin who would be Jacob’s last child. Isaac, Jacob’s father, has also died. Esau, his brother has prospered and they continue to get along.
But as Jacob played favourites with his wives, so too he played favourites with his children. Let’s find out what this looks like in Genesis 37:1-4 (NIV)
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.
I’ll get to the rest of the story in a minute but these first four verses provide the context for what happens in the rest of the story so it’s important to understand them before moving on.
What we have here is a classic example of a father, Jacob or Israel, giving one son preferential treatment over the others. The favoured son, of course, is Joseph. This leads to hard feeling from his brothers for three reasons. The first one is that it appears that the Jacob is using his favoured son as a snit. He’s spying on his brothers and telling his father what is happening. You have to understand that they were primarily shepherds and shepherding in the land of Canaan 3,500 years ago was very different than it is today.
Jacob’s family may have had a lot of sheep but they didn’t have any land. And so, they, like the other shepherds in that area, have to move their flocks from one place to another in search of good pastures. That means that the brothers are often not under the watchful eye of their father and mothers. And when boys are away from home, sometimes boys will play at things of which their parents don’t approve. That seems to be so in this case because the report that Joseph gives to their father is not very flattering. And one thing older siblings don’t like is when younger siblings tattle on them. And yet, that is exactly what Joseph does. He rats on his brothers and they do not appreciate it. Strike one.
The second thing that happens is that their father Jacob gives Joseph a special gift, a new coat that is special. And again, remember that most people back then only had one or maybe two sets of clothes. To be given a special coat when no one else gets one is the epitome of favouritism.
But what kind of a coat is this? As children in Sunday School it was always described as a coat of many colours. But that was probably not the best interpretation. The NIV translation describes it as an ornate robe made just for Joseph. But even that is perhaps to genera. The translation I prefer because I think it tells the best story is that this robe has long sleeves.
Why is that important? It’s important because most labourers and craftsmen wore short sleeves back then. The reason was very simple. Long sleeves tended to get dirty because craftsmen and labourers tend to have dirty jobs. And who wants to be a shepherd with sheep manure hanging off their sleeves.
For Jacob to give Joseph a robe with long sleeves was to say that he doesn’t want him to be tending sheep like his older brothers. He wants him to be better than that and be the kind of aristocratic person who wears long sleeves. This is strike two for Joseph.
Strike three occurs later in Genesis 37:5-11 in which Joseph tells his family about two dreams that he has in which all of his family bows down to him, even his parents. This does not go over very well because no one has any intention of bowing down to this spoiled little brat, tattle tail of a child. Strike three. Do you remember the grudges that we talked about last week? This is a classic one. Joseph’s brothers are ticked and they are going to get back at him the very first chance they get.
WHO DESERVES THIS?
The story of how they do that is told in Genesis 37:12-13, 17b-28 (NIV):
Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 13 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 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.
Now comes their chance. The other brothers have Joseph in their sights. He’s away from home, away from the protection of his father and very, very vulnerable. And so they hatch a plan. They decide to kill him but Reuben, the oldest brother dissuades them from doing so. Instead they toss their younger brother into a dry cistern until they can decide what to do with him. Ultimately, he is sold to a passing caravan of Midianite merchants who are on their way to Egypt. And so for 20 shekels of silver, which today would be about $200 to $300, they say good-bye to their spoiled brat of a little brother and they expect that they are done with him for good. We are going to find out in the next couple of weeks that it doesn’t quite turn out that way. God is going to use this incident to bring these brothers back together again but, for now, vengeance has been achieved.
But here’s the question. Does Joseph get what he deserves? On one hand, I think we might say that he does. He’s a spoiled rotten, snotty nosed teenager who, by his deliberate actions, has earned the wrath of his brothers. They don’t like him for many reasons including the three strikes that we already noted.
Let’s face it. If you’re going to constantly poke the bear, the bear the eventually rise up in anger and fight back. That is exactly what happens here. I’m not saying it’s right. I’m not suggesting that we follow this example. I’m just saying that it’s not difficult to understand the brothers’ actions. They had simply had enough.
We’ve all been in the situation haven’t we. We’ve all had to deal with people who just kept poking us. Maybe it was your little brother or sister. Maybe it was another kid in the neighbourhood who just wouldn’t leave you alone. And let’s face it, this kind of stuff does not end with childhood. Adults experience the same things. It could be a co-worker who gets on your case for every little thing. Or it could be the people who think it’s okay to drive their ATVs around the soccer field at night. In those situations, the sinful side of us just wishes that those people would get what they deserve, whatever that happens to be.
And sometimes those people do get what they deserve – at least in our eyes. What goes around comes around. Or as the Bible says in Galatians 6:7 (NIV), “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows.” Or as Jesus said to Peter in Matthew 26:52 (NIV), “Put your sword back in its place for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” So if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword. What goes around, comes around. So it seems that there is some biblical precedence for this line of thinking.
But let’s get back to the original question: does Joseph get what he deserves? That answer is not quite that simple is it. In a moment of anger, his brothers may have felt quite justified in doing what they did. But what about Joseph’s perspective? Does he think he deserves what he gets? How much of his behaviour was his decision and how much of it was caused by someone else – namely his father Jacob? Think about this. Joseph did not ask to be the favoured son. Jacob cast that mantle on him. We don’t know if Joseph wanted to rat out his brothers but it seems that Jacob sent him out into the pastures to do just that. And finally, does anything think that Jacob asked Joseph if he wanted that fancy new coat with the long sleeves? I doubt it. Much of this was initiated by their Jacob but it is Joseph who takes the blame and pays the price.
I doubt that Joseph thinks it is very fair that he gets stripped of his fancy robe, cast into a dry cistern and sold off to slave traders on their way to the distant land of Egypt where he never expects to see his family again. He may realize that he was not the best brother in the world but this, to him, must seem to be way over the top. After all, wasn’t he just doing what his father expected him to do and doesn’t the Bible also say that we are honour our fathers and mothers? Isn’t that what he was doing? So why is any of this his fault? From his perspective, I doubt that he thinks he deserves this treatment.
And then, of course, there is the whole other side of this story because we need ask the question of whether or not the brothers are acting faithfully. Do they have a right to be angry with their sniveling little brother? Probably. Are they justified in thinking that their father isn’t exactly being fair with all of them? Absolutely. But do they have right to strip Joseph of his fancy robe, cast him into a dry cistern and sell him off to slave traders for a few shekels? That’s questionable.
Listen to what Paul wrote in Romans 12:19 (NIV): “Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.” At the heart of their actions, the brothers were trying to get even Joseph. The Bible calls it revenge. But are we to seek revenge? Are we supposed to get even when someone wrongs us? No. Absolutely not. It is not our job to get even for sins that we believe have been committed against us.
In fact, quite the opposite is true. Listen to what Jesus says in Luke 6:29: “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them.” We are not called to get even. That’s a tough one because that’s often exactly what the world tells us to do: “That’s your coat. It belongs to you. Take it back. Look after yourself.” But Jesus says, “If someone takes your coat, give them your shirt too.” Do you understand why sometimes it’s not easy to be a Christian?
Does that mean that we are supposed to be wall flowers allowing anyone to do whatever they want to us with no repercussions? No, it doesn’t. We can still seek justice. That’s biblical. In fact, justice is part of the faithful walk with God. Micah 6:8 (NIV) says this: “And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
We are called to seek justice but we also have to understand that justice is not the same thing as revenge. The purpose of justice is to make things right whereas the purpose of revenge is to get even. We are called to seek justice. As far as revenge goes, that’s up to God. And that’s a good thing because we don’t know everything. We don’t know why people do what they do, act like they act and say what they say. But God does and that’s why we leave vengeance to him.
There are just so many subtexts to this story, aren’t there and each of them tells us something about how we are to be together as children of God and followers of Jesus Christ.
There’s one more subtext in this story that I just want to touch on briefly because it’s important. We find it in Genesis 37:21-22. When Reuben, the oldest brother, heard of the initial plan to kill Joseph, he stopped his brothers from doing so because, as it says in verse 22, he wanted to rescue Joseph and take him back to his father. This is called grace and grace changes everything.
This is good news because it tells us that even when the overwhelming majority of people may want vengeance (the taking of Joseph’s life) God always rises up at least a remnant of people who want justice. 90% of the brothers wanted to kill Joseph. Only one wanted to save him and send him home.
And that’s good news because it reminds us that no matter how crazy the world gets – and we live in a very crazy world these days – there is always a voice calling us to follow God’s way, wherever it may lead us. To follow the path of justice not vengeance and to live not by hatred but by grace. And sometimes calls us to be that voice. When that happens we need to make a choice. Are we like the other nine brothers who sought death or are we like Reuben who tried to save his pesky little brother? The choice is ours.
WHAT ABOUT US?
I want to ask one final question. What about us? Do we get what we deserve? I hope no because it’s pretty clear what we deserve. Let’s look again at the good old Roman Road of Salvation.
That’s followed by Romans 6:23 (NIV) which says. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
So far things don’t look so good because, so far, all we have is judgment and condemnation. As sinners, it’s pretty clear what we deserve. But things begin to change in Romans 5:8 (NIV) which says, “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” And so we see a hint of grace peeping through the dark storm clouds giving us a ray of hope.
Romans 10:9-10 (NIV) tells us what to do to respond to God’s grace: “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”
And finally, we learn the end result in Romans 8:1 (NIV): “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”
By our own actions, we deserve death but God, in his grace, sent Jesus to die on the cross to pay the price of our sins and the rise again so that, through faith in him, we might have eternal life in his kingdom. This is good news.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God of Creation, we come before you in thanksgiving and wonder. You have blessed us in abundant ways. You have given us a smooth path to walk and offered your guidance in the Holy Spirit. We give you thanks for ripening crops and cooler evenings. We give thanks for the rain that fell this week to refresh the earth.
In a world of violence, we pray for peace. In a world of hatred, we pray for love. In a world of greed, we pray for generosity. In a world of grudges we pray for forgiveness and compassion. Speak to our hearts, O God, that we may walk in your way and be examples to the world of what faith can do.
Our prayers are lifted up for those who mourn. Grant them your healing Spirit and bring them to a place of peace and wholeness.
We pray for the sick of our congregation and community, especially Richard, Gary and Bob. Bless them with your Healing and Holy Spirit O God.
Help us, O God, to honestly evaluate our lives: our words, decisions, and actions, or lack thereof. Do our lights shine brightly? Can others truly see you in our words and actions? Help us to receive into our hearts the honest answer to those questions. May our lives illustrate your character and way of living in all that we do, in every word, every interaction with other people, so that we may clearly point others to the light of your grace. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
August 9, 2020 / Pentecost 10
Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28; Psalm 105:1-6, 16-22, 45b; Matthew 14:22-33; Romans 105-10
CALL TO WORSHIP
We are truly blessed to be in the presence of God.
We are honoured to be able to worship in the Spirit.
Let us lift our voices and sing our praises.
Let us proclaim the name of the One who saves us,
and magnify the God of heaven and earth.
We are truly blessed to be in the presence of God.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Loving God, we seek your presence in our worship this day. You are powerful and loving, strong and compassionate. Your wisdom far surpasses our human intellect. Still you call us your children as we gather before your throne of grace. Regardless of the struggles and distractions that we face in this life, help us to always remember that there will come a day when we will be called to stand before you, our Judge and Redeemer. Thank you that you have given us the assurance of eternal life with you. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Hear our confession, O God of the Ages. There are times when we fall victim to the sins of prejudice and narrow mindedness. Help us to recognize and appreciate the unique callings, talents, and gifts of each member in the body of Christ. Every part is important and has a needed function. When we fail to understand or appreciate a person role and ministry, help us not to reject or criticize them, because we are all part of the one whole. Forgive us when we fail to accept others as you have accepted us. Amen.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
When we fail to love others, there is still a God who loves us and accepts us just as we are with all of our blemishes and sin. Not only does God forgive us, through the Spirit we also are enabled to walk the sanctified life of Christ.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts we offer, our hearts we bring, our lives we give to you, O God. Use our offerings for the service of your Kingdom that all may hear your Word and seek to live the sanctified life of Christ. We ask your blessings and your grace, in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Go into the world as servants of the Living God to be a light in the darkness and a fresh scent in a lonely land. God calls us to reach out a hand to our neighbours and welcome them as Jesus welcomed all people. Open your heart, open your home, open your life to those around you that the Spirit may shine through you and transform the world.