“That We Might have Hope” (Rom. 15:4)
Genesis Chapter Thirty-seven
The Lord Graciously Rules That We Might Have Hope
God had promised to make of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob a Messianic nation. Our chapter marks the beginning of the account of His wondrous ways in bringing His gracious promises to fulfillment.
A part of the divine plan to make of Israel a nation included the prediction that Abraham’s descendants would become strangers and slaves in a foreign land. God began to shape the history of the fulfillment of those prophecies by focusing upon Joseph, a teenager in the family of Jacob.
An Obedient Son
Joseph was seventeen years of age. Along with his older brothers. He part in caring for the father’s livestock. We are told that he brought to the attention of his father a bad report concerning his brothers. We are not told what the bad report was, nor if Joseph had made several attempts to correct the situation on his own.
We learn that Jacob (Israel) loved Joseph more than his other sons. For one reason, Joseph was the son of Jacob’s beloved wife, Rachel. The oldest son, Reuben, had forfeited his birthright through his sin with Bilhah, Jacob’s concubine. Simeon and Levi had brought shame upon Jacob by their massacre of the men of Shechem. Joseph was an obedient, God-fearing son. It may be that Jacob considered Joseph as the more desirable representative head of the family (usually reserved for the first-born son).
The special love for Joseph was made very visible when his father provided him with a robe. We are not familiar with the use of the word used in the Hebrews to describe the robe. It may have been richly ornamented, or a formal style garment of full length with long sleeves. It did indicate a favored son, one in an exalted position, for it was not a working garment.
It appears that Jacob may have forgotten the envy and hatred generated when father Isaac demonstrated more love for one of his twins, for Jacob boldly showed his favor for Joseph. To the brothers who daily labored in the sheep/goat business of their father, Joseph’s coat clearly demonstrated that he received preferential treatment.
In God’s plan to use Joseph as a key figure in Jacob’s history, God communicated with Joseph by means of two dreams. The first dream revealed Jacob’s family binding sheaves in a field. Suddenly Joseph’s sheaf rose upright and the other sheaves gathered about and bowed down to his. Joseph knew this was no ordinary dream. He reported it to brothers, who quickly caught the intent of the message and mocked: “You intend to reign over us? You will rule over us?”
The second dream revealed the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to Joseph. He likewise revealed the sun, moon, bowing down to Joseph. When he reported this communication, his father rebuked him: “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”
The two dreams clearly revealed God’s will to use young Joseph in a position of leadership in fulfilling the promises made to the patriarchal family. The brothers’ hatred blossomed into jealousy, but Jacob kept the revelation in his mind.
Sold Into Slavery
Because of a shortage of local grazing land the brothers moved Jacob’s flocks to green pastures near Shechem and Dothan, some 50 miles to the north, an area which lay along the trade route from Mesopotamia to Egypt. Jacob sent Joseph to see if all was going well with the brothers and his flocks. Joseph traveled to Shechem and was directed to Dothan where he found his brothers.
It could have been a happy moment of reunion, but the hatred in the brothers’ hearts turned instead to thoughts of extreme action: “Here comes that dreamer! Come, let’s kill him and throw him into a cistern . . . we can say that a wild animal devoured him.” Reuben suggested that they simply throw Joseph into an empty cistern (we read that he intended to rescue Joseph later on).
The brothers quickly removed the robe and threw Joseph into a cistern. As they went about their business they saw a caravan of traders on the way to Egypt. Judah then proposed that it would be more profitable if they sold Joseph to the traders. The brothers agreed and Joseph was sold for twenty shekels of silver.
We are told that Reuben was not present during the transaction. When he returned and found Joseph missing, he cried: “Where can I turn now?” An excellent question and high time that it be asked! “Where can I turn now?” has been asked by many a sinner at the dead end of his own chosen evil way: his cleverness turned stupid, his efforts to compromise convicted him, and he becomes a victim of his self-ade circumstances.
Had the brothers forgotten? Had they not learned? God invites sinners to turn from their ways to His grace and the comfort of His forgive- ness! He invites the troubled to call upon Him. He will deliver them! But without taking time to recall words from their gracious God taught them by a believing father, they plunge into the cover-up: slaughter a goat; let its blood soak into Joseph’s robe; rush home in great “shock and sorrow”; let father see the evidence and draw his own conclusion.
Thus it happened. Jacob assumed the obvious: “. . . it is my son’s robe; a wild animal has devoured him!” Jacob mourned for his son many days, rejecting all efforts to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning I will go down to the grave to my son!”
Where Is Jacob’s God?
We think of the contrast with David whose young son died. He ceased his deep mourning, went to the Lord’s house and worshiped. He witnessed his faith to those who wondered how he could recover so quickly: ” . . . Why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me.”
The Midianite traders arrived in Egypt, and sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials.
Our flesh is tempted to ask: “Where is Jacob’s God in all this? Where is Joseph’s guardian angel in all this? Is this the behavior of the behavior of believers, children of the heavenly Father? Where is the Father’s loving correction?” — These things were permitted to come to pass to fulfill the promises of God, and that Israel might have hope!
God did not move the brothers of Joseph to do this evil in order to accomplish His purpose. But as it is to this day, God turns all events (those sent by Him and those invented by sinners) to His good purpose. The “good” is the promise of God that Israel, after becoming slaves in a foreign land would be delivered and led to the promised land, becoming a nation. Through this people and nation God would send the promised Deliverer; the Savior from all sin, death, and the power of Satan; the Messiah, the Hope of His people and all humanity.
Thanks be to God for His ruling hand in the history of nations, peoples, and His own children. For He rules all things by His almighty power that we may have the sure Hope of life eternal through His Son, Jesus.
–Prof. Gordon Radtke