Thus far, our series has focused on 3 primary characters - Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. These men are the patriarchs of the Jewish people. This morning our spotlight will shift once again. Beginning with today’s message and for the remainder of the series, we will be concentrating on Jacob’s children - particularly on his son Joseph. Though Joseph is not one of the patriarchs, his story providentially sets the stage for the next chapter of Jewish history.
I. DESPISED BY HIS BROTHERS (v1-11)
Jacob and his family settled in Hebron, where both Abraham and Issac had sojourned before him. His son Joseph, who was just a baby when Jacob left Paddan-Aram, was now 17 years old. He and his brothers were responsible for pasturing their father’s flocks. One day, Joseph brought back a bad report about some of the things they were doing. In other words, he told on them. Joseph was a snitch, and his brothers didn’t like it.
Furthermore, Joseph was one of Rachel’s sons and therefore held a special place in his father’s heart. Jacob openly favored him over all of his other children, and even went so far as to make him a multi-colored tunic symbolizing his esteemed status. It would seem that Jacob, having himself experienced the toxicity of a father’s favoritism, would have avoided repeating this same behavior - but he didn’t. This was another reason why Joseph’s brothers despised him.
To make matters worse, Joseph had a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves in the field. In the dream, their sheaves bowed down before his. Then he had a second dream in which the sun, moon, and 11 stars all bowed before him. In both of these dreams, Joseph’s brothers were symbolically portrayed as submitting to and showing allegiance to him. Joseph felt superior to his brothers, and his lofty dreams and prideful arrogance further alienated them. In short, they hated him.
Let’s face it… Joseph was a pompous brat and his brothers had plenty of valid reasons not to like him. But, let’s not forget, his father Jacob had not been the best brother when he was young either. Remember how Jacob took advantage of Esau regarding the birthright and his father’s blessing? Remember how Esau hated him for it? Now, a generation later, we see young Joseph offending his brothers in similar fashion. As they say, “Like father, like son”.
II. THROWN IN A PIT (v12-24)
Now Jacob’s brothers had taken their father’s flocks to pasture near Shechem. Jacob sent Joseph to go check on them and see if they were okay. So Joseph came to Shechem, but his brothers were not there. A stranger approached him and asked, “Who are you looking for?” When Joseph answered the man told him that his brothers had moved on toward Dothan. Joseph continued to Dothan in search of them.
As he approached, his brothers saw him in the distance and plotted to kill him. They planned to throw his dead body in a pit and say that he’d been devoured by a wild animal. Reuben, the oldest son, convinced his brothers not to kill Joseph immediately but rather to throw him alive into a pit. As the firstborn, Reuben knew that he would likely be held most responsible should anything bad happen. In truth, Reuben secretly hoped to go “rescue” Joseph later and then take the credit for saving him.
When Joseph came near, the brothers seized him and stripped off the clothes he was wearing. Joseph had on his multi-colored tunic - the one he purposely wore around to flaunt himself as the favorite son. His enraged brothers cast poor, almost naked Joseph into a deep, waterless pit and left him there to die.
III. SOLD INTO SLAVERY (v25-36)
While they were eating, the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites passing by on their way to Egypt. One of the brothers, Judah, proposed that they sell Joseph to these traveling merchants. He reasoned that killing Joseph was too extreme - after all, they were brothers. By selling him, they could avoid having “blood on their hands”, Joseph would still be gone, and they’d all make a little money in the process. The brothers agreed that this was a better idea than either killing him or leaving him to die.
There are 2 competing explanations for what happened next. The first is that Reuben, for some unknown reason, was not with his brothers when they sold Joseph to these Ishmaelites (synonymously called Midianites). Thus, when Reuben returned to the pit later he was surprised to find that Joseph was already gone. The second possibility is that Reuben returned to the pit on behalf of his brothers to retrieve Joseph so that they could sell him. However, when he arrived Joseph wasn’t there. Some Midianite traders had already found him and sold him to the Ishmaelites.
Either way, Joseph was long gone. So the brothers slaughtered a goat and dipped Joseph’s colorful coat in its blood. They took the blood-stained tunic to their father Jacob and gave it to him for inspection. The brothers claimed that Joseph had been fatally attacked by a wild animal. Jacob saw the evidence, believed their report, and was devastated to hear that his favorite son was dead. He mourned deeply for many days and refused to be comforted. Meanwhile, the Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt and sold him into slavery. He became the servant of Potipher, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard.
Jacob lived the next several years believing that his precious son Joseph was dead. Perhaps his guilty brothers convinced themselves into thinking the same thing. Maybe it helped them sleep better at night. For many years to follow, even as they watched their aging father languish in grief, they kept silent about what really happened. Perhaps they thought that telling him would only cause more harm. Maybe, but sometimes additional pain is necessary so that true healing can begin. In any case, keeping a secret in order to conceal one’s sin is always wrong (Proverbs 28:13).
The passage we’ve studied today, like so many others in Scripture, clearly foreshadows the life and death of Jesus Christ. It is yet another striking example of how the entire Bible points to and centers around Jesus. It amazes me how so many people can read the Word of God and still miss this truth. Let me close by making a few notable comparisons...
Joseph was despised and condemned by his own brothers.
Jesus was hated and rejected by His Jewish brethren.
Joseph's brothers plotted evil against him and intended to kill him.
The Jewish priests and religious authorities conspired against and sought to execute Jesus.
Joseph was seized, stripped, and cast into a pit where he was left to die.
Jesus was arrested, stripped, beaten, and crucified on a Roman cross.
After suffering there for some time, Joseph was lifted alive out of the pit.
After 3 days, Jesus miraculously rose from the dead and walked out of the grave.
Joseph was taken to the far-away country of Egypt.
Jesus ascended into Heaven, the glorious Kingdom of God.
Joseph’s brothers chose to hide their guilt from their father.
Many people today refuse to admit their sins and confess them to God.