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 a richly ornamented robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak to him.
Now his brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, 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.
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, lets kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then well see what comes of his dreams. When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue them from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe–the richly ornamented robe he was wearing–and they took him and threw him into the cistern. When 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. Genesis 37:2-4, 12, 13, 17-24, 28 (NIV)
Summary: Patterns of sin in families–when those patterns are not dealt with–have increasingly destructive impact through the generations.
Every detail in this story highlights the murderous predisposition of the descendants of Jacob and of Adam: Joseph was his father’s favorite son and this was obvious from the ornamental coat he made him, effectively promoting him as overseer of his brothers. Joseph had dreams and prophesied that he would rule over his brothers and father. Joseph reported his brothers bad behavior to his father. The brothers sought to escape the notice of Joseph by secretly removing themselves and the flocks from Shechem to Dothan. Even so, Joseph found them. All of this inflamed the rebellious seed Satan had implanted in the human race at the Fall.
As a result, like Cane and Esau before them, Josephs brothers intended to murder their brother. Only the half-hearted intervention of Reuben kept them from doing so. The result, Joseph would be sold into slavery – foretelling the eventual slavery of the entire nation. Slavery to sin leads to physical slavery. But freedom from physical slavery does not necessarily result in freedom from slavery to sin.
The intent of this and many other stories in Genesis was to inform the readers that they were in imminent danger of sin overtaking them, both as individuals and as a community. Sin is crouching at the door, God warned Cane. And you must master it. But how? The answer that has been given in Genesis–and will continue to be given in this book–is that victory over sin results in entering into a covenant relationship with the God of the universe and becoming their brother’s keeper instead of their brother’s murderer. When the people of God act on that covenant by loving their brother, victory over sin results. When the people of God forget the covenant and forget their brother in need, sin reasserts itself and destroys.
Application What does the text mean for us in our context?
Sin still knocks at the door of every man and he must master it. If he doesn’t, it will destroy him and those around him for generations to come. Sin is virulent and opportunistic. it penetrates our soul and spreads to our fellow man: to our neighbors, to our children, and to their children.
But how does a man overcome sin and become a blessing instead of a curse? Genesis gives us the answer again and again: men overcome sin in their lives by entering into a relationship with God through the covenant – read agreement – He offers them, just as Abram did with the covenant God offered him. In our day, that covenant is the New Covenant Jesus outlined at the Last Supper in John 13. This covenant stipulates that if we place our faith in Jesus and love each other, we will experience victory over sin.
Nevertheless, even though we have entered into this covenant, we can fail to believe it and obey it, just as the sons of Israel did. Failure to obey the covenant results in horrible sin against those around us. We open the door to the demonic beast within us and become a destructive curse instead of a constructive blessing.
Teach: How do we communicate these truths in a way that our audience understands them, remembers them and responds to them appropriately?
Repetition is a common literary device used to emphasize a point. By now, Genesis is driving home the point through repetition that sin is generational, that it destroys human relationships and people themselves, that it is overcome by entering and maintaining a relationship with God through the covenant he graciously offers us. It also reminds us that even the people of God can revert back into sin and become instruments of Satan to destroy Gods anointed.
Sin infects the people of God in every church. Perhaps your church is experiencing a particularly virulent outbreak. Use this time as a teachable moment to remind your men that your men’s team ministry is one expression of your covenant relationship with God and that one of its purposes is to being healing to your people.
- What themes from earlier in the book of Genesis reappear in this passage?
- What does the story of Joseph and his brothers tell us about the human heart?
- Why was Reuben’s intervention ineffective as someone who tried to be “his brother’s keeper?
- In what ways is God demonstrating his sovereignty in this story even when evil seems to rule the day?
- Are there patterns of sin that you have observed occurring in your own family history?
- What ways have been effective in dealing with it and what have not? Why?