JOSEPH AND HIS BROTHERS
ROMANS 8:28, ESV
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.
GENESIS 37:1-4, NIrV
1 Jacob lived in the land of Canaan. It’s the land where his father had stayed.
2 Here is the story of the family line of Jacob.
Joseph was a young man. He was 17 years old. He was taking care of the flocks with some of his brothers. They were the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, the wives of his father Jacob. Joseph brought their father a bad report about his brothers.
3 Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. That’s because Joseph had been born to him when he was old. Israel made him a beautiful robe. 4 Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them. So they hated Joseph. They couldn’t even speak one kind word to him.
All siblings fight from time to time. Learning to get along with others is just a normal part of growing up. But the brotherly battles of Jacob’s twelve boys were far beyond ordinary! The reason his sons were at each other’s throats was simple: Joseph was his dad’s favorite child and everybody knew it! To make things worse, Jacob gave his star child (and no one else) a beautiful robe of many colors. To top it off, Joseph caught his brothers messing around while watching their father’s sheep and told on them. Put all these things together and you have a recipe for an explosive brotherly battle!
+ How old was Joseph? (vs. 2)
+ How did the brothers treat Joseph after he was given his special coat? (vs. 4)
GENESIS 37:5-11, NIrV
5 Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to the dream I had. 7 We were tying up bundles of grain out in the field. Suddenly my bundle stood up straight. Your bundles gathered around my bundle and bowed down to it.”
8 His brothers said to him, “Do you plan to be king over us? Will you really rule over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream. They didn’t like what he had said.
9 Then Joseph had another dream. He told it to his brothers. “Listen,” he said. “I had another dream. This time the sun and moon and 11 stars were bowing down to me.”
10 He told his father as well as his brothers. Then his father rebuked him. He said, “What about this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers really do that? Will we really come and bow down to the ground in front of you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him. But his father kept the dreams in mind.
Years earlier, God spoke to Joseph’s dad in a dream from atop an angel-covered ladder to heaven. When Joseph had his own set of God-given dreams, he was excited to share them with his brothers. In both dreams, things bowed down to Joseph like he was a king. His brothers’ bundles of crops bowed down to Joseph’s grain in the first dream. And the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed down to Joseph in the second. These dreams were pictures from God about the future of their family. It’s no surprise that Joseph’s brothers didn’t like the idea of bowing down before their brat of a brother!
+ Draw a picture of one of Joseph’s dreams:
GENESIS 37:12-18, NIrV
12 Joseph’s brothers had gone to take care of their father’s flocks near Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are taking care of the flocks near Shechem. Come. I’m going to send you to them.”
“All right,” Joseph replied.
14 So Israel said to him, “Go to your brothers. See how they are doing. Also see how the flocks are doing. Then come back and tell me.” So he sent him away from the Hebron Valley.
Joseph arrived at Shechem. 15 A man found him wandering around in the fields. He asked Joseph, “What are you looking for?”
16 He replied, “I’m looking for my brothers. Can you tell me where they are taking care of their flocks?”
17 “They’ve moved on from here,” the man answered. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’ ”
So Joseph went to look for his brothers. He found them near Dothan. 18 But they saw him a long way off. Before he reached them, they made plans to kill him.
Jacob’s older boys led their father’s flocks many miles away from home. They were searching for fields of grass for their sheep to snack on. Because he couldn’t call them on the phone and ask how things were going, Jacob sent Joseph to check things out. As he headed their way, Jacob’s sons spotted their baby brother coming from a mile away. How? Because Joseph was wearing his brightly-colored robe, the one that reminded them that Joseph was his father’s favorite. Far away from home and with no one else watching, an awful idea popped into their heads: “Let’s kill that dreamer!”
+ Why were Joseph’s brothers able to recognize him from so far away?
+ Why would Joseph’s brothers want to kill him?
GENESIS 37:19-24, NIRV
19 “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to one another. 20 “Come. Let’s kill him. Let’s throw him into one of these empty wells. Let’s say that a wild animal ate him up. Then we’ll see whether his dreams will come true.”
21 Reuben heard them talking. He tried to save Joseph from them. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. 22 “Don’t spill any of his blood. Throw him into this empty well here in the desert. But don’t harm him yourselves.” Reuben said that to save Joseph from them. He was hoping he could take him back to his father.
23 When Joseph came to his brothers, he was wearing his beautiful robe. They took it away from him. 24 And they threw him into the well. The well was empty. There wasn’t any water in it.
Joseph’s brothers were sick and tired of Joseph the daddy’s boy, with his fancy-schmancy robes and dumb dreams about being their king! Miles away from home, it would be a piece of cake to kill the little brat and totally get away with it. They even thought of a great lie to fool their father: “An animal ate him!” Hoping to rescue Joseph later, Reuben, the oldest brother, quickly came up with a back-up plan. “Let’s toss him into a pit and leave him there to die.” So that’s what they did. They ripped off his precious robe and dropped him into a hole so deep, he could never climb out.
+ What name did the brothers call Joseph? Why would they call him that? (vs. 19-20)
+ Why did Reuben tell them to just throw Joseph into a pit? (vs. 22)
GENESIS 37:25-30, NIRV
25 Then they sat down to eat their meal. As they did, they saw some Ishmaelite traders coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, lotion and myrrh. They were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and try to cover up what we’ve done? 27 Come. Let’s sell him to these traders. Let’s not harm him ourselves. After all, he’s our brother. He’s our own flesh and blood.” Judah’s brothers agreed with him.
28 The traders from Midian came by. Joseph’s brothers pulled him up out of the well. They sold him to the Ishmaelite traders for eight ounces of silver. Then the traders took him to Egypt.
29 Later, Reuben came back to the empty well. He saw that Joseph wasn’t there. He was so upset that he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Now what should I do?”
While Joseph was stuck in a pit and probably begging for his life, his brothers ignored him. They sat down to enjoy their lunch as if nothing happened. As they ate, they saw men approaching with heavily-packed camels. These were traders, men who would travel from place to place selling goods and, sometimes, people. Seeing them gave Judah an idea: “How about we sell Joseph as a slave? That way, we still get rid of the brat and we’ll make some money, too!” So while their brother Reuben was away, they dragged Joseph out of the pit and sold him as a slave for twenty silver pieces.
+ Where did the traders take Joseph? (vs. 28)
+ What did Reuben do when he came back and learned that Joseph was gone? (v. 29)
GENESIS 37:31-36, NIRV
31 Then they got Joseph’s beautiful robe. They killed a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They took the robe back to their father. They said, “We found this. Take a look at it. See if it’s your son’s robe.”
33 Jacob recognized it. He said, “It’s my son’s robe! A wild animal has eaten him up. Joseph must have been torn to pieces.”
34 Jacob tore his clothes. He put on the rough clothing people wear when they’re sad. Then he mourned for his son many days. 35 All Jacob’s other sons and daughters came to comfort him. But they weren’t able to. He said, “I will continue to mourn until I go down into the grave to be with my son.” So Joseph’s father mourned for him.
36 But the traders from Midian sold Joseph to Potiphar in Egypt. Potiphar was one of Pharaoh’s officials. He was the captain of the palace guard.
After selling their younger brother as a slave, there was just one thing left for the brothers to do: fool their father into believing a wild animal had gobbled Joseph up! To make their sad story more believable, they dipped their brother’s beautiful robe in the blood of a goat. I imagine they probably gave it a few rips and tears, too. When they showed it to their father Jacob, they told him an absolute whopper of a lie: “We found this robe, father! Do you think it could be Joseph’s?”
The blood-soaked robe did the trick. As soon as he saw it, Jacob believed that his beloved son was dead. Except, of course, you and I know that he wasn’t dead at all! Instead of being in the belly of a beast, he was on his way with some traders to serve as a slave in the land of Egypt.
The sad story of Joseph and his brothers is a pretty clear picture of the destructive power of hate and jealousy. Because Joseph was daddy’s favorite, they hated him. They hated him so much, they couldn’t say a kind word to him. And they let that hatred grow and grow until it was a big jealous monster ready to gobble Joseph up! Because of their hatred, their brother was all alone in Egypt, their father was heart-broken, and they had to live with a dark secret for many, many years.
But in all this mess, there’s good news. You see, the story of Joseph and his brothers was far from over. This bit of the story ended in a total nightmare for Joseph. But as we journey on, we’ll see that God made Joseph's life a dream come true. Literally!
Remember those two strange dreams Joseph had? The ones about his family members bowing to him? Over twenty years later, God brought those two dreams to life. Joseph was dragged to a far-off land as a lowly slave. But with God’s blessing, he rose to second-in-charge of the entire land of Egypt! His brothers bowed down to him like a king. And because of his powerful position, Joseph was able to save his family from starving during a time when food did not grow.
That’s one of the great things about the Lord, the God we learn about in the Bible. He can take something that looks like a total disaster and turn it into a marvelous masterpiece. Though the brothers meant to harm Joseph, it was all part of God’s plan to make Joseph as powerful as the king of Egypt!
Like the story of Joseph and his brothers, the story of God’s Son had its share of sad moments. After Jesus was arrested, beaten, and killed on a cross, things looked pretty bad. But this was all part of God’s plan. On the cross, it looked like Jesus had lost, but that was exactly how he won! His death paid for our sins and earned us a place in God’s forever kingdom. Like Joseph, God turned disaster into a dream come true!
+ What did Jacob say when his children tried to comfort him? (vs. 35)
+ Who was Joseph sold to? (vs. 36)