************ Sermon on Genesis 37 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on July 20, 2014
"Favoritism, Arrogance, Jealousy, and Providence"
So far Moses has devoted most of Genesis to the history of the patriarchs. Having told us about Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, Moses now tells us about Jacob’s sons, especially Joseph.
I want to remind you that the common theme in all of these stories is the promise of Genesis 3:15 – namely, the seed of the woman through whom Satan would be defeated and God’s purpose for mankind fulfilled.
A Today's Scripture reading begins with Jacob. He is living in the Promised Land. He has made peace with his brother. He has buried his favorite wife. His father has died.
You would think that in the providence of God everything would now be looking up for Jacob and his family. You might expect God's providence to make straight, easy paths for Jacob and His family. But, in the account of Jacob we see this is not the case. And, we have to admit it often is the same way for you and me. God's providence does not promise believers flowery beds of ease.
B Jacob's problems starts with sin – his own sin. Jacob is guilty of favoritism: we are told that he loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. So he made a richly ornamented robe for Joseph (Gen 37:3). The problem is Jacob's favoritism was done openly in front of the other sons; nothing secret here; no guessing on their part. Jacob's eleven other sons all saw that Jacob loved Joseph more than any of them (Gen 37:4). Wow, that has to hurt. The pain. The rejection.
We see Jacob following the sin of his own parents. Remember how Isaac loved Esau while Rebekah loved Jacob (Gen 25:28)? Remember the turmoil this caused, the conflict, the competition? Both boys competing for the love and affection of their parents. Both boys competing for the birthright and blessing.
Let me say this loud and clear to every parent and grandparent, teacher and leader: do NOT play favorites. Favoritism leads to arrogance and jealousy. Favoritism leads to rivalry and strife. Favoritism leads to unhealthy family life.
Parents exasperate their children when they play favorites. From that point on the unloved sons or daughters live their life trying to win father's or mother's approval. From that point on the golden boy or girl can do no wrong. Parents aren't supposed to play favorites. Instead, they are to bring up their children in the training and instruction of the Lord (Eph 6:4).
C You might argue in response that God plays favorites. When it comes right down to it, isn't that what election is? Doesn't God favor some people over others?
Go back to Isaac and Rebekah. Isaac favored Esau because of what he got out of it; Esau was a hunter and Isaac had a taste for wild game (Gen 25:28). As for Rebekah, she favored Jacob because of what she got out of it; Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents (Gen 25:28). Similarly, Jacob loved Joseph because he had been born to him by his favorite wife in his old age (Gen 37:3).
Man plays favorites because of selfish, self-centered reasons. Because of what we get out of it. Because it brings us pleasure. Because we gain something. Because it makes us feel good or feeds our ego.
But now look at God. Of all the peoples and nations on earth the nation of Israel was His favorite. Why? The LORD did not set His affection on Israel and choose her because she was more numerous than other peoples, for she was the fewest of all peoples (cf Deut 7:7). She wasn't better. She wasn't smarter. She wasn't more deserving. There was nothing about Israel that made God choose her. God gets nothing out of it. He chooses in Christ to demonstrate His mercy to the praise of the riches of His glorious grace (cf Deu 7:6,8).
Jacob was flat out wrong in playing favorites. He was flat out wrong in making this public so both Joseph and Joseph's brothers knew this.
D Did you notice the shift in names in the first three verses of Genesis 37? Twice the beginning of our passage uses the name "Jacob." We are told, "Jacob lived in the land." And, "This is the account of Jacob." But verse 3 uses the covenant name "Israel." We are told, "Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons." Israel, remember, means "struggles with God" and recalls the wrestling match by the River Jabbok (cf Gen 32:28).
Telling us what? Telling us Jacob is still wrestling with God. Telling us Jacob is still trying to go his own way. Telling us Jacob is still a saint in progress. Telling us Jacob is not yet perfect. Telling us that if a man like Jacob still has his ups and downs, then so do we. Don't ever forget, congregation, that even the holiest of saints makes only the smallest beginning in being obedient to God's commandments.
A Jacob's sin was favoritism. Joseph's sin was arrogance. Our Bible reading does not present a pretty picture of Joseph as he is portrayed as a spoiled young man.
The problems start as Joseph tends flocks with Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. He would come in from the fields and give his father a "bad report" about his brothers. The Hebrew word for "report" is used elsewhere to describe false tales (Num 13:32). Therefore, some commentators believe Joseph was either fabricating stories about his brothers or stretching the truth about them. Even if Joseph was not guilty of either of these sins, he made himself highly unpopular by being a tattletale. Or, to put it in more biblical language, Joseph didn't cover minor offences with love (Prov 10:12; 17:9; 19:11).
B Jacob's favor for Joseph, the son of his favorite wife, made a bad situation even worse. Loving him more than his other sons, Jacob made Joseph his famous coat of many colors. Actually, the Hebrew description of the coat is not "many colors" but "long-sleeved" or "ornamental." Whatever the robe's precise appearance, it was a royal garment that honored Joseph above his brothers. The same description is used for the garment worn by Tamar, the daughter of King David (2 Sam 13:18).
We are told that when Joseph went to check up on his brothers he was wearing the coat. From this it appears Joseph wore the coat everywhere and maybe all the time. He was adding insult to injury. He was rubbing it in the face of his brothers; he was saying, in effect, "Look at me and my coat. Dad loves me more than he loves you!"
C Then we come to Joseph's dreams. We know that the Lord often used dreams during biblical times to reveal the future to His servants. Recall, for instance, Jacob's dream of the stairway reaching to heaven (Gen 28:12ff). Even Joseph's brothers right away recognize that his dreams are predicting his rule over them.
As a boy I loved the story of Joseph. But I am not sure if I love the Joseph of our story. Not only is he a spoiled young man but he is also arrogant and self-absorbed. Why, for instance, would he tell his dreams to his brothers? He knows their feelings towards him. He know the jealousy and envy. Yet, he proceeds to tell them his dreams anyway. How can he be so dumb and so oblivious and so callous?
There is no room for pride in the Kingdom of God. Pride is always sinful and foolish (Prov 16:18). Christians should be the most humble of all people, knowing we are no better or smarter than others, knowing that salvation is all of grace and not of works, knowing that we deserve only judgment and condemnation. Paul reminds us that we are to do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). In doing so, he says, we have the same attitude as Christ Who humbled Himself by taking the nature of a servant and being obedient to death (Phil 2:5-8).
What do we do that is less than Christ-like? What do we do that creates obstacles between us and others? What do we do that encourages the kind of sibling rivalry faced by Joseph?
Yet, by the providence of God, Joseph becomes the next patriarch of the family following in the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
A Jacob's sin was favoritism. Joseph's sin was arrogance. The sin of the ten brothers was jealousy.
A number of years ago I saw the movie Amadeus. Portrayed in the movie was Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The movie showed us a young Mozart who was blessed with talents which set him apart from all his contemporaries. Mozart's music was complex, moving, exciting, inspiring. It was clear that God had endowed him with extraordinary gifts. Nevertheless, Mozart was also immature, vulgar, obscene, lustful, and irreverent.
The other main character was Antonio Salieri, court musician to the King of Austria. Salieri had dedicated himself to serving God, promising to write music that would glorify the heavenly Father. From his youth on he dreamed of composing music that would lift the hearts of people heavenward. Salieri was committed to serving God and asked only that God might permit him to create the kind of music that would reflect His glory. However, God had not endowed Salieri with such gifts. Salieri was able to compose pleasant tunes, but not masterpieces. He could compose music which would entertain its hearers, but never immortalize its composer. Despite his immense popularity, Salieri knew that his was a mediocre talent and that his uninspired work would soon be forgotten.
Salieri sat through Mozart's concerts and programs and the beautiful music sent tears down his cheeks. Oh if only he could compose such music! But it was not to be. He didn't have Mozart's talents.
The story line shows us what happens when a good God-fearing man like Salieri is filled with envy. We have to say that Salieri was consumed by his envy of Mozart's talents. Salieri's envy led him to scheme and plot against Mozart at every turn. He stole Mozart's compositions, bribed Mozart's servants, and informed the king about Mozart's indiscretions. Salieri's envy eventually drove him to insanity. The movie ends with Salieri cursing God for denying him the talent which He gave to Mozart.
The relationship of Mozart and Salieri mirrors the relationship of Joseph and his brothers. The brothers were intensely jealous of Joseph.
B When Joseph's brothers saw his coat and that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him (Gen 37:4). This means they could not even grunt a good morning or a hello. For sure they did not give him kisses, hugs, or handshakes.
As for Joseph's dreams, the dreams made the brothers go ballistic. Their disgust and hatred is recorded twice, indicating its intensity (Gen 37:5,8).
All of this sets up the finale – Joseph being sold into slavery. Jacob sent Joseph to check up on his brothers. We can safely assume the brothers will think Joseph is getting ammunition for another bad report.
Now, notice how it starts. Joseph's brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Shechem. Recognize the name? This is the town where Dinah was raped, where Simeon and Levi killed every male, where the rest of the brothers pillaged and plundered. This is the town where Jacob's family buried their idols under an oak tree. Jacob feared for his life because of what happened at this town. Let me ask, What are the brothers doing at Shechem? Are they tempting fate? Are they taunting their former neighbors? Are they staring danger in the face? So right away we know Joseph is headed into danger. But the danger is not from the people of Shechem; rather, the danger is from his own brothers.
The brothers hatch their plan to kill Joseph before he reached them (Gen 37:18). They do not have to think twice about the deed; their decision is already made when they see him in the distance. In all likelihood they have long been waiting for a chance to get rid of Joseph. However, in God's providence they do not kill Joseph; instead, they throw him into an empty water cistern.
What happens next? We know from later in Genesis that Joseph pleaded with his brothers for his life (Gen 42:21). So Joseph was well aware of their murderous intentions. What did his brothers do? They did the most callous thing imaginable: they sat down to eat while in the background they heard Joseph's cries (Gen 37:25). Imagine, being able to eat after assaulting him. How indifferent. How lost in sin. Not much different than the bank robbers who stole and murdered in Stockton this past week.
By the providence of God Joseph was sold as a slave into Egypt. The brothers thought they were putting an end to Joseph's dreams of rule and authority. Instead, the Lord used their wicked deeds to fulfill the visions (Gen 50:20). Though God's providence is guarding Joseph, his life is not free of suffering. The same is true of us. The providence of God guards and keeps us through many sorrows, trials, and pains.
The brothers now have to hide their crime by slaughtering a goat and dipping Joseph's treasured coat in its blood (Gen 37:31). As is typical, one sin leads to another. And, we see divine justice because just as Jacob once tricked his father Isaac with a goat (Gen 27:1-29) so his sons use a goat to trick him about Joseph's fate. Jacob reaps what he has sown (Gal 6:7).
C We see that envy is a terrible passion. It puts the soul into a most sorry position and provokes a great many sins. Do you find yourself jealous of another's position or power or talents or money or athletic ability? Repent and ask the Lord to help you be content with where He has put you.
Envy is a terrible thing. And yet, Israel's sons were not lost forever; they were indeed blessed to be the foundation stones of the New Jerusalem (Rev 21:12).
A Let me end with a few observations about the providence of God.
First, our Almighty Creator does not work outside of history. He works in the lives of real people making real choices and doing real deeds. Since creation, God has chosen to fulfill His plan of redemption with flesh-and-blood individuals who are sinful even as we are sinful. As parents and grandparents, as elders and teachers, as preachers and janitors, as presidents and servants, let us remember God uses real sinful people to achieve His ends.
B Second, we see that our mistakes and transgressions and faults and sins cannot derail God's purposes. Jacob showed favoritism. Joseph showed arrogance. Ten of the brothers were filled with envy. By His providence, God used these transgressions, and many more, to put Joseph exactly when He wanted Him. Likewise, God uses us – fallen though we are – to advance His plans and purposes. Let me sum it up this way:
-Without the coat, no hatred.
-Without the hatred, Joseph does not get sold into Egypt.
-Without Joseph in Egypt, there is no food during famine and the nation of Israel does not become enslaved.
-Without slavery, there is no Moses and no Exodus.
-Without Moses and the Exodus, there is no Law, no prophets, and no Christ!
We see that it is all part of the plan: God working everything out for the good of those who love Him.
C Third, the most important thing we must see is the faithfulness of God. God promised to be with Abraham. God promised to be with Isaac. God promised to be with Jacob. God promised to be with Joseph. Likewise, God promises to be with us. And He is when He sent Immanuel to be one with us. And He continues to be with us in divinity, majesty, grace, and Spirit.
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