When my daughters were small, we bought them a Children’s NIV Bible and I would read portions of the Bible to them before bed. One of the first stories that I read to them was the account of Joseph. He is one of my favourite characters in the Old Testament. I remember reading the section where Joseph is falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and thrown into prison. I think they thought there would be a speedy resolution to the false allegations and the matter would be cleared up, but when I closed the Bible and said ‘ok we’ll read some more tomorrow’ their mouths fell open as they gasped. ‘They can’t do that, it’s not fair!’ was the cry. I knew then that they were hooked and couldn’t wait for the next instalment.
I have heard preachers criticise Joseph and say he was very unwise and immature in the way he handled the dreams. My opinion for what it’s worth is that’s simply not true. There were however, big problems in this family.
Firstly, having been brought up in a divided family himself and knowing the damage that it did to his father and mother, as well as to himself and his twin brother; Jacob should not have chosen to favour Joseph. It was bound to end in tears and the brothers would already have known their places in the pecking order when Jacob had prepared to meet Esau (33:2). When Jacob favoured Joseph above the others, he was sowing the seeds of their resentment. “For God does not show favouritism.” (Romans 2:11)
The second thing that is seriously wrong in this family is the simmering hatred among the brothers. Jacob must bear some responsibility for his own foolish actions but Joseph was the youngest son meaning at least some of his brothers were considerably older, old enough to know better (29:31-30:24). Their hatred of Joseph really stands out; ‘they hated him’ (37:4), ‘they hated him all the more’ (37:5), ‘they hated him all the more’ (37:8). Three times in five verses we are told of their hatred; we are beginning to get a pretty clear picture. I suppose they probably drew strength from each other as they were all in the same boat with a common enemy but this kind of strength is deeply damaging. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians we read of ‘The acts of the sinful nature’, and we are told ‘those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God’. That isn’t surprising and Paul helpfully lists some of these acts of the sinful nature; ‘sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery, idolatry and witchcraft; hatred.’ There are others on the list but we can see right after witchcraft there is hatred (Galatians 5:19-21). The hate they had for Joseph led them to do terrible things and all of them would shed tears and live to regret their actions.
Joseph’s dreams were significant, they were from God and they came true. The brothers would forget about them, probably writing them off as the ramblings of a spoilt boy. For Joseph they were a lifeline that helped to sustain him through the trials he would face. He had a revelation from God and he shared it. I would suggest, rather than slating Joseph, we seek to emulate him and share what God has revealed to us.
Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me
All His wonderful passion and purity
Oh, Thou Spirit divine, all my nature refine
Till the beauty of Jesus be seen in me. (Albert Orsborn/Tom M. Jones)