Dreams of a Teenager

Genesis 37

Alan Lewis
Elon, North Carolina
October 2015

Our chapter this morning brings us to one of the most famous stories of the Bible. Every child in Sunday School knows this story. It is one of the most amazing stories found in all literature and it is found in the Book of Genesis. Joseph is my absolute favorite character in the whole Bible. Joseph is an important character in the Scripture.

He was the great-grandson of Abraham. He was the ancestor of two tribes of Israel (Ephraim and Manasseh). Some important people came from those tribes (e.g., Joshua, Gideon, Samuel). God used him to save his family. Without him, there would have been no nation of Israel. He is also important for another reason.

Joseph is a type of Christ. There is no better picture of Jesus in the entire bible than Joseph. Both were loved by their father and hated by their brothers. Both were called to save their people. Both experienced rejection and betrayed. Both were despised and rejected.

People hated the one sent to deliver them. The Jews said of Jesus “We will not have this man rule over us”.  Joseph’s brothers did not want him ruling over them either. Both suffered unjustly and were put in prison.

Both were sold for silver. Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver. Jesus was sold for thirty pieces of silver. Both were false accused of some things. Jesus was accused of being a lawbreaker and a blasphemer. Joseph was accused of attempted rape.

Both were rebuked by their parents. Jacob rebuked Joseph in this section for his dream (37:11). Jesus’ parents rebuked him for staying behind in the Temple (Luke 2:51). That is when Jesus said, “Don’t you know that I must be about my Father’s business?

Both had parents who kept what they said in their hearts. Mary rebuked his son but kept that saying in her heart. Jacob rebuked Joseph for his dreams but never forgot them. There are many more parallels.  He is one of the most likable characters in Scripture.

The last part of Genesis is all about Joseph.  It is a huge section of the book. Genesis spends more time on Joseph than it spends on Abraham, Isaac or Jacob. Isaac has only one chapter devoted to him. One fourth of the book is devoted to Joseph.

It is a very important part of the Book of Genesis. Many people get all excited about the first half of Genesis. They love to study how God created the world supernaturally in six days. They like to learn more about Adam, Eve, Noah and the worldwide flood that covered the planet.

The first part of the book is important. It is foundational to the whole Bible but the second half of the book is actually more interesting and practical.

Family Background

What do we know about Joseph? Let’s start with his family. What did his family look like?

1) It was large family

He was not an only child. He had many siblings. He had one younger brother and ten older brothers. Most of his brothers were older than him. He was younger. In this chapter, he is just a teenager in this chapter. He was only seventeen years old. He was the eleventh of twelve sons in the family. He was next to the last son born. He was the second youngest son of Jacob.

2) It was a blended family

Jacob had four wives and each wife had children. He had one full-brother (Benjamin) and ten half-brothers (same father and different mother). Joseph does not have a mom. She died recently giving birth to his brother Benjamin. Genesis says how hard that was for Jacob. It was also hard for Joseph to lose his mom. Leah became his step-mom.

3) It was a dysfunctional family

It was messed up. There are some Christian families that are dysfunctional. What made Jacob’s family dysfunctional? There were many things. The adult children lied to their parents. There were family secrets. Joseph’s brothers led their father to believe that Joseph was dead. He mourned him for thirteen years. They knew he was alive all the time but never told him. They kept it secret.

There was deception in the family. There was abuse in the family. There was competition and sibling rivalry. There was jealousy and bitterness in this family. There was bullying. There was betrayal. There was revenge. There was kidnapping and slavery.  There was incest and abuse.

There was also parental favoritism. Jacob repeated the sin of his father. Isaac showed favoritism. He loved one son more than the other. He loved Esau more than he loved Jacob and now Jacob shows favoritism. He loves one wife (Rachel) more than the other three wives.

He loves one son more than the other eleven sons and probably spent more time with him. Why was Jacob his favorite son? He was the firstborn son of his favorite wife Rachel. That made him special. Even though he was son number eleven, he was Rachel’s firstborn son.

Character Qualities

What kind of character qualities did Joseph have? What was he like? He is the polar opposite of his brothers. They were wicked and he was righteous. His older brother Reuben committed sexual sin.

Joseph resists sexual sin. We will see that in Genesis 39. Joseph was a man of integrity. He was responsible. His dad could always count on him. Even though he was younger, he kept an eye on his brothers for his dad.

He was also a hard worker. We will see this later in the book. He was conscientious and hardworking. He was a man of faith.  He is listed in the Hall of Fame of Faith in Hebrews 11.  A member of our class described him as a visionary.

Joseph is one of two people that the Bible does not criticize. Daniel and Joseph were not sinless but the Bible does not record any of their faults. They were not sinless but they were blameless.

That is amazing if you think about it for two reasons. Joseph lived a godly life and he didn’t even have a Bible. It wasn’t written yet. The NT was not written yet. The OT was not written yet. The Ten Commandments did not exist and yet somehow he lived an exemplary life.

It is also amazing for another reason. Joseph was godly, even though he lived in a family that had some extremely wicked family members in it. Joseph did not have a lot of good role models to look up to in his family but he still lived godly in the presence of a lot of bad examples in his own family. He was not corrupted by their evil influence.

What does that tell us? It the midst of an evil environment, it is possible to live a godly life. It may not be easy but it is possible. Noah did it. He lived before the Flood and was surrounded by depraved people but even in that environment he walked with God. No matter how messed up your family is, no matter how dysfunctional it is, you can still live a godly life.

Unusual Abilities

Joseph was a very unusual man. He had some gifts and abilities that others did not have. What we his gifts? God gave Joseph some special dreams and the ability to interpret those dreams. Now as far as we know, God never appeared to Joseph, like he did to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but he did speak to him through dreams. God gave Jacob a special dream (Jacob’s Ladder). Now Joseph gets some special dreams. What were Joseph’s dreams like?

Joseph’s Dreams 

They were not like the dreams that we have.  The dreams that I have do not come directly from God.  They are not of divine origin.  They deal with present, not the future.  When I wake up, I cannot even remember them most of the time.  Joseph’s dreams very different.  They were vivid.  They were memorable and unforgettable.  They also had two characteristics.

One, they were SYMBOLIC DREAMS.

He had two dreams and both were symbolic.  The first dream involved the harvest.  The second one involved the heavens (sun, moon and stars).  One involved the sheaves and one involved the stars.

One was agricultural and one was astronomic in nature but they were both symbolic.  The sun, moon, stars and sheaves all represented something.  The sun, moon and stars did not literally bow down to Joseph.

Two, they were PROPHETIC DREAMS.

God gave Joseph a prophecy of future events in these dreams. Does God still do this today?  Does He still speak to people in dreams today?  Has this stopped or does he still do this today?  He has never spoken to me this way but God can still do this today.  In fact, we are told that in the last days God will send our His Spirit and people will have dreams (Joel 2:28).  Abraham Lincoln had one.

Before his assassination he told his wife and friends about a dream he had.  In the dream he was at a funeral inside the white house. He walked over to a soldier on guard and asked who was in the casket?  The soldier replied “the president of the United States of America”.  One week after the dream, he was shot and killed at close range.

It also happened to Joseph.  He had two dreams.  They were different but the message was exactly the same.  The dreams said that Joseph will be the ruler and everyone will bow down to him.  He would eventually rule and reign.  He would even rule over his own family.

God does not give everyone a dream like this. Joseph’s brothers did not get a special dream like this.  God gave this incredible revelation to a teenager.  He gave it to a seventeen year old.  How would you like to have a dream that would happen in our life in twenty years and give you God’s plan for your life in a dream?  That is what Joseph received from God.

Joseph and his Brothers

Genesis 37 tells us what Joseph’s brothers thought of him. They didn’t like him. This chapter says this. Not once or twice, but three times were are told that they HATED Joseph (37:4, 5, 8). Why did they hate him? There were three reasons. They hated him for something he did. They hated him for something his dad did and they hated him for something that God did.

1. They hated his WORDS (37:2).

Genesis 37:2 says, “Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father”. We are told that Joseph brought a bad report about the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah.  That means that he brought a bad report about his half-brothers Dan, Napthali, Gad and Asher.  It does not say that he brought a bad report about everyone of his brothers.

Was it right or wrong for Joseph to do this? Was Joseph a tattle tale here? Some commentators and preachers have said some of the dumbest things here. They look at Joseph as a snitch. Joseph is not being a tattle tale here but a truth teller. Is it ever wrong to report bad behavior to someone else? If someone commits murder, is it wrong to rat that person out? No.

It is the right thing to do. Joseph’s brothers did some very bad stuff. We saw that in the last chapter. They were guilty of some very serious crimes. Joseph could not change their behavior. All he could do was to let his dad know what was going on.  That is what he did.  He gave his dad a “bad report” but it was a true report.

2. They hated his ROBE (37:3-4).

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

What did this robe look like? No one knows. People argue about that point. This is what we know. Here is what we can infer from this passage. Jacob gave Joseph a very special coat. In Joseph’s day, everyone wore a robe. Most worse a plain tunic but this one was special. Joseph was the only one who got this coat. None of his brothers got a robe like this.  It was not a work robe.  It was not the kind of coat you wore to work in the hot sun.

It was expensive. It was valuable. It was not cheap. It was beautiful. It was not boring and colorless. It was long. It went from his wrists to his ankles. It was a royal garment. It was clothing that would have been worn by royalty. The only other person in the Bible said to wear one of these coats was one of King David’s daughters (II Samuel 13:18).

Reuben the first born did NOT get one, only Joseph. It set him apart from the rest. They all had a plain coat but Joseph had a fancy coat that was worn by nobility.  The brothers did not get this coat and became jealous and their jealousy turned into hatred.

3. They hated his DREAMS (37:8).

Joseph has these wild dreams about him ruling over his family and he tells his family about it. He goes before them and says, “I have a dream”. Was that the right thing to do? Some have criticized Joseph here. Was Joseph just being young and foolish?  Was he being prideful here? Was Joseph just arrogant and cocky?

The text does not say that he was.   It simply says that he shared these dreams with his family.  He was just reporting to others what God told him in a dream. This was not just a young person with big dreams. God gave him these dreams.

Was it wrong to tell people about these dreams?  No. They were prophetic dreams.  Joseph had to tell people about it. He couldn’t keep his dreams to himself. He could not keep it in. The word of God must be declared. It cannot and should not be held inside. Who could have a divine revelation of future events and not tell anyone?

What did his brothers think of these dreams? They didn’t believe them. They sounded ridiculous. “His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” (37:8). These dreams went completely against social custom. He is ruling over his parents. They not only did not believe in the dreams, they mocked them.

They laughed at them. They said, “Here comes this dreamer” (37:19). They did not just laugh at his dream, they were offended by it. What is the application? God’s word OFFENDS people. Joseph gave them a prophecy and they despised it. The NT says, “Despise not prophesying” (I Thessalonians 5:20).

They probably also thought that Joseph is just dreaming what he wants to happen in his subconscious mind. It also probably sounded arrogant to them. He tells his brothers that the sun, moon and stars are going to bow down to this teenager.

Not just his brothers but his whole family will bow down to him one day. It sounded like pride on his part. Have you ever been falsely accused of pride by someone else? I have. Joseph was accused of pride but he wasn’t proud. He was a misunderstood teenager.

What happens in this chapter begins with sibling rivalry. We have seen that several times in the Book of Genesis. Brothers never get along in the Book of Genesis.

Cain does not get along with Abel and kills him. That is a sibling rivalry between two full brothers. Isaac and Ishmael do not get along. Ishmael eventually gets sent out of the house by Abraham. That was a rivalry of two half-brothers.

Jacob and Esau do not get along. Jacob has to leave the country because Esau wants to kill him. That is a sibling rivalry between two twin-brothers. Now, Joseph’s brothers do not get along with him. This is a sibling rivalry between older and younger brothers.

The sibling rivalry began with CONTEMPT. Joseph’s brothers could not stand him. They hated CONSPIRACY (as his brothers plot to do something to him). They had three plans. Plan number one was to kill Joseph and to throw him into a pit (37:20). Plan number two was to throw him into a pit (37:24). That was Reuben’s plan. They went along with that plan.

Joseph was thrown into a pit or deep well with no water in it. Right after they did that, that sat down to eat (37:25). It is a little hard to say grace when you just did this to your baby brother and he is completely helpless and pleading for his life and they completely ignored him. They probably laughed at him.

Plan number three was to sell him into slavery (37:26-27). This was Judah’s plan. This also saved Joseph’s life. If Joseph was left in this pit, he would have died there.  There were ten brothers who were involved in this scheme.  Joseph was sold for twenty pieces of silver, so each one got two pieces of silver.

The conspiracy led to a CRIME.  They went from saying “Let us slay our brother” to “Let us sell our brother”.  It may not seem as bad but, based on the Law of Moses, this was serious.  It was a felony. It was actually a capital crime. Deuteronomy 24:7 says, “If a man is found stealing one of his brothers of the people of Israel, and if he treats him as a slave or sells him, then that thief shall die. So you shall purge the evil from your midst” (ESV).

The crime leads to a COVER-UP.  What was involved in the cover up were two things: false evidence and false testimony, They dipped Joseph’s coat into goat blood to create false evidence and then lied about what happened to him.

They lied to the father about what happen. There is a lot of irony here.  They deceiver is deceived once again. Jacob deceived his dad by wearing Esau’s clothes. His son’s deceive him with Joseph’s clothes. Jacob deceived blind Isaac with goat skins. His sons deceive him with the blood of a goat.

Practical Applications

As I look at this chapter and meditate on it, I see three lessons that I would like to bring to your attention. They come out of this chapter.

1. God is at work even when we cannot see it.

If you look at this from a human perspective, everything that happens in this chapter is bad. A terrible injustice happens to Joseph from an unlikely source (his own family). He ends up a slave and an exile at the end of the chapter.

He did what his father asked him to do. He took a long trip to check on his brothers. He traveled fifty miles from Hebron to Shechem and another fifteen miles north to Dothan. He does the right thing and is punished. Joseph loses here.

Jacob loses. He sent his favorite son on a mission and he never comes back home. He lost his favorite wife and now he loses his favorite son. He tears his clothes, puts sackcloth on and refuses to be comforted. Life is no longer worth living for Jacob.

He lost the two people in this life that he loved the most and meant the most to him. He forever lives with guilt and regret. If he didn’t send him on that last mission to Shechem, he would still be here.

Reuben loses. Joseph’s brothers planned to kill Joseph but he convinced them to throw him into a pit instead. In Genesis 35, he committed incest but he tries to do a good deed here. He stops his brothers from killing him.

He planned on rescuing him but never got a chance. He wanted to be the hero but was not able to. Reuben wanted to regain favor from his father but he can’t. Now he looks really bad. He not only commits incest but, as the oldest son, he did not do his job to watch over his baby brother and be his brother’s keeper.

On the outside, everything was going wrong. Evil was winning. He was also sovereign over the actions of Jacob’s brothers. It did not take him by surprise. God’s providence was at work in the worst of circumstances to bring about good.

2. Whatever God promises must take place.

God gave Joseph two prophetic dreams. They were prophecies of future events. They predicted what Joseph would do one day, what his brothers would do one day and what his father would do one day. These dreams came LITERALLY true. When we get to the end of the book, we se all eleven brothers bowing down to Joseph in Egypt. They do it four times.

The very same brothers who hated Joseph with a passion, and hated him so much that they could not even look him in the eye or say anything good to him (37:14), the very same brothers who wanted to kill him, one day bowed before him in submission. The dream came literally true.

Nothing could change what God prophecies. It MUST take place. When Joseph got his dream and told his brothers what it was, they had an emotional response to it. They were not only angry, they came up with a plot to kill him or at least sell in into slavery, so he is doing the opposite of what the prophecy said he would be doing. Instead of being on the top, he would be on the bottom.

Jacob’s brothers thought that they could thwart the program of God. They thought that they could stop the prophecy by their actions. God had a plan but they had another plan. What they learned is that their plan could not stop God’s plan.

3. Humility comes before honor.

Joseph learns an important spiritual lesson. In order to go up, you must go down first. He was going to be a ruler of Egypt and a ruler of his family but before he did that he had to learn an important lesson found in the Book of Proverbs. God’s word will come to pass but in order for Joseph to be exalted, he must first be humbled.

He has to be mistreated by his own family, sold into slavery, sent into exile, and false accused of a sexual crime before he is exalted. Why? The Bible teaches that “Humility comes BEFORE honor” (Proverbs 15:33). It says “BEFORE honor is humility” (Proverbs 18:12).

This is an important spiritual principle. Proverbs 22:4 says, “By humility and the fear of the LORD are riches, and honor, and life.” Are those things that we want in our own lives? We do not get them by pride but by humility and the fear of the Lord.

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