Summary: Part 1 of a series on Joseph.
If we were going to make a fashion catalog based on the descriptions of clothes we find in the Bible, how big do you suppose this catalog would be? A couple of pages could be dedicated to the uniforms that the priest and the high priest wore since we have detailed descriptions of these. Then there’s that curious camel-skin outfit that both Elijah and John the Baptist wore. But are there any other clothes that could be included in such a fashion catalog? How about that cool coat Joseph, the son of Jacob, wore? It’s been described as a coat of many colors, but the truth is we don’t know if it was colorful. The Hebrew translation is uncertain. The coat may not have been colorful, but its owner’s life certainly was. Today we start a sermon series entitled “Joseph: a life of many colors.” Each sermon will connect a different color to an aspect of Joseph’s life. Our color today is green…for envy.
Before we get to Joseph, have you ever wondered why the color green is associated with envy – that feeling of jealousy? A number of sources pointed to the ancient Greeks who believed that envy was a sickness, and sick people, they thought, looked a little green.
But enough about that. Let’s talk about Joseph. Who was he? In our text from Genesis 37 he appears as a seventeen-year-old boy who was absolutely loved by his father, Jacob. Jacob, you’ll remember was the son of Isaac and the grandson of Abraham. Jacob had twelve sons from four different women. These twelve sons would become the heads of the twelve tribes of Israel – God’s chosen people.
Since that’s the case, they must have been good boys, right? Hardly. You wouldn’t have asked the sons of Jacob to babysit your children. Rueben, the oldest, slept with one of his father’s concubines. Judah, the fourth oldest and forefather of King David and Jesus, would sleep with his daughter-in-law when he mistook her for a prostitute. Simeon and Levi, the second and third oldest, went on a murderous rampage against the whole town of Shechem because one of its citizens defiled their sister. Since these four half-brothers may have been considerably older than Joseph it seems that he hung out with Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher – the sons of Jacob’s two concubines. Yet they weren’t very godly boys either because Joseph heard unsavory reports about them, which he passed to his father. Because of this perceived “tattling,” and because Joseph was daddy’s favorite, the brothers hated him.
Jacob didn’t help matters when he made his favoritism obvious by giving Joseph that special coat. It may not have been a colorful coat, but it was a long-sleeve coat like one an overseer would wear. Imagine what would happen if on your next spring cleaning day at home, you gave one child a clip board and a lawn chair, but gave every other child a mop, broom, and shovel. The message would be clear, wouldn’t it? The rest of you get to work while so-and-so supervises. That’s just about what Jacob was saying with his gift of that coat to Joseph.
But we shouldn’t think that Joseph was innocent in the matter. He had two dreams which foreshadowed how one day he would be in a position of authority over his brothers and parents. In the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars all kept bowing down to Joseph. Since he knew what his brothers thought of him, Joseph would have been wise to keep the matter to himself. Instead he seemed to relish telling his brothers that one day he would be the center of their universe.
Do you know anyone like that? Perhaps it’s a classmate who loves to tell you how little he studied for the test, but still aced it. “And oh, what did you get? Five wrong? Maybe you’ll do better next time.” Or maybe it’s the acquaintance who describes in detail how much she spent on patio equipment and on her last cruise where she got to go shark-cage diving. We don’t care for people like this and so we can understand why Joseph’s brothers didn’t care for him. BUT such spiteful feelings are never excusable. They are prompted by the sin of envy. When someone tells us about their blessings, even if they’re bragging about it, we are to rejoice with them. The reason we don’t readily do this is because we’re actually angry with God – angry that he hasn’t blessed us in the same way. We accuse him of being unfair and not knowing anything about how to run the world and distribute his blessings.
Job once accused God of that. Sure, Job was frustrated at how he had lost his children, his possessions, and his health. At first he accepted it as God’s will, but the more he thought about it the more unfair it seemed. What had he done to deserve such treatment? God owed him at least an explanation! When Job demanded that from God, the Divine answered with these piercing questions: “Will the one who contends with the Almighty correct him? Let him who accuses God answer him!...Would you discredit my justice? Would you condemn me to justify yourself?” (Job 40:2, 8) And that’s what we do when we give in to the sin of envy: condemn God to justify our feelings.