Summary: The Life of Joseph Making Sense of Suffering Genesis 37
The Life of Joseph
Making Sense of Suffering
October 16, 2016
This week we start our final series in Genesis, The Life of Joseph, in chapters 37-50. Joseph is seventeen, the second youngest in the family, and the favored son. One day after he has been tending the flocks with his brothers, Joseph brings back a bad report to their father (2). Then Israel (Jacob) made him a special robe, probably because he was the favored son and kept his father informed about his brother’s doings. This favoritism created hostility, causing the brothers to hate Joseph so much that they could not even talk to him without there being conflict (3-4). Then God favors Joseph, choosing him to carry the mantle of leadership in the family which is revealed in two dreams (5-11). In the first dream, the brothers are binding bundles of grain and Joseph’s bundle rose upright and his brother’s bundles gathered around and bowed to it. They correctly interpret this as Joseph ruling over them, causing them to hate him even more. In the second dream, the sun and the moon, representing his father and mother, and eleven stars, representing his brothers, bow down to him. When Joseph shares this dream with his family, his father rebukes Joseph for thinking that he will rule over the entire family. While the brothers are jealous because they suspect the dreams are true his father kept it in the back of his mind (9-11). The brother’s response is that of the natural man to God’s revelation and God’s election. On a human level, when God calls and gifts people they will sometimes experience hostility from others.
When the brothers go to pasture their flocks near Shechem their father asks Joseph to go check on them and report back to him (12-14). He is asking him to check on his brothers who hate him and are jealous of him in Shechem, of all places! But notice the way he responds, “here I am.” So Joseph, the obedient son, travels fifty miles north to Shechem and cannot find his brothers. A man finds him wandering around the fields and offers to help him. Joseph tells him that he is looking for his brothers and asks him if he knows where they are? The man knows who his brothers are and where they went! So Joseph travels another twenty miles further looking for his brothers (15-17). His brothers see him coming in the distance and conspire to kill him. They plan to kill this dreamer, throw him into the pits to see what becomes of his dreams (18-20). These pits were bottle shaped cisterns dug out of rock and plastered for collecting water. The brothers have rejected God’s choice to lead the family, rejected God’s revelation, and think they can thwart God’s plans (Isa 14:27; Job 42:2). Reuben, the oldest and responsible for Joseph’s welfare, convinces them to spare his life so he can rescue him and return him to their father (21-22). When Joseph arrives, they rip his robe off and throw him into a dry pit. Their hardness of heart is seen by their sitting and eating while he is yelling for help (Amos 6:6).
But then a caravan of Ishmaelite traders on their way to Egypt come by. Judah, seizing an opportunity for financial gain, convinces his brothers to sell Joseph to them. So they pull Joseph out of the pit and sell him to the traders for the price of a slave, 20 shekels of silver. Then they must cover up their sin so they tell their father that Joseph has been killed by wild animals (31-33) and he mourns and would not be comforted by the family (34-35). Then Moses gives us this closing comment. “The Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of guard.”
Joseph is an example of one who trusts God, does the right things and suffers unjustly as a result. Has that ever happened to you? How do you make sense of this kind of suffering? You are doing the right things, you are trusting God, and you suffer as a result. It’s not as though he is paying the consequences of bad choices. Do you ever ask yourself, where is God in my suffering? God is not absent or passive though he may be silent and hidden. God has bigger, better, and more important plans than making life easy for his people. The twelve brothers, who represent the nation of Israel, are divided because of sin. So to unite them and give them a common identity they must go to Egypt. Joseph goes first and rises up as the Prime Minister in Egypt and who is then able to deliver the rest of the family from famine. God showed them this in the dreams but they rejected God’s revelation. And in their rejection of Joseph, they begin the fulfillment of God’s purposes for Joseph and the rest of the family. God says something will happen because God makes it happen. It is in Egypt that Joseph will equipped to deliver and rule over God’s people and God is using the circumstances of his life and his brother’s sinful choices to accomplish it. God’s providence is in his father’s favoritism which creates the initial hostility between Joseph and his brothers; God’s providence is in Joseph sharing his dreams which makes the brothers hate him more and jealousy of Joseph; God’s providence is in his father sending Joseph to his brothers to see what they are up to; God’s providence is in the man finding Joseph wandering in the fields; God’s providence is in the man knowing where the brothers are; God’s providence is in Rueben convincing the brothers not to kill Joseph; God’s providence is in the caravan coming by on their way to Egypt; and God’s providence is in Joseph being sold to Potiphar in Egypt. Egypt is exactly where God wanted Joseph to be and he ensured that he got there, through human actions, some seemingly random and some deliberate and sinful. God’s providence includes God ordaining evil actions to accomplish his purposes in such a way that humanity freely does what they want to do and so are responsible for their actions. God did not force his father to make the choices he did nor did God force his brothers to make the choices they did but both are woven together to accomplish God’s purposes. In God’s good and wise plan united the nation and give them a common identity, Joseph suffers at the hands of his brothers and then enslaved in Egypt to prepare him to deliver his family, and thereby accomplish God’s greater purposes for Israel and ultimately, bless the nations. Suffering is not good in and of itself. It only makes sense because God in his wisdom uses suffering to mold and shape us for God’s good purposes that he has prepared for us. When suffering hits, and hits hard, remember God, in love and wisdom, is working in you to prepare you to fulfill his larger good purposes in God’s mission.