Sold into slavery Genesis 37:12-36
I read an article the other day called 8 SIMPLE RULES FOR DATING MY DAUGHTER by Bruce Cameron and I’m thinking about going it to give all the guys Caitie brings around.
Rule One: If you pull into my driveway and honk you’d better be delivering a package, because you’re sure not picking anything up.
Rule Two: You do not touch my daughter in front of me. You may glance at her, so long as you do not look anywhere below her neck. If you cannot keep your eyes or hands off of my daughter’s body, I will remove them.
Rule Three: I am aware that it is considered fashionable for boys of your age to wear their pants so loosely that they appear to be falling off their hips. Please don’t take this as an insult, but you and all of your friends are complete idiots. Still, I want to be fair and open minded about this issue, so I propose a compromise: you may come to the door with your underwear showing and your pants ten sizes too big, and I will not object. However, in order to ensure that your clothes do not come off at any time during the course of your date with my daughter, I will take my electric nail gun and fasten your pants securely in place to your waist.
Rule Four: It is usually understood that in order for us to get to know each other, we should talk about sports, politics, and other issues of the day. Please do not do this. The only information I require from you is an indication of when you expect to have my daughter safely back at my house, and the only word I need from you on this subject is “early.”
Rule Five: I have no doubt you are a popular fellow, with many opportunities to date other girls. This is fine with me as long as it is okay with my daughter. Otherwise, once you have gone out with my little girl, you will continue to date no one but her until she is finished with you. If you make her cry, I will make you cry.
Rule Six: the following places are not appropriate for a date with my daughter: places where there are beds, sofas, or anything softer than a wooden stool. Places where there are no pastors, parents or policemen within eyesight. Places where there is darkness. Places where there is dancing, holding hands, or happiness. Places where the ambient temperature is warm enough to induce my daughter to wear shorts, tank tops, midriff T-shirts, or anything other than overalls, a sweater, and a goose down parka; zipped up to her throat. Movies with a strong romantic or sexual theme are to be avoided but movies which feature chain saws are okay. Hockey games are okay. Old folk’s homes are better.
Rule Seven: Do not lie to me. I may appear to be a pot/bellied, balding, middle-aged, dimwitted has-been. But on issues relating to my daughter, I am the all-knowing, merciless tyrant of your universe. If I ask you where you are going and with whom, you have one chance to tell me the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. I have a shotgun, a shovel, and four acres behind the house. Do not trifle with me.
Rule Eight: Be afraid. Be very afraid. It takes very little for me to mistake the sound of your car in the driveway for a chopper coming in over a rice paddy near Hanoi and when my Agent Orange starts acting up, the voices in my head frequently tell me to clean the guns as I wait for you to bring my daughter home.
So, as soon as you pull into the driveway you should exit your car with both hands in plain sight. Announce in a clear voice that you have brought my daughter home safely and early; then return to your car. There is no need for you to come inside. The camouflaged face at the window is mine.”
I don’t know about you; there’s just something about this guy I like.
“And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. And Israel said unto Joseph, do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, here am I. And he said to him, go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, what seekest thou? And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks. And the man said, they are departed hence; for I heard them say, let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan. And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. And they said one to another, behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams. And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, let us not kill him. And Reuben said unto them, shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again. And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colors that was on him; and they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicier and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. And Judah said unto his brethren, what profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. Then there passed by Mideanite merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt. And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. And he returned unto his brethren, and said, the child is not; and I, whither shall I go? And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood; and they sent the coat of many colors, and they brought it to their father; and said, this have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no. And he knew it, and said, it is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, for I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him. And the Mideanites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.”
We saw last week that Joseph was seventeen years old and his life was good. His father was a wealthy man, and on top of that he was his favorite son and no doubt he would have had everything a teenager could want. I mean, he would have had the latest name brand sandals and his very own camel but his most prized possession would have been his multi-colored robe and as I said last week, this robe indicated that he was going to be number one the day his father died.
Now, Joseph was also faithful to God even though he had come from what I described as a very dysfunctional family where this household consisted of four mothers, one full brother, nine half brothers and a half sister. And today I want you to see how he remained faithful to God even though things got worse then he ever expected they could.
I It all begins with his father’s plan.
And here the scripture describes a normal situation where Jacob wants to find out how his sons were doing and as you can imagine he must have had an awful lot of sheep because there were ten of his sons taking care of them and they also had to keep moving them from one part of the country to the next in order to find pasture.
Someone also wrote that Jacob might have been sending Joseph along with the hopes of mending some fences in the family because of the dreams he shared. And, although the scripture doesn’t say; we can also assume he was probably sending food and supplies and trying to find out how they were getting along; not only with each other but even with the various towns people around them.
The reason I say this is because; back in Genesis 34 there’s a terrible story told where Jacob’s only daughter Dinah had been raped by the son of the head of the Shechemites and these were a very large tribe. And it says; that the rapist’s father tried to smooth things over by arranging a wedding between his son and Dinah but Jacob’s sons said, “Well, we can only do this if all the men of your tribe get circumcised.”
So, the Shechemites thought it over and they came to the conclusion that it was a great idea because they assumed that Jacob and all his families and flocks would come and join their tribe. So, they all got circumcised and then three days after this mass circumcision when all the men in the tribe were in severe pain; it says Simeon and Levi went throughout the city and killed every last one of them.
And listen, this was no an eye for an eye or punishing the guilty but as far as they were concerned, these guys crossed the line and everybody had to die. And in verses 28 and 29 it says, “They took their sheep, and their oxen, and their asses, and that which was in the city, and that which was in the field, and all their wealth, and all their little ones, and their wives took they captive, and spoiled even all that was in the house.” And as far as they were concerned; they weren’t there to show they were mad, they were there to get even.
And so, here we see Jacob sending Joseph to Shechem where all this killing took place because he assumed they were all still there. Now, I want you to notice this place was called Shechem and not Shackem. (These two famous places can be confused.)
So, Joseph went to find his brothers and there’s a couple of interesting verses here about Joseph wandering around a field looking for them when it says he ran into a stranger. And this seems kind of odd for two reasons. First, why would he be wandering around in a field? I mean, if they weren’t there, then they weren’t there, right? Well, he may have been looking for evidence that they had been there and then he’d be trying to figure out if there was some indication of which way they went.
And then second, it also says he ran into a stranger and I’ve heard people preaching this passage and saying this might have been a pre-incarnate appearance of Jesus or even an angelic being who was there to give Joseph directions, to make sure he fulfilled the plan of God and even though these ideas are interesting; all the scripture says is that he was a stranger.
A Jewish rabbi wrote a very interesting commentary on this text and he says; maybe this wasn’t a man at all but it might have been an angel who was sent down to redirect Joseph by asking him, “What are you looking for?” And then he said, “We have to ask ourselves, what would have happened had Joseph had never met this particular stranger at Shechem?”
I mean, think about it. He probably would have gone back to his father and said, “Hey dad, I went to Shechem where you told me to go and they weren’t there. So, I came back home.” And if he did that then listen; he wouldn’t have been betrayed by his brothers, because it’s when he finally found them that they decided to get rid of him. And if he had never been betrayed by his brothers, he never would have been sold as a slave into Egypt and he would have been put in a situation where ultimately he became second in charge of the entire country.
And that also means that the children of Israel wouldn’t have gone there looking for food during the famine and then moved there where they spent the next 400 years in bondage. And then God wouldn’t have delivered them through Moses and they wouldn’t have spent forty years wandering through the desert where they received the Passover lamb which portrayed their coming Messiah and also the promise of land that was flowing with milk and honey. There would have been no King David who sang songs of deliverance or his son Solomon who build the temple in Jerusalem. There would have been no prophets to foretell the Messiah’s birth; no exile and no return and no Jewish virgin because Mary was a descendant of these people. And that means there’d no Peter to deny; no Judas to betray and no Pilate to wash his hands of it all. And when you look at it this way it seems like everything hinges on this stranger and his directions. After all, there are no accidents within the plan of God.
The second application of this is even more difficult than the first because of the question he asked Joseph which was, “What are you looking for?” Well, what he was looking for, were his brothers and little did Joseph know; that his brothers all hated him and wanted him dead. And if this stranger knew what was going to happen; then we’d have to assume that he intentionally told Joseph which way to go to find his brothers, so, they could do what they did.
So, some say it was an angel and others that it was just a man but the fact is, we really don’t know. I think we often run into angelic messengers but we don’t recognize them. After all, the scripture tells us in Hebrews 12:1 and 2, “Let brotherly love continue. Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.”
I’ve told this story a while back; but this had made such an impression on me when it happened that I thought I’d share it again. I remember one day when I was living in a Christian commune; I was broke and I was really in a bad mood because I had to do my laundry and I needed to buy a couple of strings for my guitar and what I needed was $6.25 but I didn’t have a penny. So, I was sitting there one morning explaining to God what a great guy I had been and how He wasn’t keeping up His end of things because He promised to provide all my needs but He hadn’t done it. Now, am I the only one or has anyone else here ever complained to God?
Well, a friend of mine named Glen dropped by and he was in a hurry to go somewhere but he said he had left a note of thanks from a class of mentally challenged children where I had shared my testimony and sang a few songs for the day before and he said he put the note in my Bible and it was on the kitchen table and then he left and I forgot all about it.
Well, I was tired and I had been speaking and singing at different places like jails, schools, coffee houses and doing radio interviews from four to six days a week and now I didn’t even have money to do my laundry. So, I was telling the Lord how faithful I was because I was willing to go anywhere for free and speak to anyone, any time and now I was broke and I couldn’t even do my laundry or buy a couple of strings for my guitar which I needed to carry on the ministry. And I was saying, how is that to treat someone who is really putting themselves out for you? After all, all I needed was $6.25.
Well, the more I complained the more I realized that I was in a bad mood and I also knew I was wasting my time whining, so, I thought I might as well sit down and read my Bible for a few minutes and then go and find something productive to do. And, as I opened my Bible I saw the note Glen had left and it was in an envelope that full of loose change. Apparently, these mentally challenged children had taken up an offering to thank me for coming and talking to them about Jesus. And as I opened it and carefully counted it; all the change came to six dollars and twenty-five cents. (Hey, talk about a coincidence!)
Now listen, was that a gift from a group of mentally challenged kids or was that a gift from God? And the answer is, yes. And when we think about this stranger we could ask, was he an angel or some kind of messenger from God and again we could say yes.
So, this stranger told Joseph he had heard his brothers say they were going to Dothan which was somewhere around 65 to 80 miles to the north of where they were. So, Joseph kept going and as soon as he saw them from the distance he was probably really happy to see them because it had been a long trip, but, when his brothers saw him; all they could think about were his dreams and they were still angry about the fact that one day he might be ruling over them and all they could think was; that isn’t going to happen.
II The brother’s plot
Look in verse 20 where it says, “And they said one to another, behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Did you get that? It was Joseph’s dreams that motivated them to kill him. You see, they were so afraid that if they didn’t do something to stop him then some day he’d end up ruling over them.
And yet, there was some dissension in their ranks because the oldest brother Reuben didn’t want them to kill him; so he said just throw him into the pit and it was his intention of getting him out later and sending him back home.
And it’s interesting to see why Reuben did this; because it wasn’t that he cared for Joseph or anything like that; but Reuben had been living with a lot of guilt because back in Genesis 35:22 it says, “And it came to pass, when Israel dwelt in that land, that Reuben went and lay with Bilhah his father’s concubine: and Israel heard it.” So, Reuben had slept with one of his father’s wives and his father had written him off as the first born because he was the first male child born to Leah and then gave the position of firstborn to Joseph. So, it could have been that Reuben who was out of favor with his father was trying to get himself back into his good graces by protecting his favorite son.
Well, the brother’s followed Reuben’s suggestion but they also stripped the colored robe off Joseph which tells us they probably expected him to die in that pit from starvation.
Can you imagine what must have been going though Joseph’s mind? I mean, here he was literally in the middle of nowhere with no help and he must have wondered, “Is my life going to end here, like this?” And what was worse was that the very ones he would have expected to help him were the ones who were causing all his problems. And yet, you know what was going through his mind because when we go through difficult problems and we all do we probably say what he said and that’s, “Why me?’ I mean, it’s a common response when things go wrong and yet; when things go right we never say, “Why me?” We just assume, “Why not?”
I think Joseph learned some significant things during this time of trouble and these are lessons we can apply to our own lives when we find ourselves in the pits.
For instance, Joseph learned that God not only cared but that He was in absolute control. In Acts 7:9 it says, “And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt: but God was with him.” This tells us God is always in control even when we feel like we’ve been thrown into a pit we don’t deserve. And no matter what the circumstances look like from our perspective; God is not only in control but He’s also working everything out for His glory and our good. Romans 8:28 says, “And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.” And I want you to think about the term, “All things” because that means that everything that’s ever happened or will happen; happens because God has a reason and whatever His reason is, He’s allowed these things to help you to be the person He wants you to be.
Now, I also want you to notice what it doesn’t say. It doesn’t say that all things are good but it says, “All things work together for good.” As someone said, “God hammers out the characteristics He wants in our lives and He uses the anvil of adversity to do this.” So, Joseph was learning that God allows our pain for our good.
And maybe the most important thing of all is that Joseph learned that that even in the ‘pit’ God hears us when we call. I like how the Psalmist says in Psalm 34:17, “The righteous cry out, and the LORD hears and delivers them out of all their troubles.”
So, here he was on the brink of death when it says, “And Judah said unto his brethren, what profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. Then there passed by Mideanite merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.”
So, they sold him for twenty shekels of silver and the average salary of a shepherd was about 8 shekels a year. So, they split it all up and then it says the Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to an Egyptian official named Potiphar.
And the next 20 years would turn out to be the most trying and difficult years of Joseph’s life. And I’ll bet that Joseph had said more than once, "Why is this happening to me, God? I thought you had special plans for my life! I thought that I was going to be some kind of success!” And this reminds us, that life doesn’t always turn out the way we think it should because in the back of our minds, we all assume we’ll grow up, find a good job, get married, retire at 65, celebrate our 50th anniversary and then die peacefully in our sleep at the age of 95. But as you know, things don’t always work out the way we wish or expect. Proverbs 16:9 says that "In his heart, a man plans his course, but the Lord determines his steps." Listen, God is ultimately in charge of everything that happens and He’s the One who decides who goes where and when.
But the thing I love about Joseph is that even though his life had been completely turned upside down, his relationship with God stayed the same! Four times in Genesis 39 it says, "The Lord was with Joseph." And from the very beginning of the story right through to the end Joseph completely trusts in God and I believe that was why he was successful but, even if he had died in the pit, he still would have been successful as far as God was concerned.
You know, one of the greatest deceptions Satan ever uses to discourage people is to say; "If you just give your life to God you’ll never have any more problems." And the reason he says this is because he knows that as soon as we do have problems and everybody does; then we’ll assume that either God is not there or He simply doesn’t care.
God doesn’t always make everything come out the way we want it to but God’s love is deep enough to hold us though anything He allows us to go through and as the Apostle Paul said to the Romans, “For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
And then in verse 36 here, it says, “And the Mideanites sold him into Egypt unto Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh’s, and captain of the guard.” So, Joseph went from being his father’s favorite son to a slave in a foreign country and all this happened; listen; in the space of about a week. Our lives can change so fast, we can wonder what happened.
I was pastoring the Main Street Baptist Church and I was getting ready to move. I had churches from Ontario to Vancouver calling me and Sally and I were wondering where God wanted us to go next. I had met with one of the head men at the fellowship office and he said, “Don’t look at these little churches; you’d be better off at a large church with multiple staff.” So, they put my name out and I preached at several churches in Ontario and then four more in British Columbia and just as we were trying to figure out where the Lord wanted us to go next; I had a kidney test at the George Dumont Hospital and it went wrong and I landed in the ICU where I was dying. They weren’t sure what to do because of the internal bleeding; so, they hooked me up to a dialysis machine and I stayed on dialysis for the next nine and a half years.
Listen, if your life is going smoothly, then you ought to stop and thank God for His goodness and if you’re struggling, then don’t give up but stay faithful and remind yourself that God is always in control. Sometimes we really have to really push ourselves to keep on reading the scripture, keep on praying and keep attending the services because all these things take effort. But remember the promise of God, “When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you.”
Always remember, you’re not alone because God allows everyone of us to have our “pit experiences?” Let me make a few suggestions as to why God allows these things.
1. First, they teach us to be patient. Listen, many times God can’t do what He wants to do through us, because we’re in too much of a hurry. And even when we pray for patience we say, “Lord, I need patience and I need it right now.” The older we get, the more we understand that no one can hurry God, no matter how we try, we have to learn to wait on Him!"
Joseph needed to know that and even though God gave him some “dreams” about his future; he still had to wait at least 20 years to see them fulfilled. We all need to learn to wait on God. The prophet Isaiah said: “They that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not get weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.” So, God allows the “pits” to come into our lives to teach us “patience!”
2. Second, He allows these things to get us to do things His way and we’ve got to understand that for the Christian its God’s way or no way. After all, when you became a Christian, you gave up your rights when you accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord.
3. Third, the pits get us to see who we really are and what we really need. The Bible doesn’t say how long Joseph was in his “pit’ but I believe it was long enough for him to do some serious praying. You see, it’s the pits where we really learn to pray and sometimes when we don’t know what else to do we learn to turn it all over to God.
4. One thing we lose in the pit is our pride. I was on dialysis for nine and a half years, three times a week for four and a half hours at a time. And I was about three hours into a treatment one day when the head nurse came over and asked, “Would you like to have a transplant?” I said yes, not realizing that she meant, now, and when I said yes, they started taking out my needles and disconnecting me from the machine. Then they took me into another room where the doctor injected me with vitamin K to neutralize the drugs I was taking and I was told to go to Halifax.
I called Sally and she packed a few things and I picked her up and we were on our way. When we arrived at the Halifax Hospital they had to run a test to make sure I wouldn’t reject the kidney and then we had to wait for three hours for the results; and just in case I didn’t pass they had another patient standing by waiting for the kidney. Then they came in and said it was a go but the transplant doctor said it was too late and he was too tired but he’d be back at six in the morning and do the surgery then. At six o’clock they took me down, put me out and did the surgery and when I woke up there were several doctors standing around waiting to see if the kidney worked; which means they were all waiting for me to go to the bathroom. It was the first time in my life I heard people cheering so much for someone who did so little.
The years of dialysis really dealt with my pride because I really trusted in the fact that I had good health and I was going to live a real long life. And now, I’m thankful if I can get through this sermon and I’m sure there are a few others who feel the same."
I remember when I lived in Toronto and had a couple of friends I shared an apartment with and whenever we had supper together one of these guys always ate his desert along with the rest of his supper. Of course I told him that normal people usually ate their desert last but he said, “Listen life is so unsure, I always eat my dessert first because who knows, I may not live long enough to enjoy it." And so, that’s been my motto, don’t miss your desert.
Did you notice here, the first thing these guys did was take Joseph’s coat? I think he may have had a “little” pride about this because it told everyone who saw it who he was going to be but by the time he got to the bottom of the pit; I don’t think he even cared what he was wearing.
5. Finally, I believe God uses these pit experiences as part of His preparation for what He wants us to do in the future. Listen, God specializes in changing us and conforming us into His image. And it was obvious that Joseph wasn’t ready for what God would have him to do. He had to be prepared! And this pit was simply the beginning of many other kinds of trials that he’d have to endure to prepare him for what God was going to do through him.
I was reading about dumb inventions and some time around the first century someone invented a pair of sandals that had a hole in the front of each sandal and the purpose of these holes were to put candles in so you could see your way around in the dark. The only problem was, you could only see one step at a time and you really had to take your time when you walked or you blew out the candle and risked spilling hot wax on your feet. Now, as dumb as this invention was; it illustrates something about God’s will because He never tells us what we’re doing five years down the road but He often gives us just one step at a time. And then we have to trust Him for the next one.
Listen, I don’t believe there are any accidents in the lives of God’s children because either God is in complete control of everything or He’s not in control of anything.
So, we’re going to leave Joseph in this pit for another week and then we’ll see how God continues to open doors, bless and test him until he’s in the place where God can use him. And the good news is; He’s doing the same with you and I.