Genesis 37c Joseph and his bitter brothers
There are many cases of bitterness and hatred that we can point to but the one that I came across is pretty depressing. It is about a man who died and here is what they read in his will when he died.
It says, "Unto my two daughters, Marie and Victoria, by reason of their bad attitude toward a doting father, . . . I leave the sum of $1.00 to each and a father’s curse. May their lives be fraught with misery, unhappiness, and poignant sorrow. May their deaths be soon and of a lingering malignant and torturous nature.
How sad, when bitterness and hatred become the driving forces in people’s lives! How sad when serenity, reason, love and compassion are replaced by bitterness and hatred.
It is no wonder that God instructed Paul to write in Ephesians 4:31 “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice”.
The reason for which I am talking about hatred, bitterness, jealousy, and envy is because these were the feelings that the brothers had towards Joseph.
I wonder how Joseph felt when the brothers repeatedly made known their feelings for him. If Joseph was a human, as we believe he was, he must have been very hurt.
It’s bad enough to be hated by strangers but to be hated by the ones you love, for whom you mean good and who are family, that must have been difficult for Joseph to cope with.
But how did all of these terrible feelings start in Jacob’s family and what can we learn from their mistakes.
Let’s look at:
1) The root of bitterness in their family.
The story of Joseph being hated and sold into slavery by his brothers begins with the story of his dreams in Genesis 37:5. But even before that there were problems.
Do you remember the rivalry that existed between Rachel and Leah? Both of them tried to outdo each other in producing babies. Not only that but they involved their maids as well: Zilpah and Bilhah.
It was obvious that that rivalry which was prevalent among the mothers would be passed on to the children. Because as they grew up there was probably, very much a sense of “your children and my children”. It was very much a situation of them and us.
The rivalry and the bitterness which came to fruition among Joseph’s brothers had the seeds sown by their mothers.
Like I said the last time, many times kids do and say that which the parents say and do. By this I don’t refer to the children’s obedience to what parents say, because kids are many times disobedient. I know this because I was a kid myself.
I am talking about the character traits, which, unknown to people, are passed on to kids. Sometimes we as adults are more concerned about telling kids what not to do rather than making sure of us not doing what we tell kids not to do.
You tell kids, don’t drink out of bottles! What happens? The pastor drinks right out of the bottle in the front of kids, right Marissa?
Very subtly that which we do or don’t do influences kids.
When I do any physical work I find myself whistling occasionally. When I realize what I am doing I smile. Do you know why? Each time when I was helping dad do any physical work dad would whistle. I am not doing it because I want to do it, but because unknown to both dad and myself, that was passed on to me.
This morning in SS we were talking about the examples that the early church left for us and Rich pointed out a very good issue concerning the parents and children attending church.
Here is what a statistic that I got says: If both Mom and Dad attend church regularly, 72% of their children remain faithful. If only Dad, 55% remain faithful.
If only Mom, 15%. If neither attended regularly, only 6% remain faithful. The statistics speak for themselves--the example of parents and adults is more important than all the efforts of the church and Sunday school.
So the bitterness and the rivalry of the mothers was part of that root which grew in the lives of the boys.
But it’s not only that. Favoritism was another cause that led to bitterness among the brothers. The fact that Joseph was favored by Jacob, above the rest of the brothers, was like a dagger in the heart for the rest of the boys.
Now let me give you a little bit of background detail to try and understand the family situation. Because favoritism was and wasn’t a cause of bitterness.
In Genesis 35:22 we are told that Ruben, Jacob’s first-born “slept with his father’s concubine Bilhah” and that Jacob heard about it. This was an offence for which Ruben lost not only his father’s favor but also his birthright as the firstborn.
Since Ruben lost that right Jacob exercised his sovereign choice and appointed Joseph as his heir. It was natural of Jacob to do that. It was natural that Jacob chose someone whom he could trust.
This is the meaning of the tunic of many colors from v.3. The more accurate Hebrew translation is not a coat of many colors but “a long coat”
Most tunics, back then, were sleeveless and stopped at the knees and they were worn by working men. The long sleeved tunic that came down as far as the ankles, was worn by those who did not have to work.
So when Joseph appeared before his brothers with that coat, that coat signified to them Joseph’s preeminence over them. However that should not have been a problem to them as Ruben lost that right of being the rightful heir because of his immorality in sleeping with his stepmother.
Jacob was free to appoint whomever he wanted, as was the accepted culture of the day. There was no problem there. That cannot be considered as favoritism, because the brothers knew the rules.
However, the beginning of verse three gives us the real root of the bitterness against Joseph. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age”.
How unwise on Jacob’s part to do that and to actually make that known. It must have been so obvious of a feeling that God inspired Moses to write that with regards to parental affection Joseph was a cut above the rest.
Let me say this to you. All kids must be treated differently for one reason only: the kids themselves are different. You apply the treatment according to the need.
If one child does well he/she must be praised. If the other child is disobedient then you cannot praise the child you have to admonish him/her.
So children have to be treated differently because they are different, but in so far as affection and love is concerned that must be expressed in an equal way. Because if it’s not, kids will notice that and that can be a cause for bitterness as in Joseph’s case.
Here is what the writer records as the result of that unequal parental love… v.4.
2) The Shoot of bitterness.
In Hebrews the author of that deep study warns us about allowing “a bitter root” to grow up in our lives “to cause trouble and defile many” (Heb.12:15).
It is a good warning because it is exactly what happened with Joseph’s brothers. The bitterness they harbored for so long, the root that was in their hearts, was beginning to shoot out in hatred.
At the beginning of it they probably did not have their hearts set on killing their brother. But that which is in the heart if it is not dealt with, if the roots are not pulled out they begin coming up.
Here is what Jesus says in Matthew 15:19, “For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witnesses, blasphemies”.
Do you see the sequence? Do you see the way that it happened In Joseph’s brothers’ case? It started in the heart with a seed of bitterness. That seed was watered by constant hatred and jealousy and envy and that caused the roots to produce shoots.
Of course it did not help the fact that Joseph shared his dreams of superiority. Whether Joseph was selfish to share those dreams whether God prompted him to prophecy the events that were to take place in the future, we don’t know.
Clear is that his brothers hated him even before that. Here I want to point you to another sequence of events that led from roots to shoots.
v.4 .. “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him”.
Do you see it? Rivalry among the mothers planted the seeds. Favoritism helped those seeds to grow roots. What kind of roots? Roots of hatred
What were those roots of hatred doing? They were beginning to shot out. How? End of verse 4… “They could not speak peaceably to him”.
Some one wisely said this “No matter how long you nurse a grudge, it won’t get better”. And it is true. If that bitterness stays there in the heart, no matter how long it stays, it does not get better. On the contrary as in Joseph’s brothers’ case it led to worse things.
Let me bring to you another side, to balance the picture.
The shoots of bitterness in Joseph’s brothers’ lives did not stem only from their mothers’ rivalry and the father’s favoritism but also because of the fact that Joseph was a righteous person.
Joseph’s brothers chose immorality, murder, lying and other sinful things as styles of living. Joseph, in spite of the fact that he could have gone with the flow he decided to be holy in the sight of God.
Not an easy choice to make but definitely the right choice. Let me say to you that a lot of things may be popular with the people, they may be legal with the government but they are not popular and legal in God’s law.
The moment that you and I will stand up for the truth. The moment that you and I will practice what is right rather than what’s popular and what’s practiced by the majority, that will be the moment when you and I will be hated and accused of having narrow minds.
A few years back when I went to see my parents in a vacation and a girl came at the door and wanted to talk to mum. I said, “Mum a girl wants to talk to you”.
Mum came at the door and when she saw this girl she said, “this girl is your cousin. She is your dad’s brother’s daughter”
Well, well, well, good morning: what a revelation? Many of our relatives hardly spoke to us because my parents decided to become Christians, to do that which was popular with God rather than that which was popular in our wider family circle.
Here is what Peter says in 1Peter 4:3-4. …
That’s what happened to my parents that happened with Joseph and that’s what will happen to us many times.
3) The fruit of bitterness.
I have been using the analogy of a plant to convey spiritual truth in this story of Joseph and his brothers. And it is a fitting one because roots led to shoots and shoots led to fruits.
In Galatians 5:19-23 Paul talks about the fruits of the spirit. But he also talks about the fruits of the sinful nature. The fruits of the sinful nature are “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissentions and so on…
Paul does not mention murder but he mentions two things that we have already talked about envy and hatred.
Those things in the lives of Joseph’s brothers led to full blown fruits, because they planned to murder him.
Jacob sent Joseph to look for them and to see what they were doing but when they saw him verse 18 says…
They were willing to commit a bigger evil than to uproot the roots and the shoots of bitterness from their lives.
Someone said that, “hating people is like burning down your own house to get rid of a rat”. That’s what Joseph’s brothers were willing to do. They were willing to kill family rather than deal with bitterness.
So when they saw him from afar, dressed with that long tunic, they said, “If we aren’t going to have that status he won’t have it either, let’s kill him”.
Two shopkeepers were bitter rivals. Their stores were directly across the street from each other, and they would spend each day keeping track of each other’s business. If one got a customer, he would smile in triumph at his rival.
One night an angel appeared to one of the shopkeepers in a dream and said, "I will give you anything you ask, but whatever you receive, your competitor will receive twice as much. Would you be rich? You can be very rich, but he will be twice as wealthy.
Do you wish to live a long and healthy life? You can, but his life will be longer and healthier. What is your desire?" The man frowned, thought for a moment, and then said, "Here is my request: Strike me blind in one eye!"
Joseph’s brothers were a bit like that. I don’t get it but he isn’t going to have it either.
Let me end the way that I began with Hebrews 12:15 “looking carefully lest any root of bitterness, springing up may cause trouble and by this many may become defiled”.
Let me say that bitterness for whatever reason does not pay. It is like acid. It can damage the vessel in which it is stored as well as destroy the object on which it is poured
Roots led to shoots, shoots led to fruits.
Let me end on a positive note. While we have looked at practical details from this passage let’s not forget the overall picture. Whatever happens with us and whatever happened to Joseph it was all under God’s control. That’s why Joseph could say to his brothers, at the end “you meant it for evil but God meant it for good.