Summary: Life is often unfair...the faith response
“The Dreamer’s Dilemma” Genesis 37 Pastor Bob Leroe
Introduction: What do we do when our lives get turned upside-down? Where is God when our hopes are shattered? He’s still around, still involved, still has a purpose for our lives, even our trials. In spite of everything he suffered, Joseph seems able to accept God’s will; rather than ask God “why?”, his main concern is “What do I do now?” We learn from Joseph that with God’s help, any situation can be turned around and used for good, even when others intend it for evil.
We see Joseph as a confident, though naïve young man, the last-born child of Jacob. Joseph is described as the “child of Jacob’s old age”, the son that came from the only wife he truly loved, Rachel. Jacob was tricked and coerced into marrying Rachel’s sister Leah. For many years Rachel appeared to be barren, unable to conceive. Infertility was a terrible reproach in those days. To compensate, she encouraged Jacob to have sons from her 2 slave girls, Zilpah and Bilhah. The slave girls were like surrogate mothers and their children were regarded as Rachel’s, legally though not biologically. These servant girls became Jacob’s concubines and the mothers of Gad, Asher, Dan, and Naphtali. Benjamin came along as an extra, a surprise “bonus” son…so Joseph wasn’t exactly the last-born, but for a good while he was raised as such; and he was the first-born of Jacob’s union with his beloved Rachel. At the time of this conflict, Joseph was about 17 years old.
Last-borns often enjoy the limelight, the center of attention. They are likely to be given preferential treatment—coddled and spoiled. They may not realize that their older siblings would also like some of the limelight now and then. This appears to be Joseph’s problem. He seems oblivious to the fact that his coat sets him apart from his older brothers. Then without thinking of how his revelation might be received, he impetuously shares his dreams with his brothers. He appears blindly pleased with his status and unaware of his brothers’ jealousy.
In Joseph’s time most robes were knee-length, short-sleeved and plain—in other words, work clothes. Joseph’s “coat of many colors” was a richly ornamented, long-sleeved coat, not suited for manual labor in the fields. It was the kind of garment suitable to distinguish one as an manager or overseer, i.e. a superior. Such a coat indicated exemption from common labor, which was the privilege of the heirs of Middle-Eastern clans—in other words, the first-born sons. It was as though Jacob had gone to a lawyer and changed his will in Joseph’s favor. And for good reason—the true first born Reuben was not in good favor with his Dad—In chapter 35 he had an incestuous relationship with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah.
In light of Reuben’s sin, it appears that Jacob was giving consideration to transferring the birthright, which meant appointing the privileges of first-born status from Reuben to Joseph. Joseph’s coat made him look like royalty…and his brothers in contrast looked like his “royal subjects”. By giving this coat Jacob was clearly showing favoritism and expressing his preference that Joseph should have preeminence over his older brothers. Some parents tell each of their kids that they are the “favorite”. Jacob unwisely shows obvious preference for Joseph.