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.
Back in the 60’s the Smothers Brothers, a musical comedy duo, had a famous routine around a familiar family conflict: “Mom always liked you best!” The fact that they were adults made it more laughable, yet it shows that time doesn’t always heal the wounds of childhood.
Joseph gladly accepts and wears his new coat. This distinction bestowed upon Joseph developed in his brothers a growing hatred; verse 4 says that they “could not speak a kind word to him”. Their enmity came to a boil when Joseph unwisely shared his dreams. As the son of Jacob and Rachel, Joseph was to the others a half-brother, which may have increased the animosity. He was not the son of their mothers. In verse 2 we see that Joseph “told on” his brothers. We don’t know the details; we can assume that it was a situation where not telling would be wrong. At any rate, Joseph’s report likely resulted in disciplinary consequences and resentment.
Dreams were highly respected in Bible days as a source of divine revelation. As if things couldn’t get worse, Joseph has 2 dreams which do not require much imagination to interpret—he obviously thinks he will rule over his brothers. The brothers are offended; they interpret the dreams as “delusions of grandeur”. Joseph indicates that he will gain supremacy over his entire family. His dreams came true in Egypt.
I knew of a Major who’d been passed over for promotion to Lieutenant Colonel. He was thinking of getting out of the Army, even though he’d been assured he could stay in and retire at his present rank. But he didn’t savor having to work for people who were junior to him, or who had been his peers but advanced in rank and who might end up one day as his supervisor. We can appreciate the Major’s feelings.