Sermon notes 08-09-20                      Joseph’s Life Lessons

Genesis 37:1-28 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.

These are the generations of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

 12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

As I was preparing for my message today, I was thinking of the fact that this coming week is the week when many of our students and staff are beginning to return to schools and campuses.  It is, to say the least, a very challenging time for all students and teachers and administrators, and we need to keep them all in our prayers.  I have been especially thinking about those students who are going off to college, and how this story of Joseph and his brothers applies to these young people, many of whom are leaving home and preparing for their futures.  Joseph was just about the same age as those students going off to their first year of college.  But the wonderful thing about the Bible is that it is the living, timeless word of God, and the teachings of Scripture apply to people of all ages, in all situations, in every age of human history: from the youngest of children to the most elderly, from 2000 years before Christ when the story of Joseph took place, to our time today.

The story of Joseph may be my favorite story in the Bible.  It took place roughly 4000 years ago.  It is a long story, requiring the last 14 or so chapters in the book of Genesis to be told, and we heard only the beginning of the story today.  We will hear more of the story of Joseph next week, but because we already know how it ends, we can confidently claim the lessons that it teaches us.

I want to focus on four lessons that I think have special application to our young people going off to school, but I believe these lessons apply to all of our lives.

  • When you do what is right, wrongdoers will resent you.
  • When God gives you a dream, others will oppose you.
  • God will fulfill his purpose for you in surprising, unforeseen ways.
  • Keep your eyes on the Lord, even when he is hard to see.

To provide some background as a refresher, Joseph was the second youngest of the 12 sons of Jacob, who was also called Israel.  Only Benjamin was younger.

Joseph and Benjamin were both born to Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel.  Jacob favored Joseph over his older sons, a fact that caused Joseph’s older brothers to hate him.  We see in the story that Joseph didn’t exactly try to win the affection of his older brothers.  In fact, he seemed to give them more reasons to resent him.  It could not have helped the situation between Joseph and his brothers that, as we heard Ron read in verse 2, Joseph brought a bad report of his brothers to his father.  This brings us to our First lesson: When you do what is right, wrongdoers will resent you.

Now, our initial reaction might be to think of Joseph as being a tattletale, and we need to be honest that it is not difficult to understand his older brothers’ resentment and hatred: Joseph was the favorite, he ratted them out, etc.  But sometimes in life it is necessary for bad behavior to be identified, or at the very least, not condoned.  We are not told the specifics of the older brothers’ behavior that led to the bad report.  It may have been that they were neglecting or even abusing their father’s flock, or engaging in some other behavior that was unacceptable.  In reporting the bad behavior of his older brothers to his father, Joseph takes a morally superior position; he does not condone or go along with their behavior.  In other words, Joseph is more righteous than his brothers, and we see the evidence of that borne out later in the story.

It might become necessary sometimes in life to identify bad behavior in wrongdoers, but we know that you don’t have to be a tattletale in order for wrongdoers to resent you for doing what is right.  Oftentimes they will resent you simply for not participating in or condoning their bad behavior.  You are very likely to find yourself in situations in life when others are doing wrong and you will need to take a stand on doing what is right.  And you should not be surprised when the wrongdoers will resent you for it.

  • Second lesson: When God gives you a dream, others will oppose you.

Joseph had dreams about his brothers and others bowing down to him.  His brothers hated him even more when he told them his dreams, and even Joseph’s father Jacob took exception to Joseph’s dreams.  Joseph rebuked Jacob, but at the same time we are told that Jacob kept Joseph’s dreams in mind.  Jacob remembered the dreams of Joseph; he knew that there was something to them.  Because we know the end of the story, we know that Joseph’s dreams come true later, when he becomes second in command in all of Egypt and his brothers come to him in a time of famine begging for food.

So I wonder what dream God has given you?  It probably does not involve people bowing down to you.  But if you have a dream of God’s intentions for you, you can be sure that there will be those who oppose that dream.

Now, I think I know what some of you might be thinking.  I am guessing that several of you or maybe even most of you are thinking that God has not given you a dream.  You may not think you have a particular dream for your future, but I want to tell you something very important: God has a dream for you.

I want to share a couple of verses that have been very important to me over the years.  First is Jeremiah 29:11: I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord; plans to prosper you and not to harm you; plans to give you hope and a future.   Second is Psalm 138:8:  The Lord will fulfill his purpose for me.  These verses verify that God has a plan, a purpose, a dream, for each of our lives.  Even if we don’t have clear dreams or plans for ourselves, we can trust that God has plans and purposes for our lives, and he will fulfill them as we follow the leading of the Holy Spirit and God’s guidance in our lives.  Others will often oppose our God-given dreams, but God’s plans for our lives will not be thwarted when we follow his guidance and the leading of the Holy Spirit.

  • That leads to our third lesson: God will fulfill his purpose for you in surprising, unforeseen ways.

There is what seems to me to be a peculiar detail added to the story of Joseph finding his brothers who are tending their father’s flock.  15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.  This seems to me like a rather unnecessary detail to be recorded in the Scripture.  Why was it necessary to record Joseph’s encounter with this unnamed man?  Why couldn’t the writer have simply told us that Joseph found his brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem?

If we think about it, we will realize that if this unnamed man had not found Joseph wandering in the field, if he had not heard Joseph’s brothers say they were going to Dothan, this story may have turned out very differently.  For that matter, if the brothers had stayed in Shechem and not gone up to Dothan, they would not have been near the trade route to Egypt and would not have seen the caravan of Ishmaelites and Joseph may never have made it to Egypt to save the children of Israel from perishing in the famine.

The point is, there will be circumstances and situations and people you encounter in life whose impact on your future you cannot foresee or even imagine.  But God sees it all and he orchestrates all things together to accomplish his purposes.

It has been said that we are like ants on a newspaper, crawling across the print without being able to read what it says.  Or elsewhere it has been said that we have our noses pressed up against the mural of life, seeing only what is right in front of our noses, not able to see the big picture.  But God sees it all.  So never discount the impact that a so-called chance encounter or coincidence can make in your life.

God is working in unforeseen, unknowable ways to fulfill his purposes for your life.  Be receptive to the leading of the Spirit.  You will often come to realize God’s activity in your life only as you look back on what has happened and you recognize that God was working all along.

  • Finally, the fourth lesson: Keep your eyes on the Lord, even when he is hard to see.

You will have times when you are not at all convinced God is working in your life.  When Joseph was sold into slavery, it was only the first of several injustices that he would experience.  He was later falsely accused of sexually assaulting his master’s wife, and he spent two years in prison for it.  God’s activity must have been very hard for Joseph to see when he was sold as a slave and when he was thrown into prison, but throughout all of his ordeals Joseph never lost faith that the Lord was with him.  In other words, he kept his eyes on the Lord, even in the darkest of times.

Dark times will come for all of us in life, and we can become dismayed and discouraged by the sight of the things that oppose us, and by the people who resent us.  But if we keep our eyes focused on the Lord, we will be able to do what the Lord has called us to do; we will live into the dream our Lord has for us.

So, whether you are young or old, remember that when you do what is right, wrongdoers will resent you.  Do what is right anyway.

When God gives you a dream, others will oppose you.  Dream nonetheless.

Remember also that God will fulfill his purpose for you in surprising, unforeseen ways.

And finally, when the storms of life come, and come they will, keep your eyes on Lord… especially during those times when he is hard to see … and the Lord will fulfill his wonderful purposes for your life.   Thanks be to God.  Amen.