Dreaming Dreams (verses 1-11)
This passage contains the final of the numerous narrative notations in Genesis: “These are the records of the generations of Jacob” (v. 2). As Joseph was pasturing the flocks with his brothers, he brought back an indicting report about them to Jacob. He was rewarded with a regal gown and was not required to work with his brothers. In other words, Joseph was promoted for perpetuating animosity. His brothers could no longer even say “peace” to him, and dysfunctional relationships in the family become even more evident: favoritism, unfriendliness, hatred, etc. Yet, God will use the circumstances to bring about His desired end: a people for Himself.
The dream that God gives to Joseph seems only to add fuel to the fire of animosity. There was really no interpretation needed for the dream. His brothers know exactly what Joseph was saying and they hated him even more because of it. Following the second dream, which communicated the same theme, Joseph is rebuked by his father Jacob. However, while the brothers continued in their jealousy, Jacob “kept the saying in mind.”
Conspiring to Kill (verses 12-24)
Joseph’s brothers concoct a cleverly conspired plot to put him to death. Their actions are reminiscent of the parable of the landowner told by Jesus, in which jealousy of the son (i.e. the heir of the vineyard) drives the vine-growers to kill him (Matthew 21:33). In an attempt at self-preservation, Reuben intervenes to rescue Joseph’s life. It’s an attempt to get back in good graces with his father. As head of the family, his half-hearted effort to save Joseph’s life could reinstate his status in the family.
Distinction without Difference (verses 25-28)
Judah makes the suggestion that they not kill Joseph, but rather sell him into slavery. What a humane idea! This is merely a distinction without a difference—stealing a life instantly vs. stealing it over time. Either way, this is a heinous crime (Ex. 21:16; Deut 24:7). Joseph’s dreams seem to have come to nothing—“I dreamed a dream… Now life has killed the dream I dreamed.”
A Coat and a Goat (verses 29-36)
Reuben’s grief when he discovers what his brothers have done is not so much owed to his brother’s apparent death as it is to his own inability to be the savior of the situation. Reuben’s concern is simply, “Where am I to go?” In other words, “What about me? Will I be held responsible?”
Ironically, when they give him the news, Jacob’s sons deceive him using a coat and a goat, just what he had used when he deceived his own father Isaac (Gen 27:15-16). In extreme grief and sorrow, Jacob rends his clothes. Faking sympathy for Jacob, his sons along with his daughters attempted to comfort him, but he would not be comforted.
The final verse reminds us not to give up hope: “Meanwhile, the Midianites sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s officer, the captain of the bodyguard.” God is up to something, though both Jacob and the brothers are entirely unaware of it. This final section of Genesis focuses on Joseph, but even Joseph is just a small part of the plan of God. Joseph is indeed saved through it all, but for the greater purpose of securing and saving Judah his brother. It is for the preservation of Judah’s tribe, in order that the Lion from that tribe might one day come and bring true salvation to God’s people!
- Nothing was easy for Joseph. But he could never have been who God intended him to be sitting at home comfortable in his fancy robe. At this point in his life, he has only the memory of the dreams, and yet no understanding as to how they will be realized. You may be in this phase of God’s work in you, finding that God is not fulfilling His promises according to your personal timetable. We are in danger of having an “over-realized eschatology”—that is, expecting God’s promises to be fulfilled immediately in the here and now. The truth is, you have far better promises than even Joseph had, though you may not see their fruition at the moment. You have the promises of God that are yes and amen in Christ! Are you resting in God’s promises more than in your current situation in life? What are some of the promises in God’s Word that you can take time to consider and pray through today? Why do they give you hope?