I have always loved the Joseph story that appears in the Old Testament. It is the best part of Genesis for me. I love how it weaves in and out of one improbable situation after another. With themes of favoritism, prophecy, sibling rivalry, deceit, lying, cheating, arguing, imprisonment, and (finally) success, it is a veritable storytelling feast.
Today’s passage focuses on three themes: the perils of being braggadocios, the consequences of a family experiencing extreme jealousy, and the power of mob rule.
Joseph is the father’s favorite and was given a beautiful “technicolor dream coat” by his doting dad. He wears it proudly while he brags to his brothers that he has received a dream-vision that says that all the brothers would soon be bowing down to him in obeisance.
Can you imagine how well THAT played with the brothers? If your sibling said the same to you, how would you respond?
Genesis 37 (Contemporary English Version)
14 Joseph’s father said, “Go and find out how your brothers and the sheep are doing. Then come back and let me know.” So he sent him from Hebron Valley.
Joseph left and found his brothers in Dothan. 18 But before he got there, they saw him coming and made plans to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Look, here comes the hero of those dreams! 20 Let’s kill him and throw him into a pit and say that some wild animal ate him. Then we’ll see what happens to those dreams.”
Well, that was predictable! In some ways, Joseph’s lack of humility brought on his brothers’ ire. Joseph forgot that the glory belonged to God. If indeed he was destined to rise to power, it would be God’s doing and not his. By taking credit and lording it over his brothers, he invoked a jealous response…from God. God rarely suffers anyone putting himself on the throne in God’s place.
21 Reuben heard this and tried to protect Joseph from them. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Don’t murder him or even harm him. Just throw him into a dry well out here in the desert.” Reuben planned to rescue Joseph later and take him back to his father.
23 When Joseph came to his brothers, they pulled off his fancy coat 24 and threw him into a dry well.
Luckily Reuben steps in and offers a less violent solution, with good intentions to return later and save his brother. But that was not to be….
25 As Joseph’s brothers sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with all kinds of spices that they were taking to Egypt. 26 So Judah said, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and hide his body? 27 Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not harm him. After all, he is our brother.” And the others agreed.
28 When the Midianite merchants came by, Joseph’s brothers took him out of the well, and for twenty pieces of silver they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt.
For twenty pieces of silver they sold their own brother. The story has a pretty good ending, but that won’t come for many chapters yet.
Let’s turn this on its side for a moment and look at it a different way. Do you suppose denominationalism does the same thing? Does the bickering between churches look to the world like a giant sibling rivalry? Can infighting within a denomination feel like the smaller brother is being thrown into a well?
The world is watching. If we claim to be “brothers and sisters in Christ,” we need to reach down the street to our other-denomination neighbor and pray for their ministry just as hard as we pray for our own. We need to rejoice in their growth and not be threatened by it. Within our denominations, we should celebrate our differences and not use them as a sticking point for judgment.
In the body of Christ, there are no divisions. No Greek, nor Jew, nor male nor female, nor Presbyterians nor Catholics nor Methodists, but ALL are one in the body of Christ.
So let’s act like it.