Joseph: Family Dynamics

Family Dynamics Sermon Notes

Family Dynamics

Genesis 37

Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

Sunday October 30th, 2016

Pastor Paul L. Davis


Key Goals: (Know) To understand how God uses dysfunction in our lives. (Feel) Feel power to live differently within our family dynamics. (Do) Choose to challenge ourselves.

Introduction: This morning begins an epic adventure through the last 25 chapters of the book of Genesis, with an open challenge to live differently. Turn to Genesis 37. As you are turning there, let me place us in time. The basic outline of the book of Genesis is easy to remember; we only have to keep in mind four major events and four key people. Genesis 1-11 depicts four great events: Creation, Fall, Flood, Tower of Babel. Genesis 12-50 describes four men of faith: Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph.[1] Interestingly, the story of Joseph is by far the largest section in the entire book. God uses five times more space to describe Joseph’s story than he does to tell us about the creation of the world. In fact, Joseph’s story dwarfs any other event or person in the entire book of Genesis. There must be something in this man’s life that God wants us to know.

You may already know the end of Joseph’s life. You may know that he will become Pharaoh’s right-hand man, wealthy and powerful. But let us keep in mind all the way through this adventure that Joseph did not know how his story would end. All Joseph had was the present and his God. For Joseph to get to the end of his story, he had to go through betrayal by his own brothers, being sold into slavery, and being tempted with sexual sin. When he resisted, he was falsely accused, thrown into prison, given false hope, then forgotten for years. Through all of those circumstances, the only constant in Joseph’s life was that he lived differently. Specifically this morning, we will find that he lived differently within a dysfunctional family.


A Frenetic Family: Let’s read through Genesis 37:1–11.[2]   Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 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. Our adventure starts when Joseph is 17 years old. We are told he is a “boy” and that he is working with the four sons of Bilhah and Zilpah[3], all of whom would have been men, and technically his half brothers. You see, Joseph grew up in a seriously messed up family. Joseph’s father, Jacob, had four wives. Each of them was known to scheme and manipulate Jacob for his affections.[4] Jacob was actually tricked into marrying his first wife, Leah. Bilhah and Zilpah were slaves given to Jacob as wives to produce children. And then there was the beautiful Rachel, the love of Jacob’s life. From those wives, 12 sons and one daughter were born. These 12 sons eventually became the 12 tribes of Israel. Imagine growing up in a house with four mothers, one little brother, 10 half brothers (all of them older, which had to be fun) and one half sister. Here is where it gets dicey. Jacob played favorites and everybody knew it.[5] Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife; her firstborn, Joseph, was Jacob’s favorite son. With that dynamic brewing, there is bound to be trouble, and there was.


Joseph came in from working with his half brothersAnd Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. The 17 year old ‘boy’ brings a bad report of the men. The Hebrew word “bad” is usually translated “evil” or “wicked.” So Joseph did not come home and tell his dad that the guys were doing a “bad” job shepherding the flock. They had done something wicked or evil and Joseph told on them. This is our first glimpse that Joseph lived differently. Whatever it was his brothers were doing, Joseph wasn’t.


3 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. For 11 men in the family, this is a painful verse. It was not Joseph’s fault, but when the 17 year old favorite son of the favorite wife brings bad reports about the others, you can feel the storm clouds on the horizon. This family was a disaster waiting to happen; there is no way that Joseph will escape being the lightning rod. (Parents, take note this morning on the dangers of favoritism.) Because of his love, Jacob makes Joseph a robe of many colors. Now I am going to mess up something for you here. In Hebrew,ket-honet passim,” Joseph’s robe was actually “a coat of extended length,” literally, a coat that extends to the hands and feet (passim). We are not told if it was colorful or not. Sorry. The idea of a “coat of many colors” is actually an ancient mistranslation.[6] Men who worked for a living wore short robes with short sleeves. Long robes were for rulers and the very wealthy. Typically a robe like this would be given to the firstborn son, which would have been Reuben (Leah’s son). By giving Joseph this robe, Jacob sent a strong message to his other sons: Joseph is my firstborn; he will inherit.


4 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. Literally the brothers could not speak “shalom” to Joseph. Shalom is the Hebrew greeting and prayer for “peace and wellness.” In a family that plays favorites, there is rarely shalom.


A Dreamer of Dreams: 5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: (Can’t you almost hear the brothers groaning?)   7Behold, 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.” 8 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. 

The Hebrew words Joseph used in describing his dream left no mistake that in his dream Joseph was a “king” and his brothers were going to “bow down” and worship. The Bible does not tell us if Joseph was arrogant, but let me point out some obvious facts. He was 17. He wore the coat. He was dreaming about ruling over everyone. So, either he was arrogant, terribly naive or just 17. Regardless, his brothers hated him for it. 9 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.

Through these dreams, God was giving Joseph a glimpse into his plans for him. That is the purpose of God’s revelations: to help us see God’s purposes, plans, and design for our lives. Remember, there was no Bible for Joseph to read. How would Joseph know that God loved him, that God had a plan for his life, that he needed to put his faith in God? We have 66 books of the Bible to help us know that. All Joseph had were two fading dreams, but we will soon find that it was enough for him to live differently.


A Victim of Violence: One day, all of Joseph’s half brothers were tending the flocks. Jacob sent Joseph to check on them and bring him back word as to how they are doing. So Joseph left and found his brothers in a place called Dothan. Skip down to verse 18. They (Joseph’s half brothers) 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. (This phrase is dripping with hateful sarcasm; the Hebrew is literally “lord of dreams.”) 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.

Reuben, the true firstborn, stops the bloodshed with a plan to have his brothers throw Joseph in a pit, intending to secretly come back and rescue him. It is good to note that not all the brothers were bloodthirsty. 23So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore (again the robe of “passim” or long sleeves). 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. The pit was almost certainly a dry well or cistern, which, in that area would have been deep and virtually impossible to escape. Even if he did escape, he was stripped of his clothes. 25Then they sat down to eat. (What? These guys throw their kid brother, stripped naked, in a well and then eat. Nice.) 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.


What kind of money can you get for a little brother? About 20 shekels—the going rate for a slave and equal to about two years’ wages of a healthy free man. Today’s modern equivalent value could be as high as $50,000. Can you imagine being Joseph? 17 years old and your brothers violently strip you of your clothes, throw you in a pit, and then they eat lunch! Don’t think Joseph was not scared out of his mind either. Listen to these same brothers five chapters from now when they are confronted with what they have done. Then (the brothers) said to one another, “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen.” (Genesis 42:21) They saw his pain. Joseph begged his brothers not to sell him. He pleaded with them for compassion. His soul was “distressed.” The word distress comes from the root word for enemy; the idea is intense pain or affliction caused by someone who hates you. Maybe for the first time, Joseph realized how much they had hated him all along. They pulled him from the pit, naked, and sold him, knowing full well that he would be a slave for the rest of his life. This section of the passage ends with the sad words: They took Joseph to Egypt.


Let me highlight some thoughts from Joseph’s life so far:

1. God’s gifts often come in strange packages. Joseph was a gift to his family and brothers, but they had no idea. He came as a strange package. Because we are not God, it is virtually impossible for us to see who or what pieces in our lives are God’s gifts. The brothers hated Joseph and yet it will be Joseph that rescues them and their children from starvation. The very brother they could not speak “shalom” to will bring “shalom” to their lives. Let us live differently. Romans 12:18 says …so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. There is not one of us here who does not have some dysfunction in our family, friends and work. Don’t hate. Speak shalom to your family. We saw this morning where hate leads. Let’s live differently. Let us forgive when we are wronged and love our enemies even when we are hated. Jesus himself asked the question, “If we love only those that love us, how are we different?” (Matt 5:46)

2. God’s gifts help prepare us for the road ahead. Those dreams Joseph had, we have detailed descriptions of them almost 3,500 years later. Do you think that Joseph clung to those dreams? I imagine Joseph being dragged naked through the desert on the way to Egypt thinking to himself, how did my life end up here? Joseph will need a big God and a deep faith to get him through. God gave Joseph those dreams to build his faith—faith Joseph would need in the future. Today, God has given you his Word. This Word—every story, truth and paragraph—is a gift to help prepare you for the road ahead. Study every chapter. You don’t know what you are going to face, but by studying God’s word you will know how to face it. Don’t miss a week as we study Joseph’s life. It will build your faith and help you to live differently.


Challenge by Choice: As we close, we are offering you the opportunity to be challenged. There are cards with six different challenges on them; these are specific applications from this morning’s message. By choosing a card, you will be like Joseph: you won’t know what you will get—it may something difficult, it may be something easy.  Like Joseph, you will not know until you get there, but each of the challenges will help you live differently. 


Community Group Discussion

1.          As you begin your discussion, have one group member open their Bible to Genesis 37 and have the rest of the group try to tell the story of Genesis 37 from memory. Did you miss anything?

2.          Joseph’s life is one of extremes. This week we saw him go from being the favored son to a slave. How does a deep faith in God help one through the extreme ups and downs in life?

3.          Playing favorites can create a painful experience. Have you ever experienced or felt favoritism? Discuss how one might overcome the residual anger or lack of “shalom” that comes from favoritism.

4.          How does knowing that Joseph’s family was “dysfunctional” give you hope?

5.          Discuss why you did or did not pick up a “challenge by choice” card.

6.          Discuss your “challenge by choice.” Will it be easy for you or hard? Why? Share with the group how they might pray for you to accomplish your challenge.


© Calvary Baptist Church of Holland

Permissions: You are permitted and encouraged to use and reproduce this material in any format for spiritual, non-commercial purposes. We only ask that you do not alter the content in any way and do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction. Please include the following statement on any distributed material: by Paul L. Davis. © Calvary Baptist Church of Holland.

[1] This very basic outline largely comes from the “Walk Thru The Bible” Old Testament material.

[2] All Scripture quotations are taken from the ESV.

[3] The sons of these two wives were: Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher.

[4] See Genesis 30:1-22 for all of the salacious details.

[5] In fact, Genesis 30 tells us that Jacob “hated” Leah his wife, which is why God blessed her with children. Bilhah and Zilpah were actually Leah’s slaves given to Jacob by Leah to produce more children. Rachel is the only wife that we are told Jacob actually “loved.” Genesis 29:30 …and he loved Rachel more than Leah…

[6] John H. Sailhamer, “Genesis,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 2 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1990), 227.