Joseph 1 - Dreamer Drama

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Genesis 37

Have you ever tried joining a film halfway through? Or picked up a book to find its the fifth one in the series?

Genesis 37-50 is the 5/5 in Genesis. Each book begins with ‘These are the generations of…’ and this is the last one. Like many final instalments it ties up a few loose ends from earlier in the story. Specifically, Genesis 37-50 answers questions posed in:
• Genesis 12.1-3 - How will Abraham’s family become a great nation?

• Genesis 15.13,14 - How will God’s people go from Canaan ⇒ Sojourn 400 years in Egypt ⇒ Canaan

It’s the story of how God uses: an unlikely choice + unstinting obedience + unusual cruelty = Rescue + Glory. See this in three parts:
1. God is at work… through an unlikely choice
2. God is at work… through the obedience of a Son
3. God is at work… through the cruelty of men

1. God is at work through an unlikely choice v1-11

Joseph is the unlikeliest of heroes but God chooses him to rescue His people and display HIS glory. Look at v1:

Jacob lived in the land of his father's sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph...

This story should be about Jacob but it’s not even about Reuben Jacob’s eldest son and heir. No, the story moves straight to Joseph and it’s not a promising start because Joseph’s relationship with his family is, let’s say complicated v3:

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 colours. 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.

Jacob ‘Israel’ here, loved Joseph more than any other of his sons. Likely because he was Rachel, his first love’s son. And what’s more he doesn’t hide his favouritism but dresses Joseph in all his doting, technicolour love.
As a result, bitterness has set up camp in the hearts of his brothers such that they cannot even speak to him without violence erupting. Finally, Joseph is a dreamer v5:

5 Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more...
9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it... But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him... 11 And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.

The young usurper, the spoiled child, the dreamer with his head in the clouds. Humanely Joseph isn’t the person you would choose to rescue God’s people, but he fits God’s plan perfectly.

The film ‘The Usual Suspects’ is infamous for its ending. I’ll try not to ruin it for you but there’s a moment when a coffee cup drops dramatically to the floor. The character releases that everything he thought he knew is wrong and that a very different storyline, with a totally unexpected central character has been falling into place behind the scenes.

Plot line of Genesis so far: Isaac not Ishmael, Jacob not Esau and now Joseph not Reuben. God is in the habit of using the people you’d least expect to achieve his purposes. Perhaps this is why even as Jacob scolds Joseph he keeps his dream in mind because this is not merely Joseph daydreaming but God previewing his plan of rescue.

If we feel we are like Joseph - the unlikeliest of people for God to use or if we feel that God’s people are vulnerable and weak and retreating then we should remember that God delights to use the ‘weaker things’ to shame the ‘strong’. We find our place in the world not by uncovering some hidden strength but by admitting our inner weaknesses and trusting that God will use us anyway, this is his way. Joseph is an unlikely choice but he was God’s choice, he revealed himself to him and Joseph responded. You are here this morning and God is revealing himself to you through his Word, by coming to earth in the person of Jesus. Will you listen to his call? Because no matter who we are, we find our place within God’s big story.

1. God is at work… through an unlikely choice
2. God is at work… through the faithfulness of the Son

2. God is at work through the faithfulness of a Son v12-17

Joseph is an unlikely choice, but he will prove to be a faithful Son. God works through unlikely people as they choose to serve him even in the most difficult of circumstances. Let’s pick things up again in v13:

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.

These verses are incredible. Jacob asks Joseph to go and check on his brothers even though they hate him and Joseph says; “Here I am”. Joseph is immediately obedient and goes even though that means going to Shechem. Shechem was where Joseph’s brothers Simeon and Levi had previously killed all the males in the village for defiling their sister. You can read about it in Genesis 34. Joseph seeks his brothers even though they hate him. Joseph keeps going to Shechem even though they hate his whole family there. But Joseph doesn’t stop there, v15:

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 looks like a reprieve for Joseph. He goes after the brothers who hate him, to the place where they hate his whole family and they aren’t there. So, does Joseph hot tail it back to his father? No, he goes on and ends up in Dothan, a place that archaeologists tell us child sacrifice took place. Why does Joseph do this? Because he loves his Father.

Have you ever noticed how easy it is to grab the keys and head out into the cold, rainy evening when you’re going to pick up the takeaway rather than going to the gym? Or what about the hopelessly in love boyfriend or girlfriend who thinks nothing of driving miles to get to their partner. What would look to anyone else to be painful endurance, gruelling work is nothing to the one who labours for the sake of love.

Joseph loves his Father and so he chooses to be faithful, he chooses to obey and he does so wholeheartedly even though that means seeking the brothers that hate him in places where he may be in very real danger. In doing so he foreshadows another Son, a Son who says not my will be done, by yours and a son who is obedient to death, even death on a cross.

Loving and trusting God means more than just saying those things. It is proved when we serve God not reluctantly or half-heartedly but in glad and full obedience, now wherever we are. For some of us that might mean taking on significant risk like Joseph:
• Talk to friends, work colleagues, friends about Jesus.
• Taking positive action to fight ongoing sin
• Going to serve Jesus in a new context

Or perhaps it is serving God where you are right now, even if that feels mundane and insignificant, because it isn’t if we work in faith, labour in love and remain steadfast because of the hope that is ours in Jesus.

1. God is at work… through an unlikely choice
2. God is at work… through the faithfulness of the Son
3. God is at work… through the cruelty of men

3. God is at work... through the cruelty of men v18-36

God is capable of redeeming the most horrific circumstances for our good and for his glory. The brothers mean to harm Joseph but God uses their cruelty to save their lives later. Let’s read on from v18:

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.”

The brothers despise Joseph and so from afar they plot his death. But it’s not just Joseph they despise, look at how they talk about Joseph's dreams about God’s words to them… The brothers hate Joseph but they reject God’s purposes here too and so they treat Joseph like the later OT prophets Jeremiah and Amos. Verse 21:

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 colours that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

Like Jeremiah and Amos to come Joseph is cast into an empty cistern. But even here there is a hint of mercy, a glimpse of God’s protection and supervision as Reuben intervenes to save Joseph from death and plots to later save him. Nevertheless, this is an episode of unusual cruelty. Look at v25 where Joseph's brothers eat and talk while he is in the pit.

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.

And yet again there is a hint of mercy as Judah now intervenes and Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt rather than being left in the wilderness to die:

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[c] of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

What is God doing? No doubt Joseph was asking that question. Unlike him we have the advantage of being able to read Genesis 50:20 where Joseph speaks to his brothers as PM of Egypt:

20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

The intentional cruelty of Joseph's brothers will be redeemed in a way that they could not possibly imagine but somehow in a way that Joseph is able to trust. God is not just going to rescue Joseph from the pit he is going to deliver the nation of Israel from famine through Joseph and his dreams. God does not waste suffering; he remakes it compounding glory and love and rescue and freedom on an eternal scale.

Of course Joseph’s story is just a shadow, just a prototype of the rescue to come - where another unlikely choice a carpenter from a backwater town, an Son perfectly obedient to his Father’s perfect plan will choose with clear eyed understanding to suffer the cruellest of deaths so that many people should not be kept alive but find everlasting life by believing in his name.

Joseph responded to God’s call on his life, he found his place in God’s big picture by trusting in God’s revelation to him. He obeyed wholeheartedly the commands of his Father in love and so, somehow, he was able to trust that even through the unconscionable cruelty of his brothers and the misery of being sold as a slave in Egypt to go on. In doing so he imaged the saviour to come.

Friends we must do the same, like Joseph we must respond to God’s call on our lives as he speaks to us through his word and by his Son. We must in love obey with full hearts our Father’s command and serve him wherever he would have us so. By doing so we will be able to endure all suffering and may continue until that day when God brings to end all pain and sadness, when he makes all things new and when the full glory of all his purposes which has been working despite our weakness and through our hurts will be finally and fully displayed. Let me pray.

Heavenly Father we thank you for your words to us. We praise you that you delight to work through the weaker things and the unlikeliest and unworthiest of choices for that is what we are. Please would you help us by your Spirit’s power at work within us to obey you wholeheartedly and to trust that, even in suffering, you mean it for our good and for your glory. In the name of the perfectly obedient Son, Jesus we ask. Amen.

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