Christ Covenant Church
Series — Joseph: Stories of God’s Providence for the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Text – Genesis 37:12-36
A Broken Home
I’m going to tell you a story, a story that you’ve all most likely heard many times, and then hopefully we’ll be able to worship in a new and fuller way by hearing this old story again, maybe for the first time, so sit back, and hear a tale of old.
Once there was a father who entrusted his children to care for all he had, but his sons were wayward, and had a habit of halfhearted obedience, all his sons that is but one. He had one beloved son, his favored son, the son whom he especially loved. He had given this son a beautiful robe, with long sleeves, a robe fit for a king. The father commissioned this son to go to his wayward brothers, and his son joyfully went to find them. He searched to and fro to find his brothers, but they did not want to be found. Finally, the son came near to his brothers, but when they saw him they conspired to put him to death. They were embittered with their father and hated their brother because their father treasured him more than them, even though, from their perspective, they did all his works. When they had their chance, they grabbed him, stripped him of his clothes, threw him into a waterless pit, and handed him over to their enemies, all for a few pieces of silver, but that wasn’t the end of the story for the son or the brothers. The son would be lifted from the pit and eventually save his brothers that had abandoned him, and not only them, but this son would be the savior of the known world.
I know some of you may have heard that story hundreds of times, but it’s a story that hopefully never ceases to take your breath away.
Before we begin to talk about this story though, I’ve got a question for you:
How many of you, by a show of hands, thought I was talking about Joseph?
How many of you thought I was talking about Jesus?
How many of you thought I was talking about you?
Now, when prepping this sermon, I really didn’t know who would think of Joseph and who would think of Jesus, but I was pretty sure that no one would think this story was about them.
As a disclaimer, I do want to make it clear that just because this story isn’t about you or me doesn’t mean there aren’t threads, contact points, and principles within our own stories that enable us to learn many different things about ourselves, our relationships with one another, and our relationship with God, but I do want to make it clear that this story is not primarily about you.
Virtually no one listening to that story outside of a church setting would hear it and think, “Oh, he’s talking about me,” but because of decades of poor teaching on how to read our bibles, because of poor hermeneutics, as soon as we sit in a pew or gather around a table with a bunch of Christians, that story tends to be turned into a spring board of moral exhortations that center primarily around me and you and so we miss the most important parts!
Well, I hope our approach this morning will remind us that this story is far bigger than you or I could imagine, even if we’ve heard it before.
Hopefully you will see that this story is about Joseph, and hopefully you will see that even Joseph’s isn’t ultimately about him either; his story is about God, what He’s doing, and what He’s going to do through Jesus and for the world.
Again, there will be touch points in there for you and me to learn from and identify with, but they may not be the ones your used to.
As I said before, we’re going to take a little different approach this morning. First, we’ll read the story as it is written in your bibles. Then, we’ll break it story up into 4 or 5 sections, which I will read and then summarize. After that we’ll look at how that story points us to the bigger story of Jesus, and then at the very end, hopefully we’ll be able to draw more appropriate threads into our lives.
It may feel a little choppy, but my hope is that by breaking it up this way some of us will hear and see things we may have not heard or seen before; maybe it will be like we’re hearing this story again but for the first time.
So, turn with me in your bibles to Genesis, chapter 37. We’ll be reading and diving into verses 12 through 36.
If you don’t have your bible this morning, just sit back and listen, because the worship order doesn’t have the full reading.
(Genesis 37:12-36 ESV)
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 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.” 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. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 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.
They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 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.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 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. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
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. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 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. 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.
When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
The first section we will be looking at is verse 12-14. Look again at those with me.
 Now [Joseph’s] brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.  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.”  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.
Joseph’s brothers – interestingly called that rather than Israel’s sons – had gone to shepherd their father’s livestock near the land of Shechem, almost fifty miles away. That’s roughly the distance from here to Fort Worth and would take at least fifteen hours to walk, so this is not a short journey Israel would ask Joseph to take. Joseph, seventeen years old, would leave the safety and love of his father to go after brothers he probably knew wouldn’t be very happy to see him. Though Joseph would be gone for several days, the verbiage here indicates he went willingly and joyfully to fulfill his father’s request.
Now, most of us know the end of this story, but Israel, Joseph’s father, did not know what he was sending his son into. He did not know that Joseph’s brothers would grab him, abuse him, and sell him into slavery, and Israel didn’t know that it would be almost thirty years before he would see his son again. He wasn’t all knowing, and he wasn’t all-powerful. I wonder, if he had known all the pain that would result from him sending his son, whether he would have still sent him, and if he had the power, whether he would have stopped his sons from doing all that evil. I also wonder if Joseph had known, whether he’d have been up to the task.
I guess those are things we’ll never know, but something we do know is…
Jesus, the true Son, also left the eternal safe and loving presence of His Father, going much further than fifty miles to pursue His wayward brothers. And, we know that God, the True Father, knew exactly what He was sending His beloved son into. He knew Jesus’ brothers wouldn’t believe Him; He knew they would grab Him, abuse Him, and sell him into slavery, and He knew would be a little over 30 years before the Father would be reunited with His Son again. The all-knowing, all-powerful God knew upfront all the pain and suffering that was to result from Him sending His son, Jesus, and we know that He still did it. He is so loving, that He sent His only begotten Son into the world and allowed the pain and suffering of His Son to take place anyway. Not only do we know this about the Father, but we know that the Son, Jesus, knew exactly what He was getting into. He knew the pain and suffering He would have to endure to find and save His brothers, and Jesus too went through with the plan anyway.
We could camp out here and make all sorts of observations, but there is so much more to this story, so let’s keep going.
Our next section is verses 15-24.
 And a man found [Joseph] wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”  “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.”  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.  They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him.  They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer.  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.”  But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.”  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.  So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore.  And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Joseph came, just like his father told him, to find his brothers, but when he came to find them, they weren’t where they were supposed to be. They were supposed to be tending the sheep and watching over them. They were supposed to be honoring their father, the way He wanted, but they weren’t. They had led the flock fifteen miles away to a waterless pit. The fact that they had led the sheep to this waterless pit was a sign that they were either negligent or disobedient shepherds. Sheep need water for life, but the brothers weren’t caring for the sheep that had been entrusted to them, and Joseph’s habit of bringing reports of them to their father was probably a source of their self-righteous fury.
When Joseph’s brothers saw him, they conspired to kill him. They were jealous of him and the special love that their father had for him. They resented the thought that they would one day bow to their brother, and they were probably angry that they were working in the fields for so long, but if their brother brought back his report to their father, they wouldn’t be rewarded for their work, so they grabbed Joseph, overpowered him, stripped him of his robe, and threw him into that providentially placed waterless pit.
Just as Joseph’s father told him, Jesus’s Father instructed Him to find His children, but when He came to find them, they weren’t where they were supposed to be. Those God had given the responsibility of caring for His flock were either negligent or disobedient shepherds. They were supposed to be bringing the sheep life-giving water, but instead these wicked shepherds had led God’s sheep to a waterless pit of a different kind. When Jesus’ kinsmen saw him, they too conspired to kill him. They were jealous that Jesus had a special claim to the Father’s love that they did not have. They knew that Jesus had seen their wicked works and that the report He would bring to His Father would reveal what they had tried to hide by distancing themselves from Him. They thought they deserved to be loved the most because they were the older brothers who were busy working for the Father. Their self-righteousness led them to hate and resent the favored one of God.
However, though Joseph was overpowered, Jesus was not. He willingly gave Himself over to His captors. They grabbed him, stripped him of his robe, but before they had him thrown into a waterless pit, they actually fulfilled their plans to have him killed. They had him crucified; they’d murdered him, and Jesus’ pit was a waterless grave.
Hopefully by now you’ve heard enough to know that maybe the way you’ve heard this story told in the past is much bigger than you and Joseph, and hopefully you’re beginning to see your touch point might not be Joseph at all. So if you aren’t the father, you aren’t Joseph, and you sure aren’t Jesus, then where is your thread into this story?
Let’s keep going and see. Look at verses 25-28.
 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.  Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  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.  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.
Having seized their brother and done great evil, their consciences seemingly unaffected, the wayward sons of Israel went about their normal lives, eating and drinking, buying and selling (ref. Lk 17.28). Throwing their brother into the pit wasn’t enough; Judah, betraying his brother, saw there was a profit to be made, so rather than honor their father and do the hard work of repentance and restoration for what they had done up to this point, they sought to further remove their brother from their presence by selling him for a few pieces of silver.
Much like Israel’s sons, the wicked priests and rulers of Jesus’ day, also Israel’s sons, were going about their lives with dull consciences, eating and drinking and being merry, even though they had dishonored their God. Rather than do the hard work of keeping with repentance, they saw a profit to be made from getting rid of the Son. Your English translations say Judah was behind the scheme to sell Joseph, but the Greek name for Judah is Judas, and the LXX, the Septuagint confirm this. So in Joseph and Jesus’ story, Judah, or Judas, someone they called brother, he betrayed them both over, all for a few pieces of silver. Jesus though wasn’t sold into service, he was sold and condemned to die.
As you can probably tell we’re nearing the end of our stories, so let’s keep going.
Look at verses 29-32.
 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes  and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?”  Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.  And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.”
When one of Joseph’s brothers came to the empty pit, he grieved and mourned because he had betrayed his father and abandoned his brother. The guilty brothers covered their transgressions in the blood of a goat, and brought the tattered robe of royalty before their father to escape his anger and avoid being kicked out of the family.
There was a cover up in Jesus day as well. The other wayward sons of Israel had put a price on Jesus head, and when His betrayer, Judas, saw that Jesus had been condemned, he tried to return the money. When he went and hung himself, the chief priests and elders, to cover up their blood money, laundered the silver and bought a field where the blood of another goat, Judas, was spilled. So preoccupied in their cover up, they ignored the fact that they’d also been guilty of spilling, not the blood of a goat, but the blood of the very lamb of God.
If you’re still with me, and if you’re still wondering where your contact point is, look at verses 33-36 with me.
 And [Joseph’s father] identified [the robe] and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.”  Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.  All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.  Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.
Joseph’s father identified the robe as his son’s. In the father’s mind, only a fierce animal could have done such damage to his beloved son, only a beast could have torn him to pieces, only a monster could have left such a bloody mess behind. His father grieved, mourned, and wept over the loss of his son for many days. If Joseph’s father knew the truth about his sons, he would have cast the wicked brothers away and expelled them from his family and the inheritance that was theirs, but instead they tried to cover their rebellion up by slaying a goat and distracting their father by the sight of blood. If they had loved their father, not only wouldn’t they have killed his beloved son, they wouldn’t have hypocritically drawn near to him without telling him the truth about what they had done.
Likewise, only a fierce beast could have done such damage to Jesus, tearing God’s Son to pieces. But, this monster was far fiercer than any wild animal could ever be. The penalty of His brothers’ sin grasped Jesus in its teeth, ripping His flesh from His bones, and death brought Him into its foreign land. Joseph was delivered from death into captivity, but Jesus was delivered from captivity into death. He really was, without a doubt, torn to pieces. This was no guise. He didn’t merely serve an officer of a foreign land like Joseph, but an officer in a foreign land pierced His side, ensuring Jesus had indeed died the death His brothers intended. Jesus’ Father, though undoubtedly grieved, did not have to do so for many years because of His Son’s death. Instead, after three days, because the beast of sin and death were no match for Him, the Father exalted Him, not to the right hand of a Pharaoh, but to the His own right hand, and instead of a brother coming to his pit with grief, one of Jesus’ brothers came away from His pit marveling at what he saw.
Maybe you’ve always read the Joseph story this way, maybe you haven’t, but I hope you too marvel at it every time.
Up to this point, we really haven’t drawn a thread into your life, at least not explicitly. I’ve told you that your immediate contact point into this story is not Joseph, and it’s not Jesus.
In the story of Joseph, Israel’s direct tie is to the brothers, and beloved, so is ours.
Now, I don’t want to minimize the reality that some of you come from broken homes and have experienced grave suffering in your lives. Some of you have even been betrayed by those closest to you and struggle to trust God in the difficult circumstances that often feel like, and may even include, death. We all need to be reminded that God is for us, even in these hard times, and that He really does work all things for our good, and that He really is simultaneously omniscient, omnipotent, and omnibenevolent, but there is a greater problem that we all share, and a far more accurate thread we share that draws us into this story.
If I tell you that you are Joseph, not only am I teaching you a poor hermeneutic, I’m going to be tempting you with pride or despair. If you feel like you’re the good, strong brother, you are going to be prone to pride because you’ll think you’re not like the eleven bad brothers. Or, if you’re more realistic and held to Joseph’s standard, you’re going to be prone to despair because your faith feels so weak in times of trial and unjust suffering while Joseph’s appears so strong.
But, if we see ourselves as we truly are, as the eleven brothers, only then can we accept the love and mercy of the father, and only then can we be gracious to others who act just like us, to us.
But even Joseph’s story wouldn’t leave us with much hope if that’s the only story we had.
After all, we are the ones who have been disobedient, not doing the will of our Father. We have betrayed our brother. We have been proud of our works and sought to cover up our wickedness by pretending to love the father. Instead of telling the truth about what we’ve done, we hope that we can hide it and hypocritically draw near to God at the same time, but beloved, our Father knows the whole story because He has written it.
He knows what we’ve done; He knows what loving us would cost Him, and yet He loved us anyway, not just enough to give us the example of Joseph to follow, but so much that He would send His beloved Son to fulfill the story for us. If we are to escape the wrath of our father, we won’t do it by trying to cover our transgressions with anything but the blood of the lamb. Then, the robe of righteousness, which belongs truly to Jesus, will be truly ours. By grace through faith alone, our Father will clothe us with glory and honor, and one day we will have the privilege of bowing down to our brother in grateful love.
From now on, when you hear the story of a loving Father, a faithful son, and wayward children, I pray you will know your role and worship accordingly.