The Hero of Your Story
A more accurate title would have been, “The Protagonist of Your Story,” but it did not have quite as nice a ring to it. The story we are about to read is full of unanswered questions and mysteries, not to mention some terrible and unfair situations. I believe many of us would agree that Joseph is the hero of the story, at least on a human level (since on a universal level God is ultimately the hero). However, Joseph seems to spend the whole chapter (Genesis 37) at the mercy of his brothers. Joseph seems helpless and defenseless.
Do you ever feel that way?
Like you are powerless to defend yourself against those who wish to harm you? You probably don’t feel like a hero, but allow me to challenge you to view yourself under a different light. Imagine yourself as the hero of your story. By hero I mean the protagonist, the main character, the story is all about you. Now, how will you react?
If your child was to tell your grandchild your story, you are the main character, the story is all about you, imagine they are going to make a movie about your story. Now, how will you react when life is unfair? How will you face challenges? When generations will be reading or watching your story, telling your story to their kids, what kind of story will it be? What kind of decisions are you making as a follower of God? Will your story inspire others?
What if one day we were to read your story like we are reading Joseph’s, what would your story look like? Do you give up, do you cheat, do you rebel against God?
I am skipping Genesis 36 for now because it is essentially made up of genealogies geographical details pertaining to Esau and the Edomites (descendants of Esau). There is value to this chapter but it is not directly relevant to the study of the narratives we are currently looking at so I’ll skip it for now.
Now we are ready to dive into Genesis 37 and the story of Jacob!
Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan.
- Genesis 37:1 NKJV
Jacob is the first patriarch to actually dwell in the land of Canaan. While Abraham and Isaac traveled and camped around the land of Canaan, Jacob has settled and now dwells there. This points to the fulfillment of God’s promise to give this land to Abraham’s descendants (Genesis 12:7).
Chronicles of a teenage boy.
This is the history of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father.
- Genesis 37:2 NKJV
I find it fascinating how verse two introduces and the history of Jacob and jumps right into telling the story of Joseph! I agree that the story is really about Jacob and his sons, but there is no denying that this could easily be described as the story of Joseph, so I will be referencing this as the beginning of the Joseph narrative.
Joseph is 17 years old and I find this meaningful because it helps me relate to Joseph not only as a historical figure or Bible hero but also as a human being, a teenager, and this grounds his experiences emotionally for me. Knowing that he is 17 as he is facing what he faces guides my emotional response to the narrative. Another benefit is that it facilitates the creation of a timeline of the events in the life of Joseph.
Joseph is described as hanging out with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah and some interpret this as Joseph possibly getting along with them better than with the sons of Leah. It is also interesting to note that both women are described as being wives of Jacob.
The first mystery of this passage is related to Joseph bringing a bad report to his father. You can read different English translations of Genesis 37:2 here. The mystery revolves around the reason for this. Was Joseph being a tattletale? And just running to his father to say what his brothers were doing wrong? Did his father ask him to check on his brothers? Because in that case, it would make Joseph an obedient son. Clearly, Joseph was not involved in whatever “bad” things his brothers were doing. Yet there is no mention in the narrative of Joseph’s brothers being upset with him over this.
Favoritism strikes again!
Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors.
Genesis 37:3 NKJV
Here we have the problem. Jacob/Israel loves Joseph more than all his children. By making it obvious that he loved Joseph more than all his children Jacob had doomed his family to go through a similar heartache that he had to go through growing up. Isaac’s preference for Esau leads to all kinds of problems (more details on the following posts Everything Will Be Okay, How Much for That?, and Thy Will Be Done?).
It is worth noting how similar sins from the parents are repeated on the children. Abraham lied about his wife (Genesis 12:10-20, post Called by God, Genesis 20 post But God Came) and later Isaac lies about his wife (Genesis 26, post Faithful Still). Isaac had a favorite son, Esau, and Jacob has a favorite son Joseph. We will notice more of this later on.
Another interesting point is the only other mention of a tunic of many colors came from 2 Samuel 13:18 referring to royalty. Imagine Joseph’s brothers watching Joseph walking around dressed like a prince. This is what causes the brothers to hate Joseph.
Hate is such a strong word.
But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
- Genesis 37:4 NKJV
Up to now, Joseph has given his dad a bad report (which does not seem to have angered his brothers, at least not enough to earn a mention in the story.) and he is the object of His father’s favoritism, which does make his brothers angry. So I would argue that Joseph is not to blame for his brothers being angry with him since it is not his fault that he is the favorite. But I believe that Joseph should have noticed and tried to avoid further angering his brothers.
Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.”
And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
- Genesis 37:5-8 NKJV
Of course, why not make matters worse by sharing with your brothers, the ones who already hate you for being the favorite, a dream about your superiority. This is another mystery for me. Why would Joseph feel the need to share his dream with his brothers? If I had 10 older brothers who hate me I don’t think I would share a dream like that with them. Simply out of an interest in self-preservation I would do all that I could to keep my older and bigger brothers from being angry with me.
However, Joseph, perhaps innocently, shares his dream with his brothers, who of course now hate him even more for his dreams and his words. Earlier they only hated him because o their father, now Joseph has given his brothers more reasons to hate him. This is 100% his fault, she is the one who decided to share the dream.
You would expect Joseph to take a hint and stop making matters worse for himself but instead, he seems oblivious to how much his brothers hate him.
Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?” And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
- Genesis 37:9-11 NKJV
Joseph shares a second dream, this time with not only his brothers but also with his father. Jacob rebukes Joseph but this seems to be mostly for show because he kept this matters in mind, meaning that he expected these to come true. Also, the fact that the dreams are repeated prepares the way for what will take place in the future when Pharaoh has repeated dreams (Genesis 41:1-32).
Speaking of Shechem…
Then his brothers went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers feeding the flock in Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.”
So he said to him, “Here I am.”
Then he said to him, “Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.” So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem.
- Genesis 37:12-14 NKJV (bold mine)
Israel/Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers who are tending the sheep. This makes me think that the bad report Joseph brought to his father back in verse 2 might have been under similar circumstances. But what really ought to catch your attention is how many times the word Shechem is mentioned. Why would the storyteller mention Shechem three times? Especially when it turns out that the brothers are not even there. The storyteller already knows that the brothers are in Dothan, so why the repeated mention of Shechem? This should remind the audience of the story mentioned in Genesis 34 (blog post When God is Absent) when the sons of Jacob kill an entire town. The repeated mention of Shechem ought to remind us of what Joseph’s brothers are capable of. If this was a movie, this is when you yell at the screen, “don’t go there!”
The mysterious man.
Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, “What are you seeking?”
So he said, “I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.”
And the man said, “They have departed from here, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’ ” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan.
- Genesis 37:15-17 NKJV
How lucky of Joseph that “a certain man” found him, and that this man happened to know exactly where Joseph’s brothers were. I believe it is plausible that this “certain man” could be similar to a man who showed up in Genesis 32:24 and wrestled with Jacob (blog post Wrestling with God). I do not think it is beyond the realm of possibility that God guided Joseph to find his brothers. After all, Joesph was only able to find his brothers because this man found him.
Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, ‘Some wild beast has devoured him.’ We shall see what will become of his dreams!”
But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, “Let us not kill him.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him”—that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father.
- Genesis 37:18-22 NKJV (bold mine)
As we expected from hearing the mention of Shechem, Joseph’s brothers plan to kill him. Interestingly, his brothers call him a dreamer or literally “a master of dreams,” which he will be known as in Egypt in a few years.
Also worth noting is how Joseph’s brothers’ behavior, their attitude of “let us” now frustrate God’s plan. If they understood the dream to come from God, then they should have understood that to go against it was to go against God’s will. The attitude of Joseph’s brothers mirrors that of the builders of the tower of Babel (Genesis 11, post United For All The Wrong Reasons) who said “tet us make a name for ourselves” (Genesis 11:4b)
Interestingly it is Ruben who delivers Joseph out of the hands of his brothers. Ruben is the oldest brother (Genesis 35:23) and he is the one who should have felt the most threatened by Joseph since the firstborn usually received the special treatment that Jacob was giving Joseph. Jacob seems to plan to give the birthright to Joseph instead of Ruben. Perhaps Joseph wanted to undo the consequences of his uncle’s trickery (blog post Rules of Engagement) which caused him to mary Leah which was never his desire.
It is also interesting to note that Ruben was not included in the discussion but rather he heard their plan and intervened.
So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it.
- Genesis 37:23-24 NKJV
Joseph arrives and his brothers strip him of his tunic that caused them so much anger. Joseph was no longer dressed as a prince, and he was now essentially in prison. Pay attention to this because this order will be reversed int he future. Also, notice that the placing or removal of Joseph’s clothing often indicate a change coming regarding his position/authority.
And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.” And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
- Genesis 37:25-28 NKJV
“They lifted their eyes and looked” is a phrase we have seen before. In Genesis 22:13 Abraham “lifted his eyes and looked” and saw the ram that God provided for him to sacrifice in the place of his son Isaac ( for more details on this story read Akedah). In Genesis 18:2 Abraham “lifted his eyes and looked” and he saw three men one of which was the LORD, and the other two angels. So at this point in Genesis, we might expect God to be acting. Judah, Leah’s son (Genesis 29:35 post He Loves Me, He Loves Me Not) speaks to his brothers and they listen to him. It is not clear in this story if Judah was trying to save Joseph like Ruben had been trying earlier, or whether he was just trying to make some money and get rid of a “problem.” Later on, this event is interpreted as something meant for evil (Genesis 50:20) and based on that I believe it is safe to assume that Judah was not trying to help his brother. His argument for selling Joseph is so good, right? He points out to his brothers that there is no profit in killing their brother and hiding his blood, after all, he is their brother and their flesh. It’s like saying “C’mon guys, brothers should not kill brothers. That would be bad. Now, selling our brother, our own flesh and blood, as a slave, that would be perfectly fine!” He does not say it in those words, but in my head, that is how I hear his argument. And his brothers listen to him. I imagine them stroking their beards and nodding thoughtfully.
Judah and his brothers agreed to sell Joseph and the Ishmaelites got him at a bargain price, twenty shekels. Exodus 21:32 values a male servant at thirty shekels of silver. Perhaps the Ishmaelites noticed that something shady was taking place and took advantage of the brothers who were in a hurry to get rid of Joseph. Also interesting how God is using the Ishmaelites to help save Joseph and fulfill God’s plan for him.
Then Reuben returned to the pit, and indeed Joseph was not in the pit; and he tore his clothes. And he returned to his brothers and said, “The lad is no more; and I, where shall I go?”
So they took Joseph’s tunic, killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the tunic in the blood. Then they sent the tunic of many colors, and they brought it to their father and said, “We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?”
- Genesis 37:29-32 NKJV
Once again, Ruben is left out of the conversation. He is shocked to find Joseph is not in the pit. Ruben clearly and openly disapproves of his brother’s actions. They do not answer his question with words but rather with actions. They kill a kif of the goats and dip Joseph’s tunic in the blood. This is not the first time that a kid is used to help deceive someone. Genesis 27:16,23 record Jacob’s use of the skins of the kids of the goats on his arms and neck to fool his father Isaac into believing that Jacob was in fact his older brother Esau (more details on Thy Will Be Done?).
Also, take note that this will not be the last time that Joseph’s clothing is used to tell a lie (see Genesis 39:15-18).
Notice how the brothers try to avoid speaking a lie by sending Joseph’s tunic of many colors to their father and asking him whether he recognizes it. Perhaps they tried to quiet their own conscience by saying they didn’t tell their father that Joseph was killed by a wild beast, they simply asked if the tunic belonged to his son. Deception is deception, directly or indirectly, they intentionally deceived their father with a question and the help of the blook of a kid and Joseph’s tunic. Notice also how the brothers distance themselves from Joseph by referring to him as the son of Jacob as opposed to their brother.
And he recognized it and said, “It is my son’s tunic. A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and he said, “For I shall go down into the grave to my son in mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.
- Genesis 37:33-35 NKJV
“Father, do you recognize this?”
“Yes, it is my son’s tunic!”
Jacob was indeed fooled. He believed that Joseph had been torn to pieces. There was no doubt in Jacob’s mind that Joseph was dead. Jacob grieved Joseph’s death so severely that he thought he was going to die. I believe that as the brothers witnessed their father mourning the death of their brother they regretted their actions. It seems like it’s all over. Joseph is gone, good as dead, and Jacob almost died of a broken heart.
However, there is one more verse in Genesis 37!
Now the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard.
- Genesis 37:36 NKJV
Joseph is alive! He is in Egypt, living in the house of an officer of Pharaoh, an important and influential man. As long as Joseph is alive, there is hope!
As long as you’re alive there is hope! Maybe people have plotted against you and hurt you. Maybe you were attacked by those closest to you. Things that are beyond our control happen in life. But I would like for you to think of yourself as the hero of your story, you are the main character. How will you handle the situation you find yourself in? Will you trust in God to provide for you or will you take matters into your own hands and rebel against God? When others tell your story, what will they say, did you remain faithful, did you trust? As long as you have breath in your nose, there is hope. Trust in God’s plan. Trust in Him to save and provide for you.
For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.
- Jeremiah 29:11NKJV
God is our refuge and strength,
A very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear,
Even though the earth be removed,
And though the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea;
Though its waters roar and be troubled,
Though the mountains shake with its swelling. Selah
- Psalm 46:1-3 NKJV
I will lift up my eyes to the hills—
From whence comes my help?
2 My help comes from the Lord,
Who made heaven and earth.
- Psalm 212:1-2 NKJV