Over 500 years ago, Nicolaus Copernicus looked up at the night sky and made some calculations. Over the course of what was likely a number of years Copernicus developed a dangerous theory. His theory was that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. Around 100 years later, Galileo Galilei came along and argued the same thing but both men were met with opposition. It took over 200 years from the time Copernicus published his first statement until this now foundational scientific truth was accepted by the mainstream.
There are a number of reasons both Copernicus and Galileo were met with such pushback, even excommunication from the church and arrest. Some of the reasons were scientific and some of the reasons were religious . . .but I have a theory of my own. I think that humanity really doesn’t like to be told that we aren’t the center of the universe.
On an individual level we might not be that arrogant, right? But most of us at least view ourselves as the main character of our own story. One secular psychologist put it this way:
It’s far from uncommon to imagine that you are the main character in your own life. Indeed, it seems fairly widespread for people to act as if they are the main character in all of human history, the crowning achievement of evolution and the culmination of God’s inscrutable plan.
I think that might be a little strong. I doubt that you think of yourself as the crowning achievement of evolution. But most of us—I think—do view ourselves as the center of the story. When you watch a movie it’s the main character who is the focus and we tend to think of ourselves as the main character. You’re the one who appears in every scene, the voiceover doing the narration is your own, and the movie doesn’t end until you die, right? A lot of us are hoping to get to that happily ever after one of these days and that’s a frustrating pursuit. We find ourselves staring into the camera doing a frustrated monologue like Zack Morris or Jim Halpert depending on what generation of TV you grew up watching.
As we enter a brand new series where our focus is on Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons whose life is chronicled in Genesis 37-50, I want you to notice something right off the bat. Look with me at Genesis 37:1-2a:
37 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. 2 These are the family records of Jacob. At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers.
Did you notice anything there? These are the family records of Jacob. Though this series will be focused on the events of Joseph’s life he’s not the main character. Moses, who wrote Genesis, devotes more space in this narrative to Joseph than Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. But Joseph isn’t the main character.
The Bible doesn’t even set him up to be. Verse two tell us this is the story of Jacob’s family. And that is important for us to know on the front end. Joseph isn’t the main character of the story and neither is Jacob. God is.
The Purpose of Joseph’s Life
Genesis 37-50 tells us the story of Joseph’s life but what it’s really about is how God acts in the lives of real people through His divine providence to secure His divine promises as He works to bless all the nations of the earth by rescuing a people from their sin for His glory.
God’s providence secures His promises. What do I mean by God’s providence? God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose. There are three things that are true about God’s providence that I want us to see here that will help us understand Joseph’s story.
God is Sovereign
First, God is sovereign. That’s a church word, and important word, and one you should know but one you probably haven’t used this week outside of this room. It means that God is King. There is nothing—no situation, no relationship, no circumstance over which God is not in control.
God’s providence requires God to be sovereign and He is. God created everything and everything is subject to His authority. Me, you, Joseph, his brothers and Satan himself are all subject to God’s divine authority.
God is Active
The second truth about God’s providence is that He is active. God didn’t just create the universe, spin it, and sit back and say ‘Let’s see what happens!’ He is actively governing the world and has an eternal plan for it. And that is true even when—and especially when—we can’t see it. God is the main character in Joseph’s story, but He works primarily in the background. We’ll see that as we go along. Nothing in Joseph’s life is a surprise to God and nothing in your life is a surprise to God. A pastor friend of mine always asks this question: “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurs to God?”
God’s Actions Point Us to Jesus Christ
God’s providence over creation means that He is sovereign, that He is active, and that all His actions point us to Jesus Christ. Authors Tony Payne and Colin Marshall stated it this way “. . . God’s goal for the whole world and the whole of human history is to glorify his beloved Son in the midst of the people he has rescued and transformed.”
Everything that God has worked to do in human history since the fall—and I’d really argue even before—is to gather a people to the praise of His glory through His Son. Jesus said in Matthew 6 that the will of the Father who sent Him was that he would lose none of those the Father has given Him. Colossians 1:13 shows us how God has worked this rescue for us: He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col. 1:13)
Why have we been transferred into this kingdom? We find the answer to that in 1 Peter 2. 4 As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God— 5 you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
All God’s actions in human history point us to Jesus Christ—and they’ll continue to do so for eternity.
God’s providence has delivered us to salvation in Jesus Christ so that we can glorify Him. Joseph’s story points us to Jesus in ways that absolutely cannot be accidents and I’m excited to dig into it with you.
To study his life and understand it we need some background. We are jumping into the middle of a story here and I don’t like to do that. I’d love for us to camp out in Genesis sometime but I think that would take us at least a year-and-a-half and I don’t feel like that is where God is leading us right now. We’ll be in these 14 chapters from now until Christmas and that is moving quickly. We’re going to have to be really focused in to not miss some things on the way. But all along the way over the next four months we’ll be reminded that God truly is the main character of this story. He is working in His providence to fulfill promises He has already made in the book of Genesis and He does it mostly invisibly. There are no miracles in these 14 chapters. No flood, no burning bush, no raising of the dead. Just a sovereign God acting in the everyday live of fallen people to accomplish His redemptive purpose.
And that redemptive purpose has been at work since the very beginning of Genesis when Moses introduced us to a sovereign, yet personal God who created a perfect universe and ruled over it while remaining distinct from it. We meet humanity in chapter two—when God creates man and woman in His very own image. We see evil creep into the world as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in chapter 3. . .but we also get a promise. The very first promise of the gospel, in fact.
God looks at the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve and says in 3:15
I will put hostility between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and her offspring.
He will strike your head,
and you will strike his heel.
That’s the very first promise of the Gospel in all the Bible. God is promising that one day He would repair what had been broken in the Garden of Eden. When God sent His son hundreds of years later, Satan bruised His heel—but Jesus crushed the head of sin and death on the cross of Calvary. And here’s God dropping the first Gospel breadcrumb in just the third chapter of Scripture.
The rest of Scripture is the story of God preserving for Himself that offspring. It starts with a family—first in Seth who replaced his fallen brother Abel. Then in Noah in Genesis 6-9 as God reveals both His justice in punishing sin at the flood and His grace in preserving a family through which he would one day bring that offspring.
God enters into a covenant with Noah after the flood and later with a man named Abraham—Joseph’s great grandfather. God promises Abraham some things in Genesis 12:
I will make you into a great nation,
I will bless you,
I will make your name great,
and you will be a blessing.
3 I will bless those who bless you,
I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,
and all the peoples on earth
will be blessed through you.
God chose Abraham’s family as the family through which the offspring—Jesus—would one day be born. The last part of that promise is my favorite—all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. That promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. More specifically in His great commission—Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19). The promise of blessing to all the peoples of the earth is still being fulfilled today but that fulfillment is only possible through Christ.
We see that picture more fully today, but in Genesis it is revealed piece-by-piece as God works at first through family and begins to build them into a nation. He goes on to tell Abraham in Genesis 15 13 . . . “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.
This promise to Abraham meets its fulfillment in the life of Joseph. Generations before He was even born God was sovereignly at work to work in Joseph’s life to make him the lynchpin in his plan to take Abraham’s descendants from a family to a nation. The land referenced in Genesis 15 is Egypt, where the Israelites would be enslaved but at the same time they would grow vastly in numbers. And it’s through Joseph that God leads them there.
That’s just a little bit of the family’s back story. We’ll get into more of it in the coming weeks. But we needed to see that Genesis 15 verse because it plays a hugely important role in Joseph’s life. Remember, Joseph isn’t main character here. God is. And Because God’s providence secures His promises here is what going to see that in the first 11 verses of this chapter: God created a situation where Joseph would be hated.
I recognize that’s probably not the most encouraging sermon point that we’ve ever had on the screen here at First Baptist. But it’s the truth of this text and—if God is the main character of the story—it’s not only okay but it’s ultimately good. I’ve said this before and I’ll continue saying it as long as I’m here—we need to understand that God’s primary purpose for our lives is not our own comfort. That was true in Joseph’s life, we saw in our last study how it was very much true in Paul’s life and it’s often true in your life and in mine.
God created a situation where Joseph would be hated and He did it in three ways we’ll see in these first 11 verses.
Because of his behavior, because of father’s favoritism, and because of God’s direct influence Joseph was hated by his brothers to such a degree that in verse 18 they’re going to decide to kill him. And God’s providence is all over this plot. We’ll see that next week but let’s look first at the three reasons Joseph was hated.
At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers. The young man was working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought a bad report about them to their father.
Now, father’s wives is a strange thing to say. Jacob, who God called Israel in Genesis 32, is Joseph’s father and he had children with four different women—two wives and two servants. This is a weird family tree and there’s some things we can learn from it. I know you have questions—as you should. We’ll dive deeper into this messed up family in two weeks. You have to come back for it. If you think your family is messed up, be here September 23.
We know from verse 2 that Joseph was tending sheep with his brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Those were his half-brothers and the sons of his father’s servants Bilhah and Zilpah. The brothers play a major role in this story so I wanted to introduce us to them today
Jacob had seven children with his first wife, Leah—Reuben (the oldest and original heir to the family blessing), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. Dinah won’t matter much in this story but the other brothers will. Jacob had another wife, Rachel. She couldn’t conceive initially, so she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her and it worked. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Later on Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.
That’s the family. Again, more on them in a couple of weeks. We see in verse 2 that Joseph brought a bad report about Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher to Jacob. The word that is used for ‘bad report’ in verse two is always used in the rest of the Old Testament in the negative sense of an untrue report. It could actually be translated as an evil report. Most likely it was a report of something that was embellished, but partially true. Joseph essentially was a tattler.
Joseph’s own actions planted the seed of hatred in the minds of his brothers. And on top of that, Jacob’s favoritism of Joseph didn’t help matters any. Let’s read on:
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him.
Favoritism had been a problem in Jacob’s childhood. The Bible tells us Jacobs father favored his brother Esau, while his mother favored him. That caused confusion and family strife for Jacob’s entire life and you’d think he would have learned from it but he didn’t. Jacob openly favored Joseph—the oldest son of his favorite wife—more than all his other children.
He favored him so much so that he gave him a garment that bore great significance. Now, I know what it says in our text here and I’ve seen the coloring pages we give out in kid’s ministry . . .but it’s highly unlikely that this garment was a coat of many colors. That was first derived from the Latin translations but there’s nothing in the original Hebrew that says anything about colors here. The text describes a sleeved outer garment that reached to the wrists and knees and it set Joseph apart as the son who would received the blessing—the double portion of the inheritance.
By custom the inheritance should have gone to Reuben, the true firstborn. But Jacob chose Joseph and it angered the brothers so much that they couldn’t even speak to him.
So Joseph’s actions contribute to the brother’s hatred. Jacob’s actions contribute to the brother’s hatred. And if we read on we’ll see how God gets even more directly involved in creating this family strife:
5 Then Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the field. Suddenly my sheaf stood up, and your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”
8 “Are you really going to reign over us?” his brothers asked him. “Are you really going to rule us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream and what he had said.
Not every dream is a vision from God. Sometimes it’s a vision from Taco Bell or the TV show you watched right before bed. But we know this dream is a work of God because it comes true. A number of years later, after the brothers likely think Joseph to be dead and gone we find him as essentially the prime minister of the most powerful nation on the planet. There’s a famine in the land and Jacob and his family are at risk of starving. Joseph’s skillful leadership has left Egypt as one of the only remaining nations with food in reserve and we see in Genesis 42:5-6 5
The sons of Israel were among those who came to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 6 Joseph was in charge of the country; he sold grain to all its people. His brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground.
God reveals things in Joseph through dreams elsewhere and I have no doubt this dream was an act of God’s providence in Joseph’s life. But look what it does, back in 37:8: 8 “Are you really going to reign over us?” his brothers asked him. “Are you really going to rule us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream and what he had said.
God’s providence directly causes Joseph’s brothers to hate him even more. Does this mean God is bad? Is he mean to Joseph in these verses? I don’t think so. And neither did Joseph.
At the end of the story, in Genesis 50:20 Joseph addresses his brothers this way: 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.
God’s providence led Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery—we’ll look at that next week. But it was all to secure the promises God had made to Abraham and ultimately to all the nations of the earth way back in Genesis 15 and Genesis 12 and all the way back to the garden of Eden.
This truth is echoed in the New Testament—in Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.
In these 11 verses we have a family in turmoil. And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. But God’s got this. There’s one more dream in Genesis 37 I want to read as we close:
9 Then he had another dream and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”
10 He told his father and brothers, and his father rebuked him. “What kind of dream is this that you have had?” he said. “Am I and your mother and your brothers really going to come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.
Literally, here, Joseph dreams he’s the center of the universe. The story is all about him. I suspect he shares this dream with at least a hint of arrogance and that’s part of what leads the brothers to hate him so.
God’s providence secures His promises. It was true in Joseph’s life and it’s true in yours. Even when it doesn’t make sense and certainly doesn’t look like it. God has promised that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He doesn’t promise that we’ll understand it. He doesn’t promise it will be easy—and He doesn’t even promise it will get any better on this side of eternity. But if we will understand God is the main character in our story, we’ll be able to see how His providence is at work in your day-to-day life to secure His promises to you much more clearly than you will if you think that you’re at the center of it all.
We sang the a song titled Sovereign Over Us this morning. It was written by Aaron Keyes and starts like this:
There is strength within the sorrow
There is beauty in our tears
And You meet us in our mourning
With a love that casts out fear
You are working in our waiting
You're sanctifying us
When beyond our understanding
You're teaching us to trust
Your plans are still to prosper
You have not forgotten us
You're with us in the fire and the flood
You're faithful forever
Perfect in love
You are sovereign over us
Some of you are in the middle of the fire and the flood. I hope from Joseph’s life you can see God is sovereign over your circumstances this morning. Let’s pray.
Lookup Genesis 25:28. What does this verse have in common with Genesis 37:3?
Should Isaac and Jacob have favored any of their children over the others? How can this be hurtful for their families?
Verse 4 tells us Joseph’s brothers hated him. Right or wrong, this feels like the natural human response. Have you ever been angry at someone due to favoritism? How did you handle it?
What were Joseph’s dreams in vv. 4-11?
How did Joseph make his brothers’ hatred of him worse? How could he have handled himself differently?
Why would Joseph’s dreams have been offensive to his brothers?
Do you think his brothers would have reacted differently to hearing about his dreams if they didn’t hate him? How so?