Joseph’s problems originated in his family. People have family problems because families are made up of sinners. It can very be easy to write on this theme. In our day of hyper-individualism, people don’t feel the need to work through issues with their family, and strife accelerates. As we look at these verses, we will see how the conflict originated and developed. However, let us not forget that the Lord would use these problems to bring about a much greater good. If you’re in family conflict today, put your hope in what God can still do for you and your family.
Three circumstances aggravated hostility toward Joseph.
The first circumstance was his Father’s preference for him. 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. 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 (Genesis 37:3-4 CSB). How many problems can develop between siblings, because of their parents unwise attitudes and actions!
Two phrases are unclear, but the consequences of them are. The first is born to him in his old age. This doesn’t mean that Joseph was his youngest son, because Benjamin, his full brother was. The idea probably is that after all the trials that Jacob’s beloved wife went through to have a son, Jacob specially favored Joseph. Much ink has been spilled about a robe of many colors. Whatever it was, it loudly proclaimed that dad liked Joseph best.
It is fearful the harm that can come to children through the foolishness of their parents. Parents ought never to show favoritism for one child over the others. All should be equal objects of parental love. Exploring this situation would make this article book length; therefore, I can’t dive deeper into it. Please don’t do it. Instead, notice that children often have to bear the consequences of their parents’ sins. Again, the hope is that God’s grace is greater than our sins. Yet, Joseph bore the brunt of his brothers’ anger. Proud human hearts cannot stand to have someone else preferred before one’s self. We only have to say, “Teacher’s pet” or “boss’ son” to bring numerous examples to mind. Hatred in the heart will eventually work its way out through the tongue (Matthew 12:34). Then, many complicating problems arise.
The second circumstance arose from the report Joseph made about his brothers. At 17 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 (Genesis 37:2 CSB). This was a complex situation to be in, and for us to understand thousands of years later. We are not told many things:
- Jacob’s intent in sending Joseph to work with his brothers. Was he sent to learn, to spy, or simply to help?
- Joseph’s attitude toward his brothers.
- Joseph’s skill level in interacting with his brothers. Did he complicate the problem? Is there something he could have done?
One lesson is to avoid “psychologizing the text”. Lacking more information, we cannot suppose that we can say what was actually happening. By the way, don’t give psychological evaluations about people when you lack skill and information. It only mucks up the situation.
So then, we can make a couple observations that should be transparent.
- While Joseph worked with his brothers, he observed some disagreeable practices by his brothers. What these were has not been recorded. A person can imagine many things, but that brings us to another lesson: Avoid speculation. One evil that recurs among Bible teachers is when a teacher speculates about a situation and then draws countless applications from their own speculations. You can see this in the paucity of Biblical references in many “Christian” books.
- Since we don’t know what his brothers did, it is impossible to blame or to vindicate Joseph. No wise parent wants to encourage a tattle-tale, for such talk leads to more strife. On the other hand, wise parents need to know if their children are involved in serious sin.
- The problem was that the sin of Joseph’s brothers was exposed, and they did not like it (cf. John 3:20)
The third circumstance that aggravated their hostility was Joseph’s dreams. God willing, we will consider it in our next article. But as we think about hostility problems in physical or spiritual families, it is important for us to consider if we ourselves have aggravated situations that have happened in this fallen world. We will have conflicts with those we love the most. But are we ready to follow God’s way out, when we are tempted to escalate the problems (cf. 1 Corinthians 10:13). May God help you this weekend!
Grace and peace, David