Joseph’s brothers loathed him! Their father’s favoritism towards Joseph and his “goody two shoes” attitude stuck in their craw. And they finally had a chance to do something about it.
The first thing I want to know is how did Jacob not have a clue about the hostility between Joseph and his brothers? He had a contentious relationship with his own brother and had to flee for his life. Did he not recognize the signs in his own sons? Did he take the attitude of “boys will be boys”? Did he think the brothers would respect his authority that Joseph apparently carried and treat him with honor instead?
This question reminds me of the parable of the tenants who hired out the vineyard. Of how they mistreated and killed the landowner’s servants when they came to collect his portion. And when he sent his son to them to collect, they killed him too so they could have the property instead. They might have respected the landowner but they had NO respect for his representatives, even his own son.
Joseph’s brothers were not just “messing with him.” They wanted him dead. They were angry about his favored son status AND his dreams. These things ate away at them every day. Now he was coming to check up on them. Joseph had already got four of his brothers in trouble with a bad report. He was sure to do the same to them.
I have a feeling that this group consisted of Leah’s sons only. Bilhah and Zilpah’s sons had already received a bad report for their management of the flocks. I don’t believe Jacob would have trusted them to take the sheep so far away with their recent irresponsible behavior hanging over them. So Leah’s sons would have been tasked with this journey and the care of the sheep. But Joseph didn’t fully trust them either. He sent the one son he truly trusted to check up on them. This was a recipe for disaster and Jacob was blind to it.
Joseph was apparently blind to the level of their animosity too. He willingly went to check up on his brothers when asked to do so by his father. He took no one along as a witness or for protection. He probably figured all brothers fight but all brothers also love each other and would never harm one another. They look out for each other instead. He also probably thought his status with their father would always protect him, no matter what.
Boy was he wrong! Once Joseph was out of Jacob’s sight, his brothers had free rein. They knew they could sell whatever story they wanted when they got back home. No one would be the wiser.
Reuben had his own agenda. He was in the doghouse with his father and would do anything to make it right. Saving Joseph from his “ruthless” brothers would surely win him points with Jacob. He had to sell the idea though to the others. “Let us not take his life…Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him” (verses 21b-22a). He was suggesting that they throw Joseph into a pit and just leave him there rather than killing him outright. The others probably thought that Joseph would have a slow and painful death that way instead. He would either starve to death or drown when it rained. Either way, they wouldn’t be directly responsible for his death. They agreed to Reuben’s proposal, not knowing the rest of his plan.
I’m not sure where Reuben went off to but he wasn’t with the rest of his brothers when they saw the caravan coming. I wonder if he had snuck over to Joseph and told him of his plan to rescue him. Maybe he was out doing something with the sheep. They probably had to take lunch in shifts so someone would always be on guard with the sheep.
Judah is the one who thought to make a quick buck off of Joseph. “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” (verse 26b-27). No. His brothers wouldn’t kill him or leave him for dead. Instead they sold him into a life of slavery. They had no care what happened to him so long as they didn’t have to deal with him anymore. And they got rich for doing so. I wonder how many ways that twenty shekels of silver had to be split. Did they have to explain the extra money when they got home?
As the eldest son, Reuben would have been responsible for the overall success and safety of the group. The blame for Joseph’s disappearance would rest on his head. And his plan to get back into his father’s good graces had vanished with Joseph. Now what was he supposed to do! He was distraught by this new development.
The plan from the beginning had been for Joseph to die. But we know that plan was fluid and changed several times before all was said and done. There was always going to be a need to explain to Jacob what had happened to Joseph when they got home. Even Reuben’s plan would have required an explanation of why Joseph’s return was delayed. Now that Joseph was truly gone they had to come up with a plausible scenario to present to Jacob. They had stripped Joseph of his special coat before throwing him in the pit and they kept it when he was sold. Now they just had to alter it in such a way as to make it seem like something got hold of him. A little goat’s blood did the trick just fine.
I find it interesting that Joseph’s brothers didn’t try and give Jacob a story about what had happened. They ALMOST told the truth. “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not” (verse 32b). That one word, found, tainted their story and made it a lie instead of a shrewdly worded statement. Jacob came up with his own explanation once he saw the coat and the state it was in. “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces” (verse 33b).
Jacob’s heart was broken by this development. He wept for him for many days. He would never feel whole again without Joseph. Honestly, no parent does when they lose a child. But Jacob lost his favorite child. That made it even harder on him.
When thinking about what I could take from this story today, I was prompted to look at the atmosphere that created this hatred and hateful act. Jacob’s camp was no stranger to rivalry and favoritism. From the very beginning there was competition for affection. From Leah’s words it doesn’t seem that Jacob made any efforts to deal with this issue. “I have given him a son, maybe now my husband will love me.” It didn’t matter what she did or how many children she had, she was always second best. And that translated to her children too, once Joseph was born. I imagine all the boys enjoyed their father’s attention until that day.
I will wager you ANYTHING that each of Jacob’s children had a special talent or ability that he could have been fostered. Joseph was not the only special one in the bunch. If Jacob had taken the time to relate to each of his children according to their abilities, personalities, and needs there wouldn’t have been so much animosity in the camp.
You HAVE TO find what is special in each child and nurture it. Don’t hold up one as the example of perfection for the others to try and out do or emulate. Love each child for their uniqueness. When ALL feel valued there is no need for jealousy.
Another important task is to use discipline equally and judiciously. Believe it or not, EVERY child makes mistakes. NONE of them are perfect. They all need to be held to the same standards and rules. A lot of later children feel like the older ones got away with a lot more than they get to. Sometimes it works that way because the parents were “burned” by the older children’s behaviors and have instituted rules to prevent the younger ones from getting into that same kind of trouble. That’s not a bad idea in theory but if the younger child is never allowed the opportunity to “fail” how will they learn the same kinds of valuable lessons?
My sister and I used to say our parents “got tired” of enforcing the rules. We felt our younger siblings got away with a LOT more than we ever did. It seemed like our parents had been worn down to the point where things didn’t matter as much anymore. Some of that was a good thing while other areas weren’t. I’m glad we got the “spanking mood” taken care of fairly early on. But I wonder what lessons they missed out on by not having to “walk the same line” we did. I also wonder what we missed that they got. Hopefully it all balanced out in the end. And none of us tried to REALLY kill the other like Jacob’s sons did. (Thought about it a few times, but never did it.)
Father God, thank You for my family! I know it is not perfect but it is a FAR cry better than the open jealousy that ran through Jacob’s group. I know my brothers and sisters and I fought fairly often but we also loved one another. Not every word was hateful. I can’t imagine being in Joseph’s place. His father openly favors him. His brothers obviously hate him. And he is stuck in the middle trying to please them all. I’m sure he wanted his brothers to like him. Why else would he even bother telling them his dreams? I DON’T believe it was to make them feel inferior to him. I think he just wanted to share something that was exciting to him with them. I wonder if he regretted it afterwards.
My children are grown now Father so how do You want me to show them how I love them EACH specially? I’m trying to make sure each of my grandchildren feel valued by me. I want to feed each of their hearts with praise and direction. Help me sow good seed into their lives. Let my communication to them AND their parents always be filled with grace and words to build them up instead of tearing them down.
Maybe I need to have a talk with Joseph about how he speaks to Cailyn. She needs some encouraging words. Did I talk to him that way? Did he learn it from me?! PLEASE GOD! If I’m the source of it, help me fix it and repair the damage I’ve done! Forgive me and heal my child’s heart and my grandchild’s heart too. Give me the words to say to Joseph to build him up in his relationship with Cailyn instead of attacking it. Speak through me only love Holy Spirit!