From the archives:
Read Genesis 37:12-36.
Jesus said to them on the road to Emmaus:
“How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
So Joseph’s brothers are overseeing their father’s flocks in an area near Shechem. Israel (Jacob) says to Joseph, You know how your brothers are out with the flocks near Shechem? Well I need you to head out there.
Israel sent Joseph, his most favored son, to his flocks. Joseph would ultimately save his brothers and the nation of Egypt from perishing in the famine. God the Father sent Jesus, His most favored son, to His flocks, the people on earth. Jesus would ultimately provide a means to save his brothers, and the entire world. (Matthew 3:17)
Joseph replies to his father, Sounds good.
Israel says, Head out there and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing then come back and let me know what you found.
Then he sends Joseph out from where they are, in the Valley of Hebron, toward Shechem.
When Joseph gets to Shechem, he wanders around in the fields for awhile looking for his brothers until a man asks him, What are you looking for?
Joseph says, I’m looking for my brothers, they’re grazing their flocks around here somewhere. Can you tell me where they are?
They’ve moved on from here, the man answers. I overheard them say they’re going to Dothan.
So Joseph continues on to Dothan and finds his brothers. They see Joseph off in the distance and while he’s still out of earshot, they plot to kill him.
“Lazarus come out!” Jesus said. And Lazarus, who had been dead, left his resting place in the cave, and came out, witnessed by many. The Sanhedrin never disputed Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead, in fact, they never disputed any of Jesus’ miracles. But they were afraid, because He was performing so many miracles, the people would follow Jesus, leaving the Sanhedrin without a power base. Bringing Lazarus back from the dead proved to be the last straw for them.
So they plotted to kill Jesus. (John 11:17-55)
Here comes the dreamer! they say to each other mockingly. We can kill him now and toss his body into one of these cisterns and we’ll just say a wild animal attacked him and ate him. Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams.
Problem for the brothers: the dreams aren’t Joseph’s, they’re from God, and God’s dreams always come to pass.
Well Reuben hears all this, and as the oldest, he knows he’ll ultimately be held responsible for Joseph, so he says, Let’s not kill him, let’s not shed any blood. Instead we’ll throw him into this empty cistern out here, but don’t hurt him. Reuben’s thinking he’ll come back later, pull Joseph out of the cistern, and return him to their father.
Reuben is hoping, by throwing Joseph in the cistern, he can satisfy his brothers, even as Pontius Pilate had Jesus scourged, hoping to satisfy Jesus’ brothers the Jews who cried for Jesus’ crucifixion.
So when Joseph shows up, they strip him of his robe, the one of many colors, with oversized sleeves, the one his father gave him, and they toss him into the empty cistern.
Joseph was stripped of his special garment, even as Jesus was stripped of his seamless garment. And down into the empty cistern Joseph goes, even as Jesus went down into the grave. (Matthew 27:59-60, Mark 15:46, Luke 23:53, John 19:41-42)
Then they sit down to eat.
As they’re eating, they look up and see a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. The caravan’s loaded with goods: spices, balm, and myrrh. They’re on their way to Egypt to do some trading.
After seeing the caravan, Judah comes up with an idea, (or an idea was given to Judah by the Lord) he says, What do we gain if we kill him? Instead let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not hurt him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.
We can avoid having Joseph’s blood on our hands if we turn him over to these Gentiles, Judah and his brothers, the other fathers of the tribes of Israel are thinking. Likewise, their descendants said it was against Roman law for the Jews to execute Jesus themselves. So they turned Jesus over to the Gentiles. It’s interesting to note, though they said, “We have no right to execute anyone” they were perfectly willing to stone the woman caught in adultery, and they were more than enthusiastic about throwing Jesus off the cliff. But it was prophesied Jesus was to die by crucifixion and only the Romans executed criminals in that manner. So this took place to fulfill what Jesus had said about the kind of death he was going to die. (John 8:1-11, Luke 4:29, John 18:31-32)
Here also, we see the trap of comparing your own actions to an action or intention that’s worse. Let’s be good guys and not kill Joseph, he’s our brother after all. Instead lets sell him into slavery so we never see him again, then lie to our father saying he’s dead. How much better we’re treating him than if we had chosen to kill him!
Of course this makes no sense at all. It never makes sense to compare our own bad deeds to those that are even worse, whether they be your own or someone elses. Your own holiness is your only concern. And there isn’t anyone who is too holy before the Lord.
Finally we see here the result of envy. Matthew Henry states, “Where envy reigns, pity is banished, and humanity itself is forgotten.” And Proverbs 27:4 tells us, Wrath is cruel, and anger is outrageous; but who is able to stand before envy? In our story we see siblings driven by envy to plot the death of their own brother, even as he desperately pleaded for his life! (Genesis 42:21) Envy: stay clear of it. Don’t allow yourself to be caught by the green eyed monster, or you may find yourself doing things you never dreamed you were capable of.
His brothers buy into the idea so when the Midianite traders come by, they pull Joseph up out of the cistern and sell him into slavery for twenty shekels of silver. The Midianites then continue on their way to Egypt.
Jesus was sold, for 30 pieces of silver, by one of his brothers. (Matthew 26:14-16, Mark 14:10-11, Luke 22:3-6, Zechariah 11:12-13)
All this occurs while Reuben was off somewhere. When he returns and sees Joseph isn’t there in the cistern, he tears his clothes. He goes back to his brothers and says, The boy’s not there! What am I going to do?
Reuben thinks he’s undone because of Joseph’s plight, when in reality, had Joseph not been sold into slavery, they all would have been undone, by famine. When the two Mary’s returned and saw Jesus wasn’t there in the tomb, they were distressed also, but in reality, had the tomb not been empty, we’re all undone. (Luke 24:1-8) (Matthew Henry)
So they kill a goat and dip Joseph’s robe in its blood. When they arrive home they show it to their father and say, We found this. You better have a look at it, it might be Joseph’s robe.
Of course Jacob recognizes it right away and says, It is my son’s robe! Some wild animal has devoured him. He’s been torn to pieces for sure.
Then Jacob tears his clothes, puts on sackcloth, and mourns for Joseph for many days. All his sons and daughters come to comfort him, but he refuses their consolation. “No,” he says, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.” So his father wept for him.
To Jacob, Joseph is dead. But, there’s good news he doesn’t know about.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sell Joseph to Potiphar, Pharoah’s captain of the guard.
To the disciples and all who knew of His crucifixion, Jesus was dead. But there was good news coming they didn’t know about. It was dark on Friday, but Sunday’s coming. (See previous post: Back From the Dead)
Speaking of Jesus, Luke 25 verse 7 says, Beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
I think the story of Joseph was probably a big part of that explanation.
And I’m reminded of something else Jesus said:
“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Luke 8:8)
Walton, Matthews, Chavalas, (2000), IVP Bible Background Commentary, O.T.