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Sold Into Slavery

Date: Nov. 11, 2018

Author: Michael Mark

Genesis 37:1-36

Key Verse: Genesis 27:28

So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.

Our nation has come a long way from slavery, so much so that we all in this room, most of us I believe, are fortunate enough not to have to know it, see it or experience it firsthand.  On Jan 1, 1863, the sixteenth president of the United States issued the Emancipation Proclamation changing the legal status of 3.5 million African Americans from slave to free, and on Dec 6, 1865 the 13thAmendment to the Constitution was ratified (confirmed) that formally ended the legal institution of slavery in the United States.  That was about 153 years ago.  We can get an idea of what slavery was like through stories and books written in those times.  People were kidnapped from their homelands by slave traders, and chained and packed into very crowded boats to come to the United States.  Many died from sickness and starvation.  When they arrived, they were put on auction blocks and sold like property.  Their masters could beat them or mistreat them if they wanted, and even their children could be taken from them and sold.  Forced slavery may have ended in the US around 150 years ago, but this institution has existed from the earliest civilizations.  Often conquering nations would take the people of the lands they conquered as slaves.  Today we begin the story of Joseph, one of the most well known stories of the Bible, and see the circumstances which led him to be sold into slavery.

Look at v.1, “Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.”  Last week we heard the story of “The Other Guys,” the family of Esau, Jacob’s brother, who had grown large and powerful, and moved into the region of Seir, south-east from the land where their father Isaac lived.  The story now returns to the family of Jacob, who is now the head of Abraham’s family line, and living with his family alone in the land of Canaan. Israel is the undisputed heir of the promised land.  This land was promised to him by God, and even though he has yet to own the land they are living on, you can see Jacob’s faith in the promise by staying there. Look now at v.2b, “This is the account of Jacob’s family line.”  If you remember, every time you see “This is the account of…” it marks a division in the book of Genesis.  We have now come to the 10thand final section of Genesis, starting from this chapter to the end, 13 chapters total, and the main character in all of these chapters except for maybe 2 of them is Joseph.  With each of these sections we see more and more how God is putting his plan of salvation into action, and here he is beginning to fulfill his promise to make Israel a nation, with Joseph being a key figure in that process. How do you think God will make Israel a nation?  He works in ways we do not expect, yet his plans are accomplished in the most impressive ways.

Let’s meet Joseph now, in v.2b, “Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.” Joseph was the second youngest of Jacob’s 12 children.  Benjamin, the youngest, at this time may have been 4-6 years old, very young.  Reuben, the oldest son, was probably 6 or 7 years older than Joseph, so 11 of Jacob’s children, between Joseph and Reuben, ranged from 17 to 24 years old.  Benjamin was probably too young to work out in the fields, but Joseph tended the flocks with his brothers.  We see that he did not have good things to say about his brother’s work.  If what he said was true, this explains some of the reasons why his brothers hated him.  When someone is doing wrong, they hate to be exposed.  In the 5thgrade, when I told the teacher one girl was cheating on a test, 2 of her friends came up to me later and called me a snitch.  “You snitch.” They didn’t say it nicely either. 

But that was not the main source of their hatred, look at v.3-4, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him.  When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.”  The main source of their hatred was jealousy, jealousy that their father loved him most.  Here we see Jacob’s sin of favoritism.  Remember how Leah felt when Jacob favored Rachel.  You could see it in the names of her children.  She was miserable, she felt unloved and distant from her husband.  These same feelings manifested in all the rest of his sons because of his favoritism of Joseph.  It may be natural to like one child over another, especially like if one is more obedient – but favoritism should not be shown.  God does not play favorites.  He loves all of his children equally, but if they sin he punishes each one alike. Even Moses was not allowed into the promised land because in his anger he did not fully obey God in front of all the Israelites (Num 20, Deut 32:51-52).  Now Jacob did not seem to discipline his children perfectly, as God does, but Jacob erred in loving Joseph disproportionately compared to the others.  If this were not so, I don’t think they would be so angry.  The pinnacle of his favoritism was this – the ornate robe he made only for Joseph.  The “Technicolor Dreamcoat” (from the Joseph musical show).  That was the object of the brother’s hatred and envy.

Joseph also happened to have some dreams, which added fuel to the flames of hatred.  His first dream was that they were bundling up some grain, then suddenly his sheaf rose and stood up, and all of the brother’s sheaves gathered around his and bowed down to it.  What the? What was this?  This dream was not hard to interpret.  Even the brothers got it – and said to him, “Do you actually intend to reign over us?”  And they hated him all the more.  Something had to be remarkable about this dream.  We dream naturally, based on what is on our minds, or what we saw in the past day or so, and often we forget what they are.  But somehow this dream made an impression on Joseph, and he told his brothers about it.  Maybe that was a mistake, and he shouldn’t have told them.  Then he has another dream, and he tells them.  Joseph, what are you doing?  This time, the objects in the dream are more heavenly – the sun, moon and 11 stars were bowing down to him.  He also told his father, who rebuked him.  Jacob had the same interpretation, which was clear: “What is this dream you had?  Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?”  Even dad was shocked.

What were these dreams?  We know in hindsight, that these dreams were prophetic.  They show was God intends to do in the future.  They are written for us so we might know that with God, nothing happens on accident, but according to his plan.  But Joseph didn’t know this, neither did his family.  The dreams must have been so impressive, maybe even so disturbing, and so vivid to Joseph, that it was on his mind even in the daytime, and he blurted it out.  Look at v.11, “His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” His brothers hated him all the more for these dreams, and we can understand why.  But Jacob kept these in mind.  We know that these dreams were from God.  Jacob wasn’t sure, but he kept the matter in mind, maybe to look out for its eventual fulfillment.  Even though he rebuked Joseph openly, in his heart he considered the possibility that God was speaking.  He was like Mary, the mother of Jesus, who treasured in her heart what the angel Gabriel told her.

In verse 12 we see that the brothers had gone to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem.  Why wasn’t Joseph with them?  Maybe they had gone without him, or he had some things to do at home.  But here, Jacob, or Israel, said to Joseph, “As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem.  Come, I am going to send you to them.”  “Very well,” he replied.  Joseph may have known that his brothers didn’t like him.  They never said a kind word to him, so I think he would have known.  I think Jacob would have had some idea as well.  But despite that, Joseph will do what his father asks and go and see if all is well with them and their flocks.  Perhaps Jacob was concerned because only a few years had passed since his sons Simeon and Levi massacred the town of Shechem.  Would the town or neighboring towns gather enough strength now to retaliate?  Jacob wanted to check on them, and sent Joseph.  According to v.14b-15, when Joseph arrived at Shechem, a man found him wandering around.  He told the man he was looking for his brothers, and the man told him that they were headed for Dotham.  Now Shechem was 50 miles from their home in Hebron, and Dotham was 15 miles from Shechem. When Joseph didn’t find his brothers 50 miles away, he didn’t just go back home.  He went the extra distance to find them, travelling 65 miles, or about 2-3 days journey.

Joseph was not warmly received.  Look at v.18, “But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.”  See how their hatred had escalated into murder, so quickly!  This seemed like the perfect opportunity.  They were 65 miles away from home, no one would know or stop them if they wanted to kill Joseph.  Their sinful thoughts gave birth to sinful actions.  James 1:15 says, “[After an evil] desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death.”  No one is above temptation.  When given the opportunity, and where there is no restraint, the one who hates will murder, the one who lusts will commit adultery, the one who covets will steal.  The brothers never put to death their hatred and envy of Joseph, and now, when the opportunity arose, they rushed into sin.  We must be careful what we habitually meditate on and think about. When we meditate on sin, we will eventually commit it.  The antidote is the word of God, and Php 4:8 gives us some examples as well – whatever is right, pure, noble, excellent, praiseworthy – think about these things.

Verses 19-20 give us insight into their minds and the details of their plot. “Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other.  “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him.  Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.”  Those dreams.  They were fixated on those dreams, and they did not want them to come true.  They did not want to bow to Joseph, so to get rid of those fears, they would get rid of Joseph.  Remember that we learned that these dreams are from God.  So not only do they sin against Joseph, but they are rebelling against God and his vision.  They have lost sight of God, and have become blind.  They do not even know that they are going against God’s plan. That is the natural state of all sinners.  Sinners cannot discern God’s will, and inevitably, work against it.  Apart from God, sinners cannot do any good.

God opens Reuben’s eyes a little bit, after he heard this plot.  While the others seem to have no conscience, Reuben’s sense of right and wrong turns up a little.  Look at v.21, “When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. ‘Let’s not take his life,’ he said.” Don’t shed any blood – throw him in this cistern.  Reuben did not say don’t kill him, he just said don’t shed any blood.  Instead of killing him with a sword or stone, just throw him in the pit and let him starve to death.  This might have been enough to satisfy their cruelty.  It’s hard to say which is worse – to die a quick and violent death, or a slow and torturous one.  But Reuben had in mind to try to rescue him later, and bring him back to his father.

Joseph had finally arrived, and when he met his brothers, they stripped his ornate robe off and threw him into the cistern.  How is that for a welcome or hello?  Imagine the terror Joseph felt as his brothers rushed toward him, forcefully taking his robe and throwing him into a cistern.  I don’t know how big this cistern was, but some ancient cisterns went down pretty deep.  Moses tells us there was no water in it, so Joseph wouldn’t drown or have to sit in some standing water.  But I don’t know if the brothers had any intention of bringing him back out at this moment.  They actually went through with their cruel plan.  They threw their own brother, their little brother, into a deep dark pit. Look at v.25a, to see how savage they were: “They sat down to eat their meal.”  How cold blooded.  They did not lose their appetite over doing such an evil thing.  They sat down to eat!  We see in Gen 42:22, that Joseph was in deep distress, he pleaded with his brothers for his life.  There’s the little brother in the pit, crying out – Save me!  Save me!  Forgive me! I’m sorry!  Get me out please!  What are you doing!!  Don’t do this!  Simeon! Levi!  Judah!  Gad! Asher!  Please!!!  But they ignored him and ate.

As they were eating, a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants was passing by. Suddenly now, Judah had some pangs of conscience.  Maybe. Either he started to feel guilty, or he became greedy for some money.  So he proposed a new plan.  He said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.”  His brothers agreed.  This plan was only marginally better than leaving him for dead.  At least Joseph has a better chance of living – but he would be carried off far far away, lost and held captive – so that the brothers will never see him again.  They liked this plan better.  Can we all please read v.28, “So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.”  Thus Joseph was sold into slavery by his brothers, shackled and chained up, and forced to follow the Ishmaelites into Egypt.  He was 17 years old, not much younger than our Bible Club officers, he was betrayed by his brothers and carried off away from home.

Look at v.29-30, “When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes.  He went back to his brothers and said, ‘The boy isn’t there!  Where can I turn now!’”  Wait, where was Reuben?  Notice, “he went back to his brothers.”  The brothers may have moved away from the cistern to have their meal, or feed the flock.  Reuben, perhaps wanted to secretly come back and rescue Joseph, maybe separated from them so they would not know his plan.  But he was too late.  They made the decision to sell Joseph while he was not there.  When he came back to the cistern, he saw Joseph was not there, and he wailed, he grieved, he tore his clothes and revealed his intention to his brothers.  The boy isn’t there!  “Where can I turn now,” he said.  As the oldest, he would have to answer for Joseph. He was saying, “How can I go back home and tell father?”  “What do I do?”

Then they all got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood.  They were preparing to deceive their father.  Reuben, although he was not pleased that Joseph was sold, participated in this deception.  He either did not have the courage to rebuke his brothers, or tell his father.  Just as a goat was used when Jacob deceived his father Isaac 30 years prior, now his own children are using a goat to deceive him. Jacob’s sin of deception comes full circle in his children.  The sons take the robe back to their father, who recognizes it, and says, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.” It’s interesting to note that they did not even have to tell him.  The sons let Jacob come to that conclusion himself.  Only they never bothered to tell him the truth.  They would let him believe Joseph was eaten by wild animals for the rest of his life.

Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted.  “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave.”  So his father wept for him.  The wickedness of the sons continue on, and they cry with what are called “crocodile tears.”  A crocodile tear is a false, insincere display of emotion, such as a hypocrite crying fake tears of grief.  But even Jacob here goes a little too far.  It is understandable, that he lost his favorite son.  He may have visualized or replayed in his head the tremendous suffering and torturous cries of his son being ripped apart by wild beasts.  Nobody ever wants their child to go through that. Jacob can grieve, but denying his children the ability to comfort him could only harden their hearts even more – because they still need his love.  Maybe if he left them comfort him, they might confess.  But Jacob may have went too far in his grief.  There is a point where when we grieve, and God wants to comfort us, if we reject that, we are rebelling against God and wallowing in our grief.  We are despairing, so much so we think God cannot help us.  We must never despair to that point.  Granted, Jacobs sons were hypocrites, and their comforting would have been weak, so you see that in sin, no one wins.

This chapter ends with Joseph being re-sold as a slave to his new master, in v.36, “Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials, the captain of the guard.”  With spiritual eyes you see a ray of hope.  Joseph is not dead, but he is alive.  And you can say he was planted right where God wanted him to be – in the heart of Egypt close to the seat of power.  With spiritual eyes you can see God working behind the scenes in this passage, starting from the dreams.  Then he providentially led Joseph to Dothan, which was situated along a well-known trade route from the East into Egypt.  God restrained the brothers from outright killing him, and at the right time a caravan passed by to take Joseph away.  Could there have been a better way?  Without a doubt.  I don’t think hatred, and envy and deception were necessary for God to proceed with his plan.  But humans sin, and they do things like hate and lie and kill.  But no matter what, God’s will will be done.  No man can thwart his plan.  Sh. Bob remarked yesterday, the more you learn about this family, the more you see God’s mercy.  This is true. Jacob, his sons, and even Joseph is a sinner, but eventually all were saved.  Not because of anything they did.  Not because of any merit they had, but they were saved solely by the grace and mercy of God.  While they were sinning, God was proceeding with his plan of salvation.  You see a shadow of Christ in Joseph.  Joseph is not the perfect image, but a shadow.  He was sent to his brothers who hated him. Jesus was sent into this world who hated him.  Joseph was sold for twenty shekels of silver.  Jesus was sold for 30 pieces of silver.

Joseph was sold into slavery.  He was kidnapped, bound and chained.  In the same way, we were all sold into slavery.  We didn’t ask to be slaves to sin, but we were born in it.  We serve our sinful natures.  We give in to envy, hatred, lust, pride and every evil desire. It causes us grief and grief to all those around us.  Joseph, though he was a sinner, did not deserve to be treated like that.  He did not deserve to be thrown into a dark cistern and sold as a slave.  We can see God in hindsight, but how about in our lives?  As Christians, why do we still suffer?  Why do we still fall into temptations?  Why do we despair of God?  How come bad things happen to good people?  How do we deal all of the hardships that come in our lives?  Jesus was aware of this, and he prepared all of his disciples.  Jesus said in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”  Jesus said in me you may have peace.  In this world you will have trouble.  In Jesus, and only IN Jesus will you have peace.  Believe in Him.  Trust in Him. Live in Him, as He lives in You. Live according to His word.  Jesus also makes this statement: In this world you will have trouble.  That’s guaranteed.  But what does he tell us?  Take heart! Take courage!  Be strong and courageous.  Why?  Because I (JESUS), I, he says “I” with emphasis, “I” have overcome the world! The world tempted Jesus.  The world hated Jesus.  The world rejected Jesus.  But Jesus obeyed God.  Jesus remained faithful.  Jesus loved us that nothing could deter him from his mission for which he was sent – to die for the sins of the world.  And on that cross, he overcame.  You are clear, you are cleansed, you are clean and forgiven in Christ Jesus.  God holds no charge against you.  Where O death is your sting?  Where O death is your victory?  Nowhere, because Jesus has the victory.  He defeated death.  And he gives us the victory.  In Christ, we all share in it.  He paid the debt for our sin.  All of it – your sins yesterday, your sins today, your sins tomorrow, paid in full.  You were once born into sin, sold into slavery, but Christ has redeemed you, and set you free.  It was not with silver or gold you were redeemed, but with the precious blood of Christ.  Have peace in Jesus.  Have peace in Jesus, and take heart!  He has overcome the world.

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