Joseph Series: Protecting Our Families from Sin and Dysfunction (Gen 37)

March 9, 2019

 

Protecting Our Families from Sin and Dysfunction

 

But Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, in the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, his seventeen-year-old son, was taking care of the flocks with his brothers. Now he was a youngster working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was a son born to him late in life, and he made a special tunic for him. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated Joseph and were not able to speak to him kindly. Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the middle of the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose up and stood upright and your sheaves surrounded my sheaf and bowed down to it!”  Then his brothers asked him, “Do you really think you will rule over us or have dominion over us?” They hated him even more because of his dream and because of what he said. Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said. “I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father and his brothers, his father rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream that you had? Will I, your mother, and your brothers really come and bow down to you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept in mind what Joseph said….

Genesis 37 (NET)

 

 

Joseph is one of the more exceptional characters in the Bible. In the fifty chapters of Genesis, one fourth of book is devoted to his story. Abraham has fourteen chapters; Joseph has twelve. This in itself shows how special he is. God uses Joseph to fulfill his promise to Abraham, that his descendants would spend 400 years in Egypt as slaves and then would leave with great wealth to enter the promised land (Gen 15:13-16). Though Joseph’s brothers sent him to Egypt as a slave, in God’s providence, God used Joseph to save his family during a famine. His character is so special, many commentators have called him a type of Christ. Though never specifically called that by Scripture, the resemblance is unmistakable. Matthew Henry said, "His story is so remarkably divided between his humiliation and his exaltation that we cannot avoid seeing something of Christ in it.”[1] Joseph was loved by his father, hated and rejected by his brothers, exalted to second in command over Egypt, and saved those who rejected him. Joseph is a magnificent figure.

 

With that said, Joseph’s story also shows us how God often works in all of our lives. God often doesn’t work through miracles—suspending his laws of nature to bring change. God most often works through ordinary events—guiding and overruling them for his higher purposes. That’s what he does in Joseph’s life, as God takes his brothers’ selling him into slavery, Potiphar’s wife’s lie about him that got him imprisoned, etc., and uses them for good. God does the same for us (Rom 8:28).

 

In this specific chapter, we see Joseph’s messy family background. He came from a dysfunctional home, which no doubt negatively affected him in some ways. This is no surprise, as many of the families in Scripture were broken. When sin came into the world, it hurt families. Cain killed his brother Abel. Abraham and Lot had to go separate ways because of discord in their two tribes. Abraham’s wives fought and his children fought. He eventually sent his second wife and child away. Jacob married two sisters who had birthing wars—trying to outdo one another—for Jacob’s affection. Joseph came from a dysfunctional family, like many of God’s people. No doubt, many of the trials he went through were meant to rid him of negative roots embedded from his family background that could spoil his calling. God often does the same with us.

 

As we study Joseph’s family, we learn principles about how to protect our family from sin and dysfunction. In the narratives of Scripture, God often gives us negative examples, not so we can model them, but so that we learn from them (cf. 1 Cor 10:11).

 

Big Question: What principles can we discern from the Genesis 37 narrative about protecting our families from sin and dysfunction?

 

To Protect Our Families, We Must Obey God’s Will

 

But Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, in the land of Canaan.

Genesis 37:1

 

As we begin this chapter, we must first notice a good thing. The narrator emphasizes that Jacob stayed in the land of Canaan, where his father, Isaac, formerly lived (v. 1). Earlier in Genesis 28, Jacob moved out of Canaan to Haran because of fear of his brother, Esau. There he worked for his uncle, Laban, and earned two wives. After twenty years, he eventually returned to Canaan—the land of promise (Gen 31). God promised Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, that his descendants would inherit that land. Abraham lived there; Isaac lived there, and then Jacob lived there. It wasn’t an easy place to live; there were many ungodly people in it, so much so the patriarchs were not allowed to take wives from the land (Gen 24, 28). The sins of the Canaanites were part of the reason God was going to give the land to Israel (cf. Gen 15:16). While living in Shechem, a small city in Canaan, Jacob’s daughter Dinah was raped, and in return, Jacob’s sons murdered the men in the land (Gen 34). Canaan wasn't an easy place to live, but it was where God called Jacob and his family to reside and be lights to the community. Unfortunately, the Canaanites seemed to be having more of an effect on the Israelites than the Israelites were having on them. This is probably why God soon sends the Israelites to Egypt and providentially protects them through Joseph.

 

Similarly, if we are going to protect our families, there is no better place for us to be with our families than right in the center of God’s will. Here are a couple of quick thoughts about being in God’s will with our families:

 

  • Being in God’s will doesn’t mean we will easy and comfortable—often we’ll be uncomfortable. While Jacob lived in Shechem, his daughter shouldn’t have even been allowed to go anywhere unaccompanied. It was dangerous (Gen 34). The call to follow the Lord means taking up our cross (Lk 14:27). It may often lead us to places where we’re uncomfortable.

 

  • Being in God’s will doesn’t mean we will be free from temptation—Jacob’s family was tempted in Canaan, even as Christ was tempted in the wilderness. While in God’s will, we’ll still need to fight off temptation. We’ll also find that his grace is available if we'll take advantage of it.

 

  • Being in God’s will often means being a light in a dark place. It means being different from others, and also at times being lonely or mocked because of those differences.

 

  • Being in God’s will isn’t static—meaning it doesn’t stay the same. With Jacob, God called him to leave Canaan to go to Haran (Gen 28), and then later to return to Canaan (Gen 31). Soon God will call the entire family to move to Egypt for a season (Gen 46) and then return again (Exodus). Because of this reality, we must remain close to the Father in order to hear his voice and stay on his path. Proverbs 3:6 says, “Acknowledge him in all your ways, and he will make your paths straight.” Are you staying close to the Father?

 

In this aspect, Jacob did well. He was where God wanted him to be in the promised land. Similarly, the best place to protect our families is in God’s will. There will still be giants and temptations, but God’s grace is available so that we can remain faithful. 

 

Application Question: How can we discern God’s will for our individual lives and our families (cf. Rom 12:2, Prov 3:6, 11:14, etc.)? What might be some consequences of neglecting God’s will for our family?

 

To Protect Our Families, We Must Work with Diligence and Integrity

 

This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, his seventeen-year-old son, was taking care of the flocks with his brothers. Now he was a youngster working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.

Genesis 37:2

 

Out of the twelve sons, Joseph is the second youngest. His mother, Rachel, died while giving birth to his youngest brother, Benjamin (Gen 35). They were the only two sons of Jacob’s favorite wife. Jacob had three other wives from which the other ten sons came from.

 

At seventeen, Joseph was a shepherd. While working with four of his brothers—Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher (the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah)—he brought a bad report to his father. We don’t know exactly what the other brothers did wrong, but it probably had to do with their work. Maybe, they were slacking on the work or lacking integrity when they did it—leaving the flocks to do other things.

 

Even as a young man, Joseph possessed great integrity and no doubt was a hard worker. His work ethic, integrity, and leadership ability will be more clearly demonstrated throughout the rest of his narrative. He will be exalted to chief servant while working for Potiphar. He’ll maintain his integrity even when Potiphar’s wife tries to sleep with him. He will also be put in command of prisoners while imprisoned, and finally, he will be put in command of all of Egypt. From the beginning, Joseph worked diligently and with integrity as he served his family. These virtues, no doubt, stirred up jealousy and anger from his brothers. When others aren’t working hard and with integrity, they will get angry with those who are.

 

Working diligently and with integrity is very important for the health of a family. Parents need to work to provide for the family’s needs. Each family member needs to work hard to keep up and maintain a house: Somebody must cook, clean, and maintain the house. Though one may do the bulk of the work, this is often a shared family endeavor.

 

When members of the family don’t contribute to the household (whatever that means in each context—being a good student, cleaning, making an income, etc.), then negative emotions often develop, discord ensues, and the household begins to fall apart. Joseph was bothered by the transgressions of the brothers, and we can assume so was Jacob. Similarly, in families, wives sometimes get upset at husbands because they feel like the husbands aren’t doing their part. Husbands become bothered when they don’t feel like their wives are fulfilling their roles. Kids feel upset when their role is overbearing or unappreciated.

 

It takes work to provide for a family financially, socially, emotionally, and spiritually. When others aren’t working with integrity, things fall apart, which stirs up bitter feelings. In this part of Joseph’s narrative, four of his brothers weren’t doing their part or weren’t doing it with integrity, which caused conflict.

 

How has God called you work to maintain a healthy household? Does that mean listening when one is upset, being a spiritual influence, contributing manually through cleaning, working a job, being a good student, caring for a sick family member, etc.? What it means to maintain a healthy household will differ between households. These responsibilities often need to be planned, discussed, agreed on, and put into practice by family members. When this is done correctly, it helps protect the family from needless disagreements and bitter feelings that can build up and destroy a family.

 

Application Question: What does working diligently and with integrity look like in your household or an ideal household for the various members? How have you seen or experienced how bad feelings and conflict develop when members of the family don’t do their part?

 

To Protect Our Families, We Must Be Careful of Favoritism

 

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons because he was a son born to him late in life, and he made a special tunic for him. When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated Joseph and were not able to speak to him kindly.

Genesis 37:3-4

 

A major flaw in Jacob’s home was favoritism. He came from a background with favoritism, and he practiced it with his own family. Jacob’s mother, Rebekah, favored him, and his father, Isaac, favored Esau. This not only divided the parents but divided the kids, as they competed for their parents’ affections. Though many children hate the negative patterns demonstrated in their homes, most repeat them. People from alcoholic families often struggle with alcoholism. People from backgrounds with domestic abuse often struggle with the same. Jacob repeated the flaws of his parents with his own children—creating discord among them.

 

Interpretation Question: What was the special tunic Joseph received and what did it represent?

 

In verse 3, Jacob gave Joseph a “special tunic.” Other versions call it “a coat of many colors,” “a richly-embroidered tunic,” or “an ornate robe.” It was the kind of robed used by royalty. In 2 Samuel 13:18, King David’s virgin daughter, Tamar, also wore this kind of tunic. The Hebrew phrase used here means that the tunic extended all the way to the wrists and ankles.[2] It was a robe of privilege. Typically, people wore shorter robes so they could work. Joseph’s tunic probably represented two things: (1) Joseph was made the manager over his brothers. They would work while he managed. (2) Joseph also was to receive the right of the firstborn in the house, which meant receiving a double portion of his father’s wealth.

 

This caused great discord with the brothers. It was clear that Jacob loved Joseph more than them all. The brothers hated Joseph so much, they couldn’t even speak a kind word to him (v. 3-4). They probably tried their hardest to ignore him. The favoritism Jacob showed towards Joseph tore apart the brothers, just as Isaac’s and Rebekah’s favoritism tore apart Jacob and Esau.

 

Interpretation Question: Why did Jacob favor Joseph so much?

 

There were many reasons:

 

1. Verse 3 says he loved Joseph because he was the “son born to him late in life.” What does this mean? There are probably several aspects to this, which still happen in households today: Often older kids feel like their parents are easier on the youngest child or children. This is typical because when young parents have a child, they are typically stricter. It’s their first child and they are just learning. When they have children later in life, they are typically less strict—whether because of learning from the first one, being tired, or other reasons. Also, with their first kids, the parents are typically on a tighter budget, as they are developing their careers. Later in life, they are more financially stable, so the youngest often get more things. Sometimes, this causes bitterness from older kids. They cry out, “You weren’t like that with me!” This dynamic, no doubt, was at work in Jacob’s home. Also, parents typically mature and grow in wisdom with age. Sometimes, the children of their youth suffer because of their early lack of maturity. This was true of Jacob. As a young man, Jacob was a deceiver and didn't trust God as he should have. This probably contributed to his older children being rowdy and deceptive—they were more like a gang. They murdered a whole village of people. The oldest, Reuben, slept with Jacob’s concubine (Gen 35). Judah, in Genesis 38, will visit, who he assumes, is a prostitute. In this narrative, they not only sold Joseph into slavery but lied to their father for many years about the event. Jacob’s rough and unruly children were a product of Jacob’s early failures. As Jacob aged, he eventually wrestled with God (Gen 32) and experienced a revival at Bethel (Gen 35). Joseph, the second youngest, benefited from Jacob’s growth which, no doubt, helped him become more respectful and disciplined than his older siblings. Therefore, it was easier to love Joseph; he was the better child—largely, as a result of him being the child born to Jacob late in life.

 

2. Jacob also probably favored Joseph because he was the firstborn of Rachel, the wife he loved most. When Jacob initially started to work for his father-in-law, Laban, the deal was that he would work seven years for Rachel (Gen 29). However, on his wedding night, Laban gave Jacob the older sister, Leah, instead. Surely, Jacob always felt like Rachel was his real wife. That’s who he worked for, and when he initially committed to marriage before God, he thought he was committing to Rachel. Therefore, her firstborn, he probably always felt, should receive the greater inheritance.

 

3. Finally, though Jacob favored Joseph by giving him the special robe—representing the leadership position—it was also because Joseph deserved it. As mentioned, the other kids were more like gangsters, as clearly seen by them plotting to kill Joseph and then selling him into slavery later in this narrative. Also, the older siblings simply didn’t have the work ethic or character of Joseph. Joseph was the best leader.

 

Jacob was right to reward righteousness and punish bad behavior—that’s what God has called all authorities to do (Rom 13:1-4)—but Jacob was wrong for loving Joseph more than the others. The older children could sense that and hated Joseph because of it. In addition, from the beginning, Jacob shouldn’t have shown favoritism between his wives, which probably initially led to distrust and rivalry among the sons. Favoritism ultimately destroyed Jacob’s home.

 

Unfortunately, this same practice often divides our homes: (1) Parents favor one child over the other. They say, “Why can’t you be as smart as your sister?” “Your brother is such a better athlete!” “Your sister is so much more attractive?” This often causes insecurity and jealously—leading to discord. (2) Sometimes, favoritism is shown by a child to the parent. Children often gravitate to the easier parent—whoever they can manipulate and get their way with. Sometimes that’s the dad and other times it’s the mother. This can make one parent feel discouraged and unloved, angry with the easier parent, and/or angry with the child who is side-stepping them. (3) Another way that favoritism is shown is when parents focus all their attention on the children—to the neglect of their marriage. When God first made the family, it started with a husband and wife—representing how this was to be the priority relationship. Husbands and wives were even called to leave their extended family and cling to one another (Gen 2:24). When parents neglect their marriage to focus on the kids, it ultimately hurts the kids by creating pride and selfishness in them and setting a bad model for future generations. Husbands are called to love their wives like Christ loves the church, and wives are called to submit to their husbands as the church submits to Christ (Eph 5:22-27). Parents must prioritize their marriage over their children. Certainly, there are seasons when children will need more attention—like when they are infants or sick. However, that should not be the norm. A healthy marriage is the basis for a healthy family. Favoring children over the marriage is a recipe for disaster. No doubt, that’s the reason year twenty is one of the highest years of divorce. When the kids are gone, there is no longer any marriage.

 

If we’re going protect our families, we must be careful of favoritism. This can be difficult, especially when each child excels in different areas. Parents must make sure to honor each child’s uniqueness and remind them that God made them and has special plans for them. Parents must help children figure out their unique giftings and not put them in a box that society has made or a pattern that one sibling has set. This only leads to jealousy, discouragement, and conflict.

 

Application Question: Why are people so prone to show favoritism in their families and relationships? How have you seen favoritism negatively affect a family or some other relationship? How can we protect ourselves from showing favoritism in our relationships (cf. Jam 2:1)?

 

To Protect Our Families, We Must Cling to God’s Word

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the middle of the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose up and stood upright and your sheaves surrounded my sheaf and bowed down to it!” Then his brothers asked him, “Do you really think you will rule over us or have dominion over us?” They hated him even more because of his dream and because of what he said. Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said. “I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father and his brothers, his father rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream that you had? Will I, your mother, and your brothers really come and bow down to you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept in mind what Joseph said.

Genesis 37:5-11

 

After receiving the robe, God gives Joseph two dreams. In one, the brothers were working in the field binding sheaves of grain, and suddenly, Joseph’s sheave stood upright. Then, the brothers’ sheaves bowed to it. The message was unmistakable—the brothers would eventually submit to Joseph’s leadership. They hated him even more because of the dream. In the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed to him, which represented Joseph’s parents and brothers submitting to him (cf. Rev 12:1). Even Jacob rebuked him after this—though he kept the dream in mind and pondered it (v. 11).

 

The fact that these dreams came in pairs meant that God would surely complete them. God gave a pair of dreams to Pharaoh as well. When Joseph interpreted them, he said, “The dream was repeated to Pharaoh because the matter has been decreed by God, and God will make it happen soon” (Gen 41:32). The repetition represented the nearness and surety of the dreams. Similarly, God was soon to bring Joseph’s dreams to past.

 

Interpretation Question: Why did God give Joseph these dreams?

 

As with Pharaoh’s dreams, they were meant to prepare him for the future. With the events that were going to happen to Joseph: betrayal by his brothers, slavery, and imprisonment, Joseph was going to need hope to remain faithful. Even through the bad things, God was going to overrule them to exalt and favor Joseph. He needed to cling to those dreams so he could stand when circumstances were difficult. Paul said something similar to Timothy, “Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well” (1 Tim 1:18 NIV). By recalling the prophesies made about Timothy, he would be able to fight the battle well.

 

Often God may give a strong impression or clear calling so that we can stand as well. Most times, we are not very clear about God’s will. We pray, gather information, pray again, and make the best decision possible—trusting that God’s guiding us. At other times, God makes his will unmistakable: whether by closing and opening doors, the confirmation of others, supernatural peace, a clear, applicable passage in Scripture, or a combination of these. He often does this to not only guide us but also so we can have ample courage to stand when things get tough. Pastors often say this about their call to ministry—it was because of it, that they stayed in ministry instead of quitting when things got tough. In God’s sovereignty, he often makes his will very clear so we can battle well despite discouragements.

 

With that said, this is also true when ministering to our families. We must cling to God’s words. He may not give a prophecy or a dream, but he has given us Scripture, with many promises within it. Apart from these promises, we will find ourselves weak, discouraged, and sometimes ready to give up, when we encounter various trials in our family and life in general. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in former times was written for our instruction, so that through endurance and through encouragement of the scriptures we may have hope.” Scripture was written to instruct us, to help us endure difficult times, to encourage us when we’re down, and to give us hope.

 

Families are messy, even good families. We need God’s Word to be the foundation of our home. We need it personally through private disciplines (Ps 1:2-3). We need to teach our children the Word—raising them in the instruction of the Lord (Dt 6:1-8, Eph 6:4). Husbands are called to wash their wives with God’s Word (Eph 5:25-26)—practicing disciplines like family devotions and church attendance. This will help families stand in difficult times.

 

This prophecy would help Joseph stand and have hope while suffering in Egypt. It was probably also meant to encourage his father, Jacob, when there was a possibility that Joseph was lost forever.

 

Application Question: What are some practical ways for parents to build their home on God’s Word? Have you ever experienced clear direction from God, which was meant to encourage you to be faithful during a difficult season? If so, when and how?

 

To Protect Our Families, We Must Use Our Words Wisely

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the middle of the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose up and stood upright and your sheaves surrounded my sheaf and bowed down to it!” Then his brothers asked him, “Do you really think you will rule over us or have dominion over us?” They hated him even more because of his dream and because of what he said. Then he had another dream, and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said. “I had another dream. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” When he told his father and his brothers, his father rebuked him, saying, “What is this dream that you had? Will I, your mother, and your brothers really come and bow down to you?” His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept in mind what Joseph said.

Genesis 37:5-11

 

Now even though, God gave Joseph dreams which were meant to encourage and strengthen him for the future, they weren’t given for everybody. It would seem that it was wise for him to privately share this with his father, but it certainly wasn’t wise for him to share with his brothers. They already hated Joseph because of the favor that his father had shown him—sharing the dreams with them only increased their hatred. In Matthew 7:6, Jesus said: “Do not give what is holy to dogs or throw your pearls before pigs; otherwise they will trample them under their feet and turn around and tear you to pieces.” Giving what’s holy to wild dogs is dangerous, they might turn and tear the offeror to pieces. Not everything God gives us is to be shared with others. In Luke 23:8-9, when Herod asked Christ many questions, hoping to see a miracle, Christ said and did nothing. It was a great time to share the gospel, but Herod was a wild dog. He didn’t care; he just wanted to be entertained. In the same way, when Joseph shared the pearls of his divine dreams with his brothers, he only endangered himself.

 

Similarly, we must use our words wisely, especially with our family. Proverbs 18:21 says the power of life and death is in the tongue. We can build up or destroy with our tongues. James compares it to a small fire that can destroy a forest (Jam 3:5-6). Marriages and families are destroyed by the words we use: Words, that maybe true, but that don’t consider others’ feelings or their maturity-level. Words that are selfish instead of selfless destroy homes. Children grow up with great insecurities because of evil words spoken to them by parents: “You’re not smart enough, pretty enough, etc.” These wounds often stay forever. Some wives feel worthless in their marriage because of the words of their husbands. Many husbands don’t want to go home at night because of the nagging of their wives. Though Joseph’s words were true, they weren’t helpful or wise. They only poured lighter fluid on the explosive fire in his family.

 

Ephesians 4:29 (NIV) says this about our words: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” (1) Paul says our words should never be unwholesome or corrupt. (2) They must be according to the needs of others. This means our conversations shouldn’t just be about expressing ourselves or our heart—they must also be given in consideration of our audience. “What are their needs? How will they receive this if I say it? What’s the best way to communicate this to them?” This is where many fail. They spend all their time thinking about communicating what’s on their heart or mind and not about the other person. Therefore, they miss the mark. (3) Our words must not only consider others’ needs but how to edify them by our words. The ESV translates 29b this way: “that it may give grace to those who hear.” “Grace” means unmerited favor. This means blessing those who don’t necessarily deserve it or who have hurt us. Yes, they may deserve our wrath or indifference, but we should give them unmerited favor instead.

 

Our words must be wholesome and uncorrupt; they must be according to the needs of others, and finally, they must impart grace. Joseph messed up because he wasn’t able to discern the feelings of his brothers. He probably had no desire to hurt them by sharing his dreams, but he did. He failed to discern that they were hurting and frustrated. They needed encouragement. They needed him to be humble, and because he missed this, he only hurt them more.

 

In our families, we must put these principles into practice. We should never speak corrupt words. The Bible is clear: whatever we sow, we will reap (Gal 6:7). If we sow complaining and nagging, we won’t get back love. If we sow fear and insecurity, we won’t get back peace. If we sow anger, we won’t get back gentleness. What are you sowing into your relationships with your words? Sometimes, it’s best to say nothing, which is probably what Joseph should have done, at least when it came to sharing his dreams with his brothers. The dreams, though God’s word and promise, would only hurt and embitter them.

 

Quick note: We should also carefully consider how Joseph’s potential exaltation enraged the brothers instead of making them happy. As the body of Christ, we are called to rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15). Unfortunately, because we all still struggle with sin, it is often easier to weep with those who weep, than to rejoice with those who rejoice. It’s very easy to harbor wrong thoughts like: “Why did they get that promotion or scholarship?” “How come God didn’t give it to me?” The brothers’ jealous reaction should challenge our hearts. Let’s both rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep. We must control our negative emotions and submit them to Christ instead of letting them control us (2 Cor 10:5). This leads to our final point.

 

Application Question: How have you seen words destroy families and friendships? What are some other disciplines that will help us be wise with our words and use them in an edifying manner (Prov 15:1, 25:15, etc.)? In what ways have you experienced how it’s difficult to rejoice with those who rejoice?

 

To Protect Our Families, We Must Guard Our Emotions

 

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “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.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt…

Genesis 37:12-36

 

The final lesson we learn from this section of Joseph’s story is the importance of guarding our hearts from wrong thoughts and emotions. The brothers probably started to dislike Joseph early on because he was born from the favored wife—Rachel. This dislike grew when Joseph gave a bad report about his brothers work habits. It grew further when Joseph received the special robe. They grew again when Joseph shared his dreams. Finally, they spilled over when Jacob sent Joseph to check on the brothers while they were supposed to be taking care of the flocks in Shechem. Shechem was where the brothers killed all the men in the village for raping their sister, Dinah (Gen 34). Maybe, there was some type of famine going on, so they were willing to venture out fifty miles into dangerous area to feed their flocks. When Joseph got to Shechem to check on their welfare, they had moved to Dothan another fourteen miles north (maybe because of the lingering hatred towards them in Shechem).[3] When they saw Joseph in his fancy robe coming in the distance to check on them, all the emotions exploded. They took him, ripped the robed off him, and through him in a pit, with plans to kill him. After seeing some Ishmaelite merchants on their way to Egypt, they, instead, sold him into slavery. They must have figured that it would be impossible for Joseph to earn his freedom in Egypt—therefore, nobody would ever know of their wicked deed. They deceived Jacob into thinking Joseph was dead, and they thought they would never hear anything about him again.

 

The point to be emphasized is that the brothers harbored negative emotions—possibly for years—that continued to grow, eventually leading to their horrendous act. This happens in homes all the time. Wives and husbands harbor hurt emotions towards one another because of unsettled or unforgiven, past events which culminate in explosive blowups. The same commonly happens with children who are hurting emotionally.

 

We must beware of negative emotions that creep into our psyche—threatening to destroy our peace and relationships. Christ taught that anger was the moral equivalent of murder (Matt 5:21). When these negative roots are left unchecked, they lead to greater sins that we would initially have never thought could happen.

 

James 3:14-16 says,

 

But if you have bitter jealousy and selfishness in your hearts, do not boast and tell lies against the truth. Such wisdom does not come from above but is earthly, natural, demonic. For where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is disorder and every evil practice.

 

When we harbor negative emotions like jealousy and selfishness, though appearing harmless, they are really demonic in nature. Wherever those negative emotions lie, they can ultimately lead to disorder and every evil practice. Apparently, some in the Hebrew Christian churches that James spoke to were harboring these emotions against one another—leading them to quarrels and even murder. In James 4:2, he said, “You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel. You do not have, because you do not ask.” Instead of abiding in prayer about their heart issues, they instead harbored wrong attitudes which led to explosive conflict. Similarly, it’s good to remember that Jacob’s family was the people of God during that time frame, and they committed a heinous act. The New Testament church today can commit these same types of evils—they happen all the time both in marriages and church communities.

 

In Ephesians 4:26-27, Paul says, “Be angry and do not sin; do not let the sun go down on your anger, and give no opportunity to the devil.” It’s not necessarily sin to be angry; the question is, “What do you do with that anger?” If we hold on to it and let it fester, it gives the devil authority in our life and community. Authority to bring depression, jealousy, frustration—leading to ungodly actions. How many marriages have been destroyed because people didn’t properly handle their unhealthy emotions?

 

Application Question: What should we do with our unhealthy emotions?

 

1. Don’t let negative emotions build up. First Peter 4:8 says love covers a multitude of sins. Some wrongs we should pray to God about and simply let them go. They are not worth bringing up, and certainly, they aren't worth allowing them to rob our joy and destroy our relationships. Again, Paul said that we should not let the sun go down while we are angry, lest we give the devil a foothold (Eph 4:26-27).

 

2. Sometimes, we should have a conversation about those negative emotions with the person we have been offended by (cf. Matt 18:15). It is good to remember that our perception and feelings may be off, and the other person may be totally unaware or see things differently. Because of that, we should be humble when communicating these things with others. Our humility, recognizing that we may be at fault, will often clear the pathway for good communication. If we approach them in a pridefully, accusatory manner—not recognizing that we may be off—it might only inflame the other person and destroy healthy communication. Therefore, we must be wise in these conversations—considering the other person and not just our emotions.

 

3. Sometimes, after conversating with the one who has offended us and it didn’t help, it may be wise to let the situation go and simply entrust it to God or bring a wise person into the conversation to help mediate (cf. Matt 18:15-17). Often, people outside can see clearer than us and help hold us accountable.

 

4. Ultimately, we must forgive as Christ forgives us. Ephesians 4:31-32 says this:

 

You must put away every kind of bitterness, anger, wrath, quarreling, and evil, slanderous talk. Instead, be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another, just as God in Christ also forgave you.

 

Whether the other person repents or not, we must forgive as Christ forgives us. This doesn’t mean that there are not other wise actions to be taken (like getting spiritual or civil authorities involved) or that we should stay in the same situation. This does mean, as far as our hearts are concerned, we cannot allow ourselves to become in bondage to unforgiving emotions. It’s too dangerous. It opens us up to God’s discipline (Matt 6:14, 18:23-35, 1 Cor 10:10) and also potentially allows the emotions to lead to greater sin. If we allow them to fester, we will handle them in unhelpful ways that can destroy our family or other relationships. We must recognize that unhealthy emotions open the door for Satan and lead to every evil thing—including fighting, kidnapping, lying, and murder, as seen in Joseph’s narrative.

 

Application Question: How do you deal with unhealthy thoughts and emotions? How have you seen how harboring unhealthy thoughts and emotions can lead to fractured relationships and further sin?

 

Conclusion

 

As we study the narratives of Scripture, it is clear that many of the families struggled with sin and dysfunction. David’s son raped his sister. Another of David’s sons killed that brother. Eventually, the son that murdered his brother tried to kill his father, David. Since sin came into the world, it has ravaged the family unit, as seen in the Joseph narrative. How can we protect our families? Often God gives us negative examples so we can learn from them.

 

  1. To Protect Our Families, We Must Obey God’s Will

  2. To Protect Our Families, We Must Work with Diligence and Integrity

  3. To Protect Our Families, We Must Be Careful of Favoritism

  4. To Protect Our Families, We Must Cling to God’s Word

  5. To Protect Our Families, We Must Use Our Words Wisely

  6. To Protect Our Families, We Must Guard Our Emotions

 

 

 

 

[1] Preacher's Outline and Sermon Bible - Commentary - The Preacher's Outline & Sermon Bible – Genesis II.

 

[2] Guzik, D. (2013). Genesis (Ge 37:1–4). Santa Barbara, CA: David Guzik.

 

[3] Hughes, R. K. (2004). Genesis: beginning and blessing (p. 444). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books.

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