Teaching series from Genesis

Two Ways to Respond to Suffering

Genesis 34:1-41:46

Teaching t13917

Intro

We’ve been studying the book of Genesis together. Genesis is a book about beginnings.

It’s the book at the beginning of our Bibles. And it explains the beginning of the world, the beginning of humanity, the beginning of the separation between God and man, and the beginning of God’s plan to rescue humans from the mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.

And we’ve seen that one central part of God’s rescue plan is the formation of the Jewish people. That’s why chose a guy named Abraham back in Genesis 12 and made him a great promise. He said he’d make Abraham into a great nation, that he’d give him the Promised Land, and that he’d protect and bless Abraham and his descendants.

We traced the life of Abraham, and then Abraham’s son Isaac, and then Isaac’s son Jacob. This week we’ll learn about Jacob’s family.

We met some of Jacob’s family last week. But in case you weren’t here, I’ll fill you in on the most relevant parts.

He tried to marry a woman named Rachel, but at the last minute Rachel’s dad pulled a sister swap and he woke up the morning after his wedding to discover he had married Rachel’s sister Leah. We saw that Jacob was, understandably, upset. He was stuck with Leah as a wife but married Rachel a week later. He also ended up taking on two other wives as part of this dealRachel’s maid and Leah’s maid too. So, he only wanted one wife, but ended up with four.

Last week we saw he had 11 sons and a daughter by these 4 women. But he loved Rachel the most and loved her one son Joseph the most. Jacob doesn’t even try to hide his favoritism. He focuses all his love and attention on Joseph and almost completely ignores his other kids. This favoritism was a big mistake. He had no idea how many problems this would create for him and for his family.

For example, in Genesis 34…

His ignored kids start hanging out with the local Canaanites. One of the Canaanite princes thinks Dinah is hot, so he seizes her and rapes her. Jacob does nothing, but Jacob’s ignored sons are furious. Then the rapist decides he wants to marry Dinah, and Jacob says nothing. But his sons are like, “Yeah, you can marry her, but we’re Israelites, so you and all of the men in your town have to get circumcised like God commands.” And then this happens:

Gen 34:24-27

Every male in the town was circumcised. But three days later, when their wounds were still sore, two of Jacob’s sons, Simeon and Levi, who were Dinah’s full brothers, took their swords and entered the town without opposition. Then they slaughtered every male there… Meanwhile, the rest of Jacob’s sons … plundered the town because their sister had been defiled there.

So, in Genesis 35…

Once again, Jacob’s family has to flee for their lives. They pack up and travel south even though Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, is pregnant. And on the journey she goes into labor and dies, right there on the side of the road, as she gives birth to Jacob’s 12th and final son, Benjamin. Which I’m sure made Jacob even more upset with these sons from these wives he never wanted.

Then, to make matters worse, in the aftermath of Rachel’s death, while Jacob is still grieving…

Gen 35:22 – Reuben [the oldest son] had intercourse with Bilhah

Bilhah was Reuben’s stepmom, one of Jacob’s other wives. Why would Reuben do such a thing?

Wenham, WBC: It seems likely that Reuben’s motives were more than sensual. By his act, he hoped to prevent Rachel’s maid succeeding Rachel as his father’s favorite wife. Reuben resented that Jacob did not honor his mother Leah. 1

What does Jacob do about this act of treachery from Reuben? Absolutely nothing!

And this is Joseph’s childhood. On the one hand, he has a dad who loves him, who teaches him about God. But on the other hand, he has a lot going against him.

  • Family of origin:

    • Born into a family with a mom and 3 stepmoms who all hate each other.

    • Born into a family with 10 older brothers who hate Joseph and abuse Joseph – both verbally and physically – for his entire childhood.

  • Early childhood experiences. At age six:

    • The whole family flees 500 miles from Uncle Laban who is trying to kill them.

    • And then they pull an all-nighter, terrified that Uncle Esau is coming to kill them.

  • As a teenager:

    • His half-sister is raped and his half-brothers massacre a whole town

    • While they are fleeing, he watches his mom die on the side of the road giving birth to his baby brother.

    • And then, shortly after his mom’s funeral, his brother has sex with his stepmom to punish his dad.

Man! This guy is really going to need some counseling. In fact, I think Joseph’s counselor is going to need counseling!

Why am I bringing this up?

  1. Because some of us can relate to Joseph’s past.

And I want you to have hope in the power of God to overcome a rough past. Your starting point doesn’t define you.

  1. Because things are not looking good for Jacob’s family.

They are slowly assimilating, becoming pagan Canaanites. But they need to remain distinct if God is going to bring the savior of the world through the Jews. What is God going to do about this?! I can guarantee that you don’t know the answer to that question.

And this brings us to what is, in my opinion, the most magnificent and unexpected story in the entire Bible: the story of Joseph.

Genesis 37

2 This is the account of Jacob and his family. When Joseph was seventeen years old, he often tended his father’s flocks. He worked for his half brothers, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. But Joseph reported to his father some of the bad things his brothers were doing.

So Joseph comes home and he’s like: “Daaaad. Guess what Gad was doing; he was playing kick the sheep… again.” Joseph the tattletale.

3 Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day Jacob had a special gift made for Joseph—a beautiful robe.

Older translations call this a coat of many colors, but we really don’t know what the Hebrew word means. Whatever the robe looked like, it marked Joseph out as special, as the guy who dad was grooming to take over the family someday.

4 But his brothers hated Joseph because their father loved him more than the rest of them. They couldn’t say a kind word to him.

We see the deep, burning envy from these brothers. Have you ever felt so much jealousy and hatred for someone that you couldn’t even speak to them?

5 One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. 6 “Listen to this dream,” he said. 7 “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”

8 His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and because of his words.

Have you ever felt so much jealousy and hatred for someone that you couldn’t even stand the sound of their voice?

9 Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”

10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.

So, we have two responses to Joseph here.

On the one hand, you have Jacob. He didn’t like what Joseph was saying any more than his sons did. But Jacob was a guy who had some dreams in his life. And he wonders what will become of Joseph’s dreams. He wonders what God is doing here.

On the other hand, you have his brothers. Earlier it said three times that they hated him. Now it says they are jealous. What does it mean to be jealous or envious?

Mirriam Webster defines envy as “painful or resentful awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another joined with a desire to possess the same advantage”

It’s not just awareness of an advantage enjoyed by another. If it were just that, we could be happy for the other person. Envy takes it one step further. It’s where their good fortune brings me pain, where I dislike them for the good thing in their life; I want that too.

And I’d be willing to bet you’ve had an experience in the past week or two where you felt envy toward another person.

  • Romance envy. “I’m just so happy that guy who I liked asked you out.”

  • Materialistic envy. “Yeah, my parents just went out and bought me this new iPhone 8.”

  • Appearance envy. “I eat whatever I want and I just can’t gain any weight. I just have a six pack and I don’t even work out.”

  • Career envy. “So you got that internship? Great.” “Oh, you got a sweet job? With benefits? And you’re making more than me even though I have a college degree? That’s just super.”

  • Ability envy. We can envy someone’s intelligence or other abilities. They never study but ace the test. They can do pretty much anything better than me.

  • Ministry envy. Christians can even envy others for their results they get from serving God.

All of these things take something good in the life of the other person and give it a dark twist. A twist that makes it hard to even speak to the other person or even hear the sound of their voice. A twist that makes you root for their failure and even fantasize about taking from them the thing you want.

But what these brothers don’t realize is that their problem isn’t really with Joseph. They have a problem with God. Joseph didn’t make himself born to the favorite wife. God did. Joseph didn’t give himself those dreams or cook up this plan for his life. God did.

Joseph was chosen by God for a role in God’s plan that would one day benefit them. And God had a purpose for his brothers too. But they weren’t wondering about that. They should have been talking with God about how they were feeling. But instead, they thought they were passing judgment on Joseph, when really, they were passing judgment on God.

And now we’ll see that their unchecked jealousy leads them to do something they will regret for the rest of their lives.

12 Soon after this, Joseph’s brothers went to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem.

Shechem was that area where his boys had slaughtered that whole town.

13 When they had been gone for some time, Jacob said to Joseph…

14 “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are getting along,” Jacob said. “Then come back and bring me a report.” So Jacob sent him on his way…

18 When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. 19 “Here comes the dreamer!” they said.

They can’t even say his name.

20 “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns.

These cisterns were deep holes they would dig in the ground to collect rainwater (cistern picture). This one was broken, so it didn’t hold water. But it made a great jail place to toss a dead body and make it look like an accident.

20b We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!” 21 But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. 22 “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness. Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.” Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father.

Probably trying to get back on his dad’s good side after the “stepmom incident.”

23 So when Joseph arrived,

His brothers surrounded him and attacked him. The probably grabbed him and beat him until he couldn’t resist anymore. Then…

23b his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. 24 Then they took him and threw him into the cistern…

There he is, naked, battered, lying in the bottom of a 10-foot-deep rock pit. Later we learn that Joseph pleads for his life with tears. But the brothers turn a deaf ear to his cries.

Then one of the boys is like, “Well, now that we’ve arranged for our brother’s murder… who’s hungry?”

25 Then, just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them…

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? We’d have to cover up the crime. 27 Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother—our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. 28 So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern

And they start haggling over a price.

So, Joseph’s final memory of his brothers, is this: he stands there helpless, naked, and bleeding while his brothers bargain with the slave traders for as high of a price as they can get. Finally:

28b and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver.

Which Hoffmeier shows was exactly the correct price of a slave during the first half of the 2nd millennium BC…

28c And the traders took him to Egypt.

31 Then the brothers killed a young goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood. 32 They sent the beautiful robe to their father with this message: “Look at what we found. Doesn’t this robe belong to your son?”

33 Their father recognized it immediately. “Yes,” he said, “it is my son’s robe. A wild animal must have eaten him. Joseph has clearly been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes and dressed himself in burlap. He mourned deeply for his son for a long time. 35 His family all tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “I will go to my grave mourning for my son,” he would say, and then he would weep.

Genesis 39

1 When Joseph was taken to Egypt… he was purchased by Potiphar, an Egyptian officer. Potiphar was captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

2 Yahweh was with Joseph,

…so God immediately took away his suffering and freed him from slavery and Joseph went back home to his father’s household!

Actually, no. Here’s what it actually says: “Yawheh was with Joseph…

2b so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master. 3 Potiphar noticed this and realized that Yahweh was with Joseph, giving him success in everything he did. 4 This pleased Potiphar, so he soon made Joseph his personal attendant. He put him in charge of his entire household and everything he owned.

Potiphar knew two things about Joseph: Joseph was a believer, and Joseph was the best worker he had. Can the people you work with say the same thing about you? Joseph isn’t feeling sorry for himself or using his unfair treatment as an excuse for slacking off. He’s working hard and giving the glory to God.

But Potiphar wasn’t the only one to notice Joseph. We learn that…

6b Joseph was a very handsome and well-built young man,

7 and Potiphar’s wife soon began to look at him lustfully.

And after watching Joseph for maybe a year she makes her move.

7b “Come and sleep with me,” she demanded.

Whoa! Mrs. Potiphar! She’s aggressive and she wants him. She was probably hot too. I mean, she was married to a powerful rich guy. And Joseph is an 18 years old male. 18 year old males are not usually known for their chastity or their disinterest in sex. Now, it looks like his dad had taught him about God’s view of sex – that it should be reserved for the commitment of biblical marriage. But he’s all alone in a foreign country. No one would even know. Anyway, where was God when Joseph got sold into slavery? He would have had every excuse in the book to say yes to this woman. But look what he does instead:

8 But Joseph refused. “Look,” he told her, “my master trusts me with everything in his entire household. 9 No one here has more authority than I do. He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How could I do such a wicked thing? It would be a great sin against God.”

What does Joseph do? He resists the temptation and tells her about God.

Well, Mrs. Potiphar wasn’t going to take no for an answer.

10 She kept putting pressure on Joseph day after day, but he refused to sleep with her, and he kept out of her way as much as possible.

Wisdom! Scripture says “Flee sexual immorality!”

But I can’t imagine the pressure he would have been under! “I want you so bad Jacob! Come on. Right now. Potiphar is gone. It will feel so good.”

But Joseph continued to fend her off. Until one day…

11 One day, however, no one else was around

Things were quiet… a little too quiet.

11b when he went in to do his work.

Then suddenly…

12 She came and grabbed him by his cloak, demanding, “Come on, sleep with me!”

“I want you so bad Jacob!”

12b Joseph tore himself away, but he left his cloak in her hand as he ran from the house.

13 When she saw that she was holding his cloak and he had fled, 14 she called out to her servants.

Who probably didn’t like Joseph anyway since he was getting all the praise from Potphar. She’s like, “Eeeeek. Help. Help.”

14b Soon all the men came running. “Look!” she said. “My husband has brought this Hebrew slave here to make fools of us! He came into my room to rape me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream, he ran outside and got away, but he left his cloak behind with me.”

16 She kept the cloak with her until her husband came home. 17 Then she told him her story. “That Hebrew slave you’ve brought into our house tried to come in and fool around with me,” she said. 18 “But when I screamed, he ran outside, leaving his cloak with me!”

19 Potiphar was furious when he heard his wife’s story about how Joseph had treated her. 20 So he took Joseph and threw him into the prison where the king’s prisoners were held, and there he remained.

Attempted rape was a capital offense. But he doesn’t have Joseph killed – only thrown in prison. You get the sense Potiphar knew what kind of woman he was married to.

But now we can add a few more tragedies to Joseph’s list. Now, in addition to his dysfunctional abusive family, he has been a victim of human trafficking, sexual harassment, sexual assault, slander, wrongful termination and unjust incarceration. Not only did he resist sin, but he got thrown in jail for doing the right thing!

21 But Yahweh was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.

…and so God freed Joseph from prison and he went back to his family and lived happily ever after!

Actually, no. God was with Joseph…

21b And Yahweh made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison.

What happened next? Nothing. God left Joseph in that dungeon until he was 28 years old. That means if he became a slave at age 17 and spent a year with Potiphar, he languished in prison for a decade.

Genesis 40

1 Some time later, Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and chief baker offended their royal master. 2 Pharaoh became angry with these two officials, 3 and he put them in the prison where Joseph was, in the palace of the captain of the guard.

Well, that’s an interesting detail. Joseph’s dungeon was in the palace of the captain of the guard. And we already learned that the captain of the guard was Potiphar! So Joseph spent his whole prison sentence in Potiphar’s basement where they kept all the prisoners.

5 While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. 6 When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. 7 “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them.

8 And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.”

What does Joseph do? He tells them about God and offers to help.

8b “Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”

9 So the chief cup-bearer told Joseph his dream first. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. 10 The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. 11 I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches represent three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. 14 And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. 15 For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.”

16 The chief baker … said to Joseph, “I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. 17 The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.”

18 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. 19 Three days from now Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.”

20 Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He summoned his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other officials. 21 He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could again hand Pharaoh his cup. 22 But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he interpreted his dream.

And Joseph’s thinking, “Finally! The end to my suffering! Thank you, God, for getting me out of this hell-hole of suffering!” And every time for the rest of the day that he heard a key in the lock he’s popping up and wondering “Is that the cup bearer, coming to get me out of here?” But it wasn’t.

And the first day goes by. Nothing. And then the second day goes by. Nothing. And he’s thinking, “You know there’s probably some paperwork they need to fill out. These things take time.”

After a week, he probably still had some hope. After two weeks, he may have started to doubt. After a month, things started to look pretty bleak for Joseph. And at a certain point, Joseph finally came to grips with the awful reality…

23 Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought.

And two more years go by. Two more years in Potiphar Penitentiary. Two more years wondering where is God? Why is my life unfolding in this way? Two more years where a lesser man would have wondered why he never gets any breaks.

Until one day when everything changes for Joseph. He wakes up in the morning, he’s second in command in the prison. But by the time Joseph goes to bed, he’ll be second in command over a much larger jurisdiction.

Genesis 41

1 Two full years later, Pharaoh

…has a dream. He…

1b dreamed that he was standing on the bank of the Nile River. 2 In his dream he saw seven fat, healthy cows come up out of the river and begin grazing in the marsh grass. 3 Then he saw seven more cows come up behind them from the Nile, but these were scrawny and thin. These cows stood beside the fat cows on the riverbank. 4 Then the scrawny, thin cows ate the seven healthy, fat cows! At this point in the dream, Pharaoh woke up.

5 But he fell asleep again and had a second dream. This time he saw seven heads of grain…

8 The next morning Pharaoh was very disturbed by the dreams. So he called for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. When Pharaoh told them his dreams, not one of them could tell him what they meant.

9 Finally, the king’s chief cup-bearer spoke up. “Today I have been reminded of my failure,” he told Pharaoh. 10 “Some time ago, you were angry with the chief baker and me, and you imprisoned us in the palace of the captain of the guard. 11 One night the chief baker and I each had a dream, and each dream had its own meaning. 12 There was a young Hebrew man with us in the prison who was a slave of the captain of the guard… [and he tells Pharaoh what happened]

14 Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was quickly brought from the prison. After he shaved and changed his clothes, he went in and stood before Pharaoh.

So, after 4,475 days as a slave and as a prisoner, this is how it comes to an end: “at once… he was quickly brought from the prison … and stood before Pharaoh”

15 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I had a dream last night, and no one here can tell me what it means. But I have heard that when you hear about a dream you can interpret it.”

OK Joseph. Now is your big moment. Don’t mess it up!

16 “It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied.

What!!

16b “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.”

Keep in mind that Pharaoh thought he was god. And what does Joseph do? Joseph tells him about God and offers to help.

17 So Pharaoh told Joseph his dreams…

25 Joseph responded, “Both of Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God is telling Pharaoh in advance what he is about to do. 26 The seven healthy cows and the seven healthy heads of grain both represent seven years of prosperity. 27 The seven thin, scrawny cows that came up later and the seven thin heads of grain, withered by the east wind, represent seven years of famine…

29 The next seven years will be a period of great prosperity throughout the land of Egypt. 30 But afterward there will be seven years of famine so great that all the prosperity will be forgotten in Egypt. Famine will destroy the land…

33 “Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt…. 35 Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead… 36 That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt.”

37 Joseph’s suggestions were well received by Pharaoh and his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked his officials, “Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has revealed the meaning of the dreams to you, clearly no one else is as intelligent or wise as you are. 40 You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.”

41 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the entire land of Egypt.”…

46 He was thirty years old when he began serving in the court of Pharaoh, the king of Egypt.

Lessons

There’s a lesson about envy and there’s a lesson about suffering. But it’s really the same lesson.

When Joseph’s brothers suffered, they viewed it only from their perspective. And it led to envy and all sorts of evil.

They never even wondered about God’s plan for their lives.

But they compared what they could see in their lives with what they could see in Joseph’s life. And so they hated Joseph and they envied Joseph. They couldn’t appreciate what they had because they wanted what Joseph had.

And so they tried to do away with Joseph.

But their plan didn’t work. Each one of those boys carried around the guilt of what they did for the rest of their lives. They were in a prison of their own – one of guilt and bitterness.

What if God had opened their eyes to all the pieces of his future plan?

What if he told Levi, “All the priests are going to come from your lineage.”

What if he had told Judah, “The mantle of leadership will fall to you and your descendants – not Joseph’s. Yours will be the tribe of the kings – not Joseph’s. And one day the Savior of the world will be born from one of your descendants, not Joseph. A savior who will die for these very sins you’re committing right now.

But God doesn’t work that way. He says, “I’m doing some things that you just can’t understand. So will you trust me now?”

Joseph’s brothers were trying to get from their family what they could only get from God.

Approval. Stability. Security.

Some of you are trying to do the same thing. God wants to bring you past that into his family. He’s making you an offer not even available to Joseph’s brothers: To be completely forgiven and to have the kind of relationship with him where you can call him daddy.

When Joseph suffered, he looked at it from God’s perspective.

He knew God was in Egypt just as much as he was in Canaan.

He knew God’s way was the right way whether he was a son, a slave, a prisoner or standing before Pharaoh.

He told people about God and offered to serve them.

As a result, God did a mighty work in Joseph’s life through his suffering.

Joseph still needs to forgive his family

1 Gordon J. Wenham, Genesis 16–50, vol. 2, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 1998), 327.