Genesis 37:1-11
The Dream Joseph Had

Authored By Rev. Takao Kiyohiro, Tokyo, Japan

1. What we read today is the opening section to the "Joseph narratives" as it is so called. The nickname is fine because this story certainly does develop with a focus on the character, Joseph, but the Bible calls this [set of narratives], as it is in verse two, "The Progeny Of The House Of Jacob." Which is to say, it paints a picture of the course of events that lead to Jacob's house moving from the land of Canaan to Egypt. It is also a bridge to go from Genesis to Exodus. As we enter into Exodus, it is none other than a descendant coming from the house of Jacob, Moses, who leads [them] out of Egypt. Thus, what is being depicted here is the narrative of one whole clan, who are the forebearers of Israel, the people of God. But, surprisingly, the figure of this family is not depicted as an ideal family image, as the model for the later Israelites. It seems like there is no concern at all to show forth a model.

Twisted Family Relationships

2. What is being depicted here is a family that clearly had certain kinds of distortion. The father Jacob wasn't fair with his children. To the exclusion of the others, he doted on Joseph, a child born from Rachel, a child born in his old age. Jacob pet on Joseph more than any other of his sons, and he had "a long hemmed fancy garment" made for him alone. It wasn't for him to wear at some special time. Joseph wore it during regular days (verse twenty-three). Of course, by wearing such a suit, he couldn't do any farm work. When his brothers were pouring out the sweat at work, Joseph was basking as the apple of his father's eye and he was always there by his side.

3. Since his father did that, he twisted his house for sure. The attitudes of the children were also twisted. Joseph found out the bad deeds his brothers had done and would tattle tale them to his father. He grew to be a fine "stickler" -- "sticking it to 'em." As anyone would expect, Joseph was hated and despised by his brothers. It has (verse four) that "They couldn't even talk calmly," they talked when they had to. We might see by the tone here what kind of feelings the brothers had for him. But, though this defect in Joseph's attitude may have been a big one, even still we can't read completely into the air of the place in which he was put.

4. An episode of an example like that is given in the text. He proudly announced a dream [from God] that he had. "Listen. I had this vision. As we were tying off sheaves in the field, all of a sudden my sheaf rose up and stood up straight. Then, the sheaves of my brothers gathered around me and bowed down to my sheaf," (verse seven). What's more, it repeated itself. He had another dream and told it to his brothers. "I had a vision again. The sun, the moon, and eleven stars bowed down to me," (verse nine).

5. He never fathomed that by telling these things proudly, his listeners would become objectionable. The lack of imagination was unfortunate for both him and those around him. He came to be hated more and more. That this kind of relationship would soon usher in catastrophe was plainly apparent. As a matter of fact, tragedy did abruptly come one certain day.

6. On that day, Joseph was sent out by his father to check on the condition of his brothers [as] they tended to the flocks of sheep. From quite a distance the brothers recognized the figure of Joseph drawing closer to them. Their hatred and anger had reached its peak. They began to discuss how they might kill him. In the final analysis, they did not commit murder, but "When Joseph came, the brothers stripped off the clothes he was wearing and the long hemmed garment of his, they seized him, and threw him into a hole," (verse twenty-three). Dropped into a hole, Joseph was [then] sold off to a caravan of Ishmaelite traders who happened to be passing by, and he was taken to Egypt.

7. Meanwhile, in order to conceal their crime, the brothers dipped Joseph's garment into the blood of a goat and sent it to their father. Inspecting it, father Jacob said, "That's my son's clothes. He was eaten by a wild beast. Ooh, Joseph ended up being torn apart," (thirty-three). Then as he grieved, he stammered, "Ooh, I will go down to the grave to my son grieving the whole way."

8. The father showed favoritism. The brothers were filled with hatred and jealousy towards their younger brother. The younger brother was insensitive, unable to read the hearts of his brothers. Different twists and turns of sin were working against each other, but in the end, everyone suffered. It was bad "luck" for everybody. Were it a story of that's how we all suffer, even if none of it was written in the Bible, a lot of us could relate to it. I'd say we all have experiences like theirs. By showing us the figure of a family, which is but is not a role model, what is the Bible trying to do for us?

The Permeating Divine Good Intentions

9. If "the narratives of Jacob's family" only describe the sinfulness of humanity and the sufferings of humanity that result from sin, such a story is at the least beneath reading as a story in the scriptures, isn't it? The reason we are reading this is that it's just not a story about human beings. This is also a story about God.

10. So, what has important meaning is the speeches in "the dreams," which appear frequently in the narrative. Even in today's passage of scripture a speech appears in the story of Joseph having two dreams. It wasn't [the men] doing the seeing wanting to see a vision [from God]. It was shown to them from above. The contents of the vision that Jacob had obviously did not come from the operations and dealings of men. It had nothing whatsoever to do with human plans. It had nothing to do with Jacob's favoritism or the brothers' hatred. The contents of them were determined at another level completely apart from their own realities. They were shown to them from above. But yet, it was Joseph's dream.

11. In the speech and story of "the dream" we should probably say one certain strong emphasis is included. Namely, it [has] an emphasis that, at a completely different level other than the earthly plans and operations of humans, in a world unknown to people and where they cannot have a part in things at all, there are other plans already determined, there are God's plans. So, this narrative tells us that God's plans, which he in heaven has made clear through dreams like he has done, do certainly come true on this earth.

12. "The sheaves of the older brothers gathered around me and bowed down at my sheaf." -- In what way did the vision that Joseph had come true on this earth? Surprisingly, it came true in Egypt where he was first sold and in Joseph's becoming the prime minister [there]. How did he become a ruler in Egypt? For the details please read beginning at chapter thirty-nine. Any way, that's how [Joseph's] brothers had come on a journey from Canaan to Joseph [after] he became ruler over all of Egypt. [They came] because the region of Canaan was stricken by famine. They came to seek for foodstuff. Thus, God's plans were realized in a mind boggling way.

13. But, I would like for us to think about something here at this point. Does it really make us happy if this story was just telling us that "God does have his plans. They will always come true."? Does it turn into a source of hope for us? I don't necessarily think it does.

14. So, there is an important message worthy of our remembrance. After Joseph's dream came true, [the important message] is the words that Joseph spoke as he revealed his identity. Please look at chapter forty-five and verse four. This is what he said to his shocked brothers. "I am your brother Joseph whom you sold to Egypt. However, you don't need to keep grieving any more or blaming each other. In order to save lives God sent me ahead of you [to Egypt]. During these two years the famine has attacked worldwide, but five years from now, there will be neither planting nor harvesting. The reason God has sent me ahead of you is to give you survivors in this land, to keep you alive, and to lead you into great deliverance," (45:4-7).

15. In sum, this narrative is not a cold fatalistic story that just emphasizes that God's plans will automatically come to pass. If that were so, it would only take the fire out of people's spirits. "Because either way, it's all predetermined. Because only God's will will come true any way." This is saying here that that is not true. There is something more important than the fact of God's plans coming true. It is that those plans are permeating with God's love and good will.

16. The brothers got heaping mad at Joseph's statement of "The sheaves of the older brothers gathered around me and bowed down at my sheaf." They must have gotten mad even just imagining they would bow down before their little brother. But, what that dream was saying was like one scene in a story when [you] peek out of a tiny knot hole. That scene [in the story] was put into a much larger flow in its entirety. It was put into the much larger strategy of God. It was about Jacob's whole house being saved. God's love and good will permeate it all.

17. However, as you consider it well, you could make the case that even Jacob's family being saved from the famine is no more than one scene as one peeks from a small hole. That's because, as I mentioned, at the very beginning, this is a narrative of the family that will be the ancestors to the people of God, Israel. After that, there will be the coming of Jesus Christ. This is all but [more] scenes among the greater flow of the plans of God's salvation and its coming true. God's love and good will permeate it all.

18. The world that we see and experience does work according to human will and deeds. Just as Jacob's favoritism brought suffering upon Joseph, the brothers and upon himself, we have to live while tasting the suffering and the sorrow, more or less, because of our sins or the sins of someone else. But, we mustn't forget that we are placed in a much bigger flow than our own doings. That which guides this flow is God's plan as determined in heaven, unbeknownst to us. [God's] plan is permeated by his love and good will.

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