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"Joseph's Jealous Brothers"

July 6, 2014 Genesis 37(1-4,12-28)


Jealousy is a powerful force, capable of breaking many human relationships. Proverbs 27:4 exclaims, "Anger is cruel and fury overwhelming, but who can stand before jealousy?" It's all too easy to become jealous of others, and start comparing ourselves: we have such fragile self-esteem, and are prone to an inferiority complex.

This past Tuesday saw the official launch of our daughter Emily's new book Atlas Girl. Over 260,000 people received a "thunderclap" about it on Facebook and Twitter. Many kind blogger friends helped get the word out through posting blogs about the book. It was fun to watch the book's sales rankings change day to day: it climbed from #7991 Tuesday morning up to rank #1296 before the day was out. As of Thursday it was in the top 1000 at #912. In Amazon's women's "gender studies" section it was #8 on the list; Thursday Atlas Girl had climbed to #5. Emily joked on Facebook that she was "hangin' out" with the likes of Hillary Clinton and Brene Brown. But she also admitted she was scared to check the stats herself, so was glad she had friends that had volunteered to do it for her.

We're so conscious of measuring and ranking ourselves compared to others. The problem is, our gauge is broken! It's like using a candy thermometer to measure your finger: "Let's see, my middle finger is reading 200 degrees." Then check your neighbour's finger and find theirs is 220, or 160 degrees - what's that mean?! You can't sum up a person's total worth by what their appearance is, or what they own, or what they've accomplished in life, or what dimensions they are. For instance, Jesus warned us in Luke 12:14, "A man's life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions." Your gauge is broken whenever you try to compare.

God doesn't value us based on performance - our sins would outweigh any credits - but He values us as His redeemed sons and daughters in Christ, unique creations of His, masterpieces displaying HIS work in us.

King Saul used a broken gauge in 1Samuel 18:8 when he jealously reacted to what the ladies in the land were chanting about his and David's fame: "Saul was very angry; this refrain galled him."They have credited David with tens of thousands," he thought, "but me with only thousands.What more can he get but the kingdom?"" Saul's jealousy destroyed the rest of his kingship, turning a great warrior who would have been his strongest ally (David) into an imagined "enemy" that sidetracked Saul from more fruitful responsibilities.

In today's reading from Genesis, we delve into the story of Joseph. There we see examples of jealousy's destructive results; but God is able to redeem even these seeming tragedies in the long run for His sovereign glory.


Genesis 35:2 "Joseph, a young man of 17, was tending the flocks with his brothers..." How old are these brothers? Roughly about age 30 on down to his youngest brother, Benjamin, who'd be about 11. You can follow the sequence in Gen.29(31)-30(24; 35:16): Leah had had the first 4, Reuben Simeon Levi and Judah; then Rachel's maidservant Bilhah had 2; Leah's maidservant had 2; finally Rachel herself had given birth to Joseph, then 6 years later Benjamin (she died upon giving birth). Quite a mixed bag of brothers.

V2 continues, "he (Joseph) brought their father a bad report about them." He 'ratted them out'; in their eyes, he was a "snitch" - spilled the beans about something they'd have preferred kept covered up. Joseph refused to be party to their misbehaviour; we're not told the details of what they'd done wrong. But in other passages we're told some representative antics. In 35:22 Reuben - the eldest, the firstborn, the one who's supposed to lead by his moral example - slept with his stepbrothers' mother, his father's concubine Bilhah (Rachel's maid). An arrogant, premature act, kind of like the prodigal son asking for his share of the inheritance even though the father wasn't dead yet! Rude and contemptuous. So Reuben forfeited the double-portion right of the firstborn (49:4).

Next in line were Simeon and Levi. But, in 34:25, these two connivingly and deceptively murdered all the males in the village of Shechem while they were still in pain 3 days after being circumcised. Why? Because the mayor's son had taken their sister Dinah and violated her. Retribution was certainly warranted, but not murdering all the males in town! Thus Simeon and Levi proved devious and violent.

So, maybe Judah will be a better candidate, #4 in birth order. But check out 38:16 where he goes in to a prostitute, only to find out she's actually his daughter-in-law Tamar, to whom he'd denied giving his son in marriage after her first husband (and the second one) died. And WHY did she just happen to be sitting beside the road as a hooker when she found he was going to shear sheep? Because presumably she KNEW he had a fondness for sexual immorality with prostitutes, and would fall for her scheme. Then in 38:24 when he finds out she's pregnant, his double standard, prejudice, and chauvinism are apparent when he orders her killed for immorality (though she succeeds in calling him on it and defending herself).

What a choice bunch of brothers, eh? Joseph, on the other hand, could do no wrong in his father's eyes. He was, after all, along with Benjamin, all that old Jacob had left of his most favourite wife, easy-on-the-eyes Rachel who'd died 11 years earlier. V3 "Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age [about 90]; and he made a richly ornamented robe for him." It's one thing for a parent to have a favourite child, be drawn more to one than the others, and keep it a secret; it's quite another for the parent to basically announce it to the world by either admitting it OR showering them with expensive gifts the others don't get! In 2Samuel 13(18) a similar phrase is used for the gowns the virgin daughters of the king wore. So Joseph's richly coloured, long-sleeved robe make him stand out like royalty compared to his brothers' short-sleeved, plain, simple commoners' robes. This was a token of Jacob's intention to make Joseph (the second youngest, mind you!) Head of the tribe instead of the firstborn.

Now, suppose you're one of the older brothers: does that seem FAIR to you? How do you like it when you're standing in a lineup and somebody else jumps queue? "Hey, get back in your place, buddy - whaddaya think you're doing?!" V4 "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." Sounds like jealousy.

So, Joseph already had 2 strikes against him: ratting out his brothers' bad behaviour, and his father's favouritism flaunted before them daily in the royal-style robe. But there's more! Vv5-8 Joseph has a dream in which his brothers' sheaves of grain bow down to his; he tells them about it. Their response? "Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" V5&8 two times: "They hated him all the more."

As if that's not enough, vv9-11 he has a second dream: this time it's not just his brothers involved. No sheaves of grain; in this dream, the sun, moon, and 11 stars (emphasis on the 11 - 11 brothers, remember!) - this heavenly constellation representing his family was bowing down to Joseph directly. "The little twirp! WHO does he think he is?" His father's actual response is in v10: he rebuked Joseph and said, "What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?!" V11 says "His brothers were JEALOUS of him..."

The Hebrew word for "jealous" here can be translated "to be jealous or envious of, to be zealous for." Is jealousy ALWAYS bad? No. Exodus 20:5 God says, "You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the LORD your God, am a jealous God..." Joshua 24:19 "Joshua said to the people, "You are not able to serve the LORD. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins." The Lord is a JEALOUS God and has every right to be because every person and the whole universe BELONGS to Him.

The jealousy of a husband for his wife is a GOOD thing: if somebody comes up and starts "hitting on" your woman, you don't just ignore it! Numbers 5 has a test or procedure for husbands who, jealous of their wife's loyalty, suspected her of unfaithfulness. Song of Songs 8:6 "Place me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm; for love is as strong as death, its jealousy unyielding as the grave.It burns like blazing fire, like a mighty flame." Jealousy for the one you love can be a good and appropriate thing. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him." (2Co 11:2) There is such a thing as a godly jealousy.

Yet often jealousy is not so altruistic or defensible. Jealousy is BAD when we're ardently desirous of something that does NOT belong to us, that is rightly another's. Romans 13:13 "Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery, not in dissension and jealousy." James 3:14&16 "But if you harbor bitter envy [or, jealousy - as same word is rendered in Acts 5:17] and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast about it or deny the truth...For where you have envy [or, jealousy - same word] and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice."

Jealousy causes you to do a slow burn inside because you're envious of or desiring the prestige or privilege someone else has. In 1975 country singer Charlie Rich had been picked to announce the Country Artist of the Year at the Country Music Awards show. The award went to John Denver, who had not experienced a warm reception at that point in the country music community; in fact, many people despised him and his style of country rock that was changing the direction of country music. When Charlie Rich opened the envelope, rather than announce John Denver's name, he took out a cigarette lighter, set fire to the paper bearing the winner's name, and walked off stage.

Isn't that a suitable visual of what we'd like to have happen when we're jealous of someone? Jealousy "burns like a blazing fire..." (SoS 8:6)


Step back a minute and notice how the road map of jealousy leads steadily downhill. (1) There's misbehaviour, guilt, a bad report that Joseph fills the father in on. (2) There's flagrant favouritism - the richly ornamented robe, rubbing Joseph's preferential treatment in his brothers' noses day in, day out. (3) Dream-1 and (4) Dream-2: so the brothers "hated him" (v4), "hated him all the more" (vv5,8). Hate is a murderous emotion.

So, when Jacob sends Joseph on a mission to track down his flock-herding brothers, after walking some 65 miles to find them (just a quick stroll on foot from Blyth to Fairview Mall, say), they're not about to welcome him warmly. V18 They saw him in the distance and "plotted to kill him". V19 "Here comes that dreamer!" The Hebrew has a hint of sarcasm, "That 'Dream Expert'!" Almost drips with contempt, a put-down, as if to imply: "You don't deserve to have what, for some unfair reason, you do."

Adolf Hitler was jealous of the wealth of the Jesus, so set out to create an image of them as non-persons, less than human, so he could then expropriate their property and destroy them without protest. Jealousy wants to diminish and destroy the other person who seems to have the advantage. V20 ""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."" So here you have both killing AND lying / deceit - fabricating a story that a ferocious animal was to blame.

But then, just at that moment (so it happened), an Ishmaelite trader caravan came by, from Gilead to the east heading down the main trade route south to Egypt. How fortuitous that the brothers had just HAPPENED to decide to go to Dothan from Shechem! Reuben doesn't seem to be present, so Judah (remember we'd talked about the mantle of leadership getting passed along) proposes vv26f: "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."

"After all, he is our BROTHER" - no need to KILL the guy, let's just SELL HIM INTO LIFELONG SLAVERY in which he'll probably die after a few months anyway. We'll let the Ishmaelites do our dirty work for us - and that way we can pocket a tidy profit into the bargain, 20 pieces of silver." Human trafficking is ever so much more 'decent' a crime than outright murder... Hard to tell if Judah actually wants to spare his brother's life or is more just interested in the business possibilities. Jealousy and hate set up SELFISHNESS and attack. "What will we gain? What's in it for us? How can I get ahead in this deal at their expense?" So they steal the freedom of their own flesh-and-blood, selling him to slave-traders who'll treat him like baggage, forcing him to a long march barefoot through the desert 30 days until they arrive at their destination. He won't be likely to survive.

Then in vv31-33 comes the cover-up, the deceit, the lying as the brothers tells father Jacob his fave son's been gobbled up by some wild animal and hand him a bloody, ruined royal robe as evidence. Jealousy - hate - murder - enslavement: the roadmap ends in overwhelming GRIEF for Jacob. Vv34f He tears his clothes, wears sackcloth, mourns many days, refuses to be comforted by anyone: "This mourning is going to follow me all the way to my grave!" He refuses to be comforted by anyone. "So his father wept for him."


It's an all-too-natural fallen tendency to be jealous, to want to impress. One of the highlights of the college freshman biology class was the monthly feeding of a caged rattlesnake kept in the laboratory. One time, the entire class gathered around the cage and, in complete silence, watched as the feeding took place. The instructor confessed: "I'm jealous of the snake - I never get the class's undivided attention like this." A student answered matter-of-factly, "You would if you could swallow a mouse."

Joseph's brothers weren't impressed by the privilege conferred by their father or these mysterious dreams. By being jealous, seeking to "put Joseph in his place", they created a trail of enslavement, deceit, and lasting grief. But the wonder of God's mercy is that He doesn't just destroy Jacob's family for their sinfulness, but sovereignly turns this whole mix into a means of saving nations.

Step back and think about it: what really is God's purpose in all this? What's His goal, His timeline? [GRAPHIC] Here's a timeline overview of "Key events in the life of Isaac, Israel, and Joseph". At first you might suppose God is orchestrating things intentionally in this 23-year period between when Joseph is sold into slavery at age 17 and becomes ruler of Egypt, saving Jacob's family from starvation in the region-wide famine at age 40. Not just Egypt, but other nations are saved by God putting Joseph in that very specific place of authority and responsibility.

But God's timeline is much broader. Back in Genesis 15:13-14, God gives Abraham a brief glimpse into the future: "Then the LORD said to him, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions." God is going to use the sojourn in Egypt to multiply Abraham's descendants into a great nation. How far in the future is God planning? This prophecy occurred before Ishmael's birth when Abraham was 86. Isaac was born when Abraham was 100. Isaac was 60 when Jacob was born. Jacob went to Egypt when he was 130, and the Exodus happened 430 years later. Putting that together then, you have about 15+60+130+430 or at least 635 years from the forecast in Genesis 15 to the Exodus! God's orchestrating all this to bless Abraham's descendants, make them a nation of over a couple of million people when they enter the Promised Land.

When you consider the sinfulness of Joseph's jealous brothers, you realize this is sheer grace! God can take horrific sin - like the denial and betrayal and whipping and torture and death of Jesus on the cross - God can take something that BAD and, without absolving humans of responsibility, sovereignly work our mis-steps and evil actions into His plan. That's not to minimize the consequence of our faults, our past jealousies and hatefulness: but know that needn't thwart God's future for you when you repent and trust in Him.

The Lord wants to help us actively REDEEM any jealous inclinations. Pastor Andy Stanley has written a book Enemies of the Heart: Breaking Free from the Four Emotions that Control You. In it he sums up how Guilt, Anger, Greed, and Jealousy are essentially seeking a transaction of some sort. Guilt says, "I owe you" - for some evil action I've done to you. Anger says, "You owe me" - for some wrong way you've treated me. Greed says, "I owe me" - I deserve to get that new trinket. Jealousy says, "God owes me". A CBN.com article notes: "Of all four invaders, Andy says jealousy betrays the true condition of our heart more than any other.Envy is a powerful force that can wreak damage on any relationship or organization.The remedy cannot be found by balancing the scales or tipping them in the other person's favor. 'The fact is, somebody's upset with God and in most cases, they don't even know it,' says Andy."

In Joseph's case - the dreams were right. God had chosen Joseph to save many nations, especially his own tribe, the descendants of Abraham. But when the brothers first heard the dreams, they scoffed and rejected them. What right did their punk kid brother have to rule over them?! God owed it to them to rank better than that!

Andy Stanley suggests there are antidotes for each of these 4 enemies of the heart. The antidote to Guilt is confession. The antidote for Anger (where you feel the other person "owes you") is forgiveness. The solution for Greed is generosity. And the antidote for Jealousy? Celebration. Intentionally commend the other person instead of being jealous of them. Stanley writes, "Celebration makes us a vehicle through which God communicates His pleasure."

John the Baptist had good reason to be jealous of Jesus. John 3:26-29 "They came to John and said to him, "Rabbi, that man who was with you on the other side of the Jordan-- the one you testified about-- well, he is baptizing, and everyone is going to him." [NOTE HOW JOHN RESPONDS] To this John replied, "A man can receive only what is given him from heaven.You yourselves can testify that I said, 'I am not the Christ but am sent ahead of him.' The bride belongs to the bridegroom.The friend who attends the bridegroom waits and listens for him, and is full of joy when he hears the bridegroom's voice.That joy is mine, and it is now complete." John didn't grow JEALOUS because Jesus was baptizing more and his crowds were growing; instead John knew the limits of what God had allotted to him, and found JOY witnessing Jesus' growing popularity.

There's a hint perhaps of "celebration" being an antidote back in Genesis 37:4: "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." Celebration counters jealousy because in it, with God's help, we're enabled to speak kindly to the other person, rather than attack them.

In closing, George Porter has remarked: "As to the green-eyed monster jealousy...set on him at once and poison him with extra doses of kindness to the person whom he wants to turn you against." Let's pray.