Joseph, teenage dreamer
Sweet dreams and sour revenge1Jacob settled down in Canaan, where his father had lived as an immigrant. 2This is the story of Jacob and his family—kids and grandkids. Jacob’s 17-year-old son Joseph worked as a herder, helping his half-brothers, the sons of Jacob’s slave wives: Bilhah and Zilpah. Joseph was a tattletale; he told his dad about bad things his brothers did. 3Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. It’s because Israel was an old man when baby Joseph came along. One day Israel gave Joseph a gift: a unique robe. 4Joseph’s brothers knew their father loved him most—and they hated the kid for it. They never said a kind word to him. 5Joseph had a dream one night. When he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. 6He said, “Listen guys, let me tell you about a dream I had. 7We were out in the field, tying up bundles of hay. Suddenly, the bundle I just tied stood up. Your bundles came over and bowed down to mine.” 8His brothers said, “What? Do you think you’re going to rule over us like some kind of a king telling us what to do?” They hated Joseph more and more because of what he told them about his weird dreams. 9Joseph had another dream. Of course, he told his brothers. He said, “Guys, I’ve had another dream. I saw the sun and moon and 11 stars bowing down to me.” 10Joseph told this dream to his brothers and his dad. Even his dad got mad at him and said, “What’s going on here? Are you saying that your own father and mother and all 11 brothers are someday going to bow down in front of you?” 11Joseph’s brothers grew even more jealous of him. As for their father, he couldn’t get the picture in Joseph’s dream out of his head—and he wondered what the dream meant. 12Not long after this, Joseph’s brothers walked their father’s flocks to the grazing pastures around Shechem. 13Later, Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers are grazing the flock at Shechem, right? I want you to go there for me.” Joseph said, “Absolutely, I’ll go.” 14Israel said, “Go right away and check on the boys and the flock. Then come back and tell me how they’re doing.” So Israel sent him on his way out of the valley of Hebron. Joseph went to Shechem. 15A local man saw Joseph wandering through the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for?” 16Joseph said, “I’m looking for my brothers. Could you please tell me where they are grazing their flock?” 17The man answered, “I sure can. They left. I overheard them saying, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So that’s where Joseph went, eventually catching up with his brothers.
For sale: little brother Joe18Joseph’s brothers saw him coming in the distance. By the time Joseph arrived, they had agreed to kill him. 19They said, “Here comes the Dream Bragger! 20Let’s kill him right now and toss his body into one of the pits around here. We can tell everyone, ‘A wild animal ate him.’ That ought to put a stop to anything coming of those lousy dreams!” 21Reuben came to his little brother’s defense. He said, “Guys, let’s not kill him. 22We don’t have to spill blood here. Let’s just throw him into this pit and let him rot.” Reuben’s secret plan was to come back later, pull Joseph out of the pit, and take him safely back to their dad. 23When Joseph finally caught up with his brothers, they took away his unique robe. 24Then they tossed him into a pit—a cistern for catching rainwater. But it was dry at the time. 25With that chore done, the brothers sat down to enjoy a campground meal. Just then, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants coming from Gilead. The traders were headed to Egypt, their camels loaded with fragrant incense, creams, and myrrh. 26Judah told his brothers, “What do we get out of killing our brother and covering up the murder? 27How about this? We sell him to the Ishmaelites. That way, we’re not guilty of killing our own flesh and blood.” His brothers liked the idea. 28When the Midianite traders arrived, the brothers hauled Joseph up out of the hole and sold him to the Ishmaelites for half a pound of silver. The traders took Joseph to Egypt. 29Reuben missed all of this. When he finally came back to the pit and saw that everyone was gone, Joseph included, he ripped his clothes in anger. 30Reuben rushed to his brothers and screamed, “The kid is gone! What am I going to do?” 31The brothers took Joseph’s unique robe and soaked it in the blood of a male goat they killed. 32They took the robe to their father and simply said, “Look what we found. See if it’s your son’s robe.” 33Their father took a long, hard look at the bloodied material and cried, “It is my son’s. A wild animal must have killed him and torn him to pieces!” 34Jacob ripped his clothes in grief. Then he put on ragged clothes and mourned for many days. 35All of his children—sons and daughters alike—tried to comfort him. But he would not let them console him. “No,” he said, “I will go to the Grave  mourning my son!” Then he cried. 36Down in Egypt, the Midianites sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of the king’s officials. He was captain of Pharaoh’s guards.
Israel and Palestinian territories.
Jacob’s new name, given by God (Genesis 32:28).
It’s not clear what was unique about the robe. It may have been dressier than the clothes his brothers wore in the fields. It may have been a long robe with long sleeves and maybe more colorful than the natural colors most people wore.
Nablus, a predominately Palestinian city in the West Bank, occupied by Israel.
Shechem was about 50 miles (80 km) north of Hebron.
About another 10 miles (16 km) north of Shechem, about a half-day walk.
Gilead is in what is now Jordan.
The connection between the Ishmaelites and Midianites isn’t clear. Midianites were from what is now Saudi Arabia. They may have been in the same caravan as the Ishmaelites from Jordan. Or they may have been the merchants who hired the Ishmaelites to help them. Those are two of the many guesses.
Literally 20 shekels, is 8 ounces or 228 grams.
Literally Sheol, a Hebrew word for the place of the dead. Greeks later translated the word as “Hades.”
Here are a few reasons why Joseph’s big brothers might have grown to hate him. You might be able to think of others. Which one reason strikes you as perhaps the best motivator?
- “Joseph was a tattletale; he told his dad about bad things his brothers did” (37:2).
- Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph came along when Jacob was an old man (37:3).
- Jacob had a custom-tailored robe made for Joseph (37:3).
Joseph has two dreams that he makes the mistake of reporting to his family. In one dream, bundles of his brothers’ wheat bow to his bundle of wheat. In another, the sun and moon and stars bowed before him. Why wheat? And why celestial bodies? The Bible doesn’t say. Any guesses?
Jacob sends his 17-year-old son, Joseph, on a solo trip to check on the other boys in the family who are tending the flock. Jacob expects that to be about a 50-mile (80 km) walk north—a three-day journey. Why do you think he would send his favorite son on what seems like a dangerous trip?
When Joseph finally catches up with his brothers, they toy with the idea of killing him. Then they consider letting him die inside a cistern, a deep pit. They end up selling him to slave traders. The Genesis writer seems confused over who the traders were. Were they Ishmaelites descended from Ishmael, Abraham’s son with Hagar; they lived in what is now Jordan? Or were they Midianites, descended from Midian, Abraham’s son with Keturah; they lived mainly in what is Saudi Arabia? What do you make of this apparent confusion?
Reuben was the oldest brother. By tradition, if he behaved himself, he would rule the extended family after his father died. He would be the clan leader. He did not want anything to happen to Joseph, but he was not able to protect the boy. How do you think he could have stopped his younger brothers from hurting Joseph or from selling him to slave traders?
What do you think about the way the brothers delivered the news to their dad that Joseph had gone missing?
LIFE APPLICATION. Joseph’s big brothers hated him so much “They never said a kind word to him” (37:4). How should we deal with people like that in our family?
LIFE APPLICATION. What Joseph’s brothers did to him sounds insane. At what point do you think hatred becomes insanity? And how can we recognize when the switch has turned on the Crazy inside of us?