The Arrogant Boy and a Bloody Coat
When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!” Genesis 37:1-20 (NLT)
Do you have family you would contemplate selling off to traveling merchants? Family that you wouldn’t mind too much if they found themselves far, far away in a foreign land with little chance of ever showing up again at Thanksgiving dinner?
Most everyone has heard the story of Joseph.
If you read the story for yourself, you will realize that the children’s version of Joseph as a young man glosses right over his obnoxious personality. He was a tattletale, quick to make his brothers look bad in the eyes of his father. He was arrogant and insensitive, completely unaware of how his words and attitude hurt others. He thought too highly of himself and too little of those around him, angering his own brothers to the point of bloodshed.
Wait a minute! This is our beloved Joseph? Yep. It is.
This is what I love about God’s stories. He doesn’t slip on rose-colored glasses before telling us about the leading characters. We are the ones who have sanitized these stories; telling of technicolor coats and re-writing the dreams to a catchy tune. God’s version of this spoiled little rich kid is much more brutal.
If we are really honest about this messed up relationship between Joseph and his brothers, it’s not exactly Joseph’s fault. His father Jacob had made a mess of things long before Joseph came along.
Jacob had a favorite wife: Rachael. The wife he didn’t like so much, Leah, had son after son and throw a daughter in there along the way. (Oh, and did I mention the wives were sisters? Ouch!) His favorite wife couldn’t conceive, so she handed over her hand-maiden, Bilhah, to him (think The Handmaid’s Tale) and had a couple of her ‘own’ sons that way. Until Joseph came along. Favorite wife gives birth to favorite son. Trouble is already on the horizon. Throw in a special coat to elevate special son and there is no way this story is going to end well.
But God had a strange and unusual plan to turn all this rivalry and hatred on its head. And it would start out with a dream. Actually two dreams.
Both dreams were easily interpreted by Joseph’s father and his brothers: Joseph was dreaming of his entire family bowing down to him. This was an ugly thing for them to hear—especially in that culture, and in this already jealous family dynamic. I have a feeling that young and naïve Joseph didn’t realize the hornet’s nest he was stirring up.
So off Joseph went, whistling a happy tune, traveling across hill and dale to check up on his older brothers’ well-being at his father’s request as they pastured the family flock.
We have the brothers’ conversation recorded, as they saw Joseph approaching from a long way off. Their hatred burned at the sight of him, so small in the distance. Older brother Reuben talked them out of killing him, Judah convinced them to sell him instead, and the best defense they could muster for this tattletale arrogant favorite son was: “After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood” (Genesis 37:26-27). Family!
By the time these older brothers sold Joseph off for twenty shekels of silver to their distant cousins, the Ishmaelites, and then dipped his beautiful coat in blood, Joseph had been reduced from “our brother” to “Jacob’s own son.” They put a little more distance emotionally between themselves and Joseph. It was as if they had already killed their relationship of brotherhood, and he was simply “Jacob’s son.”
I have to pause here and think about the hard dynamics of family. What jealousy between brothers or sisters quietly simmered in your family? I think I have heard that term, ‘Daddy’s favorite’ tossed out into the room before. Or ‘Momma’s favorite’. Our television shows still dip into that bucket of blood; I just watched a Thanksgiving dinner go to hell in a handbasket with exactly those same accusations on a Season 1 episode of ‘This Is Us’.
What in the world can be done to fix this mess? I think what we need here is a God-sized solution. And interestingly, if you keep reading, there is one. And just as interesting, there is a parallel here between this favorite son Joseph, and another favored son.
Joseph was betrayed by a brother for silver shekels, an innocent animal was slaughtered, and his kingly robe—symbolizing a favored son—was dipped in its blood. He was mourned by his father and his brothers as dead.
Many years later a man named Jesus would be betrayed by someone close to him—so close that he could kiss him goodbye on the cheek as he clutched silver shekels in his hand. Jesus’s robe was removed as He was slaughtered, then He went down into the grave and was mourned as dead.
“For God so loved the world that He gave His Son, His only Son …” (John 3:16, my paraphrase). For both Joseph and Jesus, this should have been the end of the story.
But it was not. The story wasn’t finished yet. Joseph would be seen again, this time in royal robes and standing in authority with the ability to decide life or death for those kneeling before him. We have it on good authority that Jesus will do the same.
New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.
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