Children of the Bible, Part 6 by Allan McGuirl
Recently we have been talking about children of the Bible. Today we are going to focus on one who is extremely well-known. Almost everyone knows about Joseph and his coat of many colours; however, I believe few are really familiar with the circumstances of his birth, his early childhood, and the family dynamics that the Lord used to shape him into one of the most beloved characters in the Bible.
Joseph’s father had two wives: Leah, his first wife; and Rachel, the one he really loved. We won’t go into all the details that led to this arrangement but if you would like to read them yourself, start at Genesis 29. Rachel was childless for many years, while Leah had six sons and at least one daughter. Their two handmaidens also had two sons each. According to Genesis 30, Rachel prayed earnestly for a son, but God had withheld Rachel from bearing children until shortly before they left Padan Aram to return to the land of Caanan. Joseph was born to Rachel as Jacob’s tenth son, and was the one he loved more than any of the others. We already saw in the lives of Jacob and Esau how favouritism is a destructive element in family life. Jacob carried on that favouritism with his son, Joseph.
What a breeding ground for a classic case of bullying! You can be sure that the bullying didn’t start when he was a teenager. It mostly likely started the first time he was out of his mother’s sight. The playful teasing quickly escalated into mean and cruel jokes played on him at every turn. He was an easy target. He was younger, smaller, and intent on living a Godly life. Benjamin, his full brother, was not born until after they had returned to Caanan and already had settled in several different locations, so there were a number of years between these two siblings. Sadly, Rachel died when giving birth to Benjamin. We are not given any clear information that would tell us why Joseph chose a Godly lifestyle while his brothers did not. I have often wondered if Deborah (the nurse of Rebekah, Joseph’s grandmother) took Joseph under her wings when the family returned to Caanan, and for this reason special mention is made of her at her death in Genesis 35.
Joseph’s brothers continued to bully him for other reasons than favouritism. He reported to his father, Jacob, some of the wicked things his brothers were doing. This didn’t earn him any brotherly goodwill. Then he was given a special coat to honour him. This act caused even deeper jealousy. Then he had two dreams about the sheaves of wheat and the sun, moon and stars bowing down to him. After the brothers’ reaction to his first dream you would wonder why he would disclose the second dream. Was he too naïve to understand the reactions of his brothers, or was he so excited and amazed at the dream that he just felt compelled to tell it? Or did he tell it on purpose to make his brothers take notice? Whatever the reason, it only made his situation worse. Even before the telling of the dreams, the passage says his brothers, “hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” After the dreams, they hated him even more.
Joseph was 17 when his father sent him to check on his brothers and the flocks. Most likely his father would have sent some fresh provisions with him and given him specific questions to ask about their welfare and that of the flocks they were caring for. Was Joseph somewhat apprehensive about going out to see his brothers? I think that in his situation I would be. Time doesn’t permit us to tell the whole story of how he was sold by his brothers into slavery, how he served in Potiphar’s household until he was imprisoned on a trumped-up charge, or how he spent years in prison although he was innocent. The amazing thing is that he did not become bitter, resentful, filled with self-pity, revengeful or utterly discouraged. No doubt he faced times of discouragement, but there is an underlying strength in Joseph’s life. Wherever he was, whatever he was doing, and no matter how unfair the situation seemed, he learned to do his best with a quiet and humble attitude. Like Paul, he had learned in whatever conditions he was in to be content. He believed that God was with him and that somehow God was in control. He knew God saw his circumstances and would one day make things right. He had an unshakeable faith.
In so many ways, Joseph is a type of Jesus, tucked away in the beginning of the Old Testament. If you look carefully you will find over a hundred likenesses in Joseph’s life that parallel the life of Jesus. For a start, he was sold for 20 pieces of silver while Jesus was sold for 30 pieces. They were both loved by their Father, and they were both rejected and hated. Search through the passage and see how many likenesses you can find.
Until next time, may the Lord richly bless you.