Joseph’s biggest problem in Genesis 37 really isn’t that he has jealous brothers…
No, Joseph’s biggest problem is that he’s a braggart.
Let’s take a closer look:
Joseph’s story starts out by telling us a little bit about him:
“The story continues with Joseph, seventeen years old at the time, helping out his brothers in herding the flocks. These were his half brothers actually, the sons of his father’s wives Bilhah and Zilpah. And Joseph brought his father bad reports on them.”
A 17-year old tattle-tale? Already we can’t stand him. But oh, it gets worse:
“Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons because he was the child of his old age. And he made him an elaborately embroidered coat. When his brothers realized that their father loved him more than them, they grew to hate him—they wouldn’t even speak to him.”
So not only is this kid a tattle-tale, but their father loved him most. That would annoy any child.
It’s funny to read these things about Joseph because I was telling someone just yesterday how my big brothers used to despise me when I was younger – probably around Joseph’s age. I was clearly my father’s favorite, because like Joseph I was the youngest by a gap of 6 years (clearly the mistake child, but whatever lol). My dad would always make my brothers do the dishes – even though I was the youngest, and the only girl in the house at the time (Ghanaian sexist norms – forgive me) because he knew I hated it. My brothers would get so angry because I never had to do any chores, and I thought it was hilarious – back then. Now, of course, I know how unfair it was of my father to give me such privilege over my brothers. But back then, I reveled in it, and boy, did my brothers take any opportunity my father was absent to make my life miserable!
But back to Joseph. Some of us can relate to being that spoiled brat. Others to being the siblings/friends/co-workers who have to deal with him. But look what happened next:
“Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said, “Listen to this dream I had. We were all out in the field gathering bundles of wheat. All of a sudden my bundle stood straight up and your bundles circled around it and bowed down to mine.” His brothers said, “So! You’re going to rule us? You’re going to boss us around?” And they hated him more than ever because of his dreams and the way he talked.”
You’d think he’d have called it quits then, but nooooo…
“He had another dream and told this one also to his brothers: “I dreamed another dream—the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to me!” When he told it to his father and brothers, his father reprimanded him: “What’s with all this dreaming? Am I and your mother and your brothers all supposed to bow down to you?” Now his brothers were really jealous; but his father brooded over the whole business.”
I honestly can say I’ve read these verses at least a dozen times and never noticed just how ANNOYING Joseph was! Yes, he was highly favored. Yes, God had great plans for him. But Joseph made a habit of shoving God’s gifts – and his fathers – in his brothers’ faces. Really, who wouldn’t hate him?
The story continues:
“A man met him as he was wandering through the fields and asked him, “What are you looking for? “I’m trying to find my brothers. Do you have any idea where they are grazing their flocks?” The man said, “They’ve left here, but I overheard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So Joseph took off, tracked his brothers down, and found them in Dothan. They spotted him off in the distance. By the time he got to them they had cooked up a plot to kill him. The brothers were saying, “Here comes that dreamer. Let’s kill him and throw him into one of these old cisterns; we can say that a vicious animal ate him up. We’ll see what his dreams amount to.”
Here was Joseph, walking in the hot-ass desert, wearing a coat so bright that his brothers could see him from far off, just because he had to show off how much his father loved him.
You know that saying ‘Pride comes before a fall?’, or the Bible verse it comes from, ‘First pride, then the crash—the bigger the ego, the harder the fall” (Proverbs 16:18 MSG)? I think the writer was thinking of Joseph when he wrote that. Joseph’s pride – his overconfidence in the gifts he’d been given and not in the givers – literally ended him up in a ditch.
Years after my brothers and I outgrew our animosity, I remember my dad and I talking about his will and me jokingly (maybe not so much jokingly…) commenting on how I’d have to have the bulk of his property since I was his favorite. He responded by telling me he was going to share everything equally, because while I might have been his favorite, he still loved his children equally, and wanted them to have love for each other. And looking back I see God’s heart in that. I see that me being favored in my father’s eyes didn’t mean he considered any of his other kids as lesser; and it wasn’t that I THOUGHT they were lesser – just that my actions and words made it seem that way.
When God blesses you, it’s hard not to want to share it with everyone. When you are blessed, sometimes you may throw it in peoples’ faces without even realizing it. You constantly reveling in and sharing your joys and wins with others can be toxic. We cannot completely blame Joseph’s brothers for being jealous and hating him – he gave them every reason to. Sometimes you have to take a step back and analyze whether your testimony or your dreams come off as braggish. I realize now that they do a lot of times for me. And I’m thankful that I got this lesson at the time that I did!