Joseph is one of my favorite biblical characters. I love reading and studying about him, and after hearing many sermons and theories preached about him and his brothers’ betrayal, I want to set the record straight, because too many preachers and teachers are giving Joseph a bad rap. Let’s examine the scriptures in Genesis 37, and talk about what really happened between Joseph and his brothers.
2 These are the records of the generations of Jacob.
Joseph, when seventeen years of age, was pasturing the flock with his brothers while he was still a youth, along with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought back a bad report about them to their father.3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a varicolored tunic. 4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Genesis 37:2-4 NASB)
Now, I have heard many preachers and teachers claim that because Joseph tattled on his brothers, and because his father loved him more, he somehow brought his brothers’ hatred and betrayal on himself. Yet, I submit to you that it wasn’t Joseph’s fault that his father loved him more. That was his father’s choice. Further, I have heard it taught that in tattling on his brothers, Joseph earned their enmity. However, there is nothing in the scriptures to indicate that Joseph lied, when he reported his brothers’ bad actions to his father. Indeed, if his brothers had not been guilty of wrongdoing, Joseph would have given no bad report to his father. Finally, look at verse 4 in this scripture passage.
4 His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Genesis 37:4 NASB)
It is wrong to blame Joseph for his brothers’ hatred… As a child and even as an adult, I felt that my sister was the favored child in our home, and I was very jealous of her. Was it her fault that I was jealous? No. That sin was mine alone, not hers. And though she was loved more, that wasn’t her fault either, any more than it was my fault that I was loved less. The choice to favor one child over another belonged to my mother and stepfather.
16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there is disorder and every evil thing. (James 3:16 NASB)
Joseph’s brothers were jealous of their father’s love for him, and that jealousy led to hatred, which, in turn, led to murderous intentions. How is it that many church leaders are guilty of blaming the victim of their evil acts?
5 One night Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him more than ever. 6 “Listen to this dream,” he said. 7 “We were out in the field, tying up bundles of grain. Suddenly my bundle stood up, and your bundles all gathered around and bowed low before mine!”
8 His brothers responded, “So you think you will be our king, do you? Do you actually think you will reign over us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dreams and the way he talked about them.
9 Soon Joseph had another dream, and again he told his brothers about it. “Listen, I have had another dream,” he said. “The sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed low before me!”
10 This time he told the dream to his father as well as to his brothers, but his father scolded him. “What kind of dream is that?” he asked. “Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow to the ground before you?” 11 But while his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant. (Genesis 37:5-10 NLT)
Now, I have also heard many preachers and teachers claim that Joseph was a braggart, and that is why his brothers attacked him. Yet, again, this is not what I read in the scriptures. Joseph simply shared his dreams with his brothers and his father. He didn’t interpret the dreams to them. They interpreted the dreams. Did Joseph sin by sharing his dreams with his family? No. Not once do we read that God told him not to share his dreams, so he wasn’t being disobedient to the One who gave him the dreams.
Indeed, because they already hated him, his brothers only hated him more, because of his relationship with God and his father. Joseph’s brothers hated him in the same way that Cain hated his brother, Abel.
3 When it was time for the harvest, Cain presented some of his crops as a gift to the Lord. 4 Abel also brought a gift—the best portions of the firstborn lambs from his flock. The Lord accepted Abel and his gift, 5 but He did not accept Cain and his gift. This made Cain very angry, and he looked dejected.
6 “Why are you so angry?” the Lord asked Cain. “Why do you look so dejected?7 You will be accepted if you do what is right. But if you refuse to do what is right, then watch out! Sin is crouching at the door, eager to control you. But you must subdue it and be its master.” (Genesis 4:3-7 NLT)
Cain’s jealousy of Abel led to hatred, which led him to murder his brother. In the same way, Joseph’s brothers’ jealousy of him led to hatred, which led them to murder him in their hearts. Indeed, only Reuben, Joseph’s oldest brother, stopped the rest of his brothers from murdering him. Then, while Reuben was gone, they sold their younger brother into slavery, and lied to their father, telling him that his beloved son was dead.
Heed these words. If you harbor jealousy in your heart, sooner or later, it will lead to hatred, which can lead to murder. Are you jealous of someone? Repent and confess your sin to God. Ask Him to change your heart, and fill you with His love. Jealousy and hatred will only lead to your death. And don’t blame the one of whom you are jealous for your hatred. Only you and I can choose whether to hate someone or not.
15 Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer; and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15 NLT)
Cheryl A. Showers