Though many a sermon has been preached and many a book has been written on the life of Joseph, son of Jacob, patriarch of Israel, we dare to begin a study of his life trusting the Spirit of God to show us what we need to see and grant us the understanding to apply the events and lessons of Joseph’s life to ourselves and our place in today’s world.
Perhaps you have heard the saying: A diamond is just a simple piece of coal that made good under pressure. I can think of no better description of Joseph’s life, can you?
Joseph emerges onto center stage in Genesis 37:2-4 where we read:
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. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a cloak [or tunic] of various colors. 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.
A teenager – and an immature, spoiled one at that – is the Joseph we first encounter in this passage. A mere 17 years of age, there is nothing in these opening verses that make Joseph look good. He was a tattletale and nobody likes a tattletale. His father made the deadly parental mistake of favoring him above his brothers, openly, without restraint. His brothers were jealous and angry. We are therefore introduced to a seriously dysfunctional family situation!
Yet, despite his youthfulness, his immaturity and his self-righteousness, God gave him prophetic dreams. It’s tremendously comforting to us that the Scriptures do not hide the faults and failings of its heroes, but lets us know ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’ since that’s who we all are – sometimes good, sometimes bad, and sometimes downright ugly! We can identify and we can also be assured that God can profoundly use an imperfect child of His.
Generally speaking there are two basic reasons why somebody becomes a tattletale: self-righteousness and the desire that everybody else should know their superiority! When the tattletale demeans someone else, they get a false sense of their own superior value. Taking on the persona of a spy, they delight in passing on negative information for the purpose of making themselves look better. It can either be gossip – the repeating of negative information about others that may be true; or it can be slander – relaying information that is not true and is spoken with the intent to harm the other person.
Joseph, it would seem, was in the habit of criticizing his brothers to his father for the level of anger and jealousy they had towards him is too deep for just one offense. Joseph certainly had some relationship and personality issues. He demonstrated no concern for the feelings of his brothers and used the favor he had in Jacob’s eyes as justification for being a fault-finder. In his case, being the ‘favorite’ did him little good. He no doubt enjoyed certain advantages but his ego was bigger than he knew how to handle at this point in his life. But though the future Prime Minister of Egypt and Preserver of Abraham’s descendants got off to a pretty rotten start, God saw beyond that and was well able to take this spoiled, arrogant teenager and turn him into a man of God.
Jacob, his father, also suffered greatly from his parenting mistake. Thinking he was gifting his son with a beautiful cloak because of his love, he, too, was blind to the feelings of his other sons. Having it made was bad enough, but having Joseph wear it pretty regularly only made things even worse.
So in this first lesson we take away two major principles.
Gifts that we have received – from God and from other people – are never to be flaunted insensitively. This applies equally to spiritual gifts and to material blessings. It is one thing to express thankfulness but entirely another to boast in word or manner about one’s gifts. The vari-colored tunic didn’t have to be a stumbling block. It was Jacob’s lack of taking his other sons into consideration and Joseph’s immaturity and ego that made it so.
Our immaturity, our failures and our inadequacies will never disqualify us from being used by God, but what they will do is invite the discipline of the LORD into our lives in order to form us into the man or woman we must become in order to fulfill the destiny for which He created us.
Gossip is deadly to good relationships. Repeating negative information about others displeases the LORD and damages our integrity.
God is able and ready to form us into the person He wants us to be in order that we might fulfill the purpose for which He put us on this earth if we will submit to His discipline in our lives however He may choose to send it.
What do these two principles say to you today – right now – in your present life situation?