It is estimated that $15.3 billion will have been spent on this very day – about $3 billion on sporting events; $2 billion on clothing and another $2 billion on gift cards. Other than peace and quiet, there are only two things that really matter on this very day: a blueberry pie and a strawberry rhubarb pie. Yes, one pie would be more than enough, but two pies would be better. And it is all because today is Father’s Day.
Genesis 37 begins with a title. “These are the generations of Jacob.” And it is not just the title of Genesis 37, but also of Genesis 38 and Genesis 39 and Genesis 40 and…it is the title to the ending of Genesis! And surprisingly, the ending of Genesis – Genesis 37 through Genesis 50 – seems to have very little to do with Jacob. In fact, thirteen chapters all seem to center upon one of Jacob’s twelve sons: Joseph. Yet, there is one chapter that then seems to have nothing to do with Joseph. It, Genesis 38, too centers upon just one of Jacob’s twelve sons: Judah.
But. Not all is as it seems. Genesis 37:12-36 is about dad.
He Kept the Saying in Mind
His name is Jacob. Now, listen to how Genesis 37:12 begins. “Now.” Pause there. This is a key word to the rest of the passage. The word now (and) is a connecting word. Some translations begin instead with the word “Then.” But regardless, verse twelve is being connected to the previous passage. In the previous passage, Joseph, the second youngest of twelve brothers, had a dream. And then he had another dream. So, mark this down, he had two dreams.
The two dreams are different, but also the same. In each, Joseph is lifted up to a position of authority and his brothers and his parents are bowing down to him. But as significant is that Joseph had this dream twice. Each time he had the dream he shared it; first with his brothers and then the second time with his brothers and his dad. Is there anything important about having the same dream twice? Yes.
In Genesis 41, someone else dreams the same dream twice. This time the dreamer, who is not Joseph, and all who hear the dream are very confused as to what it means. But there is Joseph. He is called to explain the meaning. But just listen to this; he first explains the meaning of dreaming the same dream twice. “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Genesis 41:32).
And so it is with the dreams Joseph dreamed twice. The thing is fixed by God and God will shortly bring it about. This is important to verse eleven. “And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind.” Really important to Genesis 37:12-36 is dad. He kept the saying in mind.
Pointing to Something Bigger and Better
Joseph has been described as a type of Christ. What does that mean? It means that the life of Joseph foreshadows or points to something bigger and better. Keep in mind that this closing section of Genesis is connected to God’s promise in Genesis 3:15; his promise that there will be victory. And this promise keeps unfolding and building to the life and death and resurrection of Jesus the Christ. It is all very exciting. And the life of Joseph is seen in this unfolding and building toward the ultimate fulfillment of God’s promise in Jesus.
There is much of this pointing just here in Genesis 37. First, Joseph was sent by his father (37:13; cf. John 3:16). We will see a little bit more about this in a moment. But for now, see it as a pointer. Second, Joseph was despised and rejected by his brothers (37:4; 8; 11; cf. Isaiah 53:3; John 1:11). Thirdly, Joseph was plotted against (37:18; cf. John 11:45-53). Then Joseph was wished dead (37:18; cf. John 11:53). Joseph was stripped of his robe and left naked (37:23; cf. Matthew 27:28). Finally, Joseph was sold and the payment was silver (37:28; cf. Matthew 26:15).
And then there is dad. He kept the saying in mind. On the first Christmas evening, shepherds went to Bethlehem to “see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” Keep in mind that Joseph’s dreams were something God was making known. And so the shepherds found Mary and Joseph and the baby lying in a manger. Then the shepherds made known to this family the saying that had been told them concerning this newborn child. Now listen to what Mary did. “But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart” (Luke 2:15-19). The word treasured means to keep; to keep safe or to guard.
Now back to Genesis 37:11 and dad. He kept the saying in mind. This verse literally reads, “but his father observed the saying.” What is dad observing and keeping? Notice the word saying (matter). What is the saying? It is the dream! It is the dream for which Jacob rebuked Joseph. Jacob did not treat the dream as some ordinary dream. Is it not interesting that here it is called the saying? It means the sum of what was said. And what did dad do with it? The word kept or observed means to watch for; to wait for; to guard. What may this indicate about Jacob and Joseph and these dreams?
Joseph is Sent to Shechem
Notice that verse eleven calls the brothers jealous or envious. Envious is the better word. Jealousy is when you want what someone else has. Envy is different. Envy is when you want what someone else has and you do not want them to have it! And the brothers are envious of Joseph. The very next verse says that the brothers were out taking care of their father’s flock near…Shechem. What is so important about Shechem?
Two things to know or remember about Shechem. Joseph’s brothers killed all the males of Shechem (Genesis 34:25). And when we read Genesis 37:12, these envious brothers are back near Shechem. Their dad knows this and I am sure has not forgotten about Shechem. And so he sends Joseph to go all by himself to check on his brothers near Shechem. Perhaps he is very concerned for the safety of his boys. But none of this sounds good. But there is more. The rest of Genesis 37 will take place near Shechem (in Dothan about fourteen miles north, cf. 37:17). Joseph will be tattered and thrown into a pit near Shechem. He will be sold into slavery near Shechem. But listen to this. This real story of Joseph is what gets the people of Israel to Egypt. This fulfills God’s promise to Abraham made in Genesis 15:13-16. The book of Exodus is when the people of Israel get out of Egypt to make their way back home to the Promised Land. The book of Joshua is about the people of Israel in the Promised Land, again fulfilling God’s promise to Abraham made in Genesis 15:13-16. But listen to how the book of Joshua ends. “As for the bones of Joseph, which the people of Israel brought up from Egypt, they buried them at Shechem, in the piece of land that Jacob bought from the sons of Hamor the father of Shechem for a hundred pieces of money. It became an inheritance of the descendants of Joseph” (Joshua 24:32). Is that not incredible? Why would Joseph want to be buried in this awful, no good place? It is a reminder of God’s hidden hand in the awful, no good moments in our lives.
And when dad, under God’s watchful eye and the guidance of his omnipotent hand, sends Joseph to Shechem, he is keeping the saying in mind. But listen to Joseph. Joseph who clings to the thing fixed by God (the dream), when told by his father to go to Shechem he says, “I am ready” (37:13).
We’ll See What Will Become of His Dreams
A major element in this part of Genesis 37 are those two dreams Joseph dreamed. As Joseph heads out near Shechem he begins to wander. And he is wandering because his brothers are nowhere near Shechem! Catch this; as he wanders he just so happens to run into a stranger. The stranger takes the initiative, this is curious, and asks “What are you seeking?” To which Joseph responds that he is seeking his brothers. It just so happens that the stranger knows exactly where to locate Joseph’s brothers. He heard them say that they were going to Dothan. Dothan is mentioned one other time in the Old Testament. It is where Elisha prayed for deliverance from the surrounding enemy (2 Kings 6:13-18).
The brothers see Joseph coming. How? He is so far away, how do the brothers know it is Joseph? The moment they see him, the begin to plan how to do away with Joseph. They will kill him and throw him in a pit and will report that a fierce animal devoured him. Why do they want to kill Joseph? Remember they are envious of him because of those two dreams. Listen to what they say at the end of verse twenty. “We will see what will become of his dreams.”
This is the big question. What will become of Joseph’s dreams? The brothers are the first to ask it. Then Reuben comes to the rescue. This is the third time in Genesis in which a brother has sought to kill a brother (cf. Cain and Abel; Esau and Jacob). Reuben the oldest, knows that it is a mighty thing to have on your hands the blood of your brother. Perhaps he knows the account of Cain and Abel. He also has a hidden motive. His idea is just to throw Joseph in a pit. Then when no one is looking, he will come and rescue Joseph and deliver him safely from disaster (37:18-22). Why? Could it be to look like a hero in the sight of his dad? (cf. 35:22).
So the remaining brothers grabbed Joseph and stripped him of his robe. Ah, now we know how they knew it was Joseph who was coming near them! He was wearing that robe of many colors! They stripped him and took him and threw him in the pit. Then they sat down to eat. Interestingly, the words of Joseph are not recorded. He opened not his mouth. Now later in Genesis 42:21, the brothers will admit that while he was in the pit they saw the “distress of his soul.” But could it be that as Joseph lay tattered and naked in that pit, he may be wondering, “What will become of those dreams?” This looks like the end.
It appeared that although the brothers will not shed the blood of their brother, they are perfectly content with leaving him in that pit to die…until his brother Judah has an idea. There is a profit to be made. He sees slave traders coming. Joseph is sold by his brothers to Ishmaelites who are also Midianites. The slave traders are heading to Egypt and there will sell Joseph to a man named Potiphar. And, again, not a word from Joseph (37:25-28; 36).
What Will Become of His Dreams?
Again, the central question is, what will become of his dreams? Reuben had apparently gone away and then come back to his rescuing. It is here that he discovers that Joseph is gone and “he tore his clothes” (37:29). This is the same reaction of Jacob when he sees Joseph’s bloodied robe. Let’s jump there. The brothers present Joseph’s bloodied robe to Jacob. He assumes a fierce animal without doubt tore him to pieces. Now listen to verse thirty-four. “Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days.” Why is Jacob mourning? In reading verse thirty-five, we read that he refuses to be comforted and will mourn until the day of his own death. Why?
Yes, the son he loved more than any other is apparently dead. He is gone. But there is something more. Remember, this is all about dad. It begins with dad waiting for; watching for; guarding the saying of those dreams, something fixed by God, something shortly God will bring to pass. And his son is now gone. We are watching a dad shaken to the core. Yes, his son is gone, but his faith in God is being tried. His faith is being put through the fire and it may surround this great question, “God, what in the world are you doing? Where are you in all of this? What of your promises, your faithfulness?” Let’s call it a painful disruption in a dad’s walk with God.
We should not romanticize persecution or affliction. They are evils. However, throughout biblical and church history, we find a consistent pattern: “glad and generous hearts” (Acts 2:46) tend to grow best when adversity, often in the forms of persecution and affliction, is part of the church’s life. Persecution and affliction provide the gracious and sanctifying opportunities for Christians to experience the love of Christ in very personal ways, as we extend it to and receive it from one another — the opportunities to demonstrate the gospel visibly to a watching world. The gospel becomes more real to us the more we feel our need of it.
So, what should a dad do when all seems lost and dark and discouraging, asking, “God, what is going on? Why, O God, why?” There is only one thing I know to say and do and hope to do: “Consider him who endured from sinners such hostility against himself, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (Hebrews 12:3).