Peter Misselbrook's Blog
Jul 24 2011 - E100.11b – Gen 37:12-36, Joseph sold into slavery

Joseph is sent by his father Jacob to check up on the brothers who are looking after the flocks some 50 miles north in Shechem. In fact, Joseph has to travel 15 miles further to the outskirts of the city of Dothan to find them – what were they getting up to in the city and why had Jacob felt the need to check up on them?

When they see him coming, the brothers plot to kill the dreamer – the one who thinks himself so grand that they should all bow down to him. But Reuben, the eldest, persuades them to throw Joseph into a nearby pit designed to gather water during the rainy season. He plans later to return and rescue Joseph, perhaps hoping that this experience will have been enough to teach the boy a lesson.

Reuben is away from the other brothers when the Midianite traders pass by – perhaps tending the flocks. Judah, another of the older brothers, suggests that they sell Joseph as a slave; this will be more profitable for them and will spare them from being guilty of their brother's death. So they exchange Joseph for twenty shekels of silver – money to spend in Dothan.

When Reuben returns and finds that Joseph is gone he is distraught. As the eldest, he knows that he will be held responsible for what has happened. Together they hit upon a plan. They have relieved Joseph of his special coat before selling him to the Midianites (perhaps in the hope of trading it in Dothan). Now they take the coat, tear it and splatter it with blood from a goat to deceive their father into thinking that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal. Jacob, the old deceiver, is deceived and will not be comforted by his daughters or by his deceiving sons.

What a sorry mess! And what are we to make of this story? It's all too easy to seek to draw out moral lessons – fathers should not have favourite sons; obnoxious teenagers are heading for trouble; the hankering after the bright lights of the city when far from home will lead you into sin; those who deceive their father will be deceived by their sons... But the Bible narrative does not stop to focus on any of these issues; it is concerned to tell the extraordinary story of how God works out his purposes through human rivalry and wickedness. Joseph is sold into slavery that he might become a servant of the purposes of God.

Almighty God, thank you that you are sovereign over all of history and that you are working out your purposes even through the sinful act of others. Thank you for the cross and for the salvation that streams to us from that ultimate act of human wickedness. When I feel that I have been treated unjustly, keep me from bitterness and revenge; help me to know that you have not abandoned me but purpose to use me for your glory.

Peter Misselbrook