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The Favorite

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Mar 5, 2000

Genesis 37:1-17

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Genesis 37:1-17
The Favorite

If you have your Bibles I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 37. I, too, with Derek and many of you have been looking forward to getting to these chapters in the book of Genesis. As hard and as sad and as depressing are some of the experiences that Jacob and his family, and especially this godly man Joseph will endure in these chapters, there are precious encouragements here. And if you are in the midst of trials or have weathered trials, you are immediately able to identify with some of these experiences.

Tonight we come to a new, indeed we come to the final section of the book of Genesis in chapters 37 through 50 in the story of the life of Joseph. And as we do so, it's important for us to see at least two things about this particular section of the book. First, this story tells us how it was that Israel wound up in Egypt. You remember back in Genesis 15, verses 13 and 14 that God had already told Abraham that his descendants would sojourn in the land of Egypt, and they would be enslaved but that they would come out with great possessions. This part of Genesis tells us how these men who were sojourning in Canaan ended up sojourning in Egypt and being oppressed and then coming out again.

The second thing that this passage tells us is how the promise of God in Genesis, chapter 12, verses 1 and 2 would be fulfilled that Abraham would become a great nation. You remember that God had not only promised Abraham a son, He had promised him descendants which would be as the sand on the seashore and the stars in the sky, and he had explicitly promised Abraham that he would not only have a lot of descendants, but that they would be a great nation. And you’re wondering as you get towards the end of Genesis, well, I see a large family. Maybe I even see a large clan or a large tribe, but I don't see a nation yet. And this section of Genesis is going to tell you how Abraham's seed went from being a great family, a tribe, a clan to being a nation. And so this section of Genesis sets up so much of what else happens in the first five books of the Bible.

Now it's very interesting that in the time when Joseph would have gone down into Egypt, this was a time called the middle kingdom age in the history of Egypt. Egypt was a powerful and a unified land in these days. It was a land of peace, effective government and general prosperity. And the historical descriptions given by Moses in the book of Genesis have proved to be very accurate in the studies of Egyptologists, archaeologists and historians of the Bible.

Now as we begin to look at this section of Genesis, I want us to pause for one moment to think where we've come from so far in the book of Genesis. In Genesis, chapter 1 Moses taught us that the universe in which we live is the product of a sovereign, personal God who is distinct from it and ruling over it but interested in it. We learned that in Genesis, chapter 1. Then in Genesis, chapter 2 he teaches us that man was made in God's imagine and given the responsibility of a covenant steward over all of God's creation. Thirdly, in Genesis 3 and 4, Moses has taught us that man wickedly rebelled against God and sought to be equal with Him. And the result was that sin introduced the reign of death in the world. But nevertheless God had a plan of redemption, and He began a line of hope through the seed of the woman. And we see immediately that line in the persons of Abel and then Seth in replacing Abel. And so that story begins to build in the book of Genesis, and we've been watching that story build so far. Again, in Genesis 6 through 9 we learn that despite the fact of man's rebellion, and despite the fact of widespread depravity, God still enforces moral order in this universe. God brings judgment against wickedness in the way of the flood. But He is also determined to preserve a people for Himself. And so in the midst of universal and cataclysmic judgment, God chooses eight people. Eight souls are saved through this great judgment. And then God enters into a covenant relationship with a succession of heads of families, With a view to bringing the blessing, His blessing, upon the whole fallen world. We see this story from Genesis 15 to Genesis 24 as Abraham and Isaac and then their successors began to carry on the promises of God. God's covenant promises are passed down from one generation to another, but we see over and over not necessarily through the first-born sons. From Abraham to Isaac, not to Ishmael, but to Isaac. From Isaac to Jacob, not to Esau, but to Jacob. From Jacob to Joseph, not to Rueben, but to Joseph. And so over and over God shows that His electing choice supercedes what would be the natural choice of men. It surprises us even how God chooses. And so over and over the covenant succession is passed on. And then finally we get to Genesis 37. Here we see God providentially order all things to fulfill His purposes and His promises to His people to give them descendants and land and nationhood and blessing and a spiritual stewardship. But He does this by putting His people through a severe trial in the land of Egypt.

So let's turn to Genesis 37 and we’ll look at the first seventeen verses and see the beginning of a story that shows how a family becomes a nation. This is God's

Genesis 37:1-17

Father, we delight to study Your word and especially this great story. A story which we learned to love, so many of us, in our youth. Speak to us again by Your word. Penetrate our own pain and strife and struggles with the understanding that you have a profounder understanding of those struggles than we ever will, for You are the sovereign, ordaining, providentially ruling God who orders all things for Your own glory and for Your peoples’ good. And help us to believe and to trust, for we ask it in Jesus' name, Amen.

Now as we've already said it was God's intention and He’d already revealed it to Abraham to send Israel into Egypt. And for Israel to be oppressed for 400 years until the iniquity of the Amorites was made complete. Now by the way we're going to see illustrations of this iniquity as we continue working through Genesis, and perhaps in Exodus when we begin in that book. But I’ll give you a taste of the iniquity of the Amorites. Now we've done archaeological studies of the area around Dothan. It was occupied precisely in this time that the Bible says it was, and we found the skeletal remains of a little child next to the entrance gate at Dothan. He was a foundation sacrifice. A child offered at the building of the walls of a city. God in His patience awaits the fulfillment of the iniquity of the Amorites. And then Canaan will be ripe for possession because it is ripe for judgment.

Now this story we're going to study is a locus classicus for the doctrine of providence. It's a classic place to find God's providence displayed clearly. Here in this passage we see a pattern which will continue throughout the Old Testament into the New Testament. God's promised and sent deliverer is rejected by his own kith and kin. And yet in spite of their malice, and in spite of his own weaknesses, God causes his plan of redemption to be advanced under that one who comes as a deliverer. The figure of Joseph is central to the history that follows, but don't forget that this story is not titled the book of Joseph. It's titled the Book of Jacob. Look at Genesis 37:2. This is the Book, the toledoth of Jacob. Now when you remember that, you will remember that eleven times in the book of Genesis headings are given beginning back in Genesis, chapter 2, verse 4. And the phrase the toledoth of, the Book of, is repeated, not just meaning the genealogy of, but the history of, the account of whoever the particular individual is listed in the heading. And in this heading, we are told that this is the story, this is the history of Jacob or Israel. That is this is the Genesis and growth of the church. From then on the church would be called Israel. The people of Jacob, even in the New Testament, the apostle Paul will refer to us as the Israel of God. And so what follows then in Genesis 37 to 50 is church history. A prophecy designed to comfort us. And so this toledoth of Jacob continues right down to the beginning of the new covenant. And we’ll see that very clearly in just a moment.

And there are three or four things I'd like to point out to you in this passage. It's so rich that we can't possibly do it justice, but let's focus together tonight on three or four things. Let's divide the passage into these four sections. First the heading in verses 1 and 2. Then an explanation of the family relationship in verses 3 and 4. Then from verse 5 through 11 the dreams that Jacob gives us. And then finally in verses 12 through 17 Jacob's journey first to Shechem and then to Dothan to find his brothers.

I. God reveals to us the choice of His election: Joseph will succeed his father as patriarch

The first thing I'd like to focus on you’ll find in verses 1 and 2. Here we see the title of this whole section of the book of Genesis. The book of Jacob, or the book of Israel. The toledoth of Jacob. And it tells us of the end of an era, the settling in the land, and a son who comes back to his father with a bad report. But in this section, even in the title my friends, I want you to understand something of great importance. God here reveals to us the choice of His election. Joseph will receive the patriarch of his father. He will be the successor to his father as the head of the family.

Notice how this is stressed even in the title. Look at verse 2. These are the records of the generation of Jacob, Joseph. The first word after the title takes you immediately to the main character in the passage. And I want you to notice that if you compare chapter 37, verse 1, look back to chapter 36, verses 6 through 8, you will immediately see a striking contrast. Esau forsakes the land of Canaan and goes to the land of Seir. Jacob, however, we are told, in verse 1, lived in the land where his father sojourned in the land of Canaan. So immediately we see a distinction between Jacob and Esau of great significance. And immediately again we see the choice of God's election. These are the records of the generations of Jacob. Joseph, not Rueben. You remember back in Genesis 35, verse 22? Rueben had incurred the wrath of his father by sleeping with one of his concubines. And his father took note of it. And so Rueben, the first born of Leah, the first born son of Jacob would not be the one to lead the covenant line.

Like Isaac and Jacob before him, Joseph here is introduced as the especially chosen member of the family of Jacob. This divine election is one of the great themes of Genesis and God's design is no more thwarted by Jacob and Joseph's weaknesses than it is by the malice of their opponents. I want you to also note the name of this toledoth. As we've just said, this is the final book, the final history listed in the book of Genesis. Let me show you a few of these just to remind you again. Turn all the way back to Genesis 2, verse 4. "This is the account, this is the toledoth of the heavens and the earth when they were created in the day that the Lord God made earth and heaven." The next time that we see that phrase is in Genesis 5, verse 1. "This is the book of the generations of Adam." This is the toledoth of the generations of Adam. Then turn over to Genesis 6, verse 9: "These are the records of the generations of Noah." This is the toledoth of Noah. Genesis 6:9. Then turn forward to Genesis 10:1. "Now these are the records of the generations of Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah." And so we see the toledoth of Shem, Ham and Japheth, the sons of Noah. And then if you’ll turn over to Genesis 11, verse 27: "Now these are the records of the generations of Terah, who was the father of Abraham." So the toledoth continues on until we get to Genesis 25, verse 12: "Now these are the records of the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son." And immediately after a short account of the genealogy of Ishmael in 25:19 we read, "Now these are the records of the generations of Isaac, Abraham's son." And so the book of Isaac continues. And then finally we come to Genesis 36 and in verse 1 and in verse 9 we read: "These are the records of the generations of Esau, the father of the Edomites in the hill country of Seir." And finally in Genesis 37 in verse 2: "These are the records of the generations of Jacob." Once you've come to Jacob you've come to the end of the succession of Genesis’ toledoths. Genesis’ books. This book of Jacob continues the history of the church as Israel to the very dawn of the new covenant. And I want you to notice that Matthew is very mindful of this. Turn to Matthew, chapter 1, verse 1 and see how he opens the gospel of Matthew. "The book of the genealogy of Jesus Christ, the son of David, the son of Abraham." Had Matthew been writing in Hebrew, he would have said the toledoth of Jesus, the Christ, the Son of David, the Son of Abraham.

You see what Matthew is telling you. That the history of God's people continues in the new covenant. Now under the story of the book of the Lord Jesus Christ picking up from the promises that have been given all the way back in Genesis. Notice also that the toledoth of Jacob begins and ends with a Joseph. Joseph was the first of the line of Jacob in the covenant succession. And Joseph, the father of the Lord Jesus Christ, would be the last before the new toledoth comes in. From Joseph to Joseph God's plan moves in a mysterious way. Now we're told here in a passage that Joseph was young, he was seventeen years old, and he was working with his brothers in the field, and we're told specifically in verse 2 that he brought back a bad report to his father.

Now let me just say right away that commentators are very quick to call Joseph a snitch, a tattletale, a brat, prideful, arrogant, etc. And I'm not even going to speculate or expand on those things tonight. I'm not sure whether Moses really intends to draw us to that. Of course, commentators are quick to say that Jacob himself was unwise in the way that he spoiled his son. And I want to discount that family practice criticism that's being given.

But I want to highlight some things that Moses seems to think is very significant. First of all with regard to this bad report. It shouldn't surprise us that Joseph would bring back a bad report of his brothers. They had already been involved in some significant mischief. Rueben sleeping with his father's concubine. Simeon and Levy slaughtering the Shechemites because of their sister disgrace. These men were rough. They were hard and they were reckless. And it's not surprising at all, and I don't think we should see Joseph as a tattletale. In fact, later on in the passage there's an indication as Jacob sends him out to Shechem, not only to check on their welfare, but to check on the sheep and to see what they’re up to, and to bring him back a report. There's every indication that Joseph brings this report back at the behest of his father. Now we may agree, boy, his father sure did put him in a difficult situation. He's already a favored son, as we’ll find out. His brothers already don't like him, and now he functions as his father's informer. An unfortunate choice by his father. But I don't think we should blame Joseph at this point. He seems to be a son of integrity, with wisdom beyond his years.

But the point we see in this first section is that God's election is not based on the value systems of men. God's choice for the patriarch will not be the first born, will not be Rueben. But in fact God chooses wisely and rightly for His own purposes, and Joseph is His man.

II. Joseph was also the favorite of his father and this caused tremendous tension in the family.

Then if you look at verses 3 and 4 you see the human choice of Joseph, the loved son of Israel, Joseph. We see a doting father in verses 3 and 4. An extravagant gift, jealous brothers and serious family strife. Moses flat out tells us that Israel loved Joseph more than his brothers. And what's worse, he didn't hide the fact. He gave him that multi-colored tunic and whatever it is you need to know that the same terminology is applied in the book of Samuel to royal robes. And so it caused him to stand out, and for there to be a visible representation of his father's preference of him over his brothers. And the result was predictable. The brothers hated Joseph, we are told in verse 4, and at the end of verse 4 we're told they couldn't even speak on friendly terms.

Now friends, remember that phrase because Moses never forgets it. And before this book is over, we’ll come back to it again. They couldn't even speak on friendly terms with one another. So once again we have family strife in the promised line, but God is going to use it for good. And let me just stop and say in passing, isn't it interesting that the great love of Jacob's love is Rachel. And she's taken from him, and in her absence he dotes, quite naturally, upon her children, Joseph and Benjamin. And yet even Jacob's comfort in those children turns to grief for him as his family becomes more disunited, more strife ridden, more tension develops. Isn't it interesting that in the midst of that horrendous family situation God has a plan at work. You think you need to feel the pain of this particular family life. A lonely patriarch, yearning for a lost wife, seeing her eyes in the eyes of her sons, overcompensating for that in the way that he cares for them. Consequently causing a greater strife than already existed. And in all of this, God was weaning his heart from the world and preparing a plan whereby He would redeem His people. You see God uses what He will for His own purposes, and He even employs trials with His people for those purposes. And what's more than that, He wastes no trial with and for His people. All of the pain experienced by Jacob and Joseph after him has a purpose. Not a drop is wasted. We see it here in the providence of God.

III. God reveals His plans for Joseph in a dream in order to emphasize that his life's experience is the product of providence.

And then if you look at verses 5 through 11 Joseph relates this dream quiet naively. Quite unselfconsciously these dreams focus totally upon him, and he doesn't seem to have a clue how sharing them is going to impact his already alienated brothers, but it leads to further family division and even to a parental rebuke. The first dream is interesting isn't it, because it's an agrarian picture. Now these are shepherds. Presumably their main pastime was not reaping a harvest in a field, but shepherding flocks. And yet the dream comes in the form of a harvest picture. Does that foreshadow the future of Joseph? Is God telling us something here that is not at present but will be in the future? I think so because it will be through the harvest of grain that Joseph's name and fortune will be made in Egypt.

The second dream also brings out the expected response from his brothers and even from his father. But I want you to see something happening here. Despite the tactlessness and insensitivity of Joseph, the main thing we need to see in the reaction of Joseph's brothers to the dreams, is the reaction of the natural man to the doctrine and the fact of election. You see what's being set forth in both of these dreams? God's choice of Joseph, and what is the natural man's instinctive response to election? He hates it. He resents it. He loathes God's sovereignty; he questions God's fairness; he questions God's justice; he questions God's purposes. And we can see the difference between Jacob and his sons in the way that even though he rebukes his son, he hides just like Mary did, this word in his heart for he knows that this dream has come from God, and that there is a great truth in it, and he cannot contest it.

You remember there was a time when he was ready to contest the dream of God, and he had learned not to do that. And as God communicated, by divine inspiration through this dream Jacob ponders the prophecy. It's so important for us to recognize here God's revealing of His plans for Joseph in a dream in order to emphasize that the life experiences that Joseph will undergo are not the product of chance. Why are these dreams being told up front? So that you know that everything that happens to Joseph is the product of the will of God. For though Joseph will be the chief character in the passages to come, this story is more about God's sovereign election than it is about Joseph. And so God in these dreams reveals His plan, His providential plan for Joseph, so that as we see Joseph weed through this very path of life that every step of the way we know that this is not part of whim or brute chance. But this is the carrying out of the will of God.

IV. Joseph is revealed as a diligent, hard-working, obedient son, ready to do even unpleasant bidding.

And then finally in verses 12 through 17 we get a little window into Joseph's character, don't we. Joseph tracks down his brothers in the fields of Dothan, and Joseph is revealed to us as a diligent, hard-working, obedient son ready to do even unpleasant bidding. Joseph is approached by his father, and his father says, I want you to go find your brothers. Now let's pause for a minute and think about what we've already been told about this relationship. They hate him. They can't speak with him on friendly terms. He's revealed to them two dreams about his superiority as chosen by God over them. It's caused them to resent Him even more. And now his father comes to him, and he says, I want you to go to Shechem. You know the site of the massacre, where the people already don't like us. And I want you to find your brothers. And his immediate response is, here I am, I’ll go. This could not have been a task that Joseph would have relished. And yet he was a hardworking man, and he was an obedient son; so he goes off.

And then you get to verses 15 through 17. Now if I had been going at Jacob's behest and I got to Shechem and they weren't there, I tell you what I would have done. Oh, well, they’re not here. I'm heading back home. But he finds a man or a man finds him wandering in a field. And he says, have you seen my brothers? And he says well, you know, I think I heard them say that they were going to Dothan. And off Joseph goes. He was undeterred in his task.

And I want you to pause there and I want you to see a beautiful truth because God's sovereignty and man's responsibility is a reality in the heart and the life of Joseph. God's choice of him does not lead him to indolence, to indifference, to passivity. He is working to do his father's bidding. He is faithful in the carrying out of his task, even though he knows that God has made a choice of him. The doctrine of election doesn't lead him to no effort, it leads him to extraordinary effort. It doesn't lead him to a sense of entitlement, it empowers his ethic and that's always how the biblical doctrine of election impacts the heart of a regenerate believer. And so we see a window into Joseph's character here even as he tracks down his brothers in the field of Dothan.

You remember later in the history of Israel a great event would occur at Dothan. It would be at Dothan that the Lord would reveal the surrounding angelic armies around His beleaguered and besieged prophet Elisha. And there Joseph would encounter his brothers, and there Joseph would be sold into slavery in the one place nearby the grazing areas of his family that happened to be on the merchant route down into Egypt. You see God's hands in this. You see God's hand in the movement of his brothers and in the faithfulness of Joseph. This is a great story of God's providence, and as we begin to walk it together, and as we see God work in his mysterious ways, let's learn with Joseph and with Jacob to trust in Him and not to scan His work in vain. Let us pray.

Our Lord and our God, we thank You for the excitement and the truth of Your word. And as we begin a journey through this great story, we pray that our study and our comprehension of it would live up to the glory of its telling. We ask these things in Jesus’

name, Amen.

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