Joseph Sermon Series
The story of Joseph is undoubtedly one of the most fascinating in the Bible: a story of rags to riches, of slavery to glory. It also happens to be one of the most important accounts in the Bible, telling us how God faithfully preserves the line of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob through His acting in the life of Joseph, through His deliberate actions to fulfil the promises given to those patriarchs.
As we begin this new sermon series on the life of Joseph in the new year of 2014, it is a natural tendency for us to come to Joseph’s story with the mindset that we’re beginning a new section of the Bible; a section that focuses on Joseph. After all, a new focus on a new Bible character for a new year sounds good, doesn’t it? While this is true is some sense, the text is quick to remind us that the story of Joseph isn’t really a new story; it’s the continuation of a story already in progress!
The very start of Genesis 37 frames the story of Joseph as part of the ‘generations of Jacob’ (verse 2), who ‘lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan.’ So not only is Jacob important to the story of Joseph, his father Isaac (and by implication his father Abraham), and Canaan, the land they lived in, seem to be important as well.
Later in verse 2, the author of Genesis makes an interesting decision to describe those Joseph was with as ‘the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives.’ Why not simply say that he was with his brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher? It’s as if the author was trying to get his readers to look back to Genesis 35:23-26, to the list of Jacob’s sons arranged according to their mothers; and by doing so, reminds us how important it is to know that there’s much to remember about the background story that comes before Joseph’s story: that there was already a reason why these sons of the less-favoured wives of Jacob hated Joseph, even before he gave a bad report of them to Jacob, and even before Jacob favoured him with a robe of many colours.
In fact, a key part of this background story is found in Genesis 35:11 & 12, where God reiterates to Jacob the promise made to Abraham, promising him that not only would he have the land his fathers Abraham and Isaac were given, but that his offspring would also have that same land. Genesis 37:1 is a testimony of God’s faithfulness to Jacob, but also frames the coming story of Joseph as part of the unfolding story of how God will perfectly fulfil the promises given to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
This makes sense of how Jacob reacts to Joseph’s dream, firstly with a rebuke (something that is quite understandable when we think of a father bowing to his son in our Asian culture), but ultimately by keeping Joseph’s dream in his heart (Gen 37:11). As insulting as this dream was to him, it seems that Jacob was mindful of the Lord’s promise to his family, and was looking to see if this was one of the ways God was working (which we know in hindsight was the case).
So then, Genesis 37:1-11 holds some important truths for us. Firstly, it is important for us to see how the story of Joseph is ultimately one of God’s deliberate actions to work out His great plan for salvation; actions that occurred not just in the life of Joseph, starting with the dreams God gave him, but actions that were already in motion in the lives of his father Jacob and Jacob’s fathers before him.
Secondly, I wonder whether Jacob, not Joseph, should actually be the main focus of this passage. It does, after all, begin and end with Jacob. His trust in God’s plan to work out His promise is seen in him taking to heart Joseph’s dream, even in the most humiliating circumstances for him as a father. Isn’t Jacob such a model for us who have received God’s ultimate promise for life in Christ? To look for God’s working out of His great plan in Christ in our everyday lives, pondering our role in it, and taking it to heart in even the most difficult circumstances.
Let’s look forward to seeing God’s great plan unfold as we continue looking at the life of Joseph!