Sermon: Troubles Within the Family

Troubles Within the Family
Genesis 37:1-4; 12-26
RUMC 13 August 2017
Pastor Paul O’Neil

Today’s scripture reminds us that life doesn’t always go the way we think it should. Many of us want to live the American dream: to find a good job, get married to the person of our dreams, have children, own our own homes, enjoy good health in our retirement, and die peacefully in our sleep.  But things don’t always work out that way.

The life of Joseph is an example of this. His life didn’t exactly go according to what he or his father had planned.  But Joseph’s legacy was built because when he went through adversity, he sought God’s favor and the Lord was with him.

It is the same with us, may we include the Lord in all our trials or adversity.

My first scripture text is Genesis 37:1-4
Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob.  Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Let me give you some additional background information. When Jacob left Syria to come to the Promised Land, his sons caused their father a lot of heartache and grief.

  • First there was an incident of incest with the eldest son Reuben that involved one of his father’s concubines.
  • Then there was the tragic rape of Jacob’s daughter, named Dinah. Two of the sons, Simeon and Levi, led their brothers to seek revenge and massacre all the males in the village.
  • Judah had an embarrassing moral failure when he had become the father of twin boys.

Because of these things, and perhaps others, Jacob could not trust any of his sons, but one: Joseph, the miracle child born to aging parents. Joseph’s deceased mother, Rachel, was the favorite of his father’s four wives, so there was some obvious favoritism.

Now the first hint of trouble comes in verse 2. “Joseph a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, who brought their father a bad report about them.”

Again Jacob’s distrust of his sons was one of the reasons Joseph was made the promised head of the family. To make things worse, he was given a colorful robe that managers or supervisors wore, a visible reminder he was the favorite and preferred one.  Back then, as it is today, whenever favoritism is shown–whether it is at home, at work or someplace else–there will be some sort of resentment and trouble.

When I was growing up, I thought my parents favored my two sisters, and my jealousy led to many fights and arguments. Fortunately, I outgrew that when I was 12 years old, but Jacob’s brothers did not.  Even as adults, they couldn’t move past the resentment that they had for their younger brother until many years later.

My second part of the scripture is Genesis 37:12-36.  This gives the account of how Joseph was sold into slavery.
Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, 15 and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. 18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.

This is a story of jealousy out-of-control. It began when Jacob sent Joseph to check up on his brothers; the effect was like throwing a match into a can of gasoline.  I suspect with Joseph’s exalted position, he had become arrogant and obnoxious which made things worse.  Though there is no excuse for his brothers’ actions, God allowed this terrible misfortune to happen, to be part of the greater plan.

I do see a parallel. Some of us may have been born into dysfunctional families or currently find ourselves in situations not so nice.  Perhaps unpleasant circumstances have come on us.  As difficult as it may be, we need to understand that as children of God it is all part of God’s grand scheme.

Whenever I am at a loss to understand, I think of Romans 8:28: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”

In the frigid waters around Greenland are countless glaciers, some of them are small and others are gigantic. An interesting phenomenon takes place; the smaller ice flows often move in one direction while their massive counterparts flow in another.  There is an explanation for this.  Surface winds drive the smaller ones; whereas the huge masses of ice are carried along by deep ocean currents.

Now there is a life lesson here. The wind represents the changes or the unpredictable patterns of life.  The unseen or more powerful ocean currents is God’s sovereign will in our lives.  So when the winds of life come upon us, think of the deep ocean current of God that will ultimately lead us to our destination.

There is a fable of a farmer who once owned an old mule who somehow managed to fall into a well. The farmer asked his neighbors to bring over dirt from their farms and throw it into the well.  The old mule had become hysterical as the dirt fell on him.  But as more and more dirt was thrown into the well, the mule would shake it off and step up.  Finally battered and exhausted, the old mule stepped triumphantly over the well.

While it seemed that the dirt would bury him, it actually helped him, and that is how life is. When we face our difficulties head on and refuse to give into panic or self-pity, we will make it.

Though Joseph couldn’t see it, God was behind the scenes. As the years passed, Joseph matured; he learned to deal with the hardship and difficulties in the proper way.

I like to think of this scripture to give me perspective: Philippians 4:6 “Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”

Once there was a young princess who was unhappy with the way she looked and obsessed about her appearance. One day a kindly aunt visited and gave her three beauty tips.  The princess took these things to heart and she became a lady of incomparable beauty.

These were the three beauty tips:

  1. Smile at everyone you meet.
  2. Look for all the beautiful things you could find in someone else.
  3. Say something kind to everyone you meet.

If we were to do something similar, it would earn the respect of others and get our minds off our troubles. I am sure somewhere along the line, Joseph had done something similar.

Let me close. When we go through those times where we question what happens to us, know there is a divine plan.  And along the way, if we can smile and be kind to others, we will be okay.