Joseph #1 “God Doesn’t Treat Us All The Same”
Genesis 37:1-11 August 29, 2004
SCRIPTURE INTRO: One day this past week I took Will to school
walked with him into his 1st grade class.
While I was there, Gracie Eidson noticed me.
Those of you who know Gracie know she is blessed with the talent of conversation.
She said to her teacher, “Did you know he is the preacher at my church?”
“Yes,” her teacher said, “I know that.”
To me, “I’m going to see you on Sunday, what are you going to preach about?”
I said, “I’m going to preach about Joseph.”
“Oh,” she said, “Joseph!” and she seem quite pleased with my answer.
And I hope all of you are too!
We’re going to spend the rest of this year reading and studying the story of Joseph
which takes up the last 13 chapters of the book of Genesis.
Story of Joseph a story about a family—a dysfunctional family, as would say today.
Twelve brothers by four different mothers.
Favoritism, jealousy, deception, violence, sexual immorality—
you name it—this family had it.
We are picking up story in 37 because this is where Joseph comes into the picture,
but to really understand all of the destructive dynamics of this family,
have to start back in chapter 25, with Joseph’s father, Jacob
especially his marriage to two sisters in chapter 29.
The thing that makes Joseph’s story so great—
God uses Joseph to bring reconciliation and unity to this family.
By the end of the story, God’s grace and forgiveness, flowing through Joseph,
transforms this dysfunctional family into the family of God.
What I mean by that is that in the end, this family is united not just by blood,
but by their common commitment to the Lord.
God sets stage for transformation of this family by using a series of unlikely events.
It actually starts with a terrible sin—Joseph’s betrayal by his own brothers.
Will be amazed how God uses all things, even the sinful choices and acts of people,
to bring about his gracious purposes for this family.
Nothing stops God’s plans for them. He uses everything for his purposes.
Please look at the verse printed at the very top of the bulletin—Genesis 50:20.
This is a statement Joseph made years later to his brothers,
after God had brought about this transformation.
This is a very important verse because it sums up the whole Joseph story.
Joseph said to his brothers,
“As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive as they are today.”
“You meant it for evil, but God meant it for good.”
I told Gracie I was preaching about Joseph,
but Joseph is not the hero of this story—God is.
In fact, the story of Joseph the greatest illustration in the Bible of God’s providence.
What is God’s providence?
You need to know what God’s providence is because I am going to talk about
God’s providence a thousand times during this sermon series.
God’s providence is his governing over all things, even the plans and actions of
men, to bring about his intended purposes.
God has a sovereign plan, and then he works it out in history and in our lives.
That working out of God’s plan is his providence.
So this sermon series will be about the story of Joseph, but on a deeper level,
it will be a study of the providence of God.
My hope is that a deeper understanding of God’s providence will make all of us
better Christians—more content and more certain.
I hope our study of the providential events in Joseph’s life will encourage us to see
more clearly God’s providence in our own lives and in our church.
I need to give credit where credit is due.
Received tremendous insight for this sermon and whole series from some sermons
by Dr. Robert Rayburn of Faith Presbyterian Church, Tacoma, Washington.
In particular, Dr. Rayburn opened my eyes to the fact that the most important
person in this story is not Joseph, it is his older brother Judah.
The changes in that man’s life become the focus of God’s saving work.
But all of that will become more clear as we go along.
Let’s read Genesis 37:1-11.
INTRO: When on vacation this summer, stopped to visit two seminary friends,
one in St. Louis and the other in Richmond, Indiana.
One thing I’m always reminded of when I get to see these two friends
how much more talented they are than me.
They are both smarter and have sharper theological minds.
They make connections and draw conclusions that I can’t see until they show me.
One of them has leadership and administrative talents.
He has put those talents to use in a large and influential church.
The other man is an excellent writer.
He has good insights and is able to express them well.
His ability to write well and quickly and frequently is something that he has turned
into an asset in his pastoral ministry and there is lots of fruit from it.
As I said, I’m always reminded of these things when I see these men,
but it doesn’t always make me happy.
Because they are my peers. We are the same age. We went to the same school. But when it comes to talent, they have things that I don’t have and won’t ever have.
Joseph’s brothers hated him for the things he had that they didn’t have.
They hated him for being the favorite son of their father Jacob.
Joseph was 17 and his brothers were quite a bit older.
Joseph was a late in life child born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachael.
She had not been able to have children, then she finally had Joseph.
He immediately became his father’s favorite.
Rachael did have one more child, a boy named Benjamin.
But the delivery was too hard and she died giving birth.
So Joseph was not the youngest of the 12 brothers, he was the 11th of 12.
As the story begins here in chapter 37, need to remember that even though
Benjamin was also a son of Jacob’s favorite wife, he was still a little child,
so it was still Joseph who was his father’s favorite.
“Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons” and he have him a robe.
Remember, Jacob had another name that God had given him—Israel.
He is called that sometimes in this story—Jacob or Israel. Same man.
This robe, richly ornamented—called the coat of many colors in the King James—
was hated by brothers because it reminded them of their father’s favoritism.
But thing that made them really hate Joseph when he told them
about the dreams he had that he would rule over them.
These dreams are very important in Joseph’s story because not ordinary dreams.
They were prophetic dreams, sent by God.
These dreams show that God had his own special plans for Joseph.
God had plans to make Joseph great.
We have the advantage of knowing the rest of the story
so we know exactly how these plans were fulfilled.
God gave Joseph tremendous talents. He was a gifted leader and administrator.
He was also handsome. People were drawn to him and trusted him.
When everything was in place God opened all the right doors
made Joseph the Prime Minister of Egypt.
This was a position of incredible power, wealth, and prestige.
God didn’t chose Reuben, the oldest son, for this position.
He didn’t choose Simeon, the next son, or Levi, the next son.
God chose the eleventh son out of the twelve and he made all of these older
brothers bow down to him.
All of these brothers were sons of the same man. All great grandsons of Abraham.
They were all heirs of God’s promises to Abraham.
But God, by his sovereign choice, decided to give the talents,
and the good looks, and all the right breaks to just one of the brothers—Joseph.
In story of Joseph confronted right away with a fact about God’s providence.
God doesn’t treat us all the same.
He makes distinctions among his children.
He doesn’t give us all the same blessings.
Some Christians are smarter than others. Some are more handsome and more
athletic and healthier than others.
Some Christians are born with lots of advantages, some born with disadvantages.
Some are more financially successful than others.
Some Christians have better marriages and children than others.
Some Christians go from success to success others go from trouble to trouble.
Some Christians find it easier to grow spiritually than others
and do not fight hard battles with self-control and self-discipline,
while others fight for ever step.
Who makes all of these distinctions? God does.
He gives some of his children more and some less
but he expects all of his children to play by the same rules.
And he wants us to not just accept this,
but to be happy about it as part of his good, wise plan.
When Jesus met the disciples by the lake after his resurrection,
he told Peter that God had plans to take him through a very difficult death.
Peter pointed at the disciple Jesus loved, John, and said, “Lord, what about him?”
Peter was saying with that question: “If I’m going to suffer this way, that’s ok
as long as you have the same plans for him. Lord, you better be fair and treat
that disciple who is so close to your heart the same way you treat me.”
What was Jesus’ response?
“If I want him to remain alive until I return, what is that to you?”
And then Jesus gave Peter the very same command that he gives every one of us,
no matter how differently he has treated us—“You must follow me.”
We are so often like Peter, bothered that the Lord doesn’t seem fair in the way he
distributes blessings and troubles.
I love my seminary friends but that little seed of unhappiness with the way God has
distributed talents is just like Peter. And even worse, it is the very same thing that
Joseph’s brothers let develop into full-scale hatred.
Ultimately, all of my resentment, unhappiness and hatred is really directed at God
himself who made these distinctions in the first place.
I want to suggest there are two reasons Christians struggle with God’s providence—
Two reasons why we resent the fact that God does not treat us all the same. Understanding these reasons and coming to grips with them is also the key to
embracing and rejoicing in God’s providence.
The first reason we resent God’s providence because we don’t really believe that God is good.
God makes distinctions among his children because he is good.
It is all part of a big plan God has to pour out incredible blessings on us.
God treated Joseph differently from his brothers because that was all part of a big
plan God had to bring incredible blessing to that family.
Incredible blessing—material blessings, emotional blessings, relational blessings.
But the biggest blessing of all were spiritual blessings in Christ that extended
through generations and then outward to every nation on earth.
We will see all of that when we get to the end of the story.
God chose to use Joseph as preserver of the family and conduit of these blessings.
The dreams a message from God that he was going to use Joseph for great things.
The advantages and talents that God gave Joseph
just God’s way of carrying out this good plan.
But instead of saying, “Look how God has blessed our brother!”
“Look at the great things God has planned for him!”
“What a blessing that we are going to fall under the sunshine of his greatness!”
The brothers rejected the very idea that God’s goodness could come to them
by someone else outshining them.
It is so easy to do the same thing.
To refuse to believe that God’s goodness could come to us
through the blessings he pours on other people.
I read a story about a man who taught a Sunday school class that was well attended.
But other men joined the church and these other men were more talented teachers,
and they knew more of the Bible, and they were more interesting,
so people started going to their Sunday school classes and learning
and getting excited and church started growing.
But, that meant that this man’s Sunday school class got smaller and smaller.
Smaller it got the more bitter and angry he got until he finally left the church.
Because he could not believe or would not believe that God’s goodness
could come through other people being blessed with greater talents than his.
But all he had to do was open his eyes and look around his church.
His church had been revived by God’s good gifts.
That means that God was being good to him—but he refused to believe it.
And he refused to see that he was being given an opportunity to do something
much greater for kingdom of God than teaching popular Sunday school class—
He was given the opportunity to acknowledge God’s goodness in the lives of others
and cheerfully and graciously step aside. That is true greatness.
Do you believe God is good?
Do you believe he has a good plan for all of his children?
Do you believe that all things work for the good of those who love God, who have
been called according to his purpose?
If you believe those things, then the proper response when you see God making
distinctions among his children is to praise him for his goodness.
You especially need to praise God for his goodness when see that has given special
talent or blessing or advantage to a Christian brother or sister who is close to you.
Because let’s be honest, it is when God treats people who are close to us differently,
that we have the most trouble and are most tempted to resentment.
It doesn’t bother us when it’s a person far away.
But the flip side is that the closer person is to us,
the more we are in a position to benefit from God’s blessing to them.
God’s blessing on a member of our church, or a seminary friend much more
immediately rebounds to our benefit than his blessing on someone barely know.
That takes faith in the goodness of God.
You must believe that God is good. His big plan is to bless his people.
He carries out that plan by treating his children differently.
The second reason we resent God’s providence because we don’t believe that we are sinners.
We get resentful at God’s providence because we often think, deep down,
God owes us better. Truth is, we deserve displeasure, wrath because of our sin. What we need is a radical change of perspective.
We need the humility to believe from the bottom of our hearts
that we have no claims on the goodness of God
but that every blessing we receive from him is a gift of his grace.
I said earlier that the story of Joseph is the story of the transformation of a family.
It is also the story of the transformation of a brother.
That brother is Judah, the fourth brother.
(This is what I told you has been one of the most profound things I learned
from Dr. Rayburn’s sermons.)
You have to keep your eye on Judah during the Joseph story.
He was the one who suggested selling Joseph into slavery to get rid of him.
A whole chapter is devoted to Judah, the next one, chapter 38,
which describes his moral and spiritual depravity.
But, the Lord has his eye on Judah. As the story develops, God uses Joseph,
in his position of power to bring Judah to realize and admit that he deserves
nothing but a life of slavery for his sins.
At crucial point, Judah offers himself as slave in place of one of his brothers.
It is truly an amazing transformation.
From being a proud man who thought he deserved everything he wanted,
to a man humbled by his sin.
But what is even more amazing is that at the very end of the story,
God gives Judah a blessing that makes all of Joseph’s wealth and influence
in the Egyptian government seem like nothing.
God promises, that out of all the brothers, Judah would be the ancestor of Kings.
He would be the kingly brother whose descendants would rule over the others.
And that from his line would come one day the King of Kings rule world.
Let me test your Bible knowledge.
Jesus Christ is called the Lion of the Tribe of ____? Judah!
God passed over Joseph for this honor,
and gave it to the brother who was once perhaps the most resentful of God’s
providence but then the most humbled for his sins
and who trusted most in God’s grace.
If the Lord, in his providence,
has not favored you with as many advantages as other Christians you know,
or if he has chosen to deny you certain good things in this life that others have,
then you need to recognize that in denying you these things,
God has given you an opportunity to grow in true humility.
Don’t waste that opportunity by being resentful, thinking God owes you better—
he doesn’t. You deserve to die and go to hell.
Instead, use his difficult providence in your life as an opportunity to learn humility.
God delights in blessing humble hearts.
Jesus said that it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a
rich man to enter the kingdom of God. Rich people have a hard time learning
humility. God, in his providence, made Joseph rich. Joseph did well.
But Judah did the best of all. Because even though he first fought against God’s
providence, thought things were unfair, and hated his brother, father, and God
himself, he finally submitted to that providence and received greatest honor.
Remember that in the end, when final chapter of life is written, that the person who
is most blessed is the one who in humility clings to the grace and forgiveness and
goodness of God in Christ.