Like a Lamb

Genesis 37:12-36

So you think you’re a victim? You think that circumstances, or people, or yourself, especially how you were brought up, all of these or some of these things are responsible for the pickle in which you now find yourself. You have this persona of victimhood. “Everything I do that’s wrong is someone else’s fault.” Or, even better, “Everything that happens to me that’s bad is someone else’s fault.” Psychology encourages this sort of thinking, as does the rest of the world. It is simply part and parcel of our fallen world to pass the blame on to something else. The reality is that victimhood is the real slavery. Thinking of yourself as a victim is abject slavery. Joseph did not think of himself as a victim, and neither did Jesus Christ, to whom Joseph points. And yet both of them truly were victims of their surroundings. That is the Christian way. Even when we are truly victims, we do not enslave our hearts and minds to it. As we will see while examining the story of Joseph’s sale into slavery, it was actually the brothers who enslaved their consciences.

After Joseph had revealed to his family these dreams, the brother must have been sorely rankled. All they could think about when they saw Joseph was those awful dreams about which Joseph had told them. However, they must have been able to keep it pretty much to themselves, since Jacob doesn’t seem to have any inkling at all that there is anything amiss with the brothers with regard to Joseph. Jacob wants to know whether the brothers are okay, since they were pasturing the flock so near that town that given them so much trouble in the past. The need to know was fairly obvious here. And so Jacob sends Joseph.

In verse 14, Jacob is literally asking if the brothers are at peace. The Hebrew word is “shalom,” a word that means general well-being, salvation, peace of the whole person.

After getting a bit lost, and losing some time, a kind stranger tells Joseph where the brothers went. We don’t know why this fact is recorded for us in Scripture. It just is.

While Joseph is redirected to Dothan, and while he coming to meet the brothers, the brothers see him afar off. They can recognize him because he is (foolishly) wearing his beautiful coat. They immediately conspire against Joseph to murder him. It is plain what the reason for their conspiracy is: they call him “that dreamer.” Literally, the text says “Here comes that lord of dreams!” Plainly, it was the dreams that had set them off. They were ticked off that Joseph had these dreams wherein he was ruler over them. So, in killing Joseph, their idea was mainly to thwart the dream. Plainly, they thought that they could thwart the dream. However, as we know from history, what they do only serves to bring about the fulfillment of the dream. How ironic! Their conspiracy only serves to advance God’s plans for their own salvation!

This is the same thing that happens with Christ. The Jews and the Romans who crucified Jesus, and Satan was well at work there, thought that they were going to stop this Jesus once and for all by actually killing Him. They did nothing but accomplish God’s own plan. God had sent Jesus to the Jews, just as Jacob had sent Joseph to his brothers. The brothers rejected Joseph, just as Jesus came to His own who did not receive Him. Jesus tells us a parable about this: Matthew 21:33-46 “Hear another parable. There was a master of a house who planted a vineyard and put a fence around it and dug a winepress in it and built a tower and leased it to tenants, and went into another country. When the season for fruit drew near, he sent his servants to the tenants to get his fruit. And the tenants took his servants and beat one, killed another, and stoned another. Again he sent other servants, more than the first. And they did the same to them. Finally he sent his son to them, saying, ‘They will respect my son.’ But when the tenants saw the son, they said to themselves, ‘This is the heir. Come, let us kill him and have his inheritance.’ And they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. When therefore the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?” They said to him, “He will put those wretches to a miserable death and let out the vineyard to other tenants who will give him the fruits in their seasons.” Jesus said to them, “Have you never read in the Scriptures: “‘ The stone that the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; this was the Lord’s doing, and it is marvelous in our eyes’? Therefore I tell you, the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people producing its fruits. And the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him.” When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard his parables, they perceived that he was speaking about them. And although they were seeking to arrest him, they feared the crowds, because they held him to be a prophet.

Can we see then that Joseph is just like Jesus Christ? This parable that Jesus tells could just as easily have been about Joseph, with Jacob being parallel to God the Father, the brothers being parallel to the tenants, and Joseph being parallel to Christ.

Going on in the story, Reuben hears about this plot, and he objects. He doesn’t like it. Quite aside from the fact that he is the oldest, and therefore responsible for Joseph while Joseph is out with them, Reuben also perceives a way in which he can regain the good graces of his father. You will remember that he had lost them when he slept with Bilhah, his father’s concubine. I believe that Reuben sees here his chance to regain the position of heir as the first-born.

But Reuben prevails on them enough so that the brothers do not wind up slaying Joseph. Instead, they put him in the pit. They strip Joseph of his robe. In doing so, they strip Joseph of his identity. No longer will he be known as the favorite son of Joseph, destined to be the heir. Instead, Joseph will have to receive a new identity from God Himself.

This detail in verse 25 is most instructive. The sit down to eat. They have just treated Joseph (their own brother) as a piece of junk, and now they sit down to a meal! Talk about being callous! As a matter of fact, Moses has something deeper in mind by relating this detail. The word for “eat” actually means “devour.” It is the same word that Jacob later uses when he says that a wild beast has “devoured” Joseph. I believe that Moses means for us to understand that the brothers here are the actual beasts who have devoured Joseph. They make believe that they are treating Joseph like a prince when they say, “Let’s sell him. That is so much better than killing him.” The fact of the matter is that kidnapping and slave-trade (especially of a fellow Israelite) was a capital crime in ancient Israel. The Jews, in killing Jesus, thought that their guilt would be less if they had the Romans do it. They showed the same callousness that Joseph’s brother here show.

Then Judah steps up to the plate. He decides that it would be better to sell Joseph than to kill him. The brothers all agree to this, and they sell him for twenty shekels of silver, which was the standard price of a slave in those days. That price would rise to thirty shekels of silver later in Israelite history, such as in the time of Jesus Christ. In that time, another Judah (for the name Judah and the name Judas are the same name) would sell his brother Jesus for thirty pieces of silver.

However, Reuben is not there when the brothers come to this decision. This was probably because it was Reuben’s turn to watch the flock. That is why, when he comes back, he doesn’t know what the brothers did. He has lost his chance to regain his father’s approval, an he will have to answer for his brother’s blood. That is probably why he chickens out here. He goes along with the plot to dip the coat in blood and send it to their father so that he will come to the conclusion that a wild beast has torn Joseph to pieces. Interestingly, just as Jacob deceived his father Isaac by means of a garment, so also is he now deceived by means of a garment. What goes around comes around.

Jacob’s grief is intense. It is so intense that the brothers really feel like they need to play a charade here by “comforting” their father. One wonders how their consciences must have bothered them when this act was such a farce. How could they comfort their father with a straight face, knowing that Joseph was still alive?
Jacob will not be comforted. One is reminded of Jeremiah 31:15, where Rachel laments her children, and refuses to be comforted, because they are no more. But for Israel there is no comforter. Until Isaiah promises that comfort will come. That comfort comes in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. As we have seen, this whole passage shows us in detail what Jesus would be like: that Jesus would be rejected by His own people, though sent by the Father; that He would be sold for silver by Judah/Judas; that He would go into the pit, and yet come out again later. And most importantly, that the plans of mankind to thwart the plan of God only feed into the very fulfillment of God’s plan.

Do you try to thwart God’s plan? Do you like to hinder other people from doing what God requires? That is a spirit of unbelief. God does not tolerate unbelief. Eventually, sooner or later, He will punish unbelief. Do not be like the brothers. Otherwise, you will find out at the end of your life that you will be judged, and that everything you did to try to hinder God’s plan actually worked to further His plan even more. We see that most in the cross of Christ. Satan thought he had God licked, that he had destroyed God’s plan. “Here is the heir: let’s kill him,” Satan says. But in the very cross of Christ, God was bringing to fruition the very destruction of Satan’s plans, and the salvation of His own people.

So, if you do believe this, do you still like to be a victim? Joseph and Jesus were like lambs led to the slaughter. They did not complain. We do learn later on that Joseph pleaded with his brothers to be let go. But Joseph did not complain against God. And neither should we. What we will find out is that the very circumstances that are such a trial to us right now will work to sanctify us and make us more like Christ. Stop thinking of yourself as a victim! If anything, we are much more like the brothers than we would care to admit. We love to victimize other people. We can do that in small ways just as much as in big ways. We can stab people in the back when they aren’t looking, gossip about them. We can steal from them. We can hurt them to their face. We can lie about them. There are all sorts of ways to victimize other people. So, we should not complain if we are the victim of someone else’s maliciousness. That is part and parcel of being a Christian. It happened to all the prophets. It happened to Jesus Christ. Peter tells us that we should not be surprised when trials come our way. Rather, we should expect them.

Maybe we feel like victims because we have no rain, and no crops. The question for you is this: “Do you actually believe Romans 8, when it says that all things work together for good for those who love Christ Jesus?” It doesn’t say that only those good things that happen to us that are obviously good work for our good. It says “all things.” So there is no need to be a victim. There is no need to complain when disaster strikes. We should instead be wondering why in the world it is that more disasters haven’t come our way. We deserve far worse. We deserve what Christ got. And yet, God is a God of grace, and will save you even in the midst of being at the bottom of the pit. Hallelujah! What a Savior!

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