Overcome Betrayal


The Point:  God is at work, even when it’s not obvious.

Joseph Betrayed by his Brothers:  Genesis 37:19-27.

[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 will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams."  [21]  But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, "Let us not take his life."  [22]  And Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him"–that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father.  [23]  So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors 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 bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, 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 let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him.  [ESV]

[5-24]  “In Hebrews the author of that deep study warns us about allowing a root of bitterness to grow up in our lives to cause trouble and defile many [Heb. 12:15]. It is a good warning, for it is precisely this that turned the sons of Jacob into would-be fratricides. At the beginning they probably did not have their hearts set on Joseph’s murder. But they envied him, and envy eventually gave way to hatred that gave way to a plot against his life. The text says, and his brothers were jealous of him [Gen. 37:11], a judgment Stephen echoed in his great speech before the Sanhedrin [Acts 7:9]. Envy or jealousy means ill will occasioned by another’s good fortune. It involves superiority in the one envied and resentment by the person who envies. It is terribly destructive. The Bible says, envy makes the bones rot [Prov. 14:30]. James wrote, For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice [James 3:16]. The chief reason is that envy is an angry resistance to God’s decrees. Consequently it is ultimately resentment of God and hatred of Him. This is the essential issue in the matter of Joseph’s dreams. The brothers had envied him before this, as the narrative says. They envied him for his good qualities, which revealed their evil ones, and because of his father’s choice of Joseph to assume the rights of the firstborn. But this was not merely resentment of these circumstances. Ultimately God is responsible for circumstances; so the brothers’ envy was essentially a resentment of what God had done and was doing, as the dreams show. Joseph’s first dream was about grain. He dreamed that he and his brothers had been working in the fields binding sheaves of grain when suddenly his sheaf rose and theirs gathered around his and bowed down. It did not take a seer to interpret this. This dream meant that at some future time the brothers, all but one of whom were older than Joseph, would bow down to Joseph. Naturally they resented it. The second dream was like the first. Joseph saw the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowing down to him. Obviously this involved his parents as well as his brothers, which his father recognized. Jacob said, What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you? [37:10]. We may argue here that Joseph was not very wise to tell such dreams. He may have been naïve. But whether he was unwise and naïve or whether – which is quite likely – he sensed a God-given responsibility to make a divine revelation such as this known, the point is that the brothers hated the dreams as much as they hated Joseph for relating them. The text says, they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words [37:8]. That is, they hated his testimony, and they hated the dreams themselves. This suggests that what they really hated were God’s decrees regarding Joseph’s and their lives and therefore that they hated God for them. Otherwise why get upset about a dream? If a child has a dream that reveals how the child hopes to be important some day, regardless of how foolish the dream is, the proper course is to ignore the specifics while encouraging the child to apply himself or herself and thus live up to the goal of the dream if possible. One does not hate a child for dreams, however self-centered or bizarre. Since the brothers did hate Joseph, the implication is that they were actually taking the dreams seriously, as perhaps actually revealing what God might do, and they were hating God for it. Later on, they saw Joseph coming toward them and said, Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams [20]. This put them against God and thus revealed their folly as well as their malice toward their younger brother. Beware of envy. How unfortunate that many are not willing to take the place which God has assigned them in the world. When a man is covetous and envious, he is saying, ‘God, I am not satisfied; you did not give me what I want.’ Such a man would dethrone God and re-deal the events and possessions of life so that little ‘he’ would be exalted. Another step in the brothers’ unjustified antagonism to Joseph is hatred, which we have already mentioned, since it grows out of envy. Yet we must mention it separately, because it is envy’s bitter shoot. Indeed, it is so closely connected with envy that we should probably say that envy is itself a form of hatred and that hatred in the fullest sense is inevitable once jealousy has taken root in the heart. The narrative tells us three times that Joseph’s brothers hated him, in verses 4, 5 and 8. If the dreams were from God, as the brothers may have suspected and perhaps feared, they indicated that God had elected Joseph to certain earthly favors. Joseph was not like them. He was godly while they were godless; they hated him for that. But here, in addition, we find them hating him because God had chosen him for a position of special future prominence. This reminds us of what the Lord Jesus Christ said to His disciples in John 15. He had been reminding them of His election of them, saying that they had not chosen to be His disciples but rather that He had chosen them [16]. Then he continued, If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you [18-19]. These verses contain the same two principles: hatred for being different and hatred for being chosen. They tell us that the situation is the same today as it was in Joseph’s generation. If by the grace of God you are different from the ungodly people around you – and ‘by grace’ is the only way you ever can or will be different – then the world will hate you as the brothers hated Joseph. If you show by your conduct that you have been chosen out of your past wicked state and have been directed to obey and love God, then the world will also hate you for your election to godliness. What you must take care of is seeing that the root of bitterness – envy – does not produce the shoot of bitterness – hatred – in your own life. On the contrary, you must live as Joseph lived and trust God to care for you even in life’s injustices and deprivations. This leads to a third point. As the story shows a root of bitterness leading to a shoot of bitterness, so also does it show the fruit of bitterness, which in this case is the tangible act of reaching out to kill a brother. Attempted murder was the fruit of bitterness in the lives of these brothers. Jacob had sent Joseph to find his other sons and bring him word of them, and Joseph had searched for them. If was a journey of four or five days. So Joseph clearly cared for his brothers, just as his father did. When the brothers saw him coming, they said, Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams [37:19-20]. Then Reuben intervened, suggesting that they could avoid the shedding of blood by merely throwing him into a cistern. Reuben hoped to be able to come back and rescue Joseph and restore him to his father, perhaps seeking to make up for the dishonor he had caused his father by sleeping with the concubine Bilhah [Gen. 35:22]. Reuben’s plan misfired. Joseph was sold to Midianite traders as a slave. Envy and strife caused trouble in those days. So do they cause trouble today. Not necessarily in death, but in the declining impact of the gospel of Christ upon our society and world. We need what Joseph exhibited in his day and what Paul speaks of in Philippians 2: the mind of Christ. Paul writes: Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus [Phil. 2:3-5]. We live in a sinful world. Envy is all too real. Envy leads to hatred and hatred to overt evil acts, even against our brothers and sisters in the faith. It is a root of bitterness, which, when it has flowered, defiles many. Christ is the cure for envy. His mind is in His people, and it will produce the Spirit’s fruit rather than the acts of sinful natures.”  [Boice, pp. 872-877].

The Lord was with Joseph:  Genesis 39:1-2.

[1]  Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.  [2]  The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master.  [ESV]

[39:1-2]  “The chief emphasis of the story of Joseph is on the fact that the Lord whom Joseph served was prospering him. This is the dominating theme of Genesis 39, where it is repeated seven times. In verse 2 we are told that although Joseph had been taken to Egypt and sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man. Verse 3 tells us that his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. In verse 5 we read, From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. Potiphar did not only notice that Joseph was blessed by God and therefore praised God because of him, he decided that if the Lord was favoring Joseph, then it was to his advantage also to favor Joseph. In Genesis growth is skillfully indicated by the accumulating references to Joseph’s success. The progression is something like this: (1) God prospered Joseph when he was just a menial slave; (2) Joseph moved to Potiphar’s house when it was discovered that he did his work well; (3) Potiphar, the master, noted that God was with Joseph; (4) Potiphar promoted him to be his personal attendant and put him in charge of the entire household; (5) the estate now prospered under Joseph’s hand, including matters that concerned both the house and the field; (6) Potiphar therefore withdrew from all management of his affairs and instead left everything to Joseph. How long did this process of recognition and advancement take? Well, Joseph was seventeen years old when he was sold into slavery. He was thirty years old when Pharaoh promoted him [Gen 41:46], and he had been in prison two years before that [Gen. 41:1]. Thus it took eleven years for the full measure of the blessing of God upon Joseph to be recognized. This is an important point. One area in which many Christian people fail is to suppose that advancement flowing from the blessing of God must come quickly. God sometimes does advance us quickly, at least as quickly as we are capable of advancing without having success go to our heads and lead us astray. But normally success takes time. We must not be unduly impatient. That is why we must get our priorities straight. Notice that both in the case of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the case of Joseph the favor of God is obtained before human favor. Human approval and the advancement that goes with it are often good things, certainly things to be desired. But they are not good if they are obtained before God’s favor or instead of it. We must strive to please God and be blessed by God above everything. At times this will produce setbacks, as it did in Joseph’s case as a result of the advances of Potiphar’s wife. The conclusion is that we must serve God first of all and that we must be willing to do this for a lifetime. What emerges from this is a Christian approach to success in which we, first, please God and seek His blessing and, second, do this over a long period of time. But we are not to think that our service is Godward only, still less that it is to be exerted in merely ‘spiritual’ rather than ‘practical’ ways. It should be evident from these verses that, whatever Joseph did, he certainly did not neglect the interests of his master and he worked zealously to be sure that those interests were furthered. In other words, God blessed Joseph through Joseph’s own hard work. How did Joseph get to the position he later came to occupy? Joseph worked hard to learn a new language, master the trades, and acquire management skills. It must have taken long hours and genuine interest, but Joseph kept at it. Extra effort must have become a habit that hung on after Joseph’s promotion.”  [Boice, pp. 906-910].

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What caused Joseph’s brothers to hate him enough to plan on murdering him? Note the progression that occurs in the brothers from jealousy and envy to murder. Boice describes this progression as moving from the root of bitterness to the shoot of bitterness to the fruit of bitterness.

2.         Evaluate Boice’s statement that “envy is an angry resistance to God’s decrees.” How was this statement true concerning Joseph’s brothers? What are we really saying to God when we are envious?

3.         The chief biblical emphasis in the life of Joseph is found in 39:2: The Lord was with Joseph. What evidence of this statement do we find in the life of Joseph? Boice derives a Christian approach to success from God’s dealing with Joseph. What are the two steps in this Christian approach to success (First, please God and seek His blessing, and second, do this over a long period of time)? Seek, by God’s grace, to apply these two steps in your life.


Genesis, volume 3, James Boice, Baker.

Genesis, John Sailhamer, EBC, Zondervan.

Genesis, volume 2, Kenneth Mathews, NAC, Broadman.

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