Jacob was blessed with twelve sons, through whom came the twelve tribes of Israel. In order, Joseph was the eleventh of Jacob’s sons. Much of the history recorded in Genesis 37-50 is connected with the life of Joseph and his ultimate role in Egypt. However, the divine record also allows us to see a number of things in the lives of his brothers. As we think about them, not one by one, but as a group, what lessons can modern-day Christians learn from their lives?
When we observe the older brothers of Joseph, we see a family with serious internal issues. When people deal with people, even when they are close relatives, at times there will be tension, conflict, and disruption of harmony. Jesus spoke about what happens when a house is divided against itself (Mark 3:24). We certainly observe a divisive spirit in Joseph’s older brothers. Oh, they were often united in their plans and deeds, but their actions caused division in the family. Satan must be happy to see such happen.
For sure, Jacob’s partial treatment of son number eleven was a key factor in producing the turmoil which wrecked his home. Here is the blunt truth: “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children . . . Also he made him a tunic of many colors” (Genesis 37:3). How did Joseph’s brothers respond to that situation? “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” (Genesis 37:4). Notice the change in verbs from verse three to verse four: Jacob loved, but his ten oldest sons hated. After that, at least two times the Bible text tells us that Joseph’s brothers “hated him even more” (37:5,8). Their hatred was growing.
We again see Joseph’s brothers’ displeasure with him when we read that “his brothers envied him” (37:11).What can you expect to see when hearts are filled with hatred and envy? “For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing will be there” (James 3:16). The resentment that Joseph’s brothers felt for him led them to make every effort to get rid of him. At first, “. . . they conspired against him to kill him” (37:18). Due to the pleading of Reuben and Judah not to kill him, they instead sold Joseph into slavery (37:28). Make no mistake about it. The fruits of hatred and envy are 100% wicked. Surely we can see that in the case of the brothers of Joseph.
When people do not really care about others, they are capable of doing horrible, unthinkable things. How do people turn against their own loved ones or former closest friends? How can people intentionally sell their own family members, as Joseph’s brothers did with him? How can people kill their own flesh and blood, as evil Athaliah did her grandsons? (2 Kings 11). Such action is ungodly through and through, but it happens. It is repeated in modern times when parents sell their daughters into prostitution or do other self-serving, loveless things.
Have you ever considered the calloused attitude that the brothers of Joseph showed toward their father? They took Joseph’s tunic and dipped it in the blood of a goat. Then they brought that tunic to Jacob, saying, “We have found this. Do you know whether it is your son’s tunic or not?” (37:32). Their deception was despicable. They knew exactly what had become of their brother and his gorgeous tunic. When Jacob saw the tunic, what did he conclude? “A wild beast has devoured him. Without doubt Joseph is torn to pieces. Then Jacob tore his clothes . . . and mourned for his son many days” (37:33,34). How cold-hearted were Joseph’s older brothers? Cold-hearted enough to sell him, and cold-hearted enough to allow their father to believe and cling to the falsehood that Joseph was no longer alive. Do you know how long Joseph’s brothers concealed the truth about Joseph from their father? For twenty-two years they allowed their father to suffer the mental anguish of thinking that his son was dead! Loving children do not inflict such torment on a parent.
When love – genuine care and concern for others, is missing, every sort of evil deed can be found. Let us not deceive ourselves. It happened in the case of Joseph’s older brothers, and it can happen in modern-day families as well, even good ones. Not only that, it can happen among the members of local churches. In the ancient church in Corinth, there were envy, strife, and division. The presence of such revealed that they were carnal (1 Corinthians 3:3). Let us not allow the devil to erect such walls between us or among us.
Let us close on a high note. From the lives of Joseph’s brothers, we learn the truth that people can learn from their past mistakes, mature, and do better. Long after Joseph was sold by his brothers, when a famine struck the land of Canaan and it became necessary to take Benjamin, the beloved youngest son of Jacob, to Egypt, Judah interceded. Out of concern for his father’s peace of mind, he pledged that he would take care of Benjamin (43:8,9). When Benjamin received special, partial treatment from Joseph (he got five times more food than his brothers), the elder brothers did not hate or resent him (43:34). What a change that was from how they treated Joseph!
Again, when Joseph threatened to imprison Benjamin (which would have meant separating him from his father, Jacob), Judah pleaded with Joseph to free Benjamin and imprison him (Judah) instead. With Joseph, the brothers’ attitude was, “Who cares what happens to him?” By the time they face the prospect of losing Benjamin for the rest of his life, their heart has changed. Where brotherly love had been lacking, it is now present. Where concern for their father’s feelings and happiness had been absent, it is now shown in a moving way. Yes, in the case of Joseph’s brothers we learn that people really can stop being “hateful and hating one another” (Titus 3:3). Like all of us, Joseph’s brothers made mistakes. At least in some instances, though, they showed that they learned from their wrongs, matured, and made better choices in the future.
— Roger D. Campbell
TRUTH is published monthly by the Klang church of Christ in order to help educate, edify, encourage, and equip the saints of God.