Joseph the Son

Genesis 37

The inspiring and instructive story of Joseph began in earnest when Joseph was seventeen years old. He was only a teenager, but what a teenager! Already character was deeply etched upon his heart, and firm conviction controlled his behavior. The idea that we cannot expect young people to exhibit much godliness until they are considerably older is not supported by Joseph’s life. You do not have to be old, retired, and past your prime to have strong character and conviction. Paul exhorted Timothy, "Let no man despise thy youth, but be thou an example of the believers" (1 Timothy 4:12). Not only is it possible to live godly at an early age, as Joseph’s life attests; but it also saves one from much loss. The earlier one begins to live for God, the less will be the wasted years with their attendant ruin and scars.

Prior to Genesis 37, where the story of Joseph begins in earnest, Joseph comes to our attention on four brief occasions. On each of these occasions, he is seen in the position of a son. Therefore, we feel it is fitting to mention those occasions here in the introduction of this chapter, since in this chapter Joseph is seen mainly in the son position.

We first meet Joseph in Genesis 30:22–24. There Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, bore his favorite son, Joseph. Rachel had been barren for many years. She had watched in envy and despair as leah, Bilhah and Zilpah bore sons to Jacob. Ten sons in all had been born before Joseph. But finally Joseph was born and much to the rejoicing of Rachel. And well might she rejoice; for in character, Joseph was worth more than the other ten sons of Jacob put together. Rachel’s barrenness was only in numbers, not in quality. Man emphasizes numbers but God specializes in quality. Quality is character, but numbers are often something else.

The second appearance of Joseph is in Genesis 33:2. Esau and four hundred men were approaching the camp of Jacob. To protect the camp from possible attack by Esau, Jacob divided his family into several groups. Placed in the group located at the rear of the camp, where protection was the greatest, were Rachel and Joseph. They were Jacob’s most prized possessions, and so he gave them premium protection. The more valuable our possession, the greater should be the protection we give it. Our most valuable possessions, whether we realize it or not, are our character and our spiritual blessings. Such things need to be given the best protection we can possibly give them. We must treat them like Jacob treated Rachel and Joseph.

Esau’s visit was peaceful and this permits us to see Joseph a third time prior to the 37th chapter of Genesis. Rachel and Joseph are brought forward to meet Esau, and they bow in respectful greeting to Esau (Genesis 33:7). Joseph had been taught good manners, and he exhibited them in this incident. Many young people, and many adults also, could learn from this example. Poor manners evidence lack of proper respect and do not speak well of one’s character.

The fourth and final mention of Joseph before chapter 37 is simply the listing of his name in the register of Jacob’s sons (Genesis 35:24), but it has a note of sorrow to it. Joseph is listed with his only younger brother Benjamin, the other son born to his mother Rachel. It was Benjamin’s birth that bereft Joseph of his beloved mother. What a sad day it was in Joseph’s young life when she died. Her death helped Joseph to learn early in life that godliness does not exempt one from earthly trials and sorrows. Joseph had some other experiences in his youth that also taught this lesson. The hurried flight of Jacob and his family from Laban, the fear which came to the home when they heard that Esau was coming to meet them, the troubling sight of his father limping into camp one morning at Penuel, and the bloody ordeal of Shechem all had to leave deep and painful impressions upon Joseph’s young heart as did the death of his mother. But God was putting Joseph through a school of preparation for service—a school in which the greater and rougher the training, the greater and more rewarding the service ahead. It is obvious from the history of Joseph’s life that these trials of his early life helped to build in him the character and faith which he so wonderfully exhibited throughout his entire life.

In this study in which we see Joseph primarily in the position of a son, we will consider Joseph’s purity (Genesis 37:2}), privileges (Genesis 37:3–11), pursuit (Genesis 37:12–17), and persecution (Genesis 37:18–36).


One of the first things we learn about Joseph in the Bible is his purity. And it is most fitting to learn of this fact at the beginning of the story of Joseph, for purity was a keynote in Joseph’s life. His purity brought him much blessing and honor from God, but it also brought him much trouble and suffering from his enemies. Purity always does this to a person. It promotes the finest of blessings but it also provokes the foulest of buffetings. Those who would live the noble life of purity must not let the buffetings detract them from pursuit of the blessings, however.

The purity of Joseph is revealed in our text in a twofold way. It is seen in the validity of Joseph’s report to his father and in the virtue of Joseph’s conduct with his brothers.

1. The Validity of Joseph’s Report

Though he was the favorite son, commendably Joseph was not permitted to sit around the camp in idleness but was put to work "feeding the flock with his brethren" (v. 2). While so doing, he observed the evil conduct of his brothers and "brought unto his father their evil report" (Ibid.). Since it is stated in verse 2 that Joseph was particularly with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher), the "their" in the verse (in "their evil report") may seem to make the evil report refer only to those four brothers. But the report doubtless referred to all ten of the older brothers, for they were all an evil bunch. In Genesis we read of such things as murder (Genesis 34:25), incest (Genesis 35:22), hatred (Genesis 37:4), envy (Genesis 37:11), selling of Joseph into slavery (Genesis 37:28), lying (Genesis 37:31–33), and immorality (Genesis 38:12–18) by these brothers all of which shows the awful bent to evil that existed among all ten of Joseph’s older brothers. Therefore, an evil report of all of these men is not unexpected, hard to believe, or difficult to validate.

Some accuse Joseph of talebearing when he reported the evil of his brothers to his father. This however, was not the case at all. So how do we know that it was not talebearing or gossip or some other form of indiscreet and unjustified talk? To answer that question, we ask three other questions: to whom did Joseph speak? what did Joseph speak? and why did Joseph speak?

To whom did Joseph speak? "Joseph brought unto his father their evil report" (v. 2). Jacob needed to know about the evil of these men, and this was the very person to whom Joseph reported. Maclaren said, "Jacob had a right to know and Joseph would have been wrong if he had not told him the truth about his brothers." Talebearers, however, are always telling the wrong person. Often their wrong is not in what they say but to whom they say it. It makes a great deal of difference whom you tell. It can either stop evil or spread evil. Talebearers have a habit of telling evil things only to those who will spread evil, not stop it.

What did Joseph speak? He spoke the truth. We have already noted how evil his brothers were, and so what Joseph reported was not inconsistent with the facts. But in contrast to Joseph, talebearers are not careful about the facts. Limiting talebearers to telling only the facts would quickly diminish their zeal for speaking.

Why did Joseph speak? He had two excellent reasons for reporting the evil of his brothers to his father. They were the fact that he was obligated to his father and he was opposed to evil.

First, he was obligated to his father. As a keeper of his father’s flocks, Joseph (along with his ten older brothers) was obligated to keep his father informed as to the condition of the flocks and of the situation in the field. Being of high character, "He would not suffer his father to be deceived by a false estimate of the conduct of his sons [which would include their care of the flocks and the condition of the flocks]" (T. H. Leale).

Sometimes good people do have a responsibility to speak out against evil as Joseph did. Silence is not golden in such situations. "When open and undisguised sin has actually been committed before our eyes, we are on no account to wink at it. It is a time to speak when, by reporting what is amiss to those who have power to restrain and correct it, we may either put an end to that evil, or bring those to repentance who have committed it"

(C. Overton). Maclaren said, "There are circumstances in which to do so [tell of other people’s evil] is plain duty, and only a mistaken sense of honor keeps silence." Failure to speak out regarding evil may at times even make us a particeps criminis. But talebearing is a different story. Talebearers’ indiscreet speaking greatly violates the restrictions of the legitimate obligation to inform others.

When the Bible warns against evil speaking, as in James 4:11, it does not mean we are never to expose or denounce evil. Rather, it teaches us not to speak in an unfactual or prejudicial manner. The same lesson is taught by the frequently misunderstood and misused text of Matthew 7:1 which says, "Judge not, that ye be not judged." These two verses from James and Matthew do not teach us to never speak out against evil. Rather, they exhort us to be careful that we are discreet and honest when denouncing evil. Many preachers who have faithfully denounced sin and exposed evil teachers and apostates have been severely criticized for doing so by those who misuse these two verses. These critics, who seem to be in league with the devil, need to be reminded that "Cry aloud, spare not, lift up thy voice like a trumpet, and show my people their transgression" (Isaiah 58:1) is in the Book, too! We do have at times an obligation put on us by our Heavenly Father to speak out about evil.

Second, he was opposed to evil. Joseph reported the evil of his brothers to his father because Joseph was himself opposed to evil. Joseph’s character was of such excellent quality it would not tolerate evil. Oh, for more men of such character whose tongue is a vigorous protest of the evil around them. So many, however, seem to employ their tongue only to increase evil. So it is with talebearers—protesting evil does not motivate their speaking. To the contrary, they often speak to perpetrate evil. They would gain vengeance, wreck and ruin lives, vent their envy, or seek some personal advantage at the expense of others by telling of evil. Rather than opposing evil, they promote it. But Joseph was not way. He was not a talebearer. He was opposed to evil and used his mouth to protest and hinder it.

2. The Virtue of Joseph’s Conduct

Joseph’s conduct was signally different from his brothers. Later on in the story of Joseph, Jacob says Joseph was "separate from his brethren" (Genesis 49:26). Indeed he was! He stood apart from them in so many ways and most notably in his conduct. Though Joseph worked alongside his brothers in the fields with the flocks in those early years of his life, yet he did not participate with his brothers in their evil. He refused to go along with the crowd. He stood alone because he would stand aright. Joseph demonstrated that we do not have to be and do as others. Just because nearly everyone else is living like the devil and wallowing in the mire of sin is no reason for us to do it. Peer pressure to conform may be great, and no one will experience more peer pressure than Joseph did. But peer pressure is not the standard by which we determine our conduct. The Word of God is! Dare to be pure. Dare to live as the Word says and not as the world says. It is seldom popular, as Joseph discovered; but it is always right, and that is what really matters anyway.

We need more men like Joseph, whose keynote of character and life is purity. As in his case, it would benefit nations, save multitudes, and glorify God.


Two distinct privileges are accorded Joseph in Genesis 37 when he was a youth living in his father’s home. They are the privilege of the vesture (coat) and the privilege of the visions (dreams). First was the robe from Jacob, his earthly father; second was the revelation from Jehovah, his heavenly Father. Purity does bring blessing, and Joseph’s privileges are related to his purity.

1. The Vesture

Jacob "loved Joseph more than all his children," and so "he made him a coat of many colors" (v. 3). We will note the description of the coat, the significance of the coat, the qualifications for the coat, and the Gospel in the coat.

The description of the coat. It is described as "a coat of many colors." These words are a translation of two Hebrew words kethoneth passim. Kethoneth means coat, tunic or robe; passim means ankles or wrists. The two words together mean a long-sleeved coat, tunic, or robe reaching to the ankles. These coats were sometimes brightly colored, as "many colors" (an interpretation more than a translation) suggests. But very often they were simply white with some elegant embroidered trim in the appropriate places.

The significance of the coat. It signified rank. It indicated that the wearer was an overseer or master. It was not the coat of the common laborer. He wore a shorter coat, normally knee length and sleeveless, which was more suitable for hard labor than was a long-sleeved, ankle-length coat. By giving this coat to Joseph, Jacob plainly indicated that Joseph was to have the privileged position of preeminence over his brothers in the family’s administration.

The qualifications for the coat. These would vary from family to family, but normally one must at least be the firstborn to be given such a coat. Joseph, of course, was not the firstborn. Then why was he given the coat instead of Reuben, the firstborn, or one of the other older sons of Jacob? The answer is found in the purity of Joseph. He had character but his older brothers did not.

That his character was a factor in Jacob giving him the coat is seen in the reason given in verse 3 for why Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other children. The verse says he loved Joseph more than the others, "because he was the son of his old age." This has often been criticized as unwise and harmful parental partiality. Parental partiality can verily be a great problem, but Jacob’s affection for Joseph was something much nobler than unjustified favoritism. Also, Jacob loving Joseph more simply because Joseph was born when Jacob was old, as some interpret the text and as the English translation appears to say, is not well supported by the Hebrew text. "Son of old age" is a phrase which can refer to something beside the numerical age of the parent. It is true that Jacob was old (91) when Joseph was born; but Jamieson said that the phrase "‘son of old age’ . . . [is a] Hebrew phrase for ‘a wise son,’—one who possessed observation and wisdom above his years—an old head on young shoulders." Matthew Poole speaks likewise. He says, "The ancient translations, Chaldee, Persian, Arabic, and Samaritan, render the words thus, a wise or prudent son; old age being oft mentioned as a token of prudence; one born old, one wise above his years, one that had a grey head, as we say, upon green shoulders." Joseph’s wisdom especially evidenced itself in his godly character. "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom" (Proverbs 9:10), and "The fear of the Lord is to hate evil" (Proverbs 8:13). Joseph’s godly wisdom and character were the reasons the "coat of many colors" was given him. If it was simply Jacob’s old age at the birth of a son that determined the recipient of the coat then Benjamin, not Joseph, would have been given the coat; for Jacob was older when Benjamin was born than he was when Joseph was born.

Of course, the giving of the coat to Joseph did not sit well with the older brothers, but they had no right to complain. Reuben, through incest, had forfeited his rightful place as the firstborn. The other nine were no better. Jacob could not trust them either. They may have had talent, and they did have seniority; but these things are of no avail when character is lacking. It was Joseph’s virtue which merited the vesture, and Jacob was wise in selecting Joseph as the inheritor of the family’s leadership.

God, like Jacob, also places purity as the first and foremost qualification for the privilege of high service in His family. 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 emphasize this fact. Talent is useful, longevity and seniority have their place, and popularity does gain votes in church elections; but God says character is the prime qualification for church office. Many church problems would be eliminated if church officers were chosen according to God’s standard and not by man’s. Too many churches have the Reubens, Simeons, and Levis firmly entrenched in important office; but the godly Josephs are rejected because they are not charter members, or do not belong to the clique, or they have not been around long enough to suit the carnal church members who are more interested in position than purity and privilege than performance.

The Gospel in the coat. The believer is given, because of his salvation, a robe of righteousness from the heavenly Father. Isaiah 61:10 says, "I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness." This robe, like Joseph’s, is truly a beautiful coat; in fact, no coat is so beautiful; for it is a robe of righteousness and, therefore, has the "beauty of holiness" (Psalm 29:2). This robe, like Joseph’s, exempts the believer from labor but not from service (Matthew 11:28–30). And as Joseph’s robe speaks of rank, so does this robe; for we are a "royal priesthood" (1 Peter 2:9), and we shall rule and reign with Christ in the millennium (Revelation 20:6). The robe of righteousness attires us appropriately for the position we gain through Jesus Christ in our salvation.

2. The Visions

The second great privilege reported in Genesis 37 which Joseph enjoyed was to have visions or dreams regarding the future. These were Divine revelations, and Joseph was indeed privileged to receive them. Joseph’s day did not possess the written Word of God as we do today; and Divine revelation was, therefore, not nearly as full and complete as it is now. So to receive a dream from God as Joseph did was a special blessing from God.

We do not need dreams today; for we have the written Word of God, the Bible, as our Divine revelation; and it is far superior to dreams such as Joseph’s. Some people do not seem to realize this important truth, and so they get more excited over the prospect of dreams than over the possession of the Scriptures. Joseph was privileged in his day to have these divinely inspired dreams, but we are more privileged today to have in our possession the divinely inspired written Word of God.

The Bible exceeds visions in value in a number of ways. First, the Bible is much more detailed. It covers more subjects. Dreams are limited in the amount of revelation they give. Second, the Bible is more trustworthy than dreams. Only the dreamer knows the vision, and this can make examination of the dream by others very difficult. But the Bible is out in the open for everyone to see and know, and it can be easily tested and proven. Third, the Bible is more authoritative than dreams. We use the Bible to check the validity of a vision not vice versa. Fourth, the Bible is more certain than a dream. Men forget dreams, and the dreams become vague in time. But the Bible is always right before us and complete.

In looking at Joseph’s visions, we will note the number of dreams, the message of the dreams, the enmity because of the dreams, and the fulfillment of the dreams.

The number of dreams. The dreams were two in number. The first dream was of the sheaves (bundles) of grain of Joseph’s brothers bowing down to his sheaf. The second dream was of the sun, moon and stars giving obeisance to Joseph. Joseph comes in contact with more dreams later on; and, significantly, the dreams come in pairs each time. This emphasizes God’s practice of repeating important truths. When God repeats, it is not because He is senile or forgetful. Repetition emphasizes the certainty of a truth and gives strong warning. This is demonstrated in Genesis 41:32. "The dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice . . . because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass." "Established" is the emphasis on certainty; "shortly bring it to pass" is the emphasis on strong warning. So Divine repetition has at least two great values: it gives assurance of the facts, and it urges application of the facts.

The message of the dreams. "These dreams pointed in an unmistakable way to the supremacy of Joseph; the first to supremacy over his brethren, the second [to supremacy] over the whole house of Israel" (Keil). The message of the visions was the same as the message of the vesture. Both indicated the superiority of Joseph’s character and position. The vesture indicated the approval and appointment of his earthly father; the visions indicated the approval and appointment of his heavenly Father.

The enmity because of the dreams. Heavenly honor seldom brings earthly honor. Rather, it usually brings earthly harassment. Joseph experienced hostility from both his brothers and his father because of the dreams. Likewise, the disciples of Christ were given great spiritual privilege and honor when Christ gave them the Word. And their experience was like Joseph’s, for Jesus said, "I have given them thy word; and the world hath hated them" (John 17:14).

Joseph’s brothers already hated him because of the vesture; but after the first dream, the Scripture says his brothers "hated him yet the more" (v. 5). No one likes to be hated, especially by his own brothers. It hurts. But worse than the hurt inflicted upon Joseph by his brothers’ hatred must have been the pain from his father’s rebuke. After the second dream, the Scripture says, "His father rebuked him" (v. 10). The Hebrew word translated "rebuked" is a strong word. Leupold says the word means "‘to scream at,’ and so he [Jacob] at least ‘sharply rebuked him.’" Joseph’s relationship with Jacob had always been amiable, and the giving of the coat to Joseph by Jacob indicated conspicuously that Jacob recognized Joseph’s superiority. So for Jacob to oppose Joseph when his brothers also opposed him was like pouring salt into the wound. It was opposition from an unexpected and surprising source, and that always hurts more.

Many young converts also know what it is to be despised by those nearest them because of spiritual blessing. They have come to know Christ as Savior and have delighted in Divine revelation, the Word of God, and the glorious future it discloses to believers. But their new-found joys are quickly ridiculed, and they become the object of much enmity. Like Joseph, they soon discover the most painful enmity is that received from their closest friends and loved ones. These attacks from those nearest the heart are not only the most distressing but also the most dangerous. Nothing so tests our loyalty to the Lord as opposition from our loved ones. But if one is to follow the Lord faithfully, he may have to go against the strong wishes of even a dear parent or beloved mate.

Some say Joseph’s telling of the dreams provoked the brothers and his father; and, therefore, he should have kept quiet. But telling the dreams was not the real reason for the provocation. The real reason was the message of the dreams (vv. 8, 10). Furthermore, it was very important that the dreams be made public, for had Joseph not declared his dreams, then the fulfillment of them would have had little or no significance in the minds of his family. But telling about the dreams as he did made the fulfillment of them a great vindicator of Joseph’s person and of God’s power.

Joseph is also accused of lacking tact in telling the dreams; and this lack is blamed for the provocations, too. But if lack of tact was a problem, more tact would not have stopped the provocations. You simply cannot speak truth tactfully enough to silence evil critics. The truth will upset them no matter how careful you are in presenting it.

The fulfillment of the dreams. The fulfillment of the dreams occurs in the latter chapters of Genesis. Joseph’s brothers did bow down to him, and Joseph was over all the house of Israel when Israel was in Egypt. Men tried their best to prevent the fulfillment of these dreams, however. Through the mocking of mouths (his brothers’ attitude) and the might of muscles (his slavery and prison experience), it sometimes looked like God’s predictions would come to naught. But that has never happened and never will. "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away" (Mark 13:31) is more than a sentimental saying. It is the irrevocable decree of Deity!


Joseph’s brothers went sixty miles away to Shechem to find pasture for Jacob’s flocks. Jacob then summoned Joseph to pursue the brothers. "Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? Come, and I will send thee unto them" (v. 13). We will consider the vindication of the pursuit and the valor of the pursuit.

1. The Vindication of the Pursuit

Some have questioned, and for good reasons, the wisdom of Jacob sending Joseph to check up on his brothers. It was a long trip for young Joseph to make by himself. Also, the hatred of the brothers for Joseph was very great; and sending Joseph all alone to see them would seem to give them great opportunity to do him harm—which they did. But the pursuit of Joseph can still be vindicated; for it was needed for the well-being of the family, the flocks, the father, and the favorite (Joseph).

The well-being of the family. The well-being of Joseph’s brothers certainly justified the trip. They were a degraded bunch and needed to be monitored. Therefore, the first reason Jacob gave Joseph for going to Shechem was to "see whether it be well with thy brethren" (v. 14). Jacob was concerned about the brothers, and well he should have been. Not only did their past motivate Jacob to keep a close watch on them, but their present action of going to Shechem would also prompt checking up on them. Shechem was an evil place (Genesis 34) from which Jacob had moved at God’s urging (Genesis 35:1). Going back to Shechem for pasture did not speak well of the brothers. It revealed their evil affection—evil hearts love evil habitats; and it also revealed their poor priorities—pasture was more important to them than purity. Jacob had a right to be concerned about how his boys were doing and was justified in sending Joseph to check up on them.

The well-being of the flocks. Jacob’s concern included the well-being of his flocks, and so he also told Joseph to see if it was "well with the flocks" (v. 14). Jacob had a responsibility to know the condition of his flocks; for the Scripture says, "Be thou diligent to know the state of thy flocks, and look well to thy herds" (Proverbs 27:23). In view of that, it is hard to criticize Jacob for wanting to know about his flocks and, therefore, sending Joseph to check up on them.

The well-being of the father. Jacob’s age would make it difficult, if not impossible, for him to check up on the family and the flocks himself. So he did the logical thing and sent Joseph in his place. Joseph was physically much better able to travel than Jacob was; therefore, it made sense for Jacob to say to Joseph, "Come . . . I will send thee" (v. 13).

The well-being of the favorite. This duty of checking up on the family and the flocks fit the coat Joseph was given by Jacob. Joseph had been chosen by his father as the one to oversee the family. He was the heir apparent to rule the household. The coat made the choice official and, of course, made it known to others. Sending Joseph to check up on the family and flocks was good training for Joseph for his eventual leadership in the family. This trip could give him good experience which would help him in the future when he would take over the family leadership. It was in Joseph’s good interests to make the trip.

Hindsight would say sending Joseph to check up on the family and flocks was unwise. But the trip can still be easily vindicated because of these four reasons: the well-being of the family, flocks, father, and favorite.

2. The Valor of the Pursuit

For Joseph to pursue his brothers as his father ordered required considerable character. There was much about the task that would not appeal to the flesh. But Joseph performed his duty most commendably. To make the trip, Joseph had to be submissive, sacrificial, steadfast, and stouthearted. These are ingredients which we need to have in order to serve well.

joseph was submissive. When Jacob called Joseph to pursue his brothers, Joseph’s response was a noble "Here am I" (v. 13). The answer indicated Joseph’s ready submission to the commands of his father. He was a good servant, for service begins with submission to the master.

Christian service begins with submission to Christ. Few serve well because they will not submit well. Many who complain of not being used in service have only their lack of submission to blame. The story is told of a boy who applied for a job. When he was asked what he could do, he replied, "I can do what I am told to do." The boy was hired because he had one of the most important qualifications of all—submission to the boss. You, too, will be employed in God’s service when you learn to submit to Him.

Submission involves humility. Joseph’s ready response of "Here am I" gave evidence of his humility. He had not let the special coat go to his head. Position had not puffed him up with pride. Pride and rebellion go together but not pride and submission. Humility is what goes with submission.

Joseph was sacrificial. To do as Jacob told him, Joseph must leave his comfortable home in Hebron and travel some sixty miles to Shechem. This would require much time, effort, and inconvenience; for travel in those days was much more difficult than it is today. He would have to give up the comforts and pleasures of his home. But he was willing to pay the price to perform this service for his father. If we are going to do as our heavenly Father orders, we will, like Joseph, have to do some sacrificing, too. But too often we get put out about service if we have to put out in service, and so we refuse to serve.

Joseph was steadfast. Joseph stuck to his task even though he ran into some problems. When he arrived at Shechem, his brothers were not there. But he did not quit and go home. He continued looking for them until he found them in Dothan some twenty miles away. This steadfast feature of Joseph’s character was one important reason why he ended up on top in spite of the many adversities he experienced. Joseph never gave up. He would not quit. He remained steadfast through every circumstance. Paul said, "It is required in stewards, that a man be found faithful" (1 Corinthians 4:2); and Joseph certainly was. And you can be, too. You may not have great skills to serve; but if you can be steadfast, God can and will use you.

Joseph was stouthearted. What courage Joseph would have to have to do as his father asked him to do. His courage was demonstrated in two ways. It was demonstrated in where he went and in what he wore.

The place where he went was where hatred for him was very intense. Joseph must go to where his brothers were, and how they hated Joseph. A stout heart was certainly required to leave the place where love for him was very great and go to the place where hatred for him was very great.

It does not require much courage to live for Christ amidst a sympathetic crowd. Where courage is required is when one is surrounded by the ungodly. Then being faithful to Christ requires a stouthearted faith indeed. If you have trouble confessing Christ before the godly in a good church, you will not do well in confessing Christ before the ungodly in the world.

Joseph also demonstrated his stoutheartedness in what he wore. He wore his coat which his father had given him (v. 23). He wore this coat not because of pride but in order to be proper. The coat represented his position. As we said in the military, it was the "uniform of the day." But it would take courage to wear it, for it was a source of animosity with his brothers. But Joseph wore it anyway.

What a needed lesson this is about appropriate dress for saints today. Christians ought to dress like Christians and look like Christians. The popularity of immodest, sloppy, slovenly, and unkempt dress styles amongst Christians says many present-day saints are not doing well here. Joseph’s brothers recognized him even though he was some distance away (v. 18), doubtless because of his coat. Unlike Joseph, many professing saints cannot be recognized even when you are right next to them because their appearance is so worldly. It takes courage to dress as a Christian should. Decent attire may bring sneers from the world, but the Christian’s duty is to dress properly anyway. Joseph did.


Joseph’s godly life brought him some valuable privileges, but it also brought him persecution. We like the privileges, but we do not like the persecution. But as long as we are in this world, we will discover that heavenly favor is seldom without earthly disfavor. The Apostle Paul said, "all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution" (2 Timothy 3:12). Godliness provokes persecution. It is an attack upon Satan and his work, and that riles him quickly and causes him to react with force.

Joseph’s pursuit of his brothers provided a ready-made opportunity for his brothers to do him harm. Being far away from home, the brothers could do to Joseph as they pleased without the restrictions of Jacob’s presence. How often it is with people that when they get away from home their conduct worsens. They may think they are away from the restrictions of home, but they need to be reminded that they are never away from the eye of the Almighty. He sees all, and the day will come when the vile will have a reckoning with Him concerning their evil behavior.

In our study of Joseph’s persecution, we will consider the villains in the persecution and the victims of the persecution.

1. The Villains in the Persecution

Joseph’s ten older brothers were a wicked bunch in their persecuting of Joseph. They revealed it in their contemplation, conversation and conduct.

Their contemplation. The evil thoughts of a man will corrupt him. Evil begins in our hearts. "As he thinketh in his heart, so is he" (Proverbs 23:7). This was the case with Joseph’s brothers. Their persecution of Joseph began earlier in chapter 37 when the brothers started to hate and envy him. Three times we are told that the older brothers hated Joseph (Genesis 37:4, 5, 8) and once we are told they envied him (Genesis 37:11). Because of these evil contemplations by the brothers about Joseph, we are not surprised to see the brothers plotting to do Joseph harm when he comes to check up on them at Dothan.

How this warns us about our own thoughts. If we are to overcome evil in our own lives, we must start the attack on evil in our thoughts. Evil thoughts must be stopped, or they will lead to evil conduct. If we let the smoldering embers of evil thoughts continue, we will soon have a raging forest fire of evil words and deeds that will bring great destruction to our lives and to others. Evil contemplations are the seeds of evil conduct. We will never be very successful in stopping evil in our life, if we do not attack our evil thoughts.

Their conversation. The evil thoughts of the brothers were followed by evil words. As Joseph came into view, the brothers’ mouths began to mock. They mocked the proclaimer, the precepts, and the power of Divine truth. This is ever the habit of persecutors.

They mocked the proclaimer of Divine truth by saying, "Behold, this dreamer cometh" (v. 19). Those who proclaim the revealed truth of God will discover that all men will not speak well of them. Joseph declared the dreams, which were revelations of Divine truth; then he experienced what anyone who dares to proclaim Divine truth experiences, namely, derision.

They mocked the precepts of Divine truth by calling them "his dreams" (v. 20). True, they were Joseph’s dreams; but they were more than that. They were revelations from God Himself. Every age has had this criticism of Divine truth. The Bible is often discredited as being unreliable and composed of man-made myths. But as Vance Havner said, "Those who say the Bible is a myth are ‘myth-taken.’"

The brothers also mocked the power of Divine truth. They sneered, "We shall see what will become of his dreams" (v. 20). They were not the first, nor will they be the last, who think they can prevent the fulfillment of Divine predictions. But God’s Word shall prevail! Mockers will come and go, "but the word of our God shall stand for ever" (Isaiah 40:8).

Their conduct. First it was evil thoughts, then it was evil words, now we behold the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers. Their evil deeds were mean, mixed, mercenary, and misleading.

Their deeds were mean. Their meanness stripped Joseph of his robe and cast him into a pit to suffer (vv. 23, 24) while they—without conscience—sat down to enjoy a meal (v. 25). Then they sold him into slavery (v. 28), and later they inflicted great grief upon their father in reporting that Joseph had been slain (vv. 32, 33). Genesis 42:21 adds an interesting footnote to this meanness. It reports a conversation of the brothers in Egypt some years later which referred to some of their meanness to Joseph and shows how bad it was. "They said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear." Their meanness would not listen to any entreaty for leniency though earnest it might be. What cruelty, what depravity! Every age has seen this satanic barbarianism. Today, it is seen in such things as rape, murder, torture of hostages, and evil dictator governments.

Their deeds were mixed. Most readers of Joseph’s story in the Scripture tend to think that the ten brothers worked in great unity in the persecution of Joseph, but they did not. Reuben broke rank with the brothers in their desire to kill Joseph. He said, "Let us not kill him. . . . Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him" (vv. 21, 22). Reuben attempted to "rid him [Joseph] out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again" (v. 22). But Reuben’s efforts were weak and did not do much to help Joseph. His proposal on how to treat Joseph did sound good, however; and it was not just words either, for "he delivered him [Joseph] out of their hands" (v.21) temporarily. But that is where it ended. He offered no more resistance to evil; and, thus, he cruelly let Joseph down.

The reasons why Reuben’s efforts were powerless to rescue Joseph were twofold. They were powerless because of too much compromise and because of too little commitment.

First, his actions were powerless because there was too much compromise. Reuben compromised with evil, and any compromise with evil is too much. His brothers would put Joseph in a pit dead while he, Reuben, would keep him alive but still in a pit. This is allowing some evil in hopes of stopping evil; but such compromise with evil will never win. Vietnamization (which sacrificed multitudes to communism) and Chamberlain’s "peace in our time" (which sacrificed Czechoslovakia to the barbarous Nazis) both demonstrate that the gains of compromising with evil are nothing but illusions. Ecumenical evangelism also demonstrates the same. It seems so promising in delivering souls, but it is a compromise with evil apostasy and leaves souls in the pit of modernistic churches.

Second, his actions were powerless because there was too little commitment. Reuben left his post of duty when he was most needed (v. 29). Some help he was. Genesis 49:4 said Reuben was "unstable" and indeed he was. Later Reuben went along with the brothers’ lie to Jacob about Joseph’s death; for he, being unstable, had no lasting commitment to the truth.

Many church members are like Reuben. They talk big, and sometimes they may even do a few things that look good; but in the long run, they are of little help to the work of the Lord. Eventually they will side with the dissident and hinder the work of the church more than help it. Also, like Reuben, who tore his clothes in an outward show of being greatly upset when Joseph was sold (v. 29), these unreliable church members will sometimes make quite a lamentation over the problems that have befallen the church; little realizing that they have been a contributor to these problems by their compromising with evil and by their poor commitment to God’s cause. As an example, even though they compromised with evil by nominating and voting into church office an unqualified person, yet they will be most outspoken in decrying the evils that this has brought to the church. Furthermore, though they have a poor commitment to attending the services and to giving, yet they will bemoan loudly declining attendance and offerings.

Their deeds were mercenary. The brothers’ mercenary ways are seen in both the proposal of Judah ("What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him" [vv. 26, 27]) and in the brothers’ actual selling of Joseph for twenty pieces of silver (v. 28). These evil men valued Joseph and what he represented only in terms of how much money it put in their pockets. To them life was not important, morals were not important, and character did not matter—all that mattered was money.

The businessman who attends church not because he loves the Lord but because it helps his business is no different. Communities pushing gambling to help the economy of the community regardless of what gambling does to the character of the community are no different. The tobacco and liquor industries selling many into a worse slavery than Joseph’s because it is profitable are no different. People choosing jobs on the basis of what it will do for their pocketbook not their spiritual well-being are no different. But all such mercenary conduct will someday be judged severely by the Judge of judges.

Their deeds were misleading. The misleading deeds of these men consisted of dipping Joseph’s coat in the blood of a slain goat and then presenting it to Jacob as evidence of Joseph’s death (vv. 31, 32). Their deception worked, for Jacob quickly concluded a wild beast had torn Joseph to pieces (v. 33).

One sin ever leads to another sin unless the sin is confessed to God and forsaken. And sin, sooner or later, will end up lying in an attempt to cover its tracks. Ananias and Sapphira sinned and both tried to cover it up by lying (Acts 5). David at times resorted to lying to cover up his unsavory conduct (1 Samuel 21:1,2; 21:13–15; 27:8–12). Gehazi lied about where he had been in trying to cover up his covetousness (2 Kings 5).

This deception by Jacob’s ten sons is a pungent lesson on sowing and reaping. Some years earlier Jacob had done a most evil deed (Genesis 27). In doing it he (1) lied to his father, (2) lied about his father’s favorite son Esau, (3) used a coat of his father’s favorite son to aid in the deception, and (4) killed some goats to accomplish the deed of deception. Now years later, Jacob’s "chickens came home to roost." In verses 31 and 32 his sons (1) lied to him their father, (2) lied about his favorite son Joseph, (3) used a coat of his favorite son to aid in the deception, and (4) killed a goat to accomplish the deed of deception. Jacob reaped what he had sowed. "God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Galatians 6:7).

2. The Victims of the Persecution

Joseph was the prime target of the persecution, but the fallout of the persecution affected others, too. Joseph suffered much from the persecution but so did his father and his brothers.

Joseph suffered. The evil brothers "stripped Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colors . . . cast him into a pit . . . and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites" (vv.23, 24, 28). Joseph was stripped of his coat, shoved into a pit, then sold into slavery. Evil ever does this to the righteous. It is the habitual practice of persecution.

Stripping Joseph of his coat was evil’s attempt to demote righteousness. The coat spoke of rank, as we have noted previously; and it gave rank to righteousness, for Joseph was given the vesture because of his virtue. The upright are an abomination to the wicked (Proverbs 29:27); hence, evil will oppose the honoring of righteousness. The liberal news media’s vilification of good men, educators mocking the Bible, society belittling the practice of mothers staying home to take care of their children, and businessmen insisting their employees show up for work on Sunday even if it means missing church are all attempts of evil to strip righteousness of its honor.

Shoving Joseph into a pit was evil’s attempt to deprive righteousness. Evil would deprive righteousness of justice, necessities (the brothers ate a meal while they left Joseph in the pit without food), comforts, and courtesies. History abounds with examples of godly people being unjustly deprived by evil men of such things as houses, lands, food, clothes, and money. And the way some churches mistreat their pastor by giving him a small salary, sticking him in a shack of a house, making no provisions for many of his pressing needs, and yet expecting him to perform with excellence makes one wonder if the members are not more evil than good and more persecuting in nature than pious.

Selling Joseph into slavery was persecution’s attempt to deport righteousness. Wickedness does not like to have righteousness around and will do all it can to get rid of it. Apostle Paul experienced this repeatedly as many times people endeavored to run him out of town. John was exiled to Patmos because evil did not want righteousness near. And if the truth were known, some pastors have been voted out or pressured out of a pastorate because the righteousness of their lives and of their messages were unwanted by the backslidden church members.

Joseph’s father suffered. When the ten brothers told Jacob their lie about Joseph and showed him the coat which was covered with blood, Jacob was overwhelmed by grief. Even though "all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him . . . he refused to be comforted" (v. 35). For twenty-two years Jacob carried heavy sorrow in his heart because of the loss of his beloved son Joseph, for it was twenty-two years before he was reunited with Joseph in Egypt.

Though everyone would certainly sympathize with Jacob in his great suffering, yet the pessimism in his suffering is still a warning to us about unwarranted crepe hanging. Persecution is deceptive, and we must be careful it does not so deceive us that we give up all hope and "refuse to be comforted." Jacob should have noticed that the evidence of Joseph’s death was suspect, for the coat (the evidence) was not torn. For an animal to tear Joseph in pieces enough to drench his coat in blood without tearing the coat is impossible. Men in every age have resorted to deception to turn people away from faith in Divine revelation (such as the future of Joseph as seen in the dreams). But their evidences, such as the evidences of evolution, are as suspect as Joseph’s coat. Joseph was not dead, neither is God; but many, like Jacob, have let Satan deceive them out of their faith with phony evidences. Do not be so quick to believe the clever talk of the apostate, the unbeliever, and the skeptic. Their mouths are full of lies, and their evidences will not stand the test of a thorough examination.

Joseph’s brothers suffered. The persecutors did not escape their own evil. Joseph suffered years of cruelty, Joseph’s father suffered years of sorrow, but Joseph’s brothers suffered, too. They suffered years of guilt. Guilt weighed upon them like a terrible burden. Even twenty years after the deed, they could not shake the awful guilt; for when in trouble in Egypt "they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us" (Genesis 42:21). Guilt is a terrible tyrant. It drives men insane; it causes suicide; and it takes all the pleasure out of life. There is no profit in evil that will compensate for the burden of guilt one will experience because of his evil. Even after Joseph’s brothers were befriended by Joseph and forgiven, yet they still fought the problem of guilt years later. This is seen in their fear after Jacob died, for after he died they sent a messenger to Joseph to again ask for forgiveness (Genesis 50:15–17). How the persecutors suffer. How sinners suffer. Oh, that we all would ponder this truth more when we are tempted to sin.