Jacob's blatant favouritism for Joseph, he even provides a permanent reminder of it in the form of the robe, provokes hatred (v4, 8), and jealousy(v11) in his others sons. They are brothers but they are divided. Just like Jacob and his brother Esau, and just as Esau plans to kill Jacob so they plot to murder Joseph.
Favouritism and hatred flow from one generation to another, and that’s not all. (31-33)The brothers decide to make a little money selling Joseph instead of killing him and then they set up an elaborate deception. These verses are loaded with irony as Jacob whose name means deceiver is deceived by his sons. It’s heightened by the means his sons use to deceive him, Joseph’s robe and a goat - an echo of Jacob's deceit of Isaac (Gen 27v15-16). We see the pervasive nature of sin in our nature but also passed from parent to child to grandchild, even in the family of promise.
Sometimes in a film there aren’t any likeable characters, no matter how hard you try you just can’t feel anything for any of them. Genesis 37 is like that. Jacob is insensitive to his sons, shows blatant favouritism, and fails to discipline his children. Reuben the first born is weak, he wants to do what is right but lacks the guts to challenge his brothers. Judah is the natural leader but plots to sell Joseph not save him because (v26)we might as well make some money out of this – and if he’s sold as a slave he is as good as dead(v26). And even Joseph who is the best of a bad lot is a tale tell; (v2)rushing back to bring an embellished bad report about his brothers to his dad, at best insensitive and a little foolish in revealing his dream to his brothers not once but twice.
How on earth can these be the descendants of Abraham? How can this be the seed from which the holy nation, a people to please God will spring? They are divided and sinful, and God has not once been on their lips or seemingly in their thoughts in the chapter. How can this be the line through which the seed will come?
But God is a God of grace and he is at work in this family, overruling their sinful plans and working them to his ends, revealing his purposes and plans in his dreams to Joseph. Ensuring that Joseph is delayed long enough that the brothers will sit down for lunch before killing him, and ensuring that the Ishmaelites will save Joseph from death and carry him to Egypt.
(Gen 50:20) “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives”. God is sovereignly working out his plan through the sinful actions of this family, it doesn't justify them or ease the pain of loss but simply magnifies God’s sovereignty and his faithfulness to his word and to his promises.
God works evil to his will, just think about Jesus death. God uses the evil actions of Judas, the hatred, jealousy and plotting of the Jewish leaders to bring about salvation in Jesus Christ on a far greater scale than he is doing here with Joseph.
But God is not just working on the large scale God is working on individuals, God is teaching and training Joseph, he is changing Judah so that they become very different individuals. The family of faith are fractured and fighting and failing but God is at work he is faithful and sovereign.
It may not look like it as chapter 37 closes, as Jacob wails inconsolably, Judah and his brothers look to have got away with it, and Joseph is sold to Potiphar in Egypt. But, God is worth trusting in, he is faithful to his word – even when circumstances indicate otherwise God is worth trusting, he works even evil for his will.
How do we judge the faithfulness of God? We have to be honest, often it is by our circumstances, we equate things going well with enjoying God’s favour. And things going badly as if it is out of his control. But it is not by circumstances. God keeps his promises even though they look fragile in Genesis 37. Joseph learns that God is working for good for those that love him, through evil and the pain of loneliness, separation and fear.
Trust God, he will keep his promises and he is working for the good of his people even through trying, painful and messy circumstances. God is faithful to his people, working through the imperfect changing them to be what he would have them be.
Do you ever feel like God could never work through you? There is great encouragement here as we see Joseph is a flawed hero. Yet God uses his flawed people so that he gets the glory. Our response must be to stay what a great and gracious God. Previous sin does not mortgage our serving God, but God in his sovereignty and grace works through flawed people. That is the great news of the gospel – the whole message of the bible – God chooses undesirable people and changes them through faith in Jesus. We are just like this dysfunctional family but God works with this kind of material through grace, teaching us and training us through circumstances as he works even what was intended for evil to shape his people to live for his glory.