Joseph's Leadership Training. Genesis 37:18-36
Genesis 37:12-14 is where we begin to get introduced to the training process that God has. We are in a training program as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ. God is training us to be leaders, not just in time but in eternity. Right now in time our leadership responsibilities may function in a small area, or it may be a large area. But all of us are being trained to be leaders in the Millennial kingdom. Revelation 20:6, "Blessed and holy is he that has part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." So we are in this training program in order to be able to have the capacity to rule and reign with Christ in the Millennial kingdom. The training program starts with salvation—phase one. In phase two we go through one of two cycles in our living, the upper cycle indicating a cycle of life, i.e. when we are in fellowship, abiding in Christ, walking by the Spirit; and the other cycle which indicates walking in darkness, walking under the control of the sin nature, and what happens as a result of that. After we die we go into phase three, and then there will be the judgment seat of Christ where we are rewarded for that which is produced while we are walking by the Spirit, the divine good that has its eternal value, or there is a loss of rewards and temporary shame as a result of failure.
James 1:2-4 outlines the process: we are to "count it joy." It is a mental attitude thing. He doesn't say "be happy"; it is not focusing on an emotion of thrill or enthusiasm; it is a mental attitude. He uses an accounting term, to add up all your circumstances, add up the realities of doctrine and come to a conclusion of joy. Peace, stability, tranquility, "whenever you fall into various trials," because you know something, there's doctrine in your soul, you understand the training principle and procedure that God has to test the doctrine in our soul because we know that "the testing of our faith"—the testing, not of our ability to believe but of the doctrine in our soul. The content there produces endurance. Endurance, then, has a maturing impact: "that you may be spiritually mature and complete, lacking in nothing."
There is a parallel passage to this at the beginning of Romans chapter five. Paul says in the opening two verses that we have peace with God because of justification.
As a result of justification it impacts our life afterwards. "And not only so, but we glory in tribulations also: knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope: and hope makes not disappoint; because the love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us." It is the same thing that James is saying: we go through adversity and it produces endurance. Paul says we glory in tribulation because of our mental attitude, not because we are masochists who are into self-inflicted misery and pain but because we understand that the suffering, the adversity that we go through living in a fallen world is under the ultimate control of God and it produces something.
This is what we are going to see in the next two or three chapters with Joseph: how God is producing character in Joseph so that Joseph can be the kind of leader that is necessary to protect his people. We don't know where God is taking us. When Joseph was in that pit and his brothers were threatening to kill him he had no idea where God was going to take him. He has a hint because of the dreams he has had but in the moment there is distress and anxiety in the soul because of the circumstances, but God is using that to produce character. "Character [produces] hope," and we know that the Greek word for "hope" means a confident expectation. It is forward looking, it is anticipatory, it looks to where God is taking us, it is that concept of that personal sense of our eternal destiny.
1 Corinthians 10:13 is another promise that all of us should memorize: "There has no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that you are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that you may be able to bear [endure] it."
In verses 12-14 of Genesis 37 Joseph's brothers are feeding their father's flock in Shechem. So the brothers have now taken the flock up to the hill country of Ephraim. It is in the area of Shechem that they had the previous experience of the rape of Dinah, and there is where the brothers entered into the activities of the Canaanites and began to be assimilated and become comfortable with the Canaanite culture. It has only been a couple of years since that happened and since they massacred all the young men of Shechem. So Jacob is probably concerned about what is going on now that Joseph's brothers are all back up there in Shechem, and he wants to send Joseph to watch over them and bring back a report.
So we learn a principle here about Joseph in his preparation for leadership, that is, that leadership is for someone who is reliable. Jacob has already given him responsibilities to report on the brothers and he is continuing to do that because he knows that Joseph is going to give him an honest report. Joseph is not involved in mental, attitude sins against his brothers, they are involved in bitterness and anger toward him. But he will bring an honest report, he has his father's best interests at heart, and so Jacob knows that he is reliable, that he can be given a task and be confident that he will carry out the task. The task is not without its obstacles, and often in life we are given responsibilities and we face obstacles.
In Genesis 37:15 we read that Joseph gets lost. He is not going home, he is persevering. So he is already learning the important principle of perseverance. He is not giving up, he has been given a task and he is going to stick with it despite obstacles. He found them in Dothan which is about fifteen miles north-west of Shechem, up near Mount Ebal.
There are two doctrines that we need to emphasize from what we have seen so far, and these relate to two closely-related doctrines. One is the providence of God and the other is divine guidance. The providence of God is a major theme in the whole episode with Joseph: God is working covertly behind the scenes to bring about His purposes. Providence is part of the sovereignty of God. We see how the providence of God is bringing Joseph there for a particular reason, and that even though Joseph is unaware of what the greater plan is God is still bringing it about. The second thing we notice here has to do with divine guidance. We need to notice how God is directing Joseph. It is not through overt means. God is not manifesting Himself to Joseph in a theophany, God the Holy Spirit is not whispering in Joseph's ear; God is using circumstances to direct Joseph in his search and in his life. This again shows that when we trust in God we can relax and let God work things out, work things together for good. It is not necessary to have direct revelation which is what most people think is divine guidance.
One more principle we need to get in relation to leadership training: a leader can be depended upon to get the job done, despite obstacles, despite, difficulties. Joseph got lost he stayed with it, waiting, hoping that God would provide information for him, and that is what happened.
Genesis 37:18, they see Joseph coming, and this is where we see their reaction. We see the conspiracy, their plan to deceive Jacob, to kill Joseph, and later their modification of that plan. "And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them." So he is wearing his special coat that would indicate his position as the favorite son and the heir. This tells us one or two things about Joseph's character. Either he is extremely arrogant and just wants to rub his brothers' noses in it—which doesn't fit the picture here—or he recognizes that this coat his father gave him is significant and is a badge of his office and responsibility within the family, and he is on his father's business and so it is the proper garment to wear. So he is wearing this and it makes him obvious. He can be seen from an distance and it gives them time to get angry, to remember how he is not only the father's favorite but he has also had these two dreams from God which indicate that they are all going to bow down and serve Joseph. As soon as they start thinking about that they go from zero to attempted murder in a hurry. They get all worked up and it doesn't take them long to hatch a plot. They conspire to kill him and the word here for "conspire" is the Hebrew verb nachal which means to be deceitful, to cheat, to plan to do something against someone. This word is used only three other times in the Old Testament and it indicates that they are definitely doing something to cheat him out of his birthright: "they conspired against him to kill him." The Hebrew word here is muth which means to simply die. It is a hiphil infinitive construct here plus the preposition meaning "to." This is just a general word for killing, for death, in some passages it has the idea of execute. The verb is used some eight hundred times in the Old Testament. In the qal stem it simply has the idea of to die. So here it has the idea of causing him to die, to put him to death.
Genesis 37:20, "Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast has devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams." The word there for killing is nakah meaning to beat or to strike or to wound. It is a word that is often used in a number of different legal texts in the Torah. So they are in the midst of conspiring to commit a capital crime.
Genesis 37:21, 22, "And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again." Secretly Reuben had a plan. The word for "pit" is literally a cistern. A cistern was a place that in the dry country of Israel where they would dig these pits, some of which would hold ten or twelve thousand gallons, other were quite large and might hold as much as fifty or sixty thousand gallons, and when it would rain they would collect all the rain water.
In verse 20 they were going to cast Joseph into the pit and then sit down to eat. The image he writer is conveying here is that they were acting like wild beasts.
Genesis 37:25, "And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt." A group of Ishmaelites are the descendants of Ishmael. They are also called Midianites in verse 28. They are also the descendants of Abraham. One of the children that Abraham had with Keturah was Midian. So Midian would be a half brother to Isaac and Midian was a half brother to Ishamael. Apparently their lines were already intermarrying so that the terms were being used interchangeably. The brothers were now going to put Joseph into slavery instead of killing him.
One of the things we think about here is what Joseph's reaction would have been. Genesis 37 doesn't tell us anything about his attitude but if we go over to chapter 42:21 where the brothers were now feeling guilty and Joseph was in power in Egypt their comment to one another is: "And 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." We see that the word "anguish" and "distress" is used here, a word that can refer to external adversity or of the inner turmoil in the soul. It is the Hebrew word tsarah meaning adversity, trouble, distress, anguish. It refers to a time or situation of extreme discomfort, an affliction that cam come from various different reasons. So this is the beginning of Joseph's testing here. How is he going to handle the rejection from his own brothers, from his own family? He has anguish in his soul, which means that he was not fully trusting God in the midst of the circumstances. The word tsarah is used in some key passages: Job 5:19, "He shall deliver you in six troubles [tsarah]." Joseph (and us) should be responding to any kind of adversity and distress by claiming promises, by relaxing in God's provision. This is how the word is used many times in the wisdom literature, in Job and also in Psalms, Psalm 9:19, "The LORD also will be a refuge for the oppressed, a refuge in times of trouble [tsarah]." Joseph's mental attitude here should be one of trusting God. God is training him for leadership because he is going to be the number two person in Egypt and it is going to be his responsibility to take the Egyptian empire through one of the greatest times of adversity that they will ever go through, and he needs to be a person who remains stable and relaxed in times of incredible pressure.
Genesis 37:26, "And Judah said to his brethren, What profit is it if we kill our brother, and conceal his blood?" He is focused on the monetary aspect. This is the word betsa, meaning profit or gain. It can refer to dishonest gain or covetousness, it is a word that has a negative connotation referring to illegal or unjust gain or profit which God's people were to avoid.
Genesis 37:29, 30, "And Reuben returned unto the pit; and, behold, Joseph was not in the pit; and he rent his clothes. And he returned unto his brethren, and said, The child is not; and I, where shall I go?" He is just beside himself and taking all the guilt upon himself. The brothers don't tell him Joseph is not dead. Then they go through the whole ruse to deceive Jacob and they took Joseph's tunic and destroyed it. They got pleasure out of it. Here is the symbol of a father's love and they are going to kill an animal and soak the tunic in the blood in order to make it seem as if a wild animal has actually killed Joseph.
Jacob is inconsolable. Genesis 37:34, 35, "And Jacob rent his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him."
So Joseph goes from being the prized favorite son at the beginning of the chapter to being a slave in Egypt at the end of the chapter. The future of Abraham's seed is now out of the land. Always keep they eye on the land here. God is doing something that will end up taking them out of the land.