Friday, March 4, 2011

Genesis 37:18-24 Descent into the Pit

"But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.  'Here comes that dreamer!' they said to each other. 'Come now, let's kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him.  Then we'll see what becomes of his dreams.' "   (Genesis 37:18-20 NIV)

After such a long journey, I wish I could say that Joseph's brothers welcomed his coming, but such was not the case.  In fact, before he even arrived, their jealous hearts had already reached the decision to kill him.  I can't help but think of the New Testament book of James, where it says:

"When tempted, no one should say 'God is tempting me.'
For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone;
but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.
Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin;
and sin, when it is full grown, gives birth to death."
(James 1:13-15 NIV)

Joseph's brothers have been nursing their sin of jealousy for some time now.  You can see the progress of this sin as it increases in intensity (from harsh words to hatred and jealousy and finally, the intent to murder their brother) in these few verses in Genesis chapter 37:
  • "When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him." (Genesis 37:4 NIV)
  • "Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more." (Genesis 37:5 NIV)
  • "His brothers said to him, 'Do you intend to reign over us?  Will you actually rule us?'  And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said." (Genesis 37:8 NIV)
  • "...his brothers were jealous of him..." (Genesis 37.11 NIV)
  •  "Come now, let's kill him..." (Genesis 37:20 NIV)

 The sin of these brothers, now full-grown, is about to give birth to death.

The brothers sarcastically call Joseph "dream expert" or "master of dreams" (v.19), forgetting that at one time, God had used a dream to speak to their own father, Jacob.   (Genesis 28:12-15)  In that dream, God had confirmed to Jacob that he was the recipient of the promise which God had made to Abraham and passed down through Isaac:  God would be with him, and provide for and protect him, would give him numerous descendants, would give him the land, and would bless all nations through him.  Surely Jacob must have told his sons of this promise.  Whether they realize it or not, when they fight against the things which God reveals, they are fighting against God and are sure to lose.

Of course, just because Joseph had a dream did not mean it was necessarily from God.  However, the intensity of the brothers' anger shows me that there is much more going on here than just a 'Dad loves you more than us' type of thing.  The real problem seems to be that they do not like the content of Joseph's dream, in which he seems to rule over them.  If they were at all aware of spiritual things, they would have submitted to the fact that God seems to have decided to pass the promise which He had made to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob down to Joseph.  It did not matter who was going to rule.  What mattered was that God's purposes were going to be accomplished.  Those purposes are always the best for everyone involved.  A spiritually-minded person would have rejoiced to see God's purposes advancing.  The brothers' focus upon who was going to be preeminent was much too short-sighted.

"When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands.  'Let's not take his life,' he said.  'Don't shed any blood.  Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don't lay a hand on him.'  Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father." (Genesis 37:21-22 NIV)

Reuben realizes the murderous intent of the brothers, and that if they begin to abuse Joseph, he will certainly be killed.  Instead, he suggests that they throw Joseph into an empty cistern.  If he can rescue Joesph later and bring him back safely to their father Jacob, perhaps it will serve to help make up for his prior sin, when he slept with his father's wife, Bilhah.  Also, as the oldest, Reuben would have been held responsible for the loss of his father's favorite son.

At first, Reuben's plan seems to be successful:  "So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe -- the richly ornamented robe he was wearing -- and they took him and threw him into the cistern.  Now the cistern was empty, there was no water in it." (Genesis 37:23-24 NIV)

Joseph was thrown into a cistern, but God provided for him in that it was empty.  He would not drown, and for the moment at least, he was safe from his brothers' wrath.  The brothers leave him alone for the moment and go to eat their meal.  It may seem that Joseph is in a bad place.  But who is really in the pit, spiritually speaking?

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