This week's Bible Study - October 12, 2014
Genesis 37:1-27; 39:1-2
Quote of the Week:
"Et tu, Brute?"
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
Betrayal. It is the word we don't want to be on either side of. We can think of high profile betrayers that come to mind almost immediately. In the Bible, the name that most often comes to mind is Judas, who betrayed Jesus into the hand of his captors. Of course, you can go back through Scripture and find others examples of betrayal that are much less well known. Betrayal is something that impacts people personally. A synonym is the word traitor, and while closely related, this is when a person's actions has impacted a large group of people that have placed their trust in him or her. In modern United States history, the name that most will say by default is Benedict Arnold. I would imagine that answer would come to your mind, but if you had to say what Benedict Arnold did, many would struggle to tell the story. He defected from being a general in the American forces to becoming a general in the British forces. Of course, the story is much more detailed, but most people know of the name Benedict Arnold, and that he was a traitor. Even when people know nothing of what he actually did, they associated his name with that of a traitor.
Betrayal can be seen in many different aspects today. Many feel betrayed by spouses, friends, parents, children, employers, churches, communities and so forth. Chances are good that you are already thinking of specific names that have come to mind in your life that have betrayed your trust personally and you may be the one that comes to mind to someone else. Many tend to want to live in the past, especially when the past didn't go the way that we had desired. As we will see in this lesson, betrayal can lead to a radically different course in life for all parties involved. Would-a-beens and could-a-beens are thrown out the window and life changes. However, what we need to realize is that what that life actually becomes can be very different in two lives that have experienced betrayal based on the way that each responds.
Jacob, also known as Israel, lived with his family in the land of Canaan. He had 12 sons, so you can imagine how hectic that house must have been when they were younger. This story centers on the second youngest of the sons, Joseph. Younger siblings often get a bunch of ribbing from the older siblings, and this was the case with Joseph and his brothers. We don't know much about their family dynamic at the start, but as the story progresses, you see that there was built up resentment behind much of what transpired.
Adding to the brother's resentment was the fact that Joseph was the favored child of Jacob, because he had been born to Jacob in his old age. Jacob had given a very ornate housecoat to Joseph (which is the basis of the musical "Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat"). The brothers saw that Jacob appeared to love Joseph more than the rest of them, causing them to hate Joseph more and more. In fact, they would not even speak a kind word to him.
Do you think that Joseph comprehended the animosity that his brothers had against him? It would seem that either he didn't have any idea of their feelings or quite simply that he didn't care. He told them about dreams that he had and then they hated him all the more. In one of his dreams, they were all binding sheaves of grain in the field, but Joseph's sheaf rose and stood upright, while the sheaves of his brothers gathered around his sheaf and bowed down to it. From one perspective, this seems particularly brazen of Joseph to share this dream.
Have you ever had a dream that you felt that was just best to keep to yourself? This would seem to be one of those types of dreams. His brothers asked if Joseph thought that he was really going to rule over them. They likely didn't see any of them being in a kingly position, based on where they were from, but for Joseph to even play act in this manner didn't sit well with them.
As if that wasn't enough, Joseph had another dream and told it to his brothers (and his father). In this dream, the sun and moon and stars were bowing down to him. The scope of the kingdom in his dream had expanded and his brothers must have thought that he was utterly full of himself. He even told this dream to his father, who also rebuked him, asking if he and Joseph's mother would actually bow before him as well.
The tact that Joseph took was likely not the best one. It wasn't in his best interest to egg his brothers on, but he must have felt that he was only sharing what God laid on his heart. Perhaps there are times when we should share what God is telling us, and other times, it should be something that we should keep to ourselves.
Although Jacob was not pleased with what he heard from Joseph, he kept what he had heard in mind. Sometimes we hear something we would rather not hear. Our gut reaction may be to get upset, but we would do well to take a step back and think about what we've heard. Too often, we tend to respond harshly and immediately discount what we heard. What might change if we truly listened and considered if there was any validity in what was being stated? This is similar to the times when people may have to approach others with honest and truthful words that may be hurtful (not harmful), but needed to get through a situation. However, if our response on receiving these words is to lash back, attempts at getting through a situation can be sabotaged, making the situation all the worse. Each of us should pray to be able to follow the pattern of Jacob and keep the matter in mind, even when our gut reaction is against what we have heard.
The brothers were out with the flocks and Jacob told Joseph, who was about 17 at the time, to go to them and find out how things were going. In the past, Joseph had apparently come back with bad reports regarding his brothers. We don't know if those reports were valid or not, but who likes a tattletale especially when a younger sibling is the one doing the tattling? Jacob didn't want Joseph to go and spy on them, but he wanted to see if all was well and if there were needs.
Isn't it amazing how much we take for granted today that even twenty years ago was not true? For example, almost every person has a cell phone today. When we travel, we can use our phones for navigation in cities where we have never been. We can also keep in touch, at a moment's notice with others in the case where we need help. It wasn't that long ago when people went on trips - with no cell phones and no internet. Their condition was not known for days or weeks because of the lack of communication. I remember when groups would go on international mission trips and families would hope to hear that someone in the group phoned home to give some status. Now, it is common to see updates online within a few minutes of anything happening - anywhere around the world. So, you may understand how Jacob may have wanted some information on how his sons were doing.
When his brothers saw Joseph coming to them, they sneered and said to one another, "Here comes that dreamer". They immediately began to plot and conspire against Joseph. In fact, it wasn't out of the realm of possibility for them to kill him. The idea of plotting and conspiring always seems to involve an underhanded motive. Used positively, we often think of planning and identifying a path forward, but when one plots and conspires, even for a 'good' reason, it would appear they are taking the wrong approach. As people plot and conspire, the more harm that they can cause to a situation. Most churches have a Long Range Planning Committee. Can you imagine what would be implied if the name was simply changed to the "Long Range Plotting and Conspiring Committee"? The plotting and conspiring brothers were certainly up to no good.
As an aside, as you deal with those who you have some animosity with, are you plotting and conspiring or are you planning and trying to find a path forward? I have found that when people only surround themselves with others that agree with them (and intentionally distance themselves from anyone else), they tend to plot and conspire. When counselors or other neutral parties are involved, the plotting and conspiring becomes more of a positive planning and looking for a solution. Who do you turn to for help in your situation? Are you only looking for people that agree with you, or are you looking for others who can truly help without choosing a side?
The brothers conspired to throw him into a cistern and to say that a ferocious animal devoured him. They didn't care what happened to Joseph. They obviously had lost all sense of reason, and they believed that he deserved what was coming to him. Is there someone that comes to your mind today that you would do similarly with? Are you plotting and conspiring against someone right now?
Not all of the brothers were in alignment with this plan. Reuben heard what was going on and he wanted to rescue Joseph. He seemed to be the voice of reason, albeit a silent voice. Reuben's plan was to agree with the others to put him in a cistern, but then he would come back to rescue him and take him back to his father. Even in the midst of the conspirers, there was one who realized what they were doing was wrong. I would imagine that the thoughts of the other brothers resonated with Reuben, as he probably was not a big fan of Joseph and his dreams. However, he knew that they were going overboard with their approach. If you were Joseph, how would you have liked to know that your advocate said 'Don't kill this person, only throw them into a cistern in the middle of the wilderness'? It would be a sad situation if this was your 'best' advocate, wouldn't it?
When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of the ornate robe (that amazing multicolor dreamcoat!) that he was wearing. Even just seeing the robe, they were further repulsed at their brother and probably concluded that they were doing the 'right thing'. Isn't it amazing how some people will stoop to very low lows, thinking themselves to be right? In reality, if the brothers took a step back to think of the situation, they wouldn't have liked themselves. However, they let the heat of the moment drive their actions cause the situation to get out of hand.
As they sat down to eat, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, heading towards Egypt. Reuben appeared to be away from the others when another of the brothers, Judah, had an idea. He realized that they would gain nothing by killing Joseph, so perhaps they should sell him. Judah said "After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood". Wow, what family loyalties there. It's pretty sad when the one who stands up for you says that it would be better to sell you into slavery rather than killing you, right? The rest of them agreed, so they pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold their brother for 20 shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
This lesson does not go into the entire life of Joseph and how he got beyond the betrayal of his brothers. If you
don't know the story, perhaps you would better understand how things played out by reading
However, even from this passage, it was obvious that God's hand was upon Joseph. Perhaps Joseph wouldn't have agreed with that assessment when he was sold to the Ishmaelites. Can you imagine his reaction when his brothers put him in the cistern at first? Did he call out and think that they were kidding? How do you think he looked at his brothers - and they looked at him, when they made this transaction? Can you imagine what that must have been like?
We read that Potiphar, an Egyptian who was one of Pharaoh's officials and was the captain of the guard, bought Joseph from the Ishmaelites and took him into Egypt. In one sense, it would seem that things were going very much awry for Joseph. He was sold into slavery and then sold once again. If you were to look at the situation and see where Joseph was, would you say that it appeared that the Lord was with Joseph? At that point, Joseph had the choice to either play the martyr card or he could stay positive and see where God was leading Him.
This lesson doesn't been to cover everything that you might want to hear regarding betrayal. We certainly saw the aspect of betrayal, in that the Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery. What we don't see is what happened to the brothers in the years that followed or what happened to Joseph in the following years. If Joseph responded as many people do today, what might he have done? Perhaps he would have bad mouthed his brothers to all of the other slaves and to his captives, so that all of Ishmael and all of Egypt knew of the brother's bad behavior. If Joseph would have been like many people today, he would have said all of this, but would have conveniently 'left out' the parts about the dreams and the robe, as well as the other aspects that fed the situation. Too many people do this today, in only presenting what they want others to hear, but not fully representing the truth. It is sad when this is the way that Christians operate, as others do see what is going on. If Joseph would have become negative about the situation, he would have only ensured that the outcome was going to be worse than it could have been. Perhaps Joseph would just wait until the day when he could 'get even' with his brothers'. In fact, Joseph had his chance to do so, but he let them go. How much of life are people missing out on, because they continue to point to what someone else did to them?
We do know that the Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered. There are two aspects of this statement, which involve both the Lord and Joseph, in concert together. The Lord will be with us in each and every situation that we face, but we can certainly quench what He can do for us if we choose to go forward in the way that we think we want to go. There are some who will say that they know the Lord is with them, but they choose to make decisions and actions that prove to run counter to that fact. If you have been betrayed, what should you do? Ephesians 4:31-32 says "Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other, just as God in Christ also has forgiven you." Basically, we are told to not let these natural reactions control us, but to put them behind us. If you have been betrayed, it will certainly take time to get to where you can get past the rawness of the pain. But, over time, rather than becoming bitter and slandering others, we are called to be kind, forgiving one another. This is not the easy thing to do, but this is what we are called to do. To do otherwise, or what comes naturally, will certainly ensure that the situation will turn out much worse.
We must also realize that we are in a community, and as such, we can help people navigate through all sorts of difficult situations. All around us there are people that have lost jobs that they thought they would have until retirement, been scorned by others in relationships, gone through divorce or have experienced some sense of betrayal at some point in their life. As a friend, you can either feed the resentment that a person has, or you can help them get past it. Surely you have seen in your own experience how others fuel a person who has gone through a difficult situation. It is as if they derive some sort of pleasure from seeing another person in a helpless situation - and team up with them as bitterness creeps into other areas of their life. Are you willing to step up and help others heal, or are you more intent on keeping old wounds open?