When we find significant time spent on an Old Testament figure, particularly one who is found to be in God’s favor, we most often find someone who is pointing figuratively to the Messiah to come. This is particularly true for Joseph and David, whom Jewish authorities for centuries even before Christ’s first coming understood to be two of the most significant pictures of the Messiah to come: “HaMashiach ben Josef” and “HaMashiach ben David”—“The Messiah the Son of Joseph” and “The Messiah the Son of David”. They understood that Joseph pointed to the Messiah coming in the character of “The Suffering Servant” and David pointed to the Messiah coming in the character of “The Conquering King”. What they failed to understand, and what unbelieving Jews still fail to grasp today, is that it pointed to one Messiah, two comings. The Messiah would first come in the character of “The Suffering Servant” as a sacrifice for sin the first time and return as “The Conquering King” to establish His millennial kingdom on earth. Everything written about Joseph teaches something about the Messiah.
Read verses 1-4
Q: What is unusual about this particular use of, “These are the records of the generations of Jacob”?
A: In other places in Scripture it is usually followed by a genealogy, such as that of Esau recorded in the previous chapter. In this case, it shows an extreme contrast between Jacob and Esau in that for Esau all that is recorded is a list of descendants, whereas the line through Jacob is much more important and really encompasses the stories in the rest of Genesis from chapters 37-50. We know who was born to Esau, but we are given the details of the lives of those born to Jacob.
Q: In v.2, what provides a hint that the seeds of division were already sown in Jacob’s family?
A: There were the “brothers” of the sons of Leah and Rachel to which Joseph belonged, and then there were the “sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah”, those born through handmaidens given to Jacob by Leah and Rachel who are differentiated from the rest. It would seem to indicate distinctions already existed which might give rise to issues and rivalries beyond what would be expected in a large family to begin with.
Q: What is the greater meaning of the “varicolored tunic”?
A: This was not merely a gift but appears to be Jacob’s way of elevating Joseph’s authority and standing over the rest of his brothers. Notice that this full-length robe is not mentioned until after he “brought back a bad report” about his brothers.
Q: What might be interesting about the brothers’ reaction to Joseph?
A: They seemed to equate their father’s love for Joseph as a lack of love for them. They appear to not take into consideration that their own behavior—the “bad report”, warranted any accountability or change on their part for the situation.
Application: Joseph repaid his father’s love with respect and integrity whereas Jacob’s other sons were not living up to that love and were the subject of a bad report. Instead of addressing their own issues, they took it out on the one they thought made them look bad.
Read verses 5-11
Q: What is unusual about how these dreams were understood compared to how most other dreams recorded in Scripture come to be understood?
A: They needed no one to provide the correct interpretation. Those to whom Joseph told the dream immediately understood it to apply to them.
Point: Whereas many other dreams in Scripture require a prophet or third party to explain to whom and what they apply, Joseph’s family in this case were the interpreters, a kind of testimony that though they did not like the truth, in their hearts they still knew it was the truth.
Q: How is the first dream’s setting dramatically different from the second dream’s setting?
A: The first dream has an earthly setting—“sheaves in the field” (v.7) but the second dream has a heavenly setting—“the sun and the moon and eleven stars” (v.9)
Point: This suggests the dreams had both literal and spiritual applications, such as for the literal Joseph the son of Israel and for the future Son, the Messiah to come. It could also have meaning for Abraham’s earthly seed (Israel) and his heavenly seed (the Church).
Q: What was the difference in reactions to the dreams?
A: Although everyone knew the dreams were about them, Israel “kept the saying in mind” whereas Joseph’s “brothers were jealous of him”.
Q: How do Joseph’s brothers’ actions seem to mirror those in the previous verses?
A: Instead of seeking to address their own shortfalls, they instead take it out on someone else.
Q: How might this be a source of strength to come for Joseph?
A: In spite of how circumstances will seem to take him in the opposite direction of these dreams, in reality they are going to bring about the precise fulfillment of the dreams.
Surely the Lord God does nothing
Unless He reveals His secret counsel
To His servants the prophets.
— Amos 3:7
Application: These dreams reveal that Joseph is not just the favored son of his earthly father, but the favored son of his heavenly Father, in the same character of the Messiah to come.
Read verses 12-28
Q: What is given as yet another early indication that something is wrong with Joseph’s brothers?
A: They are not in the place that their father expects them to be. He expects them to be in Shechem, but instead they are found in Dothan.
Q: How is their plot against Joseph similar to their reaction to Joseph’s dream?
A: In both cases it is rooted in jealousy, but it is also followed by personal recognition. They not only realized the dream referred to them specifically, but in the case of their death plot they fully realized they were committing a crime that would need a cover story. In both cases they are completely conscious of their actions.
Q: How do their actions against Joseph go directly to the source of their jealousy and envy of him?
They call him a “dreamer” (v.19), a way of ignoring both the authority given Joseph by his earthly father and that spiritually indicated by the dreams through his heavenly Father.
They strip Joseph of the tunic (v.23) so as to disparage his earthly authority.
They threw Joseph into the pit (v.24) so as to literally remove him from being over them.
Q: How does their final disposition of Joseph betray their core spiritual problem?
A: The final act of selling him for money completes the picture of their issues with power and wealth, first stripping him of authority and then selling him for a price. It seems to confirm what has been going on from the beginning that they not only have general issues with authority but themselves want to replace him in order to be in authority and power.
Application: The favored son was betrayed into the hands of Gentiles.
Read verses 29-36
Q: What might be particularly ironic about the deception perpetrated on Jacob?
A: Just like the deception Jacob perpetrated on his father (Gen. 27), the deception perpetrated on him by his sons was effected with a goat.
Point: We reap what we sow. There may be forgiveness for sin, but that does not automatically equate to the abolition of consequences for sin.
Q: How did conspirators fall short of getting what they really wanted?
A: This was not solely about position and power within the family, but Jacob’s love. They may have eliminated a rival for power within the family, but they never gained the love Jacob expressed for Joseph. Actually, Jacob would mourn for the next 22 years until they are reunited in the truth and the conspirators would not get what they wanted most.
Q: How did things look from Joseph’s point of view?
A: It most certainly looked like everything was working against him, (v.36) when in reality (because we know the end of the story) everything was working for him.
And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.
— Romans 8:28
Application: The favored son was sent ahead to prepare the way for Israel’s preservation as a nation.
There are more than 35 events in Joseph’s life which mirror those of Jesus during His first coming, thus fulfilling His role as the “Suffering Servant” picture of HaMashiach ben Josef. In this passage alone we find: