Joseph: At Seventeen

In the Bible there are only a few people whose lives we know about in some degree of detail from their origin/birth to their death:  Adam, Abel, Noah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Samuel, Samson, Solomon, John the Baptist, and Jesus Christ.  That’s my list so far.  There may be others and certainly, if you have additions, I’m all ears.

As we pick up our story of Joseph: A Life With Many Colors, the truth is that Joseph’s brothers (half-brothers, actually) hated him well before the famous coat.  It had been a long time coming, probably from shortly after Joseph was born as the cherished child and pushed them out of favor.  Finally, at seventeen he’d get that coat, but before the coat, he’d gotten the brothers’ goat with an event that became pivotal in turning their anger into future action against him.  It’s what made the coat significant and why it’s a prelude that made it into the biblical coat narrative. 

What event was that?  The report.  The bad report.


Genesis 37:1 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the account of Jacob. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah [Dan and Naphtali] and the sons of Zilpah [Gad and Asher], his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.

The children of Bilhah and Zilpah are depicted on a human scale as third-rate kids legally adopted by Rachel and Leah, but born to pagan maidservants (concubines), who became Jacob’s “standby wives” doing the fertility bidding of Leah and Rachel in an Old Testament custom for barren women. 

But as Jacob’s actions had shown by preserving Joseph and Rachel (and probably many times before and after), what chance did Leah’s sons (Reuben the firstborn of Jacob, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar and Zebulun), or children of concubines (Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher) stand when faced with a kid who walked on water as far as their dad was concerned? 

When we read Joseph was “tending flocks with his [half-]brothers,” read that as a supervisory role.  At seventeen, Joseph was a combination dad-ordained-overseer and snitch.  His father saw him as the former.  His half-brothers saw him as the latter.

It’d be easy to pass off Joseph as just a bratty kid…but at seventeen in the Ancient Near East, girls were married with babies and young men were gainfully employed, some even married.  All of those brothers being older, their anger was evident at this upstart who was giving them a bad performance review.  After all, from their perspective, he’s seventeen and full of himself.  Who does he think he is?

Think about it:

  1. Favoritism breeds all kinds of bad feelings.  Read Romans 2:11 “For God does not show favoritism” and for additional insight. Leviticus 19:15, 1 Timothy 5:21, and James 2:1-9.  What about favoritism offends God?
  2. Interactions within blended families are always a challenge.  There was only one wife Jacob ever really wanted: Rachel.  The polygamy thing was all borne out of human response.  Jacob was deceived into marriage with Leah because Laban said Genesis 29:26 “It is not our custom here to give the younger daughter in marriage before the older one.” Human customs somehow justified deception in Laban’s mind.  The concubines also were a convenient answer for barren women to have children, but Jacob never wanted them as actual wives–they were originally just servant girls.  How did the one wanted wife and the one wanted child—and everyone else’s status as unwanted—create a recipe for ongoing familial strife?
  3. Read Genesis 27:36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob? He has deceived me these two times: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” What do you think about the original seeds of deception taking root in Jacob’s life and the fruit it continued to bear? 
  4. Do we ever escape, truly escape, the consequences of our own sin?

Categories Articles and Devotionals, Devotionals | Tags: | Posted on January 25, 2019

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