. There was a short period of peaceful life at home for Joseph. For his brethren, who could not speak peaceably to him, and hated him for his coat of many colours, and for his dreams which predicted that they would all bow down before him some day, had gone to Shechem to feed their father’s sheep. Jacob was home with the two sons of his beloved and now deceased wife. There was tranquility, at least among father and sons, a tranquility that was such a blessed change.
It appears that when Jacob left Shechem to come to Hebron as God had commanded him, he left part of his herd of sheep there in Shechem. He was a big operator, a man of great wealth as far as sheep and cattle are concerned, but utterly poor as far as the possession of land is concerned. All the land around Hebron was firmly in the hands of Canaanites, so that neither he nor his father nor his grandfather Abraham owned a piece of land for a farm. They grazed their cattle on other men’s land with the protection of Covenant God Who promised some day to give it all to their seed. But we read that Joseph’s brothers went to feed their father’s sheep in Shechem (Genesis 37:12). Now Shechem was over fifty miles from Hebron to the northwest as the crow flies. And in between these two places were some very rough pieces of land, terrain that made transporting sheep very difficult and certain to result in the loss of some sheep. It may be for that reason that Jacob left a goodly part of his flock there in Shechem. At any rate, Joseph is spared the sneers and jibes of his brothers for a brief period of time.
Jacob did not fully realize the bitterness of his other sons of Leah, Bilhah and Zilpah, toward Joseph. He did not realize that they had murder in their hearts. He refused to consider that envy is the cause of murder in so many instances, and that it is actually murder in the heart. Therefore he sends Joseph to see whether it is well with them and with the flock. They had been gone now for quite some time, and being Jacob’s sons as surely as Joseph and Benjamin were, Jacob missed them and was concerned with their well-being. The journey, however, was farther than either Jacob or Joseph had anticipated. The brothers had gone to Dothan, which was another ten to twenty miles further north, to find suitable land for grazing for their sheep.
Now so fierce was the hatred of these brothers that in the most literal sense of the word they could not stand the sight of him. We read that “when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.” They recognized him by that coat that their father had given him to distinguish him from them. And they talked the matter over. “They conspired” means that they discussed his murder and came to the conclusion that it should take place. Joseph had not yet spoken one word to them that day. It was all that happened in the past that moved them to agree on murder.
When Joseph arrived they maltreated him, bruised him greatly before hurling him into a pit. The brothers themselves, much later, when in Egypt they stood right before the exalted Joseph, and did not know that he could understand their language, said, “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 him” (Genesis 42:21). And Psalm 105 is very graphic in describing the cruel treatment they heaped upon their own brother. We read in verses 17 and 18, “He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant; whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron.” Now this certainly refers also, and in the first place, to what happened in Egypt. Yet bear in mind that these brothers sold him to such a cruelty, and in fact had worse things in their hearts. They wanted to kill him with violence; and only because Reuben interceded did they settle for death by starvation in the pit. And with him in the pit to starve to death they can sit down “to eat bread”!
Reuben, the firstborn son, with a sense of responsibility as that firstborn, sought to deliver him back to his father. It was not that Reuben did not hate Joseph, did not envy him, or did want to see those dreams fulfilled. We do not read that he sought to deliver Joseph and save his life. He sought to deliver him back to his father. It was love for his father that prevented him from letting his anger and hatred against Joseph join in with the other nine brothers plan, of bloody murder. And Judah somewhat later suggests that they seek profit out of Joseph by selling him as a slave, voicing the awareness that, after all, this is their brother. This likewise was no love for Joseph. Love would have lifted him out of the pit, confessed sin before him, asked for forgiveness, and spoken words of peace to him. Love would never sell a brother, not even for a million pieces of silver.
And although Satan was behind the plot to kill and to sell, God is behind Satan, and the text we quoted a moment ago must be brought back in sharp focus with emphasis upon the first word thus, “HE sent a man before them, even Jospeh.” The context demands that. The Psalm begins with, “O give thanks unto the Lord; call upon His name: make known His deeds among the people.” He is that He Who sent Joseph before them. God is at work in all things. And remember Psalm 76:10. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise Thee: the remainder of wrath shalt Thou restrain.” Men in their hatred against God’s people can go just so far. As far as God decreed that they shall go in unconscious, unwilling service of His sovereign and eternal counsel. Their purposes are not God’s purposes. And their guilt is very real. But God always does His own good pleasure (Isaiah 46:10). And, “Our God is in the heavens: He hath done whatsoever He hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3). And therefore it is that all things work together for good to those that love God. God works them all together. All occurs according to a Master Plan that has the good of God’s people in mind, and realizes their salvation and joy.
All this explains that Reuben, who had persuaded the brothers to put Joseph in the pit in order that he might deliver him to his father, upon returning to the group—we are not told where he went, but most likely to tend some more remote section of the herd—finds that Joseph is not there. Reuben must be away from the scene momentarily. God’s counsel arranged that and demanded that, because God was going to send Joseph ahead to save much people of Israel alive during the severe famine. It was the hand of God that brought the Ishmaelites there that day and at that moment. Satan may have moved these envious, hating brothers to see profit in selling their brother’s body and soul into Egypt as a slave, with the incorrect assumption that then he would never be over them, and so that they would not need to bow down before him. But the fact remains that God uses Satan as well as He uses men. Satan never uses God, but God uses Satan. Never forget that. Satan has never done anything that God had not eternally decreed that he would do. He is no little god under God with his own time and power and resources. He is ALWAYS God’s tool. And nothing reveals this more clearly than the cross which Satan engineered, but which was from eternity designed by God. In the very beginning, four thousand years before it took place, God told Satan of the enmity that would produce that cross. Satan would bruise the heel of the Seed of the woman, Christ. And God saw to it that Satan got into Judas Iscariot to realize this bruising which established our salvation. And because all the havoc and all the suffering the Church shall experience in the day when the Seed of the Serpent, the Antichrist, torments and persecutes the Church, comes out of God’s counsel, and Satan is His tool, we have nothing to fear. “His saints shall not fail; but over the earth their strength shall prevail” (Psalter versification of Psalm 149).
With a sigh of relief the brother—-with the exception of Reuben—see Joseph carted off to Egypt. They are now, they think, rid of him and his dreams, failing to realize that these dreams were the Word of God, and that they are not rid of God. They will meet Him in this very servant, Joseph, again, because of that sovereign, eternal, and unchangeable counsel, or plan, of Him Who does not simply claim to be God, but IS God in all that this means. The Master Dreamer, as they called Joseph, or Master of Dreams—which could mean one who dreams that he will be master—they think they have put where his word will not and cannot be realized. They fail to realize that his word was God’s Word, and, as we read in Isaiah 46:10, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” Not their pleasure—which was a wicked pleasure—but God’s is being done. Not their plans will determine the future of Joseph or of themselves, but God’s counsel determined it. And that counsel determines all of our future, the glorious future we shall have in the new Jerusalem.
The sigh of relief of the brothers was premature and ill-founded. It seemed to be to their advantage to have him out of the way, and now even with profit to them financially. Each of the ten brothers could go home with two pieces of silver in his pocket. There was inflation in later years, and the price of a slave reached thirty pieces of silver when Judas bargained with the chief priests and elders. But both were sold for the price of a servant. And both Christ and Joseph were sold out of envy. For we read in Mark 15:10 that, “For He knew that the chief priests had delivered Him for envy.” And His deliverance and sale for thirty pieces of silver give His people a sigh of relief, relief from the load of sin; relief from the awful wrath of God; relief in the truth of the gospel that we may have the blessing of bowing down before Him as our Lord and King, Who rules us in righteousness.
But Jacob! Here is another severe blow. He is led to believe that his beloved son of his beloved wife is dead! His grief is immeasurable, and he could not be comforted. Rather he told his sons, “For I will go down into the grave unto my son in mourning.” And there is added, “Thus his father wept for him” (Genesis 37:35).
He who deceived his own father, now as father is deceived by his children. And we must not say, “History repeats itself.” That is true. The names and places change, but the same sins are committed over and over through the history of this world. Children learn from parents. In fact in the sins wherein the fathers walk the children will run; and their children will find even swifter ways of pursuing evil. But that must not be all that which we say. Here, too, God is speaking, and speaking to His Church, to Jacob whom He loved, to Jacob with whom His covenant is established. And it is then, as painful and heart-rending as it may be, a word of grace. Jacob who deceived his father must, for the enjoyment of his own forgiveness and rich understanding of God’s love and grace know what an awful sin he committed. Jacob, who said he was Esau, must know the wrath of God that falls on all the Esaus, and understand how rich God’s love is upon the Jacobs not only, but that salvation is by grace and not by works. Jacob, and we, cannot enter the pearly gates with the notion that we have done one work that deserves the smallest part of its glory. We must and will enter in with the consciousness that we forfeited every right, and that we sold His Son to the cross; and that this Son performed all the work that gives us a place, and a right to a place in the kingdom of glory.