Joseph’s Troublesome Coat, Part 1
By Pastor Hal Mayer
The story of Joseph greatly reveals the love and power of God to bring his faithful servant through trial, misunderstanding and triumph. Joseph was one of those men whose life follows the principles in the life of Christ. Listen carefully, and perhaps you can see your own experience, or the experience you need, reflected in his life. Perhaps you will better understand why God allows bad things to happen to good people in fulfilling His larger designs. His plan for your life may well pass through the same kinds of troubles as Joseph’s did. It has lessons for us all. We may not send you the whole series in consecutive months. We may interrupt it for other timely messages, as events in our world unfold. But we will keep coming back to the life of Joseph until we have finished it. God bless you as you enjoy this special series of messages.
Let us pray. Our Father in heaven, as we open our Bibles and study the life of one of the great heroes of faith, I pray that you will use it to help us make sense of the things that happen to us in this wicked world. Help us to understand the personal tragedies and treachery that sometimes happens to us in light of Your plan. Please help us grow in our experience with Jesus through this study of trial and triumph. My we too see that all things work together for good to them that love God and are called according to His high and holy purpose. In Jesus holy name, amen.
Turn with me in your Bibles to the 37th chapter of Genesis. Here begins the story of Joseph, son of Jacob. This series is called Joseph’s Troublesome Coat. We are going to look at many aspects and lessons from the life of Joseph. We’ll begin with verses one and two.
“And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.”
As a lad Joseph no doubt spent much time at his grandfather Isaac’s knee, listening to the tales that Isaac loved to tell. Isaac was old and blind, but his mind was keen, sharp and full of memories. He loved to recall the wonderful providences of God in dealing with him.
Joseph knew well the stories in the lives of his great-grandfather Abraham, his grandfather Isaac, and his father Jacob. He listened intently to the wonderful story of the intervention of God that saved Isaac’s life on Mt. Moriah, when the ram in the thicket, a representation of Christ the Messiah, took his place on the altar. He listened to the story of the night of wrestling that his father had with the angel and how his name was changed to Israel. These lessons were full of importance, and he contemplated the God in heaven who loved him and whose hand had guided his ancestors through the trials and difficulties of faith. He listened as they told him of the amazing promises of God to his family, that they would be as many in number as the stars of heaven and would bring great blessing to all the earth and especially that through their family would come the Savior of the world.
He learned of a heavenly Father, whose plan was formed from eternity and whose purposes knew no haste and no delay. Joseph sensed that he was part of that plan and began to stretch his faith and believe God’s promises. He no doubt felt sorrow at the mistakes his father had made in deceiving Isaac into blessing him with the birthright instead of his uncle Esau. Yet, Joseph’s heart thrilled as he heard how, despite Jacob’s mistakes, God was with Jacob in the desert as he fled in fear and as he lay on the rock pillow and dreamed of the ladder to heaven with angels ascending and descending upon it.
All of this Joseph cherished in his heart. God was becoming real to him. He learned about obedience to God, even when God doesn’t reveal His purposes. In the stories of Mt. Moriah and Jacob’s exile, He learned that God sometimes asks things of us that we don’t understand and that we have to trust Him, even when our hearts are torn with sorrow and grief. Joseph must have thought about what it meant to obey God implicitly and immediately without expecting an explanation.
Joseph loved his father and his grandfather very much and wanted the same kind of experience with God that they had. He loved God, but he longed for some deeper experience that would give him the certainty that he too was guided by the hand of God. Joseph learned that when God comes into human lives, it is so they can cooperate with Him in carrying out His will and purposes. In this way, God makes them his agents in great enterprises and important projects in His cause. Youthful Joseph certainly sensed that God had his destiny all planned out and he could hardly wait to find out what it was! But, in his heart, he knew that the only course in life was to leave himself in the hands of God and follow His will no matter what the consequences. That decision was the turning point. He was thrilled by the prospect of direct interaction with the God of heaven. But he was alone in this decision, for His brothers didn’t share his love for God.
My friends, it is a great encouragement to know that God is watching over you, that He has a plan for your life and that He has made you His agent. It is a wonderful thing for a youth to discover his purpose. You can know God’s plan and the reason for your being in this world. He will give you a vision, an understanding of your calling. The sooner you make the decision to love and honor God, the sooner He can reveal your mission. There is no accident in your life. All is providentially ordered by the God who has marked out a path for your feet and is training you for your mission. No matter what the perplexity, no matter what the grief or pain, no matter what the trial or sorrow, you can rest assured that God has ordained it for your good and your ultimate happiness. You can trust Him, even when things are not going well. You can trust that He will make of you what He needs you to become so that you can fulfill the destiny that He has for you.
When Isaac died, Joseph was probably around 17 years of age. What a sad day that must have been for the lad who so loved his grandfather. No doubt he wept as he watched his father and Uncle Esau bury his childhood companion. Joseph’s mother had died when he was only a small boy, and, besides his father, Isaac had been perhaps his closest friend.
God had a plan to develop Joseph – a plan by which he would learn to fully depend on Him even when He was silent and to plant his stake of loyalty on God’s side. To begin, God had to separate him from his family, especially his brothers’ evil influence. Joseph loved his brothers, but that love was immature and needed to be developed in such a way as to make Joseph realistic and more objective.
Jacob loved Joseph most and showed it openly, providing cause for jealousy. Joseph was the firstborn son of Jacob’s beloved Rachel. The Scripture says in Genesis 37:3, “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors.”
Jacob had experienced favoritism himself and should have known better than to repeat his parents’ mistakes. But the old adage, “like father, like son,” was at play. It is a common thing for children to be the same as their parents in both good and bad characteristics.
That coat would be the source of great trouble for Joseph, but also the source of great opportunity for God. When he put that handsome coat on for the first time, little did Joseph know how it would affect him or where it would lead him. That coat was a brilliant work of art. No one else in the family had such a coat. But it was more than beautiful. It was a type worn by royalty, probably embroidered with colorful designs. It was obviously not a working man’s coat.
Moreover, it was a coat representing authority and rulership. It was the coat of a prince setting him apart and placing him on a pedestal as his brother’s supervisor. It was a mark of superiority. In those times, the father’s will was law, so Jacob made it clear that their younger brother was to inherit the rich birthright and all the spiritual and temporal authority that went with it. He was to rule the family. His brothers were uncivilized shepherds, while Joseph was now presented to them as if he was better then they. How could they understand it otherwise? As Joseph proudly wore his coat, they saw a conceit that needed humbling.
But could it be that, in some way, this coat was God’s first step in telling Joseph his destiny? God was about to awaken in Joseph thoughts and feelings that he had never had before. He was going to teach him some things that would indeed humble him under the rod of injustice but would at the same time prepare him for his ultimate calling as savior of the family and the race.
Now, there were other things that Joseph’s brothers didn’t like about him. They were evil men. Verse two says that Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. His new position in the family meant that he was responsible to report what his brothers did. This likely made Joseph feel superior to his brothers. But Jacob feared their conduct would bring disaster upon the whole family. Notice what Jacob tells Simeon and Levi in Genesis 34:30. Because of his sons’ behavior, Jacob said, “Ye have troubled me to make me to stink among the inhabitants of the land. . . . they shall gather themselves together against me, and slay me; and I shall be destroyed, I and my house.”
How many parents react in the same way? They are concerned about their reputation. They don’t want their children to make their names stink in the community by their evil behavior. Even though they have given them everything they want, which was probably a mistake, their children still do evil.
Jacob probably felt that the only one he could trust with the birthright was Joseph. This set of circumstances had tainted the attitudes of Joseph’s brothers, and the public statement made by the beautiful coat converted their anger into deadly hatred.
Because Jacob set Joseph over his older brothers, he was to report on their wellbeing and make sure that they faithfully carried out their responsibilities. Joseph may well have been in a very awkward position. But he was the only one that Jacob could trust not to fall in with their evil deeds. While it may not have been wise for Jacob to put Joseph in this position, it may have been the only thing he could do. Remember, God was working behind the scenes to save the whole tribe through Joseph and these circumstances were His agency to bring that about. In the process, He was going to humble the whole church.
The Scripture says in verse four that “when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”
His brothers accounted his faithfulness as treason because he would not support them in their evil deeds. That is always the way it is. Those who do the right, those who are faithful, are often accused of things they have not done. The evildoers must find ways to discredit the faithful one so that they don’t look so evil themselves. They do this by surmising, misrepresentation and outright falsehood. Have you ever experienced that? Has anyone ever misrepresented your good intentions and made them appear as if they are evil?
Imagine what it would have been like to always have your brothers angry at you. Nothing you do can appease their wrath. No words can soothe the troubled waters. The resentment just oozes out of them, in every word, every look; even the body language gives the telltale signs of hostility. Have you ever had anyone treat you that way in revenge for something that wasn’t even your fault? Joseph must have been awfully perplexed. What should he do? How should he respond? If you have had these kinds of things happen to you, and you probably have if you have lived long enough, what should you do? You need to do what Joseph did. Keep on doing right.
It seemed that when things could not get worse, they did. Joseph had a dream. Then, he had another one. Since the controversy in the home of Jacob was over the authority of Joseph, he may have been rather triumphal in telling his brothers the dreams in vindication of his role. Perhaps he thought that telling them would bolster his authority. Have you ever perceived that others didn’t like you or trust you? You probably wanted to find ways to affirm your position to them. If so, then you know how Joseph must have felt.
“Behold,” he said, in verse seven, “we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf.” Then he told them the other dream about the sun, moon, and eleven stars all bowing down to him. Perhaps Joseph in his youthful naivety didn’t understand the hearts of his brothers or the effect of telling them the dreams.
Imagine the indignation in the hearts of his brothers when they heard Joseph’s dreams. “What impudence!” they must have thought. “What arrogance! Who does Joseph think he is, so full of himself that he thinks he has authority over us? Imagine, he thinks we are going to worship him.”
“And they hated him yet the more. . .” the Scripture says.
You know how families talk. Imagine Joseph’s family ridiculing him. “Joseph,” one would say, “you are a control freak. You have it so much in your subconscious that you even dream about it.”
“What conceited nonsense,” another would say. “Can’t you get these foolish ideas out of your head? We’re not going to worship you! We’re supposed to worship God, and you’re not God!”
“What makes you think that you are going to rule over us, Joseph?” said yet another. That’s verse eight. They must have thought that Joseph was suffering from some form of mental instability.
Even his father took him to task. Verse ten says, “his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?”
Though Jacob was astonished, he knew what dreams meant. After all, he had had one that really meant something. And he sensed God was trying to tell them all something about the future. Jacob, we are told, “observed the saying.” He respected the message even if he didn’t understand its true meaning.
On one hand, God needed Joseph to begin to understand his life’s calling and mission. But on the other, Joseph was proud and self-centered. God needed to cut him down so that he could learn to wield power with gentleness and meekness. God was indeed trying to tell Joseph that he was destined to a high honor. A day would come when he would be vindicated, and his brothers would indeed bow down to him. God’s purpose was to get Joseph to think about his future.
Joseph’s brothers couldn’t stand it any longer. They hated being around Joseph and they had to get away. They decided to go far away and told their father that they were going to Shechem about 50 miles north of Hebron. Here, many years before, they had killed all the grown males of Shechem because the son of Shechemites’ prince had raped their sister Dinah. No doubt Jacob feared what might happen to his sons. No doubt the brothers all knew that they could not stay long in Shechem, but they had to get away from Joseph. As time passed and no word came back to Jacob about his sons, he began to worry, eventually becoming alarmed. Finally, he sent Joseph to find them. He never imagined that he would not see Joseph for at least 20 years. Nor did he realize the grief he was soon to suffer.
We are told in verse 14 that “he sent him out of the vale of Hebron.” Joseph was sent from his secure, happy home in the valley of Hebron to find his separated and alienated brethren. This reminds me of how God the Father sent His Son out of the secure, happy home in heaven to find His lost brethren. He was abused and mistreated in order to show His self-sacrificing love and redeem the lost race. Joseph too was abused and mistreated. Perhaps it is easy to see that Joseph was a type of Christ. In fact, you will see throughout the story that there are many similarities between Joseph and Jesus.
When Joseph came to Shechem, he learned that his brothers had moved farther north another 20 miles to Dothan. No doubt they wanted to get as far away from him as possible. They often contemplated how they might get rid of Joseph and his hated dreams. They could hardly wait for the opportunity to do something about him. They cherished a grudge against Joseph.
Meanwhile, God was getting Joseph ready for powerful events, so that He could make Joseph His agent in accomplishing His purposes. Israel was presently a small family of uncivilized nomads, but they were to grow and become a large, civilized nation. For the moment they were not much more than barbarians. God needed to increase their numbers and put them in connection with the greatest and most civilized nation on earth at the time, so that they could learn how to be civilized. Let us remember that God works in the shadows and He plans things out long in advance. Like the smallest streams that eventually become mighty rivers, God works in seemingly small ways that set in motion mighty changes. He sees the future, and He knows just what to do to make His purposes work out for the good of His cause and the good of His people.
God could have just told Jacob to move to Egypt, but He had a larger purpose. He also wanted Egypt to learn of the God of heaven. He loved the Egyptians, and He understood their thinking. He knew that they needed a godly ruler to lead them to a knowledge of God. But moving to Egypt was a major undertaking. Though it was part of God’s plan of salvation, it was surrounded with enormous difficulties and required extraordinary means to bring it about.
Also, God had to make of Israel a great nation, as uncountable as the stars – a feat that could not be done in Canaan. So long as the family remained small, there would be no problems with the surrounding tribes. But eventually their size would result in suspicion about their ambitions to take over Canaan. Under the control of jealousy and even hatred, their neighbors would resent the Israelite’s peculiarities and alien customs, as well as a different God. Their semi-barbarian neighbors would suspect that these people wanted to take over their land and become their masters. Collision between them and the tribes around them would place the family of Jacob in jeopardy. Conflict and even war would likely result, thus hampering the growing nation.
God knew that he needed to take Israel out of Canaan for a time to allow them to grow into a large nation. They could live in the land of Goshen down in Egypt without molestation. They would be protected by the royal house. Considering the prejudices of the Egyptians against all foreigners, particularly shepherds, they would leave them alone. Israel could grow quickly into the magnitude of a nation and would not intermarry too much with the Egyptians. God would then bring them out of Egypt back to the land of Canaan and fulfill His promises to them.
God uses our circumstances to bring about His purposes. Joseph’s princely coat, his dreams, and the jealousy, malice, and envy of his brothers were all part of God’s arrangements to bring the family down into Egypt. God had predicted it to Abraham. In Genesis 15:13, 14, God told Abraham that his decedents would be afflicted four hundred years and come out with “great substance.”
Do you think that God has that kind of plan for your life? God has plans for each of us, right? Perhaps you have no knowledge of what God is planning for you or how God is leading you, but He is. You can be sure of that. So long as you follow His voice, He will use you in a mighty way. Sometimes He takes us through very difficult circumstances to get us to the position where He can really use us. Often, we make mistakes and He has to correct us. But He is leading. Sometimes the path that God has marked out for us is neither easy nor short, but it will get us there. We can certainly trust Him.
Joseph finally found his brothers. Verse 18 says that they “saw him afar off.” They knew who he was. After all, he was wearing this coat of authority and there was no mistaking it. Their hatred was rekindled. We are told that “even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him.” Their malice was so deep that they were even willing to kill their own brother. Do you see what can happen when you cherish anger or envy? Anger and envy lead to hatred and even murder.
Joseph’s brothers said in verse 19 and onward, “Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” Their malice knew no bounds. They were preparing to ambush Joseph and deal with him treacherously. They were going to murder him. God saw it and knew what was in their hearts and He worked to overthrow their plans.
He moved upon the heart of Reuben. “Let us not kill him,” he said. “Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him.” Reuben was the oldest of the brothers. He knew that he had a responsibility to his father to protect the family. He secretly planned to help Joseph escape and go home to his father.
But sin loves company. And when wicked people get together, they strengthen each other in sinful boldness. A gang mentality develops and eggs the others on, especially when abusing someone they don’t like. Have you seen it? Have you ever been part of it? In my own experience, I remember times when I refused to come to the defense of someone who was being abused by others, when, perhaps by a clear word in his defense, the whole matter would have been dropped.
It is amazing how that one righteous person can often repel the sin and prevent great wrong just by taking a stand. How often are we afraid to say a word when we should openly stand on the right side?
Reuben could not be countered. As the eldest, he was respected by the others. His word was law. Surely, he was angry at Joseph, for it appeared that Joseph would get the birthright that he had forfeited by his evil deeds. But his heart was not as hardened as the others. He may have sensed that he would be held responsible for Joseph’s death.
When Joseph arrived, he was glad to see his brothers, but they were not happy to see him. They had come here to Dothan to get as far away as they could from him. Now he had tracked them down, in his coat, no less. The first thing his brothers did was strip him of that hated, troublesome coat, the symbol of authority and favoritism. That coat was the cause of all their troubles and their anger with Joseph. Joseph had to be shown that he was not going to rule over them, even if he had seen it in a dream. So, the coat was stripped from him first. They had to dethrone Joseph from the proud pedestal on which he was standing.
The pit was also God’s way of bringing Joseph down into humility. Being in there was awful. Trapped with no escape, he wept in great anguish. The pit where they threw Joseph was probably one of many dry cisterns in that region. They are bottle-shaped with a narrow top, and without help, one cannot escape.
Perhaps you can imagine Joseph’s feelings as he was roughly treated by his angry brothers. He pled with them to let him go back to his father. He pled for food and water, but none came. They threw him into the pit and then “sat down to eat bread,” verse 25 says.
Refusing him food after his long journey was another way in which God humbled Joseph. As he rejoiced to see his brothers, they refused him food. Friends, there are times in our lives when we are not invited to the party. We are refused admittance.
Yet, even in the pit God was watching over Joseph, don’t you think? God loved Joseph, but why didn’t He intervene? God knew that Joseph needed to learn the lessons of dependence on God, especially in the worst of times. Even under injustice and oppression, God was training Joseph to trust Him implicitly. These are God’s tools that he uses to mature us.
Joseph must have been heartbroken and confused. He pled with his brothers not to hurt him. He begged them to take him out of the pit. But they refused to listen. As he sat in the bottom of the pit, he wept over the cruelty of his own brothers. He had just endured the difficulties and dangers of travel. He had wearied himself bringing them the best delicacies his father had given him for them. How could they treat him like this? How could they be so cruel?! They sat down to eat, leaving him to starve.
Later his brothers spoke of his anguish. “We saw the anguish of his soul,” they said, “when he besought us, and we would not hear” (Genesis 42:21).
No doubt Joseph’s mind was terrified by the stern reality of the pit that was now his prison. This is not the last time Joseph would be down in a prison. God was getting him used to injustice and abuse. If he were to be the ruler one day, he must rule with compassion. Knowing the sorrows and understanding the experience of the common man was essential to being a wise ruler.
Likewise with Christ. The only way Christ could minister to fallen man was to become like one of us. Earthly rulers can hardly be trusted. We have an underlying suspicion about the ruling elite. They are not often perceived as being one with the people and of understanding their plight. But as a ruler, Christ can have the confidence of His subjects because He was one of them. God knew that Joseph also needed to suffer to mature him and make him truly noble.
The idea of suffering unjustly is foreign to our thinking. We usually don’t expect it, let alone desire it. Yet, God ordains it for our good. He knows that without experiencing injustice, we will never understand what He went through, and we will never be able to comprehend His great love and sacrifice for us. Through injustice God allows us to enter into His sufferings. This matures us. It deepens our experience with Christ, because through suffering Jesus teaches us to overcome feelings of bitterness, hatred, revenge and to cling to Him.
It is very interesting to note that, every time Joseph comes up out of prison, he comes with a new ministry, a new calling and a new station in life. And how true this is in our own lives. When we go through a crisis, we come up different. When we are baptized with the baptism of suffering, we come up to a work that is waiting for us. God often changes the circumstances in our lives to broaden us and deepen us. He breaks up our fallow ground so that we are refreshed in His love and power and energized to do His work. I know from my own experience how God does this. When God cuts me down, it is so that He can raise me up to a new walk and a new work for Him. If I wallow in bitterness, I cannot do what He has appointed me. If I harbor or cherish the spirit of hatred and revenge, I lose the blessing of a fresh opportunity to serve God and influence others for the truth. The miracle that is wrought through suffering is a thrilling thing. You get to overcome feelings that are deeply rooted in the depths of your soul, some that you may not even know about. Isn’t that wonderful?!
There in the pit Joseph must have remembered the stories of his father and his grandfather and how God had always protected them and delivered them from their distresses and difficulties. He turned to God and pled with Him for deliverance. Listen to this mighty Scripture for the last generation in Deuteronomy 4:30-31, “When thou art in tribulation, and all these things are come upon thee, even in the latter days, if thou turn to the LORD thy God, and shalt be obedient unto his voice; (For the LORD thy God is a merciful God;) he will not forsake thee, neither destroy thee, nor forget the covenant of thy fathers which he sware unto them.”
Though Reuben was impulsive and unstable, he planned to deliver Joseph. He went off to tend to other matters, planning to return when his brothers were gone and release Joseph.
But God was in the shadows again. He was prepared for this too. At just the right moment He sent deliverance. But deliverance from what? Joseph was to be delivered from the malice of his brothers, but certainly not in the way he hoped. In fact, even more discouraging circumstances were about to unfold. Sending him back home would not have delivered him from his brothers. His brothers had deadly malice toward him. They would have killed him. God took Joseph completely out of the hands of his brothers and sent him where He could fulfill Joseph’s ultimate destiny without their interference.
The Scripture says that Joseph’s brothers “lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.”
Imagine that – ancient truckers on the freeway headed southbound. “Flag them down” said Judah. “What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh.”
There is always a business-minded entrepreneur in the crowd, someone that knows how to make money. Selling Joseph was better than slaying Joseph. This would be a bit of good business with a little personal gain attached. Judah presents pious language and argues the “virtues” of selling him: “He is our brother and our flesh. It would be wrong to kill him. So, let’s sell him into slavery. At least that way we’ll have some money to spend and we won’t be guilty of killing him. But we’ll be rid of him nevertheless.”
Imagine the betrayal that is about to happen to Joseph. Here is a punishment worse than death. It is bad enough to be sold as a slave at the behest of his brethren; but to sell him to the Ishmaelites was treason. Who were the Ishmaelites? These were the sons of Ishmael, the other son of Abraham and the son of the slave. Now Joseph, the son of the free, is sold as a slave to the very ones who had been cast out of the home of Abraham. The Ishmaelites were always in contention with the family of Jacob. The angel’s prediction to Hagar in Genesis 16:12 was no doubt known to them: “And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren.” Even in modern times we can see this. Perhaps the most barbaric cruelties have been done by the sons of Ishmael. Truly, his hand is against every man, and every man’s hand is against him. Think of Islam and its methods of dealing with its opponents; it is constant strife.
For Joseph to be sold as a slave to the Ishmaelites was a terrible insult. They were half-cousins. For his brothers to do this was like rubbing salt in the wound. Far from mercy, this was cruelty at its worst. Judah negotiated with these tradesmen, and, for 20 pieces of silver, Joseph became their possession, their chattel, chained to other slaves.
Remember now, Joseph is way north from Hebron, nearly 70 miles. He was now to travel south to Egypt right near Hebron. His heart wrung with anguish. His soul was devastated by the thought that he might never see his father again.
His mind began to work. Perhaps there would be a rescue attempt and he would be delivered from the hands of the Ishmaelites. But as the miles passed by, and as the hills separating between them and Hebron faded in the distance, he lost all hope for rescue. Anguish seized him. Now, his heart was ripped from his home and family. He was torn from his father, his brother Benjamin and all that was familiar and dear to him. Now, all he had was his memories. All he had were the stories of his father and grandfathers. His anguish knew no bounds. He wept and wept as his heart was rent by the thought of his great loss.
Have you ever had great loss? Have you ever had that depth of anguish? Perhaps you have. Have you ever experienced the pain of alienation and separation? Perhaps you felt the helplessness that Joseph felt. Have you ever wondered, “Where is God? Why doesn’t He do something?” I have and it is awful. Yet it is also wonderful and powerful. When you see God cut with a knife right through your own soul, you can know that even in the anguish, God is speaking to you. He is molding and shaping you. He knows that without pain to humble us, we will never learn how to love heaven. Without suffering, we can never let go of earth. He knows that injustice cuts our affections for this world. He must cut us down as he did Joseph, so He can raise us up.
But there was one thing Joseph did have. He had the stars. Late at night he would lie awake looking at the stars in the dark sky. There is something about stars that is comforting. They are light in the darkness. They are hope in hopelessness. They are courage in despair. They are strength to the weary. You can look up to the stars and know that there is a greater Power, an unseen Power, watching over all and guiding the stars and other celestial bodies in their orbits. It is encouraging because we are reminded that God does the same for us. Living in the cities, you can’t see the stars so clearly. You have to be away from the lights that drown them out. You have to be out where there are no other distractions to be able to see them and draw courage from them. But they are there, and you can by faith know that the God of the stars is by your side, even if you can’t see them.
As Joseph looked at the stars, he suddenly remembered the promise God had made to his great grandfather Abraham. Genesis 15:5 says that God brought Abraham out of his tent and said, “Look now toward heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them: and he said unto him, So shall thy seed be.” Joseph then was part of this promise because he was of the seed of Abraham. “But how does all this trouble fit into that promise?” he wondered. It was as much a promise to him as it was to his fathers. This was encouraging. Joseph was stripped of all he had. His coat was gone. His dignity was crushed. His self-respect and pride were dashed. He was a slave. He could not now inherit his father’s possessions, nor could he inherit the spiritual birthright as he had hoped. To his mind all this was gone. He could only look up at the stars and think of the promises of God to him. As a child he had accepted those promises as his own, but now they were put to the test. Would he trust God as his father and grandfathers had done?
Hope was gone, the pit in his stomach had replaced the pit in Dothan. Everything seemed black and fearful. Yet, when he looked at the stars, he sensed a presence by his side. Could that be the presence of God? Could it be the nearness of the One that had been with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in their trials? Yes, indeed. If the promise of the stars was for him too, then God would be with him just like He was with them. Joseph determined in his heart that if he was going to Egypt, he would work for God. Whatever he was asked to do, he would do it as if he were getting instructions from God Himself. No matter what trials and difficulties to which he would be exposed, he would honor God and trust Him. The pit in his stomach left him. Peace entered his heart at last and he slept.
Let us also not forget that the Sovereign of the universe is not thwarted by hatred, malice, enmity, cruelty, or the intentions of evil men. God finds ways to use their evil motives and purposes to bring about His own designs. God could not have accomplished for Joseph what he wanted to, if He did not tear him from his comfort zone, remove him from his family and place him at the mercy of foreigners who knew not the One he served. God needed to cut him down so he could mature him. God needed to make him a man of courage, faith, and confidence in God, particularly if he was going to lead the nation of Egypt. Do you think God might have a large purpose for you? If you are going through trials, you can be sure of it. The greater the trials, the greater must be your work. Even if they are trials as a result of your own sin, God uses them to mature you and prepare you. He will give you a work to do for Him. Even if you have made mistakes, God will use them to grow you and strengthen you for your duty.
In the morning, when the sun came up over the eastern hills, Joseph was ready. With courage he could face the prospects of the future. He needed no one but God. Now he could let go of his human ambitions and plans. He gave himself to God’s control. He stood erect and confident. No longer discouraged, he walked with a spring in his step and a song in his heart. He must have made quite an impression on the Ishmaelites and other slaves. Hope filled his heart. Ever after, whenever discouragement threatened him, he would go out at night and look at the stars. He could pray and ask God for guidance and courage to face the difficulties. Injustice was actually the salvation of Joseph. Without it, he could not have fulfilled God’s plan.
My friends, this is a thrilling lesson for us. The promise of the stars of heaven is for us. It is very comforting to know that no matter what our trials, God will stand by our side. As long as the stars shine at night, we can take courage in God. Those promises are for us. They are for our encouragement and our sense of the presence of God.
Meanwhile, Joseph’s brothers concocted a story using the despised coat as a prop in their charade. They killed a goat, dipped the coat in its blood and went to their father. The grief that swept over Jacob was enormous. He could not but assume that Joseph was dead. His heart was rent, and his anguish could not be extinguished. Joseph’s brothers were shocked at Jacob’s grief, but they dared not tell him the truth. For more than two decades, they had to bear the pain of watching their father grieve, knowing that his sorrow was their own fault. The burden of guilt was enormous. Yet even Jacob did not see or understand the purpose of God to deliver him from one more crisis. We’ll study that later.
Go out on a dark night and look at the stars. You will see the same heavens that Joseph saw. You will feel the presence of the same God that Joseph felt. You too can sense that God will be with you in whatever trials and hardships you face. No matter what strained relationships you may have, take courage! Look at the stars. No matter what financial troubles you may have, take courage! Look at the stars. No matter who mistreats you, take courage! Look at the stars. God is there. He is your friend. He loves you and promises to see you through.
Look at the stars. Take courage! There is hope in all the hopelessness. There is cheer in all the sadness. There is strength in all the weakness. There is God. The same God that spoke with Abraham will speak to you. The God that worked to bring Joseph to Egypt and make him the prime minister is the same God that will work behind the scenes, in the shadows, to make your life worth far more than you could ever imagine. He will make you one of His special agents in the last generation. Take courage! Look at the stars.
God is looking for Josephs today. Are you one of them? Are you willing to suffer with Christ as Joseph did? Are you willing to work for God in spite of the trials and difficulties? He needs you. He wants you. But he has to mature you and give you an experience that will empower your witness. God ordains injustice to accomplish just that.
Let us pray, our Father in Heaven, thank you for Joseph. We pray that you will help us to take courage when things don’t go right. Help us look at the stars when we think we are all alone. Help us to sense Your presence. You have a purpose for us. Help us to trust You as Joseph did, that you are working through even the dark times in our lives to bring about Your almighty plan. Teach us to look at the stars for courage. In Jesus’ name, amen.
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