This morning, we’re continuing our study of the book of Genesis, in ch37, if you want to turn there in your Bibles (if you don’t HAVE a Bible, we’d love to give you one, at the Info Bar). I titled this message “Family Dysfunction, Redeemed”, as that is the common theme shared by BOTH chapters 37 AND 38, which I originally planned to preach today. But as I dug a little deeper into chapter 37 ALONE, it proved to have more than enough meat to keep us occupied this morning. So we’ll just have to cover ch38 in 2 weeks, after SERVE week (I PROMISE we’ll get through Genesis SOME TIME before the end of the year; It IS the second longest book of the Bible, after all!)

But this morning, we are introduced in ch.37 to our final major patriarch of the book – Joseph. And the events of his life will dominate the remaining 14 chapters of Genesis. But the overarching POINT, the big message of BOTH chapters 37 AND 38, is that:

Every family is flawed, but never beyond God’s ability to redeem (the brokenness).”

I come from what used to be called a “broken family”, although that label is no longer politically correct. But my parents are divorced. And that was a bit concerning for Polly’s parents, when we got engaged. They rightfully questioned what kind of marriage had been MODELED for me, they recognized that children of divorce are statistically more likely to get divorced themselves. But after nearly 14 years of marriage now, I’m happy to report that not ONLY are Polly and I still together – praise God – but I’ve actually discovered that HER family is every bit as SCREWED UP as mine is! Just in different ways. That, as my father-in-law himself likes to say, “ALL families are insane!” (Some are just a little better at HIDING their dysfunctionality). But we ALL come from broken families, families BROKEN in various ways, to varying degrees, by the effects of SIN. Because every marriage is a relationship between two sinners. Every parenting scenario involves one or more SINNERS trying to raise one or more OTHER sinners. We have observed all throughout our study of Genesis just how big of a problem SIN really is. And this morning, we’ll see that when you put multiple sinners together, under the same ROOF, the problems don’t just get ADDED; they are multiplied.

And as we examine the first of these two examples of “broken families” here in chapter 37, I want to highlight for you the first TEN of the 15 different WAYS, you see in your bulletins there, that a family can BE broken, 15 different types of dysfunction, 15 SINS that tear families apart. Whether you are married, single, or divorced, whether you live under the same roof with YOUR family or not, we are ALL a part of some kind of family unit, maybe a FEW families – your nuclear family, your family of origin, your extended family including in-laws… if nothing else, you’re a part of THIS CHURCH family. And the principles we’ll pull out here apply every bit as much in the church family as well. So I hope this sermon proves to be immensely practical for you.

But the biggest message of the morning – if we remember Genesis 37 in its wider biblical context – is that no matter HOW dysfunctional, HOW broken, HOW screwed up your family may be, it is NEVER beyond God’s ability to REDEEM. To bring GOOD out of the brokenness, BEAUTY out of the ashes. If God did it with THESE two families – both Jacob’s this week and Judah’s in ch38 for 2 Sundays from now – God can CERTAINLY do it with yours!

Let’s pray…

As I said, we are beginning the final “ACT” in the Genesis drama, if you will. Act 1 described our “prehistoric origins” in chapters 1-11. Act 2 mostly followed the life of Father Abraham, in chapters 12-25. His son, Isaac, was featured in a brief interlude in chapter 26, while chs 27-36 primarily centered on the life of Isaac’s son JACOB aka ISRAEL. And now we’re ready for the closing act, Jacob’s son, JOSEPH. Chapter 37 opens with 2 verses of TRANSITION:

““Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. 2 These are the generations of Jacob. JOSEPH…”

Now, let’s pause right there; because that should IMMEDIATELY tip us off that this is a dysfunctional family. The Bible includes DOZENS of lists of genealogies – family trees – MOST of them introduced with this exact same phrasing: “these are the generations of… Adam, of Abraham, of David, of Jesus.” But typically a biblical genealogy begins with the person’s eldest child or son, and continues on down through the line. Now, let me QUIZ you to see if you’ve been paying attention the past few weeks: how many sons did JACOB have? [12!]

And which NUMBER son, in the birth order, was JOSEPH? [He was #11!]

But here in v2, we read “these are the generations of Jacob”; and then we’re IMMEDIATELY introduced to JOSEPH. It’s almost like the story just skips right OVER Joseph’s older 10 brothers… and that’s because Joseph’s father ISRAEL had essentially done just THAT! We read on and discover… ““Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives… Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors.”

Not only was Joseph the son of Israel’s old age, he was ALSO the firstborn to Israel’s favorite WIFE, Rachel. So the first kind of dysfunction that will tear a family apart is the sin of FAVORITISM. If you wanna ensure your kids all HATE each other, just buy ONE of them an amazing technicolor DREAM coat this Christmas, and put COAL in all the others’ stockings. This is TERRIBLE parenting, right out of the gate, by Jacob. And of all people, he should have known better, and sought to avoid the devastating effects of favoritism in parenting. After all, he was his mother Rebekah’s favorite, but his brother ESAU was father Isaac’s favorite, and it literally ripped his family of origin in two. But as so often and tragically is the case, instead of learning from his parents’ mistakes, Jacob is doomed to REPEAT them.

The Bible explicitly BANS favoritism. Both within families particularly – Deuteronomy 21, vv15-17 seem to have been written specifically because of JACOB; God forbids a father from showing partiality to the son of his favorite wife – but Scripture ALSO opposes favoritism more generally as well:

James 2:1 instructs us to “show no partiality”, because

Romans 2:11 “God shows no partiality.”

God doesn’t play favorites with HIS children, so we shouldn’t either. But how MANY families go astray here.

Show of hands – how many of you believe your parents played FAVORITES in your family, growing up?

I’m curious: how many of YOU were the favorite?

Some of our intergenerational families – the Mitchell-Murrays, the Smith-Schweickhardts, the Pedersen-Moskals – they’re looking around to check who’s the favorite…

Now, how many of you PARENTS would be honest enough to admit: “Yeah, I think I showed some favoritism in my OWN parenting?” It’s never too late to confess, repent and ask forgiveness…

Each of our kids are DIFFERENT. So we may parent them differently. But those differences should NEVER amount to, or be perceived as favoritism. If they are, your family is in for a world of dysfunction.

Sin #2 – SLANDER.

We hear in v2 – if Jacob’s favoritism wasn’t ALREADY reason enough for the older brothers to hate Joseph, he gives them ANOTHER reason by “bringing a bad report of them to their father.” Joseph is supposed to be tending the flock with his brothers, but instead, he takes it upon himself to report back to daddy on how poorly everyone ELSE is shepherding. He TATTLES on them. And we all know the saying: “Snitches get stitches,” right? Joseph kinda gets what he deserves, later in this story. Nobody likes a tattletale.

But we can broaden this principle to include, to EXCLUDE, ALL slander, both within the family and otherwise.

Slander is defined as “a malicious, false, and defamatory statement or report”. It’s essentially talking “BAD” about someone. Gossip is a TYPE of slander. Gossip is talking bad about someone, specifically, behind their BACK.

And the Bible is FULL of warnings AGAINST both slander and gossip:

God warns in Psalm 101:5 “Whoever slanders his neighbor secretly I will destroy.” How much MORE SO, one’s own FAMILY!

Titus 3:2 exhorts us to “speak evil of no one, avoid quarreling, be gentle, and show perfect courtesy toward all people.”

Proverbs 16:28 cautions “A dishonest person spreads strife, and a whisperer separates close friends.”

We need to ask ourselves: do MY words, about EVERYONE in my circle of influence, but ESPECIALLY my own FAMILY, do they speak LIFE, or do they spread STRIFE?

Do my words BUILD UP, or do they TEAR DOWN?

Do they promote UNITY, or do they separate and spark division?
Few things can splinter a family worse than slander and back-biting.

Because #3, both slander and favoritism provoke ANGER.

We hear in v4: “when Joseph’s brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.”

While anger is not categorically outlawed in God’s word, even Jesus got mad with righteous anger at the Pharisees and the Temple-desecrators, Scripture does warn us against “the anger of man [which] does not produce the righteousness of God.” (James 1:20)

It DOES warn us, for that reason, to be “slow to anger” (James 1:19)

Psalm 37:8 is more unequivocal: “Refrain from anger, and forsake wrath! …it tends only to evil.”

That is certainly true of Joseph’s brothers’ anger here. It leads them to HATE, SELL, and try to erase all memory of Joseph. Jesus warned that “everyone who is angry with his brother – who HATES him – will be liable to judgment” (Matt 5:22).

I won’t ask for a show of hands, this time, of how MANY of you are dealing with unresolved ANGER in one or more of your family relationships. I don’t NEED to ask for a show of hands, of how many of us have EVER dealt with familial anger; it almost seems like an inevitability. But as Christians, we know it doesn’t HAVE to be, from our end of the relationship. Relationships are a 2-way street; you can’t control whether someone else is angry at YOU or not. You can certainly help or HURT the situation. You will almost inevitably mess up and give others a REASON to get mad at you, from time to time. But at the end of the day, whether that person holds ON to their anger, or they choose to forgive you, that’s up to them.
But for US, as believers, God’s command is clear: Ephesians 4 “do not let the sun go down on your anger… Let all bitterness and wrath and anger… and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” (vv26-32) Some of you might need to get on the phone, this afternoon, this Independence Day, and be FREED of your anger, FREED of the grudge you’ve been holding onto for too long.

#4 – BOASTING… will divide a family.

V5: “Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: 7 Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.

9 Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?””

The answer is YES. In chapter 42, Joseph will find himself in charge of ALL of Egypt’s food supply during a region-wide famine, and his family will come bow DOWN to him. This dream is indeed from GOD. But that doesn’t mean Joseph had to SHARE IT with the whole family! “Hey, did you guys know you’re all gonna SERVE me one day?” I don’t think Joseph was innocently looking for help INTERPRETING his dream; HE is the one God gave the special ability to interpret dreams to as well, in chapters 40 and 41. No, I think he’s just BRAGGING here. RUBBING IT IN. The fact that he’s not only favored by JACOB, but he’s ALSO been favored and chosen specially by GOD as well.

But Ephesians 2 reminds us that it is “by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” Joseph didn’t do anything to be chosen by God, for God’s own purposes. Any more than you or I DID anything that resulted in God’s choosing and saving US; it was his free GIFT, based solely on what was done FOR us, by his son JESUS. So all boasting is EXCLUDED.

God declares in Jeremiah 9, ““Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this: that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord.” (vv23-24)

And beyond that, practically speaking, NO ONE likes a boaster, do they? Does anyone like being around that family member who is SO insecure, that they CONSTANTLY feel the need to remind you of how great you’re supposed to think they are? No. Don’t BE that person, and don’t ALLOW that person to divide your family.

#5 – JEALOUSY ruins families.

V11: “And [Joseph’s] brothers were jealous of him…”

Favoritism breeds jealousy. Envy. Unhealthy sibling rivalry.

How many of us have dealt with jealousy in our family relationships? And yet, how often does it work out WELL? Lead to anything fruitful? Jealousy is a CANCER.

Proverbs 27:4 states, “Wrath is cruel, anger is overwhelming, but who can even stand before jealousy?”

“For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice.” (James 3:16)

By contrast, “Love does not envy or boast.” (1 Cor 13:4)

And Jesus calls us, regardless of parental favoritism, regardless of who makes more money, who has the nicer spouse, who has more exceptional kids, who has better friends, has more FAITH – you can be envious for all SORTS of unholy reasons! – Christ calls us not to COVET, but to be CONTENT. Luke 12:15 ““Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”” Of his favor. Of his family. Of his friendships. No, your LIFE consists in the abundance of your relationship with THE LORD. “Seek first HIS kingdom… and all these things (and more!) will be added to you.” (Matt 6:33)

Don’t be envious. Be grateful for the undeserved GIFTS God has blessed you with, and rejoice for what He’s given OTHERS as well.

#6 – INSENSITIVITY will destroy family relationships.

V12: “Now [Joseph’s] brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” ”

Now by this point, Israel should have been aware of the toxicity in his sons’ relationships. You can’t have 10 of your children all HATE and be JEALOUS of the same sibling for years and years, without picking UP on it. Unless you are either a totally absent father, or you are completely uncaring. Jacob is either utterly ALOOF, and emotionally unavailable to his kids, or he is FULLY aware of the family dynamic, and he still decides to designate Joseph as the OVERSEER, the one he sends to REPORT BACK on his brothers’ work AGAIN, he gives Joseph yet ANOTHER opportunity to tattle on them, and be further hated BY them. Either way, Jacob isn’t at all sensitive to the relationships between his sons, to seek their love for and peace with one another.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons[a] of God.” (Matt 5:9) To the extent we are ABLE, we ought to be SENSITIVE to the dynamics not only in our direct relationships, my own relationship with others in my family, but the INDIRECT relationships as well – their relationships with each other. It’s just STUPID, and insensitive, for me to bring up politics at the Thanksgiving dinner table. I know I can discuss things, with others I disagree with, in a calm, level-headed manner. But not everyone else in my family CAN. So sometimes being a peacemaker means avoiding topics I know are only going to stir up division.

Proverbs 29:22 says only “A man of wrath stirs up strife”. Jacob stirred up STRIFE by his very decision to send Joseph out looking for his brothers. A good father would have known better. Been sensitive to the hostility, and proactively tried to address it by now. Call a family meeting and DEAL with all the resentment.

But instead, #7, VENGEANCE tears this family apart.

When Joseph’s brothers FINALLY get their chance, way out in DOTHAN, 65 miles from home, where no one will ever be able to find them out, they take out their years of anger and jealousy on Joseph:

V18: “They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits.[b] Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben [Jacob’s FIRSTborn] heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. [Because you remember, Reuben had already lost FAVOR with Jacob, we heard LAST week, in ch36, for sleeping with his STEP-mom, Jacob’s other WIFE; so Reuben thinks maybe he can get back in dad’s good graces by rescuing Joseph…] 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit.” They just roughed him up a bit instead.

Romans 12 admonishes us: “Never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink… Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. It’s sad to think of our own FAMILY members as our “enemies”, but it’s often those closest to us who are hardest to get ALONG with, isn’t it? Those closest who HURT us the most. Who we are most tempted to want to get BACK at, to even the SCORE with.

But Jesus commands us to forgive… not 7 times, not 70 times, but 70 TIMES 7 times! (Mt 18:22) And if you’re keeping track, trying to count all the way up to 490 so you can finally get your revenge, then you’ve missed the point. “Love keeps no record of wrongs” (1 Cor 13:5).

#8 – GREED will destroy a family.

V25: “And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels[c] of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.”

Judah plays off his scheme like he’s concerned with Joseph’s welfare – “Come on, guys, he IS our brother after all…” but his ACTIONS make it clear that all he’s REALLY concerned with here is turning a PROFIT. He is GREEDY. Greedy enough to sell his own BROTHER into slavery, to make a quick buck.

You see this side of folks come out mostly today at the end of a family member’s life when there is a WILL involved. Nothing has the potential to tear a family apart quite like money, does it? The redistribution of a loved one’s estate? That’s why 1 Timothy 6:10 warns “the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” People do TERRIBLE things to one another, over money. But Jesus encourages us: “NOT to lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust[e] destroy and where thieves break in and steal, 20 but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven… For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matt 6:19-21) Plus, you don’t have to FIGHT over Jesus – there’s more than enough of Him to go around, for everyone; share him with the whole family! Don’t be greedy; how could we keep something as amazing as GRACE all to ourselves? Be GENEROUS – give the gospel away, to others, who are lost, and in need of salvation.

#9: DECEPTION divides families.

We read in v31: “Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” ”

Jacob, once again, gets a taste of his own medicine here. Laban tricked him back in ch.29, and here again, Jacob the deceiver, who tricked his brother Esau out of both his birthright and his blessing, gets deceived. His sons no doubt learned from the best.

LIES will destroy a family. Sometimes we lie to protect the family. Family unity. You don’t want to hurt your parents’ feelings so you tell them you have to WORK over the holidays, and THAT’s why you can’t visit this year. Or you don’t want to exacerbate the conflict between your siblings, so when your sister VENTS to you about all the issues she has with your brother, instead of encouraging her to go TALK to him, because you’re afraid it’ll just make it worse, you lie and simply agree, “Yeah, me too”; but then when your BROTHER asks if your sister has a PROBLEM with him, cuz he’s starting to pick up a weird vibe from her, instead of encouraging HIM to just go ask HER, you lie AGAIN and further triangulate and just reply, “Hmm, I don’t think so… Ehh, I wouldn’t WORRY about it…” THAT’S not being a peacemaker; that’s being a LIAR. And it will ultimately NOT help keep the peace, because you can only sweep so much dirt under the rug, shove so many skeletons in the closets, before all the deception and deflection and attempts to distract and dodge the issues inevitably come crashing back down ON you and the rest of the family.

Let me ask you this: if your family doesn’t LOVE one another enough, to be able to FACE the truth, the sometimes difficult truth, and continue to care for one another, to go on fighting for real, honest relationships with one another, if your family “CAN’T HANDLE THE TRUTH”, then is it even a family unity that’s WORTH protecting?

Some parents try and hide their sin, their marital struggles, their infidelity, from their kids, WELL into adulthood. I’m certainly not advocating for airing ALL your dirty laundry out for your 5 year old to see. But if your kids aren’t allowed to know you’re a sinner, how are you ever gonna share the GOSPEL with them? What were you saved FROM? Don’t lie and pretend you’re a better parent and person than you are. You need God’s grace every bit as much as they do. And they need to KNOW that.

Finally, #10 – Despair can tear families apart.

V34: “Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.”

This one is a bit trickier than the others. Because GRIEVING is not a sin; in fact, we’re CALLED to mourn with those who mourn. But DESPAIR is different. God says “there’s a season for everything – a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn and a time to DANCE”; despair is when you get stuck in the sad season. “A total loss of HOPE”. But because of what Jesus has done for us not only on the CROSS, but in his empty TOMB, it can NEVER be said of us anymore that we suffer from “a total loss of HOPE.” Because brothers and sisters: WE have a hope that TRANSCENDS the worst of the circumstances that this world can throw at us; we have a hope that transcends even the GRAVE! So Paul says, “We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed (“God, I don’t UNDERSTAND why you’re letting this happen to me!”) but not driven to despair” (“But God, I’m still gonna TRUST you through the storm – I’m gonna look to YOU for my hope, when all of life feels hopeless!”) (2 Cor 4:8).

Despair destroys families. It’s hard to believe that ANY family, any MARRIAGE, could survive something as tragic… as the loss of a child.

But with GOD, despair doesn’t get the final word. Because SIN doesn’t have the final word. Despair, deception, greed, vengeance, jealousy, boasting, anger, slander – the WORST of our sin, against family or otherwise, ultimately, the Bible says that ALL of our sin is committed most grievously against GOD himself. And if God counted our sins against us, NONE of us could stand before Him. But in Christ Jesus, God FORGIVES our sins, punishing OUR sins on HIS cross, and pouring out His LOVE that only JESUS deserved, on US instead. And THAT means that now the CROSS has the final word. The empty TOMB has the final word. Our sin no longer defines us, we have a NEW identity; speaking of family: we are now adopted brothers and sisters of the Risen KING, Jesus!

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He has REDEEMED us. Taken what was MEANT for evil, and transformed it, as only He can, and USED it for our GOOD. And we’re gonna see God do that powerfully in Joseph’s life, in the weeks to come, but it’s already foreshadowed here. It’s nothing but dysfunction for 35 verses, but then lest we lose ALL hope, and despair, we hear at the end: “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” Moses assures us: this is NOT the end of Joseph’s story. To be continued. So if you’re still wading your way through brokenness this morning, if your FAMILY is still reeling from dysfunction this morning, take heart, brother, sister: that just means God’s not done with you yet.

Let’s pray.

June 27, 2021

“A Tale of Two Brothers”

Origins | Thad Yessa |Genesis 35-37:1