They saw him (Joseph) from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. Genesis 37:18-28 (NRSV)
Siblings can be vicious, especially when one sibling is highly favored over others, and /or when resources are in short supply, and/or the siblings are close in age. Jealousy can motivate the fiercest of competition. The competition and rage that jealousy inspires can end in tragedy.
In Joseph’s case he was clearly Jacob’s favorite son. His father, Jacob, had a special coat made for Joseph, and set him up in a position of authority over his older sons. It seemed to be a bit of a mistake for Joseph to share his dream of being in power (Genesis 37:1-11) over his brothers, as this revelation only poured gasoline over the fire of their jealousy and rage.
As the story continues, it looks bad for Joseph. He’s sold off as a slave to the Egyptians, but it’s a kinder fate than what he would have suffered at the hands of his brothers.
God stepped in for Jacob. Even though he was sold as a slave, and endured prison and other trials while in Egypt, he found favor with the Egyptians and eventually found his way into the Pharaoh’s court.
Joseph, the brother who was sold down the river, was put in a place to help his brothers and the rest of his family when they were in desperate need during a famine.
The telling element of Joseph’s character was that he was more than willing to help his brothers who had sold him for what would be equivalent to about $25 today.
The level of Joseph’s help to his family during the famine- including his betrayer siblings- is also worth mentioning. He didn’t send dented cans of beets and okra or old toothpaste samples and expired produce to his family. He sent the very best of the food stores and other products of Egypt. (Genesis 45)
In our lives we have played both roles- the betrayer and the betrayed. Even though we would like to think better, we have all been in the place of Peter the apostle who claimed he could never betray Jesus, yet he did it three times just as Jesus knew he would. And we have all been on the receiving end of a friend or family member who has let us down or been cruel to us in some way.
Yet in spite of betrayal and hurt there is grace. In Christ there is grace to for us to forgive those who have trespassed against us, (as we pray in the Lord’s Prayer) and even to aid them in their time of need. In Christ we can accept the forgiveness of those we have wronged and we can move closer to make what was wrong right again.
God always proves to be the hero of the story, not us. God can and does work His will even through our tragedies and our failings.
How can we be messengers of grace today?