Sold (Genesis 37)

Our sermon today is titled, “Sold.”  It’s about betrayal.  We’ve seen betrayal in the Bible, haven’t we?  Cain betrayed Abel.  Judas betrayed Jesus.  Absalom betrayed David.  Here we see Joseph betrayed by his brothers. 


Jacob is now living back where his father and his grandfather lived.  He is around 125 years old.  His father Isaac is dead, his favorite wife Rachel is dead, and as far as we know his other 3 wives are still living.  He has 12 sons, one daughter and is wealthy.  His sons are shepherds like he was, and they tend his flocks and herds.  His brother Esau moved away because the land could not support both of them.  His favorite son is Joseph, who is seventeen years old.  Joseph is hated by his brothers because he is dad’s favorite.  Then they hate him even more when Joseph tells them about two dreams he had – dreams that indicated he had a powerful future.  One day they conspire to kill him, and so they kidnap him, essentially, and then decide not to kill him and instead to sell him to some merchants.  They take his special robe, dip it in blood and tell their dad that he was mauled by a wild animal.  And another chapter ends with Jacob grieving.

Joseph Loved – Joseph Hated – Joseph Dreams – Joseph Sold – Joseph Mourned


Joseph is loved by his father Jacob.  He loves Joseph because Joseph was born to him in his old age.  Jacob is over 120 years old at this point, and Joseph is 17, so Jacob was over 100 years old when Joseph was born.  But Joseph was the most special to Jacob for another reason:  he as the first son bore him from his cherished dead wife Rachel.  Let me say it this way:  if he had the choice of having 100 sons from Leah and only one from Rachel, he would’ve chosen one from Rachel.  It might be safe to say that as far as Jacob was concerned, his “firstborn” son was not Reuben from Leah, but Joseph from Rachel.  Remember, it was Joseph who got the rights of the firstborn after Reuben disgraced himself (1 Chron 5:1-2).  

As a symbol of that fatherly favor, Joseph was given a special robe.  That robe distinguished Joseph from all his other brothers.  


As much as he was loved by his father he was hated by his brothers.  He is hated for 3 reasons.

First, he is hated because he tattles, read verse 2.  Isn’t that just like the youngest?  While Joseph probably helped all the brothers in shepherding the flocks, he was out with only four of his other brothers in this instance.  It was his half brothers who were born to the servant wives Zilpah and Bilhah:  Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher (35:25-26).  Together the five of them were taking care of some flocks and apparently those four did something bad enough for Joseph to leave and go tell on them.

Perhaps two things can be understood here.  First, the integrity of Joseph.  He didn’t do what his brothers did, and he cared enough to report it to their dad.  Maybe it was tattling, or maybe the issue was important enough it needed to be dealt with by “Dad” so that money or safety or reputation of the family wasn’t lost.  So this could be seen as Joseph’s integrity, which is a thought only bolstered as we see Joseph’s integrity through the rest of Genesis.  

Aside from his integrity, by telling on his brothers we can also assume that they hated him for telling.

Second, he is hated because he is the favorite (v3-4).  Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other sons.  That favoritism was obvious even without the special robe he gave him.  Just like Leah lived in the shadow of Rachel, all the other sons lived in the shadow of Joseph.  

Remember Jacob’s parents played favorites too:  Esau was Isaac’s favorite and Jacob was Rebekah’s favorite (25:8).  Ephesians 6 and Colossians 3 say “Do not embitter your children.”  One way to embitter your children is to show them that you don’t love them as much as their siblings.  

Third, he is hated because of his dreams, read verse 5.  One day while the other kids were downstairs playing we gave one of the little kids a cookie in secret and said don’t say anything to the others.  “Okay, I won’t” said the cute little girl voice agreeing to the terms of this clandestine transaction.  Then, no sooner does she get the cookie in her hand, before even taking a bite, she bolts off downstairs yelling “I got a cookie!  Guys I got a cookie!”  Then her siblings took her cookie away and threw her in a cistern.  

Joseph wakes up from this dream and immediately runs off to tell his brothers.  If he wants to win their favor the naive seventeen year old boy is not helping his cause.  “Guys, I just had a dream where all of you bowed down to me and I was your ruler.  Isn’t that awesome?!”  No, Joseph.  No, that is not awesome.  Come here, I want to show you this cool hole in the ground.    

So Joseph is hated because he tells on his brothers, because he is dad’s favorite, and because of his dreams.  


Apparently dreams run in the family.  Great-grandpa Abraham had the dream of the boiling pot passing through the carcasses (15:9-20).  Daddy Jacob had the dream at Bethel with the staircase to heaven (28:10-22).  Now here in Genesis 37 Joseph has two dreams (5-10).  God told Aaron and Miriam “When there is a prophet among  you, I, the LORD, reveal myself to them in visions, I speak to them in dreams.” (Nmb 12:6)

What are these dreams Joseph had and what do they mean?  Why two dreams?  One dream is agricultural while the other is astronomical, but both are conveying the same thing:  both are saying that Joseph is going to rise up and be a powerful ruler.  His brother’s sheaves gathered around Joseph’s and bowed down; the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to him.  The imagery is all very clear:  Joseph’s family would surround him and bow down to him as a ruler over them.  (One man’s dream is another man’s nightmare!)  

This is not speculation, this is the clear meaning that no one missed – not Joseph, not Jacob, and especially not his brothers.  The rest of Genesis unfolds to fulfill these prophetic dreams.  

The reason for two dreams is because when God wants to communicate the certainty that He’s going to do something and the “soonness” of it happening, he communicates it in two dreams.  Joseph himself would explain this “rule” later in 41:32 to Pharaoh if you want to turn there and read with me….

Notice that while the brothers resent Joseph for his dreams, Jacob is reflective.  Sure he rebukes him, but verse 11 says he “kept the matter in mind.”  Again we see Jacob showing the wisdom of age and experience and faith by not reacting.  He’s been around a long time, he’s had his own dream from God, remember, so he knows God does work like that.  If this indicates that Jacob believed the dreams to be of God, and that Joseph would be a ruler, you have to wonder how Jacob tried to make sense of all that after being told Joseph was dead.  “God, how can Joseph become a ruler now that he’s dead?  How can me and the boys bow down to him if he’s gone from the earth?”  Does that confusion sound familiar?  “God, how can my son Isaac bring me descendents as numerous as the stars in the sky if you want me to kill him?”  

APPLICATION:  Faith continues when human understanding stops.  Which is just another way of saying that we still put our trust in God when we don’t understand what He’s doing and why.  Jacob didn’t understand how God’s plans for Joseph could come true if he was dead.  Abraham didn’t understand how God’s plans for Isaac would come true if he was dead.  The great men of faith in the Bible are great men of faith because they had great faith when they didn’t understand.  They didn’t tie their trust in God to their ability to completely understand God’s ways.  


Jacob’s flocks and herds are being led many miles away.  He wants to know how they are doing and he sends Joseph to go track down his brothers and find out and come back with a report.  He goes to Shechem – old stomping grounds.  Eventually finding them in Dotham a little further.  In total they are probably 50 miles north of Jacob in Hebron.  

While he is coming his brothers see him, plot to kill him, throw his body in a cistern (a hole in the ground for collecting water that he wouldn’t be able to escape from) and come up with a lie to tell their father that he was killed by some wild animal.  

First notice Reuben advocating for Joseph (21-24).  So like the great future prophet Jeremiah, Joseph sat down in a cistern as a prisoner to his own brothers.  But for some reason Reuben was against this plan.  He wanted to spare Joseph.  He’s almost a type of Pilate – someone who wanted to help but was too weak. 

Why Reuben?  Maybe Reuben felt guilty for defiling his father’s bed and wanted back into his father’s good graces, so his plan was to be the “good” son rescuing Joseph from the evil sons and return him safely.  Maybe Reuben really did care about his father and genuinely wanted to spare his father from the grief of losing Joseph.  Maybe Reuben could appreciate what Joseph meant to his father.  Maybe Shechem still haunted him – he says, “Don’t shed his blood” and it makes you wonder if he was appealing to Shechem on their conscience:  “Brothers, we are living with the blood of Shechem on our hands.  Do we want to have the blood of our own brother too?”  Reuben felt like King Claudius in Hamlet, who killed his brother to steal his crown and his queen, “O my offense is rank, it smells to heaven;” and then referring to Cain and Abel in the Bible the king went on to say, “[My offense] hath that primal eldest curse upon it – a brother’s murder!”

That is exactly what it was with Joseph:  the 11 older brothers were Cain and Joseph was their younger Abel.  They were about to incur that same “primal eldest [brother] curse” for murdering their younger brother.  But Rueben tried to intervene.

Second, notice Judah modifies the plan (25-28).  Rather than slaughtering or starving Joseph, Judah proposes to sell him.  A caravan of Ishmael-Midianites comes by and for 20 shekels of silver they buy Joseph, load him up and take him to Egypt.  

(As a side note:  I wonder why this isn’t considered Judah’s “sin” disqualifying him from being the Messianic line). 

Who are these Ishmaelites?  Why are they also called “Midianites?”  The Midianites came from Midian, one of Abraham’s sons through his later wife Keturah (25;1-2).  The Ishmaelites were the sons of Ishmael, who was the son of Abraham through Hagar (16:11).  The Israelites were the sons of Israel, who was born to Isaac, the promised son of Abraham.  So what you have in this passage actually is a family get together.  Abraham had sons through three women, and all three “lines” appear together in this event:  the Israelites, the Ishmaelites and the Midianites.  The proposed reason the same group is referred to as both the Ishmaelites and the Midianites is because the descendents of Ishmael and Midian probably lived near each other and intermarried enough so that their two groups were like one.  

One might wonder:  who needs enemies when you have family like this?  

Third, they come up with a cover up.  They smear Joseph’s robe with goat blood and told their father that Joseph was mauled by some wild animals.  


Joseph is mourned.  Jacob mourns the apparent death of his son.  This might be an even worse grief than the death of his beloved wife Rachel, Joseph’s mother.  Rachel lived a long and full life.  She had known what being in love and being loved was her whole life.  She gave him two sons.  Joseph on the other hadn’t even graduated high school.  His whole life was in front of him.  Jacob grieved not only the loss of his beloved son, but the loss of what his life that could have been.  Losing Joseph in a real way for Jacob was like losing Rachel again.  Imagine how much more Benjamin would mean to Jacob!

CONCLUSION:  Seeing Jesus in Joseph

It is universally understood that Joseph is a type of Jesus Christ.  Many people and things and events in the OT are pictures of Jesus Christ in various ways:  

  • Noah’s ark saving from the flood of judgment pictures Jesus as the only salvation from God’s coming judgment
  • Melchizedek was a priest-king, like Jesus is a priest-king.  
  • Sodom and Gomorrah are pictures of God’s judgment on wickedness
  • Then later the temple, the priesthood, the veil to the Holy of Holies, the blood sacrifices, the snake on a pole that healed, the water from the rock in the desert, and on and on and on.

And here Joseph pictures Jesus.  Do you see it?  

  • Just like Joseph was sold by his brothers, Jesus was sold by Judas.  
  • Just like Joseph left his robe when he was sold, Jesus left his glory when he left heaven to come to earth and suffer.  
  • Just like Joseph was handed over to Gentiles, Jesus was handed over to the Gentiles.  
  • Just like Joseph was mocked, “Lets kill him…then we’ll see what happens to his precious dreams” (20), so Jesus was mocked too:  the Jews blindfolded him and punched him and told him to prophecy who hit him, the Roman soldiers put a robe and crown of thorns on Him and pretended to worship him, spitting on him and beating him with sticks.  On the cross they “wagged their tongues” and mocked him by saying, “He helped others now lets see if he can help himself, since he thinks he’s the Messiah.”  
  • Loved by his father but hated by his brothers?  So it was with Jesus:  “This is my Son, whom I love” yet, Jesus was hated by his brothers, the Jews, “He was despised and rejected…we held him in low esteem.”  Or remember how his brothers chanted:  “Crucify Him!  He is not fit to live!  Crucify Him!” 
  • However, just like Joseph became the most powerful man on earth and ruled over his brothers, so too Jesus will return as the king of kings over all the earth and rule over his brothers.  Remember what he said when he was on trial before the Jews?  “You will see the Son of Man descending on the clouds in power and glory.”  Just like God used the evil done to Joseph for a greater good (50:20), so too God used the evil done to Jesus for a greater good:  “My fellow Israelites” Peter said in Acts 3, “I know you acted in ignorance when you crucified the Author of Life.  But this is how God fulfilled what he had foretold through all the prophets, saying that His Messiah would suffer.”

The point for you today is not to see Joseph, but through him to see Jesus.  You began in this sermon with Joseph – but end it with Jesus.  You can’t stop short and not make it to Jesus.  You must see Him and respond to His call to believe in Him.

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