Someone once asked me, “why do bad things happen to good people?” When I replied that bad things also happen to bad people, I was then accused of not being very spiritual at all! The answer as to why were all these things happening and going to happen to Joseph is because God had an unfolding plan. A plan that Joseph couldn’t see and getting there was not going to be easy. Why are we so surprised?
Chapter 37:12-17 contains some interesting ‘why’ questions.
Why did Jacob send Joseph to find out how his brothers were doing if he knew that there was animosity between them? Had they hidden their rage? Was Jacob naive and unaware of their hostility towards Joseph?
Why did Jacob send Joseph to Shechem, the place where his daughter Dinah had been humiliated and defiled, a fact that he had to live with and endure?
Why are Jacob’s sons pasturing the flocks so far way? Joseph leaves the valley of Hebron (vs 14) travels north to Shechem (vs 15) that’s about fifty miles, then on from Shechem to Dothan, another 13 miles. This is not “just pop out to see how the boys are doing.”
One guess might be that the sons are so far away that their father is becoming concerned. Lots of whys, I guess that is familiar.
Asking why is not being unspiritual or lacking in faith. Sometimes it’s fair to say we don’t know why this or that happens.
We usually look for the reasons as to why and yet we remain a little reluctant to see that God is trying to teach and train us. For example, Paul says, “Three times I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness’” (2 Corinthians 12:8-9). Paul concludes, “Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.” Paul the struggler turns his pain into worship and dependency by showing Christ’s all-sufficiency in his weakness. I don’t understand why you are doing this Lord, but I trust in the fact that you know what you are doing.
The brothers see Joseph arriving, and just the sight of him inflames their anger (vs 18). Their retort “here comes the dreamer” could be translated as the master of dreams. It’s deeply sarcastic, barbed, and scornful. Ironic that one day he would become the master of dreams.
The bible has much to say about our use of harsh words.
A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. – Proverbs 15:1
And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” Matthew 15:10-11
Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. Ephesians 4:29
The brothers answer to the ‘master of dreams’ is to get rid of him, kill him, and make up a story about a wild beast. For reasons unclear to us Reuben comes up with an alternate plan to leave Joseph in the cistern alive. There, Joseph will die of starvation and thirst, is that what Reuben wants his siblings to believe? Maybe Reuben is buying time.
Just to help us picture this, cisterns were bottle shaped with a small opening at the top a long neck and opened out at the bottom. In most cases they were lined to keep them waterproof. Joseph would not be able to get out without help. Reuben’s intention was that he would return later and help Joseph out and restore him to his father. It’s a short imprisonment. It’s all a bit crazy.
Then the unexpected happens (vs 28), a caravan of Ishmaelite traders pass by on their way to Egypt with stuff to sell. The brothers see this as a golden opportunity to get rid of Joseph whilst Reuben is out of the way. They sell Joseph as a slave.
The important point of this part of the story is that these events are being controlled by God, something we know and can see with the benefit of hindsight. If you are in the midst of something then it’s very difficult to see and understand what is happening. If Jacob had not sent Joseph to find his brothers, if the brothers had only been a few miles away, if the traders were not passing through, if Reuben was not away from his brothers at that time, the precise set of circumstances that were necessary for this unexpected event to occur would not have happened. God was in control of the timing. It was He who set these precise events into motion so that Joseph would be in the right place at the right time, that being Egypt. God sometimes allows difficult and hard events to occur in our lives in order to train us, to prepare us and to make a way for his kingdom to come. When we look back on such events we can clearly understand and accept them however, during them it’s much harder. I don’t know what God is saying to you right now or what you are living with. The ‘right now’ might be surprising, difficult or painful but have you ever stopped to consider that it might be purposeful?