“Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons”
In 2007, the violinist Joshua Bell played a Bach’s concerto outside a Washington DC metro stop during rush hour. Thousands walked by, too busy to hear greatness. During the 40 minutes he played Bell said only seven people stopped to listen, and only one person recognized him. He earned $59, if you include the $20 the woman who recognized him. Later that day he flew up to Boston and played to a packed Symphony Hall that night, where the cheapest tickets cost over a hundred dollars.
But listen, Joseph’s brothers did far worse than fail to recognize the greatness in their brother. They wanted to kill it in him. Were they not perverse and twisted? Yes, but they were necessary, for without them wanting to kill brother Joseph, he could never be great and rescue them.
If we ask of Genesis 37’s first few verses, ‘Men, why betray your brother?’ our answer might be too painful to bear, at first.
Moses answer is ‘Because of Dad:’ “Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons” (v. 3). Joseph was immature, to be sure, only 17, the age Moses tells us he snitched on his brothers. But that didn’t tick them off nearly half as much as Dad listening to him snitch, and honoring the snitching.
Sure, Joseph is a tattletale, but it takes a partial Dad to make a brotherly snitch something worse: hated.
The Hebrew text has the brothers projecting something on Dad for his partiality. He gives to Joseph something they lack, something akin to “perfect love.” It was something they felt no possibility of attaining from Dad, and it’s a sub-theme of Genesis: fathers live through their sons, and sons live to honor their fathers. And when that’s corrupted, watch out.
Put yourself in the brother’s sandals: what can you do when your father loves your brother perfectly, and you conditionally?
So Joseph’s very presence offended the brothers, who become incapable of loving him. The brief phrase, “and so hated him, and could not speak to him on friendly terms” in verse 4 exposes their hatred. They had been shamed by none other than their Dad, the very man who ought to live through you. “He prefers the kid,” they whispered to each other, “and dishonors us.”
So you too, beloved Christian brother in Christ. When men do wrong to you, even your own spiritual brothers, take heart in the exalted company you keep. Men like Joseph rise up to greet you in that prison. One like a Son of Man will walk with you in that fiery furnace, ready to remove the bonds upon your feet and hands while delivering you without a smell of fire upon you, for He Himself was despised by His brothers.
Hatred, in its most basic form, is staying away from the person hated. It’s hell, in preview mode. Only if hatred is exposed and aggravated will it become deeds of hatred later. But God will not let you go, even to martyrdom, for he who is hated for righteousness sake is beloved by the Father.
So, if this is you, He just might be making you great in His kingdom, for the good of those who hated you in the first place.