Hopelessly Devoted: Genesis Chapter Thirty Seven Verses Three through Seven

This morning’s devotion comes from our own Will McDavid. Now Israel loved Joseph more than […]

Mockingbird / 1.20.14

This morning’s devotion comes from our own Will McDavid.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his children, because he was the son of his old age… Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” (Genesis 37:3-7, NRSV)

bible_gustave-dore-joseph_sold_by_his_brethrenWho in the world talks like this? It’s one thing to have a dream about everyone in your family bowing down to you, and quite another to tell all of them about it, especially when, in the all-important birthright system of Joseph’s time, you’re at the bottom. Joseph is clearly self-impressed, and obnoxiously so. What traits does he even have, to make his father favor him when he’s clearly such an arrogant you-know-what?

According to the Genesis account, he has nothing—of course he has some positive traits, but there’s a reason they are absent from this part of the story. Joseph’s position of honor has everything to do with his father and nothing to do with himself. He does end up learning humility through imprisonment and slavery. But the story is so compelling because it is Joseph’s weakness that God uses for him to end up in Egypt, and it is his suffering that produces virtue. Love, though, is independent of either, and it comes onto the scene here before suffering, before virtue, before accomplishment. Like much of the Bible, this story alights on weakness in order to dispel our persistent illusion that God’s love and ability to use us derive from our strengths.

Israel’s paternal preference for Joseph is arbitrary, gratuitous—foolish, even—and it’s exactly how God loved Joseph, and loves us. Even when God, in His grace, gives Joseph this dream to assure him of God’s love for him, Joseph is tactless, angering his brothers so much that they sell him off into slavery. But this merely “gets the ball rolling” on the whole rambling, thirteen-chapter, redemptive tale. At no point could any of the brothers have guessed that the foolish preference of their senile father would save Israel from famine, and yet Joseph does. God uses even Joseph’s pride to save the family. He uses weak people, and He brings good from their weakness. God doesn’t choose us despite our failures, but rather through them.

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