The Slave

Master Sergeant Roddie Edmonds was captured by the Nazis at the Battle of the Bulge. He along with 1,000 captives were sent to a German POW camp. As soon as the men arrived at the camp, they were questioned on their religion. At the time of the capture, the largest death camps had been liberated, but all Jewish officers were sent to a slave-labor camp where survival was also minimal. American Jewish officers were trained to destroy their dog tags upon capture so as not to reveal their Jewish heritage. As the leading non-commissioned officer, Edmonds was the first one questioned. He turned to his men right before the questioning began and told them, “We are all Jews here.”

The German commander came to Edmonds, took out a pistol, and held it to his head. He gave him one last chance to reveal the truth. With a gun held against his head, Edmonds replied, “If you are going to shoot, you are going to have to shoot all of us because we know who you are and you'll be tried for war crimes when we win this war.[1]” The German officer relented and Edmonds’ bravery saved 200 Jewish-American soldiers that day. God used the capture and courage of a soldier to save the lives of his brothers-in-arms. God has used, and will continue to use, the evil actions of men to accomplish his purposes. 

Beloved, we cannot escape evil. The evil actions of wicked men dominate our news headlines. How do you respond to it? Are you overwhelmed with it? Do you ever ask, “Where is God in the midst of this?” How about the evil done to you in your own life? I am sure that many of you know people who have turned away from God, not because of the evil in the world, but the evil in their world. The story of Joseph helps us to see how God uses the evil actions of sinful men to bring about his ultimate purposes. As God would use the capture and the courage of a soldier to save his brothers, so also God would use the capture and the courage of a slave to save his brothers.

The Beloved Son

            Joseph was the youngest son born to Jacob with Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife. Joseph was the delight of his father, but his father’s extravagant delight created a prideful, spoiled child which did not help Joseph’s relationships with his brothers. Genesis 37:2-4,

These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. (Genesis 37:2-4)

Joseph was the beloved son. And the favoritism that Jacob showed Joseph did not help form strength of character. The picture of Joseph is that he is a spoiled teenager who annoys and tattles on his brothers.

            Jacob gave Joseph a robe of many colors or more, literally a robe with long sleeves. The robe was Jacob’s way of showing his love for his youngest son, but also to give him prominence. Bruce Watke comments that many “suggest it (the robe) has something to do with royalty…By this regal apparel Jacob publicly designates Joseph as the ruler over the family…Jacob thereby designated his son as his special heir.” This special designation did not help Jacob’s relationship with his brothers. They hated him and could not even speak peacefully with him. Joseph got under his brothers’ skin so that his mere presence annoyed them to the point they could not stand being nice to him at all. Child favoritism does not help anyone.

            Notice that through this section of Scripture there is no reference of God. Although we know that God is working, the narrative does not give him an active role…yet. Joseph has a dream, clearly these dreams are from the Lord, but the story leaves him out,

Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. He said to them, “Hear this dream that I have dreamed: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.” His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. (Genesis 37:5-11)

Jacob did not keep his dreams to himself. The text says that his brothers hated him because of his dreams (which Joseph could not control) and for his words (which he could control). The root of the brothers’ hatred was jealousy. We must guard our hearts from the bitter fruit of jealousy.

            On commentary of Song of Solomon 8:6, “Love is strong as death; jealousy is cruel as the grave,” Charles Spurgeon writes,

Jealousy has often proved itself “cruel as the grave.” You have only to recall the most appalling murders that have been committed within your memory, or, if you please, those you have read of in the history of nations, and you will find that jealousy has instigated those that were most vindictive and relentless. When jealousy begins to turn its sharp tooth upon a man’s heart, his reason fails him. Madness takes possession of his faculties. A determined purpose, which he would not have dared to contemplate under the influence of a well-balanced judgment, prompts, plans and performs almost without premeditation, an atrocious crime, when jealousy rules the cruel hour! We believe it and we deplore it! No revenge has ever been found too bitter, too malicious, and too lawless for jealousy to inflict. Relentless as the grave, it spares not youth nor beauty, respects neither fame nor fortune, but accounts all comers for its prey![2]

Are you prone to jealousy? Is it easy to envy the goods or the lives of others? Beware, of the bitter fruit of jealousy. We must guard our hearts with contentment in the Lord. John Flavel writes, “Every man loves the mercies of God (his gifts), but a saint loves the God of His mercies.” Love the God who give gifts rather the gifts that come from God and you will have contentment.

            Jacob did not appreciate his son’s dreams, but kept the saying in mind. For Jacob knew that God spoke through dreams, but was not ready to fully trust that which was revealed to Joseph. Was Joseph God’s beloved son who would rule over his brothers?

The Brothers’ Sin

            The scene changed with the brothers going to keep the flock in Shechem while the favored Joseph stayed at home. Israel (Jacob) sent Joseph to check on his brothers. We see the bitter fruit of jealousy take hold of his brothers’ hearts,

Now his brothers went to pasture their father's flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan. They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him 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 will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” (Genesis 37:12-20)

They could see his robes from afar and their jealous anger burned against him.

            The plan was simple. They were going to kill him and throw him in a pit and deceive their father by saying he was devoured by fierce animals. The natural animal-like instinct of the brothers obscured the fear of God. Reuben, the oldest brother, provided a middle ground solution. He did not confront his brothers’ sin, but worked a plan to rescue Joseph. Half-way obedience is not obedience. Genesis 37:21-24,

But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

The once talkative Joseph is no longer heard from again in his story. He now suffers in silence. Rueben planned to come back and rescue him while his brothers were going to let him starve. They stripped him of his robe and his special status. And by stripping him of their robes, they hoped to silence his dreams and to control the will of God.

            Reuben leaves his brothers and while he is gone, the narrative takes a turn. Judah speaks up and offers another plan,

Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, 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 let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph's robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son's robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son's robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. (Genesis 37:25-35)

Jacob, like his father, receives the deception of his sons. Jacob refused to be comforted and chose to live in his grief.

            The brothers’ sinned against their brother, their father and against God. Their selfish jealousy gave birth to grievous sin. James 1:13-15,

Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.

We must sever the root of sin, lest it grow and give birth to sin in our own lives. We are tempted to say that we could never do something as horrible as Joseph’s brothers, but in all our hearts we have the capacity for all kinds of grievous sins. Do not be deceived by the deceitfulness of sin. It lures, it entices and it tempts in many ways. If we are honest, we are probably more like these brothers than we realize. We may not have attempted to kill our brother and sell them into slavery, but we may hold on to the same root sin of jealousy and anger and bitterness. Friends, we are sinners like these brothers. And we, like them, need salvation. They, like we, will receive salvation, when the Beloved Son, becomes the Beloved Slave.

The Beloved Slave

            As grief fills the home of Jacob and his brother, the story ends with the beginning of how God is going to use this captured slave to save his brothers, “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” (Genesis 37:36) Joseph, the beloved son, has become a slave. It is only through Joseph’s slavery that he can save his brothers. Joseph’s story foreshadows the story of Jesus Christ. As one scholar notes,

Through his suffering and eventual ascension to rulership Joseph saved God’s people Israel, Jesus, similarly, through his suffering, death, resurrection and ascension would save God’s people…as Joseph’s brothers “conspired to kill him” (Gen. 37:18), so, according to Matthew, Jesus brothers, the chief priests and the elders, “conspired to arrest Jesus by stealth and kill him” (Matthew 26:4); as Joseph’s brothers sold him for twenty pieces of silver, so Jesus disciple Judas sold Jesus for thirty pieces of silver (Matthew 26:15); as Joseph’s brothers handed him over the Gentiles, so Jesus’ brothers “handed him over to Pilate the governor” (Matthew 27:2); as Joseph suffered in silence, so Jesus suffered in silence (Matthew 26:63); and as God used the evil deeds of Joseph’s brothers to save his people, so God used the evil deeds of Jesus’ “brothers” to save his people.[3]

Salvation came when the Beloved Son became the beloved slave to save his brothers from their sin.

            Joseph will save Israel from famine while Jesus Christ will save his people from eternal death. Jesus took on the very nature of slave, being made in human likeness. The sinless Son of God was killed as sinful servant so showing that Jesus was not ashamed to call us brothers (Heb. 2:11). As Roddie Edmonds identified with brothers-in-arms, saying, “We are all Jews” so, too, Jesus identifies with us. Jesus was poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; and yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12). Jesus died and rose again so that now anyone who repents of their sin and trust in Him, will be adopted as children of God with Jesus Christ as our elder brother who ever lives to intercede for us.

            Beloved, we are more like Joseph’s brothers than we realize. Our jealousy may be for our neighbors, but our greatest form of jealousy is our desire for God’s glory. We desire the glory that rightfully belongs only to God. We are sinners deserving of eternal punishment, but God sent the Son to be a slave so we could receive mercy, being adopted into God’s family. Romans 8:16-17, “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.” We can be children and heirs if we suffer with him. We identify with Christ’s death and resurrection first in baptism then in communion. The Lord’s Table is the Christian’s way to publicly proclaim the death of Christ until he comes. Jesus invites you to his table as members of his family.

The Lord’s Table is for sinners, but it is only for those sinners who have trusted in his death and resurrection for salvation. If you are a baptized believer and a member in good standing of a church in like faith and order, you are welcome to come identify yourself with the “death” of Christ by symbolically feasting on the body and blood of Christ. If you have never made the decision to publicly identify with Christ, I ask that you allow the elements to pass and reflect on how the Beloved Son of God became a slave to save you from your sins. As God would use the capture of Joseph to save his jealous, hateful brothers, God uses Jesus Christ to save jealous, hateful sinners by becoming like them so that by the grace of God might taste death for everyone. As we taste the bread and the cup, let us proclaim that Christ has tasted death for us and made us children of God.





[1] accessed. 5.28.16

[2] accessed 5.29.16

[3] Syndy Griedanus, 356.