“These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors.” Gen. 37:2, 3
In a number of articles during the next several months we would like to say a few things about the young saint Joseph that we hope will be of spiritual benefit to the young people who read our Beacon Lights. At the time this sacred history begins, Joseph is seventeen years old. Obviously this fact makes this history especially pertinent to young people; young men, but also young women. Joseph is a wonderful example for you to follow. What the Scriptures say of him, what God worked in his heart and life so long ago, that is a safe example for you to follow. Be like Joseph! As we unfold this part of the Bible together, pray that you have the grace and the desire to be like him spiritually. The times have changed and the geography is different, but the lessons endure.
We hold Joseph before you as a safe example to follow because he was an Old Testament type of our Savior, Jesus Christ. There simply can be no doubt about this: in his relation to his father, in his relation to his brethren, in his being slandered, in his prophesying, in his saving much people alive, in his being a fruitful bough (Genesis 49:22-27), the eleventh son of Jacob is a beautiful and powerful picture of Jesus in His relationships and in His saving work! There is, therefore, an impress of the life and work of the coming Messiah in the life and work of this young man. From time to time we will bring this out, but our primary purpose is to hold before you the sterling spiritual qualities which God blessed then and still blesses today.
What’s your relationship with your parents? What kind of a relationship is it, and what is its chief characteristic? The relationship between Jacob and Joseph has received a bad press in many commentaries and Sunday school papers. Generally, Jacob is portrayed as a partial parent, creating family problems by doting over a son of his old age. With that, Joseph is generally described as a spoiled child, a goody-goody, and a tattle-tale. Both these characterizations are far from true. Two things in the passage quoted above show this to be untrue. We do not merely read that Jacob (as in verse one) loved Joseph more than all his children, but Israel did so. That new name, given to Jacob by God at Peniel, is a name with covenant significance, and it is used here to reveal that his greater love for Joseph was a covenant-motivated love. Secondly, the coat that Joseph was given was an expression of Jacob’s desire that Joseph receive the birthright blessing. Rather than being a “coat of many colors” it was a “long-sleeved cloak”, not suitable for manual labor, but suitable for the work of an overseer or governor.
Thus we see that Joseph stood very high in his father’s estimation. None of the other sons came near to Jacob in spiritual stature as Joseph did. The father actually had little in common with most of his own sons. They did not reveal a strong interest in the promise of God that had been given to Abraham and to Isaac, and which was the wellspring of Jacob’s life. Some of them were cruel and unstable. But already by the time he was seventeen years of age, Joseph revealed a love of the truth and a determination to stand for the truth as is clear from the fact that he reproved his brothers in their iniquity, and reported their evil doings to their father (verse 2). All this means that father and son were spiritually one! They loved each other not only naturally, but spiritually, for spiritual reasons. They often spoke of the truth of salvation as that salvation was promised to them by their God. They had the same view as regards doctrine and life! Father and son were brothers in the Lord! They were friends together, and in that friendship they were united to God!
What a tremendous lesson for us today, both parents and young people! Today, when everything goes on at such a mad pace that there is no time for worthwhile things unless one consciously makes the time; today, when the truth is ridiculed, correction is despised, and wisdom falls in the streets; today, what is your relationship to your parents? What does your family life amount to, a pitched battle? A going of separate ways with as little contact and conversation as possible? Or can it be said of you and your relationship to your parents that it is based on the covenant and takes the covenant into consideration at every point?
Sons and daughters ought to care far more about what their parents think of them, their ideas and practices, than many seem to care. Sons and daughters ought to give more earnest heed to the words that their parents are speaking to them than many seem to be giving. The fact that most of you are peer-oriented rather than parent-oriented is often used as an excuse for mindless, mob behavior and disobedience. Let’s see it for what it really is: the inclination to follow the word and example of our peers (peer pressure) rather than the word and example of our parents is an inclination that arises out of our old man of sin. I find nothing in Genesis chapters 37-50 to indicate that Joseph cared one whit for what his brothers said of him or thought of him. Nor did he have these insecurities later when he was in Egypt. He had the new-man, Spirit-worked gift of looking above himself and his peers for approval, and then for an approval that had some real meaning!
For many years, in fact, from the very earliest years, Joseph had received instruction and correction gladly. He trusted the Word of God that his father spoke to the family. He did not question parental authority, and he did not try to maintain himself when he was found to be in error, as he surely was from time to time. The result was that he developed in the fear of the Lord personally, and a strong bond of love and respect, communion and joy blossomed between Jacob and Joseph. Sadly, Jacob could not find this in the other sons, and just as sadly Joseph could not find it with his many brothers. But father and son had it! This explains the strong love of Jacob for Joseph. He was the well-loved son!
Twice during the earthly sojourn of the Son of God in our flesh, God spoke these words concerning Jesus: “This is My beloved Son in Whom I am well pleased.” This divine pleasure and love were revealed when Jesus was baptized by John at the Jordan, and when Jesus was transfigured with excellent glory on the holy mount. This great love of God for Jesus Christ, revealed at these crucial points in his ministry, is the fulfillment of the love that Jacob had for Joseph typically. The Triune God established a covenant with the Son of God in the flesh. That covenant was the basis for the beautiful prayer that Jesus uttered in the Garden of Gethsemane (John 17), and that bond of friendship was the basis for all the work that Christ accomplished for us as the Head of the Church. In Christ there was submission to the Father’s will that is truly amazing! In Christ God delighted and found fullest pleasure! For God had appointed Him to have the pre-eminence and to be the firstborn of many brethren. All men are directed to “Behold my servant, whom I uphold; mine elect in whom my soul delighteth!” (Isaiah 42)
But God’s covenant is not only with Christ, it is also with all those who have been given to Him in eternity and believe on Him in time (Gal. 3:16-29). We know this as a covenant of grace, for by nature we do not stand in relation to God as Joseph did to Jacob, but by nature we stand related to God as his brothers stood to their father! We were enemies of God, not friends; we were repelled by the thought of God, not drawn. But God has brought us nigh through the blood of the cross, made us His friends, and established us in His family circle.
God is pleased to do that in the line of believing generations. That means that fathers and sons, mothers and daughters, parents and children of all ages, because of their place in that covenant, have love for each other, have things to say to each other, have things to share and a common life to live. How does your relationship to father and mother measure up, in the light of what we have found in Joseph’s life, age seventeen? How does your relationship to God measure up, in light of the intimate friendship with God that was enjoyed by Christ?