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A ROSE AMONG THORNS
Intro: In our first message on Joseph, we took a hard look at his background. We discovered that his family was marked by vice and violence. This godly man grew up in some most ungodly soil. I am still amazed that God could take a young man from such a background and use him like He did.
That gives me hope as a parent, a pastor and as a person today. If God can do that with Joseph, then He can take my children use them for His glory. If He can do that with Joseph, He can take your children and use them. If He can do that with Joseph, He can take you and me and use us for His glory! Of course, if you read the Bible you will soon discover that God specializes in taking what appears to be nothing and making something magnificent out it.
As we begin to consider the verses in the Bible that speak about the life of Joseph, we are going to see just how different he was from the rest of his family. It is astounding that a young man who grew up in the same home, the same condition, the same environment as his brother, could be so different. Of course, if you have more than one child, or if you come from a family of more than one child, you have seen this with your own eyes. No two children are alike. Joseph, however, is so different that he literally stands out like A Rose Among Thorns.
I want to take the first eleven verses of this chapter and show you the ways Joseph was different from his brothers. I want to show you A Rose Among Thorns.
I. v. 2 THE PURITY OF JOSEPH’S LIFE
A. One of the most striking ways Joseph was different was in the purity of his life. Every time you see Joseph, he is doing the right thing. This made him very different from his brothers. Purity, integrity and a desire to do the right things at all times marked the life of Joseph.
Verse 2 brings us faced to face with the holy heart that beat within the chest of Joseph. We are told that Joseph was tending to his father’s sheep with his half-brothers, the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah. You might remember that Bilhah was Rachel’s handmaid and Zilpah was Leah’s handmaid. These two women had been given to Jacob by his wives and he had fathered two children with each. The sons of Bilhah were Dan and Naphtali. The sons of Zilpah were Gad and Asher.
As you read the story, you get the impression that this is the first time that Joseph has been sent out to work with these men. What he saw them doing must have shocked him deeply. This may have been Joseph’s first exposure to the vile nature of his brothers.
The brothers of Joseph were and evil bunch. Among other things, they were guilty of murder, Gen. 34:25; incest, Gen. 35:33; hatred, Gen. 37:4; envy, Gen. 37:11; enslaving their brother, Gen. 37:38; lying, Gen. 37:31-33; and immorality, Gen. 38:12-18.
Whatever it was that these men were doing, it shocked Joseph so much that he came and told Jacob. This event surely caused problems between Joseph and the rest of his brothers. It may have been the seed plot where the root of bitterness in the hearts of his brothers began to grow.
B. Some authors accuse Joseph of being a talebearer. They believe that Joseph brought about the hatred of his brothers because he acted like a “goody two-shoes”. In reality, Joseph displayed absolute integrity in going to his father with the evil report concerning his brothers.
Joseph had a responsibility to his father. Whatever his brothers were doing, it involved the flocks of Jacob. Thus, it involved his good name in the area. He needed to know what was going on with his sons. Joseph did the right thing when he went to Jacob and told him about the evil deeds of his brothers.
C. There are some lessons in this verse that we need to take to take to heart today.
· Every one of our lives should be marked by purity. The God we serve is a holy God and He expects His people to be a holy people, 1 Pet. 1:16; 2 Cor. 6:17. He wants us to stand separate from this world and its evil ways. He wants us to be different. We should be different in the way we act, talk, think, live, etc. Purity should be the hallmark quality of our lives!
· It isn’t easy, but we should always strive to do the right thing in every situation. Our lives should be marked by integrity. There are plenty of people who are willing to do the wrong thing, especially if it makes life easier for them, but we should always do right in spite of the personal cost. It would have been easier for Joseph to just cover up what his brothers were doing. It would have been easier still to have joined them in their sin. But, he was determined to do the right thing, even if it cost him everything.
It’s easy to tell a “little white lie” to keep the heat off your life. Don’t do it! Tell the truth! It’s easy to cheat a little here and there to make things easier for yourself. Don’t do it! Always be above board in all your dealings. It’s easy to cut corners at school and at work so you will fit in with the crowd. Don’t do it! Do the right thing at all costs! (Ill. Eph. 6:5-9)
· One other lesson has to do with the proper use of the tongue. We should never be guilty of being a talebearer, Lev. 19:16; Pro. 26:20-22.
If there is something you just must tell, be sure that you tell the right person. Jacob had a right to know what his sons were doing, so Joseph told him and him alone! He told his father in an effort to stop evil. A gossip always tells the wrong person. They are not trying to stop evil, but to spread it!
If you must tell something, always tell the truth. That is just what Joseph did. He did not embellish the facts; he simply told things as they were. Gossips love to add or subtract from the details as it suits their agenda.
II. v. 3-4 THE PROMOTION OF
A. These verses tell us a little about the atmosphere within the home of Joseph. It seems clear that Jacob was guilty of favoritism in his relationship with his children. We are clearly told that “Jacob loved Joseph more than all his children”.
Jacob should have known better than to do this. After all, he grew up in a home that was rife with favoritism. In his home, his mother Rebekah favored Jacob, while his father Isaac favored Esau. This favoritism brought envy, strife and trouble into that home. Parents in any age should be careful that they do not favor one child above another! Children should be treated as equals, as far as that is possible.
B. Jacob’s choice of Joseph did not result purely from a desire to elevate him above his brothers. It appears from the text that Jacob has chosen Joseph to be the head of the household on his death. This is indicated by two statements: “because he was the son of his old age” and “he made him a coat of many colors”. Let’s consider those two statements in greater detail.
· The phrase “because he was the son of his old age” can refer to the fact that Jacob was 91 years old when Joseph was born. He had waited many years on a child from his beloved wife Rachel and when Joseph was born his heart’s desire was realized. But, there is another possibility.
The phrase can also be translated “because he was a white head on young shoulders”. This might mean that Jacob saw wisdom and strength of character in Joseph that was missing in the rest of his sons. Jacob is 108 when these events take place. He does not know how much longer he will live. He needs one of his sons to take over when he dies. The oldest son, Reuben, disqualified himself when he committed incest with Jacob’s concubine Bilhah, Gen. 35:22. The oldest sons of Bilhah and Zilpah the handmaids would not have been his choice. The only choice that remained was Joseph, the eldest son of his favorite wife.
· We are also told that Jacob made Joseph “a coat of many colors”. We always seem to picture this as being a little striped jacket that screamed “I’m special! Father loves me more than he loves you!” This garment said far more than that!
The phrase translated “coat of many colors” literally refers to “a shirt with long sleeves”. This was a special type of garment what was multi-colored, and heavily ornamented. It would have had sleeves that reached all the way to the hands and the hem of the garment would have reached to the ankles.
It marked its wearer as a chieftain, or as the head of a clan. This type of garment was not worn by a common worker. It was only worn by overseers and royalty; those who were above work! This garment was worn by the heir!
When Jacob gave this coat to Joseph, it identified him as his father’s choice to be his replacement as the head of the family. It identified him as the superior son in the family. That coat told the other brothers, “You don’t report to Jacob any longer. You work for Joseph now!”
This was a big deal in families of that era. The head of the household literally held absolute, life and death authority over the members of the family. When the brothers of Joseph saw him wearing that garment, they knew exactly where they stood in the pecking order within the family!
C. Joseph carried himself well and he earned the respect of his father. As time went on, his father gave him more and more responsibility within the family. He carried himself so well, and proved himself to be so trustworthy, that his father appointed him to be the heir of his place as head of the family. By the way, this position would have also entitled Joseph to a double portion of his father’s inheritance.
All of this attention from Jacob toward Joseph created jealousy among his older brothers. In fact, we are told that they “hated him and could not speak peaceably to him”. The word “hated” is a very strong word. It has the idea of “persons or things that are detested and despised and with which one wishes to have no contact or relationship”. The brothers of Joseph wanted nothing to do with him at all. They could not even say “Shalom” when they met him. They didn’t have a kind word for Joseph. In fact, their hatred grew with each passing day, v. 4, 5, 8, 11.
D. That’s a lot of background from the text, now let me make a few points of application before we move on.
· When we live a life of integrity and holiness, the Father notices. When we are faithful in our service to Him, He will promote us to greater areas of service, Matt. 25:21. The true character of our heart is revealed in the faithfulness of our service to the Lord, Luke 16:10.
· When we are promoted, we must not boast about our achievements. Any advancement in the spiritual realm is purely the good grace of God working in our lives, John 1:26-30.
· When others prosper and are promoted, we must guard against becoming jealous. Instead of being angry that they are progressing, we should be thankful for what the Lord is doing in their lives. Your true self is revealed in how you respond to the promotions, blessings, achievements and advancements of others!
(Ill. We just elected four new Deacons from a list of six men. Four were chosen and two were not. The two were not selected demonstrated to me that they had the right kind of character for the job nonetheless. How? They did not get bitter, but they remained faithful to the Lord. They left the matter in God’s hands and trusted Him to do best.)
III. v. 5-11 THE PROMISE OF
A. As trouble was brewing in this family, God was working in the life of Joseph. God spoke to Joseph in two dreams. In these dreams, God revealed some of His plans for Joseph’s life. Let’s take a look at the two dreams Joseph dreamed.
· v. 5-8 – This first dream was of Joseph and his brothers gathering grain in a field. They were cutting wheat and binding it up in sheaves. In the dream, Joseph’s sheaf stood up and the sheaves belonging to his brothers bowed down before it. His brothers immediately interpreted the dream to mean that Joseph would one day rule over them and they reacted in anger. They defied the dream and hated Joseph even more than they had before.
· v. 9-11 – These second dream consisted of the sun, the moon and eleven stars all bowing down to Joseph. This time he not only tells his brothers, he also tells his father. Jacob immediately understands the implications of this dream and issues a mild rebuke. But, we are told that he “observed the saying”. This means “to take heed to”. Jacob is having his choice of Joseph confirmed by a dream from the Lord. Of course, this dream, like the other, caused the rift between Joseph and his brothers to grow even wider. Not only has their father obviously chosen Joseph over them, now God is speaking through Joseph. They see all these things and become increasingly jealous of their brother.
· It should be noted here that Joseph does not seem to have told his dreams because he wanted to brag or boast. He told them because they were so strange that he needed to share them with others. I do not detect any impurity in Joseph’s motives here.
B. These dreams are the first indication that God has big plans for Joseph. Eventually, they will be completely fulfilled. I would imagine that is was these dreams that sustained Joseph through the pain of the pit, Potipher’s house and the prison. It was these dreams that reassured that God had a plan for his life and that, eventually, everything would turn out all right.
C. Let me share a few points of application from this portion of Scripture.
· There is a word here about dreams. God does not speak through dreams in our day. In Joseph’s time they did not have the Bible. They did not have a complete revelation of God’s Word. We do! In our day, God speaks through His Word, alone! The Bible is superior to dreams and visions in several ways. First, the Bible speaks to many subjects; dreams are more limited in their focus. Second, the Bible is far more trustworthy. Anyone can read it. A dream is only known to the dreamer. Third, the Bible has absolute authority, dreams mean nothing. Fourth, the Bible is certain and fixed. Dreams fade with time. Put no faith in the dreams and visions of the night. Instead, read, study and build your life upon the world of God.
· There is a word here about hope. In his dreams Joseph received the shadow of a promise from the Lord. He held onto those dreams and they sustained him through some trying times. When God births a dream in your heart, let nothing take it away! Rest assured that God will accomplish in your life all those things that please Him in His time!
· There is a word here about hatred. When you serve the Lord, live clean and follow the dream God gives you, some people are going to rise up against you. Don’t be surprised when you are hated for following the Lord. They hated Him and they will hate you, John 15:18-20. Don’t let the haters stop you from achieving your fullest potential in the Lord.
Conc: In the bouquet that formed Jacob’s family, there was really only one flower. Joseph was a rose among thorns. Like cream this young man rose to the top and his life stands as a testimony of what God can do with a life in spite of the difficulties that would seem to hinder His work.
· Maybe God has placed His finger on some area of your life today.
· Maybe there is a problem in the arena of your purity. You need to get that to the Lord and get it straightened out right now.
· Maybe there is jealousy in your heart over the promotions of another. You need to get that straightened out.
· Maybe you are like Joseph’s brothers in other ways and you need to be saved.
· Maybe life has interfered with the dreams God birthed in your heart and you wonder if they will ever come to pass. You need to talk to Him about that today.
· Maybe you just want to get in a place of submission to the Father’s plan for your life. Maybe you want to surrender to His plan, serve Him more faithfully so that He can take, bless and use your life for His glory.
· If He has spoken to you obey Him now!