Joseph and His Brethren Part I
The Story of Joseph and His Brethren.
The first part of Joseph’s story, though both instructive and entertaining to all, is particularly so to children. I propose to tell the story nearly in the words of the Old Testament, but to make now and then a few remarks upon it.
Joseph was the son of good old Jacob, “Now Jacob,” says the Scripture, “loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his Brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his Brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”
But was not his hatred of Joseph’s Brethren against Joseph very wicket? It is true Jacob might be faulty in shewing so much partiality to one son above another, yet this was no excuse for the hatred which was felt by Joseph’s Brethren, Methinks this hatred, though as yet it is only concealed in their breasts will, by and by, break out into some very wicked act or other. But let us go on with the story.
“And Jospeh dreamed a dream, and he told it to his Brethren: and they hated him yet the more.”
This is doing worse and worse, and it shews that when hatred once begins, we know not whewre it will end.
“And Joseph said unto them, Hear I pray you this dream which I have dreamed: for behold we were binding sheaves in the field, and my sheaf arose and also stood upright, and behold your sheaves stood round about and made obeisance (or bowed down) to my sheaf.”
Joseph seems to me to have told this dream so publicly through his openness of heart and simplicity; it was a dream moreover which God sent, and God caused afterwards the thing signified by it to be fulfilled, as in due time we shall see.
“And this Brethren said to him, shalt thou indeed reign over us?”
They were ready enough to understand the dream, and to understand it as making against themselves; for their very hatred helped them to do so.
“Shalt thoug,” added they, “indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet th emore for his dream and for his words.—and Joseph dreamed yet another dream, and told it his Brethren, and said, behold I have dreamed a dream more, and behold the Sun, and the Moon, and the eleven Stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father and to his brethren; and his father rebuked him, and said to him, what is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I, and thy mother, and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth.”
Poor honest simple old man, he little knew how his own interpretation of the dream was by-and-by to be exactly fulfilled, for so God had ordained.
“And his Brethren envied him, but his Father observed the saying.”
After this we read, that “Joseph’s Brethren sent to feed their father’s flock in Shechm, and Jacob sent Joseph to them, saying, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy Brethre, and well with the flocks, and bring me word again. So he sent him, and Joseph came to Shechem, but it happened that they and the flocks were gone forward beyond Shechem, even to Dothan. So Joseph went after his Brethren, and found them in Duthan. And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. And they said one to another, Behold this Dreamer cometh! Come now therefore and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say some evil beast hath devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.”
What a dreadful proposal! What! Kill their own brother! If they could agree to do this, I do not wonder at their agreeing also to tell a lie in order to hide their crime: thus not one sin, but two sins were to be committed. But is it possible that all these eleven Brethren should join in putting Joseph to death? Even among bad men some are apt to be less bad than others: surely, therefore we may hope that one or other of Joseph’s Brethren will be for stopping short of the crime of murder.
It proved, as I think might very naturally be expected, that one of Joseph’s Brethren, named Reuben, though he seems before to have joined in envying Joseph, was afraid of joining in his most horrid crime.
When, therefore, “Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of thei hands; and said, Let us not kill him. And Reuben said unto them, shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand on him: this he said that he might rid him out of their hands, and deliver him to his father’s house. And it came to pass that when Joseph, who was at a distance while this conversation passed,”was come unto his Brethren, they stripped Joseph of his Coat, it being his Coat of many Colours which was upon him.”
What satisfaction would they feel while they were thus stripping him! This was the Coat which Joseph’s father had given him because he was a favourite, and which reminded Joseph’s Brethren of his advantage over them. They now thought themselves revenged upon him, and reveng is sweet. Many a joke, many a bitter and severe expression was uttered, no doubt, while they were stripping him: they had got him into their power, and they were resolved to shew that they were greater than he, instead of his being greater than they as he pretended.
Now this sort of spirit in them was a most wicked thing: it was coupled with envy, and malice, and hatred, and was not far from carrying them on to an act of murder. And here let me warn all my young Readers against indulging this same evil temper. Thus, for instance, if you should hear your Teacher praise your school-fellow who stands near you, while he says not a word of praise to you, do not hate and envy your school-fellow on this account; or if you should see your Parent give a reward to your brother or sister for supposed good behaviour, do not be eager to think that you equally deserve a reward, and then hate or envy your brother or sister for being more favored than yourself, for this is to act in the same spirit with the Brethren of Joseph. So also if some other child should be drest as fine again as you are, and even as fine as Joseph himself in his Coat of many Colours, yet do not do as Joseph’s Brethren did. Do not feel any ill-will towards your brother, your sister, or play-fellow for this reason. Do not long to strip the fine Coat off of him as Joseph’s Brethren stripped the fine coat off of Josephy, but endeavor to look upon his fine dress contentedly, and without enyv, and without any desire to take it from him, and to put it on your backs. This is one of the lessons that you ought to learn from the present story, which was not written in the Bible inorder to entertain you only, and in order to teach you how to read, but in order to instruct you in your duty also. This passion of hatred and envy, if indulged when you are young, may lead to dreadful consequences when you are old. We shall presently shew you very plainly how in the case of Joseph’s Brethren it led on to lying, and to cruely, and almost even to murder.
For “after they had stripped Joseph of his Coat they took him and cast him into a pit, and the pit was empty, and there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat bread.”
How very hardened must these Brethren of Joseph have been! They wen to their dinner after they had thrown Joseph into the pit, just as if nothing had happened. Men who thus give way to their evil passions, are apt to be very cruel and hard hearted also.
“And behold a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels, bearing spicery and balm, and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.”
Now a new thought comes across one of Joseph’s Brethren, who was named Judah, and who though more blameable than Reuben, yet seems rather less so than some of the others.
“And Judah said unto his Brethren, what profit is it we slay our Brother and conceal his Blood. Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh.”
Oh Judah! Judah! If he is your brother and your flesh, why do you not deliver him altogether? You should send him back to his father’s house, as Reuben wished to do; indeed you should never have thrown him into the pit, nor have joined in taking his Coat of may Colours from him. Nay, I will say further, you should never even have hated him and envied him, for by having once indulged that wicked hatred and envy against him in your hearts, you have all of you been led on from one thing to another until you hardly know how to stop. You dare not send Joseph back to his father, lest he should tell his father of your having torn from him his Coat of many Colours, and of your having also ill-treated him by throwing him into a pit. Having ill-treated him thus far, you are tempted to ill-treat him still further, lest you should be found out. Joseph therefore now must at any rate be got rid of, and not be suffered to get home. To kill him indeed is too bad, and yet if the only choice left you was either to kill him or to send him home, methinks there are some among you who would not scruple to kill him outright; for you had already agreed to leave him in the pit, where he would soon have perished with hunger: so that what you had resolved to do was little short of murder, though you may not choose to consider it as such.
It was owing then to the good Providence of God, and not to any good design in his brothers that Joseph escaped being put to death. It pleased God, who orders all human events, to bring ti to pass that the merchants of Midian should draw near just as the time when Joseph’s Brethren were in doubt what to do with him. This is what some might consider as chance, and a most lucky chance they might call it. Such kind of chances now and then happen to us all, but in fact they are Providences. There is many a narrow escape for our lives experienced by us, which is entirely owing to God’s goodness though at the time we do not so consider it. How many have tumbled down when they have been children, and would have been killed if some arm had not been stretched out to save them! How many have fallen sick and would have died, if at the critical moment some particular medicine had not been given them! And how many have been cast away, and would have been drowned in the sea, if the same God who sent the Midianites to the relief of Joseph, had not sent some strange and unexpected ship or boat to the place where they were floating. It may here be remarked also, that many matters of importance turn on the smallest points. If these Midianites had not gone by on the very day, and the very hour of the day on which they did, Joseph, (speaking after the manner of men) would probably have suffered death, and not one of those great events in his life which are soon to be spoken of could have happened. One of the chief things which I wish my Readers to learn from this history of Joseph, is the Doctrine of a particular Providence.
Judah having proposed to sell his Brother to the Midianites instead of killing him or leaving him in the pit, as had been wickedly intended, “his Brethren were content. Then they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver, and the Ishmaelites brought Joseph into Egypt.”
Now Egypt was a far country, to which when Joseph was carried, his Brethren concluded that they should hear no more of him.
“And Reuben returned unto the Pit, and behold Joseph was not in the Pit, and he rent clothes, and he went to his Brethren and said, the child is not to be found, and I, whither shall I go.”
Reuben had himself proposed the measure of putting Joseph into the pit, as a contrivance by which he meant to save his life, for he secretly intended to go afterwards to the pit and to deliver him, but he was too late in executing his purpose.
“And they took Joseph’s Coat and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the Coat in the Blood and they brought the Coat of many Colours to their father, and said, this have we found, know now whether it be thy son’s Coat or no.”
What a bare-faced lie! But thus does one sin lead to another. It is easy to see from this story of Joseph’s Brethren, that when people resolve upon committing one sin, they are immediately tempted to commit another sin: and especially to commit the sin of lying in order to hide what they have been doing; they are also plunged from this time into a thousand straits and difficulties, and it is by adding sin to sin that they commonly try to get out. Reader, did you never do something wrong, and then find yourself tempted to tell some lie or to play some artful trick to conceal it? Joseph’s Brethren killed a kid, and then dipped Joseph’s Coat in the Blood of it, and said to old Jacob, “this we have found.” This is the very picture of what wicked children sometimes do. Having some sin to concel they invent a fine artful tale which they tell to their masters and mistresses or to their good old parents, who too readily believe it and thus perhaps like Joseph’s Brethren they come off for the present unpunished. But soon, as in the case of Joseph’s Brethren, their lie will be found out. For already God knows it. God saw them do the wicked deed, and God now hears them tell the lie by which they hid it. God waits indeed to see if they will repent, but by-and-by perhaps their sin shall be made known to all the world, and shall not go unpunished. God saw from the very first the secret envy rise up in the hearts of the Brethren of Joseph. God heard them when they sneered at Josephe, saying, “behold this dreamer cometh,” and whwen they privately talked together of killing him. God saw them throw him into the pit and cruelly leave him there. God saw them also when they were selling him to the Midianites; He had his eye upon them while they were bargaining by the pit’s side, and while they were counting over the twenty pieces of silver, which they afterwards put in their pockets. And God’s presence also was in the midst of them while they were killing the kid and dipping Joseph’s Coat in the Blood of it, and while they were saying to themselves, surely now no one will ever know the thing we have been doing. That story which these foolish men thought would never be brought to light, is now published in the Book of Scripture, that you and I, and all the world may be acquainted with it, and that we may draw the right instruction from it.
“When poor old Jacob saw the Coat, he immediately knew it, and said, it is my son’s Coat, an evil beast hast devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces. And Jacob rent his clothes and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him.”
What a set of hypocritical comforters must these sons have been, and how many fresh lies must they have told when they were talking with their father.
“But Jacob refused to be comforted. And he said, for I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus did his Father weep for him.”
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