Why Joseph’s Brothers Hated Him (Genesis 37:2)

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With the story of Jacob and Esau firmly in the rear view mirror, the Bible’s attention now turns towards the next great patriarch: Joseph.

We remember Joseph because of all the great moments. His coat of many colors. The interpretations of various dreams. Saving his family — and millions of people — from starvation during the famine in Egypt.

But that’s not how his brothers thought of him.

When Genesis 37 opens up, Joseph is a 17-year-old kid. He’s old enough to get himself into trouble, but probably not mature enough to know how to avoid it. In other words, exactly like every other 17 year old you know.

We tend to sympathize with Joseph when he’s abused by his brothers, and for good reason: No matter who you are, nobody deserves to be sold off into slavery. Especially not by your own family.

But if you can force yourself to consider the situation from the brothers’ point of view, a few things emerge that could be seen as mildly obnoxious.

For starters, the very first thing we read about Joseph is that he tattled on his older brothers. Nothing definitive is said in Genesis 37:2, aside from the fact that he “brought back a bad report about them [his older brothers] to their father.” 

To be fair, they probably deserved it. Past behavior indicates that they weren’t men of the highest integrity, which makes Joseph a bit of an outlier.

Next, there’s the very plain statement that Jacob loved Joseph more than any of the other brothers — probably because he was the oldest son of Jacob’s favorite wife. This was made especially evident by a multicolored tunic that was sure to stand out. A garment like this is an intentional piece of art; someone made it special for someone that was special, and everyone that saw it knew it immediately.

And then there came the dream. I have two older brothers, and I can’t imaging ever walking up to both of them, regardless of age, and announcing that I had a dream that showed me in a form of pre-eminence over them and that they bowed down to me. 

Especially when you consider that their father Jacob had a very powerful connection with God through dreams of his own. To state that you have dreams about kingship is more than braggy — it’s a declaration that not only does your father love you the most, but God does too.

So yeah, I can see why his brothers were upset (but come on, not to the point of killing him). All those years spent in prison probably gave him lots of time to consider whether he should’ve handled things differently.

Not that it would’ve mattered though. As Joseph himself put it, the brothers “meant it for evil, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20).Even the punishment by petty siblings can save a nation from devastation.