When a dreamer grows up in a dysfunctional family, there will be conflict. It’s no surprise that Joseph and his brothers don’t get along, but the degree of dislike is shocking. Unfortunately for Joseph , many of the themes of Genesis come into sharp focus in his life.
When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. Genesis 37:4-5
Joseph’s father favors him greatly, a practice Jacob (now called Israel) learned from his own parents. Parents should love and bless their children, but they should not be partial to one over another. If they do show favoritism, it will sow seeds of bitterness that bear poison fruit. “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brothers to dwell together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1) Yet the track record of Genesis is full of strife between siblings, beginning with Cain and Abel, continuing through Jacob and Esau, and now reaching a peak in young Joseph.
Genesis doesn’t directly condemn polygamy, but instead shows us its complicated and undesirable consequences. Abraham’s sexual relationship with Hagar produces a tribe, the Ishmaelites, that will remain in conflict with the descendants of Isaac. Jacob fathers children with four women, and there is no sweet unity among them.
Deception fills chapter after chapter of the Bible’s first book, especially in the life of Jacob (whose name may mean deceiver). Jacob’s boys learned that lesson well, and use it on their teacher/father to hide what they have done to their brother.
Joseph has dreams that come from God, and he is not the first one to receive them. Already Abimelech, Jacob, and Laban have received divine messages in dreams. Genesis contains nearly one-third of all the dreams mentioned in the Bible. God uses the dreams to reveal himself and his plans, and to intervene on behalf of his people.
The slave-trading Midianites carry captive Joseph off to Egypt, and nothing good happens in Egypt according to the accounts in Genesis. In Genesis, and most of the Bible, Egypt is a godless place where God’s people sojourn at great risk to their faith. But Joseph’s God-given dreams promise that something good may yet come out of this dark place.