Joseph: Dysfunctional, Detours, and Destiny

Peninsula Community Church

Joseph: Dysfunction, Detours, and Destiny

September 13, 2015

Genesis 37:1-14 Jacob lived in the land of his father’s sojournings, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him.

This morning, we begin a new series entitled Joseph: Dysfunction, Detours, and Destiny. I love reading biographies of great leaders. In their stories we find hope and encouragement. The story of Joseph is no different. It is for that reason we will spend the next few weeks looking at Joseph’s life and the lessons we can learn from his journey from riches to poverty back to riches. As we begin, it is noteworthy that 14 of the 50 chapters of Genesis are dedicated to the life of Joseph. This is more than any of the other characters in this particular book. Therefore Joseph must have something to teach you and I.

Today, we will focus on one aspect of Joseph’s life. We will focus on the dysfunction of his family. To understand this I will define dysfunction as “the condition of having poor or unhealthy behaviors and attitudes within a group of people.” As we will see, Joseph’s family was definitely dysfunctional.

As we begin, let me ask you a question? What kind of family did you grow up in? Was it a stable family with a stable environment? My guess is that many of us grew up in a somewhat stable and peaceful environment, but there is also a recognition that many of us did not. But here is a truth. Even in the most stable family there is usually some dysfunction. It usually comes from that family member who goes against the family’s ideals and they tend to break the rules. They are the alcoholic, the drug addict, or the abuser. It might be the emotionally detached father or mother. As you read the story, you will find that Joseph’s family was dysfunctional and unstable. The family was indeed characterized by deceit, sexual sin, jealously, and passivity.

It is of note that the passage before us today begins with Jacob, Joseph’s father. To understand the dysfunction in the family, we must review the family history. First of all Jacob’s name means “supplanter” or “deceiver.” As we read the story, we find that Jacob lived up to this name by stealing his brother’s birthright and stealing his brother’s blessing. We don’t understand this in our culture but both of these things were major issues for children in that day. You see the elder brother was to inherit the family’s wealth. By selling his birthright, Esau gave up his right to his father’s wealth. Secondly, the blessing of the father was an important rite of passage. Blessings were often given in the final days of one’s life. In many ways, blessings were prophetic statements about what the father saw in each son.

From here, Jacob runs from his father’s house and heads off to find a wife. He falls in love with Rachel and agrees to work for seven years to take her hand in marriage. But on their wedding day we find that Laban, Rachel’s father, had given Leah to Jacob instead of Rachel. The deceiver had been deceived. Jacob then worked for another seven years to marry his love, Rachel. At the end of the seven years, he finally marries her and they begin their life together after working another seven years to get his wealth built up through his own deception.

As the story continues, we find that Leah gives birth to six children while Rachel is barren. She has no children. In that culture, barrenness was considered a curse and people looked down on women who were barren. From her cries to God for a child she finally becomes pregnant and gives birth to Joseph. She becomes pregnant once again but dies in childbirth. Jacob’s love is now dead and Joseph’s mom is gone as well.

Later, in Jacob’s story we find that Dinah, one of Jacob’s daughters, is raped and that Jacob’s son’s take revenge into their own hands and by way of trickery they have the rapist and his family killed. The sad part of this story is that we find that Jacob is more concerned about what people may think about the situation than standing up and supporting his daughter. Later, we find Rueben the oldest son having a sexual affair with his stepbrother’s mother. Once again, passivity is exhibited by Jacob as we do not find him doing anything to deal with the wrongs done. The Bible is in fact silent in terms of his response to these gross issues.

Now we arrive on the scene of Joseph’s life. We find that Joseph is loved and favored by Jacob more than his other brothers. To make matters worse, Jacob does not hide the fact that he loves Joseph more than the other brothers. The story tells us that he made Joseph a coat of many colors. Historians have noted that this was not just a simple robe or tunic but rather it was a full length robe that extended to the arms and the ankles. In other words, it was not intended to be a work garment, it was the opposite. To top things off, Joseph had received two dreams that showed Joseph ruling over his brothers and his family.

Here is where we pick up the story in Genesis 37. While Joseph’s brothers are working hard to tend to the sheep, Joseph shows up not dressed for work but wearing his dad’s gift of the royal robe. Look at the setup for the anger to be exhibited by his brothers. Joseph had been a tattle tale, he was his dad’s favorite so he did not have to work in the field, and he was quick to tell his brothers his dreams that he would rule over them some day. They were angry and could not talk with him without the anger in their hearts being manifested. Because of their anger, they devised a plan to get rid of him. The first plan was murder, but Rueben talked them out of it and suggested that they place him in a pit, which they did. Later, they sold him into slavery, took his robe, soaked it in blood, and told their father that he had been killed.

What a sad story! What a dysfunctional family! There was rape, incest, murder, death, sorrow, deception, jealously, and bitterness. Sounds pretty dysfunctional to me. But there are lessons to be learned from all of this. As we learn from Paul, in the New Testament, the role of the Old Testament was to instruct us and to give us hope. For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4). Let me share a few of these lessons with you in regard to dysfunctional families.

First, no family is exempt from dysfunction or dysfunctional members. The reason for this is that we are all impacted by the power of sin. Sometimes, we think that our family is the only one like it. We suffer from the actions of people in our families who don’t seem to care and who have their own agendas. Since the fall of mankind, families have been impacted by sin and wrong attitudes. That is what makes us dysfunctional.

Second, the dysfunction of our family does not have to define us. Too often the problem with living in a dysfunctional family is that the family begins to define who they are by the dysfunction rather than being defined by who God says they are. As we will find out later in this story, Joseph should have been an angry bitter man but we never see him resort to anger or bitterness. The implication here is that he trusted God. Throughout this story, we hear the one statement that rings so true. “And the Lord was with Joseph.” Even though his world was falling apart, he trusted God. He did not resort to the tactics of his father or his brothers. His life was defined by God and not by his circumstances.

Third, our dysfunctional situations can be a testimony of God’s grace rather than of our defeat. When we come to the conclusion of this story, we find that Joseph’s story is one of God’s grace. It is a story of victory and overcoming the odds. Joseph should not have survived, but he did. He should not have been a man of integrity, but he was. He was betrayed, sold into slavery, falsely accused, and forgotten but he was not forgotten by God. Here is a truth that bears acknowledgement. God knows you and He knows your name. He has not forgotten you. He has a plan for you and for your life.

Fourth, we can rise above the dysfunction to accomplish great things for God. Joseph was blessed by God and he rose to great heights of leadership. The greatest act of Joseph’s life was to extend forgiveness to his brothers. The greatest effect on Joseph’s life was not the accomplishments he achieved but the attitude of his changed heart. This arrogant and self-centered kid has now been filled with the Father’s love and his life was changed forever.

The most powerful verse in Genesis is the one that communicates Joseph’s posture of forgiveness to his brothers. In Genesis 50:19-21 Joseph says “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.”

As we close, we find that regardless of Joseph’s dysfunctional family and his own attitude, God used him. In fact, it is the broken and the wounded that God uses. In Corinthians 1:27, Paul tells us that he uses the foolish in the world to shame or confound the wise. God can take the mess of your life and he can redeem it. That is God!

Let’s pray.

For an audio of this message go to

Copyright © 2015 All Rights Reserved Robert W. Odom

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