We have been doing a series that we've sort of glibly titled, "Lifestyles of the righteous and Faithful." We've begun with Abraham and we've left Abraham and in between Abraham and Chapter 37 where we now begin is the history of several men and women of whom we're only going to mention but not really go into detail about. Abraham had Isaac, Isaac was married and had Jacob, and Jacob had twelve sons and one daughter; thirteen kids. One of them was named Joseph and it's his life that we want to study today. He becomes one of the most outstanding examples in the Bible of people to follow. He becomes a role model. I found, recently on my way back from the Philippines in January or in February, a Good Housekeeping magazine that had their poll of the most admired men and women. And, it was a rather different poll. It reflects that there are people in the united States that have a real desire, or have a real affinity toward those who are religious or even righteous because number one of the most admired woman, according to this poll, was Mother Teresa of Calcutta. The number one man was Ronald Reagan, number two was Billy Graham. I found that pretty interesting, especially in light of many of the polls that I have read as role models and examples and admired people that many look up to, especially young people. That there would be those who look up to Billy Graham as an example and a role model. Joseph is one of those examples, and yet you'll gonna, you're gonna be surprised week after week as we see the rotten things that happen to this guy and in spite of that, how good he turned out. How he did not use his past as an excuse for doing something wrong in the present. Being one of the thirteen children, now imagine. My mom was one of eleven but one of thirteen kids. Now, I hear that a man who has thirteen children is much more satisfied than a man who has thirteen million dollars. Because, you see, a man who has thirteen million dollars always wants fourteen (laughter). Now Joseph's story is an incredible one; almost too incredible to believe. He went from a shepherd running through the land of Canaan to the prime minister of Egypt. From rags to riches could be his story. From the pit to the pinnacle. And yet, what most people fail to see is that it was those bad things, quote-unquote, that shaped him to be the man that he was. And that's really important. Great men and women are not born, they're shaped by God. And God used traumatic experiences from his childhood into adolescent life and as an adult to shape him into a great man who loved God. And he followed God with all of his heart. He was God's man. He was concerned about God's ways. And you find somebody like that, follow him. A person worth following as an example is someone who has paid their dues. They have gone through the furnace of affliction, they've been beaten, melted, reshaped. And you find a person who, after being shaped by God and follows God wholeheartedly, you follow that person. I found that there was an interesting epitaph on a tombstone that read this, more than 100 years old in a cemetery in indiana, it said, "Pause, stranger, when you pass me by and you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. So prepare for death and follow me." That was inscribed in the tombstone and underneath that inscription in chalk, somebody had written these words; a reply: "To follow you I'm not content, until you know the way you went." (Laughter) The next several chapters tell us the way Joseph went, and if we were to stand by his tombstone, we would write, "We are content to follow your example because we know that you went God's way. We know that you were shaped by horrible experiences and you never blamed God for them, Joseph, but you made you into a better person."
Look with me at the first couple verses, it says, "Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. This is the history of Jacob.
Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wife; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic 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 peaceably to him." The story of this man, Joseph begins, for us, while he is a teenager. He's seventeen years old. And I draw your attention to that because it was while he was seventeen years old that God speaks to him with a couple of prophetic dreams, visions. Spoke of his own future and the future of his family, how God was going to raise him up and use him as a powerful ruler, and that even his brothers and his mom and dad would bow down to him. Seventeen years old, still at home with the family, still the little kid running around the house, but he heard from God. I make a note of that because God's call on a person's life often comes, or should I say usually comes at a young age. While a person is still vulnerable and impressionable, God often comes and changes that person at that time and challenges that person to go on and be used for God.
Sometimes we picture, don't we, men and women of the Bible, especially when you think of Old Testament prophets, as being these old, wrinkled prophets with staffs and long robes and this intense look, kind of shaking as they would speak the word of God. No doubt, some of them were. But we find many of them who were little kids in our estimation. We would think hardly mature enough to hold the office of a prophet, you gotta earn that, you need some wrinkles on your face, son, before you can be a prophet. And yet, Samuel was one who was a kid at the tabernacle with Eli when God came and he said, "Samuel, Samuel." And finally Samuel says, "Speak Lord, your servant hearts," and then God commissioned him as a prophet in the place of Eli. Daniel was a young-in. In the court of Nebuchadnezzar and yet, God used daniel to become the prime minister of that whole eastern Babylonian kingdom. Jeremiah complained that he was too young to minister when God said, "Jeremiah, I've called you as a prophet to the nations, he said, "Look, Lord, I'm just a kid. I am but a youth, I cannot speak." and God said, "Quit saying that. Don't tell me you're just a youth. I'm a mighty God and I'll put my words in your mouth and I'm gonna make it happen through you." Timothy in the New Testament was one who was obviously intimidated by his age because Paul had to write to him, "Hey, Timothy, don't worry about it. Don't let people despise your young age." The call of God comes at a young age. In fact, the Billy Graham Association did an interesting study. And Billy Graham, of course, believes that through his own research, most people accept the Lord at a very young age, during the teenage years. And, through some of the things that they have compiled in their crusades, he comes up with these statistics. That the odds of a person who is twenty-five years of age to accept Jesus Christ, the odds are one in five thousand. The odds of a person thirty-five years old go to one in twenty-five thousand. The odds of a person accepting Jesus Christ at the age of forty-five jump to one in sixty thousand. If you're fifty-five years old and have not accepted Christ, according to this association, your odds are one in 125 thousand. And it goes up till you reach the age of seventy-five and, you know, it's just a total miracle if it's gonna happen at that age. God speaks and gets through to younger people simply because they are impressionable at that age. It's an age when people are searching, when they're looking, they're trying to solve the deep answers, or the deep questions in life and get good answers for them and they start looking around and God often gets through. And God calls person and challenges a person at that age, I believe, because God wants the rest of his life or her life, the best years. Get 'em while they're young, change them and challenge them because it's the best years. That's how Dwight L. Moody, the great evangelist used to see things. In fact, it was said he came home one night and his wife said, "Well, how many people accepted the Lord tonight, honey?" And he said, "Two and a half." She said, "Oh, you mean two adults and one child?" And he said, "Two kids and one adult." You see, the adult has spent half of his life for the devil already, and just has half to give for God, but these kids, they have all of their life spent in service for the Lord. Now, because God's call does come at a early age for most people, our methods of reaching the world, although the gospel never changes, must change according to the generation that we're facing. Martin Luther said that. He said, "If we preach the gospel in all points except touching the relevant points of that generation we have not preached the gospel at all." Which means, we need to package the gospel correctly in order to reach people of that generation. Methods of evangelism change year by year. God, help us to be flexible and not have this little package and way of preaching the gospel.
Interesting story of a little kid years ago, came to his dad and said, "Dad, church music's a bore. And we need some contemporary music around here, the kids in church can't receive anything." And his dad got angry at him. "Well, if it's good enough for me and my father, it's good enough for you." and so, he challenged his son, he goes, "Look, go write your own music." He said, "Alright, I will." Did you know that his name was Isaac Watts, it was in the 1600s and he wrote Joy to the World, When I Survey the Wondrous Cross, and many many other classics? He saw back then the need of relevance, and that must never change. We must embrace the constant, never-changing gospel, but apply the approach in different ways to that generation.
In verse 2, notice with me again. It says, "This is the history of Jacob." Now, Jacob had a name at the beginning which was "Jacob". His name was changed to "Israel" later on. "Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers." Not all of them, just a few of them. They are mentioned. "The lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report to them, of them to his father." It would be tough for us to understand this setting without knowing some background of this family. And, heh, bear with me and listen carefully as I describe this background because it sounds like an Old Testament soap opera. Keep in mind as I am describing the events and the people that psychologists tell us that it's those early years of relationships with moms and dads, brothers and sisters, that shape us and mold our outlook for good in life. And listen to what Joseph was up against. First of all, his dad. His name was Jacob. His name meant, by the way, "deceiver, conniver, chiseler". Now, I'm sure that his parents didn't give him that name to make fun of him, but because he was second-born and he was catching the heel, grabbing ahold of Esau, his brother, they called him "heel-catcher" which also means deceiver. He lived up to his name, by the way. Joseph's dad, Jacob, was a deceiver because he had a brother named Esau. Esau was the first-born and he had the right of inheritance but through some careful conniving manipulation, Jacob stole Esau's birthright, which made things really bad in the family 'cause Esau said, "I'm gonna kill him." And so Jacob had to leave home and go to his uncle Laban's house in another country. He wanted to settle down there, get away from his brother, but while he was entering into the land where his Uncle Laban was, one of Laban's daughters named Rachel came to the well and was giving water to the sheep. The first time that Jacob laid eyes on her, it was love at first sight. And the Scripture tells us that Jacob went up to Rachel the first time he saw her and kissed her. And then he wept. Strange combination. Go up to a girl, kiss her, (crying noises) (laughter). "Is it my breath or what?" Nonetheless, he was determined that he was going to marry this girl and he goes to Laban's house and he says, "I've come from a far country. I'm your relative. I've come here and I need a job." And Laban said, "Great, Jacob, you set your own wages. What do you want?" Jacob said, "I will work for you seven years, if after seven years I can marry your daughter." It's amazing how love can be so motivating. Laban said, "Great, no problem." He worked for seven years. The time of the wedding, there was a ceremony and yet Jacob was totally surprised because Laban pulled the old switcharoo. Instead of giving Rachel as his wife, he gave Leah, the oldest daughter, as his wife and put her into the tent at night. And when he woke up the next morning, he had looked over and saw the wrong gal. Can you imagine the shouting match that went on between Jacob and Laban? "You tricked me, pal. You gave me the wrong daughter. I wanted to marry Rachel." He said, "Fair enough. You can marry Rachel. Work seven more years." He worked fourteen years to marry Rachel. And, you know, the Scripture says those fourteen years were but a day to him because of the love that he had for her. Again, amazing how motivating love can be.
So he married Rachel, and now he has two wives, which was at the beginning of a heap many trouble in his life. Because these women didn't get along primarily because the Scripture tells us that Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah. And it caused years of envy and jealousy to arise between these two gals and Jacob is right in the middle. Two contentious women, one husband so far. However, Leah, his first wife, the switcharoo, she was fertile and bore him four sons, which made Rachel, the second wife, the woman he loved, very jealous, and she threw a temper tantrum. She said, "Give me children or I'm gonna die." And he said, "Hey, woman, am I in the place of God to give you kids?" She said, "No, but I'll tell you what. You take my handmaiden, Bilhah, and you go in and you take her as another wife, number three, at the same time, and you bear children unto me. Shades of Abraham and Sarah. Now, we think that that is strange that women would be doing that, but we find in ancient records that it was prescribed for a woman to provide a surrogate wife and a mother if she herself could not bear children. Well Bilhah bore Jacob two sons. In the meantime, Leah, his first wife, couldn't have kids anymore. And she was not to be outdone. And so she so, she said, "Hey Jacob, I can't have kids anymore, but I want some more, so you take my handmaiden, Zilpah, and you have kids by her." This poor guy, they're running him ragged. It's a fertility olympics. (Laughter). Out of that union came two more children. After that union Leah, the first wife, bore him more children, until Rachel is now in her old age and at an old age, God opened up her womb, and she had her first-born son named Joseph, which means "God shall add." It was the joy of her life. It was number eleven son for Jacob, it was numero uno for Rachel and she treasured him and loved him. And yet, she became pregnant again. But she died of child birth. The child lived who was named Benjamin. So so far, and there was one daughter, Dinah, in this whole thing. So we have one man, four wives, and thirteen kids. That's the family that Joseph grew up in. Not only that, but he was surrounded with tragedies in that family, as he grew up that he witnessed that formed impressions on his mind. Now listen to the kind of family, not only was this envy with four women running around, and all of these kids who are totally out of control, by the way, but the oldest brother of Joseph committed incest with one of these women. His sister, Dinah, was raped by the men of Shechem. Two of his brothers went to Shechem and not only killed the guys who did it, but hundreds of people in the camp. So there was rape, incest, and murder, envy, jealousy, bitterness and hatred that he grew up with. Now that his early years. He watched the fighting between Laban and his dad Jacob after he left Haran. He watched the bitterness between Esau and his dad, Uncle Esau and his dad didn't get along. He remembered the fear in the camp when Esau came with 400 men to confront Jacob. He saw the toll that rape had on his sister, incest in his own family. That's the kind of family that he grew up in.
Not only that, but there was a lot of envy against him because he was a favorite kid. Look at verse 3 once more. "Now Israel," that's Jacob, "loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors." See, although Jacob already had ten sons, Joseph was the son of the only woman he'd ever loved. He only wanted Rachel and he ended up with four women. But he only loved Rachel. He was really committed to her and Joseph was the first-born, although number eleven for him, it was the first-born, the son, the one and only at that time, at first, of his most beloved wife. Not only that, but mom died. Rachel died. And so, Joseph becomes the only reminder to Jacob of his beloved dead wife. And so he favored him. Lot of favoritism.
And it says that he gave him a robe of many colors. What does that mean? Was it just a nice set of clothes, he decided he was going to give him some designer clothes and give the other kids pick-and-save clothes? No. what this robe was was a robe of royalty, of distinction. It was to get a message out. The rest of the kids were shepherds. This robe was not a shepherd's robe. And it was never meant to be. You don't work in robes like this, you supervise in robes like this. And that makes the other brothers, who are older, who are doing the work, quite angry. Yet, Jacob gave him this robe as a message to all of the children. What was that message? Keep your finger here and turn ahead to the book of 1st Chronicles for just a moment. Chapter 5. Many people missed this, thinking that his dad just gave him a nice set of duds. It's not true. 1 Chronicles, Chapter 5 outlines the history in brief of this family. 1 Chronicles 5, verse 1, "Now the sons of Reuben, the first-born of Israel(he was indeed the first-born, but because he defiled his father's bed through incest, his birthright was given to the sons of Joseph, the son of Israel; so that the genealogy is not listed according to the birthright, yet Judah prevailed over his brothers and from him came a ruler through the birth, or excuse me, although the birthright was Joseph's)." You see this robe was a mark of distinction. He was telling the children this: Joseph, although he is number eleven will get all the rights of inheritance as he was number one, even though he's not number one, I'm giving him all the inheritance. He will carry on my family name and the robe sets him apart. No wonder they hated him so much and wouldn't even speak to him. He's favored, he wears the robe of the birthright, he's going to take over the family name, he's gonna get the double portion of the inheritance. Now, I gotta admit something. Jacob made a stupid mistake in doing this. He was setting up his son for years of tragedy. And, let's say Jacob were here and, uh, he did this. He just gave his son Joseph a robe of many colors, this robe of distinction, and we were able to counsel him. If he came into my office, I'd say, "Jacob, sit down. I gotta let you know, you made a severe mistake as a father. You, because you have done this already in a hostile family, are setting up Joseph, you're doing him a great disservice. He will many years in the arena of envy with his brothers." Now, look at it in modern times. Let's say you had a whole bunch of kids and they were all rowdy, you know, all a bunch of, they just ran around and they, they never obeyed you. You didn't know what to do with them and then you had one kid, your youngest; really good, tender, sensitive. And he's seventeen years old, it's his graduation from high school. The family is gathered at the high school gym, he gets his diploma and the family's all pile out of the auditory and then there in the parking lot is a big sign over a brand new red sports car, Saab convertible turbo (light laughter) that says, "Congratulations son. You deserve it." Now, how do you think the other kids in the family would react, especially since you never once did it for them. But they go, "Oh, joy, we're so glad for you." They would be upset. And you would be doing your youngest a disservice by setting him up in the midst of that. But, something you read all the way through the story of Joseph concerning Jacob is that he was a passive, preoccupied father who'd never got involved when he saw wrong in his family. He just wanted to pull back, mellow out, not get involved and that ruined his family. I place the blame squarely on Jacob's shoulders, yet God was sovereign and used these circumstances to bless Joseph later on.
Um, to make it worse, Joseph was an honest kid. Very naïve, seventeen years old, very honest, and that's good. I'm not blaming him for that but it made it worse in this situation because it says in verse 2 that he brought a bad report of them to his father. He would be called in modern high school terminology a "nark", a "taddle tale." Do you remember when your brothers and sisters told mom and dad on you and how you hated that? And yet there is a time to speak. Nobody likes tattletales, bu there is a time to be honest. And there is a time when if you don't tell, you are guilty and it is wrong. And that's a decision many of you are faced with at work when you see wrongdoing going on in the company and you have to make a decision. Am I going to hold this sin and let it go or am I gonna tell? Am I going to nark on this person for the better interest of the company? As Joseph did, as a sense of family duty for the best interest of the family. To make things worse, heh, he told of a dream he had. Look at verse 5, "Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more." Now, with all that I've just told you as a background in the envy and the bitterness that was going on between the brothers and Joseph, does this not sound a little strange that Joseph would pull this off? Listen, "And he said to them, 'Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.'" (Light laughter) A good kid but a bit naïve. And they already hated his guts. To tell them this dream was not a wise move, yet God did use it later on. And now imagine this young kid in his robe of distinction telling this dream to them. Didn't stop there. "And his brothers said to him, 'Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?' So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. And then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and he said, 'Look, I have dreamed another dream.'" Oh boy, can't wait. "'And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.' So he said, or so he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, 'What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?' And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind." I want you for just a moment to freeze frame this whole event and lets compare before we close the two sets of characters here. Joseph's brothers and Joseph. First of all you have a set of brothers who are very jealous and envious of Joseph and by the way, that is a staged event. Their hatred for him grew and grew and grew because envy is a disease that grows and gets worse. Bitterness grows and gets worse like cancer unless it's dealt with. And look at the stages of that. "But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him." Look at verse 8, "And his brothers said to him, 'Shall you indeed reign over us or shall you indeed have dominion over us?' So they hated him even more." Verse 11, "And his brothers envied him," until it finally got down to verse 27, which reads, "'Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and let now our hand be upon him for he is our brother, our flesh.' and his brothers listened." The plot to destroy his life. It is a staged event. Envy grew and grew until it finally consumed them.
Let me give you a definition of envy. Envy is a, "feeling of displeasure," according to Webster. "A feeling of displeasure upon hearing of the advantage or prosperity of others." You hear of God blessing somebody else and you get angry or bitter because God didn't bless in you the same. That's envy. And that can rip a person apart. Remember the Scripture that says, "Weep with those who weep and rejoice with those who rejoice." Now you know what it's like, it's much easier to weep with those that weep but to rejoice with those that rejoice? When you've needed a car for months and you make less than that guy and God blessed him with a new car for nothing? And it's easy to get envious and to let that envy grow. I want you to turn with me to two Scriptures to consider in the New Testament James Chapter 3 as the first one. Turn there and let's look at just a couple verses. James Chapter 3. Look at the fourteenth verse. Read it with me carefully. "But if you have bitter envy and self-seeking in your hearts, do not boast and lie against the truth. This wisdom does not descend from above but it earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are." Keeping that in mind, turn back one book to the book of Hebrews Chapter 12 and look at verse 14. Hebrews 12:14, "Pursue peace with all people and holiness without which no one will see the Lord, looking carefully lest anyone fall short of the grace of God, lest any root of bitterness springing up cause trouble and by this many become defiled." Many become defiled. Envy and bitterness begin inside the heart and like a continual drip, drip, drip. They eat the heart away like acid. It begins by being hurt and not forgiving the person who hurt you. That's where it all begins. Somehow, you're hurt. You've been vulnerable. And because of this situation, you feel ss, like you've inflicted wounds and you hold on to that and refuse to forgive. Now, all of us have been hurt in some capacity by moms, dads, relationships we've had with people, divorces, our own children, friends. And yet, if we hold onto that it can destroy us.
A friend of us wrote a book. His name is Mel Tari. It's called, "Like a Mighty Wind" he said something really interesting. "The more I have travelled, the more aware I have become that many people have a brokenness or a wound because of past experiences. In the hearts of most Americans, there is a bitterness, a hurt, or something. The result is they feel bad inside and they have no power or joy. In counseling many, I have discovered that this is something from the past, sometimes from their childhood or teenage years. Even when they become Christians and have forgiven, often the bitterness and the hate are still there. Many never think of giving it to the Lord for healing. Many try to forget their injury by trying to be spiritual. They struggle and grasp to find more of God and satisfy themselves. What they need to do is open their hearts to God so that He can minister to their needs." Now you compare those brothers with Joseph. Remember all that we just talked about as background? The life of Joseph shows that a person can live honorably before God and man despite his environment and his upbringing. In other words, Joseph and all of the bad impressions he had as a kid seeing rape, incest, envy, he didn't say, "Well, you know, I am the way I am because of my parents. I can't help it, I'm a product of my environment. That's just the way I function." And Joseph could've easily become bitter and blamed everything on his past and concentrated on his past and there are many Christians who concentrate constantly on their past. And it's always somebody else's fault that they do what they do. And this, folks, is the problem with modern psychology. It that it focuses oftentimes on the past because of the influence that Freud had upon psychology who said insight into your past will help you change your present. And that's just not true. Insight alone doesn't help change. In fact, people, in getting insight into their past, they often use that as an excuse for their present behavior. "Well, you know, I bet it's because my dad did that. That's why I do that." Yes, it is true, we are molded and shaped and influenced by mom and dad in those early, formative years with brothers and sisters at home, mom and dad. Those early relationships really make an impression on us and, as we grow up as a adult, there can be serious problems. And yet, look at the life of Joseph. If anyone had an excuse for turning out bad, it was Joseph. And yet, he rose above that, he refused as an active choice to let those things hold him down. He had insight into his past. He remembered all of those difficult experiences but he didn't wallow in it. He said, "You know what, those were horrible experiences. I'll never forget those things. But by the grace of God, I'm not going to be influenced by those forever. It takes an act of will by the power of the Holy Spirit to recognize those hurts, but to raise above them, not use them as an excuse. And there are some people that refuse to change. It's like the two caterpillars that were going side-by-side on the grass. As they were walking, they noticed a beautiful butterfly flying up above them and one caterpillar nudges the other and he said, "You couldn't get me into one of those things for a million bucks." Refusing to change. There are people who hold onto their past so long and they use it as an excuse. I've seen people in counseling for months and years doing the same things, never changing, using it as an excuse. Not Joseph. That's why we look at the life of Joseph in that kind of an environment with all of the bitterness and envy, he was able to shed it. And that's why we could go by his tombstone and we can say, "I'm content to follow you because I know the way you went." That's our example. And that's the example that Jesus left for us as well. Bow your heads with me, please.
Father, in the quietness of our own hearts, You see deep within every cavern of our minds, our hearts, and You know that if we are honest with you and honest with others or not. But right now, in this quiet moment, we know that we're not hiding a thing from you and we ask that You'd search our hearts. And Lord, if there's bitterness, envy, self-seeking, those things that cause the defilement of many, a root of bitterness, I pray, Lord, that we would root it out, confess it as sin before you, decide to forgive because we know from the Scriptures that forgiveness was never an option, it was part in parcel of following you. I pray, Lord, that we would not use our past as an excuse for being the way we are, although we know that You understand that. And many of us, we are glad for the insight of our past, but Lord I pray that we would not stay in that. But pick us up out of that pit of despair and today make a choice to be influenced by the principles of Scripture. The true of principles of Your word and not the feelings that are so cyclic of our own heart. We trust, Lord, that you'd give us grace to bring a healing in our past. In Jesus name.