Genesis 37 – Not-So-Little Joseph, the Dream Master

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Today’s PassageGenesis 37

Congratulations! You pushed your way through the obstacle course of names that is Esau’s genealogy. Or maybe you skipped it. Look, I don’t know your life. But however you got here, now you come to the beginning of Joseph’s story. And if Genesis broke stride for Esau’s family tree, here it picks up the pace with a vengeance.

You know that Jacob accumulated numerous sheep, donkeys, and camels. But what the text doesn’t mention is his herds of drama llamas, and those things can run. Jacob’s son Joseph leads the herds from one event to the next, first talking down on the sons of Jacob’s maids, then flaunting the sweet multi-colored tunic his dad gave him, and finally drawing ire from the whole family as he shares his self-aggrandizing dreams. And when his brothers take the sheep out to pasture far from home, Joseph brings the herd of drama llamas out to check on them, and before he knows what’s hit him, he’s thrown into a pit and sold into slavery.

The twists and turns of the drama make this one of the most memorable stories in Genesis. Emotions of resentment run high, and the brothers initially plan to kill him. The eldest brother Reuben talks them into throwing him into a pit instead, from which Reuben intends to rescue him once he’s been taken down a peg. Then Judah sees an opportunity to make a hot buck and get rid of Braggy Coat Brother, and he and the other brothers sell Joseph into slavery. And when Reuben asks, “What are we going to tell Dad, you knuckleheads? Didn’t you think of that?” they end up drenching the Technicolor Dreamcoat in goat’s blood and leading Jacob to conclude for himself that Joseph has been slaughtered by animals. Like a Shakespearean play, the unfolding plot is fascinating to watch, even if you know it already.

And it’s a play in which the hero is kind of a goblin. Getting rid of Joseph by selling him into slavery may be just a bit harsh, but the brothers’ ire toward him is understandable. Just listen to how he tells his first dream: “Please listen to this dream which I have had; for behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and lo, my sheaf rose up and also stood erect; and behold, your sheaves gathered around and bowed down to my sheaf” (6-7). He has the gall to politely ask for his audience’s attention, then tell them a dream whose obvious symbolic meaning is that he is the greatest brother. The second dream isn’t any better, and even before all that, Joseph is looking down on the brothers who were born to Leah and Rachel’s maids. He revels in his status as Dad’s favorite, and all in all, he’s full of himself.

Which brings us to a bit of snark that the brothers enjoy at his expense. When they see him coming to check up on them, herd of drama llamas in tow, they remark to each other: “Here comes this dreamer!” They literally call him the Master of Dreams, using the word baal. He’s no mere dreamer! He’s Joseph the Dream-Lord, High Emperor of the lands within his mind. The implication: he thinks he’ll rule over us? In his dreams.

Like his father Jacob, Joseph has a long way to go, and it’s going to require learning some humility.

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