The Story of Joseph – His Childhood

The story of Joseph in the Bible is found in the latter half of the book of Genesis. However, to appreciate his life story we must obtain some knowledge of his forefathers. Not too far removed from his generation we can see how God’s promise to Abraham that He will make of him a great nation, and that through his seed shall the earth be blessed (Gen 12:1-3), feeds into a desire to obtain the birth right. Just prior to the life of Joseph, we find the stories of Isaac and Rebekah, Laban and Jacob, and instances of sibling rivalry, trickery and skulduggery. The apparent culture, and custom of the time seems to excuse polygamous behavior. However, this was never God’s plan. The consequences of impatience and a lack of trust results in a dysfunctional family setting in which Joseph is born.

In Joseph’s early life he is surrounded with a few main characters:

  • His father Jacob, and Rachel his mother.
  • His Aunt Leah/stepmother and his half-brothers.

Leah had six sons and a daughter. Her handmaid, Zilpah, had two. On the other hand, Rachel, who Jacob fell in love with at first sight (Gen 29:17,18, and 31), eventually had two sons, including Joseph. Her handmaid, Bilhah, also had two. Joseph was born after Jacob had children with Leah, her maiden and Rachel’s maiden. It was not until Jacob’s first son, Reuben, found mandrakes, a plant used for fertility problems, that Rachel conceived. As the first born to Rachel, she named her son Joseph, a name which means he will add–may Jehovah give increase.

‘Snitches get Stitches’

In a way, Joseph was setup to be disliked by his brothers. He didn’t have a say in being a favorite. He was the favorite not because of anything he did but who he was. In addition to this, he appeared clueless —sharing dreams that foretold his greatness: sheaves paying obeisance; and the sun, moon and stars bowing to him.

It appears that Joseph had a very sheltered upbringing. And when he appeared in a specially prepared multi-colored coat looking for his brothers who were in the field tending sheep, the brothers take the opportunity to strip him of his glory, throw him into a pit, and later sell him to a band of Ishmaelites (Gen 37:27).

At least three takeaways can be derived from the story of Joseph’s childhood.

  1. Learn from the mistakes of others

How do we learn from the mistakes of others and not make them ourselves? At the beginning of the Old Testament, God created a man and a woman. Later on in the New Testament, the apostle Paul confirmed: “But because there is so much sexual immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman should have her own husband.” 1 Corinthians 7:2 NLT

Often culture is used as an excuse to perpetuate wrongful deeds. Generational tendencies are used as a crutch. There is much to be learnt as we consider the lives of our forefathers. There comes a point in time when we must recognize that we can do better. We can avoid the ‘the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree’ syndrome. Rather, we should look for positive attributes to emulate from our previous generation.

2. The Need to Affirm our children

As parents we must show love equally to our children. The fights between the brothers were reflective of the fights between the sisters and competition for Jacob’s affection. Nevertheless, each child needs attention. Each needs to be considered special and not any one favored over the other. It is wise to spend time with each child to be able to create within them a positive image about themselves and to instill in them that they are valued. As part of growth and development, they need to be loved and treated equitably.

3. Avoiding Revenge

When treated unfairly how do we ensure that we in turn don’t treat others the same way? Joseph’s brothers had a right to be upset at the way they were treated. However, they had misdirected aggression. Joseph became a victim. There is no indication that any of the sons confronted Jacob for giving preferential treatment. Instead, they found a way to get rid of the ‘symptom.’

How did life continue after Joseph? Did Joseph’s disappearance make Jacob love them more? It seems Benjamin became the next favorite after Joseph was sold.

The question to be asked is, ‘How do we not let our righteous indignation cause us to lose our cool or worse, inflict similar hurt?’ How do we respond if we are overlooked, or underpaid on the job? How do we respond when treated unfairly in our homes? I submit that in our trials there is no better example to look upon, but the example set by Christ here on earth. His endurance of trial and the sacrifice He made through his death on the cross must inspire us to persevere through hardship and injustice. Let us be encouraged to keep the faith, to cast all our burdens on Him, and resolve through grace and mercy to live an unrevengeful life.

A Prayer for Today

Father, you know our weaknesses, our need for love, and the hurts we feel. Cover us with your blood and help us to know that we are valued. Forgive us as we forgive, and save us when you come, in Christ’s name, amen.


Image: Painting by Joshua P. Andrews