Birth And Early Life Of Joseph

Birth And Early Life Of Joseph

Studies In The Life Of Joseph

By: James L. Thornton

Study #1, Birth And Early Life At Home

Genesis 30:22. “And God remembered Rachel, and God hearkened to her, and opened her womb. 23. And she conceived, and bare a son; and said, God hath taken away my reproach: 24. And she called his name Joseph; and said, The LORD shall add to me another son.”


The life of Joseph is, without question, one of the most thrilling chapters in the history of Israel. Joseph and his brethren were the children of different mothers, who, though living in the same household, often came into conflict over the promotion of their off-springs. Jacob was deceitfully tricked into marriage to these two mothers, who were sisters. This type of household always causes conflicts.

Let us remember that in those days there was no law against polygamy, and therefore in that act, there was no sin, this would come years later under the Mosaic Law, yet in every case it caused problems.

The fact that Leah had several children born to her, and Rachael was barren, caused jealousy and envy to flare up into open conflict between them. At least seven long years Rachael was tormented by not being able to bear children. She, in desperation, approached Jacob with her frustration, “Give me children, or else I die” (Genesis 39:1b).

God alone could bestow offspring on married people which he showed by remembering Rachel in his own time, and causing her reproach to depart. The birth of Joseph brought the first of many, many blessings he brought to this great family. Joseph’s birth seemed to bring harmony between the two mothers as they readily agreed with Jacob when they were called to the field to meet him about returning to his home country (Genesis 31:4-16).


Genesis 37:2. “Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.”

Like the scriptures, we will pass over the first 17 years of Joseph’s life and we meet him in this verse as a 17-year-old lad employed by his father watching over, or keeping, sheep along with several of his brothers. Now the Bible has not glossed over the bad character and reputation of most of Jacob’s sons. And here we find that Bilhah’s sons knew of evil things which were going on and Joseph told his father all these reports. Whether Jacob encouraged this we are not told.

Joseph was the favorite son of Jacob and he made no pretense about it, and probably Joseph became like a spoiled child. Yet Joseph had developed into a much finer character than the other boys. As we proceed in his story we will find Joseph lived in his mind, almost like in another world, and his conflicts and struggles were intellectual and spiritual rather than physical.

To Jacob’s credit, he must have spent considerable time in Joseph’s spiritual training. I can imagine that over and over he told him of the time God appeared to him in a dream of a ladder that reached up into heaven and angels ascending and descending on it, and the voice of God speaking to him, and of the many other times, God communicated with him. He also told him of his great-grandfather Abraham, and of his grandfather Isaac, thereby building and keeping the faith alive in him also.

Joseph always afterward has great faith in dreams. No book had him. The Bible was not written. Traditions and oral teaching formed his mental training. So Joseph’s spiritual qualities had developed far beyond his brothers. Some way he also gained an education which would help him during the time he spent in Egypt. God was preparing him for the saving of his family and therefore the saving of the nation of Israel. We must remember that the entire family of God consisted of only Jacob’s family.

A Coat Of Many Colors:

Genesis 37:3. “Now Israel (Jacob) loved Joseph more than all his children because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colors. 4. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.”

Joseph was born when Jacob was 91 years old and of his beloved wife Rachael who had struggled with her childlessness. The scripture emphasizes Jacob’s love, and his partiality toward Joseph and this caused the other boys to envy and even have hatred towards him.

The “coat of many colors” was a further expression of the difference Jacob made between the boys. The coat was evidently a long-sleeved linen coat that reached down to his hands and knees, embroidered with stripes of bright colors around the skirt and sleeves. This type of garment was worn only by men who did not work with their hands such as princes and governors. But it added more envy and hatred of his brothers towards him.

Joseph The Dreamer:

Genesis 37:5. “And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. 6. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: 7. For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. 8. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. 9. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. 10. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? 11. And his brethren envied him, but his father observed the saying.

In a book that does not waste words telling us something that is not important, we must realize the importance of this passage of scripture. These dreams set the stage for what was to be fulfilled in the years to come down in Egypt. They are a foretelling by God of what would take place in their lives.

We note that Jacob seemed to take special notice of these dream as though he suspected something to come of them as he remembered his own dream at Bethel which was still alive in his heart. The world owes most of what is good to men who have dreamed and then set themselves to the task of realizing their dreams.

The brethren clearly enough understood the dreams to contain a prognostication of Joseph’s future, else why did they allow themselves to become inflamed with anger on account of a foolish boy’s fancies? At least they believed Joseph regarded them in this light, and they hated him on that account.

We see the progress of their hatred. They omitted to give him the customary salutation of Shalem (Peace). It is a bad sign when a man declines to exchange friendly greetings with his neighbor, and much more with his brother.

They passed on to deep and bitter hatred. They hated him yet the more for his dreams and his words. Evil passions have a tendency to grow and should be nipped in the bud. It was impossible that the gathering storm should continue long without bursting. This is a reminiscence of Cain and Able.

“Whosoever hateth his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15); initially in thought, and ultimately, granting time and opportunity, in deed. And the murderous feeling of Joseph’s brethren very speedily found an occasion to become the fratricidal (killing of brother) act.

Joseph Sold By His By His Brothers:

Genesis 37:12. “And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. 13. And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I.

14. And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.”

If Jacob had only known when he sent Joseph on such a mission he would not see his face for 26 years and would agonize over him the entire time thinking he had met e a horrible death.

This also lets us know how far they had to range to find pasture for their flocks. It is 30 to 40 miles from Hebron to Shechem and Dothan where Joseph wandered alone to find his brothers. Everything about the trip was dangerous.

Unknown to Jacob and Joseph, the greatest danger lay in his brothers, who seemed to be waiting for the opportunity to get rid of him. They found that opportunity when Joseph arrived where they camped in the wide open space with no one to witness what really happened.

They Conspired Together:

Genesis 37:18. “And when they saw him afar off, even before he came near unto them, they conspired against him to slay him. 19. And they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh.

20. Come now, therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, some evil beast hath devoured him: and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

This conspiracy made each of them equally guilty in this evil act, even though two of them, Ruben and Judah, wanted to save his life. Joseph was not aware of this until he confronted them many years later, so he felt they all were guilty.

We also are aware of their concern about the dreams that Joseph told them of, so they wanted to make sure they didn’t come to pass, even if it took murdering their brother.

23. And it came to pass when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colors that was on him;

24. And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it.

25. And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmaelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt.

26. And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood?

27. Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content.

28. Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

This is one of the most hard-hearted and despicable crimes in history. We note the callousness with which they acted. First, they stripped the offensive coat and then cast him into a pit where they intended to leave him to starve to death, then they all sat down to eat ignoring his cries for help.

Two Forces Were At Work: We must remember that there are two forces at work in everything that takes place, God and Satan. God had great plans for the life of Joseph and Satan was out to thwart those plans. If Joseph was allowed to die in that pit then those God-given dreams of Joseph would never be fulfilled.

Satan knew about those dreams and worked his evil in the hearts of Joseph’s brothers to do as they did. But God intervened in the plot and put it in the heart of Judas to sell Joseph, which seemed as evil as letting him die in the pit, but this was God’s way of saving his life to fulfill his plan.

The sale of Joseph was the first recorded sale of a human being. Since that day there have been millions. During the time of Jesus’ life, it has been estimated that one-half of all humans were slaves that were bought and sold like cattle. Christianity has done more to eliminate this scourge than any other force, and after two-thousand years it is almost entirely abolished.

What made this sale so despicable it was not simply a fellow creature, an unknown human, but a brother that was sold. And he was sold to some of their kinfolks. The Ishmaelites were descendants of Ishmael the son of Abraham by Hagar, and the Midianites were descendants of Abraham by Keturah, all these, the sellers, and the buyers were kin to each other. The last sentence of Genesis 37:28, “And they brought Joseph into Egypt.”

Jacob Deceived By A Bloodstained Coat Mourns Joseph’s Death:

Genesis 37:31. “And they took Joseph’s coat, and killed a kid of the goats, and dipped the coat in the blood;

32. And they sent the coat of many colors, and they brought it to their father; and said, This have we found: know now whether it be thy son’s coat or no.

33. And he knew it, and said, It is my son’s coat; an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces.

34. And Jacob rents his clothes, and put sackcloth upon his loins, and mourned for his son many days.

35. And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.”

There is no doubt that the caravan carrying Joseph down to Egypt passed through Hebron where Jacob was living at the time. He may have even witnessed their passing not knowing that his son Joseph was held captive by them. The caravan was God’s chariot sent to convey Joseph to the throne of Egypt.

The brothers used lies and deception to fool their father into believing that Joseph had been killed by a wild beast. Jacob’s heart was broken and his grief was so great that all of his family gathered to comfort him. The criminals become comforters, Hypocritical Comforters.

We note that the scripture mention “daughters,” meaning more that one, so there were possibly more daughters than just Dinah.

A Fractured Family:

In closing this section of Joseph’s life I would like to look at the immediate results of the brother’s action against Joseph. This family represented the entire Church of the Old Testament. And now the family had great sin in it. This sin caused the family to be fractured or broken, and as long as this sin remained, God’s blessing would not be upon it.

There is no record during the next 20 years of neither an altar being erected nor a sacrifice being made to the Lord God. Their prayer would have been interrupted by the remembrance of what they had done to their brother. The doorway to God was closed to blessings from heaven. Some of the things that happened in the family are recorded for us.

The act they had committed was always on their mind. Later they would admit that everything bad that happened to them was the results of their sin. Let us listen as Reuben tells this when confronted by Joseph when they went to buy grain.

Genesis 42:21. “And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.

22. And Reuben answered them, saying, Spake I not unto you, saying, Do not sin against the child; and ye would not hear? therefore, behold, also his blood is required.”

We might also add that this is the beginning of the fulfillment of God’s foretelling to Abraham in Genesis 15:12-16 that his family would spend 400 years in a land that was not theirs, and He would bring them out again after the 400 years.

I hope you will read the next part of this study which we will entitle Joseph In Egypt. We will see how God fulfills Joseph’s dreams and brings about restitution and healing in a marvelous way. I feel God has some things to say to us as we study this part of Joseph’s life.

By, James L. Thornton


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