Sunday Sermon: ‘Joseph – Bitterness or Betterness?’

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(audio version)

This weekend we celebrate our country’s freedom. How our nation became free from the rule of England is very important.

In 1774, the First Continental Congress of America sent a list of rights and grievances to King George III of England. Many of the complaints revolved around what is often called ‘taxation without representation.’ The American colonists felt it unfair to have heavy taxes and restrictions imposed upon them without any type of representation in England’s Parliament.

One year later, King George had yet to answer their petitions and he declared the American subjects to be – “engaged in open and avowed rebellion” against the Crown and ordered the cargo of all American ships to be seized as the property of England. In response, in June of 1776, Richard Henry Lee, Virginia’s delegate to the Continental Congress, presented the Lee Resolution reading in part:

“Resolved: That these United Colonies are, and of right ought to be, free and independent States, that they are absolved from all allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain is, and ought to be, totally dissolved.”

On July 2, 1776, by the approval of 12 of the 13 colonies, the Second Continental Congress adopted the Lee Resolution and began consideration of a Declaration of Independence to be written by a committee of five delegates, with Thomas Jefferson representing Virginia. On July 4, 1776, the final draft of the Declaration of Independence was adopted and formally signed on August 2, 1776.

The actual American Revolutionary War is considered to have begun one year earlier, in 1775, and lasted until 1781, with the British army surrendering at Yorktown. Two years later, in 1783, the Treaty of Paris was signed, officially ending the war.

Perhaps no nation of people has ever experienced the freedom that we do as Americans. We are free to think, to act, to work, and even to worship as we please. Yet even though we live in the land of the free, not everyone is free. There are many today who still live under great bondage. They are under the bondage of sin and addictions. They are under the bondage of guilt and shame. They are under the bondage of anger and bitterness.

As we continue to study the life of Joseph, I have entitled today’s message – ‘Bitterness or Betterness?’  Some might not consider ‘betterness’ to be a word, but actually it’s listed in the dictionary.

I. Bitterness

Genesis 37:3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. 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.

The bitterness of Joseph’s brothers was the result of a coldness shown to them and a favoritism shown to Joseph. Jacob openly loved Joseph more than any of his other sons and he demonstrated his favoritism by giving Joseph a coat of many colors. Perhaps a better description would be a robe that distinguished Joseph as being superior to his brethren.

Naturally, this made Joseph’s brothers very bitter. Bitterness can be a terrible thing. Consider this warning from the book of Hebrews –

Hebrews 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

Bitterness describes an emotion that is often associated with anger and ill feelings. Often it develops from a sense that we are being treated injustly. Though in our minds we might think that we have the right to be bitter, the NLT translates Hebrews 12:15 as  – ‘many are corrupted by its poison.’  Bitterness is like a poison that can contaminate and corrupt our entire being. The brothers of Joseph became extremely bitter towards Joseph. They resented him. They hated him. They could no longer speak peaceably to him.

James Montgomery Boice described their bitterness as:

  • The Root of Bitterness
  • The Shoot of Bitterness
  • The Fruit of Bitterness

A. The Root of Bitterness

1. The Danger of Bitterness

Hebrews 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled;

Note that the writer describes bitterness developing as a root. There are at least three things that can be said about roots:

a) Roots grow underground are often unseen

b) Roots feed the plant

c) Roots can take over and control

Whenever I read this passage I think about a problem we had with our house in Ohio. Many times, when we had a heavy rain or the melting of snow, we would have water in our basement. The problem was a large silver maple in our front yard. The roots from that tree had grown into the drainage pipe running out into the street and had completely clogged it so that nothing could pass through. We eventually had to have the pipe replaced. An unseen root system can cause a lot of damage.

2. The Damage of Bitterness

The writer says that through bitterness – ‘many be defiled.’ The word defiled means to become contaminated. Bitterness can contaminate our entire being. How so? Consider what Paul writes-

Ephesians 4:26 Be ye angry, and sin not: let not the sun go down upon your wrath: 27 Neither give place to the devil.

30 And grieve not the holy Spirit of God, whereby ye are sealed unto the day of redemption. 31 Let all bitterness, and wrath, and anger, and clamour, and evil speaking, be put away from you, with all malice: 32   And be ye kind one to another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God for Christ’s sake hath forgiven you.

Bitterness is an open invitation to the devil. Through it Satan is able to enter into a believer’s life and control them. In addition, bitterness grieves the Holy Spirit. It is in direct conflict with the fruit He desires to bear in our lives. Note how that goes along with what we read in Hebrews 12 –

Hebrews 12:15 Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God;

Bitterness can cause us to not experience the benefits of God’s grace.

3. The Development of Bitterness

Most often bitterness does not begin overnight. It is the result of a seed planted in our lives that takes begins to root and eventually develops into a plant.  That brings us to the next point in our message –

B. The Shoot of Bitterness

No doubt the brothers’ bitterness developed and deepened over time. As they continued to observe their father’s favoritism of Joseph, they became more and more frustrated. Stephen preached concerning them –

Acts 7:9  And the patriarchs, moved with envy, sold Joseph into Egypt:

They were jealous of Joseph. They were jealous of how their father loved him.  They were jealous of the coat their father had made and given to him. The phrase ‘moved with envy’ refers to a burning emotion.  It hurt them deeply and it caused them to become angry and bitter.

Gen 37:4 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.

Another cause of their jealousy can be seen in the next few verses.

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.

No doubt the dreams were from God. They prophesied of what was ahead for them all; yet the brothers could not handle hearing them. It was beginning to become too much.

C. The Fruit of Bitterness

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.

Shechem was at least fifty miles from Hebron. There are several opinions as to why the brothers went that far away from home to feed their flocks. Personally I believe that they wanted to get as far away as they could from Jacob and Joseph. Verse 2 tells us that Joseph was known for reporting on his brothers.

Genesis 37:2 … and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.

The brothers were bad boys and they didn’t need a tattletale following them around.

Genesis 37:14 And he (Jacob) said to him, (Joseph) 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. 15 And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? 16 And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks. 17 And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.

Dothan was at least another ten to fifteen miles away from home. According to John Gill, it was an area known for fertile fields and good pasture. It was also near a major trade route than ran from the north to the south. And thus it was the providential hand of God that caused Joseph to find his brothers at Dothan (the place of two wells).

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.

How did they know it was Joseph? No doubt they recognized the special robe he was wearing. The bitterness, that had begun many years ago as a root, had now grown into a tree was now ready to bear fruit. What’s in the well eventually comes up in the bucket.

And so they conspired to kill him. Note –  “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.”

A phrase that is used at least four times concerning the life of Joseph could have easily been inserted here as well – ‘But the LORD was with Joseph.’ God had a special plan for Joseph’s life and nothing would happen to him unless it fit in with that plan.

Genesis 37:21 And Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands; and said, Let us not kill him. 22 And Reuben said unto them, Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit that is in the wilderness, and lay no hand upon him; that he might rid him out of their hands, to deliver him to his father again. 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 colours 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 Ishmeelites 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 Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

II. Betterness

We have seen the bitterness; now let’s look at the betterness. How would you have felt if you had been Joseph? Would you have been: afraid; confused; angry; or even bitter? Next Sunday I intend to preach a message entitled – ‘In the Pits.’ What it is like to be in the pits and how we should respond.

But for today, jump ahead with me for just a moment and see what Joseph will say many years later –

Genesis 50:20 But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.

Though it’s hard to always understand it at the moment, we must never forget a precious promise found in the book of Romans –

Romans 8:28 And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.

It doesn’t say that all things are good or that they are always enjoyable. It says that God is able to use all things in order to accomplish His perfect plan and purpose.

The best way to see this is to compare the life of Joseph to another innocent victim. His name is Jesus. There are many, many comparisons that can be made between Joseph and Jesus. Joseph is often considered to be a ‘Type’ of Jesus, meaning that he was a pre-Bethlehem picture of Who was to come. Let me quickly list for you some of the comparisons that we can see up to this point in his life:

A. Both Were Favored Sons

Matthew 3:17 And lo a voice from heaven, saying, This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased .

B. Both Were Shepherds

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.

C. Both Dwelt in Fellowship With Their Father  (Hebron)

John 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.

Philippians 2:6  Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God:

D. Both Bore Witness of Their Brethren’s Sinfulness

John 7:7 The world cannot hate you; but me it hateth, because I testify of it, that the works thereof are evil.

E. Both Prophesied of Their Future Glory

Matthew 26:64 Jesus saith unto him, Thou hast said: nevertheless I say unto you, Hereafter shall ye see the Son of man sitting on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven.

F. Both Were Envied by Brethren

Matthew 27:17 Therefore when they were gathered together, Pilate said unto them, Whom will ye that I release unto you? Barabbas, or Jesus which is called Christ? 18  For he knew that for envy they had delivered him.

G. Both Were Sent to His Brethren

John 3:16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.

H. Both Submitted to Father’s Will  ‘Here am I’

Hebrews 10:7  Then said I, Lo, I come (in the volume of the book it is written of me,) to do thy will, O God.

I. Both Went to Their Brethren

John 1: 1  He came unto his own, and his own received him not.

J. Both Searched Diligently For Their Lost Brethren

Luke 19:10 For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

K. Both Were Attacked and Hated

John 15:23  He that hateth me hateth my Father also. 24  If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin: but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father.

L. Both Had Their Death Plotted

Matthew 26:15 And said unto them, What will ye give me, and I will deliver him unto you? And they covenanted with him for thirty pieces of silver.

M. Both Were Sold For the Price of a Slave
N. Both Were Attacked and Stripped of Their Garments

Matthew 27:31  And after that they had mocked him, they took the robe off from him, and put his own raiment on him, and led him away to crucify him.

O. Both Were Delivered Into the Hands of the Gentiles

John 18:31  Then said Pilate unto them, Take ye him, and judge him according to your law. The Jews therefore said unto him, It is not lawful for us to put any man to death:

P. Both Provided Salvation

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