Joseph didn’t do a good job of endearing himself to his brothers, actually to anyone in his family aside from his father Jacob. In fact, as we read in Genesis 37, he has three (actually, four, but we’ll count the last two together) separate incidents where he has difficulty with his brothers.
I think it is important to remember that Joseph is a 17 year-old boy. He is probably brash and seeking approval from his father. Beyond that, he is the youngest son in the family and possibly spoiled by his parents. He would probably, just based on his age and behavior, be difficult to like or enjoy being around.
The first incident that we see is when he goes out to tend the flocks with some of his brothers. They are the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, the servants of Rachel and Leah, specifically Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. After they return back to the house, Joseph goes to his father and gives a bad report on his brothers, essentially telling on them for whatever they had done:
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.Genesis 37:2
So, not a great start. In fact, interestingly, this is the very first sentence after the line that says: This is the account of Jacob’s family line.
Ha! So, the account of Jacob’s family line starts with Joseph telling on his brothers. The whole story of Israel starts with one of the brothers bringing a bad report about the other brothers. Anyone think that this family is going to have its challenges? It seems there is no doubt that this will be the case based on how this recounting begins.
Second, we see that his father Jacob, also now known as Israel as God has changed his name, gives Joseph a fancy robe.
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.Genesis 37:3-4
This is a multi-colored robe, the type that would be worn by royalty. I’m sure that Joseph took it as a sign of his privileged position, his favored status, and we see that he even wears it while he goes out to check on his brothers in the fields later, so he most certainly is flaunting his status through the robe that his father has given him.
Now, third, Joseph has two dreams. Joseph dreams that his brothers would bow down to him:
He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”Genesis 37:6-7
“Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”Genesis 37:9
His brothers understand immediately what Joseph is saying, and it seems clear that Joseph isn’t telling them these dreams in an innocent way. I think he knows that he is antagonizing his brothers. He knows that he is making them angry and flaunting his favored position, but he doesn’t care. He is favored by, and protected by, his father. And even his father comes to him to chastize him about telling his dreams to all of them.
So Joseph is “digging his own grave”, as we might say. He is making his brothers hate him, so I think that it is no wonder that they begin to plot against him when they see him coming out in the fields of Dothan when Israel sends him out to check on his brothers. In all likelihood, they might assume that he is going to return again with a bad report against them, continuing to lord himself over them with the protection of the favored-status robe that he is wearing and the knowledge of the dreams that he has been having.
This is the story of Jacob’s line. It is the story of struggle with God, with one another, and with other nations. They are supposed to be God’s people. They are supposed to represent God, taking his image all across the face of the earth. They are supposed to show God’s way of life to the rest of the nations, to the rest of the world, but instead their story is that of internal squabbling, back-biting, and in-fighting.
So I think that it is worth asking ourselves how the story will be written for us one day. Will we have a story that is written like the line of Jacob, as I’ve described it above? Or will we have a story that is written of Christ-likeness? A story that shows a people who are not only submitted to Christ but who are also living his plan for the world, living out who he has called us to be? We have a choice to make: to follow the way and story of Israel, or to follow Christ. God will complete his plan regardless. His story is already complete, but our story remains to be written.