Purpose for this week's lesson and next: To learn a great Old Testament story, see the working out of God's promise to His people, and look forward through the life of Joseph to the work of our savior Jesus Christ.
In the first two weeks of class, you've studied the first sin and the first murder. In both of those lessons, God showed his grace to his people. He made skins to cover Adam and Eve, and promised them a savior who would bruise the serpent's head. Though Cain had to be sent away, God gave him a mark to protect him from being killed by vigilantes. In this semester's classes we're skipping across some other great stories - Noah's ark and the choice of Abraham to be the one through whom God would send his savior. Maybe those stories will be in our second semester classes, or next year. Today we skip to the story of Abraham's great grandson Joseph, who was a very important part of God's plan to save His people, and who will have some good lessons for us.
1. How would you feel if your parents loved your younger brother or sister best, and gave him or her the best gifts, and dressed him or her in fancy clothes?
Envy? Even hatred?
Question 1. Every study should begin with an “approach” question, which is meant to be asked before the passage is read. These questions are important for several reasons.
First, they help the group to warm up to each other. No matter how well a group may know each other, there is always a stiffness that needs to be overcome before people will begin to talk openly. A good question will break the ice.
Second, approach questions get people thinking along the lines of the topic of the study. Most people will have lots of different things going on in their minds (dinner, an important meeting coming up, how to get the car fixed) that will have nothing to do with the study. A creative question will get their attention and draw them into the discussion.
Third, approach questions can reveal where our thoughts or feelings need to be transformed by Scripture. That is why it is especially important not to read the passage before the approach question is asked. The passage will tend to color the honest reactions people would otherwise give because they are, of course, supposed to think the way the Bible does. Giving honest responses before they find out what the Bible says may help them see where their thoughts or attitudes need to be changed.
Keeping in mind Genesis 37 and your purpose for this study, formulate an approach question like one of these: Have you ever… If you could… Describe… Think about a time when… How do you react when… How would you define… How would you feel if… What would you do if… What is the difference between… What do you enjoy most and least about… What are the most important… What does it mean to… If God were not ____ how would your life be different?
In some parts of the world there are still criminals who sell people as slaves. How would you feel if your family were on vacation in one of these parts of the world, and your older brothers and sisters ganged up on you and sold you into slavery?
2. Read Genesis 37 silently. Retell the story in your own words.
3. In verse 1 we see the name Jacob; in verse 3, the name Israel. What's the connection? (Hint: read Genesis 32: 22-28).
4. How do you think Joseph's brothers felt when Jacob gave him the coat of many colors?
And how did they and their parents feel when Joseph told his dreams? Discuss what the dreams seem to mean.
5. How would you describe the relationships in Jacob's family?
Why do you suppose all this bad information is included? Can you think of some other places in the Bible where we're told bad things about people in God's plan?
The Bible doesn't whitewash its heroes.
Does God choose people for His work because they're good, or for some other reason?
Not because they're good. It's difficult to understand God's reasons. God's choice of his people is a wonderful gift, that can't be earned.
6. What progression do you see in Genesis 37? How does what comes early in the chapter lead to what comes at the end?
7. Notice the word "hate" in verses 4, 5, and 8. Consider how strong a word that is. What does the word "hate" mean?
The Hebrew word translated hate is saw-nay. Some aspects of its meaning are: abhor, detest, loathe, be hostile, have a feeling of open hostility and intense dislike; be an enemy, i.e., be in open hostility and strife with another; dislike, shun, not love, i.e., have a feeling of lacking of love and compassion for an object, implying a refusal or shunning of relationship
Swanson, J. (1997). Dictionary of Biblical Languages with Semantic Domains : Hebrew (Old Testament) (electronic ed.) (DBLH 8533, #3). Oak Harbor: Logos Research Systems, Inc.
8. Who were the Ishmaelites? The Midianites?
At this point you are probably thinking that Moses (who wrote the Genesis record) should make up his mind. First he calls them Ishmeelites, then Midianites, and then he calls them Ishmeelites again. So who are they?
Who are the Ishmeelites? They are the descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham. Who are the Midianites? They are the descendants of Midian, a son of Abraham. Ishmael was the son of Abraham by Hagar, and Midian was the son of Abraham by Keturah whom he married after the death of Sarah. They are all brethren—they are actually kin to this group of boys who are selling their brother! At this time, who was an Israelite? Well, there were only twelve of them. How many Ishmeelites do you think there might be by this time? Ishmael was older than Isaac, so maybe there were one hundred or more. How many Midianites would there be? Well, Midian was born after Isaac; so there couldn’t be too many—maybe a dozen or more. These were little groups, and in that day travel was dangerous. They were going across the desert to Egypt. They joined together for protection, and they joined together for a common interest. They were going on a business trip to Egypt, and, since they were related, they understood each other and joined together.
McGee, J. V. (1997, c1981). Thru the Bible commentary. Based on the Thru the Bible radio program. (electronic ed.) (1:ix-151). Nashville: Thomas Nelson.
9. What sort of life do you suppose Joseph will have as a slave in Egypt?
Most slaves could expect a pretty miserable life. In Joseph's case, we'll learn that God's plan for him and for us led to an amazing end to his story.
What will the consequences be for his brothers?
In a just world, selling your brother into slavery would bring harsh punishment. In God's world of grace, forgiveness is ahead for the brothers, in next week's lesson.
10. How might it have been different if the brothers hadn't sold Joseph into slavery?
Our common sense says it would have been better if Joseph's brothers handn't sold him into slavery. But God turns our common sense on its head next week. God's ways are not our ways.
11. If someone had asked Joseph to describe God at the end of this week's lesson, what might he have said?
We don't learn anything directly today about what Joseph thinks about God. We can only guess. But next week we'll learn that he keeps his trust in God.
12. Give Genesis 37 a 5 or 6 word title.
13. Can you think of a way this story can have a happy ending? A good ending?
14. Does the story of Joseph and his brothers remind you of a New Testament story? Can you think of similarities between Joseph and Jesus?
1. The birth of Joseph was miraculous in that it was by the intervention of God as an answer to prayer. The Lord Jesus is virgin born. His birth was certainly miraculous!
2. Joseph was loved by his father. The Lord Jesus was loved by His Father, who declared, “This is My beloved Son.”
3. Joseph had the coat of many colors which set him apart. Christ was set apart in that He was “separate from sinners.”
4. Joseph announced that he was to rule over his brethren. The Lord Jesus presented Himself as the Messiah. Just as they ridiculed Joseph’s message, so they also ridiculed Jesus. In fact, nailed to His cross were the words: THIS IS JESUS THE KING OF THE JEWS.
5. Joseph was sent by his father to his brothers. Jesus was sent to His people—He came first to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.
6. Joseph was hated by his brothers without a cause, and the Lord Jesus was hated by His people without a cause. John 1:10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.
A suggestion for this afternoon or sometime before next week: read Genesis 39-44 for the amazing story of Joseph in Egypt. And come next week to hear the amazing end of this story!
Concluding Challenge. Prepare a challenge which reiterates your purpose for this study and suggests related action for the coming week.