• Jach Hughes Robinson, Ph.D.

Rough Relations - Deferred Dreams

Genesis 37 Selected Verses

2 This is the story of Jacob’s family. Joseph, seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his children, because he was the son of his old age. Jacob made his son Joseph a long robe with sleeves. 4When his brothers saw their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

5Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6He said to them, “Listen to this dream I dreamed. 7We were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8His brothers said, “Are you to reign over us? Are you to have dominion over us?” They hated him even more because of his dreams. 9He had another dream, and told his brothers, saying, “I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10When he told his father and his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said, “What kind of dream is this you have had? Shall we come, and bow to the ground before you?” 11So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

12Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers are pasturing the flock at Shechem. I will send you to them.” Joseph answered, “Here I am.” 14His father said, “Go, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he came to Shechem, 15and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man said, “What are you seeking?” 16“I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’“ So Joseph went, and found his brothers at Dothan. 18They saw him from a distance, and before he came near, they conspired to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20Come now, let us kill him and throw him into the pits; then we shall say a wild animal devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21When Reuben heard it, he delivered Joseph out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life. Shed no blood; throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him” —that Reuben might rescue Joseph and restore him to his father.

23When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves; 24and they threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites with their camels on their way to Egypt. 26Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother? 27Let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother.” His brothers agreed. 28When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.



In the movie “Fargo” (1996 – Coen Brothers), the theme is how family relations can easily take a rough and violent turn. Jerry Lundergaard has been under the thumb of his father-in-law, Wade, for years working at his car dealership. Jerry wants to make money in a lucrative investment, but his father-in-law refuses Jerry a loan.

Jerry, his greed frustrated, devises a scheme to swindle his father-in-law, Wade, out of $1 million. Jerry has two criminals kidnap his wife, Wade’s daughter. Then, Jerry will have his father-in-law pay the ransom. Jerry plans to use part of the ransom to pay the criminals, while most of the ransom goes to Jerry.

Greed, mistrust, and violent behavior cause the scheme to unravel with terrible consequences. One criminal kills Jerry’s wife for making noise, the other criminal kills the father-in-law over money, the criminals kill a state patrol officer and by-standers for being in their way, and one criminal kills the other over who gets the new car. Then he puts his partner in a wood-chipper. The law catches Jerry fleeing the state. And the money? It remained buried in a snowbank by the roadside.

This movie, based on true events in the 1980’s, leads us to question how family relations get so bad people take actions that are devastating in their consequences.

The violence in this movie elicit a variety of reactions. Officer Gunderson at the end of the movie gives the best reaction while she drives the remaining killer to jail. She says, “All those deaths over a little money. Don’t you know there is more to life than money? Yet, here you are; and it’s a beautiful day out. I just don’t understand it.”


The biblical story of Joseph and his brothers, elicit the same response from us. How do family relations get so bad that brothers plan fratricide? We shake our heads saying, “I just don’t understand it.”

A brief review may help us understand it a little better so we can then see what insights we gain from this story for our lives today.

This biblical story tells of family relations gone terribly awry. Jacob settles in Canaan with his family. Joseph was the second youngest son. Because Joseph’s mother died when Joseph was a child, Jacob has a soft spot in his heart for him. He lavishes gifts upon Joseph, including an elegant coat of many colors. Joseph’s eleven brothers notice how their father favors Joseph. Their envy turns to hatred. When Joseph tells his brothers of his dreams that one day his brothers will bow down before him, it becomes the last straw in this dysfunctional family.

One day, his brothers catch him as he comes to their fields. They plan to kill him. One brother, however, persuades the other brothers not to kill Joseph but put him a well. While their brother is at the bottom of a well, the brothers calmly eat their meal.

When a caravan travels nearby, the brothers sell Joseph to the Ishmaelites, and the money gained satisfies their greed.

Going home, the brothers show Jacob Joseph’s coat, which they cover with animal blood. They tell their father wild animals killed Joseph. Jacob’s grief consumes him. The brothers stand by silently and watch their father grieve. Meanwhile, strangers carry Joseph away. And, God remains noticeably silent.


This story does not end on a happy note. We want Joseph rescued; we want

family harmony; we want God to intervene. We do not get these events. However, what we do gain are insights that not only help us understand this story of dysfunctional family relations, we also gain insights into our lives and our relationships mirrored in this story. Five insights, among many, I will mention.

First, we gain the insight that family relationships as well as neighbor, school, work, and church relationships, are often rough. Few relationships get to the level of violence as in the story of Joseph and the movie, “Fargo.”

However, tension does exist in family relations. Part of this results from the fact that we do not choose the family we are born into – our parents, siblings, and others relations. They are given. In addition, your family did not get to choose you either. Parents, children, siblings are not chosen; they are given. They cause of multitude of tensions and rivalry as different personalities interact. We saw that in Joseph’s relation with his father and brothers.

We may think that in the Bible, these characters should be model for us. We do call many of them saints. Their relationships were far from ideal. In their day, few would have called them saints. You are only considered saintly after you have been dead awhile. If you lived with these characters in the Bible, had to stare at them daily across the dinner table, you may have thought of them differently.

The second insight we gain is that the discord in family, work, school, church relations if not dealt with can harden and become harmful if not toxic. Sibling rivalry can harden with age into estrangement, bitterness, and anger. Arguments can surface over who gets what when the parents die, or what child gets anything when parents die. I have known persons who in 20 years had not seen siblings living 25 miles away.

Most relations are not that bad. Tensions exist in all families; and such contention only becomes harmful if it gets to the point that, for example, a person cannot stand to be in the same room as a neighbor, a co-worker, a classmate, a relative, or dare I say a church person or pastor.

Third, we gain the insight that if this hardening of relations happens among our individual families, it can and does happen in the family of nations. Sunni and Shia Muslims share a common heritage and religion, but violence exists between them whether they are in different or the same nation.

More recently in the news, North Korea and South Korea come from the same ancient family and heritage; yet, not only did they fight a bloody war between them from 1950-1953, they are still only a breath away from renewed fighting.

In our personal lives, family conflicts are disruptive and painful. In the family of nations, quarreling, jealousy, greed, hasty decision or missteps can bring about in a nuclear age, devastating consequences for all nations.

The fourth insight is one of the most painful and difficult to accept. It is when we discover that the disruption or the destruction of our family life is partially our own fault. We find that we contributed to the demise in our action or inaction.

Jacob contributed to his family’s demise by favoring one child over another, by being a cheat and a liar himself. Joseph contributed by not seeing the pain his brothers felt, and by taking advantage of his father’s favor. The brothers contributed by their greed, envy, and jealousy.

As we read the story of Joseph, we may identify with one of the characters

because we see in them a part of ourselves.

Parents may read the story through the eyes of Jacob – the father. We see ourselves as Jacob – the anxious, grieving, imperfect parent, wondering, “Did I give my child my best or my worst? Which will they remember - my moments of tenderness and giving, or my bursts of anger?”

Whatever the situation in your family – whether you are Joseph in the pit, or a brother standing on the edge of the pit looking down, or if you are the parent Jacob grieving and agonizing over a lost loved one, you and I wonder if or how we contributed to the conflict.

The fifth, and final, insight I will mention is theological in nature. In the early stories of Genesis, God is present. God talks and walks with Adam, Noah, Abraham, even Jacob, Joseph’s father. In Joseph’s story, though, God is mysteriously silent, uninvolved and uninterested, even when Joseph suffers violence.

That is not unlike our lives. God seems distantly involved. God does nothing to stop the rough relations or injustices we endure. God does nothing to stop saber raddling among nations; God does nothing to stop the harassment of women in the workplace, among many other examples.

In our struggles, it is hard to tell if God is paying attention. As Sylvia Path said, “I talk to God, but the sky is empty.” Then, our dreams of better relations in our families and in our world seem to die.

The dream, however, may not be dead, but deferred. If we look at the story of Joseph, we may see God’s hidden work. The fact that Joseph survived means God is not through with Joseph. There is a plan for him. There is still hope. His dreams may yet come true.

This story of Joseph is a plea for you, and for me, not to lose trust in a seemingly absent God. God’s silence is not the same as God’s absence. God is involved in your life and the life of the world. God may be hidden, but God’s work is deliberate and sure.

Finally, you and I need to remember that this story of Joseph is not finished. The end is yet to come. You have yet to see how God is involved in Joseph’s life. That lies ahead.

That is true of your life too. You are not at the end of your story. God still can be involved in your life in ways hidden from your view. Even your deaths are not the finale. God still may be working purposes in your life today and in your death tomorrow. It is too early to give up hope. It is too early to lose faith. It is too early to draw the curtain or to say we know how our story will end. We do not know. Your story, my story, is not yet finished. There is still hope.

Our dreams may be deferred, but they are not dead. God may still be at work in our lives.


(Copyright Jack Hughes Robinson, 2017. Use only by permission.)



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