just your average Joe

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to grow up in a family—wealthier or better known—than your own? Do you daydream about the day you break free and become noticed or distinguished? Do you feel like an average Joe or ordinary Jane? You are not alone. The majority of people and families you meet are just like you.

I grew up in what many would call a dysfunctional family. My teenage parents divorced before I could remember them together. I did not like my lot in life for the better part of my childhood. I would daydream about the day my mom and dad would get back together and our family would be normal, which did not happen. I wondered whether or not I was the cause of my parent’s divorce, which was unfair. And I wondered what it would be like to live in a normal family, but defining normal is impossible. Since those early days, I have learned to love my God-given family for reasons I will describe later.

I love the Bible because it is filled with examples of imperfect families just like mine that He uses for His purposes. From the beginning of the story of Joseph—which will carry us through the remainder of Genesis—we learn four truths that are common to human including you and me.

1. I do not choose my family [Genesis 37:1-4]

From the outside looking into Joseph’s home life you would think they were quite redneck. His father, Jacob, had thirteen children with four women, two were maidservants and two were wives. He loved his wife Rachel and hated her older sister Leah. Jacob also played favorites with his children loving his first son with Rachel, Joseph [cf. Gen 30:24-25], more than his other sons. Jacob did not hide his favoritism for Joseph. He adorned him like a king in an expensive coat of many colors. All who met Joseph knew he was his daddy’s favorite dressed up in his Hebrew bling from Burlington Coat Factory.

Jacob also favored hardworking Joseph by giving him authority over his older brothers and sent him out to the fields while his brothers worked to supervise and report back to their father.[1] The brothers view Joseph as a spoiled rotten tattletale, “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.” [37:4] The brother’s anger sounds a lot like Cain’s boiling anger towards Abel’s sacrifice that God had favored [cf. Genesis 4].

Joseph is only seventeen. Most teenagers his age have issues with their parents and siblings. It is easy for us to wonder, “Why did God give me this family?” Maybe you’re a child of divorce, abuse, or neglect. Maybe conflict is all too common in your home and you can relate to the sibling rivalry, favoritism or ungodly habits of Joseph’s home. Remember you did not choose your family, but God chose your family for you. This can be a hard truth to swallow depending on the degree of difficulty you have with your family. As difficult as your family may be they are still and always will be your family.

It is interesting how important the family unit is to God. God uses the family analogy to describe Christ’s relationship with the church [Ephesians 5:22ff], the relationship of the Trinity with one another [i.e. Father and Son], and uses family to describe His relationship with those He adopted into His eternal family through faith [Romans 8:14-17]. God promises to create a people for Himself to use for His purposes. Joseph’s dysfunctional family was surviving only by the mercy of God, but He will use them for His divine purposes to shape the character of the youngest son, Joseph.

2. I am mostly responsible for my messes [Genesis 37:5-17]

Compounding matters for Joseph and his already ragged relationship with his brothers, God had given Joseph dreams in which his whole family was bowing down to him in homage. When the dreams should have been kept private he made them quite public. This did not help Joseph build a bridge of bonding with his perturbed older brothers. ”His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” [37:11] Jacob rebukes what he thinks is a ridiculous dream and didn’t do anything more than keeps the matters to himself. Then he sent Joseph out into the field to supervise his brother’s work [37:12-17].[2] The one quality character we see in Joseph that will come into play later in his life is his willingness to obey authority.

How should Joseph have responded to these dreams? Perhaps he should have taken them as a subtle warning about the place of pride in his life and began cultivating humility. Or maybe he should have taken the details about the future as an opportunity to wisely prepare for the leadership role that God was going to give him. Instead, he used the dreams as hot air to further inflate his already puffed-up opinion of himself. It’s a recipe for a messy situation.

As people we are also prone to take the good gifts of God—our positions, our possessions, our intelligence, our education, our sexuality, our ability to pray—and use them, not for the benefit of others and the glory of God, but only to make ourselves feel better. Think about it. What good gifts has God given you that you are tempted to use solely for yourself?[3]

3. Life is not always fair [Genesis 37:18-35]

The brothers grew jealous of Joseph and stripped him of his regal robe and tossed him into a waterless well. There they conspired whether or not they should kill him [cf. Genesis 4] or sell him into slavery. Rueben tries to reason with his brothers, when he should have stood up and said, “Listen, I know Joseph has been a pain in the keester, but we’re not going to do anything to harm him” Instead, Rueben along with Judah who led the brothers to spare Joseph’s life, but make some money selling him into slavery. ”So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels” [37:28].[4] Joseph was taken to Egypt.

The brothers mean-spirited prank was well planned, but they were missing one detail, how would they inform their dad what happened to his darling son? To cover up their sin the brothers slaughtered a goat and sprinkled its blood on Josephs coat. They took the blood soaked coat back to their father and they tricked the trickster [cf. 25:26ff] into believing their lie. Jacob mourned bitterly believing that his most beloved and irreplaceable son had been ripped apart by animals. The guilt of this prank would haunt the brothers the rest of their lives.

Last summer I took a hiking trip with my wife through Rocky Mountain national park. She was 5 months pregnant and thought that climbing a 6 mile hike up a mountain to over 14,000 feet elevation would be a good idea. Halfway through the climb I ended up carrying most of the backpack weight and coaching Sarah up the mountain. Needless to say we made up the mountain, but I wasn’t a happy camper. Life is like a hiking trip through the mountains. In life you have a number of peaks to climb. Some steep and some slick. Some reasonable and others seem ridiculous. Some fun and others seem unfair.

Joseph is experiencing a rocky road hiking through mountains [grand dream] and valleys [sold as slave], which seems to be out of his control.[5] I wonder what he is thinking as he’s being sold into slavery? Is he taking it in stride? Does he doubt God’s fairness? Is God even on his radar? Young Joseph’s may have been dealt an unfair set of cards. He’s been snookered and shackled. Life at times is unfair to our eyes, but God is not distant He is at work.

4. Sometimes I am blind to what God sees [Genesis 37:36]

Can you imagine what is going through Jacob’s mind as he is being carted of to Egypt as a slave? What would you be thinking? “Why me God? This is so unfair. Why did I have to be born into my family? I am only a runt. What about that dream you gave me? Like that will ever happen. Now nobody will ever notice me.”

God seems to be completely absent from the brains of the brothers. However this by no means indicates that God is absent or not actively involved in what is happening. God, in fact, is superintending everything that is happening in Joseph’s life as He does with you too.

In the last verse we have an amazing setup to Joseph’s future, ”Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.” [37:36] What this verse hinting at after an unfair handling of Joseph is that his dream does have some significance. In spite of the persecution and the deception, God’s program will continue. God is sovereign! When your life seems out of control God is still in control. You might be blind to the next step, but God sees the course of your path.

God truly does cause “all things”—including those seemingly random things like sins against you and even your own sins—“to work together for good” [Romans 8:28]. If you really believe that, then you won’t feel the need to throw others into the pit when they hurt you—and you will also have hope in the midst of guilt and regret over your own personal sins.

Maybe you weren’t the faithful parents you should have been. Maybe you wasted your youth in self-centered living not content to be just an average Joe. Maybe you didn’t speak up for Jesus when you should have. If you are God’s child, you need to know: God works all things—even your failures—for the good of His people. He will work something beautiful out of the mess that you have made.God is big enough to forgive your sins through Jesus Christ [1 John1:8-10]. He is big enough to help you overcome your sins [1 Corinthians 10:13]. And He is even big enough to use your sins as part of His bigger plan. Even though you may have meant it for evil, God will work it for good! That is God’s sovereignty at work!

All these facts combine to make the account of this unusual family not a story of godly heritage so much as a story of mercy! Thank God that, in His Son, He is just as merciful to irresponsible, stumbling sinners today! God uses imperfect nobodies as examples to everybody that reflect the character of the Perfect Somebody He has chosen.

It was my normal dysfunctional American family that I thought was unfair as a child that drew me to Christ as a teenager, that taught me about my unreasonable expectations for my parents, that led to reconcile with my mother as a college student, and that has given me motivation to lead my own family to follow Jesus as an adult. I am so grateful for the family that God has chosen for me. God has given me many opportunities to minister to countless others who are struggling with understanding God’s purposes and goodness. I’ve encouraged them to look to Jesus who takes average Joe’s and invites them to a lifelong relationship as children of God.

[1] Note: this will not be the first time Joseph is elevated to a position of authority. A theme this narrative is how God empowers people despite the circumstances. The lesson is timeless: God will choose a faithful, righteous person for a position of leadership in spite of the jealousy of others.

[2] The fields are about 64 miles away. This is an early indicator that famine was coming since they were going so far away to find ground for gazing. The ground is also surprisingly in Schechem where two brothers shed blood [cf. 34:25-31].

[3] Now difficulty in our life can happen even when we are living in humility and integrity. Jesus does promise that living for Christ can be followed by intense hardship and suffering [2 Corinthians 1:3-7].

[4] An amazing archeological fact that corresponds to the reliability of the Bible is that 20 shekels [est. $2000] was the going rate for slaves during this time period.

[5] The choices Joseph makes at this period of his life are critical and life altering. Joseph is only seventeen, but in the next 10 years he will make the biggest decisions of his life. What are some decisions you make between the ages of 15-30 years old? You solidify personal habits, moral habits, and spiritual habits. You turn the pages to monumental chapters in your life such as: graduation from high school and college, make career choices, may enter marriage and have children. Joseph is entering the period of his life where he will make some of the most important decisions of his life.