Useful to God
teacher's guide Lesson 7

Lesson Seven

Joseph: The Arrogance of Youth Distorts Perspective

Text: Genesis 37, 39, 40, 41, 50:15-21

The objective of this lesson: to demonstrate the blessings of faith in God can occur after the mistakes of youth.

Seldom will we encounter a righteous person who does not wish he or she could change something done in his or her past. People who reflect on their past often are people who wish they could change some things about their past. It is not unusual to hear a person of the experience produced by years of living say of a younger adult with little experience, "I wish he (she) would grow up!" In the absence of experience there is often the folly of arrogance.

Thoughtful people often reflect on their past mistakes. Ask your students to illustrate that truth.

Joseph as an adult was a righteous person who had an incredible trust in God and His purposes. However, as a teenager he had a sense of privilege and self-importance that specialized in offending people. When he was seventeen, he was with the sons of Bilah (Dan and Naphtali) and the sons of Zilpah (Gad and Asher) [see Genesis 35:24, 25] pasturing Jacob's flocks. Though he was too young to be responsible for the flock, he made "a bad report" concerning his brothers. He informed his father of his older half-brothers' faults rather than seeking to help them by speaking to them. He deliberately attempted to get these half- brothers in trouble.

Joseph offers a fascinating contrast between a teenager with a bad attitude and an adult who was led by faith in God even when he encountered horrible circumstances.

Joseph's arrogance is seen in his reporting to his father rather than going to his brothers. Joseph seemed more concerned about making himself look good to his Dad instead of helping his brothers be better in their work.

His father loved Joseph more than his ten other brothers. He showed Joseph favoritism. The favoritism of the father was not ignored by all the half-brothers. The results were it stirred these men's hatred for Joseph, and they refused to speak to him peacefully.

Jacob's reaction to Joseph illustrates how complex Jacob's situation was and had been. Jacob's reaction to Joseph was the result of Joseph being born late in his life as the oldest son of the only woman he wanted for a wife.

The situation intensified when Joseph had dreams. The first dream implied he would reign over his brothers. He delighted in telling his brothers the dream (it was too good to keep to himself). In this way, Joseph intensified his brothers' resentment. "Do you (Joseph) actually think you will rule over us (the brothers)?"

Joseph's dreams made a bad situation worse. As a teacher, do not forget the promise given to Abraham in Genesis 12:1-3 which was also given to Isaac (Genesis 17:21; 21:12; 25:21-26) which was also given to Jacob (Genesis 28:11-15). The passing of God's promise from generation to generation was a significant matter to the half-brothers. Anything indicating Joseph had an advantage in the matter of the promise would have been especially irritating to the half-brothers. The thoughts of young, arrogant Joseph ruling over them stirred their hatred for Joseph. There was much more involved in their ill will for Joseph than the arrogance of a teenager.

The second dream implied his mother and father would bow to him as well. When he told his father and his brothers this dream, his father rebuked him. His father felt it was inappropriate for him to suggest that any of the family would bow to him. The brothers were jealous, and the father was curious.

The suggestion that the parents would subject themselves (willingly, of personal choice) to their child was highly inappropriate. Then, it WAS NOT the type of thing a teen should even hint at concerning his parents. Joseph revealing his dream to his parents was unwise and most inappropriate.

The depth of the brothers' resentment is seen in what followed. Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers (apparently all of the older ones born to Bilah, Zilpah, and Leah) who were tending Jacob's flocks. When the brothers saw Joseph in the distance, they plotted to kill him, and Joseph's dreams are specifically mentioned as a reason for their resentment. Though Joseph was sold into slavery rather than killed, the brothers acted on a resentment fueled by jealousy and hatred. Joseph was not a beloved younger brother who was adoringly cared for by his older half-brothers!

The depth of the animosity of the half-brothers for Joseph is seen in their desire to kill him. The significance of Joseph's dreams is seen in the role it played in their motives. They thought they could end the significance of his dreams by killing him (Genesis 37:19, 20)! How often humans conclude they can end or divert God's purposes through a premeditated act of the human will! [See Acts 5:27-34.]

The astounding transformation is seen in the faith-filled, responsible adult this self-centered teenager became. It was not until he lost his position of privilege that his faith governed his life! Privilege produced the arrogance of self-importance! Hardship produced the faith of dependence on God! Joseph literally went from existing as the favorite son of a wealthy man to being a slave, from a master of slaves to being a slave! Rather than turning to bitterness, he turned to dependence on God.

It is nothing short of amazing to see the transformation from the arrogant teen who was the favorite son of a wealthy man to the adult slave who had little control over his future. Adversity can (a) force us to realize our limitations and (b) make it evident we have little control over our future. The key is found in our attitude toward adversity--do we react against the injustice of the situation with an anger that enslaves us, or do we trust God in an undesirable situation?

Evidently, Jacob did a commendable job in teaching Joseph about the God of Abraham. It is highly doubtful that Joseph would depend on the God he did not know. Joseph's answer to Potiphar's wife when she sought to seduce him is profound: "There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9). He could not abuse a kind master or sin against God! NOT, "I have been the victim of a great injustice--I must look out for myself in my unfortunate circumstance."

The only way Joseph could have depended on God was for him to know about God. Joseph's reaction to his slavery provides a thoughtful contrast between a life of arrogance and a life of humility. Someone did a good job of teaching Joseph about God, and adversity did a good job of humbling Joseph.

Three striking expressions of Joseph's faith must not be overlooked. (a) His faith in the incident with Potiphar's wife. (b) His faith expressed in his ability to interpret dreams [Genesis 40:8 -- "Do not interpretations belong to God?" Genesis 41:16--"It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer."] (c) His view of his past as a slave [a horrible experience filled with injustices lasting for years]. "Then his brothers also came and fell down before him and said, 'Behold, we are your servants.' But Joseph said to them, 'Do not be afraid, for am I in God's place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.' So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them" (Genesis 50:18-21).

Understand the stories of each of these three instances. Place them in context. Make them come alive to your students.

Do not think an early self-centered arrogance in life destroyed your ability to turn to and depend on God. Do not think the occurrence of the undesirable in your life is your enemy--at times [if the person lets it happen] the undesirable produces dependence on God instead of dependence on self. Let God work in your life in every circumstance you work in! Let everything that happens to you in your life turn you more deeply to God, not against Him. He or she who spends his or her time feeling sorry for self wastes his or her life. Never waste your life by inactively dwelling on injustices. Always remember, everyone deals with the reality of injustice!

Help your students understand that past mistakes do not make present faith impossible.

For Thought and Discussion

  1. What is seldom encountered?

    It is rare to find a righteous person who does not wish he or she could change something that happened in his or her past. Even the best people wish they could change things in their past.

  2. What is not unusual?

    It is not unusual to hear people of experience wish they did things differently in their past.

  3. What undesirable attitudes seemed to reside in Joseph as a teenager?

    He had a sense of privilege and self-importance that was insensitive to others.

  4. How did his father contribute to the problem?

    Joseph's father made it obvious that he loved Joseph more than his other sons.

  5. What intensified the problem?

    Joseph's dreams intensified the problem.

  6. How did the brothers show the depth of their resentment directed at Joseph?

    Their plan to kill Joseph revealed the depth of their resentment.

  7. Cite three striking expressions of Joseph's faith as an adult.

    1. Joseph's faith in God when Potiphar's wife tried to seduce him.

    2. Joseph's faith in God when he had the gift of interpreting dreams.

    3. Joseph's faith in God when he viewed his past slavery experience after his father died.

  8. What should you not think about early self-centered arrogance?

    You should not think past arrogance destroys present ability to turn to and depend on God.

Link to Student Guide Lesson 7

Copyright © 2008
David Chadwell & West-Ark Church of Christ

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