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“Birth of a Dream”


a sermon by


The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Nagel


Sunday, October 8, 2017




TEXTS:  Genesis 37:1-11


Genesis 37:1-11


Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob.


Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves.  But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.


 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we 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.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.


 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, ‘Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, ‘What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?’ So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.




            The term “dysfunctional family” is relatively new.  The reality is as old as humanity.  This is Jacob’s story.  This is his family’s story.  I must admit, I have never really liked Jacob much.  He is a conniver, a con man, and a cheat. 

  Jacob also plays favorites.

              Perhaps Jacob came by this naturally.  His father, Isaac, favored Esau, the eldest, a man of the fields, an outdoorsman.  Rebekah favored Jacob, the youngest, a mama’s boy who hung around the tent.  Jacob was jealous of his older brother, Esau.  He wants what is not his, what he cannot have, so Jacob takes advantage of Esau’s hunger one day and gains his brother’s birthright.  Later, with Rebekah’s help, Jacob tricks Isaac into giving him the Esau’s blessing as the first-born.  Isaac is fooled into thinking that Jacob is really Esau.  As a result, Jacob and Esau for many years become enemies.

 Finally, Jacob is married.  He has two wives and two concubines.  Rachel is his favorite.  He longs to have a child by her, but she is barren.  His other wife, Leah, is extremely fertile, but unloved.  His maidservants, Bilhah and Zilpah, also have children to Jacob, but none of the three is Rachel. 

 Jacob longs to have a son with Rachel.  Her womb remains closed.

              By the time Rachel becomes pregnant with Joseph, Jacob is the father of a brood of seven sons and one daughter by Leah, two sons by his maidservant Bilhah, and two sons by his maidservant Zilpah.  Finally, the son Jacob has waited for, hoped for, prayed for, and longed for has arrived.    Joseph’s birth will be followed by the birth of the last son, Benjamin, by the same mother, Rachel.  Rachel will die giving birth to Benjamin.  Jacob is an old man.  Now, Joseph and Benjamin are all that remain to remind Jacob, in his old age, of his first love, Rachel.

             Joseph is by far the favorite and he knows it.  Joseph is the apple of his father Jacob’s eye.  We will pick up the narrative in verse 3, “Joseph, being seventeen years old. . .”  Remember when you were seventeen?  The world seemed fresh and new.  Opportunity lay before you. The world was your oyster.  Life had not tested you and certainly had not bested you. 

             I look back on some of the things I did and said at seventeen and am amazed at how full of myself I was at that age.  Frankly I am surprised I lived to see eighteen!  Perhaps “full of one’s self” is an apt description of the full scope of adolescence.  It was Mark Twain who wrote, “When I was a boy of 14, my father was so ignorant I could hardly stand to have the old man around.  But when I got to be 21, I was astonished at how much the old man had learned in seven years.”

             Wisdom comes with maturity.  Maturity comes with mistakes.  Mistakes come with adolescence.

             Joseph makes a mistake.  I think he comes by it honestly.  It has everything to do with the way he was raised.    He’s just a kid.  He is dad’s favorite.  His youngest older brother is in his thirties.  His older brothers are in their forties and fifties. 

             Joseph is out with his brothers helping in the fields.  His brothers do something amiss.  Joseph runs back to Jacob and tells.  He is a tattle-tale and no one likes a tattle-tale tale. 

 Strike one.  The brothers cannot trust Joseph.

             Joseph gets more affection and more privilege than anyone else in the family.  He is Jacob’s golden boy.  Jacob makes him a long robe.  We’ve all heard the story as children of Joseph’s coat of many colors.  The story is likely wrong.  Dyeing fabric would be difficult in such an environment.  It was hard enough to harvest the wool, clean the wool, spin the wool into thread, and weave the wool into cloth.  Get that done and you would then have to cut and hand-sew the wool.  Dyeing the wool?  Many colors?  Not likely! 

 The point is this, Joseph receives something from his father that the oldest brother does not get.  None of the brothers get a special gift from Jacob…only Joseph.

 The “coat of many colors” was based on a mis-translation of a couple of words when the Old Testament was translated from Hebrew into Greek.  The Hebrew is ketonet passim.  “Since the word pas can mean “extremities,” either hands or feet, [the Biblical scholar, P. Kyle] McCarter believes that the words ketonet passīm refer to a garment that goes to the extremities.  He wrote: “It follows that ketonet passīm means ‘gown extending to the extremities’—i.e., hands or feet, since it is plural and not dual—and thus ‘long gown with sleeves.’

 “This is the reading adopted by many modern translations. Since the ketonet passīm was the kind of garment that daughters of kings wore, the garment probably was associated with people who were royalty, with officials who had high rank in the palace, or with people who had an exalted position in society.

 “The fact that Jacob gave Joseph a ketonet passīm means that Jacob treated Joseph as a royal person, a person whom he considered to be above all his other sons.” 

 Now, what is significant about a robe with long sleeves?  Aside from the obvious privilege and special treatment Jacob intended, a long-sleeved robe that hung all the way to the ground meant you couldn’t do any “heavy lifting.”  You couldn’t do the work of a laborer.  Being a shepherd was out of the question.  Raising grain to feed your family would be difficult, if not impossible.  Most men worked in the fields in a sleeveless garment that would extend only to mid-thigh.  It would be a garment hat left hands, legs, and feet unencumbered for hard work.

 Joseph couldn’t work hard.  Likely, he didn’t have to.  Like Jacob, his mother probably kept him close to the tent.  Dad liked to have him nearby.  When he did go out to the fields, he acted as a spy against his brothers.   

 There is a line in this account that says it all, “But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.” (v. 4)

 Strike two.

 Joseph is about to strike out.  He doesn’t know it.  He has a dream.

 All the boys had likely heard Jacob tell of his dream at Bethel, the dream of the stairway into the heavens upon which angels ascended and descended.  They understood that God communicates in dreams.  After all, when Jacob awoke from his dream, he remarked, “Surely the Lord was in this place, and I did not know it.” (Genesis 28:16)

 I want to give Joseph the benefit of the doubt.  I want to believe that he shares his dream in complete innocence.  Perhaps I can.  Perhaps I can’t.  He may very well have know the effect the telling of the dream would have on his brothers.

 Have you ever had a dream that you didn’t understand?  Have you ever had a dream that seemed to indicate something wonderful was about to happen, yet you could not imagine how it could possibly be true?  You share it with others seeking understanding.  That’s what I want to do with Joseph’s dream.

 However, the brothers react out of their sense that Joseph is putting on airs.  Joseph, who rarely lifts a hand in the fields, who gets special treatment, who spies on his brothers and reports their behavior, whom dad always likes best, always favors, and who wears a special coat that sets him apart tells his brothers he has had a dream.

 Ecclesiastes 3:7 teaches us that there is “…a time to be silent and a time to speak.” There are times when you are better served by keeping your mouth shut.  This would be one of those times for Joseph.  He shares his dream.  In the dream, he and his brothers are out in the fields harvesting grain.  How the brothers must have smirked at this!  Joseph?  Working?  In the fields?  When was the last time that happened?!  He never works.  He’s always back at the tent.  As Joseph continues to relate the dream, he tells how the sheaf of grain he is binding stands up on its own.  Then the sheaves of the brothers move until they surround Joseph’s sheaf.  Each of their sheaves bows down to Joseph’s sheaf.

 Joseph is not quite to strike three, but he has a full count.  Three balls and two strikes.  The brothers know the meaning of this dream.  They know dreams are real.  They know God communicates truth and future events through dreams.  If this dream is fulfilled, they will bow to Joseph, something none of them wishes to do. 

 Because of the dream, they hate him even more, if that is possible.  

 Now the dream is confirmed by another dream.  It is a different dream, but the theme is the same.  This time, though, there are more players.  The sun, the moon, and eleven stars bow down to Joseph.  There is no misunderstanding the meaning of this dream.  His brothers certainly understand it.  Even his father gets upset this time, “What kind of dream is this that you have had?  Shall we indeed, I and your mother and your brothers bow to the ground before you?”

 Strike three, Joseph.  You’re out.

 The brothers are jealous.  Their hatred is fueled.  Why?  Nothing has happened yet.  Even so, they are angry that the next to youngest thinks so little of his older brothers that he’s sees himself and them in this way.  Every one of them grumbles, “Who does he think he is?  He thinks he’s so special, so innocent, so sure of himself.”

 Jacob has a different reaction.  Like Mary in the New Testament, who “pondered all these things in her heart,” Jacob kept the matter in mind. 

 Frankly, I believe Jacob mis-interpreted Joseph’s dream.  When he responds, “Shall we indeed, I and your mother and your brothers and bow to the ground before you?”, you must remember that Joseph’s mother is already dead.  She died in childbirth when Benjamin was born.  There is also no record that Jacob ever bowed down to Joseph.  The brothers do, but Jacob does not.

 In the country of Egypt, the Pharaoh was considered a god, the embodiment of Horus, the god of the sky.  His image was that of a man with a falcon’s head.  The Egyptians taught that one of Horus’s eyes was the sun.  The other was the moon.  Could the dream mean that all of Egypt, represented in the dream by Horus, and the eleven brothers, also, would bow down to Joseph?  Could this be why Jacob kept the matter of the dream in mind?

 Perhaps he thought back to his own dream.  Perhaps he reminisced about his own dream and how God had re-affirmed his covenant with Jacob and his promise to bring him back to Canaan at Bethel.  Now he was here.  The dream had been fulfilled, but how?  How?

 Joseph must have wondered the same thing.  How?  Why?  Yet, in these two dreams, God revealed the future to Joseph.  Joseph just didn’t know it yet.

 There are some great life lessons we may glean from this passage.

 First, God had a special plan for Joseph’s life.  Joseph didn’t know it.  Joseph couldn’t see it.  It was a dream.  He could only understand it as it unfolded.  Faith operates in such a way that we do not understand all the pieces of the puzzle until the puzzle is complete.  Only then is the picture revealed in its entirety.

 God has a special plan for your life as well.  In other words, God has a dream for you.  You must trust the God who has given you that dream for its completion and fulfillment.  You will only understand its fulfillment in retrospect.

 Second, God-given dreams are dreams so big that only God can make them happen.  Imagine Joseph thinking, “Why would my brothers and my whole family bow down to me?  People only bow to kings!  I am not a king.  I am just a seventeen-year-old boy!”

 Joseph was not of a royal line.  I would be willing to bet he may have heard of a king, but had never seen one.  If the dream came true, Joseph couldn’t make it happen on his own.

 Third, dreams are fulfilled in God’s time, not ours. 

 For centuries, the Hebrews had awaited a Messiah.  They had dreamed that God would save his people, as promised.  In Galatians 4:4, Paul writes, “But when the fulness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children.”  When the fulness of time had come . . .  God made a promise.  God had a plan.  God’s plans take time.

 We cannot rush a dream.  Joseph was seventeen when he had these dreams.  He was thirty years old when he entered Pharaoh’s service in Egypt.  The dream took thirteen years to be fulfilled.

 Fourth, God must prepare us for seeing the dream become a reality.  No dream comes without struggle.  In every example of Scripture, there is a time of testing, spiritual formation, character development, and virtue-building before a dream is brought to fruition.  Someone once said to me that Moses, David, Jesus, and the Apostle Paul, all had to experience the desert before God could use them.  Every one of them had a wilderness experience.  How true!

 Moses spent forty years in Midian before returning to Egypt to free the Israelite slaves.  David waited fifteen years to become the king of Judah. Most of this time was spent hiding from King Saul who wanted him dead because he was a rival to his throne.

 The Holy Spirit drove Jesus into the wilderness for forty days and nights to be tempted.  Paul spent 2-3 years in Arabia (Galatians 1:18).

 Martin Luther King, Jr. waited ten years to see his dream of civil rights for Black Americans begin to come true with the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.  Many of those years were lived with relentless threats from without and extreme hardships from within the civil rights movement.

 On the night before he was assassinated, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King spoke these, now famous, words:

 "Well, I don't know what will happen now. We've got some

 difficult days ahead. But it doesn't matter with me now.

 Because I've been to the mountaintop. And I don't mind. Like

 anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its

 place. But I'm not concerned about that now. I just want to

 do God's will. And he's allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people will get to the Promised Land. And I'm happy, tonight.  I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any [man].  Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord."

  Those words, still haunt us. To this day, they generate speculation and debate.  Some are convinced that King knew he would be killed.  With the kind of turmoil King was creating and the general upheaval that was being witnessed from courthouse squares to college campuses, it doesn't require much imagination to envision a scenario wherein King would be gunned down.  King noted on that very night that the "... nation is sick. Trouble is in the land. Confusion all around."

  Others are equally certain that King did not have a premonition about his own death.  John Cartwright, who holds the professorship at Boston University which bears King's name, believes that King was not predicting his own death.  Rather, according to Cartwright, Dr. King was only aware that the arc of justice is long and that significant changes only happen over an extended period of time.  In other words, King knew that his words might articulate the dream, but the reality of the dream might not be experienced until generations later.[1]

 Such are dreams.  Such was Joseph’s dream.  Such may be the dream God has given you for your life.  Such may be the dreams God has given us for Grace Covenant Presbyterian Church.

 Dreams may occur in the night; however, they do not come to fulfillment overnight.  God is on a different timetable than we are.

 Yet, if they are God-given dreams, they WILL come to fruition.  At some point you will look back, like Joseph, and be amazed to see God’s directing hand at each point in your journey. 

 The journey may not be easy.  Any journey worth the taking rarely is.  But the journey will be good because God is the one who put us on the journey and God is faithful.

 I want to close today’s message with Paul’s ascription of praise in Ephesians 3:20-21.  I want you to close your eyes.  I want you to consider a dream God has given you.  It may be a dream for you personally, for your family, for your job, for your school, for our community, or for your church.  What is that dream?  Can you identify it?  Can you wrap your arms around it?

 I hope it is a big dream.  I hope it is a godly dream.  Now hear what Paul says about the God of our dreams to the church at Ephesus.  Listen well.  I am going to read it slowly several times.

 “Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.  AMEN.”

 Hold on tight to your dreams. 

 Soli Deo Gloria.  To God alone be the glory.




Rev. Brett Blair's Illustrations by Email, www.sermonillustrations.com














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