Genesis 37 begins with “This is the account of Jacob,” but while what follows is certainly about Jacob’s family, the story is really about Joseph, Jacob and Rachel’s firstborn son. Joseph’s story is the longest personal narrative in the book of Genesis and perhaps that is for two reasons:
First, Joseph is presented as an exemplary individual, a model for all who read the story. Though Joseph has his faults, compared to the others in the Genesis story, particularly in this section, Joseph outshines them all. His story will serve as an example to Israel of how God blesses the faithful through all the trials of life.
But second, by the time the book of Genesis was written, the only life Israel has known has been life in Egypt and in the wilderness. Why are they headed to Canaan? How did they end up in Egypt? The story of Joseph will bring them up on the latter of these two questions. Moses has been very succinct in his presentation of Israel’s ancient history. Now, turning to more recent events, he will be much more detailed.
As the Joseph story opens, the young man (think mid-teens) is seen as a “dreamer” with delusions of grandeur: one day his father and brothers will bow down to him. As if that isn’t enough, Joseph is somewhat of a tattle-tale and and Jacob evidently has a habit of letting Joseph “supervise” the family business (keep an eye on the other brothers). It’s a horrible situation. After all, the other boys are old enough, powerful enough, cunning enough, and cruel enough to exterminate a whole city (Shechem). What might they do to kid-brother?
We find out. They sell him into slavery and lie to their father, contriving a situation that will lead Jacob to think Joseph has been killed. You have to wonder about Jacob’s boys. And Israel knows these are their ancestors. Change for the better will come, but not before the story gets much worse.