Now Joseph's brothers saw him in the distance, and before he arrived, they plotted to kill him.
Go, I pray thee, see whether, &c. Joseph left home unexpectedly. He knew not when he left it to seek his brethren that he would never come back again. After a longer journey than he anticipated Joseph finds his brethren.
I. Like many leaving home, Joseph MET WITH FAITHFUL GUIDES. There are generally companions, teachers, ministers to help.
II. Like many leaving home, Joseph FELL INTO SNARES. He could not help himself. The snares were not such as were willingly entered. The wicked entrapped him. On his youth, far from home, defenseless, and kindly-intentioned, nine cowardly men fell.
III. Like many away from home, Joseph FOUND THAT GOD CARED FOR HIM WHEN HIS EARTHLY FATHER COULD NOT. Reuben was the means of saving him from death. Sold into slavery, he was still on the highway to eminence. We have to beware of hateful and murderous thoughts, remembering "that he that hateth his brother is" (so far as intent goes) "a murderer." In all journeyings we have to commit our way unto the Lord, and he will guide and defend. - H.
1. In evil counsels against the saints, God overpowers the heart of some to frustrate bloody designs of others.
They conspired against him to slay him. I.
AN EXAMPLE OF THE RAPIDLY DOWNWARD COURSE OF EVIL.
II. AN EXAMPLE. OF THE BOLD DARING OF SINNERS.
III. AN EXAMPLE OF GUILT INCURRED EVEN WHERE PURPOSE HAS NOT RIPENED INTO ACT.
IV. AN EXAMPLE OF DEGREES OF GUILTINESS EVEN AMONG THOSE WHO HAVE LENT THEMSELVES TO ONE DESIGN.
MAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF JEALOUSY.
1. Jealousy leads a man to slander.
2. Jealousy leads to falsehood.
3. Jealousy hardens the heart.
4. Jealousy leads to crime.
II. MAN UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF MERCY.
1. The merciful are in the minority.
2. The merciful lose sight of self.
3. The merciful are always ready to assist others.
The sight of the righteous, whom the wicked hate, is an occasion of working mischief and evil to them.
2. The looks of the wicked is for the mischief of those good souls, who look and seek for their peace.
3. Subtlety and conspiracy for death is the wicked's practice against innocent gracious souls (ver. 18).
4. The wicked encourage each other in evil matters to committing them.
5. Vile persons jeer and scorn the revelations of God under terms of contempt. Dreamer (ver. 19).
6. Sinners persecute the saints for God's revelations to them.
7. Providence suffers sinners to breathe death and destruction to saints, when they effect it not.
8. Murderers themselves are ashamed to own blood-guiltiness, therefore seek to hide it.
9. Brother's blood is not pitied with men of sin.
10. Evil men design to frustrate the counsels and revelation of God by their crafty and cruel practices (ver. 20).
2. God makes evil projected against His servants to come to the cognizance of those that shall defeat it.
3. Deliverance is effected sometimes for the saints by such as hate them enough.
4. Providence causeth the counsel of one evil man to prevail against others, for His saint's good (ver. 21).
5. God puts an awe upon some to counsel others not to shed blood.
6. Pretence of a worse death providence ordereth to be made by men to save His from death wholly.
7. Fratricide is made horried to evil men by God for saving His own.
8. Respect to paternal honour may sway with men of bad resolutions, to abstain from evil and offering violence to a brother (ver. 21, 22).
()1. Under Providence innocent souls come in their integrity into the hands of spoilers.
2. Simple, honest hearts, may think of coming to brethren when it is to cruel destroyers.
3. Unnatural treacherous dealers stick not to take a garment from a brother.
4. Garments of pleasure may expose men to envy and spoil by wicked hands (ver. 23).
5. Violent hands are soon layed even upon an innocent brother by envious and enraged spirits.
6. Brethren degenerate into spoilers, stick not at it to bury an innocent brother alive.
7. God emptieth the pits of water where He will not have His innocents perish.
8. Dry pits of trouble are in God's Use, tokens of deliverance. Joseph shall come out (ver. 24).
()He boarded the train which he could not arrest, but he boarded it with the purpose of ultimately controlling it and so preventing a catastrophe. The motive was good, but I am not quite so sure about the policy. It savours a little too much of worldly wisdom for me, and little good came out of it in the end. We have seen it tried here often enough in politics, and almost always with this result: that the well-meaning men who have gone into a questionable movement under the idea that they could thereby guide it into something that would be at least harmless, have been themselves outwitted and befooled. It would have been just about as easy for Reuben to have stood out against the persecution of Joseph altogether as it was for him to protest against the shedding of his blood, and it might have been equally efficacious. At any rate it would have exonerated him from the guilt which they all alike ultimately incurred. His plan was to deliver Joseph, but in a way that was itself deceptive, for he seemed to be doing one thing while he was really seeking another. His proposal was that they should put Joseph into a pit. That to them looked to be a refinement on their cruelty, for it left him to starve to death, while they had meant that he should be slain out of hand. As such, therefore, it commended itself to their acceptance. But his secret intention was to come back by himself when the others should be out of the way, and then take him out and return with him to his father. It was well meant, and not very badly planned either; but then it required that a very careful watch should be maintained, and just there the instability of Reuben's character came in to mar it all; for, thinking that now the crisis was past, he wont away and took no further oversight of the matter, and in his absence it was all upset. For the moment, however, it looked as if he had succeeded, for the others accepted his suggestion, and after stripping Joseph of his hated coat, they put him into one of those cisterns which were so common in Palestine, and which, when dry, were sometimes, as in the case of Jeremiah, used as a prison. Lieutenant Anderson, of the Palestine Exploration Enterprise, thus writes regarding them: "The numerous rock-hewn cisterns that are found everywhere would furnish a suitable pit in which they might have thrust him; and as these cisterns are shaped like a bottle, with a narrow mouth, it would be impossible for any one imprisoned within it to extricate himself without assistance. These cisterns are now all cracked and useless; they are, however, the most undoubted evidences that exist of handiwork of the inhabitants in ancient times."
()Joseph put himself to so much trouble to find out his brethren that he might inform himself and his father of their welfare; but they took advantage from his love to wreak their hatred upon him, as if they had been devils in flesh and blood, rather than patriarchs in the Church. It is too common with discontented men to say that none were even so ill-used as themselves. But let us consider how Joseph was used, how David was used, how Christ Himself was used, by those men from whom they had most reason to expect kindness.
()I. The Scriptures expressly prohibit envy (Proverbs 3:31; Proverbs 23:17). God prohibits envy, then, because it is rebellion against His just authority, an insult to His honour, and a denial of His attributes of wisdom and justice and truth. It is also a passion which is infinitely removed from His own pure nature. God prohibits it also because it cannot exist with peace and happiness. Where envy enters happiness departs. Like the buckets of a well, they cannot both descend into the depths of the human heart together. The absence of envy is spoken of in Scripture as a mark of a renewed mind, the characteristic of a soul born of God (Titus 3:3).
II. The Lord has, however, given us something more than precepts against envy in His word. To prohibit it ought to be enough, and it will be enough with the child of God to make him loathe and abhor a thing so detestable in the sight of his heavenly Father. The Lord has added to these precepts many most instructive illustrations of the pernicious effects of this base passion. He points us to the fugitive Cain, as he rushes from His presence, his brow stamped with the brand of infamy, and his hand steeped in the life-blood of his righteous brother, and He says, "Behold the effects of envy." He points us to the distracted family of Jacob in their rival tents, Rachel envying Leah her children, and Leah envying Rachel the first place in their husband's affections, and He says, "Behold the misery and torment produced by envy." To what a fiend does envy reduce the man! These unnatural children appear to have had no more compassion for their father than for Joseph; perhaps they even secretly enjoyed the thought of disappointing and grieving him by dashing to the ground all his hopes of his favorite son's advancement. "Let us kill him," say they, "and then he cannot rule over us." And is there nothing, in this conspiracy of his brethren against Joseph, to remind us of a similar conspiracy against God's beloved Son? Joseph was here in the strictest sense a type of Christ. Envy endangered His life at its first commencement, and the slaughter of the innocents at Bethlehem may teach us how a man may become envious at the predicted royalties of an infant, as well as at the actual prosperity of those of riper years. His own brethren after the flesh in his after life conspired against Him, and why? Envy was at the root of all their conspiracies. They treated His claim to the Messiahship as a dream. And in their treatment of Jesus they discovered as strong a hatred of His Father, whom they also called their Father, as did Joseph's brethren towards their father. So evident was this that Jesus Himself says of them," Now have they both seen and hated both Me and My Father (John 15:24). There is one more point which makes the type perfect. The steps the brethren of Joseph took to prevent his exaltation over them, actually helped forward the very thing they wished to prevent; so inscrutable are the ways of God in His providence, "He maketh the wrath of man to praise Him." The same was the ease with Jesus. God permitted His enemies to go just far enough to accomplish His purposes and to defeat their own. By crucifying Jesus the Jews effectually fulfilled His most ardent wishes, and promoted the benefit and advancement of believers which they meant to hinder.
This dreamer. —To-day we do not like the dreamers who have seen visions which involve us more or less in decay and inferiority. It is not easy to forgive a man who has dreamed an unpleasant dream concerning us. We cannot easily forgive a man who has founded an obnoxious institution. If a man has written a book which is distasteful to us, it is no matter, though he should do ten thousand acts which ought to excite our admiration and confirm our confidence, we will go back and back upon the obnoxious publication, and whensoever that man's name is mentioned, that book will always come up in association with it. Is this right? Ought we to be confined in our view of human character to single points, and those points always of a kind to excite unpleasant, indignant, perhaps vindictive feelings? The world's dreamers have never had an easy lot of it. Don't let us imagine that Joseph was called to a very easy and comfortable position when he was called to see the visions of Providence in the time of his slumber. God speaks to man by dream and by vision, by strange scene and unexpected sight; and we who are prosaic groundlings are apt to imagine that those men who live in transcendental regions, who are privileged occasionally to see the invisible, have all the good fortune of life, and we ourselves are but servants of dust and hirelings of an-ill-paid day. No; the poets have their own pains, and the dreamers have their own peculiar sorrows. Men of double sight often have double difficulties in life. Don't let us suppose that we are all true of inspiration. It is not because a man has had a dream that he is to be hearkened unto. It is because the dream is a parable of heaven that we ought to ask him to speak freely and fully to us concerning his wondrous vision, that we may see further into the truth and beauty of God's way concerning man.
()They insulted the Sovereign of the world, while they persecuted their poor brother. They intended to frustrate the Word of the Lord, and hoped they would bring to nothing the counsels of the Most High. Presumptuous creatures! did they think they were stronger than the Almighty? If they had cut Joseph into a thousand pieces, the Word of the Lord would have stood firm and sure. It would be far easier to arrest the sun in his course, than to hinder the performance of any promise that God has made to His people. "His counsel shall stand for ever; the thoughts of His heart to all generations." They might, no doubt, imagine that they were fighting, not against God, but against a presumptuous boy, who fondly dreamed of rising into honours above his equals or superiors, and that Joseph's arrogance well deserved to be humbled. They did not perhaps think that Joseph's dreams were from God; but why, then, were they so much piqued with his dreams? Might they not have suffered them to pass from their memories like other vanities, which pass away the moment in which they make their appearance? Must a man be hunted day after day, till he is chased out of the world, for a silly dream? But if their spirits had not been blinded by envy, they might have either seen that there was something more than ordinary in Joseph's dream, or at least have seen good reason to suspend their judgment. It was not a good excuse that they did not know the dreams to be from God. They ought to have known with certainty that they did not come from God, before they ventured to turn them into derision.
()In "a sketch of my life-work," which appears in the Christmas number of the Methodist, Gee. Smith, of Coalville, says: — "One night, in the summer of 1868, I had a remarkable dream, which, strange to say, was repeated three nights in succession. Thousands of poor little children clustered round me, with looks and cries which pierced my soul. I was toiling to drag them to the top of a mountain. Just as I was giving up the struggle, Mr. Gladstone joined in my effort, and just as we both were giving up, our good and noble Queen come to the rescue, and we landed them all at the top. A similar dream occurred during the early part of my canal crusade.""Carnal men hear of the beauty of holiness, of the excellency of Christ, of the preciousness of the covenant, of the rich treasures of grace, as if they were in a dream. They look upon such things as mere fancies, like to foolish dreams of golden mountains, or showers of pearls." "This their way is their folly." When scientific men describe to us their curious experiments and their singular discoveries, we know them to be persons of credit, and therefore accept their testimony: why do not men of the world do us the like justice and believe what we tell them? We are as sane as they, and as observant of the law of truth: why, then, do they not believe us when we declare what the Lord has done for our souls? Why is our experience, in the spiritual world, to be treated as a fiction, any more than their discoveries in chemistry or geography? There is no justice in the treatment with which our witness is received. Yet the Christian man need not complain, for in the nature of things he may expect it to be so, and the fact that it is so is a confirmation of his own beliefs. In a world of blind men, an elect race to whom eyes had been given, would be sure to be regarded ae either mad or false. How could the sightless majority be expected to accept the witness of the seeing few? Would it not touch their dignity to admit that others possessed faculties of which they were destitute? And would it not be highly probable that the blind would conspire to regard the men of eyes as fanatical dreamers or deluded fools? Unrenewed men know not the things which are of the Spirit of God, and it is by no means a strange thing that they should deride what they cannot understand. It is sad that those who are dreamers, in the worst sense, should think others so, but it is by no means so extraordinary as to cause surprise. Oh, my Lord, whatever others may think of me, let me be more and more sensible of Thy presence, and of the glorious privileges and hopes which are created in the heart by Thy grace. If men should even say of me as of Joseph, "behold this dreamer cometh," it will not grieve me so long as Thou art with me, and Thy favour makes me blest.
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