When Your Dreams Wind Up in the Pit
By Greg Albrecht—
“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father.
So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the richly ornamented robe he was wearing—and they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt.
Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hand on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood.” His brothers agreed.
So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?”
Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornamented robe back to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.”
He recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.”
Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “in mourning will I go down to the grave to my son.” So his father wept for him.
Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharoh’s officials, the captain of the guard. —Genesis 37:19-36
The background to our story involves a 17-year-old boy named Joseph. He lived with his father Jacob and his ten brothers in the land of Canaan. Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. Showing favoritism to one child is a huge mistake for any parent, but it is the stuff of real life, is it not?
The ongoing story of the family of Abraham given to us in the book of Genesis reads like a soap opera. This specific story is about Abraham’s grandson Jacob, his great-grandson Joseph, and Joseph’s brothers. This story helps us see that the pages of the Bible are not populated by insipid Sunday school stories where all the characters are nice, sweet, innocent religious paragons of perfection.
Joseph’s older brothers were sick and tired of the way their younger brother was continually spoiled. In the first few verses of Genesis 37 we read that Joseph, in the Bible’s words, brought his father a bad report (Genesis 37: 2) about his brothers. Today we would say that Joseph was ratting out his brothers. This is, of course, not a behavior that endears you to your siblings.
Adding to the dynamics of this real family was the fact that Jacob had given his favorite son, Joseph, the famous “coat of many colors” or, as a more modern translation like the New International Version translates it, a richly ornamented robe.
A robe was a multi-purpose garment in those days, a garment that everyone had. It was somewhat like a parka or a winter coat that North Americans and Europeans wear in cool or cold weather (which is most of the year in some climates). Robes were used to keep warm, to bundle up and carry belongings in and to spread out and sit on. They were valued enough to even be used as a security for loans.
Had you lived in that day your robe probably would have been a generic color and style, having been made by the women of your family. It would have looked just like all the other robes your friends were wearing, somewhat like the equivalent today of having purchased a robe at Sears, J.C. Penney’s, Wal-mart or Target.
But Joseph’s robe was not mass produced, it was not “off the rack.” Joseph’s robe was unique and it was expensive. Jacob ordered a robe for his favorite son that looked like a robe that a king might wear. The robe itself became a symbol to Joseph’s brothers of the partiality their father showed toward Joseph, and the pampering he received. Joseph’s richly ornamented robe, his coat of many colors, immediately reminded Joseph’s brothers of the jealousy and animosity they felt toward Joseph.
Joseph had a dream. Actually he had two dreams. It turns out the dreams came to pass. But the fact that they eventually came to pass is not the point, at least immediately. At the time no one believed that Joseph’s dreams would come to pass.
Whether it was wise of Joseph to share these dreams with his brothers—well, that’s another question. There’s no question that Joseph was young, and seemingly overconfident of himself, extremely self assured, and beyond that, maybe he had just a little bit of pride that made him hard to get along with.
Joseph didn’t have to tell anyone about this dream, but it was a dream that favored him, so Joseph cast any caution he might have felt about sharing the dream to the wind. Joseph had a dream in which all of the brothers were binding sheaves of grain in the field.
Suddenly, according to Joseph’s dream, his sheaf of grain stood up, towering above the sheaves of grain assembled by his brothers. In Joseph’s dream, his brother’s sheaves of grain gathered around his sheave and bowed down before it.
The dream obviously depicted Joseph as the leader, even though he was the youngest. Perhaps, at 17, he was too young to realize that telling his brothers this dream would only increase the animosity they already felt toward him. He related the dream to his brothers, and, as Genesis 37:8 says, they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.
Then Joseph, the favorite younger son, already despised by his brothers, had another dream. Once again he came out of this dream smelling like a rose. The dream was different but the obvious meaning of the dream was the same. This time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down in front of Joseph.
Once again this 17-year-old could not resist telling his brothers and his father about this dream. This somewhat obnoxious teenager seemed, at least to his brothers, to be flaunting the special treatment he received, rubbing his brother’s noses in it.
This time, when he told his family about this second dream, it seemed that Joseph’s air of superiority even offended Jacob, so his father put him in his place, and of course this second dream meant that his brother’s deep-seated jealously became even more entrenched.
Following those two dreams Joseph’s 11 brothers took the families’ sheep to graze in distant pastures. The family lived in Hebron. The brothers, in search of better pasture, had traveled to Shechem, about 40 miles due north.
Joseph’s brothers were out working—everyone except Joseph. For some reason Joseph didn’t have to get his hands dirty. Maybe he, or even Jacob, was worried about getting that richly ornamented robe dirty. Whatever the reason was, Joseph had remained behind, at home.
It had been months since the brothers left, so Jacob asked Joseph to visit them, taking them care-packages filled with food and goodies. Joseph went to Shechem, only to discover that his brothers had taken the flocks to an even more distant location, a place called Dothan, some 15-18 miles northwest of Shechem. They were now 60 miles from home. Sixty miles, in those days, in terms of separation and accessibility, was more like 600 miles today. It took some effort to travel 60 miles.
As Joseph approached, his brothers saw him coming—no doubt the robe that Joseph was wearing was like a neon sign that helped his brothers identify him. Verse 18 says that even as he was in the distance they started to plot to kill him.
Joseph, at 17 years of age, leaves Hebron, where he was at home and safe with his father (Hebron means “a place of fellowship”) and travels to Shechem, which means “shoulder”—or “place of burdens.” Joseph doesn’t find his brothers there. So he continues on to a place named Dothan, which means, “a place of deep pits.”
Joseph was oblivious of what was on the horizon. This journey was taking him into a literal pit. His dreams were about to wind up in the pits. When his brothers saw him they tore into him like wild animals. They unleashed their pent-up rage and hostility, ripping off the hated robe, and threw Joseph into the depths of a dark, muddy pit—what was left of an empty well.
They would have killed Joseph had not Reuben, the oldest, intervened. They may have left Joseph to die in that dark, muddy pit, but while they were eating (ironically they may well have been eating some of the food that Joseph had brought to them) Judah suggested they not only avoid killing Joseph, but make a little money as well.
So they sold Joseph into slavery. They decided to cover up their dastardly actions by taking that hated, richly ornamented robe, dipping it in animal’s blood, and then taking it home to their father with the story that they had found the robe, but not Joseph’s body, and assumed that Joseph had been killed by some ferocious animal.
Now of course you know that the story does not end there. The dreams of Joseph didn’t just remain in that one muddy pit. The story actually gets worse. Joseph is taken to Egypt as a slave, and then falsely accused of rape by a woman whose advances he spurned. Joseph winds up in a “deeper” pit—this time it was a prison.
Dreams once again became part of Joseph’s story. God gives him the gift of accurately interpreting the dreams of two of his fellow prisoners. Through that experience the Pharaoh of Egypt hears of Joseph, and when Pharaoh has a dream, he asks Joseph to interpret, and again God gives Joseph the interpretation.
Eventually Joseph winds up as the ruler of Egypt, answerable to no one other than the Pharaoh himself. And it is in that capacity that his two original dreams, the ones that had his brothers as subservient to him, come to pass. In a time of famine his brothers make their way to Egypt, and, though not initially recognizing Joseph, given the passing of years, and the splendor of his high and lofty office, the brothers ask Joseph for grain to take home to feed their families.
There is a wonderful story of reconciliation as this story concludes (see Genesis 45) but that’s not the emphasis of our passage. Our passage is all about Joseph in the pit – it’s about times When Your Dreams Wind Up in the Pit. I suggest there are at least two lessons for you and me in this account:
# 1: Pits Don’t Blot Out the Hope You Have in Christ. Because you are in Christ, and he is in you (1 John 4:15-17) finding yourself in a pit of despair does not mean the dream that God has given you is over.
Sometimes we are in a pit because we deserve it. Sometimes we’re in a pit because our actions and behaviors have been as silly, foolish and stupid as, it would seem, Joseph’s were. No one, of course, deserves to be beaten and left for dead, or sold into slavery. But the biblical story seems to indicate that Joseph was his own worst enemy.
Whether you are in a pit because of your own foolishness, or because you truly are a victim of circumstances, pits don’t blot out the hope we have in Christ. The bottom of the pit may be dark, putrid, filled with mud and little slimy creatures crawling around, but the pits in which we may find ourselves are not the end of the dream God gives each of us.
It doesn’t matter whether you have dug your own spiritual pit through your own behavior, or whether you are in a pit because you are a victim; either way, there is good news. God will deliver you if you put your trust in him.
# 2: When You’re in a Pit, There’s No Guarantee Things Will Get Better
When we find ourselves down and out, when it seems like things just can’t get any worse—sometimes they do! When it seems like God can’t be much of a God for letting all this bad stuff happen to us, predicaments/accidents/catastrophes which are even worse can happen. We can be pulled out of one pit only to encounter another.
Once Joseph is sold as a slave in Egypt, just as it seems his life is stabilizing, as his “career” is on track, he is falsely accused of rape and condemned to prison.
When things are bad, and then they get worse, that doesn’t mean the dream is over.
At such a time we are tempted to give up, to curse God, to become disillusioned and even bitter. When those kinds of times happen in your life, always remain centered in and on Jesus—he is the goal. He is the object of our faith. He is our Savior. He is the center of our being.
Don’t give into bitterness. Bitterness is a spiritual cancer that will destroy you. It’s been rightly said that bitterness is an acid that destroys its own container.
Martin Luther King Jr. is perhaps most famous for his “I Have A Dream” speech.
We all know that Martin Luther King Jr. was killed before he could see the fulfillment of the vision he had, proclaimed in “I Have A Dream.” In fact, had he lived, while he could have seen progress toward that dream, he would still not, as you and I do not today, see the complete fulfillment of that dream.
Dreams and hopes of a better day are often not totally fulfilled in our lifetimes. Our hope, as Christians, is the fulness of the kingdom of heaven, and of course our own resurrection, which we read about in 1 Corinthians 15. We dream and hope of the kingdom of heaven.
While we realize that the kingdom of heaven, our dream, our ultimate hope, will never completely be fulfilled in our culture, apart from the Second Coming of Jesus Christ, we realize we may live a part of that kingdom in the here-and-now.
The kingdom is truly here already, in the person of our risen Lord, who lives his life in those who, without reservation, surrender to him and trust in him, to do for them what they can never do for themselves.
In that sense, our dream (though we experience dark places of gloom and despair) will gradually grow in our lives, as we trust in God and as Jesus lives within us. The dream, the hope, the kingdom of heaven, will grow, slowly, like that mustard seed that Jesus spoke of in one of his parables.
When Your Dreams Wind Up in the Pit, they aren’t over. It may well be that things will get worse before they get better, but if your hope is in the Lord, if your dream is of his kingdom, your dreams will come true. In Christ, by God’s grace, your dreams will be fulfilled. You can take that to the bank of heaven.