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Bible Commentaries

Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae

Genesis 37

 

 

Verse 4

DISCOURSE: 50

JOSEPH ENVIED BY HIS BRETHREN

Genesis 37:4. When his brethren saw that his father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.

WE are not expressly told in Scripture that the events of Joseph’s life were intended to prefigure those which should afterwards be accomplished in the Messiah: but the humiliation and exaltation of each, together with the means whereby both the one and the other were effected, are so much alike, that we can scarcely view them in any other light than as a typical prophecy fulfilled in the Antitype. It is not however our intention to prosecute the history of Joseph in this view: we shall rather notice some of the most striking particulars as tending to elucidate the passions by which mankind in general are actuated, and the changes to which they are exposed. The words of our text describe the dispositions of his brethren towards him; and will lead us to consider,

I. The occasions of his brethren’s hatred—

Joseph was pre-eminently marked as the object of his father’s love—

[That his father should love him above all his brethren is not to be wondered at: Joseph was born to him of his beloved Rachel; and in him, Rachel, though dead, might be said to live. He was also imbued with early piety, whilst his brethren were addicted to all manner of evil; insomuch that he himself was forced to report their wickedness to his father, in order that they might be corrected and restrained by his parental authority. It is probable also that he stayed at home to minister to his aged father, whilst they were occupied in their pastoral cares; and that he won the affections of his parent by his dutiful and incessant assiduities.

As a general principle, we highly disapprove of partiality in parents towards their children; though we think it justified, when it is founded on a great and manifest difference in their moral character; inasmuch as it is a parent’s duty to mark his approbation of religion and morals. But in no case ought that partiality to be shewn by such vain distinctions as Jacob adopted. Joseph’s “coat of many colours” was calculated to generate nothing but vanity in the possessor, and envy in those who thought themselves equally entitled to their parent’s favour: and indeed this very distinction proved a source of all the calamities which afterwards befell him.]

God himself also was pleased to point him out as destined to far higher honours—

[God revealed to him in dreams that all his family should one day make obeisance to him. The dreams were doubled, as Pharaoh’s afterwards were [Note: Genesis 41:32.], to shew that his exaltation above all his family, and their humblest submission to him, should surely come to pass. These dreams being divulged by Joseph, he became more than ever an object of most inveterate hatred to his brethren. They could not endure that even God himself should exercise his sovereign will towards him. They considered every favour shewn to him (whether by God or man) as an injury done to themselves; and the more he was honoured, the more were they offended at him. They did not consider, that he was not to be blamed for his father’s partiality, nor to be condemned for those destinies which he could neither procure nor prevent. Blinded by envy, they could see nothing in him that was good and commendable, but made every thing which he either said or did, an occasion of blame.]

To set his brethren’s conduct in its true light, we will endeavour to shew,

II. The evil of that principle by which they were actuated—

Envy is one of the most hateful passions in the human heart:

1. It is most unreasonable in itself—

[It is called forth by the honour or advantages which another enjoys above ourselves. Now if those advantages be merited, why should we grudge the person the possession of them? If they be not acquired by merit, still they are given to him by the unerring providence of God, who “has a right to do what he will with his own. Is our eye then to be evil because he is good [Note: Matthew 20:15.] ?” Besides, the things which we envy a person the possession of, are often snares, which we should rather fear than covet: and, at best, they are only talents, of which he must soon give an awful account to God. If therefore we are sensible how little improvement we have made of the talents already committed to us, we shall see at once how little reason we have to envy others their increased responsibility.]

2. It is extremely injurious both to ourselves and others—

[Nothing can be more destructive of a person’s own happiness than to yield to this hateful passion. It causes him to derive pain from those things which ought to afford him pleasure; and to have his enmity augmented by those very qualities which ought rather to conciliate his regard. It is justly declared to be “the rottenness of the bones [Note: Proverbs 14:30.].” It corrodes our inmost souls, so that we can enjoy no comfort whatever, while we are under its malignant influence. And there is nothing so spiteful, nothing so murderous, which we shall not both devise and execute, when we are subject to its power [Note: James 3:16.]. Behold Cain, when envying Abel the testimonies of God’s approbation: behold Saul, when he heard David celebrated as a greater warrior than himself: how downcast their looks! what wrathful and vindictive purposes did they form! how were they changed into incarnate fiends! Thus it was also with Joseph’s brethren, who could be satisfied with nothing but the utter destruction of the envied object.]

3. It renders us as unlike to God as possible—

[See how our God and Saviour acted towards us in our fallen state: instead of rejoicing in our misery, he sought to redeem us from it, and sacrificed his own happiness and glory to re-establish us in the state from which we had fallen. What a contrast to this does the envious person exhibit! He repines at the happiness of others, whilst God is grieved at their misery: he seeks the destruction of others, whilst God labours for their welfare: he breaks through every restraint to effect their ruin, though with the loss of his own soul; whilst God takes upon him all the pains of hell, in order to exalt as to the blessedness of heaven. He is thus hostile to those who have never injured him, whilst God loads with his benefits those who have lived in a constant scene of rebellion against him. What can set the passion of envy in a more hateful light than this?]

4. It transforms us into the very image of the devil—

[Satan was once an angel of light, as happy as any that are now before the throne: but he kept not his first estate: he sinned; and thereby brought upon himself the wrath of Almighty God. It pleased God afterwards to form another order of beings, who were designed to fill up, as it were, the seats from which the fallen spirits had been driven. But this envious spirit strove to turn them from their allegiance. He knew well enough that he could not thereby mitigate his own misery: but he could not endure to see others happy, whilst he himself was miserable: yea, he was willing even to augment his own guilt and misery, provided he might destroy the happiness of man. With the same view he afterwards strove to set God against his servant Job, in order that he might deprive that holy man of his integrity and bliss. In this mirror let the envious man behold himself, and he will discern every lineament of his own hateful image. Well did Jesus say of such persons, “Ye are of your father, the devil, and the lusts of your lather ye will do [Note: John 8:44.].”]

By way of improving the subject, let us inquire,

1. Whence it is that persons are so unconscious of this principle within them?

[It is not surely, because they have not this principle in their hearts; for, “Hath the Scripture said in vain, The spirit that dwelleth in us lusteth to envy [Note: James 4:5.] ?” No: all are more or less actuated by it, till it has been conquered by divine grace. But it is confessedly a mean principle, and therefore men are averse to acknowledge its existence in them. It is also a principle easily concealed by specious coverings. Its effects are ascribed to just indignation against sin: and the most eminent virtues of a person are blackened by the most opprobrious names, in order to justify the resentment which it excites in the bosom. Other strong passions, as lust and anger, are more determinate in their actings, and therefore less capable of being hid from our own view; but envy, like avarice, is of so doubtful a character, and admits of so many plausible excuses, that those who are most subject to it are unconscious of its existence and operation within them.]

2. How it may be discerned?

[Envy is not excited, except where the advancement or happiness of another appears within our own reach. To discern its workings therefore, we must watch the actings of our mind towards persons whose situation and circumstances nearly accord with our own. The principle is then most strongly operative, when there is a degree of rivalry or competition existing. People do not like to be excelled in that line wherein they themselves affect distinction. The female that courts admiration, the tradesman that values himself upon the superiority of his goods, the scholar that is a candidate for fame, the statesman that is ambitious of honour, must consider how he feels, when he sees himself outstripped in his course; whether he would not be glad to hear that his successful competitor had failed in his expectations; whether his ear is not open to any thing that may reduce his rival to a level with himself; whether, in short, the fine coat and promised elevation of Joseph do not grieve him? Let persons be attentive to the motions of their hearts on such occasions as these, and they will find that this accursed principle is exceeding strong within them; and that they need to watch and pray against it continually, if they would gain the mastery over it in any measure.]

3. How it may be subdued?

[Doubtless many things might be prescribed which would conduce to this end. We content ourselves however with specifying only two. First, Let us endeavour to get a knowledge of our own vileness. When we have thoroughly learned that we deserve God’s wrath and indignation, we shall account it a mercy that we are out of hell. We shall not then be grieved at any preference shewn to others. We shall see that we have already far more than we deserve; and we shall be willing that others should enjoy what God has given them, when we see how mercifully he has dealt with us.

Next, Let us get our hearts filled with love to our fellow-creatures. We do not envy those whom we love: the more we love any person, the more we rejoice in his advancement. The Apostle justly says, “Charity envieth not.” Let us beg of God then to implant this better principle in our hearts. Then shall our selfish passions be mortified and subdued; and we shall be made like unto him, whose name is Love [Note: 1 John 4:8.].]

 


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Bibliography Information
Simeon, Charles. "Commentary on Genesis 37:4". Charles Simeon's Horae Homileticae. http://odl.studylight.org/commentaries/shh/genesis-37.html. 1832.

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