Beckett: Pastor’s Thoughts – The Folly of Joseph’s Youth (Genesis 37:5-8)

“Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Hear this dream that I have dreamt: Behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and behold, my sheaf arose and stood upright. And behold, your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Or are you indeed to rule over us?’ So, they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” (Genesis 37:5-8).

When Joseph tells his brothers another dream he had that essentially says the same thing as the first, their father Israel rebukes him (v. 10). However, Israel “keeps the saying in mind” (v. 11), meaning he considers Joseph’s dreams as being truthful. Of course, it does happen, no thanks to Joseph’s own folly, but rather thanks to God’s faithfulness. Yet perhaps God was counting on his foolhardiness to bring this about!

It wasn’t very wise for Joseph, the youngest brother, to go around telling his brothers he was having dreams of his eventual superiority over them. Joseph’s retelling of his dreams to his brothers only increase their envy and hatred of their brother, which eventually leads to their selling him into slavery (rather than killing him, as they originally planned). Joseph is either too ignorant or too stupid to realise the effect his arrogance is having upon his brothers, most likely his youthful ignorance.

Thus, God, in His foreknowledge, who may have been counting on Joseph’s folly to get himself into his unfortunate predicament, is also with him despite his folly. This is good news for us, especially in the folly of our own youth! I can recall countless time when I’ve done and said many stupid things in my youth, even in matters of doubt and faithlessness. Yet as I reflect on these moments, there I see God present despite my youthful folly. The same is true for all Christians, for our folly cannot thwart the wisdom of God; neither can our supposed intelligence thwart what we deem God’s folly. In the words of St. Paul:

Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach [Christ crucified and risen] to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

1 Corinthians 1:20-25

Furthermore, compared to the infinite majesty of God, we as finite creatures will forever remain youthful and foolish. For in matters of God, we say and do foolish things in our perennial youthful existence before the eternal, living God. We put forth philosophies, sciences, and rationalities with our chests puffed up thinking these thwart the mind of God; but alas, His supposed folly (Christ crucified and risen) thwarts our youthful stupidity that seeks to fathom the miraculous and supernatural with natural means (supernatural literally means beyond the natural).

It is no wonder, then, that the holy proverb says, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). Why is this so? Because when one realises who God is—Yahweh of Hosts, Almighty, Everlasting God, Holy, Omnipotent, Omniscient, Omnipresent, etc.—it is only natural that one fears Him. Fearing Him is the beginning of wisdom because one who fears Him comes to the liberating realisation, “Yahweh has created all things; He can likewise destroy them. Even me. I have rebelled against this God since birth, and I deserve death and condemnation. Therefore, I can only run to Him for mercy and refuge. Thanks be to God that He graciously offers such salvation and deliverance! And I see His mercy for me in Christ on the cross, who took upon Himself my just punishment, who is risen from the dead!”

The word for this is repentance—a turning back from our rebellion and toward the embracing arms of God in His Son, Jesus Christ. In repentance, we are the devil’s dissenters and become the Lord’s holy refugees whom he makes His dear children. Repentance, therefore, is the wisdom of God; unrepentant living is the folly of our perennial human youth. Thanks be to God, then, that despite the perpetual state of our human, youthful ignorance, God is with us (Immanuel) in Christ His Son, forgiving us through His means of grace in the Word and Sacraments administered and distributed through the Body of Christ, the church.

Theology Terms Used

Finite: existing within time; limited, creaturely. Every creature of God—human, mammal, fish, bug, etc.—are finite beings, except for angels.

Foreknowledge: “to know in advance. God’s omniscient knowledge includes all times and places. He knows everything that will happen before it occurs” (Mueller, 518).

Infinite: existing outside of time; without limits. Only God and His angels are infinite.

Means of Grace: the means, or method, by which God distributes His grace, that is, the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation, particularly through His Word and Sacraments (Absolution, Baptism, the Eucharist) in the church.

Omnipotent: all-powerful.

Omnipresent: present everywhere simultaneously.

Omniscient: all-knowing.

Repentance: literally, “turn back,” i.e., genuine godly sorrow in the confession of sins, the reception of forgiveness by faith, and literally changing one’s thinking and behaviour in accordance with God’s grace.


Featured Image from “The History of Joseph and His Brethren” by Owen Jones, 1869. Wikimedia Commons.

Mueller, Steven P. Called by the Gospel: Called to Believe, Teach, and Confess: An Introduction to Doctrinal Theology. Eugene, OR: Wipf & Stock Pubslihers, 2005.

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