Genesis 37:19-20 (The Message)
They spotted Joseph off in the distance. By the time he got to them they had cooked up a plot to kill him. The brothers were saying, “Here comes that dreamer. Let’s kill him and throw him into one of these old cisterns; we can say that a vicious animal ate him up. We’ll see what his dreams amount to.”
You think your family has issues? Well, you certainly may be right– most families do. But Joseph’s family is off-the-charts dysfunctional. After all, it is very rare to have family members actively plotting to kill each other. Family disagreements may be somewhat stressful, but they don’t often end in actual bloodshed.
Joseph was the youngest of Jacob’s sons, and was a bit of a socially clueless kid. He repeatedly told his big brothers about dreams that clearly had them bowing down in front of him. It’s not surprising that they were annoyed by this. “‘So! You’re going to rule us? You’re going to boss us around?’ And they hated him more than ever because of his dreams and the way he talked” (Genesis 37:8).
The dysfunction really shows up when we jump from that scene of fairly typical sibling squabbling to the conspiracy in today’s reading. The brothers decided to do away with the Joseph problem– permanently. As they were plotting what to do with the boy, a trading caravan passed by. The brothers leapt at the opportunity, and sold Joseph for twenty pieces of silver. They told themselves that this was a good decision. At least they didn’t kill him!
I’m sure the fact that he hadn’t actually been murdered by his brothers was an immense comfort to the shackled and terrified Joseph as he traveled away from everything he knew to spend the rest of his life in captivity. (Slight sarcasm there.) What would lead someone to make such a terrible, destructive decision? And, perhaps even more importantly to us right now, how do we keep from making dangerous decisions?
I’d like to offer a simple process that I use whenever I’m faced with a choice.
First, stop and pray. Don’t laugh. I know this seems like a really obvious first step, but how many decisions do we make each day without asking God to be a part of it? Praying invites God to guide us. God knows the bigger picture, so doesn’t it make sense to ask for God’s wisdom? Praying also has the lovely side benefit of slowing us down, keeping us from rushing into an unhealthy choice.
Second, think about what the consequences might be for each possibility. Who will be affected, and what could the effect be? Part of this step is the “bracelet question.” Remember the WWJD? bracelets that people wore back in the 90s? “What Would Jesus Do?” Even though the fad passed, the question is still seriously valid. Based on what you know about Jesus, what decision do you believe he would he make, if faced with the same options? What is the most loving, most healing action you can take?
Third, if you’re still not sure, or if it is a major decision, run the options by people you trust. Ask people who are wiser than you are, people who will not just tell you whatever they think you want to hear, people who will lovingly tell you the truth even if the truth is hard.
Stop. Pray. Think. Ask. Then decide.
And, no matter how annoying your little brother is, resist the temptation to sell him into slavery. Always a good decision.
What is the process you go through when you make an important decision?