Joseph Is Sold into Slavery

Open Your Bible

Genesis 37:1-36, Job 5:2, Psalm 77:2

The ugliest moments of my life have been marked by jealousy. It is perhaps my most defining sin, and it masquerades as pride, fear, insecurity, and relationship-crushing meanness. Envy dehumanizes everyone around me; it removes their own agency as creative, talented, smart image-bearers of God. I no longer see them as their own persons, but rather as measuring sticks for my own worth. Too often, I think, I’m better than so-and-so at that, but nowhere near as good as that other person. If jealousy is my economy, cynicism and narcissism are the currency I trade. If that sounds harsh or out of proportion, it’s not. I think that jealousy and envy are the root of most conflicts between people, and unadmitted jealousy festers and slowly destroys relationships.

Envy is threaded through the Bible, a throughline of sin from Cain and Abel, Rachel and Leah, Saul and David, the pharisees who watched Jesus draw crowds to Himself, and more. In history, art, and literature, examples are rampant. In Shakespeare’s Othello, Iago cautions Othello about such envy: “Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on.”

Joseph is the victim of his brothers’ jealousy, which robs him of his family, his home, his dignity, and almost his life. His brothers strip him of his robe and would have killed him, but sold him to a band of traders instead. It was perhaps the equivalent of death in their eyes: they expected to never see him again, and delivered the news of his death to their father Jacob.

As modern readers, we know how the story goes: Joseph trusts the Lord, and the Lord protects him. He rises to power in Egypt and eventually saves his family from famine and forgives his brothers. But the moment we read about today in Genesis 37 doesn’t have any of that goodness— only pain. And by not reading ahead, we can force ourselves to sit in the devastation wreaked by Joseph’s brothers. Jacob mourns the loss of his son and cannot be comforted. Joseph is sold again, this time to an Egyptian official. No longer in control, Joseph has lost all agency at the hands of his jealous brothers.

This is that same “green-eyed monster,” and throughout Scripture, we are warned against its fallout. Proverbs 14:30 cautions that “a tranquil heart is life to the body, but jealousy is rottenness to the bones.” Ecclesiastes 4:4 tells us that “all labor and all skillful work is due to one person’s jealousy of another. This too is futile and a pursuit of the wind.” And James 3:16 advises that “where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice.”

Scripture certainly doesn’t hold back about the consequences of jealousy, and neither should we. As I read about Joseph’s story, I’m aware that I should “let it read me”: Where is my jealousy hurting people that I love? Where is it corroding my heart and sowing disorder? Where is it disordering my priorities away from Christ and toward my own selfish gain? These are important questions to ask because jealousy isn’t something to be taken lightly. My prayer is that I never will.

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43 thoughts on "Joseph Is Sold into Slavery"

  1. Amelia Hughes says:

    Terri, the next chapter I think is his form of “punishment.” Although, ultimately God uses his line for His purpose and Jesus then descends from that line. God can take broken and make it beautiful.

  2. Nelle says:

    Very powerful anecdote. Your courage to be candid will (and probably has), provided healing for so many others.

  3. Gwen Stanga says:

    It’s tricky… the brothers were definitely jealous and it got the best of them. However Joseph could have dialed it down as well.

  4. Kari says:

    Wow. Melanie, this was so powerful. I’m at a loss for words.

  5. Laurel says:

    Envy is the resentful longing for another’s possession(s), while jealousy is the fear of losing a possession to someone. These words are often used as synonyms, but they are not. Often, I am envious of other’s accomplishments, apparent ease in life, and/or ability to be gracious with their time and energy. It is a vice I am aware of and am working to replace with gratitude and thanksgiving.

    1. Gina Snow says:

      Thank you for making this distinction! God Himself describes Himself as Jealous (Exodus 34:14). Envy is always a sin. I see jealousy as neutral and sometimes positive in us humans.

  6. Jessica Nicolas says:

    Jealousy is one of those traps the enemy lives to use within women. He wants us to be led by comparison in stead of LOVE. Then we find ourselves shackled by lies and pride. I CHOOSE LOVE. I CHOOSE JOY. I CHOOSE FREEDOM.

  7. K says:

    I am convicted of jealousy. A woman at work has not always treated me right. However, people are now turning on her. I need to defend her, and repent. This is awful, but part of me was glad they were seeing her inadequacies. They could then see and praise what I know. How disgusting of me. That is not Christ-like at all. I am realizing how horrible I can be. I wouldn’t be able to do anything with God giving me the ability. I shouldn’t want human praise. I need to work to give God glory.

  8. Stacey Crawshaw says:

    I can sooo relate to this story and it reminds me that I need to confess and repent of this. Jealousy is so ugly. I think I will print out the Ten Commandments and put it somewhere I see it every day. Thou shall not covet …

  9. Autumn Kirtland says:

    I just realized a big source of conflict in my marriage – I am jealous of my husband. Whoa! I couldn’t pin point what my issue has been lately but I’ve just been so snippy at him. He is very smart, he is good at almost everything, he has a job he loves & he’s always so calm. We have a lot of similarities but are also very different. I was not very academic, I have to work hard at a lot of things & I am not super calm… lol. I stay at home with my kids but if I’m 100% honest, it’s really hard & I don’t absolutely love it. There are lot more examples but I’m blown away by this realization.

  10. Lia says:

    I’ve struggled with jealousy in friendships recently, and I feel so sad at how that does not reflect Christ’s warm, full acceptance of me… I think it’s due to a lack mindset too, ‘there’s not enough to go around’. But in God’s economy, there will always be more than enough for all. Thanks for these great thoughts this morning!

  11. Jennifer Anapol says:

    I think that gratefulness is the anecdote to jealousy. When I am jealous, I find that when I stop and thank God for all that he has given me, the jealousy takes a backseat to thankfulness. I pray that I would choose to walk in this thankfulness, with the strength of the Holy Spirit, instead of jealousy.

  12. Allison Bentley says:

    I loved this and so needed today. I feel like in a world of facebook and other social media forums we are constantly “measuring” our lives to those of others finding ourselves guilty of being jealous and making others jealous!!! SRT let’s do a study on jealousy!!

  13. Rebecca Bush says:

    Thank you Bessie for this different perspective on jealousy. For different reasons, I have been the object of other family members jealousy. It is not fun or pretty and has caused much heartache. It’s my fervent prayer to move beyond this and restore family relationships to be even better than before.

  14. Nadine Hall says:

    This devotional reminded me of James 4:1: “What is the source of wars and fights among you? Don’t they come from your passions that wage war within you?” Jealousy and envy and pride are at the root of all conflict. Even as I watch my own children fight and argue over Paw Patrol toys, I remember that the source of their fighting is not the toys themselves but their selfish hearts that desire to have it all, but are never truly satisfied. Peace and joy come to relationships when we find ourselves satisfied with Christ. We don’t need to be jealous of what others have for in Christ, we have all we need.

  15. Madi says:

    This is what I needed to hear this morning. My favorite part of this application is the understanding of how toxic jealousy is. We can truly get so caught up in comparing ourselves to others and without even knowing it, we have shut people out because they are “better than us” or “have their life together” way more than us.

  16. Chris Swan says:

    What a great devotion— thank you ladies.

  17. Amber says:

    Genesis 42:21-25 “We are being punished on account of our brother”

  18. Mari V says:

    I’m sincerely asking the Lord to search my heart and show me areas where I’ve been or being jealous or envious. I don’t want to be that! I’ve lived a simple life and pretty much had what I needed. No extras. I guess you can say I’ve been envious and asking God why can’t I have that. Why do they get to do this or that. However even though I’m back in my old room living with my mom because I can’t afford to live on my own, I am blessed. I’m blessed I have a home. I am blessed I have a loving mom (though we bud heads sometimes). I feel safe and secure here. It’s peaceful here (my mom is a prayer warrior) and this is where my healing began. This home belongs to Jesus.

  19. Terri says:

    Where in Scripture is Judah punished in any way for selling Jospeh into slavery? Must be okay with God. He was not a child. These are grown men.

  20. Allison Sherwood says:

    I understand that jealousy is bad, but to provoke others to jealousy, is that also bad? I can’t help but think about how Joseph kept sharing his dreams with his brothers and his family: did he not know that he would cause such a reaction when he did so? I assume he understood the basic implications of what his dreams meant, so why did he share them with the people who were already so willing to get rid of him?

  21. Maura says:

    I have been caught in jealousy it is a monster. I believe it always shows my focus is on the wrong thing. My prayer is Lord, help me to see others and myself with your eyes, your love, and your grace. He never fails. And when I realize we all have our struggles and pain and deep need of Jesus it reminds me I am loved beyond measure as are the people I might be feeling these thought that are not from our Lord. And I can look up instead of down and release it all to the King.Hugs Sisters.

  22. NanaK says:

    As I am reading through your responses to the study this morning, I cannot hold back tears. Ahh, Tina….once again, your words hit home!

    “I think and know these are the insecurities of the past, yet they still rear their ugly head, and get me all discombobulated..yeap, discombobulated!”

    When I allow those insecurities from the past to take hold in my mind, I am giving satan a strong-hold there. This is something I know, but is oh so hard to overcome. However, as my dear Sister across the pond reminds me—“but God…”

    LORD, I pray anew that I can refocus any insecurities that flare up in me to You and the cross. I pray that I will recall that I am your child and see myself and others through Your eyes.

    Thank you dear Sisters for sharing.

  23. Erin B says:

    Recognizing the jealousy (and the brothers sin/cruelty) in this story is huge, but it wasn’t until I was an adult that I ever heard anyone give any shared blame to Joseph’s thoughtless/haughty conduct with his brothers. I saw Joseph for a long time like his musical theatre self, just very innocent and righteous and resilient— you know “poor poor Joseph…”. He has always been a character I identified with honestly, because of life trials but also because of natural giftedness, and being hated on for it. God has made me realize over time though, that Joseph had a big mouth, and very little tact. He gloated to his brothers (though perhaps out of dreamy naïveté) and thought himself cooler than them. We do know that a lot of that was probably Jacob’s doing, for favoring him so openly and sowing dissent, but still. Clearly, God had things to teach both Joseph and his brothers.

    1. Hannah Robinett says:

      That’s a very good point! Thanks so much for sharing.

  24. Megan Ruth says:

    I often find myself wrestling with jealousy in my relationships with other believers—jealousy of their spiritual gifts, their beautiful ministry, their seeming spiritual strength. I find all the ways I fault short of being them, instead of remembering that the real issue—falling short of the glory of God has already been dealt with at the cross! And now, we are, in Christ, “God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved” (Colossians 3:12). We were each created uniquely to glorify Him and yet we are each held securely in the same love. Thanks be to God

  25. Bessie H says:

    I have sort of a different take on jealousy. I have been the one that my friends/family are jealous of because I have been blessed with grandchildren. Several of them do not have and most likely will not have grandchildren. Sort of like Joseph, I was insensitive to how my talking about my grandchildren was hurtful. Finally, my friend told me that she was very jealous of me. She said this in tears and my heart broke.
    Sometimes I think that it is just as important to be aware of being a source of jealousy and to react with love and gentleness. My prayer is that God will open my eyes to see the pain that others are experiencing and to react as He would.

    1. Jennifer Anapol says:

      Thank you for sharing this different perspective.

    2. Natasha R says:

      Thank you for this perspective, Bessie. I have been reflecting on the same thing. I need to be aware of when I am boastful and showing off, and risk inciting jealousy in others.

    3. K D says:

      Thank you for how you’ve articulated this – it is what I needed today.

  26. Sarah says:

    “If jealousy is my economy, cynicism and narcissism are the currency I trade. If that sounds harsh or out of proportion, it’s not. I think that jealousy and envy are the root of most conflicts between people, and unadmitted jealousy festers and slowly destroys relationships.” This is so good. As soon as I read Melanie’s first line—”The ugliest moments of my life have been marked by jealousy”— I recognized myself. What have I done because of jealousy in my life? What decisions have I made? How have I alienated people? Who have I thrown into a pit or traded away? And… why? Because we want to be the best and the most special, have the most, be the winners, be the most recognized. Have the coat of many colors. We can be small, mean, vindictive people, just like Joseph’s brothers. I’ve been working on recognizing and eliminating jealousy in my life the past year or so, replacing envy of others with celebrating other’s good news. I feel so much more at peace, so much less tangled inside. Thank you for this reminder of just how treacherous jealousy can be!

  27. Kara says:

    We talk a lot about comparison these days and recognize how harmful it is to the psyche. However we often shy away from the real issue: jealousy. I think that’s because we can’t stop jealousy on our own, the same way we can try to stop comparing. Giving up jealousy requires confession and allowing God to fill the places of desire and emptiness.

    Lord, reveal the ways I am jealous and turn my eyes to you only.

  28. Lindsey Bailey says:

    I’ve read this story many times and think about those brothers from a somewhat judgy viewpoint. How could they do such a thing? But, in reality. Jealousy and envy weave their tentacles around so many relationships in my own life that they create the same ugly pit that Joseph’s brothers threw him into. It may be less overt, but the consequences are always death. Death to a connection. Death to a relationship. Melanie mentions James 3:16, Where there is envy and selfish ambition, there is disorder and every evil practice. I may not be selling people into physical slavery or throwing them into deep caverns, but I have to wonder how many caverns I have created doing life with a heart full of selfish ambition.

  29. Searching says:

    I’m not sure of the best label for Joseph’s behavior as the favored son – maybe pride or even cockiness. Yes, he was favored and, if his reporting of his dreams to his brothers was an example of his typical attitude, he flaunted it and at least to some extent, taunted them. And really, what else would you expect from a 17 year old? I’m far from 17 and pray that if I’ve been blessed with anything or see another’s blessing that might spur jealousy that my only response is thankfulness for what I have and pray it is used for the purpose God intended.

  30. Libby K says:

    Yes! So true. When the ugly jealousy wells up in me, it’s usually because I am far from God. Not being secure in who I am in Him. Lord, help us to focus on who You say we are!

  31. Angie says:

    Until the age of about 7, my parents were alcoholics. Then they became Christians. My dad was even a preacher for several years. There were also years in my adulthood where, hurt by the church and tired of being poor, they fell back into the patterns of their early life, in more ways than alcohol. The good news is, God never stopped drawing them, never stopped loving them, and never stopped caring for us. Why tell total strangers this? I remember as a little girl being embarrassed about my home life. I remember hearing my mom, grandmother, and aunt in fights on the phone with each other, all the time…fights founded in jealousy over who was the most loved or got the most stuff. I remember praying one day and asking God to, NOT, let me do that. As a child of about tenish I asked Him if the cycle could be broken with me.
    So often bad events in a person’s childhood cause them to make excuses for poor choices they make as adults. I am not saying the events in our childhood do not have an effect on us, I believe fully they do. Joseph’s childhood was “something.” He could have gotten mad at God and held anger and hurt against his brothers, waiting for revenge. But, he chose not to. Those choices, (he probably made daily), opened the door for God to work most fully in His life. They opened the door for God to be honored, and positive results came to Joseph as well.
    Growing up in an alcoholic family during my early years allows me as a teacher to spread hope to my students in similar situations. It allows me to understand more fully what they may be going through. God has used it for good in my life. Don’t get me wrong…many of them go through so much more than I ever did. But I love them differently than I would have, had my growing up years all been peachy-cream. I believe God has used the circumstances of my life to cut away and shape this clay, me. My sister and I talked last night about how our dad would tell us, “this hard stuff will make you better.” As little girls, with broken hearts our answer sometimes was, “I don’t want to be better, I just don’t want to hurt anymore.”
    As an adult, I don’t ever feel like “I don’t want to be better,” for the closer I draw to Jesus, the better for Him I want to be (while at the same time recognizing, it isn’t about how good or not good I am – and yet in love I long to please and obey Him). Sometimes though, I do still feel like, “I just don’t want to hurt anymore.” When that happens, I can look back and praise God because EVERY TIME, ALL THE TIME, He has been faithful. As I turn to Him with my heart in His hands, I KNOW, whatever, however, this ends…He will use it for good. I do trust that You will use this for my good, Good, Good Father.

    1. Natasha R says:

      Thank you for sharing this, Angie.

  32. Churchmouse says:

    Envy. Jealousy. Favoritism. Pride. Ungratefulness. Which comes first? Sort of like the chicken or the egg and does it really matter? Whatever the genesis of our sin it is still sin. It must be named and dealt with or indeed it will eat us alive and cause us to do things we would never otherwise consider. We’re commanded to confess and repent, yet that is often the shortest part of our prayers. We are long on requests but brief about our faults and failings. May we determine today to start with honesty about the darkness that lurks within. May God shed the Light of His grace on us as we ask for His forgiveness. May we be humble enough to go to those we have offended and seek their forgiveness as well. Then and only then may we take our petitions to the Lord. Sin is serious. Let us take it seriously before Him today.

  33. Kaitlyn says:

    Wow. I feel like I need to read this almost every hour of every day. “I no longer see them as their own persons, but rather as measuring sticks for my own worth.” This is so disappointingly true, and one of my own main struggles. Thanks for sharing these scriptures, Melanie!

  34. Audrey Flores says:

    As a nonbeliever my thoughts of the Old Testament was that it was old and unneeded. But today my heart is breaking for Joseph. I can only imagine his heart break and betrayal that he is feeling over and over at this time. I didn’t even consider the envy of his brothers because I was so focused on how it hurt him. This was a good check on my own heart. If asked I would’ve said I am a more prideful person than an envious one. But I felt so convicted while reading the devotional. I always feel envy building in my heart while I scroll through Instagram. I can feel the fleeting thought of well if only I, too, was born into a rich family or had a few million dollars etc, etc. Where else does it take hold of my heart? How does it hurt the ones around me?? Lord Jesus I pray you work on my heart and show me its current state. Help me to surround myself with things that will make it grow like yours and not of the world. Amen.

  35. Marianne Reuter says:

    Oh yes, envy and jealosy – I can so relate! But I‘d like to go a step further. I think the underlying problem of jealousy is a lack of self-esteem and ignorance of who I am in God‘s eyes. If I am conscious of God‘s love to me and of the gifts He gave me there is no need to envy someone, because I can be content in what I have.
    Still struggling with that though …

  36. Tina says:

    A couple of weeks ago my sister, with whom I struggle, in my head, let us know ahead of today, that she would be travelling from Italy to London to mark the first anniversary of our mothers passing.. immediately my back went up.. here we go again I thought, this is pressure now!

    My green eyed monster/jealousy/ envious/ not good enough being was beginning to rear its ugly ugly head.

    I knew I could not make it to London today to be with the family, because of work commitments, but this message had really got me.. I began to image them saying things like, ‘she couldn’t even make today’ ‘ if she cared…’ get the picture?

    I think and know these are the insecurities of the past, yet they still rear their ugly head, and get me all disconbobulated..yeap, disconbobulated!

    But God..

    But God..

    I chuckle as I write.. this morning I put a WhatsApp message out to all the family saying I was thinking of them and that I pray they know peace as they navigate today.. I apologized for not being with them, and asked for someone to blow mum a kiss for me..
    Immediately, and the first to respond was my sister! Not only did she come back that she would blow mum a kiss but a couple of red hearts too! Petty to some, I guess, but to me.. HUGE. HUGE!

    Fear, has a way of disconbobulating things, my fear here, was that I would never be good enough next to this sister, in mums eyes, and an imagined animosity! And yet, as I wrote a week or so ago, mum absolutely blessed US ALL the day of her passing.
    I think that Melanie writes truth when she says
    Where is it corroding my heart and sowing disorder? Where is it disordering my priorities away from Christ… because jealousy isn’t something to be taken lightly…it Absolutely is not!

    Thankful that God orders my day and steps, and although I have worried and felt uneasy about today, God made it right before the day even began. Amen!

    Thank you Lord God, thank you!❤

    Happy Thursday sisters, with love wrapped hugs..❤

    1. Toni Gray says: