How to Handle Betrayal (Genesis 37)

This morning I want to introduce you to one of the most remarkable characters to have ever lived. He began as a shepherd – just one of a family of twelve sons. You could call his family a little dysfunctional. In his early years, he moved from place to place, and never enjoyed stability. He endured betrayal, endured temptation, and eventually rose to rule the world’s most advanced civilization of that day. This man’s name was Joseph.

Joseph’s life is significant to us for a few reasons. It’s significant because we all have problems in our lives. Look at Joseph. He had a family that was messed up. His brothers were jealous of him. They tried to kill him. They sold him into slavery for the price of a disabled slave. One of the excuses we hear today is that “I’m messed up because my family was messed up.” We blame our families for the way we are today. There’s no doubt that our families affect who we are, but Joseph is a lesson in God’s grace despite our family background.

It’s also significant because Joseph knew how to handle temptation. People used to say, “The devil made me do it.” They don’t even say that anymore. Today we are trained to give in to every impulse. We become creatures, at the mercy of our latest urge or craving. Joseph stands against the tide. At a moment in which nobody was looking, in which he could have done anything he wanted, Joseph resisted temptation. He’s going to show us how we can maintain our personal integrity.

Joseph also survived injustice. How many times have you heard those three words, “It’s not fair.” How do you survive injustice? Joseph’s life is going to show us.

Joseph’s life is also important because Joseph knew how to handle success. The reason that many of us don’t have more is – quite frankly – because God can’t trust us with more. We haven’t proved ourselves faithful with what we have. If most of us experienced the success we dreamed of, it would ruin us. Joseph is going to teach us how to handle success.

Today we’re going to look at betrayal. Betrayal is the “treacherous exposing or deceiving of people by those they formally trusted.” It’s when an enemy masquerades as a friend. Or it’s when someone close to us breaks or abuses a relationship.

There are two truths that I’ve come to realize in life. The first is, EVERYONE HAS A HIDDEN WOUND. Not physical wounds, but emotional wounds. Hidden wounds are from memories that still hurt – those recollections from the past that still cause pain in your life. Some of you have memories of ridicule, severe criticism because of hatred, prejudice, or criticism that just tore you down. Some of you have experienced abuse – physical abuse, spiritual abuse, sexual abuse, or emotional abuse.

Where do you get these wounds? From everywhere. From society. From family members. From the work place. You can even get them the schoolyard as children. Everybody has a hidden wound.

The other thing I’ve learned is that EMOTIONAL SCARS TAKE LONGER TO HEAL THAN PHYSICAL WOUNDS. I talked to a divorced woman. She said, “My husband’s words hurt more than if he had hit me. If he had hit me, the bruises would have healed in a week. The wounds from the words he said are going to last many years.”

The good news is that the Bible tells us how to handle these hidden wounds. You can start on this process this morning. You can begin to experience God’s power in the middle of your hurt.

How do we handle betrayal? What do we do when we feel the hurt from a divorce or a broken relationship? The story of Joseph in Genesis 37 gives us four steps to surviving betrayal:


The first step to surviving betrayal is to reflect on why it happened. Most broken relationships are very predictable. Identifying the cause of that breakdown is the first step in responding properly to it.

In Joseph’s case, the betrayal began with his brothers’ JEALOUSY. Here’s a definition of jealousy for you: jealousy is resenting God’s goodness in others’ lives and ignoring God’s goodness in mine. Jealousy is a killer. Job 5:2 says, “Resentment destroys the fool, and jealousy kills the simple.” Jealousy will not only kill your relationships, but it will kill you.

Why were Joseph’s brothers jealous of him? Joseph was his dad’s favorite son. Genesis 37:3 says, “Now Jacob loved Joseph more than any of his other children because Joseph had been born to him in his old age. So one day he gave Joseph a special gift—a beautiful robe.” In those days, everyone had a robe. The robe would be used for warmth, as a way to carry belongings on a trip, to sit on, or even to use as collateral in a loan. Joseph’s robe was different. It was longer. It wasn’t the sort of robe that one would wear to work. It was probably the type of robe warn by loyalty. Joseph’s dad was telling him, in essence, “You don’t have to work like the rest of your brothers. You’re better than they are.”

If that wasn’t enough, Joseph had two dreams. In one dream, Joseph and his brothers were out tying up bundles of grain. Joseph’s bundle stood up, and the rest of the bundles gathered around and bowed before it. In the second dream, the sun, moon, and eleven stars bowed before Joseph. It didn’t take a genius to figure this out. Joseph was predicting that he would rule over his brothers and even his parents. Joseph’s brothers became incredibly jealous.

Jealousy led to a GRUDGE.  A grudge is when you feel persistently mad at another person. We think grudges are minor. But Jesus said in Mark 7 that grudges are vile and make us unacceptable to God. Grudges often lead to murder. Ephesians 4:31 says, “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, anger, harsh words, and slander, as well as all types of malicious behavior.”

Jealousy led to a grudge, and that grudge led to ACTION. Jesus said, “For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, eagerness for lustful pleasure, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you and make you unacceptable to God” (Mark 7:21-23). What we think about eventually will be acted on. What’s in your heart will eventually come out in action. Genesis 37:18 says:

When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance and made plans to kill him. “Here comes that dreamer!” they exclaimed. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into a deep pit. We can tell our father that a wild animal has eaten him. Then we’ll see what becomes of all his dreams!” (Genesis 37:18-20)

Joseph’s brothers began to plan a course of action. They were premeditating murder.

Jealousy led to a grudge, which led to action, and that action led to RATIONALIZATION. Aren’t we experts at rationalization? Do you ever try to discipline yourself into only having one piece of pie? We cut it into two pieces so we won’t make pigs of ourselves. And then we eat both pieces. Rationalization is the way that we justify our actions to ourselves through lying.

Judah, Joseph’s brother, said, “Let’s sell Joseph to those Ishmaelite traders. Let’s not be responsible for his death; after all, he is our brother!” Judah thought he was doing Joseph a favor. He thought that by selling him for the price of a disabled slave, he was being nice. I love what he said: “After all, he is our brother!” Some way to treat a brother! They had rationalized their course of action, so that their course of action not only appeared to be right to them, but almost generous. They had deceived themselves.

There’s one last step. Rationalization leads to COVER-UP. “Then Joseph’s brothers killed a goat and dipped the robe in its blood. They took the beautiful robe to their father and asked him to identify it. ‘We found this in the field,’ they told him. ‘It’s Joseph’s robe, isn’t it?'” (Genesis 37:31-32).

Why should I reflect on why it happened? Two reasons. The first is that you will be tempted to mirror it. If someone hates you, you’re l iable to hate him or her back. If someone holds a grudge against you, you’re likely to hold a grudge against them. Recognizing the pattern will help you to avoid it. Jesus said, “Love your enemies! Pray for those who persecute you! In that way, you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:44-45).

The other reason we need to recognize the cause of the betrayal is because it helps us deal with the hurt. The problem wasn’t really with Joseph. If Joseph had spent all his time wondering what he had done wrong, he would have been wasting his time. Diagnosing the problem meant that he didn’t have to spend time fixing it on his end. The problem really wasn’t with him.

When you’re betrayed – when someone lets you down – take some time to look at what happened. If they’re treating you unfairly, then make sure that you don’t fall into the same pattern. Examine why it is that the problem happened in the first place. Reflect on why it happened.

The second step to surviving betrayal is:


Genesis 37:28 says, “So when the traders came by, his brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him for twenty pieces of silver, and the Ishmaelite traders took him along to Egypt.” At that point, Joseph became human cargo. He was dragged through the desert, without much thought as to how he was feeling. He became a prisoner – both then, and later on when he would be jailed on false charges.

But the real prison that Joseph was facing was not a prison of chains or bars. The prison that he was facing was the prison of resentment. If I were Joseph, I would have stared at my brothers as they faded on the horizon with the greatest resentment I could muster. I would have become a prisoner to my own hatred.

But what did Joseph do? He refused to grow bitter. The time came when Joseph could have taken revenge, but he chose not to. Instead, he told them, “Don’t be angry with yourselves that you did this to me, for God did it. He sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives” (Genesis 45:5). Joseph didn’t have to get even with his brothers. He learned to release them.

Last year I preached for three weeks on forgiveness. One of the things that we covered was the need to forgive others before they’ve asked for forgiveness. That’s a tough thing to do. In fact, some of you struggled with that concept. Should we wait until someone asks for forgiveness before we forgive them? We want to hold on to our anger, because those who have hurt us don’t deserve our forgiveness.

Time magazine had an article called, “Should all be forgiven?” The headline: “Giving up that grudge can be good for your health. Researchers are pioneering a new science of redemption based on the old form of grace.” Scientists are finally figuring out what the Bible’s been teaching for two thousand years. You don’t hold on to a hurt and enjoy life. You’ve got to let it go. Not because they deserve it, but because you want to get on with your life.

Romans 12:17-19 says, “Never pay back evil for evil to anyone…never avenge yourselves. Leave that to God.” Circle “leave it to God.” It’s not your job to avenge someone. It’s God’s job. As long as you hold on to resentment, you’re stuck. The person is controlling your life in the present even though they may have been out of your life for many years. You need to release them.

The amazing thing is that God has seen all the hurt that was done to us. God has a plan. He is using that hurt for a reason. Not only that, but God enters into that hurt with us. Psalm 56:8 says, “You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book.” Did you know that God has a record of every one of your tears? He has kept track of the times that you’ve been abused, the times that you have felt injustice, the times that you have been hurt or rejected.  He’s going to settle the score one day because he is a God of justice. Nothing ever slips his watchful eye.

Jesus understands what it’s like to be betrayed. 1 Peter 2:23 says, “He did not retaliate when he was insulted. When he suffered, he did not threaten to get even. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” Jesus experienced physical wounds. But he also knew the wounds that come from betrayal – wounds from his closest friends. And yet he said as they killed him, “Father, forgive them. They don’t know what they’re doing.”

Why should you forgive those who have hurt you? Three reasons. One, because God’s forgiven you. Two, because you’re going to need more forgiveness in the future. Three, because the one that you release will really be you. You’ll set yourself free from a bitter spirit.

Jesus knows. Jesus understands. Reflect on why it happened, and then release those who have hurt you.


What did Joseph do in slavery? He excelled as a servant. He did the best job possible for his boss. Genesis 39:6 says, “So Potiphar gave Joseph complete administrative responsibility over everything he owned. With Joseph there, he didn’t have a worry in the world, except to decide what he wanted to eat!” Joseph excelled at what he was doing.

Later on, Joseph was jailed on false charges. While in prison, some of his buddies had dreams, and Joseph decided to help them. He interpreted the dreams for them. Even in prison, Joseph was helping others.

Then eventually, Joseph was placed in charge of all of Egypt. He became the head of the greatest nation on earth at that time. He spent seven years preparing to help others. When his brothers came for help in the middle of the famine, Joseph even agreed to help them. Joseph was continually reaching out to help others. In fact, he was so eager to help others that he didn’t even mind his hardships. “God has sent me here to keep you and your families alive so that you will become a great nation. Yes, it was God who sent me here, not you! And he has made me a counselor to Pharaoh—manager of his entire household and ruler over all Egypt” (Genesis 45:7-8).

You haven’t healed until you’ve begun to reach out and help others. That’s the third step of the healing process. Now, when we’re hurt, we usually retreat into our shells. But Joseph teaches us that healing is found in using our experiences – our hurts – to help other people. The best ministry always takes place out of the deepest hurt. If you want to heal, then you need to be prepared to use your hurts to help other people.

The Bible says in 2 Corinthians 1:4: “He comes alongside us when we go through hard times, and before you know it, he brings us alongside someone else who is going through hard times so that we can be there for that person just as God was there for us” (The Message). That’s just what God does. He uses the difficult times in our life, so that when others go through difficult times, we can support them, just as God has supported us.

If you’re divorced, you are going to have a ministry to others who have been divorced. You will understand their hurt in a way that others won’t. If you’ve been fired, you are going to be able to support others who have been fired in a way that most can’t. You understand what they’re going through. You can use your hurts to reach out to others.

Reflect on why it happened. Release those who have hurt you. Reach out to others. There’s one more step to surviving betrayal:


Joseph said, “As far as I am concerned, God turned into good what you meant for evil. He brought me to the high position I have today so I could save the lives of many people” (Genesis 50:20). Joseph never stopped focusing on God’s purpose for his life. He looked back at betrayal, false accusations, neglect, and famine, and concluded that God brings good from evil for those who trust him. God can overrule our circumstances to bring out his intended results.

Some people will do almost anything to stop the hurt. They’ll get st oned. Get drunk. Pop some pills. They’ll do almost anything to stop the hurt.

But Joseph knew where to find healing for his hurt. He knew that healing is found in God. God has a purpose in everything that we go through. And God’s purpose always prevails.

Joseph came from a family that hated him. His brothers wanted to kill him. They sold him as a slave. He was betrayed. And yet he handled that betrayal because he was focused on God. He reflected on why it happened. He released those who hurt him. He reached out to others. And, most of all, he focused on God.

What I want to tell you is that someone else has experienced betrayal. He has suffered more hurt than we could imagine. He was loved by his Father, and betrayed by his closest friends. He too was sold for the price of a slave, was bound in chains, and was falsely accused. He too forgave those who wronged them, and ended up saving millions of people. What people did to hurt him, God turned into good. This man knew the meaning of betrayal. His name was Jesus.

I don’t know what betrayal you’re going through, but I can tell you that Jesus knows, and Jesus understands. The Bible says, “He was willing to die a shameful death on the cross because of the joy he knew would be his afterward” (Hebrews 12:2). Jesus looked right through the cross and saw it was worth it, because on the other side, he saw you. He saw me. He loved us so much that he was willing to be betrayed for your sake and for mine.

No matter what you’re going through, Jesus is there for you this morning. 1 Peter 2:24 says:

He personally carried away our sins in his own body on the cross so we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. You have been healed by his wounds! Once you were wandering like lost sheep. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

Are you wounded? Have you been betrayed? Would you like to be healed from your sins by his wounds? Jesus can carry your sins away to the cross. You can experience that healing this morning.

Let’s pray.

Thank you, Father, that you heal broken hearts and bitter memories. Thank you that you touch hurting hearts with your healing touch of love. Save some people right now.

If you’re here this morning, and you need Jesus to carry away your sins – to take them away from you; if you need to come to Jesus and begin following him; if you would like to be dead to sin and to live for what is right, then you can pray this prayer:

“Jesus Christ, today, by faith, I take these initial steps. Today, I want to begin the healing process by asking you into my life. I want to give up trying to earn your approval, and to accept what Jesus did on the cross in paying for my sins as my hope. And so I cry out for your help. Become the Lord and the director of my life today, I pray.”
Father, thank you for Jesus. Thank you that he paid it all. Thank you that in him we can find our all in all. In his name we pray, Amen.
Darryl Dash

Darryl Dash

I'm a grateful husband, father, oupa, and pastor of Grace Fellowship Church Don Mills. I love learning, writing, and encouraging. I'm on a lifelong quest to become a humble, gracious old man.
Toronto, Canada