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 dreamed: 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.
Then he dreamed another dream and told it to his brothers and said, “Behold, I have dreamed another dream. Behold, the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall I and your mother and your brothers indeed come to bow ourselves to the ground before you?” And his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the saying in mind. – Genesis 37:5-11 ESV
In Act 4 of his play, The Tempest, Shakespeare penned the phrase, “We are such stuff as dreams are made on.” In the play, Prospero, the prince of Naples, has staged a short entertainment, which he is forced to cut short. He attempts to comfort his guests by telling them that it was, like life, all just an illusion that would have to end at some point. Even the reality of life is illusory and short-lived. People, it seems, are the “stuff” that dreams are made on, whether in a fictional play or in real life.
Early on in the story of Joseph, dreams and real life interweave themselves in a remarkable way. The young Joseph has two vivid dreams that he eagerly and, perhaps, rather boastfully recounts to his family. They are visions that seem to reveal his coming prominence and their subservience to him. The cast of characters in his dreams – the “stuff” – are inanimate objects: sheaves, the sun, the moon and eleven stars. But his brothers are not stupid. They see what is going on immediately and understand full well that his dreams involve them. They are such stuff as Joseph’s dreams are made on. And they are not happy. They find his dreams offensive and cause for their jealousy and hatred for him to intensify. Little do they realize that they will become key players in the affairs surrounding Joseph’s life and unwittingly turn his dreams into reality.
There is no indication that Joseph understood the meaning behind his dreams. Whether he recounted them to his brothers in a prideful manner, bragging about his superiority, is not clear. It would seem that he is simply sharing exactly what he saw. There was no real benefit to Joseph in sharing his dreams with his brothers. After he told them the first dream, the text tells us, “they hated him even more” (Genesis 37:5 ESV). So what good could come out of telling them his second dream? Joseph seems to be intrigued, even confused, by his dreams. He is looking for explanations. He is anxious to know what they mean. But the only thing he gets from his brothers is their animosity. Even his father rebukes him.
But at the same time, Jacob seems to know that there is something going on behind the scenes that is inexplicable and supernatural in nature. Moses, the author of Genesis, tells us, “his father kept the saying in mind” (Genesis 37:11 ESV). The hand of God was at work. The dreams were His doing and they were prophetic foreshadows of things to come. The meaning behind the dreams, the bowing sheaths, sun, moon and stars, would soon become clear. And each of the individuals in the story would play a significant role in the fulfillment of the dreams. The hatred of the brothers would reach a boiling point. The blind favoritism of Jacob would prevent him from seeing the growing resentment and rancor in his own home. Joseph would remain blissfully ignorant of the danger his favored position was creating. The line between dream and reality would become increasingly blurred as time passed. God’s will, as revealed in the dream, would come face to face with the collective will of the brothers. Their growing hatred would soon boil over in an attempt to rid themselves of their annoying sibling once and for all. But their actions would accomplish far more than their liberation from his pestering presence. They would become such stuff as dreams are made of. They would become the very instruments God would use to accomplish His divine will, not only for Joseph, but the people of Israel. Their prerogatives would give way to God’s providence. Their human wills would become tools in the hands of God as He accomplished His divine will. Their self-determined actions would end up bringing about the very outcomes God had already ordained to happen. The mystery between man’s free will and God’s providence was about to be displayed in surprising fashion.