The Ishmaelites were descendants of Abraham through Hagar, Sarah’s maidservant (Genesis 16:1-16). The Midianites were descendants of Abraham through Keturah, the wife he took after the death of Sarah (Genesis 25:1-2). Over the course of time, the Ishmaeleites and the Midianites intertwined to the point where the terms “Ishmaelite” and “Midianite” became interchangeable (Judges 8:22-28).
This brings us to the story of Joseph, where we’re told that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery to a group of Ishmaelite/Midianite traders headed south to Egypt to do business there (Genesis 37:25-28). Once in Egypt, the traders sold Joseph to Potiphar, Pharaoh’s captain of the guard (Genesis 37:36). Obviously, the Ishmaelite/Midianite traders had no qualms about trafficking in human beings. To them, Joseph was just another item to be bought for a good price and sold for a better one.
What makes this story all the more tragic is the fact that Joseph and his brothers were also descendants of Abraham. Abraham had fathered Isaac through Sarah (Genesis 21:1-3), Isaac had fathered Jacob through Rebekah (Genesis 25:19-26), and Jacob had fathered Joseph and Joseph’s brothers through four different women (Genesis 29:13-30:24). In other words, each man involved in Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery could trace his ancestry back to Abraham.
This shows us that family can sometimes be a detrimental thing in a person’s life. Family members can do other family members wrong. They can take advantage of them, use them, cheat them, lie to them, manipulate them, steal from them, and work to hold them down in life. This isn’t heartwarming news, but it is the reality of living in a fallen world.
Therefore, the takeaway application from this post is two-fold. First, be the kind of family member that helps your fellow family members rather than hurts them. Second, don’t let any of your family members keep you from being the person God wants you to be and living the kind of life He wants you to live.
Don’t get me wrong. I’m not suggesting that all of your family members are trouble. To the contrary, your family will oftentimes be one of the greatest sources of blessings in your life. But sometimes, as in the case of Joseph, your immediate family (Joseph’s brothers) or your extended family (the Ishmaelite/Midianites) can create real problems for you. The encouraging news, though, is that no matter what wrongs your family members perpetrate on you, God is big enough to use that evil for His good and your betterment (Genesis 50:19-20). This is the great overarching promise of Joseph’s life, and it’s one that anyone whose family has caused them trouble can claim.