“His Father Observed the Saying”

Joseph shared with his family two dreams that seemed rather self-serving. Both dreams ended with the family bowing down to him. His brothers reacted badly. They were already annoyed with the preferential treatment his father had shown toward him. Now, “they hated him yet the more” (Genesis 37:5). His father, Jacob, was also displeased, and rebuked him (Genesis 37:10). But after that initial reaction, their responses diverged:

His brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying.

Genesis 37:11

A more literal translation of the Hebrew would be “his father kept the word.” Most English translations of this passage modify the phrase a bit to make its meaning clearer. For example:

  • “His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.” (New International Version)
  • “While his brothers were jealous of Joseph, his father wondered what the dreams meant.” (New Living Translation)
  • Joseph’s brothers were envious and jealous of him, but his father kept the words [of Joseph] in mind [wondering about their meaning]. (Amplified Bible)

(See Genesis 37:11 on biblehub.com.)

Jacob’s response reminds me of two other scriptural passages:

  1. After the shepherds visited the baby Jesus in the stable, they went out to tell everyone what they had seen. “But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). Twelve years later, when young Jesus explained to his parents that He “must be about [His] Father’s business,” neither of them understood what He meant. “But his mother kept all these sayings in her heart” (Luke 2:49-51).
  2. About 25 years before the birth of Christ, on the American continent, a group of people experienced a miracle which demonstrated that a man named Nephi had the power of God. In response, they began to debate whether he was a prophet or a god, and “they divided hither and thither…leaving Nephi alone, as he was standing in the midst of them” (Helaman 9:40-41, Helaman 10:1). Finding himself alone, “Nephi went his way towards his own house, pondering upon the things which the Lord had shown unto him” (Helaman 10:2).

What do all of these experiences have in common? In each case, a group of people experienced something which they couldn’t understand. Most of the participants reacted instinctively and didn’t dig deeper. But in each story, one person reflected on what they had experienced.

Early in my career, I received some advice from a colleague. He said, “When you hear something in a meeting that you don’t understand, write it down. Do some research after the meeting to figure out what it means. In this way, you will become more familiar with the terminology and the concepts in our organization.” That has proved to be a useful strategy.

It’s also true with spiritual things. When we experience something we don’t understand, we would be wise to “observe the saying” and to ponder it in our hearts. Comprehension and growth may only come with introspection over time.

Today, I will keep in my heart the experiences which I don’t understand. Rather than give up, I will make the effort to work out the implications of what I have seen, trusting that the Lord will enlighten my mind as I do so.

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