The Bible narrative on Joseph occupies the last fourth of Genesis, chapters 37-50 (except 38). Joseph was the third key figure in Genesis in whose life God dramatically intervened to accomplish His purpose for His people and the world. His life was a record of God-orchestrated transitions: moving the family from Canaan to Egypt and from obscurity to national prominence. There were 12 brothers who shared the covenant inheritance of Jacob, but only one was chosen by God as His agent in history. The others were "foils," men who acted selfishly, out of envy and jealousy, as their father had acted towards Esau. But God over-ruled their evil actions to bring about the fulfilment of His plan. This is in keeping with what we have seen repeatedly in the private lives of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
The selection of Joseph by God is interesting in that he was Jacob's favorite as well. This may have been coincidental (or not). Jacob was not astute enough about the dynamics of family rivalries to avoid favoritism. Even worse, he publicized his choice by giving Joseph a special robe. Since he knew that at least two of his sons were uncontrollable hotheads (Simeon and Levi), how could he expect them to defer to a brother younger than themselves? Sealing his fate, Joseph told his father and his brothers his dreams, in which his brothers' sheaves of grain bowed to his, and the sun, moon and stars also bowed to him. Sometimes it is wiser to keep one's mouth shut.
There was a change here in the way in which God spoke to Joseph. He toned down the revelation. There were no angels, there was no audible voice of God, there was no man to wrestle with. God spoke indirectly, through figures in dreams, but not direct speech or visitations.
The plot against Joseph was hatched by unnamed brothers, to kill "the dreamer" and throw his body into a pit. Reuben, however, contrived to spare his life, and Judah convinced the rest to sell him to the Ishmaelites as a slave for 20 pieces of silver. The cruelest part of the charade was not what was done to Joseph, but to Jacob. The brothers dipped Joseph's robe in goat's blood and presented it to their father as the last remains of his favorite son!
Who needs racial enemies when you come from a family like this? What evil could slavetrader Ishmaelites or slaveowner Egyptians do to compare with this treachery to brother and father? It is as if all the discord and rivalry of three past generations culminated in this "brood of vipers." Canaanites? Can any pagan religion or fertility rituals exceed the depravity of this chosen generation? It is not only that they conceived such a plan and carried it out, but then they covered it up for about 20 years, letting their father grieve all that time. If there ever was any notion that the Promise of God came to the Israelites because of their moral superiority over their contemporaries, this certainly proves the opposite. God's Promise was independent of human worthiness, and overruled human sin.