Exploring friendship using Bible Stories 3: Joseph and the brothers - big brothers

Whole schoolRE
A lesson outline exploring the theme of making good and bad choices in response to what happens to us as friends and family with reference to the story of Joseph and his brothers.


Joseph's father Jacob should have known better. He had experienced the negative result of favouritism in his own family home but nevertheless he went and repeated the same mistake. Of course, he had loved Joseph's mum very much but, by publicly valuing her sons over the other ten, he was asking for a family disaster. Joseph was spoiled and became arrogant and proud. Understandably, his brothers became his enemies-the dreamer had to go. However, the Bible story describes how God works in the lives of people to bring about reconciliation, turning enemies into friends. After the long years in Egypt as a slave, a prisoner and then as Prime Minister, Joseph had a chance to test his brothers to see if they had changed and finally to become reunited with them. He recognises God's hand in all this. Joseph comments, 'You planned to harm me. But God planned it for good' (Genesis 50:20 New International Reader's Version).

The following lesson outline explores the story of this family feud that God uses in the end to save people from famine and bring togetherness from what had been torn apart.


Use the retelling of the story from The Barnabas Children's Bible (stories 28, 31 and 37).
Use music from Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical Joseph and the Amazing Technicoloured Dreamcoat.


1. This Genesis story is very well known, if only because of the recently revised musical in London's West End. Some of the tracks from this could be used to help the class into different aspects of the story. The children may even know some of the lyrics.

2. We know that Joseph was a favourite son in this large family. Genesis tells us of the special coat he was given, but I wonder what other privileges Joseph enjoyed?

  • Ask the class to suggest some other possibilities that would have contributed to the build-up of hatred towards Joseph from his big brothers.
  • In groups, act out the two dreams that Joseph has, in the cornfields and then in the night sky. Freeze the scene at the point when everyone bows down to Joseph and 'interview' the brothers about what they are thinking at that moment. See hotseating.

3. After the brothers had thrown Joseph into the pit, there must have been a heated debate among them as to what to do next. We know that Reuben hoped to save him. The others must have had other ideas. Perhaps these included...

... starving him to death?
... hoping he died of snakebite?
... or from sunstroke?
... hoping for a landslide?
... stoning him?
... or selling him?

Gather the children around an imaginary campfire in a circle to debate what to do next with Joseph. Have a piece of coloured cloth, like Joseph's coat, to pass around the group, as each is allowed their say.

4. Once Joseph is Prime Minister, it is then his turn to make decisions about the fate of his big brothers. He reacts with a mixture of revenge and remorse, often having to turn away to hide his tears.

I wonder what things were going through his mind at the time. Print off a large thought bubble to pass around the class for the children to make suggestions of what sort of things Joseph was thinking about when he had the brothers in his power. When friends have become enemies, there will inevitably be thoughts of getting your own back. The story recognises this.

5. But what had been broken could be mended. Joseph says: ' God sent me ahead of you to save many lives' (Genesis 45:5, NRIV).

There are two useful summary versions of the Joseph story in the Bible:
Psalm 105:11-23
Acts 7:9-16

What does the class think that this long story says to people today about friendship, falling out and forgiveness?

6. As a way to anchor the story, collect some toys or small household items that are broken (but repairable) in some way.

Distribute these among the class and as each one is repaired (though perhaps not always easily and probably with help), use this as a way to reflect on the broken situations between people that the children might like to name or think about quietly.


Act Two © Wendy Cope licensed under CC 2.0 / cropped