(Genesis 37:1-11 provides the context)
Joseph was a teenage boy. He was younger than all of his brothers, and he had a kind of cocky arrogance that can only come with being a teenage boy. You know that kind of arrogance; the certain feeling of invincibility that emanates like a pungent odor; the rashness that causes them to speak without thinking first, or maybe without even thinking at all. All of us who were once teenage boys (not so long ago for me) will remember that, um, special, time of life.
So it doesn't seem too harsh to think about Joseph's brothers feeling hatred toward him. After all, Joseph was telling his father bad things about his brothers, and that coat of Josephs sure did make it appear like old Jacob really did love Joseph more than the others. They had every right to have a certain amount of disdain for their young, cocky, lovable brother.
Hate is a powerful emotion, though. It creeps into our hearts in our most fragile moments, and begins spreading inside of us like a venomous cancer. Before long, the hatred that began with a little bit of disdain has become a monstrous, uncontrollable rage that has burrowed deeply inside of us. It is every bit as real as the clouds and trees and grass outside, and it has devastating effects on all parts of our lives.
Hate was there before any of Joseph's brothers did anything to him. It existed in their hearts long before they thought about hurting him. Just like it exists in your heart and my heart long before it explodes in our actions. Before we ever say a spiteful word or utter a mocking phrase of vitriolic sarcasm, hate is present in our hearts.
It's what Jesus worked so hard to warn us about in the sermon on the mount. These things like murder and adultery are first conditions in our hearts. It's why surrender, each and every day, to our Savior and Redeemer Jesus Christ, is the foundation of our new lives in Him. I have to own up to those things in my heart that look so tame, that elicit an "oh, it's just a little bit of ______. It's really no big deal."
What looks so tame as a cub, though, can grow into a ferocious lion. It makes me realize that I am in need of grace, and not just a teaspoon but a raging shower of grace across all parts of my life. And in the seeds of this story, Joseph was learning how powerful these two things are, hate and grace.