Feb. 24th, 2019
The story about Joseph covers chapters 37 to 46, that’s 10 chapters! The story has many twists and turns before we arrive at our section today. Joseph is one of Israel’s 12 children. It might be helpful to refresh our memories about the key elements of this story before we go ahead into our thought for today.
When we see the first mention of Joseph when chapter 37 talks about Jacob, his father. From the very beginning, Joseph is the key figure in this family story and we see how his father loves and favors him. His brothers are jealous of Joseph, who rubs it in by sharing his dreams of great power and status. We can understand this by thinking about our own childhood and how we competed for our parent’s love and attention.
The sibling rivalry intensifies one day when the sons are out shepherding their sheep and Joseph is sent out to join them. They see him coming and plot to do something horrible to him. It is very clear from the story that they hate their brother, all but Reuben, who wants to save him from being murdered. They decide to throw him into a cistern and sit down for lunch.
The next big development is a caravan of Midianites is coming through and one of the brothers has a great idea, make some money and sell Joseph into slavery. They pull the 17-year old out of the well and make the deal. Then they kill a sheep and put its blood on Joseph’s robe as evidence that he was attached and killed by a wild animal.
Jacob/Israel is devastated when he finds out about Joseph’s death. He tears his clothes and goes into mourning. The brothers keep the secret; even though they see the pain they have caused their father. They are glad Joseph has been removed. Even though they have caused immeasurable suffering for their parents.
The event would change their lives forever. It locked the brothers into a secret betrayal of their father’s trust and love. It would shatter Jacob’s life. For the next decade the family would live with this evil action, locked in by a secret sin.
Let’s briefly recapping the events leading up to our scripture today. Joseph is sold to the Egyptian aristocrat and governor, Potiphar where he works and finds favor. Potiphar’s wife takes a liking to Joseph and tries to have an affair with him, which Joseph refuses. She then accuses him of sexual harassment and Potiphar throws him into jail. In prison he interprets dreams that actually come true. The Pharaoh has a dream he needs interpreted, the chief cook remembers Joseph and tell the Pharaoh, who then has Joseph brought out of prison to interpret his dream.
Joseph interprets the dream and the Pharaoh believes his story about the seven years of abundance and the following seven years of famine. Then Joseph is put in charge of the kingdom as a sort of CEO. Seven years of abundance fill the storehouses with grain. Then the drought hits and the people are taken care of because of the buildup of grain.
Back in Canaan, Jacob’s family is feeling the draught and needing food. Jacob sends his sons, all but Benjamin, to Egypt to buy grain. They arrive and wait in line where Joseph sees them. They don’t recognize him.
One might wonder what went through Joseph’s mind when he sees the brothers who sold him into slavery. If he wondered what they told his father happened. How they would respond in seeing him now, in the Pharaoh’s court. We have clues in the way he addresses them 42:7. “He spoke to them with a harsh tone and said, “Where have you come from?”
He then accuses them of being spies coming to probe the country’s weakness. He throws them in jail for three days, and then lets them out. They are allowed to return home with the grain but one brother must remain in prison until they return with the missing brother, Benjamin. Reminds me a little bit about Cinderella who is betrayed by her sisters who were jealous of her beauty. She ends up married to a prince and they remain in their misery.
It can be hard to imagine such betrayal, if we leave the story in a storefront window, that we look into, but see as separate from our lives. I can imagine how jealousy and self-interest could lead a person to harm a relative.
Some of the deepest betrayal in life comes from those who are our “loved ones.” Indeed every nine seconds in America a woman is assaulted or beaten. 97% of those beatings are by the men who “love them.” Every day in America three women are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends. These numbers come from a nonprofit, domestic violence dot org. We may know or be related to some of these people.
Why this is important to us today is because the actions we see here had very real consequences. And such actions today also have consequences. The Bible is relevant for our very real life situations.
Looking back to the story, the brothers didn’t recognize Joseph. It had been at least nine years since that fateful day when his fate was locked in. He would now be 24, a full-grown man. When the brothers then returned to their father with the grain and silver, they thought he would be pleased, happy about their work. But he was not. Let’s read from
36 Their father Jacob said to them, “You’ve taken my children from me. Joseph’s gone. Simeon’s gone. And you are taking Benjamin. All this can’t really be happening to me!” 37 Reuben said to his father, “You may put both of my sons to death if I don’t bring him back to you. Make him my responsibility, and I will make sure he returns to you.”
38 But Jacob said to him, “My son won’t go down with you because his brother’s dead and he’s been left all alone. If anything were to happen to him on the trip you are taking, you would send me—old as I am—to my grave in grief.”
Jacob is sorrowful because he is more concerned about his children than the food. He says, “Simeon’s gone. Joseph is gone. All this can’t really be happening to me.” He thinks he is giving up another child that will never return. Nine years later, he is still mourning the loss of Joseph. He is locked into the pattern of living with the belief that his son is dead.
The brothers don’t want to remember Joseph because it brings up what they had done to him. Their shame and guilt would come back to the surface.
Jacob is distraught about the idea of losing another son, “if anything were to happen to him, you would send me to my grave in grief.” A study done at Rice University confirms that, “grief can promote inflammation, which in turn can cause negative health outcomes.”
We are getting closer to our central point here. In chapter 43 the father agrees and the sons return with Benjamin to Egypt and Joseph’s house where they are received and sit down for a lavish meal. When he sees his brother Benjamin, Joseph is overcome with emotion and has to leave the room to cry. He and Benjamin are the only two sons born to Rachel, Jacob’s favorite wife.
When they are finished with the meal, Joseph can no longer contain himself and orders his staff out of the room. He breaks down in tears as he reveals himself to them. “It’s me, Joseph!”
They can’t believe it and are terrified. It was hard to imagine him being alive. They had settled that years ago they had closed the book on Joseph’s life. It wasn’t within the realm of possibility that this was their brother. It was outside their comprehension. He was locked in their past, and an action they never wanted to return to.
Besides, if this is Joseph, why would he not retaliate against them for what they had done? They didn’t understand his behavior of love and affection. They wanted to see him as an Egyptian governor, but not their brother. It would unlock their past, and open the door to judgment, accountability and that would be very unpleasant.
It would even be worse if their father found out what they had done all these years later. Unlocking the door to the truth is not an easy thing.
Joseph tells them to come closer to see that it is their brother. You can imagine the transformation that takes place here in this moment when they realize it is Joseph who they sold into slavery.
One can imagine that they would feel shame and guilt and sorrow for what they had done. They had been carrying this secret for nine years and now it was out, the truth has been unlocked.
Joseph sees this and says to them,
“I’m your brother Joseph! The one you sold to Egypt. 5 Now, don’t be upset and don’t be angry with yourselves that you sold me here. Actually, God sent me before you to save lives.”
Now, let’s pause a moment and think about this. For the first time in this 10-chapter story we have the mention of God’s providence.
7 God sent me before you to make sure you’d survive and to rescue your lives in this amazing way. 8 You didn’t send me here; it was God who made me a father to Pharaoh….
Joseph was seeing the big picture of how God was part of all that had happened. And it is because God opened his eyes; he was able to escape feelings of retribution, anger, and revenge.
It was an “ah-ha moment” where we see repentance and healing. We see new birth in their relationships and the entry of hope, not because Joseph forgave them; not because the truth had come out; but because of God’s power to heal and transform lives.
On another level, one of metaphor, we can see how the famine drove Jacob to seek help in Egypt. The famine can be thought of as starvation for the spirit. They were seeking God in their trek to Egypt, they were seeking right relationship. Joseph brought them to a place of honesty, confession and forgiveness. The bread of life. It was their need for right relationship with God that drove them to Egypt for help.
Sometimes our crops fail. Sometimes there isn’t enough rain. Sometimes we go hungry; sometimes we are hungry for right relationship with God. We carry secrets for years, acting as if they might just go away. Then one day a crisis prompts us to act, step out and seek God’s love and care and forgiveness.
There was a secret locked in my family for the last 49 years. It was only unlocked last week. When it was, there was confusion, surprise, anger and other emotions. My parents went to their graves with this secret that was revealed to their children only a week ago. My brother received a Face book message from a woman who said she thought she might be his biological sister and wanted to talk with him.
She texted two pictures of herself, one as a six-year old and one more recent. The little girl looked just like my sister Tara. So did the current one. Then she sent a shot of her birth certificate showing my parents names, Bob and Donna Riley, 1970. You can’t make this stuff up. I was flabbergasted, discombobulated, confused, sad, angry…. so many questions – how could she had hidden the pregnancy from us? Why did they put her up for adoption? It was like I had stepped through a door into the twilight zone! And I’m still there.
My sisters were particularly upset by the news. My baby sister was no longer the baby sister and that put her in a tailspin. Her birth order changed in an instant. One of my brothers responded by trying to manage and control the situation.
Suddenly my memories of childhood and my cementing of the past have given way to uncertainty and change. I’m still reeling from this news. And I prepared this message; this scripture helped me with it. It helps me because I see how this family situation and all its complexities were locked in a secret.
Joseph’s brothers had locked themselves into a pattern that was set when they sold Joseph into slavery. The father had locked himself in when he was not able to get past the grief. The family system reinforced the secret.
We too get locked into family systems patterns, roles and positions that are unhealthy; we are often unable to free ourselves. I thought I knew my past, my childhood, and my parents. But I didn’t know them really. I didn’t know how they could keep this secret from us.
Joseph’s words give us the clue to unlocking that door and releasing ourselves from the sin. Somewhere in on his pilgrimage journey, he discovered God for himself, not through his father or family name, but personally. In finding God he was able to reconcile all of the hurt, sorrow, grief, and pain that had happened. His life was transformed as a result of his brother’s actions. He was now referring to the betrayal as a blessing.
Joseph had become a part of the family of God, adopted into the safekeeping of a heavenly father, who unlike his biological dad would never fail him.
When I think of Lisa, my newfound sister and her efforts to find her biological family, I make sense of it through God’s word. How will God use this discovery to bring healing, hope and transformation? I am grateful for her searching records and databases and social media to find her roots. We will meet some day I imagine. But now I know the truth, even though it was hidden for 49 years.
But more importantly, is the point about how we see our lives and loved ones. How only God can liberate us from locked in secrets. If we have the courage to ask and to listen and confess and be forgiven. A new life can be unlocked to us, one that is rewarding, meaningful and rich in relationship.
I was in search of my heavenly parents for 32 years of my life. When Jesus came into my life, it was like a homecoming. I found out who my heavenly parent was. In unlocking this door to spiritual freedom, I gained a new way to see all that has happened as part of a plan to bless others. May Christ unlock your secret and liberate you from its hold. Amen.