Last Sunday we heard the beginning of the magnificent story of Joseph, the longest cycle of stories in Genesis. Today, we heard a portion nearing the end of the story. This is an extremely complex saga continuing through thirteen chapters and our Sunday lectionary only gives us a small piece of this fascinating tale.
Jim introduced Joseph last week giving us the picture of a truly dysfunctional family. Any time a parent gives an extravagant gift to a favorite son such as a beautiful, colored robe with long sleeves there will be trouble, lot of trouble.
The brothers were so angered by this display of favoritism they decided to kill Joseph, but Reuben talked them out of that, instead they threw him into a pit. Yet no matter any dire circumstances in which Joseph finds himself, good fortune comes his way and he ends up in Egypt. So ends scene 1.
With God’s blessing Joseph prospered in the house of his Egyptian master and was put in charge over all of his household and everything he had. Now Joseph was handsome as well as wise; soon his master’s wife began to pursue him persistently, with Joseph firmly refusing her out of respect for his position and also knowing it would be a sin against God. The spurned woman was so insulted she lied to her husband, claiming Joseph tried to seduce her. Potiphar was furious and had Joseph seized and thrown into jail. But the Lord was with Joseph and he soon was put in charge of all the prisoners. Once more having been thrown into a pit he comes out smelling like a rose. While still confined in prison, Joseph gained an impressive reputation as interpreter of dreams. Later the Pharaoh became seriously troubled by his dreams so Joseph was called in to interpret. The dreams revealed the coming famine of seven years. Searching for a person of vision and wisdom to save the country from this disaster Joseph was chosen because he was so endowed with the spirit of God. Pharaoh gave him authority over the whole land of Egypt, put his signet ring on Joseph’s finger, dressed him in the finest robes, adding a gold chain around his neck.
Joseph was now thirty years old.
As was foretold, Egypt’s good years came to an end and the seven years of famine arrived. Because of Joseph’s wise management of grain supplies Egypt was the only country that had bread. As the famine got worse and spread widely across the land, soon the whole world was coming to buy supplies from Joseph.
When Jacob, Joseph’s father, learned there was grain in Egypt, he sent ten of Joseph’s brothers to go down there and buy some to keep the family from starvation. When the brothers approached the governor of the land they bowed down before him with their faces to the ground, not recognizing their brother after so many years. But Joseph recognizes them and deals harshly with them. The brothers became very fearful, remembering their past sins. Saying that he didn’t trust them he kept them in prison for a short time, then finally gave them grain and sent them on their way.
When they finally made it home they were shocked to find in their sacks of grain the money that they had paid for the corn. What next?? Now the brothers worried they could be accused of stealing the grain.
Famine returns, their grain runs out, back to Egypt the brothers go so they must again stand nervously before the powerful governor. This time their appearance is met with cordial hospitality, a puzzling reception for the brothers, creating more anxiety among them.
They finally get their corn, head for home again, but Joseph sets a trap using the beloved Benjamin as a bargaining chip. Undone by this predicament knowing their father would die if harm came to Benjamin, Judah stands up and faces Joseph.
With great courage he speaks with passion telling Joseph the whole family story, explaining that to return without Benjamin would kill their aging father. Judah ends his story by offering himself in place of Benjamin.
Judah’s heartfelt words suddenly changes everything. They stand as brothers each with love for their father. Joseph’s position of power is meaningless, the anger and guilt of the past fades away as Joseph tells them through his tears he is none other than their brother. They kiss and embrace, then his brothers talked to him.
What a great story! Obviously this is a condensed version and I highly recommend you read the entire thirty chapters. Jim referred to it as a soap opera, so it is not surprising that it was made into a musical, Joseph and His Technicolor Dream Coat.
This story of Joseph has been viewed as one of the great stories of the world, praising Joseph as an honorable Biblical hero.
In reading through the twists and turns of this saga the character flaws become obvious. Jacob conspicuously favors the son of his beloved Rachel, stirring up jealousy among the other brothers. Young Joseph was spoiled rotten and had an elevated opinion of himself. The other brothers hated him and wanted him dead. Reuben intervened and suggested they just throw him down an empty well.
On the other hand, as Joseph matures in the royal household, he becomes a wise manager eventually saving a nation from starvation. Yet he remains arrogant, convinced of his own worth and power, having God with him in all he does. He toys with his brothers when they desperately need grain for the family. He plants his own silver cup in Benjamin’s pack so it might look as though he had stolen the valuable cup.
Finally, it is when Judah speaks from the heart all barriers are broken down, forgiveness is granted. “Surely God sent me before you to preserve life, everything has been in the hands of God,” Joseph says.
I wonder what you make of this story. I truly believe that God can work through any situation, His wonders to perform. But is Joseph really a hero or just a flawed human like the rest of us?
Joseph, once powerless at the bottom of a pit, as time passes is second in power over all of Egypt. Having power is not the issue, but how one uses that power is. So do we see Joseph as good guy or bad guy? Don’t we all have the capacity for either or both?
The thing about many of our Biblical stories is that they aren’t cleaned up to be pretty and appealing. They reveal the whole person, warts and all, good and bad. Like a well written soap opera it holds our attention and God keeps being present and loving us anyway. AMEN.