August 13, 2023
Scripture Reading: Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
We have almost made our way through the saints of Genesis! One more story for us from Joseph and then we will leave Joseph. There are a number of other stories we have missed, so you can read those for yourself. By the last chapter in Genesis, Joseph has died with his whole family entrenched in Egypt.
It’s a funny thing to call these early God-followers “saints,” isn’t it? Maybe it’s time to revise our definition of saints! The word “saints” in the Bible doesn’t necessarily refer to anything about one’s character, but means a person who is “set aside” for God’s work! The saints are the company of God’s people and God’s people are not necessarily people who get it all right! – We are all people in process! There is room for all of us in this group. “no matter who we are and where we are on our journey!”
Back to Joseph. By the time he was born to Jacob and Rebekah, he already had 10 brothers, all born to Leah. Rebekah, as you know, was Jacob’s favorite and it looked like she wasn’t going to be able to have children until Joseph came along. So, you can guess, Joseph became both her and Jacob’s favorite. He was a special child (and he knew it).
Joseph had this habit of dreaming these dreams that had significance. He seemed to enjoy telling his brothers. He said: “We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.” They didn’t take to that very well.
And he had another dream: “Listen,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” It didn’t take a genius to figure out that the sun was Dad and the Moon Mom. Now not only his brothers, but his parents were offended and the inference that they would bow down to their youngest child was hard to take.
To add insult to injury, Dad not only made up with his son, he rewarded him with a distinct coat of many colors – an honor he did not bestow on any of his other children. Now those brothers were furious and all they could think of was how to get even and shut him up.
One day they were out in the field and when they saw Joseph coming, they said: Now is the time to get rid of this “dreamer.” Let’s kill him and say an animal attacked him! So, although they didn’t outright kill him, they did throw him into a pit, strip him of his pretty coat, and then made 20 pieces of silver off of him when they sold him to some traveling merchants! Then they dipped his coat in animal blood, and brought it back to Daddy and said: “So sorry, we don’t know what happened to poor little Joseph. He must have been attacked by wild animals.” An important bit of information here is that these Midianites who purchased this unfortunate young man, were on their way to Egypt. And when they arrived in Egypt several days later, they were able to sell young Joseph to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard!
Now Joseph was only 17 or 18 years old at this time and we don’t have much of a description of how he reacted to his brother’s villainy.
It’s true that he was a bit of a pain in the neck, but part of that you can attribute to the brashness of youth and the understandable delight of being loved and favored by his father! But even given those factors, I can’t imagine what it was like to come to understand that the hatred your brothers had toward you was so intense that they would contemplate killing you and then actually selling you as a slave to strangers has to be without question the worst day of his short life!
In just a few hours, he went from being the most honored in the family, from being loved and fully provided for, to having to come to terms with perhaps never seeing his family again, his loving, doting father and a mother who cherished him. He had to face total insecurity when he, only hoursbefore, was sitting so well in a well-to-do family. He had no idea where he was going or what would happen to him.
I would say that some of you have had something happen to you that made you feel like your world had come to a screeching halt. Your security was upended, your loving and comforting reality was shattered and your future looked absolutely bleak.
You lost a loved one, you got a frightening diagnosis, your livelihood was upended, or some other calamity suddenly seemed to destroy everything you were counting on.
These kinds of situations are some of the most troubling dilemmas in our walk with God. They often lead Christians to doubt the love of God and even doubt the existence of God. “How can a loving God allow such horrible things to happen?” I’m not so naive to suggest that there is some magic formula to remove that pain. There isn’t. I’m not going to tell you that God will take away your sense of loss or the conditions that have descended upon you. God could and God has done it before, but it might not be your reality. There are times when it seems that God has abandoned us and there is no other way than THROUGH it.
What I can say to you is that in this one situation of Joseph’s life, we have a glimpse into God’s view of our lives. We not only see Joseph’s history and his present dilemma, we also know Joseph’s future. Knowing all of this does not soothe the pain, but it does remind us of the promise from God that “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”
There in the desert, Joseph had no way of knowing that he was about to be thrust into the household of the captain of the guard to Pharaoh. He had no way of knowing that he would become so important to Pharaoh that Pharaoh would one day lift him higher than any pit could ever bury him – so much so that he became the sole link to saving every one of his family from starvation. He had no way of knowing that because of his faithfulness, a whole nation would eventually become free from
slavery in Egypt and that his story would become the hope upon which millions and millions of enslaved people over the eons would look to for hope in their own places of loss.
All of that was hidden from Joseph that dark afternoon in the desert, bound and tied and sold! All he had was trust in the God of his father and grandfather who had promised to accompany him and secure his future.
As God said to Haggai many, many years later to the Hebrew people who had lost everything: The glory of this latter house shall be greater than of the former, saith the LORD of hosts: and in this place will I give peace, saith the LORD of hosts. Haggai 2:9
In that promise is the only thing we have to hold on to in the worst of times. In that promise is no guarantee of immediate relief from our anguish and hopelessness. But, in that promise is the outstretched promise of God that all will be well and that all manner of things will be well. Eventually. In those words is the promise that as long as we breathe, God is not done with us yet and there are better things to come. Amen.