By Jared Warner
Willow Creek Friends Church
August 20, 2023
Genesis 45:1–15 (ESV)
1 Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him. He cried, “Make everyone go out from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept aloud, so that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. 4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are yet five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; do not tarry. 10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, and your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 There I will provide for you, for there are yet five years of famine to come, so that you and your household, and all that you have, do not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see, that it is my mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father of all my honor in Egypt, and of all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them. After that his brothers talked with him.
The story of Joseph is one that often captures the imagination. It is no wonder that this story was adapted to become one of the most well-known musicals in contemporary history. And has been the subject of children’s movies as well as the feature in children’s books. There is something about this story that grabs hold of our hearts and gives us sparks of hope.
Today’s story started long before the words that we read today. I started while he still lived in his father’s house. Why did the brothers despise Joseph in the first place? We could make a case that it was because he was given the steward’s coat, which elevated his stature as the second youngest son to that of the first born. But I presented an argument last week that Jacob was not necessarily outside of the cultural norms by doing this. Joseph was the first born of Jacob’s second wife. When Reuben brought dishonor to the family and was disinherited this left a gap within the family. Jacob could have transferred the honor to the second born son, but that son was from the same mother as Reuben. Reuben’s actions did not only affect him, but they also affected that entire line. Each of Leah’s sons carried similar personality traits. They were quick to act without thinking things through. They had spent the most time with their maternal grandfather, so they had the potential to continue that lifestyle, a lifestyle Jacob had hoped to leave in the past. The lifestyle so manipulation and self-centered desires.
Reuben’s sin not only disqualified him, but half the family. The rights of the first born were by necessity transferred to the line of the second wife. I can understand the contempt that the elder sons held. No one likes being passed over when it comes to honor and position. But what made everything worse. The aspect of Joseph that irritated them above everything else was his dreams.
I will not go deeply into these dreams, but we need to mention them in passing. These dreams leave little to interpretation, in each case Joseph found himself in the center of the dream, and surrounding him were symbolic representations of his brothers, and even his parents. In each case these symbolic representations gave homage to Joseph. The thing I find most interesting about the dreams is that Joseph was not something different from the brothers. They were sheaves of wheat, as was Joseph. They were stars, and so was Joseph. The only symbolic image that was of different initial status within the dreams were of the sun and moon. These, the greater and lesser lights of the heavens, seemed to represent the most important aspects of a culture. Many ancient religions would have their greatest god within their pantheon represented as the sun and in most cases the greatest goddess was the moon. This dualistic nature would often represent the dual aspects of human experience. Labor and rest. Male and female. Order and chaos. Light and dark. Ying and Yang. The dreams that Joseph had prophesied of humble beginnings being lifted into greatness. Greatness so substantial that even the foundations of society within a culture would pay homage to him.
These dreams annoyed the elder brothers. Joseph was just like them. Who or what did he think he was. He might have been given the honor of family steward, but he was still one among equals. In Joseph naivety as an adolescent, he shared these odd dreams with them. I do not think he intended to exert himself over the others by sharing these revelations, I really think he was confused by the dreams. Joseph knew who he was. He knew he was a simple farm laborer. He knew he was just one son among many. He might have found the dreams to be interesting, but it is only a dream.
These dreams angered the brothers, and it became more aggravating when they began to see that the dream come to fruition. Reuben had fallen from his place of honor and now out of weird cultural tradition this boy was being lifted over them. Well, it was ten to one why not just get rid of him and his ridiculous dreams.
I am not saying that they are bad people. They are simply people of the world. This is often how the world works. Our problems are caused by some outside factor. You can fill in what that factor is with pretty much anything you would like. They are the reason I do not have what I want, so we must rid the world of that influence. We see it in the news, we see it on display every election cycle. We see it in our workplaces, and in the interactions of our children. The ideology of the scape goat runs deep in most cultures.
The brothers schemed to murder their problem, but then they decided that they should profit instead. They sold their brother into slavery, and Joseph found himself in a far-off foreign land.
Joseph was sold into slavery. This practice is quite possibly the vilest of any human activity. It dehumanizes individuals that bear the same image of God as us. It cannot be justified no matter how hard people try. It is vile and in complete opposition to our faith. Joseph had a dream that he would become great, and his brothers dehumanized him, and said no you are beneath us, you are subhuman. Joseph left in chains. He was a slave and a prisoner, in both cases, he became indispensable to those that he served. He was alone in the world and yet he did not allow his circumstances to overcome him.
It would have been easy for him to fall into dismay. No one would have blamed him to simply give up. But that was not how he lived his life. He was sold, he might have wallowed in self-pity for a moment, but he quickly got to work. He worked his way up to the very position he once held in his father’s house, he became the steward. Then he was cut down again by a false accusation. Again, he could have wallowed in depression but instead he became an asset to the warden of the prison. And through all of this he remembered the God of his Father.
Then dreams come to play again. I am not one that will say that every dream has spiritual significance, but I do believe that God can use dreams. I say this because that is what scripture indicates. You do not need to go and get a book to help you interpret every symbolic meaning within a dream but if you do have a dream that strikes you as important use it to deepen your life of prayer and allow it along with scripture to guide your actions within the world you live. Joseph had dreams, and he knew that those dreams held something important. He knew that they spoke deeply to him, and likely influenced him through the dark days of his life in chains. Eventually others spoke of their dreams to him, and because of his contemplative nature and devotion to God, he was able to speak to their conditions. This eventually took him to the very feet of Pharaoh.
What caused Pharaoh to see Joseph? What caused him to believe the words that Joseph spoke as being truth? God gave him the power to interpret dreams. But Pharaoh did not believe that Joseph’s God was any greater than his own. What caused Pharaoh to believe the words of Joseph was the lifestyle that Joseph led. A man living in prison is not often brought before the leader of an empire for counsel. Pharaoh likely asked the jailer, and everyone connected to Joseph about him. He watched Joseph as he walked into the room. He observed the way he carried himself. And how he spoke. Joseph did not take undue credit, instead he was honest.
Joseph is the ultimate rags to riches story. We have lifted him up as the pillar of human achievement and the ability to overcome adversity. When we do that, we miss the point. Joseph was not a pull yourself up by the bootstrap’s kind of guy. Joseph was the opposite of that mentality. Joseph lived and worked within the community. He took life as it came and made the most with what was offered. He honored God and those around him as he did this. “It is not me, God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
Fast forward to today’s passage. God provided Pharaoh with the favorable answer through Joseph, and because of this Joseph was lifted up to being father or advisor to Pharaoh. He was once the steward over the house as a slave, he became steward of the jail, and now he is the steward over all of Egypt. He had been knocked back time and again. Yet he remained true to who he was. He was just a sheath of wheat. Nothing spectacular, common. One among a multitude, but he was dedicated to working for the good of his community. It was the community that took president over all else. This community mindedness allowed Egypt to survive and to become a blessing during the hardship.
People from the surrounding regions all came to Egypt because they had what no one else had. They had hope. Even the sons of Jacob, looked to Egypt as a land of hope in hardship. Joseph recognized them as they approached, he challenged and tested them, as he accused them of wrongdoing. He observed a change within his brothers that he did not expect. The very one that presented the idea of selling Joseph, came to the defense of Benjamin the youngest son.
This moved Joseph. It took him by surprise. These were his brothers, but they were not the same as they once were. There was a change within them. They once sold their brother, and now they were willing to give their life for a brother. Joseph is moved to tears and he sends everyone out except these men from Cannan. This is odd. Joseph had only spoken to these men through interpreters before, so the fact that he remained alone with them caused the entire court to become curious.
He then speaks to his brothers. Scholars have noticed the change in the language usage at this point. Prior to this point, Joseph only spoke of Jacob as “Your father”. This they say indicated that the words were spoken through translators. But now Joseph says, “my father”. He is no longer speaking in the language of Egypt but that of Cannan, the language of his brothers. “I am Joseph! Is my father alive?” He looks at his brothers and he inquiries about his father’s health. The brothers stand in shock before him.
Their entire life came to a halt. There was only one person in the world that could accuse them of wrong. Others could dislike them, but their actions were justifiable. Joseph was the only one that was wronged out of spite. And he had not only a reason but the power to seek justice.
The brothers were speechless, and dismayed. Our English translations do not do this justice. They were not just dismayed they were terrified. The word translated dismayed here is bahal. In the Lexham Research Commentary of Genesis 12-50 they say, “This is a term used of paralyzing fear as felt by those involved in war, it indicates the panic that seizes a person when surprised by obvious doom.” They are like deer in the headlights. Unable to move or speak because their demise is quickly approaching.
Joseph then does something interesting. He calls them closer. “Come near to me, please. I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.”
God has brought you here. I do not know every aspect of your life; I do not know every hardship you have faced. I do not know if those hardships were brought about by injustice within this world or if they were consequences that resulted from your own actions. We all face hardships. Some might even make the argument that to be human is to suffer. That is a pessimistic way of thinking, but hardship is part of life.
God has brought you here. I do not say this lightly. I am not saying that it is fate that you must endure what you have endured because it is God’s providence. I am not saying that God wants you to suffer. What I mean is that there are times where the hardships we endure can be used to bring about something beautiful.
It was terrible that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery. It is something that cannot be justified and anyone that tries is as vile as those that sold him in the first place. Slavery is never good. Yet Joseph looks at his brothers in complete honesty. He does not overlook their transgression, nor does he demand repentance. He simply speaks the truth. “You sold me,” he says, “but get over yourselves. I don’t want to get even. Because if I was not here, I could not help.” Joseph was mature enough in his faith to realize that God was able to use this terrible situation to save lives. The hardships he endured provided him with the wisdom and empathy to lead them through this trial.
Your hardships are hard, and they should not be taken lightly. They are painful, and traumatic. But I want to ask a simple question. What are you going to do about it? God has brought you here. I do not know why, and at times I am just as upset about it as you are. My little sister died when she was ten years old. Nothing can fill that void, that loss. As much as I would like to explain why that had to happen I cannot. Yet I know that God has brought me here. He has carried me through that hardship, he has shown me time and time again that there is hope even though the way seems dark. God is not the cause of our troubles, but he is with us through them.
Joseph faced his trials with integrity and hope. He continued to pursue the life he knew he should. He became a blessing to those around him and he encouraged his community. It does not change the fact that his own brothers sold him. It does not change the fact that he sat in prison for a crime he did not commit. It does not change anything, but he made a choice. He did not let the circumstances surrounding him determine how he lived. He chose to honor God in all that he did as a son, as a slave, as a prisoner, and as a steward of Egypt. God brought him there. God did not cause the hardship, the brothers started that, but God was with Joseph even in the darkest time. And God was able to show Joseph how he could help his community prosper within his new situation.
God has brought us here. How or why, we can ponder, but what are we going to do about it? Will you allow yourself to be sucked into the ideologies of the world, casting blame on scape goats, or will you seek God? Will you be pulled into the darkness of self-pity, or will you stand like Joseph. We are here. God has brought us here. We might as well make the most of it.
By Jared Warner Willow Creek Friends Church September 24, 2023 Click here to join our Meeting for Worship Click to read in Swahili Bofya kusoma kwa Kiswahili Exodus 16:2–15 (ESV) 2 And the whole congregation of the people of Israel grumbled against Moses and Aaron in the wilderness, 3 and the people of Israel said…
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