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NL303: God works through Joseph

Published September 21, 2020 / Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15-21

A Retelling of God working through Joseph

It had been almost 40 years since Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers, his own flesh and blood. His father Jacob was now dead, a father who loved him dearly in his early years. But for a significant portion of those 40 years, Joseph didn’t get to enjoy that love because he had been sold into slavery and forced into a new life in Egypt.

It wasn’t until Jacob was near the end of his life that Joseph and Jacob embraced each other once again all because Joseph’s brothers came to Egypt seeking refuge from a severe famine back home. No one could have imagined the way this would all play out.

And in one of Jacob’s final acts on this earth, he passes on the family blessing to Jacob’s two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Sadly, Joseph didn’t even get to celebrate their birth with his father and now it was too late to make up for any lost time. We can only imagine the pit of emotions they ALL must have been drowning in as Joseph discovered his family was still around, as Jacob discovered his son was still alive, and as all of the brothers collectively learned that Joseph had made his way to the top of Egyptian authority.

Joseph didn’t get to enjoy much time with his father before he passed and this absolutely had to be a breeding ground for bitterness and anger as he threw himself on his father and wept over him. After taking his father back home for burial, Joseph and his brothers didn’t seem to talk much as they headed back to Egypt. The brothers didn’t really know what Joseph was thinking and they had grown afraid that Joseph would deal with them harshly.

But in a moment that can only be described as an act of God, as the brothers throw themselves at the feet of Joseph whom they had sold off as if he were worthless, Joseph tells them, “Don’t be afraid. I’m not only going to take care of you. I will take care of your children also.” Joseph’s brothers had become the worst sort of enemies in life, the ones who are supposed to love you but don’t and despite everything Joseph had been deprived of in life, he chose love to his enemies.

Bitterness always gives birth to bitterness.
Hate always gives birth to hate.

And Love? Love always gives birth to love.

Storyline Commentary on God working through Joseph

Every story can be broken down into a few parts. The setting, where the story takes place and why it might be important. The characters and their emotions and thoughts invested in the story. A tension that needs resolved. A resolution that brings us through the tension, and a through line (aka main idea) that carries the story through from beginning to end.

The Setting

This is a story that spans almost 40 years between Joseph being sold into slavery and Joseph forgiving his brothers in Egypt and it is wrought with all sorts of tension.

The Characters

Jacob, the father of Joseph who loves Joseph very much.

Joseph, sold into slavery by his own brothers, but who finds favor with Pharaoh.

Joseph’s brothers who hate him because Joseph dreams that they will one day bow down to him.

Pharaoh who shows Joseph favor.

The Tension

Josephs brothers despise him, to the point of almost killing him. But his father Jacob loves him more than all of his other brothers and this causes even more tension, especially when Jacob gives Joseph a coat of many colors symbolizing power and prestige. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers and the tension here is threefold. The brothers have to cover up the wrong they’ve done by deceiving their father Jacob. Jacob has to deal with the loss of his son (which turns out to be false, but Jacob lives many years believing he’s tragically lost a son, something no parent should ever have to face). Joseph has to live with his own flesh and blood turning their backs on him and the agony that comes with slavery. More so, Joseph has to live in the tension that his own family has become his worst enemy and this perhaps is the worst sort of enemy one ever deals with. The worst sort of enemies are the ones that are supposed to love you but don’t. Jacob was ultimately denied a relationship with his father who loved him dearly for years and this absolutely has to cut to the soul.

The Resolution

Joseph choose to love his enemies and it led to life. Joseph was under no obligation to forgive and love his brothers. He had everything he needed in life. There was nothing his brothers could give him at this point minus an apology but how does an apology even begin to account for the years Joseph missed with his dad? In the end, Joseph’s forgiveness towards his brothers was a God thing.

The Through Line

Choosing love leads to life. Choosing hate leads to death.

Reflections on God working through Joseph

Why has this story endured? It’s the story of man that’s a part of the larger story of the birth of Israel. It has endured because of the radical compassion displayed in this story. It’s the sort of compassion and love displayed that can only be characterized as having come from God and radical stories of forgiveness always stand the test of time.

What is true for them then that is still true for us today? Families still turn on one another. We all have enemies. The question we must ask ourselves, can we truly believe what Jesus says in Luke 6:27-36 about loving our enemies? Love your enemies. Bless those who curse you. Be merciful like God is merciful. All of these lead to life and in today’s world, it seems like this is needed more than ever.

How does this story help us love God? Others will mean us harm and the same God who used that to Joseph’s benefit is the same God who will use it to our benefit. We all need the reminder from time to time that God loves us so much, he sent his son into this world so that none of us would perish (John 3:16).

How does this story help us love others? It’s a reminder that in the end, Love wins. This story could have unfolded in so many ways, but Joseph chose love and that led to life. The early Christians echoed this in the Didache. There are two ways, a way that leads to life and way that leads to death. The way of life is love. The way of death is hatred, bitterness, and all of the different things that pull us away from perfect love. I think Joseph probably drew closer to God because he chose love over everything else that he could have when dealing with what had happened to him. When we do that too, it draws us closer to God and fills us with life.

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