Today we are smack dab in the mucky middle of the Joseph story that
spans Genesis 37-50. Last week, young Joseph is the favored son of his
father, a tattletale against his brother and arrogantly boasts about his
dreams in which his family bows down to him and adding fuel to the fire.
His brothers, who already hate him, kidnap him and after contemplating
killing him they instead sell him into slavery.
Let’s quickly review the missing chapters that get us to today. We can
follow the rise of Joseph to power within the Pharaoh’s inner circle, in large
part because he believes Joseph has a spiritual gift – the ability to interpret
dreams. When he predicts 7 years of abundance, followed by 7 years of
famine, Joseph is placed in charge of making sure Egypt survives the
famine by stockpiling its resources. Joseph becomes the second in
command, ruler of Egypt.
As the famine reaches Cannan, Jacob sends his now 10 eldest sons to
Egypt to buy grain. Benjamin, the new favorite son gets to stay home (in a
family pattern kind- of-repeating itself way). Joseph recognizes his brothers
but they do not recognize him, after all, he looks, sounds and presents
himself as Egyptian. It says in Chapter 42 that Joseph remembered those
vibrant dreams of golden of sheaves of wheat and the moon and sun and
stars all bowing down to him. His dream come true in that moment but at
what cost? He had spent years in captivity, a foreigner in a new land,
without his family or his religious community.
So does he jump for joy, reveal himself, forgive his brothers, save the day
and they all live happily ever after? No, rather than some great scene of
reconciliation, we see Joseph harshly set in motion a series of events
designed to manipulate and test his bothers.
First he accuses them of being spies and tells them they must go back
home and get their youngest brother Benjamin to prove they are honest
men. During this exchange, he hears the brothers talking about their 12 th
brother who has died and about how this predicament they are in is a
penalty for their lack of compassion toward Joseph and for selling him off.
And it says Joseph went aside and weeps.
And while they are going back home to get Benjamin, Joseph says he will
keep their brother Simeon as collateral. So once again the brothers, return
home to their father one brother short. This time Jacob does not want to
lose another son (Benjamin) so he does not immediately send them back.
He waits (all the while with Simeon imprisoned in Egypt) until they run out
of grain again before conceding and sends them back, this time with
After being in Joseph presence again, this time Joseph has his servant
plant a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag and after they have left to head back
home they are intercepted by Joseph’s guards who “discover” the cup and
drag them all back in front of Joseph. And in the verses leading up to
day’s passage, the brothers beg for Benjamin’s life.
Now let us hear the words of today’s passage.
Genesis 45:1-15 (Common English Bible)
45 Joseph could no longer control himself in front of all his attendants, so
he declared, “Everyone, leave now!” So no one stayed with him when he
revealed his identity to his brothers. 2 He wept so loudly that the Egyptians
and Pharaoh’s household heard him. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I’m
Joseph! Is my father really still alive?” His brothers couldn’t respond
because they were terrified before him.
4 Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me,” and they moved closer.
He said, “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. 6 We’ve already had two
years of famine in the land, and there are five years left without planting or
harvesting. 7 God sent me before you to make sure you’d survive [a] 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, master of his entire household,
and ruler of the whole land of Egypt.
9 “Hurry! Go back to your father. Tell him this is what your son Joseph says:
‘God has made me master of all of Egypt. Come down to me. Don’t delay.
10 You may live in the land of Goshen, so you will be near me, your
children, your grandchildren, your flocks, your herds, and everyone with
you. 11 I will support you there, so you, your household, and everyone with
you won’t starve, since the famine will still last five years.’ 12 You and my
brother Benjamin have seen with your own eyes that I’m speaking to you.
13 Tell my father about my power in Egypt and about everything you’ve
seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 He threw his arms around
his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his shoulder.
15 He kissed all of his brothers and wept, embracing them. After that, his
brothers were finally able to talk to him.
Joseph is a complicated character. And as you read the whole story, there
are many places where he is not very likable. All 11 of his brothers hate
him enough to sell him into slavery. He has a shrewd business mind. He
builds up the Pharaoh’s wealth and holdings with such grandeur the whole
region was dependent upon him to survive the famine. He seems unfazed
and unemotional by the taking of people’s livestock and land to increase
the Pharaoh coffers and his own power and privilege.
But today, in this passage, we see a different Joseph; the one that was
rejected and thrown away now coming out to his brothers in this emotional
scene. There was weeping; lots of weeping.
Is it possible Joseph believe his brothers had learned their lesson? Had
they passed Joseph’s tests? Had they learned to not abandon each other?
Had his brothers redeemed themselves before Joesph?
And so Joseph comes out to his brothers, “I am the one YOU sold into
slavery” he says. Does he forgive them? Would you? I’m not sure he
forgives them, he never says he forgives them. What he says is that he will
take care of them, more specifically, Joseph wants to see his father and
maybe knows they are a package deal.
If you read on, you see that Joseph does as he says. The whole family
moves to Goshen, some 75 of them (Acts 7-Stephen’s speech). And
Joseph sees his father. And he weeps some more. And while his brothers
live in fear of Joseph, he nevertheless provides for them even after his
This story has raised so many questions in me this week (and not just
because my brother came to visit me). What’s the point of this story for us
today? Is it that something redemptive comes, even when we aren’t
looking for it? It is that families are the ones who can hurt us the most
deeply? Is it that forgiveness is hard and trust is a process?
Here is what I like about Joseph and many if not most of the bible
characters. They aren’t prefect. They are in fact so very human that I can
find myself in them.
Maybe Joseph isn’t the hero of forgiveness from my Sunday School
lesson. Maybe he’s just a human who was terribly hurt by his family. And
showed enough skill and resiliency to survive and flourish in a foreign land.
Maybe Joseph’s belief that God can make good things out of bad kept him
grounded in his faith, when no one else around him shared his views? .
And for one whom forgiveness is hard but on this day he found the strength to
make himself vulnerable enough to come out to his family in order to gain
some level of reconciliation. Not because his brothers asked for it, but
because it was the best thing for Joseph.
How many of us are like Joseph? Hurt by our family, or the church, or the
systems of oppression that we build in this world? How many of us like
Joseph have felt rejected and thrown to the side? How many of us have
wondered if people will miss us or even care if you’re dead or alive?
And how many of us are willing to be vulnerable with those people, to
forgive ourselves and others as much as we able. How many of us are
willing to be vulnerable in order to find peace and joy in our lives?
If I’m learning anything through walking through this time of my life in this
country, at this time, it is that for things to get better, we must be honest
with each other about our hurts and vulnerabilities. We must learn to trust
each other with the deepest of wounds in order to break down the walls we
have built between us. And maybe we need to weep for the opportunities
lost, for mistakes made, for pain inflicted.
There are indeed unintended consequences to our actions, personally and
communally. We have to decide what we can live with. What will bring
healing to our lives, our community, and our church? We are seeing the
consequence of slavery and Jim Crow playing out in our streets this week
and next week, we will see the result of this story unfold in the lives of the
Hebrew people. But for today, let us be like this Joseph, honest and raw.
Let us seek God’s hand in our lives, forgiving and asking for forgiveness
and accepting our role in the pain and oppression of others so that we
might together work for a more just and loving world.