Genesis 45:3-11, 15
The Rev. Adele K. Langworthy, preaching
February 24, 2019
To understand the full context and impact of the scripture lesson this morning, we need to take a step back in time. Rewind to over 3500 years ago, about 1550 B.C.E. If you take a look around, you will find yourself in the middle of what we now know as Israel, and part of a large family.
Jacob is the patriarch of the family. There are at least 12 sons and one daughter. There may be more daughters, but I can’t seem to get a clear read if there really are. Perhaps you have heard of the boys:, Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Zebulum, Isaachar, Dan, Gad, Asher, Naphtali, Joseph, Benjamin and maybe even the one girl, Dinah.
Joseph, first born to Rachel and the 11th son of Jacob, seems to be the favorite of his dad. Turns out his dad, Jacob, had loved Rachel as soon as he placed his eyes on her, but her sister, Leah, tricked Jacob into marrying her instead of Rachel. He had to wait 14 years to marry Rachel! So Joseph came by being the favorite naturally, being the first born of the woman his father most loved. Let’s follow his life:
As a 17 year old teenager, Joseph was a shepherd alongside his brothers. He didn’t really get along with his brothers. He didn’t like the way they treated their dad or what they did. They were not always honest and were sometimes lazy. My guess is that they loved to bully him too! But, he didn’t care what they thought of him. He had no problem telling his father about their misdeeds. Some of you may say he was a ‘snitch’, but he knew it was right to be upfront and not participate in deceitful behavior; and he would not be swayed. Ten of his brothers may have been older and bigger than he, but he was not going to let them push him around.
Joseph’s dad loved him so much that he gave him a special gift — a coat of many colors. This really set his brothers off! Joseph being Jacob’s favorite was now in their face more than ever before. Hate for Joseph began to emerge. When Joseph shared his special dreams with them—that was the last straw!
What was Joseph thinking? His brothers already knew he was favored and his dreams seemed very ego-centric: In the first, sheaves of wheat belonging to his brothers bowed to his own sheaf. In the second, the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowed to him. His brothers’ hate only deepened.
Then one day, Jacob sent Joseph to check on his brothers in Shechem. And as the pattern was, he couldn’t find them there so he traveled further to Dothan. It was there that the oldest brothers decided the opportunity had arisen—they could kill off their bother of a brother and hide his body in a pit. His oldest brother, Reuben, seemed to struggle with their decision to kill Joseph, but he didn’t stand up for Joseph as much as he could have. It was his hope that Joseph would be alive in the pit so later he could come and rescue him when the brothers weren’t around.
As it turns out, Joseph was put into the pit without his coat. While his older brothers sat down to eat, some [Ishamelite] traders travelled nearby. Judah came up with the idea to sell Joseph into slavery for 20 pieces of silver. Everyone agreed. A deal was struck with the traders. Then the older brothers dipped Joseph’s coat in goat’s blood from a slaughter and took it to Jacob. As you might imagine, Joseph’s father was distraught over his son being killed by wild animals.
Meanwhile, the traders took this 17 year old boy, Joseph, to Egypt where Potiphar, an officer and head of the kitchen of Pharaoh, bought him. Joseph was very successful. He quickly was promoted and became Potiphar’s personal attendant. He not only was successful, but apparently good looking. Potiphar’s wife wanted him. But just as he had been with his brothers (not buying into their deceit and lies), he would not succumb to Potiphar’s wife’s advances. She became so upset with Joseph refusing her, she framed him for seduction and had her husband, Potiphar, throw him in prison.
Yet again, Joseph would enter darkness for doing the right thing!
But while in prison, the chief jailer took a liking to Joseph and put him in charge of other prisoners. Two of those prisoners were a butler and a baker. They developed a friendship while imprisoned. One day they were talking with Joseph and shared some dreams they had had. Joseph was more than happy to interpret them: In three days, the butler would be recalled to his former position, but the baker would die. Joseph had wished he was wrong, but he was not. In three days the butler was restored to his original position and the baker was killed. Joseph had asked the butler to remember him to Pharaoh in hopes of getting freed himself, but the butler forgot. Joseph was left yet again!
Fast forward two years, Pharaoh himself had two dreams that no one in his circle could interpret. It was only then that the butler remembered Joseph. So as you might expect, Joseph was summoned to the Pharaoh. Now 30 years old, Joseph had grown in maturity, wisdom, and his relationship with God. Joseph boldly claimed his gift and God’s interpretation of the dreams. He said that there would be seven years of plentiful crops followed by seven years of famine. He took it upon himself to advise Pharaoh to have someone oversee the food supply during plenty so there would be food during scarcity. Pharoah liked Joseph’s initiative, so he made him second-in-command.
It has now been 22 years since Joseph was sold into slavery. His brothers have been in Canaan with his father Jacob who still mourned what he thought to be the death of his son, Joseph. The famine had reached their household. Jacob decided to send the 10 older brothers to Egypt to get food, keeping Benjamin back with him because he was worried about his safety (he could not bear to loose his only other son from Rachel.)
The brothers arrived in Egypt and went to see ‘the one’ in charge of food distribution. Joseph recognized them at once, but they had no idea they were dealing with their “dead” brother. He accused them of being spies, locked them up, let them sweat a little, gave them time to lament that they were being punished for what they had done to him. He then released them with food, secretly returning their money, only keeping Simeon behind pending their return with Benjamin. But Jacob, a grieving father, now without two sons (Joseph and Simeon) was unwilling to send Benjamin and risk loosing him too.
But when the food ran out, Jacob had no choice. Benjamin would need to go to Egypt.
The brothers traveled back to ‘the one’ in charge of the food in Egypt. Joseph instructed his servants to serve them a meal. The brothers were upfront about unexplained money in their bags and now having double because they didn’t want to be held for stealing, but Joseph’s steward said the payment had been made so it must have been from God. Still a little nervous and unsettled, they waited for Joseph to eat with them. When he arrived, the brothers gave him gifts and bowed to him, still unaware that they were in the presence of their brother Joseph. He enjoyed a meal with them and asked about their father. Joseph then instructed his servant to fill the brothers’ bags with food, return each one’s money a second time, and put his own silver goblet in Benjamin’s bag.
As soon as they left to return to Canaan, the brothers were stopped and accused of stealing Joseph’s goblet. The situation got messy. Whoever had the goblet, would be kept as a slave. The brothers knew they couldn’t return to their father with one less son, especially Benjamin. They also knew that of any of the brothers, certainly Benjamin wouldn’t have stolen the goblet. Emotions were running high. The brothers could not handle the situation and Joseph couldn’t take anymore of their pain, so he dismissed his servants and identified himself.
And that is where our scripture passage picks up today—where we are able to see that side effects may not be so side, afterall.
Joseph said to his brothers, “You sold me here;”
(In essence, you hated me and wanted me gone—and you got me gone!)
But… Joseph said, “God sent me before you to preserve life.”
(The not so side ‘side effect’ of your selling me off got me right where God needed me to be to present!)
Joseph’s brothers threw him into a dark pit and then ate their fill of lunch in the bright of day.
(Joseph most likely thought something along these lines, “The desire of my brothers’ hearts is for me to wither away and die.”)
But …Joseph said, “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.”
(The not so side ‘side effect’ of you wanting me to die made it possible for so many more to live.)
The brothers sold Joseph into Egyptian slavery for 20 pieces of silver so they did not have to have his blood on them, while removing him from the family.
(To Joseph’s 17 year old heart, he was abandoned and felt alone..)
But … Joseph said, “It is not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
(The not so side ‘side effect’ of you disowning me brought me to the place where I belong.)
Have you ever started out to do something thinking you knew the reason why, but later learned that your reason behind doing it was the furthest reason from why God wanted you to do it? That has happened to me so many times, I have lost track. It can be something as simple as praying over my day and deciding to go to the post office before the grocery store even though I always do it in the opposite order, only to find out I needed to be at the grocery store to run into someone I hadn’t seen in a long time. Not so side, ‘side effects’ from God are such a blessing! We just need to be open to receive them and embrace them.
Where are you right now, in life?
- Perhaps where you want to be
- Totally not where you want to be
- Resigned for things to be as they are for now
- In process and going with the flow
I challenge you to pray over your life for insight into ‘side effects’ that may not be so side for your life.