Sermon: Joseph and His Brothers

Below the fold is a written version of Jenny’s sermon from Sunday, August 20, 2017. Her title was “Joseph and His Brothers,” her text was Genesis 45:1-15,

We have been reading the story of the family of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as we work our way through Genesis. I want to recap the story for you today so you have an overview of what is going on with their family and to get a feel for where we are in the story. And when we get to that part in the story, I will then read our Scripture passage from Genesis for today.

Early on, you may remember, God made a promise to Abram that he would be the father of a great nation. Abram and his wife Sarai, getting up there in years, get impatient with God’s timing and take matters into their own hands. Sarai gives her slave-girl, Hagar, to Abram as a wife and they have a child named Ishmael. Now, God will bless Ishmael’s family, too, but that’s another story. God gives Abram and Sarai new names, Abraham and Sarah, and they eventually have a son of their own named Isaac, the son of the promise, whose name means laughter. After all, who would have thought Sarah could give birth in her old age. After Abraham gave God several reasons to doubt that he could be counted on, Abraham showed he was willing to be obedient to God by offering up his son, Isaac, as a sacrifice. God provided a ram to be used instead, but you wonder if their relationship was ever quite the same again. Was Isaac always a bit skeptical of spending time alone with his dad?

Isaac grew up, married Rebekah, and they had the twins, Jacob and Esau. Jacob, you may remember, was a trickster. Jacob tricked his older twin brother, Esau, out of both his birthright and his blessing from their father. Jacob did so with the help of his mother, after all, he was his mother’s favorite child.

Jacob then goes on to meet Rachel, and works for her father Laban for seven years so that he can marry her. After the seven years, Laban gives Rachel’s sister, Leah, to Jacob for a wife, instead of Rachel, because Leah was the older sister. But Jacob doesn’t realize this until the next morning. Jacob ends up agreeing to work for Laban for another seven years so that he can marry Rachel too. As a wedding gift, Laban gives one of his maids to each of his daughters to be their maids.

Now, as you can imagine, there was some competition between the sisters. Rachel was the one Jacob loved, but Leah was the first one to give him children. And when Rachel saw she was not getting pregnant, she gave her maid to Jacob as a wife, and she bore Jacob some children. When Leah stopped having children, she also gave her maid to Jacob as a wife and she gave him children. Finally, Rachel bore Jacob two sons. Her first born was Joseph, followed by Benjamin just before her death. Not only was Joseph the child of Jacob’s old age, but he was also the first born son of his beloved Rachel. Joseph was seen as special in Jacob’s eyes. One of the things that is often confusing in this story is that Jacob is also known as Israel. The twelve tribes of Israel come from the twelve sons of Jacob and his four wives.

Last week we heard how Jacob, who never seems to learn, continues his family legacy of playing favorites, which does not sit well with his other sons. Jacob has a special fancy coat made for Joseph. Joseph’s brothers, understandably, get jealous. (None of them got a fancy coat like he did.) Then Joseph develops a gift for interpreting dreams. Which is a great gift. But the problem is, he had a dream about his family, and he told them about it. That was a problem because his dream was that his brothers would bow down to him. Joseph tells his brothers about his dream and of course, his brothers get upset. This happens not just once, but twice. Joseph does not seem to be a quick study. You can imagine what his brothers are murmuring to each other. “Joseph thinks he is so great that we will bow down to him some day. He is so full of himself. We always knew he was dad’s favorite, but now he’s taking it to a whole new level.”

So, Joseph’s brothers set out to kill him. If they get rid of him, they get rid of the problem, they think. Brother Rueben convinces the others to just put Joseph in a pit, instead of killing him, thinking he could come back and get him later. But in the meantime, Judah convinced the brothers to sell Joseph into slavery to some Ishmaelite traders who took Joseph to Egypt. Then, in order to cover up what they had done, the brothers took Joseph’s special coat, dipped it in goat’s blood, took it back to their father, and told him Joseph had been eaten by a wild animal. Jacob is beside himself with grief.

In Egypt, meanwhile, Joseph puts his gift of interpreting dreams to good use. Eventually he earns the favor of the Pharaoh by interpreting his dreams of upcoming years of plenty and famine, and Pharaoh puts him in charge of organizing the grain to save it up in the years of plenty so they have enough to live on in the years of famine.

During the years of famine, Joseph’s brothers come to Eygpt looking for food. Joseph recognizes them, tests their trustworthiness by hiding money in their bags and accusing them of stealing. He watches them, asks questions about his younger brother Benjamin (his only full brother), about their father, and about himself, wondering what they will say. After testing them, and convincing them to bring back their youngest brother, Benjamin, we come to the story in our reading from today from Genesis 45:1-15:

1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. 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 five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 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 delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’ 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

In this moment in the story, Joseph gets overcome with emotion, and he finally reveals his identity to his brothers.

There is a lot going on with this family. There is a lot of history. A lot of patterns of deceit and favoritism and jealousy that go back generations. If you have ever felt like you had a family with issues, just read this story. You’re not alone. Sometimes we have great rifts in our relationships. Joseph came from a long history of deceit, favoritism, and jealousy. That is a lot to overcome.

What does it take to forgive, to reconcile, to heal? It takes time. And patience.It is difficult to forgive, to reconcile. When does happen, it takes a lot of work, a lot of time to rebuild trust. In order to forgive, we must let go of a situation so that it does not have a hold on us anymore.

It is one thing to forgive, it is another to reconcile. In order to reconcile, both sides have to want to reconcile. You can forgive, you can let go of the hold the other person has on your life, but if the other person doesn’t want to, reconciliation may not be possible. You are not responsible for reconciliation all by yourself, with forgiveness you have done your part. We have no control over what the other person does. We only have control over what we do. In order to heal and experience new life, we must let go of past hurts, make a break from the hurtful ways of the past, forgive and move forward.