Friday, November 19, 2010

Joseph - A Story of Redemption

November 21, 2010

Genesis 45:1-11a

Joseph: A Story of Redemption

I am the second of five children, and I have an older and younger brother. My older brother, Ed, and I always related very well. We went to the same college, where we both majored in religion, and for a semester attended the same seminary. My younger brother, Matt, and I had a different relationship. Matt and I probably spent more time together but we had a much more contentious relationship. For some reason, probably because he’s hardheaded and didn’t respect his older brother, we argued and fought quite often. These weren’t fights that were over major matters; these were fights over dumb stuff, the kind of matters that weren’t worthy of even a small argument. In one of my lowest moments, I actually broke his arm in a fight. But even in our most strained of moments I couldn’t have imagined what took place between the brothers in the text for today’s message, which is from the story of Joseph.

Everyone is familiar, I think, with the basics of the Joseph story. The story of Joseph has even made it to Broadway with Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat. Joseph is the fourth and final of the Old Testament patriarchs and his story fills fourteen chapters in Genesis – the longest story in the book of Genesis.

The story of Joseph is a fascinating story. It is also as tragic as it is fascinating, with the selling of Joseph into slavery; his brothers telling his father that he has been killed; the false accusation against Joseph by the wife of Potiphar that led to his imprisonment; the interpretation of dreams that led to his release and eventual elevation to Pharaoh’s second in command; the famine that led Joseph’s brothers to Egypt; Joseph’s toying with his brothers before finally revealing himself to them; the reuniting of Joseph and his father; and finally, his death, which closes the book of Genesis. With all the twists and turns, the intrigue, the adventure, the rise and fall and rise and a surprise twist at the end with another change in blessing by Jacob, it’s no wonder the story has long fascinated people.

Of the many qualities in the story, I want to focus on just one this morning – redemption. The story of Joseph is really a story of redemption; redemption between a family torn apart by conflict and hatred.

The Joseph story begins with him announcing to his brothers his dream in which they bow down to serve him. Genesis has already informed us of how the brothers hated Joseph because he was their father’s favorite (37:4) and the telling of this dream causes them to hate him even more (37:5). This is not the best way to endear yourself to your already estranged brothers. And even though Joseph is the favorite of his father, his father rebukes him for sharing this dream with the family (37:10).

The next stage of the story is Joseph coming to his brothers in the fields, where they were far away from their father and tending the flocks, and it is then that his brothers see their opportunity. Their first instinct is to kill him and tell their father he was attacked and killed by a wild beast. Reuben comes up with the idea not to kill him but to throw him into a pit – probably an old well.

Notice what the brothers do next. After casting him into the well they sit down to eat a meal (37:25). How cold-hearted is this? They throw their brother into a hole in the ground and then casually have a meal. I wonder if they were eating near the hole where Joseph had been cast. Could they hear his shouts and pleas for rescue while they casually ate their meal? Did they laugh at his predicament?

Abandoning him to this hole in the ground is bad enough, but his brother Judah has an idea that makes matters worse. A caravan was passing nearby and Judah decides they should at least profit from Joseph, so they sell him for twenty shekels of silver to this caravan making their way to Egypt. Twenty shekels of silver is equivalent in weight to about twenty 50 cent pieces; it wasn’t a lot of money.

Have you ever wondered what life was like for the brothers of Joseph after they sold him into slavery? Have you ever wondered how that money was spent? I wonder what went through the minds of those brothers when they spent the money. I wonder if they enjoyed the things purchased with the money. It was blood money, and every single day over the years they must have wondered what happened to their brother Joseph. Was he still alive?

Reuben, the oldest, was evidently gone when the others sold Joseph, and is beside himself upon his return to the pit and finding Joseph gone. He leads his brothers in crafting the lie that Joseph was killed by a wild beast. So they live for years with the knowledge they had sold their own flesh and blood into slavery and then lied to their father and allowed him to live with the belief that Joseph was dead. Reuben must live with the truth that if he had not been absent for a time perhaps he could have spared Joseph from being sold. And Judah; Judah must face the reality that it was his idea to sell Joseph. He was the one who would condemn Joseph to a life of slavery.

What kind of people would commit such an act? Not enemies – a family. Do you think your family has problems? This is a family that should make you feel better. Through a combination of adventures Joseph rises to the position of the second most powerful person in Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself.

And then one day his brothers show up in Egypt looking to buy grain. The drought that Joseph had predicted when he interpreted Pharaoh’s dream had devastated the food supply and so the brothers came to Egypt to buy food. When they arrive they are recognized by Joseph, but they do not recognize him. He accuses them of being spies and keeps Simeon and commands them to go home and to bring back their brother Benjamin. Right away the brothers recognize they are facing justice for what they did to Joseph (42:22). Reuben even turns on his brothers to say Did I not tell you, ‘Do not sin against the boy’; and you would not listen? Now comes the reckoning for his blood. Obviously, what they had done to Joseph was still very much on their minds and consciences.

The brothers return home and tell their father what happened and there they also discover their money in the bags of grain, and they become greatly distressed. And then Reuben makes his father a promise that he will protect his now favorite and youngest son, Benjamin. Reuben tells his father that he can put to death his own two sons if he does not bring Benjamin safely home (42:37), but Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go. Some time passes, and all the while Simeon remains imprisoned in Egypt, and the food eventually runs out. The brothers recognize they must return to Egypt and must take Benjamin with them. This time, Judah, the one who had the idea to sell Joseph into slavery, offers himself as surety for Benjamin’s safe return.

This time, Joseph not only places his brothers’ money in their bags of grain but has his cup added to the bag of Benjamin. After the brothers leave Joseph sends his men after them and finds the cup in Benjamin’s bag and he is accused as a thief. Then Judah steps forward and offers to be kept as a slave in the place of Benjamin. Isn’t this an amazing piece of irony? Judah, the one who urged his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery now must offer himself as a slave to his brother Joseph. I tell you – don’t ever let anyone tell you the Bible is boring!

And then in chapter 45 the whole charade is over. Joseph can no longer hide his identity from his brothers and there is this tremendous reunion between the brothers. It’s really a beautiful scene, this reunion of estranged brothers being brought together. And Joseph does a beautiful thing. The pride and arrogance of his younger years, which so angered his brothers is now gone. In its place is a spirit of forgiveness and redemption that reunites this family that for years has been broken asunder.

Joseph not only forgives them, but finds God’s hand in all of these events. He tells his brothers not to be grieved or angry with themselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life…Now therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt (45:5, 8).

Isn’t that an amazing spirit to have, after all that Joseph had experienced? And think about his brothers – all the years of guilt and wondering what had become of Joseph, and now they are reunited and he extends a hand of forgiveness. Amazing, isn’t it?

Families really are strange creatures, aren’t they? I have known families estranged from one another for years over the smallest of matters. What a tragedy. Life is too short, and families too precious, to live in estrangement and brokenness.

I sometimes joke with people that I have learned a twofold lesson by living away from my family for so many years. The disadvantage of being away from your family is, you are away from your family; the advantage of being away from your family is, you are away from your family. But I will also share with you a knowledge I have that not everyone here has, because most everyone hear has some family nearby, and my family does not. When your family is near, it is a great a precious gift, and don’t ever take that for granted. Grandparents, when your grandchildren are down the road or across the street don’t ever forget what a blessing to have them close. I know you don’t forget, but that’s just a reminder. And when your parents are close, your grandparents are close, your siblings are close – give thanks to God because it is a great gift. If you haven’t thanked God lately, do it right now.

Perhaps you have estrangement somewhere in your family. God healed the family of Joseph, and he can heal any brokenness in your family as well. If there is brokenness and estrangement in your family, don’t allow it to remain another day. Joseph had every right to be angry with his brothers and could have made their lives very difficult, but he didn’t. He laid down any anger and offered them the gift of forgiveness and redemption.

Perhaps the estrangement is in your spiritual family. Perhaps there is a relationship that needs to be healed. Don’t wait another day. Seek out healing and restoration and redemption today. Let go of your hurt, let go of division, and let God bring redemption today.

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