As we continue our series of messages Voices of Faith, this morning we come to the topic Voices of Faith: In the Family. In previous weeks we have discussed Voices of Faith: Under Persecution and Voices of Faith: In the Marketplace. Next week we will conclude with Voices of Faith: In the Political Arena, which I promise will not contain any endorsements!
If you search the Bible for a passage of that tells of a good, normal, healthy family, you will have a long, unsuccessful search. Though the Bible contains many stories about families we do not find any that are models of healthy functionality. Abraham and Sarah’s family had their share of issues, as did the family of David and many others. Maybe it’s intentional that we find broken, dysfunctional families in the pages of Scripture. I take comfort in the fact that Scripture reminds us that even the greatest heroes of faith exhibited the full range of the human condition, including our dysfunctions.
Our Scripture text for the day comes from the book of Genesis and contains part of the story of Joseph and his brothers.
Genesis 45:1-15 –
1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers.
2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.
3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still living?” But his brothers were not able to answer him, because they were terrified at his presence.
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me.” When they had done so, he said, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt!
5 And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
6 For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no plowing and reaping.
7 But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.
9 Now hurry back to my father and say to him, ‘This is what your son Joseph says: God has made me lord of all Egypt. Come down to me; don’t delay.
10 You shall live in the region of Goshen and be near me—you, your children and grandchildren, your flocks and herds, and all you have.
11 I will provide for you there, because five years of famine are still to come. Otherwise you and your household and all who belong to you will become destitute.’
12 “You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you.
13 Tell my father about all the honor accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.”
14 Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping.
15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
One of the most famous stories in all of Scripture, the tale of Joseph and his brothers tells of a family with some great struggles (the story begins in chapter 37 and is well worth the little bit of time it would take you to read). The brothers of Joseph, jealous of the favor given to him by their father, at first plan to kill Joseph. Reconsidering their decision, they decide instead to sell him into slavery. Joseph’s brother Judah actually goes so far as to say, what will we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? Come, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him; after all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood (37:26). It almost seems as though Judah exhibits a measure of compassion, asking his brothers to reconsider their decision to kill Joseph, but compassion is not a part of Judah’s calculation. Judah sees an opportunity to make a profit from selling their own brother into slavery. To kill him would provide no profit, so Joseph’s life is spared only because of the mercenary spirit of his brothers. It’s mind-boggling to realize how much enmity can exist in families, but the tragic actions of Joseph’s brothers underscore the reality that some families suffer terrible dysfunctions.
Under most circumstances, the story of one sold into slavery would end under the weight of the terrible circumstances. For Joseph, however, his story continues, with many an intriguing twist and turn along the way. By the end of the story, Joseph has risen to such power and prominence in Egypt that he is second only to the Pharaoh. Proving to possess great talents and gifts – as well as being very shrewd politically – Joseph finds himself in a position to exact vengeance upon his brothers. A terrible famine has come to the land, and when the brothers of Joseph come to Egypt to purchase food they find themselves standing before the brother whom they had sold into slavery many years before. They do not, however, recognize Joseph, but he certainly recognizes them.
From this part of the story, I would ask this question –
What is your inheritance?
We generally think of an inheritance as money, land, or possessions; something tangible that is passed from one generation to another. This morning I am wearing a pair of cufflinks that belonged to my father. He wore them when he put on his tux to sing with the choir that was comprised of coworkers from the steel mill where he was employed. I put them on today because it’s Mother’s Day, and thought my mom would appreciate that I am wearing them. They are an inheritance from my father, and one day will be part of the inheritance that my sons receive.
But the truth is, many things get passed on in families from one generation to another that are intangible. Those intangibles are elements such as character, faith, and values. Those intangibles can also be dysfunction, and that is what we see in the story of Joseph and his brothers.
Who was Joseph’s father, does anyone remember? Jacob was Joseph’s father, and what did Jacob do to his brother Esau? He cheated him out of his birthright, which was his inheritance. Jacob’s name meant one who takes by the heel and supplants; basically, a dishonest person who is willing to cheat to get what they want. As Jacob cheated his own brother, so his sons modeled the behavior of their father. Is it any wonder that the brothers of Joseph could treat him in such a way? Their behavior, while in some ways much more cold-hearted than the action of their father, was, nevertheless, an inheritance. The inheritance Jacob passed on to his sons was deception, bitterness, and division, all of when he sowed with his own brother Esau.
Here is an important truth – when we talk about families and what passes from one generation to another we must remember that talk is important. We must verbally teach some lessons, but it is very critical that we remember there are lessons that are passed on to our children and grandchildren in which no words are involved, only actions, and we may not realize the power in those lessons that come through observation. Talk is important, but actions are even more important. Parents, do you ever wonder what lessons your children learn simply by observation?
Though Joseph had taken on great power, he needed to do something. He needed to –
Lay down his hurt and his burden.
Joseph carried his hurt and the burden of that hurt for a long time. Though he had risen to such power and prominence, the actions of his brothers certainly continued to weigh heavily upon him.
It’s worth noting that Joseph could easily have tracked his brothers down. He had all the resources of Egypt at his disposal. He knew where they lived. But interestingly, Joseph never made that move. The physical distance between Joseph and his brothers was not that great. The ancient near east was not a tremendously large territory and even though travel was not as easy as it is now, Joseph could have made that trip relatively quickly.
Perhaps he didn’t because he couldn’t face his brothers. Perhaps the thought, on many occasions, that he would travel to his family home and confront his brothers. Obviously, Joseph carried a huge hurt and burden and he needed to lay them down, and allow love and healing into his heart.
The distance between Joseph and his brothers is symbolic, I think, of the distance that often comes between family members. It might not be a great physical distance, but it seems as though a million miles exists between them. It might be that they are under the same roof, but a wide chasm exists.
Joseph showed signs that his heart was mending when he said to his brothers, But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives by a great deliverance. “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt (verses 7 – 8).
Joseph was given an opportunity by God to do what he could not bring himself to do – face his brothers. Joseph did not travel to his families home, so God brought his family to him. God literally brought Joseph’s brothers to him. And at that moment, when Joseph faced his brothers, he decided to lay down his hurt and its burden, which teaches us this lesson –
Be a person of grace.
Ah, if there is one characteristic that is in short supply in our world, it is grace. Yes, Joseph toys with his brothers a bit first, but he was in a position where he could have exacted revenge in a terrible manner, but he did not. It is easy to imagine that the idea of revenge passed through Joseph’s mind. To have his brothers in a position where they must plead for his mercy would have been sweet indeed, if Joseph were looking for revenge. But, to his great credit, he was not. Instead, Joseph felt overwhelming emotion, which he could not contain, and it poured out as he revealed himself to his brothers.
Understandably, the brothers of Joseph were not only shocked, they were quite afraid. Had the time of reckoning for their crime come to them at last? In place of wrath and revenge, however, came tears and joy, as Joseph kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him. Wouldn’t you like to know what they talked about? It must have been some conversation! Hey Joseph, remember that crazy prank we pulled on you? It was really just a prank; got a little out of hand, which we didn’t intend to happen!
There are few experiences as beautiful as reconciliation. What an amazing scene when Joseph reunites with is brothers! There is so much emotion and so much that melts away in that moment. All the years of anger, worry, bitterness, and wondering pass away.
At some point, the cycle of hurt must stop. It serves no one’s interest to continue the cycle of hurt. What does one really gain? Does revenge really bring any satisfaction? Does continuing the cycle of hurt really bring about any sense of joy?
Of course not.
I was not, as I’ve told you before, a very good farmer. Our family had a small farm and at an early age I discovered I would starve to death pretty quickly as a farmer. I remember learning to plow a field with our tractor, and my early attempts were not very promising. The rows were crooked and meandering, until I learned the secret of how to plow a straight line. My problem was that I would look behind me as I plowed. Looking backward is not the way to plow a straight line; one must look forward. Plowing a straight line means to concentrate on a point in the distance, such as a tree or a fence post. Lining up with a point in front of you will provide a good, straight, first row, and then it is easy to keep them all the rows straight.
Choose grace as a point in front of you upon which to focus. Don’t look behind, concentrating on the hurt and the burdens. Look forward at what can be – at what will be – with God’s help.
May we all, then, do as did Joseph and offer grace, always.