Genesis 45:1-15 (20 Feb 2022)

Genesis 45.mp3

Some people are very interested in genealogy and in drawing up a family tree, searching out their family history.  There are organisations you can join and pay for the research they have done to discover who your ancestors were.  There are TV programs where you can watch some celebrity agonise over discoveries about their great uncle and the mysterious activities he followed.

Genealogies are found in a number of places in the Bible.  For example Matthew establishes the place Jesus holds in history by beginning with his genealogy.  For some people that’s not much help because they don’t know or can’t remember most of the people listed and so miss out on the significance of the information.

One of today’s readings brings us to the story of Joseph and his brothers.

Do you remember their story?  Or was the last time you looked at it was when you were in Sunday school and that was some time ago.

Let me refresh your memory by first looking at the genealogy of the family, starting with father Abraham or, as he was first known, Abram.

God revealed himself to Abram and led him to set up in the land of Canaan, which is where the country of Israel is today. As time went by he was established as a very successful and very rich patriarch.

God gave him the name Abraham and made him the founder of the Jewish people.

An angelic visitor told Abraham that he would have a son from whom would descend  many families so that Abraham would become the forefather of peoples too numerous to count.  Since he and Sarah were childless and in their 80s Sarah gave him her servant, Hagar, as a wife and together they produced a son, Ishmael.

At  Abraham’s request God established Ishmael as the forefather of many people and it is from him that the Arab nations descended and ultimately Islam.  Even though Islam and Judaism have the common forefather, Abraham, there has been ongoing tensions between the two step-brothers, Ishmael and Isaac, and their descendants ever since.

When they were in their 90s Abraham and Sarah  could not believe it when they were told they would conceive a son who would be born in the next 12 months.  At this news Sarah is reported to have laughed.  How would you react if it was revealed to you that you were going to have a child in the next few months?

Sure enough Sarah gave birth to Isaac who was favoured as Abraham’s descendant.

Isaac grew and was married to Rebekah who became pregnant with twins, Esau and Jacob.

Esau was the outdoors man, he was an hairy man.  Jacob was more the indoors man, a smooth man.  It seems he was smooth in character as well and was the favourite of their mother, Rebekah.

When Esau came in from the fields famished and looking for food Jacob persuaded him to give up his rights as the firstborn in exchange for a bowl of lentil stew.

With their father on his death bed Rebekah helped Jacob to trick Isaac into giving him the blessing of the firstborn.  They made up Isaac’s favourite meal, covered Jacob’s hands and neck with the skin of the goats that made up the meal and tricked Isaac into thinking he was blessing Esau.

Not surprisingly Esau was very angry at the duplicitous actions of his brother and threatened to kill him.  Jacob fled and ended up in the country of his uncle Laban.

A few years later Esau was particularly gracious to his brother Jacob when their paths crossed.

From Esau came the people called Edomites and for generations there was enmity and even wars between them and Jacob’s descendants.

Jacob then found himself at the mercy of his equally duplicitous uncle Laban.

Jacob fell madly in love with Laban’s daughter Rachel and committed to working for Laban for seven years in order to have permission to marry her.  When the wedding day arrived, however, Laban arranged for the older sister Leah to find her way to the marriage bed meaning that Jacob must then marry Leah and then work for Laban another seven years to get to marry Rachel.

Jacob was fruitful and productive both in business and in producing children. With the assistance of his two wives and their servants Jacob became the father of 12 sons and a daughter.

In time God would assign the name Israel to Jacob and so his sons became the 12 sons of Israel, the 12 tribes of Israel and eventually, when the Israelites settled into the promised land it was apportioned to the people according to these 12 tribes.

His mother had encouraged Jacob to be sneaky and cheat his brother Esau and now Jacob made his son, Joseph, the son of his beloved wife Rachel, his favourite and favouritism in a family generally leads to discord.

As part of his favouritism, Jacob - that is to say, Israel - gave to Joseph a magnificent coat, the famous coat of many colours. The other 11 brothers were none too pleased about this. Indeed they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.

Joseph experienced dreams.  When we see the following events we wonder at Joseph’s wisdom when he shared what he had dreamed with his brothers and his father.

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream I had: we were binding sheaves of corn out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered round mine and bowed down to it.’

His brothers said to him, ‘Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?’ And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said.

‘Listen,’ he said, ‘I had another dream, and this time the sun and moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me.’ When he told his father as well as his brothers, his father rebuked him and said, ‘What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?’ 

One day when Joseph had been sent out to see how his brothers were getting on with the herd they had decided to kill him but Reuben persuaded them not to do this but only to leave him in a dry well - hoping to rescue him later.

Then, when some Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the well and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the merchants, who took him to Egypt.

Then they got Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. They took the ornate robe back to their father and said, ‘We found this. Examine it to see whether it is your son’s robe.’ He recognised it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’ This was devastating news to Jacob about his favourite son, Joseph.

But down in Egypt Joseph was sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials and God enabled him to do such a good job that he was placed in charge of the household.  All went well until he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife who tried to seduce him. When he rejected her advances she falsely claimed he had attacked her so he was thrown into prison.

Now it was the dreams of others that came into his life as God gave him the correct interpretations of the dreams of a couple of other prisoners, one of whom lived to once again serve Pharaoh who, in turn, had dreams.  Joseph was called out of prison to tell Pharaoh that his dreams were predictions of 7 years of plenty followed by 7 years of famine. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to run the country.  He stored up provisions during the years of plenty and had them available during the years of famine.

In the process he made Pharaoh a very rich man and himself a man of great authority.

Of course, the famine extended beyond Egypt and to the land of Canaan, so Jacob sent 10 of his sons to Egypt to buy grain and they were confronted with the man in charge, their brother Joseph but they didn’t recognise him after some 20 years apart and with Joseph in such an exalted position.

When Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground. As soon as Joseph saw his brothers, he recognised them, but he pretended to be a stranger and spoke harshly to them. ‘Where do you come from?’ he asked, and he remembered his dreams about them and said to them, ‘You are spies! You have come to see where our land is unprotected.’

Why was he so harsh on them?

Perhaps because they had treated him so badly. Perhaps he wanted them to suffer in turn.  Perhaps he simply didn’t trust them after what they had done to him. Perhaps he was playing for time until he worked out if they had changed.  Would they try to take advantage of their relationship as brothers?

Perhaps he simply enjoyed having his dream come true and liked them having bow and scrape to him.

Perhaps he wondered if there was some way he could find out if they had any remorse for what they had done to him.  

They had told him of their father and young brother, Benjamin.  He was Joseph’s  brother to their mother Rachel and was dear to Joseph.

As the brothers discussed the situation in their own language Joseph understood them and heard Reuben say, ‘Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy? But you wouldn’t listen! Now we must give an accounting for his blood.’ They didn’t realise that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.

Joseph turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again. He had Simeon taken from them and bound before their eyes.

Even though it seemed he was again treating them harshly they began to reveal to him what had happened between them when they put him in the well and sold him off.  He was hearing repentance from his brothers and this moved him to tears.

Nonetheless he had Simeon locked up as if he was a hostage. He  took the silver with which they had paid for the grain and arranged for it to be put into the tops of their sacks and sent them off. He very much wanted to see his family again, and especially his brother Benjamin.

When they discovered the silver in their sacks on their first night camp their hearts sank and they turned to each other trembling and said, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’ Had the circumstances made them simple thieves and cheats? Could they return again to Egypt? Could they be able to return to recover Simeon? Could they buy more grain? Could they dare to bring their brother Benjamin as Joseph had demanded?

When they arrived home and told their father Jacob about the trip and that the man who was lord over the land of Egypt had told them to bring Benjamin with them next time Jacob was distraught.  He had, apparently, lost his favourite son Joseph, Simeon was imprisoned in Egypt and now there was the prospect of losing Benjamin. 

Reuben offered himself and his sons as surety because he wanted to recover Simeon and wanted to buy more grain during this time of famine. Judah also offered his guarantee that Benjamin would be kept safe.

They returned to Egypt with gifts, double the money for the grain and with Benjamin. They left Jacob distraught, convinced he was about to lose yet another son. “Why did you bring this trouble on me by telling the man you had another brother”, he said.

This time they were escorted to Joseph’s house where they were welcomed hospitably and invited for a meal during which Joseph asked after his father and found he was still living. 

Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Benjamin, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there. After he had washed his face, he came out and, controlling himself, said, ‘Serve the food.’

When the brothers left for home Joseph had their sacks filled with grain and their silver was once again put in the sacks and Joseph’s own cup was put in Benjamin’s sack. 

Perhaps Joseph still did not trust his brothers.  They had sold him off as a slave - could they really be trusted with his brother Benjamin? Whatever his reason this was an action which caused his brothers even more trauma. Perhaps that’s what Joseph wanted, too.

Joseph sent his steward after them and the brothers were terrified when the silver was discovered in their sacks - and especially when the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, placing him in great danger. Joseph declared Benjamin would remain as his slave and told the others to go home.

“Why have you repaid good with evil?” they were asked.

The prospect of returning without Benjamin was too terrible to contemplate.  Judah offered himself as a slave to Joseph if only Benjamin could return with the others to their father. He appealed for the sake of his father to allow Benjamin to return home.

He said, ‘Now then, please let your servant remain here as my lord’s slave in place of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers. How can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? No! Do not let me see the misery that would come on my father.’

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, ‘Make everyone leave my presence!’ So there was no-one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it.

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.

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! 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. For two years now there has been famine in the land, and for the next five years there will be no ploughing and reaping. 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. 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. 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. 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.”‘You can see for yourselves, and so can my brother Benjamin, that it is really I who am speaking to you. Tell my father about all the honour accorded me in Egypt and about everything you have seen. And bring my father down here quickly.’

Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept, and Benjamin embraced him, weeping. And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterwards his brothers talked with him. (Genesis 45:1-15)

On quite a few occasions I have heard someone say, “I’ll never forgive them”.  People who say such things should read Genesis 45 and learn from Joseph about the benefits of forgiveness.  They should also avoid saying the Lord’s Prayer, “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.” So often the alternative to forgiveness is bitterness which is so soul destroying.

There’s nothing so beautiful and moving as a reconciliation between estranged friends, particularly when it’s between family members and there is genuine repentance on one side and forgiveness on the other.

The emotion which led to the weeping and embracing was followed up by the arrival of Jacob, now called Israel, to live with his united, reconciled family in the land of Egypt.

There they prospered and grew in number as the Israelites in Egypt for nearly 400 years until there was another Pharaoh who knew nothing of Joseph and enslaved the Israelites into hard labour.  For the rest of that story look into the life of another great leader, Moses, who demanded that Pharaoh let his people go.

There are lessons here to warn us of the dangers of anger and hatred, of the negativities of favouritism, of the need for humility, for repentance, for confession, for forgiveness.

But Joseph drew our attention to the over-riding lesson when he said, “it was not you who sent me here, but God.” God is the sovereign ruler over all.

As followers of Jesus and children of God Almighty, our Father, we are not here by accident or by coincidence but we are where we are because it was God who sent us here.

1362 Modified: 10-10-2022
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