The story of Genesis is the story of God entering into a covenant to be the God of people in dysfunctional families. God is willing to love and bless, not perfect families, but people who are really messed up, worse then us. Genesis is the story of sibling rivalry and conniving women. The fathers are not without blame for the sins of the father carry on through their sons and grandsons and great grandsons and great great great great…grandsons.
If we start back at the beginning, the conflict begins with Adam and Eve’s sons, Cain and Abel. Cain killed Abel because he was jealous. Fast forward to Noah’s son Ham who disgraced his father and was cursed while the other brothers were blessed. We jump ahead to Abraham and Lot who are conflicted because of Lot’s behavior; yet, Abraham rescues him more than once. The story of conflict continues with Abraham’s sons Isaac and Ishmael which introduces new themes of scheming moms causing the conflict. Isaac and Ishmael are separated because Isaac is favored over Ishmael and God blesses Isaac by promise of covenant.
Isaac marries Rebekah and the saga of rivalries among brothers carries through to Jacob and Esau. Rebekah favors Jacob and Isaac favors Esau; Rebekah and Jacob trick Isaac into giving Jacob his brothers blessing. Jacob flees his brother’s wrath for many years and returns to be reconciled to his brother. Jacob had not learned the lesson of a father favoring a child and the family drama of a favored son and calculating moms carries us to the story of Joseph.
I want us to remember that these moms and dads and brothers may have been sinful in their family relationships, but these are the families through whom God established His Divine covenant and fulfilled His promises. These are the forefathers and foremothers of our faith. In spite of their brokenness, perhaps because of their brokenness, God loved them and chose them as a favored people.
Jacob had 12 sons by 4 women, 2 wives and 2 slave girls. Joseph, the 1st born to Jacob’s favorite wife, Rachel, was Jacob’s favorite son. Jacob made Joseph a long coat with sleeves or a coat of many colors. Clothing was significant; it was a status symbol. They couldn’t just go to the mall and buy whatever they wanted like jeans from Aeropostale or a sweater from Gap. Clothing was more difficult to make than dinner. Joseph’s mother had probably spent all summer making this coat that Jacob had requested for his son. Joseph’s brothers couldn’t go to the store and buy one for themselves. This was a special article for the favored son.
Joseph had dreams that were believed to be messages from God about sheaves of wheat and stars who bowed down to him. A perhaps naïve, perhaps arrogant 17 year old Joseph told his brothers about these dreams. This made his brothers furious to think they who are men would bow down to their little brother. These dreams would make us think that not only their father, but God too, favored Joseph.
Joseph’s brothers plotted to kill him. “Let’s see what comes of those dreams after he’s dead”, they think. The plan is to tell their father a ferocious animal devoured him. Reuben, the oldest brother, the brother who should have been an example to the others, tried to save Joseph by having him thrown in a cistern instead of being killed. Reuben’s plan was to go back later and find Joseph, probably take him back to his father and receive some praise from his father for rescuing Joseph. But, Reuben’s plan was spoiled by his brothers. It seems the brothers may have had a moment of worry about having their brother’s blood on their hands so they sold Joseph into slavery to the Ishmaelite caravaners – that is the lineage of the unfavored son.
When Reuben went to the cistern to rescue Joseph, he found the cistern empty and turned to his brothers for answers. Reuben was clearly upset and had nowhere to turn. Reuben had a choice: he could find out what they had done to Joseph and track him down or he could go along with his brothers. How often are we faced with the choice of right and wrong and choose to follow the group down the path of wrong-doing. Reuben chose to go along with his brothers’ story. We can identify with Reuben when we give up our good intentions because our own will isn’t as strong as the will of the group.
So, the boys go back to their father with Joseph’s coat drenched in the blood of a goat they slaughtered. Jacob has only one conclusion to draw – his favorite son had been killed. No one fessed up or ratted out each other. The brothers stood together in their lie.
Joseph finds himself in and out of slavery and jail until rising to the right hand of the Egyptian Pharoah after interpreting the Pharoah’s dreams that a great famine was coming. During this great famine, Joseph’s family is famished and in need of relief. The brothers go to Egypt in search of food and come before Joseph, but they don’t know it’s him. Their little brother Benjamin wasn’t allowed to go on the trip. It seems Jacob didn’t trust Benjamin with his brothers after what happened to Joseph, remember this is about 10 years after Joseph’s death. Jacob hasn’t recovered from Joseph’s death and isn’t about to risk the life of his new favorite son Benjamin. But, what parent recovers from the death of a child.
Joseph’s brothers bow down to their brother, the governor of Egypt and the one who sells the grain from the stockpile collected during the great harvests before the famine. And, thus, Joseph’s dreams were fulfilled. His brothers bowed down to him as he had dreamed. His brothers beg him to sell them food and claim to be honest men when Joseph accuses them of being there of ill will. Joseph sent 8 brothers back to Canaan to get Benjamin and kept Simeon in prison. They were sent back with some grain but would have to come back to Egypt with Benjamin to buy more.
Jacob was reluctant to allow Benjamin to go with his brother to Egypt. Jacob had lost Joseph, feared Simeon would not be released from prison and worried Benjamin would not return. When they had eaten all the grain they had brought back, Jacob agreed to let the boys all go down to Egypt to buy more grain. Judah offered his full responsibility for Benjamin. When all the brothers arrived in Egypt and Joseph saw his little brother, he ordered that they eat with him at noon in his own house. Simeon was brought from prison to be with his brothers. Finally, all 12 brothers were together again.
Joseph reveals himself to his brothers. His brothers feared Joseph, because he was the most powerful man in Egypt next to the Pharoah. Joseph could do anything to his brothers in retaliation. But, Joseph didn’t punish his brothers. He invited them to bring their whole family down to Egypt to be personally cared for by their brother in the remaining 5 years of famine. No need to bring anything but themselves; Pharaoh and Joseph would give them the best of Egypt.
The brothers return to Canaan to their father and give him the news that Joseph is alive. Jacob rejoices; his spirit is revived and he can’t wait to go see Joseph. So, the whole family sets out for Egypt. On the way, Jacob has a dream in which God assures him that he will see his son before his death and that God’s promise to establish a great nation through his family will be fulfilled, even in Egypt.
After 17 years in Egypt, Jacob blesses all 12 of his sons, including his son Asher, and Jacob dies. All of Egypt mourns Jacob’s death. Then, Joseph and his brothers took their father back to Canaan to be buried. After a period of mourning their father, the whole clan returned to Egypt.
We would expect after all this time having been reconciled the story would end with “and they lived happily ever after” before moving onto the next generation of Hebrews. But, that isn’t the case with the stories of the people of God. God’s presence, God’s blessing, never offers an easy life; God offers a life of hope and love. There are times of brokenness through which we hope in God’s love to carry us through. The brokenness of Jacob’s family wasn’t yet repaired.
The brothers wondered if Joseph had been kind to them all this time for the sake of their father. They wondered if now would be the time Joseph took revenge and they feared him. The brothers tell Joseph that their father had asked that Joseph forgive his brothers for their sins against him. There’s 2 things worth noting in this statement. 1st – The brothers were lying about their father saying this or 2nd – Jacob knew what his sons had done to Joseph. I’m inclined to think that Jacob did not know what his sons had done to Joseph and that this was another lie among brothers. They decided to draw on Joseph’s love for their father to find continued grace.
Joseph replies to them with compassion. “Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” Greater than all the power Joseph had in Egypt, he had the power to forgive his brothers for the evil they had done to him. And, he gave them the forgiveness they sought. Joseph also said, “You need to get right with God.” Joseph’s forgiveness was not the only forgiveness they needed. The brothers once again bowed down before their brother, but there is no evidence that they bowed down before God seeking His forgiveness.
Over several thousand years, our family is still broken. We still kill each other. We are still jealous and proud. We still abuse authority and power. We still lie and cheat for our own gain. We still plot evil and plan for our reward. We seek vengeance. We take advantage of special treatment given to us and ignore the harm it causes to those left out. This goes on in our families and in our human family.
God is renewing His promise for reconciliation with us. God vowed to be the God of a broken, messed up, cunning family because He loved them. He was with them and blessed them over and over again. He offered them grace when they screwed up and brought about abundant blessings amidst their evil plots.
God has that same promise for us today. God is our God even to our broken family. He loves us. He is with us and continually blesses us. He offers us grace for the times we screw up and brings about abundance even amidst our sin.
Our world is hurting. Our families are hurting. Our nation is hurting over gun violence and police violence and terrorism. We are divided over politics. On the span of a week including 2 police shootings and a mass shooting leading up to a presidential debate, we are aware of our divisions. Let us have hope that we can be healed, that our families may be reconciled, that our communities may be reconciled, that our nation may be reconciled…all in the power and name of God. It is possible because God is a God of reconciliation, bringing together that which is broken, healing that which is hurting. Let us have hope.