Joseph's Amazing Story In Technicolor
February 24, 2019 Speaker: Matt Benton
Passage: Genesis 37:18–37:36, Genesis 45:3–45:11, Genesis 45:15
This morning I want to tell a big story. Its perhaps one of the most important stories we can hear and understand as people of faith. But it’s also a long story. We don’t often tell big, long stories in church even though the Bible is full of them. Often we deal with shorter, more manageable chunks of Scripture. Over a few weeks or months we might tell a big story. But it’s never all put together.
And there’s reasons for that, dealing with a shorter burst of Scripture can allow us to really dig into what’s going on and telling large stories in twenty minutes means we need to skip over some fairly important details. But there are some downsides too. Telling big, long, important stories can really teach us what it looks like to be a person of faith throughout different seasons. And that is precisely what this particular story about this particular person teaches us.
Our story this morning is about Joseph, the favorite son of Jacob. Joseph’s story is the centerpiece of the last thirteen chapters of Genesis. The first 11 chapters of Genesis are an extended preamble of sorts that talk about how the world was created and how that creation went from how God intended it to what it is now. You get Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah and the flood, and the Tower of Babel. Then chapter 12 introduces Abraham and Abraham and his descendants are truly what Genesis is about. God makes a promise to Abraham that he will make of him a great nation. And then we see how Abraham’s family grows into a great nation.
Abraham has a son Isaac and Isaac has a son Jacob. Jacob is Joseph’s father and to understand this big story you have to know a little something about Jacob. Jacob was a cheat. He was a twin and Scripture says he came out of the womb grabbing his brother’s heel. Which is to say he was almost wrestling and jostling with his brother so that he could be the first-born. Because the first-born got everything. But Jacob is second born. So he schemes and cheats his twin brother out of his blessing and birthright. Because of this Jacob has to flee so he goes back to his mom’s hometown. And he goes to work for his mom’s family. And he makes an arrangement with his uncle. If he works for seven years he will get to marry Rachel, his uncle’s pretty daughter. Which is also Jacob’s cousin, which gross, but that’s how they did it back then. Or something. Anyways, Jacob works those seven years and then says ‘I’ve worked my time let me marry Rachel.’ But on the night of the wedding, Jacob’s uncle plays a trick and it turns out Jacob marries Leah, his uncle’s older but not as pretty daughter. Jacob is quite upset. The schemer has fallen victim to a scheme himself. But he agrees to work another seven years in order to marry Rachel, too. So after a total of fourteen years work Jacob is finally married to Rachel. And Leah.
As fate would have it, Leah, the one Jacob didn’t want to marry, is the first to conceive and bear him children. She bears him four sons while Rachel cannot conceive. Rachel becomes jealous of her sister so she tells Jacob to take her servant and bear children through the servant. And Rachel’s servant bears Jacob two sons. Leah sees this and says two can play this game and she gives Jacob her servant and there are two more sons. And then for good measure Leah has two more sons after she was supposedly done having kids. And then finally, after all this, Rachel herself conceives and bears Jacob a son. And who is Rachel’s first-born son? Joseph. Footnote, Rachel had a second son later on, as well. That should make 12 if I told the story correctly.
Joseph is the first-born son of the wife Jacob wanted from the start. And so naturally he is his father’s favorite. He gets all the best things, never has to wear hand me downs, he gets to play on the travel soccer teams even though all along the rule was no travel sports because we can’t drive that far. Apparently we can drive that far for Joseph. Sorry, I’m projecting. But Jacob makes and gives to his son a special coat, a coat of many colors. And his brothers see and notice that Joseph is the favorite.
Now Joseph handled this the way any teenage boy would handle something like this: less than ideally. He lorded his position over his brothers. He had dreams, visions, of stalks of wheat that corresponded to his brother’s bowing down to the stalk of wheat corresponding to him. He had a dream where the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him. So not only is Joseph the favorite, not only do his brothers know it, Joseph then tells, brags to his brothers that he is the favorite.
So his brothers really hate him.
By the way if you want to open your Bibles and follow along with me we are skimming through Genesis chapter 37 at the moment.
One day his brothers decide to kill him. Here’s what happens:
But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him. “Here comes that dreamer! ” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue him from their hands. “Let’s not take his life,” he said. “Don’t shed any blood. Throw him into this cistern here in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him.” Reuben said this to rescue him from them and take him back to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it. As they sat down to eat their meal, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with spices, balm and myrrh, and they were on their way to take them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “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. ” His brothers agreed. So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt. When Reuben returned to the cistern and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy isn’t there! Where can I turn now?” 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 recognized it and said, “It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and daughters came to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said, “I will continue to mourn until I join my son in the grave. ” So his father wept for him. Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.
Now I want to pause our story here and ask a question: why did this bad thing happen to Joseph? I think we can all agree almost being killed by your brothers only to then be sold into slavery and having your father believe your dead is a bad thing. So why did this happen? Was it Joseph’s fault? I mean he certainly was not the best most considerate brother that ever lived. He was kind of an arrogant jerk. But there are tons of bad brothers in the world who don’t get sold into slavery. And there are certainly a ton of arrogant jerks. Quite a few of them get rich, in fact. So while he could have been nicer to his brothers, I’m not sure it’s fair to say his behavior warranted what happened to him.
Was it his brothers’ fault? Well certainly they bear a good bit of the blame. Perhaps a more reasonable response to Jospeh’s behavior was to have a family meeting. Air some grievances. And certainly there’s a lot of other options between talk it out and kill him. Or sell him into slavery. But at the same time, if Joseph had a little more humility or if the family dynamics were a bit healthier perhaps it never comes to this. Perhaps there could have been more affection between the brothers and Joseph. Or really any affection at all.
Was it Jacob’s fault? I mean it can be hard enough living in a big family when you only think mom and dad have favorites. When it’s outright acknowledged, you’re just setting your kids up to dislike each other. So could Jacob, the adult in the situation, been a little bit better of a dad?
Or does it go even further back than that? Is it ultimately Jacob’s uncle’s fault? Were we always headed in this direction after Jacob’s uncle tricked Jacob and created a situation where Jacob married sisters? After desiring Rachel, wanting to marry Rachel, and being tricked into marrying Leah, was Jacob always going to favor Rachel’s kids?
I’d argue the blame should probably be shared between all these people and groups. Perhaps not equally. But there’s certainly more than one guilty party in this situation and no one is innocent.
Bad stuff happens to us, too. Tragedy strikes us too. I hope it’s never as bad as what Joseph is going through, but we still deal with our share of awfulness. And often we can look at the situations and see how we could have behaved differently in them, maybe places we could have been better, but we also know that others contributed to it. And as people of faith it can be particularly jarring when this happens as we believe in a good God who works for us and is with us. How can God be with us when so much bad happens?
But back to our story because Joseph’s story isn’t over yet. Joseph goes to Egypt and finds himself in the home of Potiphar. And the Bible says that God was with Joseph, remember this because that it’s gonna come up in a minute, and Joseph got into the good graces of Potiphar. Potiphar put Joseph in charge of pretty much everything in the house and Joseph did well. The Bible also says that Joseph was a good lookin’ dude and that Potiphar’s wife took notice. She attempted to seduce Joseph, but Joseph refused. He couldn’t betray his master like that. And Potiphar’s wife kept trying and trying to seduce Joseph but he refused each time.
Then one day Potiphar’s wife again tried to seduce Joseph, but as Joseph was refusing she took his shirt. And she went to Potiphar with his shirt and framed Joseph for trying to seduce her. Potiphar had Joseph thrown in prison. But again Scripture says that God was with Joseph.
Quick aside for those people who think the Bible is a boring book: so far in this story we’ve had sister wife drama, family infighting, a plot to convince a dad his son was dead, and now a straight from prime time soap story about attempted adultery. The Girl on the Train got nothing on this story.
But in this instance there’s nothing Joseph could have done to stop this. He did everything right. He was a good worker; he respected his master, and Potiphar’s wife’s evil deeds got Joseph sent from bad to worse. And there might be times in our lives where other people’s evils wind up wrecking us. And there’s nothing we could have done. And we wonder where God is. I find it so surprising how often in this chapter Scripture says God was with Joseph. It’s almost like the writer is trying to make a point. God can still be with us even when bad things happen.
So now I really have to start hustling to get this story over. So Joseph is stuck in prison and he interprets two people’s dreams. And his interpretation comes true. One of who is close to Pharaoh when Pharaoh has a weird dream. Joseph is called upon to interpret and says Pharaoh’s dream means there will be a famine and they need to prepare now to save enough food to survive the famine. So Joseph is called upon to administer the save enough food program.
The famine comes and reaches as far as Jacob and his family. So Jacob sends his sons to Egypt because he hears there is grain there. His brothers arrive and Joseph recognizes them, but they don’t recognize. Admittedly he has a little bit of fun with, messes with them a little bit, but eventually this is what happens:
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 plowing 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.’ And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them. Afterward his brothers talked with him.
So Joseph, the favored son who lords it over his brothers, finally shows some humility. He says it was God who brought him down to Egypt. I wonder if he would have said that when he was first sold into slavery? I wonder if he would have said that when Potiphar’s wife lied about him and he was sent to prison? I wonder if he could have said that in the middle of the story?
Here’s why we ought to tell big stories in church: if we break this up into weekly episodes yes we get to focus more on the details. And we do that a lot here. But in the beginning we might look too much into the family dynamics and miss the storm that’s coming. In the middle we are wallowing without a ton of faith. If we just do the end we wind up with some pie in the sky life is good faith that doesn’t stand up to the tragedies in real life. In seeing this story as a whole we can see the faith we are to have is hard earned. Joseph’s faith was not based on everything going his way; it was instead based on knowing that no matter what happened God would be with him.
In our lives we will experience tragedy and pain and loss. What it means to be a person of faith is to see the long view of the story. What it means to be a person of faith is to realize that you are in the middle. And the end is assured. God is with us. Which means we will not be overcome. We might not see it in this lifetime. We might not see justice, we might not see vindication, and we might not see reconciliation with those people that have harmed us. We might not see God’s victory play out in the way we want it in the timing we want it. But nevertheless God is with us. And on our best day and our worst day we proclaim God is with us and have faith that God is ultimately for us.
Right at the very end of this story Joseph is talking to his brothers about all that has happened. And he says you meant evil against me but God meant it for good. As people of faith our hope and our prayer is that the things in our life that are meant for evil God would make good. Let us pray.