Pastor Rich Knight
Central Congregational Church
February 11, 2018
Painting Dedication for “Joseph & His Brethren”
Genesis 42:1-6 and Selections from Genesis 44 & 45
We’re going to dig into this story this morning, the story of “Joseph & His Brethren,” depicted in the painting we dedicated this morning.
When we study Old Testament stories, we have to look at them on 3 levels.
- The story itself
- The story as part of the story of the Israelites
- The story as part of God’s story with humanity, God’s relationship with human beings.
The first level is the story itself.
What can we learn just looking at the story itself?
These stories don’t always have a nice convenient lesson, or moral of the story. Often it’s implied. It’s seldom spelled out. Most of the time the reader is sometimes expected to know the moral of the story, however there can be several morals of the story; something the ancient rabbis enjoyed debating about endlessly.
Another thing to keep in mind with Old Testament stories is, they don’t necessarily tell us what should have happened, they tell us what did happen. The Old Testament Patriarchs & Matriarchs are presented in a raw, earthy way. Little is sugar-coated. That makes these stories very interesting, but also a little shocking at times.
The other challenge we have with Old Testament stories is some of them go on for chapters and chapters. The story of Joseph takes up 14 chapters in the Book of Genesis. Therefore when we focus on one part of the story, it often won’t make a whole lot of sense unless we know the entire story.
The story depicted in the painting is a good example of this fact. So, I need to do a little teaching/review of the Book of Genesis & the story of Joseph before we look at this particular story.
Would you please find the bulletin insert that has the dedication on one side, and on the other side you’ll see,
Where do Joseph & his Brethren fit into the Story?
Where do Joseph & his Brethren fit into the Story?
The Book of Genesis
Pre-History: Creation, Fall, Flood, Tower
Abraham & Sarah called to go to a new land.
They settle in the Holy Land.
Abraham & Sarah
Isaac & Rebekah
Jacob & Rachel & Leah have 12 Sons
(Their families become the 12 Tribes of Israel.)
The 2nd youngest of the 12 sons, his father’s favorite, “Coat of Many Colors.”
Sold into slavery by his brothers, ends up in Egypt, flourishes there.
Famine in Israel/Palestine
The Brothers go to Egypt for Food.
Joseph is in charge of grain distribution & helps them.
The 12 Sons & their Families settle in Egypt
200 years of Prosperity
200 years of Slavery
Moses and The Exodus!
(the next book of the Bible)
So the story of Joseph & his Brothers occurs during the famine, when this large family is in need of food.
When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? 2I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” 3So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. 5Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan. 6Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.
So the Brothers go to Egypt for food. Joseph has become very useful to Pharaoh. He’s so highly respected by the Pharaoh that’s he’s now the Minister of Agriculture. He’s in charge of land management, grain distribution & sales. The Brothers don’t recognize him, but he recognizes them. Here’s where it gets a little complicated.
On the first trip, they leave Brother Benjamin at home. Joseph was the 2nd youngest of the 12 brothers. Benjamin was the youngest. Joseph had been his father’s favorite. After Joseph was sold into slavery, his father is told he’s no longer alive, and so Benjamin becomes his father’s new favorite. So when they go looking for grain, Benjamin stays home so that nothing bad happens to him, as it had with Joseph.
The Brothers come before Joseph and he gives them grain. But Joseph wants to see Benjamin who’s not with them. So Joseph imprisons one of his brothers, Simeon, and asks the other brothers to go back to Israel and bring back the youngest brother, Benjamin. He wants to see Benjamin. He’s probably also testing them – will they abandon Simeon in Egypt, like they had abandon him? Are their hearts still hardened? Have they learned what really matters in life?
So, the brothers return with Benjamin, so that Simeon can get his “Get Out of Jail Free” card. Joseph is so overwhelmed with joy to see them that he has to leave the room. He’s so emotional. He throws a feast for them. – he gives Benjamin 5 times more food than the other brothers. After the feast the 11 Brothers are ready to head back home to Israel and to their father. But Joseph throws them another curve ball.
Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the top of his sack. Put my cup, the silver cup, in the top of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him.As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’“ When he overtook them, he repeated these words to them. They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” He said, “Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free.” Then each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. He searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.
The chalice is found in Benjamin’s sack, planted there by Joseph!
16And Judah said, “What can we say to my lord? What can we speak? How can we clear ourselves? God has found out the guilt of your servants; here we are then, my lord’s slaves, both we and also the one in whose possession the cup has been found.” 17But Joseph said, “Far be it from me that I should do so! Only the one in whose possession the cup was found shall be my slave; but as for you, go up in peace to your father.”
Judah says, “We’ll all be your slaves.” That’s quite a statement. It shows they won’t abandon Benjamin as they had Joseph. They’ve finally learned, “One for All and All for One!”
But Joseph says, “No, only the one who took the cup.”
Genisis 44:33-34 – Judah speaking
33Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”
Judah offers to stay in place of Benjamin. He knows it will utterly break his father’s heart if he doesn’t see Benjamin again.
So that’s the story itself, depicted in this painting. Joseph is testing his brothers to see if their hearts are still hard, or have them matured to have hearts that understand loyalty, love, compassion and what it means to be family. And they have!! They’ve finally grown up!!!
What lessons can we learn from that?
The one I see is this: Life often gives us a second chance.
Life often gives us a chance to redeem ourselves, to write a new chapter. One chapter of failure or heartache or defeat doesn’t doom all the rest of the chapters that follow.
“Our mistakes are not final. Our failures are not fatal.” (Max Lucado)
This story illustrates that truth. The Brothers got a second chance to prove that they’ve learned what it means to be a brother, what it means to be family. Life often gives us a second chance at marriage, or a second career, or a surprising new friend, or a new place to call home. Life is filled with tests and challenges, but it’s also filled with second chances.
That’s the first level of the story. Remember, there are two more levels. It took me 10 pages to cover the first one. That’s not a good sign for you! (I’ll be brief, I promise.)
The next level is how the story fits into The Story of the Israelites.
This story is crucial! It’s how the Israelites will survive the famine. It’s also how they come to settle in Egypt.
Genesis 45:4-8a – 4Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.6For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God;
That’s an amazing statement of faith and forgiveness from Joseph.
“It wasn’t you who sent me here, but God, so that our people, our families would be preserved.
“God sent me here so we’d survive the famine!
“God sent me here so God’s People would be protected!
“We really have been “chosen” to tell the world about the one, true God!
So, this story is crucial in the story of the Israelites!
It’s how they survive – there’s grain in Egypt.
And, because of Joseph, there’s a home for them in Egypt.
This story also teaches us some beautiful truths about God.
That’s the third level of the story.
How does the story fit with The Grand Story of God’s relationship with humanity?
God doesn’t give up on us, even when we’ve made mistakes, even colossal mistakes. God didn’t give up on the family of Jacob & Joseph, even though it would be easy to describe them as a dysfunctional family! Life gives us second chances. God give us second chances.
The one other spiritual truth in the story, and it’s this: God is working out God’s purposes for our lives in spite of ourselves. God is working out God’s purposes for our lives, even when we haven’t a clue as to what God is up to. But every once in a while we’re fortunate enough to see what God is up to: “Don’t you see why I was sent to Egypt? To save us all! Isn’t God amazing!!!!”
That’s often the real moral of these stories, that God is amazing! That God can use imperfect people like us.
I hope when you look at this painting you’ll think of some of these truths:
God preserved the Israelites, and God’s watching over me, too.
Our God give us second chances.
- As you look at that painting on the way out the door, you can say to yourself, “Just like those Brothers, I’ve got another chance this week to try and get it right, to try and live for God.”
And if God can use even those crazy brothers, God can use even me.
Thank You, John Scott, for this wonderful reminder of some of the greatest truths of our faith.
François Gérard (French, 1870-1837), Joseph Makes Himself Known to His Brothers