This week we have what I find to be one of the most important narratives in the Old Testament, the story of Joseph and his brothers. The basic plot is this: A father favors one son over all the others, and this favoritism sparks ill-will in the ones who feel slighted, which in turn leads to wrongdoing and undeserved suffering. The young favored Joseph is beaten up by his brothers and sold into slavery, while they tell a grieving father (Jacob or Israel) that his favorite has been consumed by a wild animal. However, what the brothers meant for evil, God was able to turn around for the good! Finally, following one confusing turn of events after another, including Joseph being elevated to the position of 'prime minister' for Egypt, the brothers are back in front of Joseph, yet they do not know it is him. Chapter 44 seems to be one last opportunity for Joseph to repay evil for evil...but he instead will take the path of forgiveness. The one truly important thing becomes the opportunity to forgive and forge new relationships based on the power of forgiveness.
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Genesis 44-45New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
Joseph Detains Benjamin
|CORNELIUS, Peter, 1816, "Joseph receiving his brothers."|
14 Judah and his brothers came to Joseph’s house while he was still there; and they fell to the ground before him. 15 Joseph said to them, “What deed is this that you have done? Do you not know that one such as I can practice divination?” 16 And 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.” 17 But he 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 Pleads for Benjamin’s Release18 Then Judah stepped up to him and said, “O my lord, let your servant please speak a word in my lord’s ears, and do not be angry with your servant; for you are like Pharaoh himself. 19 My lord asked his servants, saying, ‘Have you a father or a brother?’ 20 And we said to my lord, ‘We have a father, an old man, and a young brother, the child of his old age. His brother is dead; he alone is left of his mother’s children, and his father loves him.’ 21 Then you said to your servants, ‘Bring him down to me, so that I may set my eyes on him.’ 22 We said to my lord, ‘The boy cannot leave his father, for if he should leave his father, his father would die.’ 23 Then you said to your servants, ‘Unless your youngest brother comes down with you, you shall see my face no more.’ 24 When we went back to your servant my father we told him the words of my lord. 25 And when our father said, ‘Go again, buy us a little food,’ 26 we said, ‘We cannot go down. Only if our youngest brother goes with us, will we go down; for we cannot see the man’s face unless our youngest brother is with us.’ 27 Then your servant my father said to us, ‘You know that my wife bore me two sons; 28 one left me, and I said, Surely he has been torn to pieces; and I have never seen him since. 29 If you take this one also from me, and harm comes to him, you will bring down my gray hairs in sorrow to Sheol.’ 30 Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ 33 Now 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. 34 For 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.”
Joseph Reveals Himself to His Brothers
16 When the report was heard in Pharaoh’s house, “Joseph’s brothers have come,” Pharaoh and his servants were pleased. 17 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Say to your brothers, ‘Do this: load your animals and go back to the land of Canaan. 18 Take your father and your households and come to me, so that I may give you the best of the land of Egypt, and you may enjoy the fat of the land.’ 19 You are further charged to say, ‘Do this: take wagons from the land of Egypt for your little ones and for your wives, and bring your father, and come. 20 Give no thought to your possessions, for the best of all the land of Egypt is yours.’”
21 The sons of Israel did so. Joseph gave them wagons according to the instruction of Pharaoh, and he gave them provisions for the journey. 22 To each one of them he gave a set of garments; but to Benjamin he gave three hundred pieces of silver and five sets of garments. 23 To his father he sent the following: ten donkeys loaded with the good things of Egypt, and ten female donkeys loaded with grain, bread, and provision for his father on the journey. 24 Then he sent his brothers on their way, and as they were leaving he said to them, “Do not quarrel[b] along the way.”
25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He was stunned; he could not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”
Some thoughts to ponder:
1. The brother's have lived for decades with their guilt (selling Joseph into slavery and lying to their father) do you think they still suffer from this?
2. Have you ever been "found out?" What is the usual human reaction to having our guilt be exposed?
3. With Joseph hiding the silver cup in Benjamin's bag, what situation does he set up for Judah?
4. Do you think Joseph was also contemplating revenge on his older brothers? What do you do when you have a choice to make between what you want to do and what you think God would have you do?
5. Do you think God can be at work through hateful, harmful things to make way for the good?
6. Have you ever experienced this in your own life?
7. What are the benefits of forgiveness in this story? What things are restored?
8. Is it easier to forgive or to accept that you've been forgiven?
9. Some have seen Joseph as a kind of 'prefigure of Christ.' He was rejected, beaten, thrown down, rose to prominence and proclaimed forgiveness. Do you see any connections between the story of Joseph and the Christian faith?
10. What is the big truth that God is showing us in this story of Joseph?