Week Two - Roger Wookey
Sermon for St George’s Cam and St Cyr’s Stinchcombe 17th July 2022
May I speak in the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.
When asked to take part in a sermon series about the life of Joseph, I was overjoyed, as it brought back something that happened 70 years ago when I was at Dr Bell’s Primary Boys’ School in Fishponds, Bristol. We were asked, at the age of 8, to write over a period of a month, about a subject that interested us. My chosen subject was Joseph, and this started my interest in the History of Ancient Egypt. My essays interested an aunt of my teacher and 69 years later I am waiting for her to return them.
When training for ministry, a course on the 5 Books of Moses was led by Gordon Wenham, the greatest authority on them. This included a study of Joseph.
May I, at this point, take you to the Egypt National Museum in Cairo, and to the mummified remains of Yuya, possibly of Hebrew descent, who was known to be chief minister to Amenhotep III of the 18th Dynasty. Some historians have a theory that this is the body of Joseph, and it is held as possible proof of the Biblical account which we are to hear about over the next few weeks. Yuya was also known to be the father of Queen Tiye who married Amenhotep III. Though it is quite possible that Yuja is not Joseph, it is worth considering that he, like Joseph, also a non-Egyptian, had a similar background and life.
In the account we heard today, how Joseph’s brothers turned upon him through jealousy, some wanting to kill him, and Rueben and Judah preferring to sell him to a group of Midianites who in turn sold him to Potiphar, an Egyptian soldier. The brothers told their father, Jacob, that he had been killed by wild animals, much to Jacob’s desolation of spirit.
So far there is not much to indicate God’s purpose in what had happened. It looks as though God has deserted Jacob and Joseph, effectively and throwing them upon the scrapheap of life.
Was there any comeback from this for either the suffering father or for the enslaved son? Both Joseph and Jacob were in depth of despair.
We can examine the motives of the brothers. They were jealous of Joseph who was the Apple of his father’s eye. He showered affection and gifts on him culminating with a coat “of many colours”. The situation was not helped by the fact that Joseph was one of the two sons of Jacob’s favourite wife, Rachel, the other being Benjamin in youngest child of Jacob. The mother of the rest of the family was Leah, older sister of Rachel, who Jacob was tricked into marrying by Leban, his uncle.
As we know the whole family was in a state of total disfunction. Abraham had a son by his slave, before he had another son by his wife. Assuming that God was asking him to do so, very nearly sacrificed his legitimate son Isaac. Isaac had trouble with son Esau and Jacob, Jacob having tricked his brother into surrendering his father’s blessing and birth-right for a mess of potage, causing a rift for many years that only partly healed. Jacob initially married the wrong wife. Now we have 10 brothers, ganging up on the eleventh brother out of sheer jealousy. It was a complete and utter mess.
God, however, works with the most unlikely people and situations to achieve His results. Who, at this point, could have predicted that Joseph would overcome all this and become a power in Egypt?
We also need to examine the extreme envy and covetousness that motivated the brothers to want to kill Joseph. Was it that Jacob had gone too far in his preference for his eleventh son? We know that Rachel was the wife that he wanted, and that Leah the older sister was forced upon him in a most deceitful way by his uncle. The affection that Jacob poured upon Joseph may have been a way of showing to his family how he viewed what had happened to him.
Certainly, the brothers’ resentfulness came out in their attitude and subsequent treatment of Joseph. However, as the account develops we can see how God is going to use the situation in the formation of Joseph’s character when he comes into a leadership role. It also is an essential in the education of Abraham’s family as a nucleus of achieving their own nationhood, despite many set-backs then and in the future.
God uses situations and the people involved in many different ways. If we look at our own lives, how many times do we see the hand of God directing ourselves and those around us, sometimes in situations where we touch the depths as well as when we reach times of great joy.
God, by the selling of Joseph into slavery, has given him experience that he can use in the future, though at this point Joseph must be feeling so desolate that he cannot see much of a future. So we will leave Joseph there for this week and look forward to his next adventure, and the formation of his character in this adversity. Also we can examine how God enables the brothers to redeem themselves despite their sinful ways. Amen.
Preached by Roger Wookey. Reader.