We have been talking about the story of Joseph but he is so intertwined with other people, that its very helpful to know about them as well and how they all interact.
So, Joseph was the son of Jacob, and Jacob was the son of Isaac and Isaac was Abraham’s son. Jacob was later named Israel so became the patriarchal figurehead for the Jewish people while Abraham, Josephs Grandfather was the founding father of the relationship between the Jewish people and God.
Abraham was fundamental in the religious history of our world because three major Abrahamic faiths acknowledge Abraham as their spiritual source Judaism, Islam and Christianity. Also to note that Moses and the later prophets had not yet been born.
So Joseph is the grandson of Abraham. And Joseph is one of twelve brothers whose father is Isaac, there are four mothers but these twelve brothers will go on to form the twelve tribes of Israel. The two youngest brothers are Benjamin and Joseph whose mother was Rachel.
In addition, Jacob broke the first rule of parenting by declaring that Joseph was his favourite son, so he gave received a colourful coat and then in a dream from God Joseph learned he would rise above his brothers.
Joseph’s mistake was telling his brothers this so they plotted to kill him, but they changed their minds, with the persuasion of Judah, the fourth brother, and compromised, just selling Joseph into slavery instead.
He was bought as a slave by Potiphar, an Egyptian captain of the Pharoah of Egypt.
In Potiphar’s house, Joseph earned favour and was trusted to run the household.
And all was well until J thrown into prison after denying advances from Potiphar’s wife.
In prison Joseph met the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker who both have dreams which Joseph, with God’s help, interprets
The cupbearer is released from prison and Joseph asks him to remember him. Which he does, but takes two years to until the Pharaoh, had a dream which no one could interpret. Eventually, the cupbearer remembers Joseph.
Joseph explains what the dream means, about seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph also offers his interpretation as God’s plan for Egypt. This plan is to prepare for famine by storing up grain during seven years of plenty.
This is the turning point for Joseph. Pharaoh likes the plan that Joseph lays out and sees the wisdom in it. As a result, Joseph is given the position of second in command of all of Egypt and is tasked with enacting God’s plan.
We have now moved on by a few chapters so that the famine is now widespread, beyond Egypt to Israel. Josephs plan to store up grain reserves has become widely known.
Including to Jacob, his father who has already sent the brothers to Egypt to buy some grain.
It would be difficult to overstate Joseph’s position of imperial power in this story; anyone who wants to eat must come to Joseph. He hoards the grain, and he decides who may purchase it and at what price, at a time when all of the world is riddled with famine (41:57).
Once powerless at the bottom of a pit, outnumbered by brothers who hated him, Joseph now gets to decide who will live and who will die.
Having that power does not necessarily make Joseph a bad guy, but his use of that power to control those around him surely does, no matter how much he cries.
Joseph recognised his brothers but they did not know him.
Joseph’s bitterness at being abandoned is clearly raw, he throws the brothers in jail for three days, keeping Simeon in Egypt and insists they return with Benjamin.
He then sends them away, also putting their money back in their sacks, which scares the brothers and disappoints their father Jacob.
The brothers return to Egypt, needing more grain, and take double the money and Benjamin to secure Simeon’s release.
Joseph hosts a banquet for them all but they still don’t know who he is. As they leave, Joseph plants a silver cup in Benjamin’s sack, causing them all to be arrested. Joseph tests them again, offering to make Benjamin a slave in return for releasing the others
But the brothers know how much their father was hurt by the loss of Joseph and know losing Benjamin will be to much to bear for the old man.
So Judah negotiates for Benjamin’s life in a manner reminiscent of his work to save Joseph right at the beginning.
The brothers have been on a rollercoaster of emotions, guilt and remorse for Joseph has resurfaced.
Joseph’s anger makes the brothers fearful and confused, as they still don’t know who he is. Joseph, delays telling them several times, instead testing and manipulating them by forcing them to abandon Simeon, making it seem like they’ve stolen money, then a silver cup.
Joseph wants to see if they will abandon Benjamin like they abandoned him.
Judah speaks for them all in the negotiation, and it’s clear that their priorities have changed. He offers to take Benjamin’s place as a slave, which is greater than the persuasion he used to avoid Joseph being killed all those years.
Now he has turned around in his thinking, he is prepared to sacrifice himself to save his brother.
This repentance, this turning around. This ultimate act of sacrifice is one we see many times in the Bible, and it’s this risk, to lay down one’s life for those you love, without knowing what will happen, takes courage.
To speak up for vulnerable people, when emotions run rampant, when we know we’ve made mistakes, when we know we’ve bad choices. That, for Judah, an opportunity came up where he could now try, in some way, to put right what was done wrong all those years ago.
Changing the past isn’t possible, but we can change how we view the past. Instead of living with regret and remorse, Judah is seeking to find a way he can be redeemed, even in just a small way, so he can put right, in a small way, the wrongs of the past.
Joseph has probably come to power to quickly and is now abusing it to test these men who wronged him, which is a natural reaction, and his tears when he turns away is a sign of the loss and love he feels at seeing them again, but he is not ready to forgive them just yet.
Forgiveness is a powerful force, and it doesn’t mean forgetting or wiping away the wrongs of the past. But forgiveness enables us to acknowledge the hurt and a find a way to see the love and friendship which existed before, which may be changed by experience, but is still love and this is the greatest, most powerful force in the world.
For God is Love, and he loves us, as we are, we are forgiven by him through Jesus, can we now forgive each other, that’s the real challenge, for us and for Joseph.
Tune in next week, to see what happens next!