Welcome to the continuing adventures of Joseph the dreamer who was sold to a band of foreign traders and hauled off to Egypt… far, far away from his family in the land of Canaan. After his sons lied about Joseph’s untimely “death”, Jacob and his family went into a period of mourning and then, life returned to normal. The brothers got what they wanted, which was to be rid of Joseph forever.
Cue the soap opera music… Meanwhile, Joseph has been having some real adventures of his own in Egypt. God was with Joseph and the Egyptians could see that. As a result Joseph became respected and was given much responsibility for running the affairs of Potiphar, the captain of the guard. Even when wrongly accused of having an affair of his own with Potiphar’s wife and after being thrown in prison, Joseph still managed to land on his feet. The jailer gave him charge over many of the inmates because it was obvious that God was with Joseph.
One day Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were imprisoned with Joseph. The jailer gave them into Joseph’s charge. That night, both of the men dreamed. In the morning, they told their dreams to Joseph, and Joseph was able to interpret the dreams. Things came to pass just as Joseph and the dreams predicted. Two years later, Pharaoh himself had a very troubling dream. He called every magician and wise person in the land of Egypt, but not one of them could interpret Pharaoh’s dream. Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered that Joseph could interpret dreams and told Pharaoh to look him up. Pharaoh sent for Joseph.
Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream which warned of seven years of feast followed by seven years of famine in the land. Joseph then continued by telling Pharaoh what he should do about it. Pharaoh liked Joseph’s ideas and decided to appoint him ruler over all of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh himself. That is how Joseph rose to power in Egypt. Everything happened according to the dream, but the peoples of Egypt were prepared. Joseph was able to amass great storehouses of grain so that the people would never be without bread. In fact, there was so much surplus, other people from other countries began traveling to Egypt to buy food from Joseph.
This is how the sons of Jacob happened to encounter their long, lost, but not dead yet brother. As soon as the sons arrived and stood before Joseph, Joseph recognized them. But, Joseph kept his identity a secret. How did he pull it off so that the brothers were clueless as to his real identity? If Joseph looked like an Egyptian, was dressed like an Egyptian, spoke like an Egyptian, and even walked like an Egyptian, then the brothers did not doubt that the man in charge was an Egyptian! Little did the brothers know, Joseph understood every word they said to one another when they were not speaking to Joseph through an interpreter. What’s more, Joseph had some tricks up his sleeve to test the brothers.
After putting his brothers through some very curious and frightening times (which you can read about in Genesis 42 and following), Joseph was convinced that they were trying to make amends for the evil they had done in their earlier years. With that, Joseph cleared the room and was left alone with his eleven brothers. Joseph wept and then went for the big reveal… “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?”
The brothers were shocked into silence.
Could any one of us have managed to utter a word? What was going through their minds? They probably thought that they were busted. Here is the past coming back to haunt them. Surely now they would do the time for their crime. What would Joseph do to them? How would he exact his revenge? At one time, the brothers held all the cards. They were the powerful ones who ruled over Joseph and with one crazy scheme, changed Joseph’s life forever.
In that moment when the light dawned, did the brothers experience that sinking feeling you get when the whole world caves in on your head? Did they grow weak in their knees? Were they sick to their stomachs? Did they hold their breath as they looked to Joseph who clearly had the upper hand? Did they resign themselves to the fact that they were up THAT creek and no paddle would even begin to help them?
The tension mounts. Joseph opens his mouth to speak and says, “Come closer to me.” (Jaws music playing in the background…) The brothers did as they were told. Joseph said to them, “I am your brother Joseph whom you sold into Egypt.”
Yes, they had heard right the first time. It was all over for these brothers now. They were certain a slow and agonizing death awaited them. But instead of sentencing them to capital punishment, Joseph speaks once more, “And now, do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For 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. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; God has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
(Cue the violins) And Joseph’s words began to bathe the brothers with an incredible feeling of lightness and warmth. Instead of carrying out revenge on his brothers, Joseph breaks with that past. He tells his brothers to put the past behind them as well. The power of the dream killers is shattered. What exists now is the possibility for a whole new relationship among members of a broken family. When Joseph revealed his identity to his brothers, he did not tell them his Egyptian name and title, instead, speaking in Hebrew, he told them his own family name… Joseph. No matter how great or royal Joseph had become in Egypt, clearly his roots were deep in his father’s family. By Joseph’s willingness to risk and become vulnerable in front of his brothers, he has set the stage for something new to happen.
What’s more, Joseph interprets his real life events for his brothers as he tells them that GOD sent him to Egypt… not the brothers. One way or another, Joseph would have gotten to Egypt with or without the brothers’ assistance, because that is where God wanted Joseph to be. God’s plan is to save a remnant of the Hebrew people so that the promises made to the ancestors can continue. Joseph was made father, lord, and ruler in Egypt so that Joseph could carry out God's plan of salvation. It is interesting to look at the words Joseph uses to describe his status in Egypt… father, lord, ruler. These very words are often used in the Bible to describe God Almighty.
In this story, Joseph has become a metaphor for God. As one who has every reason to reject a wayward human family, Joseph instead, chooses to love them… even after he has been sacrificed for them. Joseph knows that he has been a player in God’s grand plan. He accepts his role and destiny as he lives into the legacy of being the one to carry on the promises made to his ancestors. When Joseph has been given all power over his brothers, he becomes humble… thereby proving his fitness as God’s chosen servant.
At the point when Joseph realizes that he loves his family in spite of everything, God is no longer a hidden player in this drama. In fact, who but God, could heal such brokenness and betrayal among brothers? God is revealed as the one who is powerful enough to turn even the vilest human evil into something good. God has the power to transform the curse into a blessing. Lucky for those brothers that God was with Joseph, otherwise the story could have had a very tragic ending for them.
The next order of business for the brothers is to go and tell Jacob to start packing. The family is going to move to the land of Goshen and settle close to Joseph. There, they will be cared for during the next five years of famine. After explaining how life was going to be for his family, Joseph broke down a second time and wept, first with his brother Benjamin, and then with the rest of them. After he kissed all of his brothers, then his brothers were able to speak to him once more.
After all the years of agony, jealousy, and hatred when the brothers could not speak peaceably to Joseph, finally shalom has come to this family. And things just keep getting better as the family is welcomed to Egypt by Pharaoh and as they are given the best of what Egypt has to offer.
At times when we look and look for God and can’t seem to find any evidence of God, instead of giving up, we need to be reminded of the hiddenness of God in the Joseph story. Sure, it took many years for all the scenes to play out, but when the stage was set and the curtain went up, what a grand family reunion it was!
God wills life for us, wants good things in our lives, and is more powerful than any evil which may befall us. Weneed to catch hold of the dream God has for us and no matter what happens along the way, we need to be ready for God to fulfill the dream. It may require sacrifice or change of heart or baring our very souls, but we must always keep in mind that God is sovereign and we are not.
God makes use of our human thought and actions. God can create newness even when the same old tired scenarios keep on playing out in the world. God CAN bring good things out of evil designs.
We may feel more comfortable with a God who performs very grandiose and public displays of power… at least that way we’d all see what God was up to. But it is more often the case that God works behind the scenes; quietly, imperceptibly, preferring to remain hidden until we recognize God’s handiwork in a situation we thought was hopeless. Whenever we see signs of life rather than death, or reconciliation over estrangement, or forgiveness instead of revenge, we can be assured that God is at work in and through our human affairs bringing this newness and goodness.
And perhaps in those moments when we put the pieces together and realize that only a divine intervention could have solved the mess we made, we’ll remember Joseph and we’ll rejoice that like him, we too, have been participants in God’s plan. No matter what has enslaved us or trapped us in the past, recognizing God at work in our lives is very liberating. Just like Joseph, we will be free to forgive and make peace with events and persons who have caused suffering and grief. No longer will we be held captive by the past. Instead, we will see the new thing God is doing, and we’ll try as hard as we can to ride God’s dream into the future.