Forgiveness – Genesis 44

The party was over. The brothers were sent off with beloved Benjamin. The trip had been a success – or so they thought.

Until they were chased down by Joseph’s steward, with all kinds of accusations. Stunned, the brothers defended themselves, until the cup is found in Benjamin’s bag. Although Benjamin was the accused, they were not going back to Jacob without him. 

Judah steps forward. Yes, this is the Judah who wrongly accused Tamar and was humbled by her sense of justice. That experience matured him and gave him the boldness to refuse to return without Benjamin, even when Joseph makes the offer. He even offered himself to take Benjamin’s place rather than see his father hurt once again.

But it was when the brothers talked about the beloved son of their father who had been killed, that Joseph could no longer hold his emotions. 

I wonder what the brothers thought when Joseph cried, “Make everyone go out from me” and then started weeping so loudly, the Egyptians outside of the room could hear. Then he started talking without a translator that he was Joseph and asking if his father was alive. No wonder they were filled with shock and unbelief!

Reality hit when Joseph asked his brothers to, “Come near to me, please.” He told them his story, how “God sent me before you to preserve life.” He said, “So it was not you who sent me here, but God.” 

There was no recounting of their past sins. They were forgiven. In fact, what God had turned into good, it was if it never happened.

Joseph gave instructions for the family to be brought back to Egypt. Pharaoh even got in on the bandwagon, giving them possessions and land. Jacob was stunned when he heard Joseph was alive.

It’s not quite the end of the story, but let’s not blow past the forgiveness. We’ve been working up to it for several chapters, and it is key to understanding.

The brothers did something that was wrong, horribly wrong. They lived with the guilt of it for years, making up lies to cover their tracks. Joseph felt the impact of their sin the most, paying the price with his suffering. But God had a plan of redemption that sin and suffering could not defeat.

We do things that are wrong, sometimes horribly wrong. We live with the guilt of it, lying to ourselves rather than confessing. As a result, others who are innocent suffer.

And God suffers, knowing our sin, knowing how we are separated from him. So he put a plan of redemption into place so that we wouldn’t starve ourselves, so that he could redeem us. That plan was for the only one who was righteous to suffer and die in our place, Jesus Christ. Through him, we are redeemed.

And our sin? It becomes as if it never happened. 

More to the Story – Genesis 43

The Ticking Clock – Genesis 43

The brothers went on to tell their father, Jacob, about the Egyptian, the money, and the ultimatum.  Jacob, not knowing about the sin of selling Joseph, was afraid of losing even more of his sons. If the Egyptian had been this tough, he could wipe out all of Jacob’s legacy in one move. 

The brothers begged. They knew they would all starve if they didn’t return. The clock was ticking…and it was only getting worse.

Judah continued to beg his father and round and round they went. Jacob relinquished praying, “May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”

So the brothers came once more in front of Joseph. As soon as he saw Benjamin was with them, he told the steward to bring them to his house. This must have seemed abrupt and put the brothers into a little tizzy!

So they talked to the steward, so see if it had anything to do with the money returned in their sacks and offered to give it back. The steward put them at ease and said, “Your God and the God of your father has put treasure in your sacks for you.” I wonder how much Joseph’s steward knew about their God? 

Quite different than their first experience with this Egyptian ruler, they were not questioned, but served. Their feet were washed, and donkeys fed. Simeon was brought out of jail. He may have wondered if his brothers were ever coming back.

Joseph appeared and the small talk began as Joseph found out more and more about his father. Then he came face to face with Benjamin. 

“Then Joseph hurried out, for his compassion grew warm for his brother, and he sought a place to weep. And he entered his chamber and wept there. Then he washed his face and came out.”

I wonder what the brothers thought, with his quick departure?

Then they were seated, by birth order. Who could have known their birth order, as babies were popping out of wives and mistresses? And they are all men by now. And why would the youngest get 5 times the portions? But with all the food and wine, there wasn’t much opportunity for jealousy.

But Joseph was not yet done…and neither was God.

A Cliffhanger – Genesis 42

I can’t help but reflect on Manasseh name: “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” Joseph may have left the past behind, but God hadn’t.

God didn’t forget Joseph in jail, and he didn’t forget a starving family in Canaan.

Those brothers heard about the grain in Egypt as they looked at their barren fields. Jacob knew he needed to provide for his family, so he sent his sons to by grain, but not all of them.

Jacob couldn’t forget Joseph.

Still mourning his loss, 10-15 year later, he couldn’t bear to send his youngest, the only son left from his beloved Rebekah. So the other brothers joined the crowd headed towards Egypt to beg for the opportunity to buy grain.

Imagine them standing in the courtyard of this Egyptian named Zaphenath-paneah. They may have been practicing how to pronounce it, how to bow, how to approach this ruler who literally held their lives in his hands. Then the doors open and they are ushered before him into a room ladened with gold and wealth beyond any they have ever seen. A man dressed like a Pharaoh sits before them. They never left so small, so helpless.

And imagine Joseph, having left “his father’s house” behind him. And now, his father’s house is bowed before him – those brothers who hated him so much, they sold him into slavery!

I’m not surprised Joseph “spoke roughly to them.” He was probably trying to sort out his own feelings, his own anger. So he started with simple questions. As he asked the questions, he remembered his own dream, where they would bow before him, the reason they hated him. It was coming true.

The questions got harder as Joseph accused them of being spies. This would be a worse case scenario for these foreigners, a certain death. They pleaded with him, as Joseph got more information about them, that Jacob was alive with Benjamin. So he demanded to see Benjamin, to seek if their story was true. And just to put a period on how powerful he was, he threw them in jail, which could have been the same prison he had served in.

Three days later, they were resurrected out of the prison. Joseph has had time to compose himself, and his anger, to make a plan.

The plan started with, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God.” I’m sure fear of God was what made Joseph reconsider his next steps.

Joseph relinquished. Initially he was going to imprison all except one and have him go get Benjamin. But he may have known the fear Jacob would have felt and never allowed Benjamin to come. 

Relieved, the brothers talked among themselves, without thinking an Egyptian would know Hebrew. They had not forgotten about their brother, Joseph, and now felt this test was actually payback from God.

As Joseph heard his name, he turned away and wept. The brothers didn’t notice. Joseph knew he had not been forgotten. 

They took the deal. Simeon was left in Egyptian prison, grain was purchased, and in one last gesture of grace, or maybe to test their conscience, the money was placed back into the grain sacks. When they opened their sacks, “Their hearts failed them, and they turned trembling to one another, saying, ‘What is this that God has done to us?’”

The issue was no longer with the Egyptian; it was with God. And the brothers knew it.

Rise to Power – Genesis 41

Talk about whiplash – Joseph is in the prison in the morning, in a palace by nightfall!

Just as Potiphar had put Joseph over his house, Pharaoh now puts him over his nation, second in command. He gave him his signet ring, giving him the power to give orders with the same authority as himself. And I wondered what the ring looked like, having seen pictures of jewel encrusted staffs taken from Egyptian tombs. I would imagine Joseph’s eyes were popping out as he could hardly believe what was transpiring!

Then came the dress parade, complete with gold chains. Once dressed, Pharaoh took him out for a ride, Joseph in his own chariot, right behind Pharaoh, people cheering and waving. The chariot stopped and the people bowed their knee, not knowing that just days ago, this was a despised Hebrew, jailed and forgotten. 

Now everyone in Egypt knew of him!

Then there was waking up in his own bed, pinching himself as servants waited on him, bringing the best food and wine in Egypt. He went from a prisoner to protected, expendable to vital to a nation and a ruler.

And personally he continued in grace, as Pharaoh renamed him an Egyptian name, so he would not identified with his past. And he gave him in marriage to Asenath, the daughter of a high priest, an honor only Pharaoh could have given.

And the babies came, and Joseph did not forget the Lord his God. He named the first Manasseh because “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The second he named Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

And Joseph worked the plan God had given. And just like in other situations, he was fruitful.

Many of us might have broken under the strain of the transition, the acclaim, feeling unworthy and incapable. Or maybe we would have changed with the wealth, and become prideful? Maybe we become comfortable with the protection wealth and power provide? Maybe broken under the pressure of providing food for a nation, for the world?

But Joseph embraced the position God, not Pharaoh, had placed him, and left the results up to God.

He followed the plan God, not Pharaoh, had given him. 

Forgotten – Genesis 40:23

Sometimes the shortest verses have the most impact. I think of “Jesus wept,” (John 11:35) and the emotion packed into those two words. 

So I can’t skip over Genesis 40:23.

We left Joseph with this glimmer of hope. He had sought God and God had come through with truth. He had been bold to proclaim his name – surely now a grateful cupbearer would remember Joseph’s name!

But silence…

Can you hear it echoing off the cold, stone prison walls? Can you hear the doubts rattling in Joseph’s head? Had he been fooled again? Could he ever trust Egyptians?

And the temptations to grow cold himself, to withdraw from his work, maybe even his God? Maybe his God was a powerless as the Egyptian gods made by hands? I don’t know if he had doubts, but he was human, just as we are, in the midst of waiting…

I wonder if he talked to the chief warden of the jail, trying to get perspective. I wonder about all the little things, those mundane things, that came and went while Joseph waited, day after day.

Joseph was forgotten.

For two long years, he was forgotten. We don’t know why the cupbearer didn’t remember him. I’m sure the cupbearer was grateful and it wasn’t that he had a bad memory. Maybe he “forgot him,” in a more formal way, like not having the nerve to “remember him” to anyone who had power? After all, fickle Pharoah had just had him thrown into prison and butchered the baker. I might be a little hesitant myself. Or maybe he just got caught up in his duties…or maybe a little too much leftover wine?

Like Joseph, we don’t know what was going on in the cupbearer’s mind.  And we don’t know what was going on in Joseph’s mind, but most of us know what it is like to feel “forgotten.” The promotion given to the co-worker you felt you deserved. The friend who looks past you to greet someone else. The person important in your life who misses your birthday. 

God never forgets us. He sees us all the time, the good moments and the bad, and even the empty ones, when we feel we are just waiting…forgotten.

A Glimmer of Hope – Genesis 40

Poor Joseph is in jail, but he bucks up and makes the best of it, showing his trustworthiness to the jailer and rising in the ranks of the lowest of low.

Enter two men who were of high standing, serving a somewhat fickle Pharoah, who became angry with them and threw them in jail. “They continued for some time in custody” with Joseph appointed to be with them. The chief jailer assigned them his best.

Then came the dreams, to both of them on the same night. Sensitive to their emotions, Joseph saw they were “troubled.” They had been in Pharoah’s court and knew how the wise men and magicians interpreted dreams, but never guessed a Hebrew slave in prison could do the same.

Before saying a word, Joseph gave the glory to God, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” While others took credit for themselves to gain position, Joseph did not.

As the cupbearer shared his dream, and the outcome was so wonderul, the baker couldn’t contain himself as he stepped forward with his similar dream. But the outcome was so different.

I can’t help but wonder what those three days of suspense were like. Did they dare believe the Hebrew slave? Did the baker cry out to his gods? Was the cupbearer elated, or fearful? After all, they did not know Joseph’s God.

And what did Joseph feel, waiting those three days. Did he fear he got it wrong, didn’t hear from God correctly? Things hadn’t gone well at Potiphar’s house – maybe this was another trap? What if it the interpretation didn’t come true?

And then it was Pharoah’s birthday. I can imagine the celebration. I wonder if the prisoners heard the partying down in the dungeon? Then the invitation came for the cupbearer and baker to join the party with the other servants…

Joseph waited in silence, in the prison.

The news came – the interpretation was true! The cupbearer was restored to his position, but the poor baker, well, it was not so good for him. 

There is a glimmer of light, of hope, in the story. Surely the cupbearer would remember what Joseph had done for him. The door was cracked. Any day now, it would open… 

Joseph had sought God. He had stepped into opportunity. He had been bold to speak God’s name. Surely he will be rewarded…

Next – Genesis 39

After the story of Tamar, we pick back up with the life of Joseph, the boy turned slave by his brothers.

Scripture often doesn’t talk about the emotional aspect of events, what people are feeling. There are hints later that Joseph begged for his life from the pit. I wonder what those words were? I wonder how he felt hearing his brothers bargaining for him, settling for a price, money exchanged. What did it feel like to be chained each day, walking for miles through the desert, possibly not knowing the language? Then the humility of the line-up, the auction as he was sold, fearing who his master would be. 

But God was in control, even if Joseph was not. God was always with him. 

Joseph must have impressed his Ishmaelite captors. They presented him and sold him to Potiphar, captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard. I’m sure they would not have wanted to pass off an inferior product but wanted to sell him their best, boosting their own reputation. 

And Joseph did well because “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man.” Even though Joseph’s circumstances were horrible, he made the best of them, looking for opportunities to serve and serve well. We don’t have any sense he gave into depression or self-pity but met challenges as an opportunities. A quick, obedient learner, he picked up the nuances of the culture and adjusted.

And others took notice: ”Now his master saw that theLord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge.”

But success comes with temptations. Others take notice and get jealous. In this case, it was Potiphar’s wife, who probably held the power in the household before Joseph arrived. She used the one power she had over Joseph: sexual power.

Joseph resisted. He knew right from wrong. And even if adultery was permitted in this culture, he knew his sin would be more than against his owner, “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?”

But doing what is right is not always rewarded. He was entrapped once again, and in the midst of false charges, he was thrown into jail.

Favored son to slave to supervisor to jail. Would it ever end?

But God was continuing to protect Joseph. The punishment for attempted rape for a slave under these circumstances would have been death. And the jail he was placed in was probably under Potiphar’s supervision. 

Again, it seems Joseph did not give into discouragement and depression. “The Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him… and whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper.”

How do I handle the ups and downs of my life? 

I have to confess, sometimes, when I feel trapped, I give into my feelings. I don’t see challenges as opportunities. I wallow in my pit, feeling alone, instead of asking God, “What’s next?” 

God has never left me, even in darkness, and there always is something coming up “next.”

Doing What is Right – Genesis 38

Joseph is sold into slavery and Israel is morning for his son. Judah, one of the older sons, leaves the family and marries a Canaanite woman and has sons of his own. When we join this story, many years have passed since Joseph was sold and this takes place while Joseph is a slave in Egypt.  I can’t help but wonder if Judah left because of tselling Joseph and seeing his father’s distress?

 Anyway, Judah oldest son, Er, marries Tamar. Er “was evil in the sight of the Lord, so the Lord took his life.” It was not fault Tamar’s fault, but she still gets blamed for it.

First, Judah’s second son, Onan, blames her and refuses to give her a child.  What he did was displeasing in the sight of the Lord; so He took his life also.“ Tamar loses again, gets blamed again.

Judah, now believing it must be Tamar’s fault, refuses to give her his third son, lest he die also. In disgrace, she has to leave Judah’s family, the only family she has known as an adult, and is sent home to her home in disgrace.

What could she do?

She did not grow up in this culture. She does’t know the ways of God. But she did have a conscience and knew right from wrong.

So she took matters into her own hands. She tricked Judah into having sex with her, playing the role of a pagan prostitute, gaining proof that she would use later to prove her pregnancy.

What was Judah doing messing around with a pagan prostitute?

He was the child of Jacob/Israel. He had every opportunity to know God. But Tamar had probably seen how he was running from the Lord since selling Joseph. She knew his track record of betrayal.

Can you imagine his surprise at being outwitted by a Canaanite woman? He was in the midst of his anger at her getting pregnant only to find out it was his own sin.

God met Judah in midst of the deceit, as he says, “She is more righteous than I.” He knew his own sin, and how clear it was even to someone who knew right from wrong. It’s a lesson we see later as Judah deals with Joseph.

And Tamar?

She is one of the few women mentioned in Jesus’ lineage in Matthew 1:3 – the Canaanite woman who knew more about right and wrong than Judah who was raised in a household that was supposed to be following God.

Hmm…I wonder what my witness looks like to others who know I am a Christian when I don’t choose right?

Enter Joseph – Genesis 37

Although the account of his birth is in Genesis 30, he plays a minor role as the “favorite wife’s son” until we get to chapter 37. Now he comes to center-stage, the main character until the end of the book. His mother has already died in childbirth, bearing Jacob’s only full brother, Benjamin.

Now a teen-ager, with possibly the characteristics of a teen, he brings a bad report back to his father about the shortcomings of his half-brothers. It may have endeared him to his father, but certainly didn’t help his relationship with his brothers. Strike one.

Then Israel/Jacob made him a special coat which caused his brothers to envy him, and was a sure sign of his father’s favoritism. It says, “His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms.” Strike two.

Then the dreams started coming, and with the distorted wisdom of a teen, Joseph could not keep his mouth shut. I can’t blame him – it would be pretty mind-blowing to have these kinds of dreams. But he didn’t have the filter to not hear what he was saying to the people who would be most affected. Not once, but twice! Even his father objected to the idea that he would someday bow down to his son. “So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words” until they plotted how to kill him. Strike three.

Jealousy, envy that seems reasonable when things are “not fair,” has a way of growing within us. 

So when Israel sent Joseph to report on his brothers again, the brothers were not keen on being tattled on again. Joseph was tenacious to find his brothers and report to his father. After all, he was his father’s favorite son.

But his brother’s had other ideas, little schemes hatched in over active minds looking for revenge. I’m sure Joseph, in his naivety, had no idea of what lay before him as he walked into the trap which enfolded. First the plot to kill him; then the plan to enslave him – after all, then it wouldn’t be murder, the brothers reassured themselves, each one making compromises in their hearts.

Reality hit when they told their lie to their father, who “tore his clothes, and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 Then all his sons and all his daughters arose to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. And he said, ‘Surely I will go down to Sheol in mourning for my son.’ So his father wept for him.

We learned later this scene ripped at the heart of the boys. Sworn to a pledge of silence, no one dared to tell the truth. After all, if slavery happened to Joseph, what would happen to them if they told? The watched, day after day, their father in distress, blaming himself for sending Joseph to find the flock, depressed year after year, until the truth would be known.

We all have secrets…things we have done we don’t want others to know about. And we cover those little secrets the best we can…for years. Oh, we may have never sold a brother into slavery, but we may have talked behind their back, been a little jealous, didn’t defend them when others talked about them?

Years later, God turned their sin into good years later. Joseph learned lessons through suffering. The brothers had their lives and hearts changed. God used Joseph to provide food for Israel’s family.

Our sin cannot thwart the good God wants to do in, through, and around us…

Esau’s Family – Genesis 36

Genesis 36 is the family tree coming out of Esau. Remember Jacob’s blessing of Esau? Jacob had been given the blessing of the bloodline of God’s nation, but Esau had been given a blessing also. God never forgot Esau.

Esau took “his wives from the daughters of Canaan” and these wives caused much grief to his parents. But since Jacob was gone for so long, Esau’s family was all his parents had in their lives. They were the ones around them when Rachel died.

And Esau made some good decisions. When Jacob left, Esau hated him and wanted to kill him, but seventeen years later, Esau forgave Jacob when Jacob came back, even embraced him and offered to escort him back to the family. Talk about life change!

And Esau went with Jacob to bury their father. He may have even been the one to bear the bad news.

And after the burial and return of Jacob to the homeland, Esau gave up his home and “took his wives and his sons and his daughters and all his household, and his livestock and all his cattle and all his goods which he had acquired in the land of Canaan, and went to another land away from his brother Jacob. Esau held up to his end of father’s blessing even after his father had died, and left the land so Jacob could inherit it.

Esau’s descendants became Edomites and are listed by their “chiefs” and “kings” which rings true with Issac’s blessing of Esau: “By your sword you shall live.” These nations have been in conflict with Israel even to this day.

God did not forget Esau, even though he was not the chosen one. Just read through all the names of his sons, their sons and their accomplishments. He has a special place in scripture without negative commentary. 

Esau made some good decisions, for which God gives him a special place in scripture. These boys were not “good” or “bad,” as we tend to polarize people and nations.

Each had their own choices to make…