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.

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.