Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15-21
(sermon note: 09-27 sermon note)
(watch here: https://youtu.be/HTvNOHmqvSM)
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.
Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed. There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.’ His brothers said to him, ‘Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?’ So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words. The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. He returned to his brothers, and said, ‘The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?’ Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, ‘This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.’ He recognized it, and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.’ Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son for many days.
Realizing that their father was dead, Joseph’s brothers said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?’ So they approached Joseph, saying, ‘Your father gave this instruction before he died, “Say to Joseph: I beg you, forgive the crime of your brothers and the wrong they did in harming you.” Now therefore please forgive the crime of the servants of the God of your father.’ Joseph wept when they spoke to him. Then his brothers also wept, fell down before him, and said, ‘We are here as your slaves.’ But Joseph said to them, ‘Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today. So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.’ In this way he reassured them, speaking kindly to them.
This morning’s reading reminds me of the one about three men who were walking alongside the road through Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, a police officer pulled up beside them and picked them up, falsely accused of drinking in the town 5 miles back. They were taken before the judge who sentenced them all to 50 lashes each. The men begged and pleaded for mercy and fought for their innocence. The judge took pity and said, “I will let all of you have one wish before receiving your lashes.” The first man asked for a pillow to be attached to his back during the lashes. However, the pillow broke after 20 lashes and he was severely hurt from the 30 other lashes. The second man asked for two pillows to be attached to his back but those also broke after 40 lashes and he was hurt from the 10 remaining lashes. Hesitantly, the third man came up to receive his 50 lashes. Now this man had a record of doing lots of work for the community and the judge was impressed. So much so that the judge granted him two wishes. The man’s first wish was to receive two hundred lashes instead of the mere 50. Everyone in the courtroom was confused. The man then asked for his second wish. “I want the first guy attached to my back.”
I don’t know why but it seems like one of Joseph’s brothers would have tried pulling a similar stunt like that when going before Joseph after their father died. They were such a sneaky bunch of brothers! Probably would have been the leader of the pack, Reuben. After all, he was the one who came up with the plan to throw Joseph in the pit and sell him to the Ishmaelites instead of simply killing him. Who knew what suffering awaited Joseph in the hands of the Ishmaelites! And to profit from such suffering…only a truly diabolical brother could conceive of such an idea! Someone just as diabolical as the man wishing 200 lashes on his fellow captive.
Of course, Reuben was a man at his wits end with his little brother. Joseph was an awfully precocious young man. It didn’t help that their father, Jacob, treated him as his favorite among all his sons. Joseph was the youngest, most favored son, and yet God chose him for something special. God has a history of choosing unlikely leaders, Moses and David to name but a few. For whatever reason, God came to Joseph in a dream and gave him a vision of his leadership over his brothers. Precocious as he was, Joseph must have delighted in such a dream. Finally, the youngest gets to lord over his brothers! Delighted or not, Joseph had no hesitation sharing his dream with his brothers which only enraged them further. Not only was he dad’s favorite but then he was going to have authority over his brothers…in a time and a place where familial authority was highly valued…can you blame the anger of the brothers?! No, I suppose not. And Joseph’s lack of hesitation in sharing his dream…the sheer gall! At our Bible study this week, I played the devil’s advocate a little and asked the group if there might be any admirable qualities to Joseph’s actions. The best we could come up with was Joseph’s faith and assurance in God’s sovereignty over his life. He didn’t care what his brothers’ reactions were going to be, when God speaks or gives visions, then they must be heeded. God doesn’t speak haphazardly! Only a fool would ignore God’s visions! So I suppose we can credit Joseph for his sure faith but it sure gets him in a lot of trouble…or at least sets in motion a series of life-altering events. Somewhat similar to Abraham’s faith as we reflected on last week.
Well, our reading doesn’t really share any of those life-altering events but if you’re familiar with Joseph’s story, he goes on to rise to be a very important person in all of Egypt, second only to the Pharaoh himself. And it all began with the unfortunate event of his brothers throwing him in a pit to be sold to the Ishmaelites. Yes, our reading picks up at the end of Joseph’s story when he has indeed risen to the authority that his dream had suggested. He was a powerful man in a land beset with troubles and woes…troubles and woes that touched his vindictive brothers. They came before him, seeking his help and probably expecting some type of retribution for their treatment of him earlier in his life. But Joseph took the high road and showed them and their families mercy and vowed to support them in their troubling situations. Perhaps because he acknowledged his own fault in their treatment…his own precociousness and arrogance and pride that enraged them to the point of throwing him in the pit. Joseph was by no means a saint in his behavior with his brothers and he knew it which illustrates the importance of acknowledging our own faults if we’re ever going to reach reconciliation. None of us is perfect! We’re all trying to play the cards dealt to us the best we can. Joseph didn’t choose to be the youngest or his father’s favorite, let alone God’s chosen leader in a foreign land beset with troubles and woes. Joseph’s rise to power despite such a scary beginning illustrates God’s awesome power and glory.
Perhaps more important in Joseph’s story is what his mercy and compassion to his brothers conveys. You see, God’s mercy is very much akin to Joseph’s mercy. In a number of ways, we are like Joseph’s brothers. At times, we, too, can be selfish, vindictive, hateful, unkind, and remorseful. Did you notice how the brothers weren’t very remorseful initially when they came to Joseph? They cleverly tried to persuade them that their father wished him to be merciful. Not very remorseful! “But dad said you had to be merciful to us!” Well, fortunately the reading went on to say that they almost immediately began weeping in their sorrow. But who among us hasn’t had times in our lives when we wished ill upon others who sought to do us harm? It’s a very human response to the sins of others! Yet we are called to rise above our humanity and “be merciful as our Father is merciful” as we hear Jesus proclaim in Luke (6:36). Yes, we are called to be merciful because our God is so truly merciful to each and every one of us! God shows us his grace and mercy each and every day that we get to live and have our being in this world. God holds us and our world in his hands. God protects us and sustains us. God feeds us and guides us. What a merciful God indeed! Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved.” (2:4-5) Friends, this is good news! We are saved by his grace and mercy! These and faith and scripture, the so-called three “solas” that Luther described in his teachings. And in Lamentations we hear, “the steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” (3-22-23)
In his own awesome mercy, Joseph reveals the awesome mercy of our God. Let us not only live in that mercy but seek to share it with each other. We all are in need of a little mercy and forgiveness from time to time. And if we can’t get it from each other, know that you can always get it from God. Hebrews tells us, “let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” (4:16) What a great gift to be offered to us from our loving God! Let us give God our thanks and praise. Thanks be to God!
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.