By Bishop Todd Townshend
We come now to the end of our series on the book of Genesis with a look at Joseph, son of Jacob and Rachel.
Starting in chapter 37, we hear about Joseph the Dreamer, the son of Jacob and Rachel, who lived in the land of Canaan with ten half-brothers, one full brother Benjamin, and at least one half-sister. He was Rachel’s firstborn and Jacob’s eleventh son. Of all the sons, Joseph was his father’s favourite. He loved Joseph and he gave him a “long coat of many colours”. The brothers noticed this, of course, and because their father clearly loved him more than the others, they hated Joseph.
When Joseph was seventeen years old he had two dreams that made his brothers hate him even more. Joseph said to his brothers, “Listen to this dream I had. We were all out in the field gathering bundles of wheat. All of a sudden my bundle stood straight up and your bundles circled around it and bowed down to mine.” His brothers said, “Lovely! You’re going to rule us, are you? Little brother? Right.
He had another dream and told this one to his brothers, too: “I dreamed another dream—the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to me!” His father, Jacob, heard this and said: “What’s with all this dreaming? Am I and your mother and your brothers all supposed to bow down to you?”
His brothers had gone off to Shechem where they were pasturing their father’s flocks. Jacob said to Joseph, “Your brothers are with flocks in Shechem. I’m sending you to them.”
Joseph said, “I’m ready.” He said, “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing and bring me back a report.”
It took a while to find his brothers—in fact, they spotted him first, off in the distance. By the time he got to them they had a plan to kill him. The brothers were saying, “Here comes that dreamer. Let’s kill him and throw him into one of these old water collection pits; we can say that a vicious animal ate him up.”
Reuben heard the brothers talking and intervened, “We’re not going to kill him. Go ahead and throw him in this pit out here in the wild, but don’t hurt him.” Reuben planned to go back later and get him out and take him back to his father. When Joseph reached his brothers, they ripped off the fancy coat he was wearing, grabbed him, and threw him into a cistern. The cistern was dry; there wasn’t any water in it. Then they sat down to eat their supper. Looking up, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way from Gilead, their camels loaded with spices, ointments, and perfumes to sell in Egypt. Judah said, “Brothers, what are we going to get out of killing our brother and concealing the evidence? Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites!” His brothers agreed.
They pulled Joseph out of the cistern and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites who took Joseph with them down to Egypt. Later Reuben came back and went to the cistern—no Joseph! He ripped his clothes in despair. Beside himself, he went to his brothers. “The boy’s gone! What am I going to do!” They took Joseph’s coat, butchered a goat, and dipped the coat in the blood. They took the fancy coat back to their father and said, “We found this. Look it over—do you think this is your son’s coat?” He recognized it. “My son’s coat—a wild animal has eaten him!” Jacob tore his clothes in grief, dressed in rough burlap, and mourned his son a long, long time.
In Egypt they sold Joseph to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, manager of his household. Later, Joseph became Potiphar’s personal servant, and finally his household’s superintendent. When Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph, he refused, which ticked her off and, running from her, she made a false accusation of rape which eventually landed him in prison.
In prison, some of the men had dreams and Joseph, being able to interpret dreams, asked to hear them. He got pretty good at interpreting the dreams and the other prisoners were amazed. A couple of years later, the Pharaoh himself dreamt of seven lean cows which devoured seven fat cows; and of seven withered ears of grain which devoured seven fat ears. When the Pharaoh’s advisers failed to interpret these dreams, someone thought of Joseph. Joseph was summoned and he interpreted the dream as seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine—and advised the Pharaoh to store up surplus grain.
Following this prediction, Joseph was made a counsellor to the Pharaoh, like a government minister and, following the meaning of the dream, Joseph made sure that the storehouses were full during the seven years of abundance. When the famine came, it was so severe that people from surrounding nations came to Egypt to buy bread. As a last resort, all of the inhabitants of Egypt, except “the 1%” of the land, sold their properties and later themselves as slaves to Joseph in exchange for seed.
In the second year of famine (we’re in chapter 41 now), Joseph’s half-brothers were sent to Egypt to buy goods. When they came to Egypt, they stood before Joseph (who was now basically running the country) but did not recognize him as their brother. Joseph recognized them, however, but didn’t say anything.
“Where do you come from?” Joseph asked.
“From Canaan, we came to buy food.”
“No, we’ve only come for food.” And they explained their family situation and the need for food.
Joseph then asked about their younger brother at home and demanded that he be brought to Egypt as a demonstration of their story. This was Joseph’s full brother, Benjamin. Joseph placed his brothers in prison for three days. On the third day, he brought them out of prison to repeated that he wanted their youngest brother brought to him. The brothers conferred amongst themselves speaking in Hebrew, reflecting on the wrong they had done to Joseph. Joseph understood what they were saying and had to leave the room because he was caught up in his emotions.
When they got back to their father Jacob in Canaan they told him all that had happened in Egypt—and that they had to bring Benjamin back to Egypt. Jacob didn’t like it—it sounded too weird. Stranger still, as they were emptying their food bags, each man found that all of their money sacks still had money in them.
The famine got worse and Jacob sent the boys back to Egypt for more food. They said, only if you let us take Benjamin. Jacob reluctantly agreed and told them to pay double this time and to bring gifts.
Once they were back in Egypt, they went to Joseph, and they gave him the gifts from their father. Joseph saw Benjamin and was, again, overcome by emotion but he didn’t show it. He withdrew to his chambers and wept. When he regained control of himself, he returned and ordered a meal to be served. And they feasted together.
That night, Joseph ordered his steward to load the brothers’ donkeys with food and all of their money. He also said, “put my silver chalice in the top of the bag of the youngest.”
They were barely out of the city when Joseph said to his steward, “Run after them and, when you catch up say, why did you steal from me? This chalice belongs to my master!” He did it, and when accused, the brothers said, “We would never do anything like that!” But they searched the bags and found it in Benjamin’s bag.” AH!
They went back and threw themselves down in front of Joseph. To make up for it Joseph demanded that the one who took it would have to stay and be his servant. The brothers knew that losing Benjamin would kill their father. Judah offered to stay instead knowing what losing both Joseph and Benjamin would mean . . . declaring that Jacob had already lost the son who he loved more than anything.
Joseph couldn’t take it anymore and he cried out to his brothers, “I am Joseph! – is our father really still alive?” The brothers were speechless. “Come closer and see, I am Joseph your brother whom you sold into slavery. But it’s ok now. God was behind all of this. God sent me on ahead of you to save lives, including yours. Hurry back to our father and tell him, your son Joseph is alive: he’s the master of all of Egypt. Come as fast as you can. I’ll give you a place to live where you’ll be close to me. I’ll take care of you completely.” Then Joseph embraced his brother Benjamin and wept. He kissed all of his brothers and wept over them.
Joseph’s brothers left Egypt and went back to their father Jacob—who couldn’t believe his ears when her heard the news. His spirit revived and off he went to Egypt to reunite with his lost son.
And the book of Genesis ends there—and the book of Exodus pick the story up and off it goes again. Genesis is just a beginning in the love story of God and God’s people. The story of God and the whole Creation. It’s been a real gift to dwell in it, once again, this summer. I pray that these stories can now better dwell in us—as we respond to this same God in our own time.
These weekly videos will stop for a few weeks while we get ready for Synod. I’ll be back in some form or another in October. Peace be with you.