GENESIS 42:29-43:15

FEBRUARY 8, 2009


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            You know things are going wrong when you call your wife, tell her you want to go out to dinner, and she says there will be a sandwich for you on the front porch.

            You know things are going wrong when the Gypsy fortune teller looks at your palm, shakes her head, and offers to refund your money.

            You know things are going wrong when everybody avoids you after the office Christmas party.

            You know things are going wrong when the 60 Minutes crew shows up at your door.

            You know things are going wrong when former Vice President Cheney invites you to go hunting.

            And if you happen to be named Jacob, and you live back in the time of the biblical patriarchs, you know things are going wrong when your sons return from Egypt without one of their brothers. 

            We left Joseph last week having been promoted from prisoner to prime minister of Egypt, and I’m sure that appointment raised a number of eyebrows in Cairo, just as ousted Governor Blagojevich’s appointment of Roland Burris to the United States Senate raised eyebrows.  Now, I’m sure Senator Burris will do a fine job, it’s just any Blagojevich appointment to that vacant senate seat would have raised eyebrows, and the Pharoah’s elevating Joseph to the position of prime minister, also raised eyebrows.  Not that Joseph would not be qualified, it’s just one day Joseph is a prisoner and then he interprets a couple of dreams for the Pharaoh, suggests an economic plan to him and whiz-bang, he suddenly becomes the Pharaoh’s fair-haired boy, and is installed as the second highest official in the land.

            If at first they were surprised by the appointment they quickly got over it due to the way Joseph administered the emergency economic plan, and it wasn’t long until Joseph became a national hero in Egypt.  But, we are getting a little ahead of ourselves.

            As we pick up the story this morning Joseph has been on the job for some ten years or so, and he is pushing forty years of age, and who should come to him wanting some famine relief?  None other than his brothers came, the ones who twenty-two years earlier had thrown him in a pit and sold him into slavery all because their father loved Joseph best and because Joseph’s personality really, I mean really, grated on them.

            And as we pick up the story the question is, “What will Joseph do to these guys who sold him into slavery?”  What would we do in a similar situation?  Would we sell them the grain or would we tell them to take a hike?  Well, let’s take a look at what Joseph did.  To do so we will need to back track a bit in the story, to verse three in the forty-second chapter of Genesis.  Listen to these words,


            So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt.  But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him.


            Note, how Jacob did not learn his lesson about playing favorites.  The favoritism shown Joseph contributed to his brothers getting rid of him, and here Jacob once again, has a favorite son.  This time it’s Benjamin.  Remember Rachel died giving birth to him.   Continuing on, verse five ...


            Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.

            Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land.  And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.  When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them.  “Where do you come from?” he said.  They said, “From the land of Canaan to buy food.”  Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.


            As an aside their not recognizing Joseph makes sense for three reasons.  One, they were not expecting to see him; two, he was only a teenager when they last saw him; and three, he would have been clean shaven and dressed like an Egyptian rather than bearded and dressed like a Hebrew.


            Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him.  Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them.  (That is he remembered the prophetic dream he had as a teenager about his brothers coming to him and bowing down to him, and it’s happening here.)  He said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!”


            With that Joseph threw them into prison for three days, probably to give himself time to think of what to do next, and after three days he frees them from prison albeit with two conditions.  The conditions involve his brothers.  They can have the grain if they leave one brother with them for collateral ... that’s condition one ... and two, if they bring back their youngest brother (that would be Benjamin) with them when they return for the brother they left behind.

            Well, they agree to the conditions, but then Joseph pulls a fast one on them.  Before they left Joseph secretly returned all the money which they had used to purchase the grain.  He put it in the animals’ feed sacks, and they do not discover the money until they are at home trying to explain to their father why they had to leave Simeon behind as collateral, and their explanation went over as well with Jacob as the time I tried to explain to my father how I had wrecked his car by taking my eyes off the road to change the radio station, and how when I looked up the car in front of me had stopped and, well I picture Jacob having a similar expression on his face as he listened to his sons explain why Simeon was back in Egypt.  And then to make matters worse, in the process of explaining, they discovered the money, and that puts Jacob over the moon, and he responds in a less than upbeat fashion.  Note verse thirty-six in the forty-second chapter.  Thinking his sons will be accused of stealing as well as spying, Jacob says to them,


            I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin.  All this has happened to me!


            The NIV translation reads, “Everything is against me!” and Jacob refuses to allow them to go back to Egypt, at least for the time being. 

            And that basically is the story, and this morning I want to investigate the behavior of the two key players, Joseph and Jacob.  I want to begin with Joseph and I want to begin with a question.  “Why would he do such a thing?”  Why didn’t he just identify himself?  Whey did he go through this elaborate subterfuge?

            I think I can answer that in two words ... pay back.  There is a very real possibility that Joseph was still a little bent out of shape over what his brothers had done to him all those years ago and he wanted to balance the scales.  And in this chapter we sense a battle going on inside of him.  On the one hand, he has to turn away from his brothers in order to compose himself.  As he overhears them talking, he is overcome.  He begins to cry and has to leave the room, and we get the sense that despite what they did to him he still loves these guys, but darn it all, they treated him shamefully, and can’t they just squirm a bit?

            Forgiving those who have wronged us is one of the toughest battles we fight, and many of can identify with Joseph at this point, wanting to forgive, but not yet being able to forgive.  Joseph, here, reminds me of a story about a mother and a daughter.

            A young mother invited the new pastor and his wife over for Sunday dinner and the mother wanted every thing to be just right and she drilled her children for days on how to act.  Finally, the day came.  Everyone was seated at the table, but then the nine year old daughter reached for a glass of tea and accidently knocked it over.

            An awkward moment of silence ensued as everybody in the family looked to the mother and saw a look of disappointment and anger in her eyes.  She had gone to so much trouble and now there was a huge stain in the middle of the white lace table cloth.  Before anyone could say anything, however, the father did the most wonderful thing.  He deliberately knocked over his glass of tea, and started to laugh.  Then the pastor caught on to what the father had done for his daughter, so he too knocked over his glass, and laughed.  Then the pastor’s wife did the same, and everyone started to laugh, except the mother.

            Mom appeared tense, disappointed, angry, all at the same time and you could sense the battle raging inside of her, but then she caught her daughter’s eyes, winked at her, and knocked over her glass as well.  The little girl winked back, but as she did she flicked a tear out of her eye and it rolled down her cheek and she looked at her mother and at that point in her life she was filled with love for her mother which never left her - never left her.

            Often, like this mother, we fight an inner battle to forgive.  It doesn’t come easily and maybe that is what’s happening with Joseph here, why he had his brothers jump through all these hoops, and why he didn’t just tell them who he was.

            So that’s Joseph.  Now let’s turn our attention to Jacob.  I want us to look at Jacob because some of us, yours truly included, have a tendency to respond negatively rather than positively, viewing things horizontally rather than vertically.

            Remember Jacob’s immediate response to the news to his sons?  He expected the worst!  He expected to lose Simeon just as he had lost Joseph.  He said, “Everything is against me!” and he refused to allow them to return to Egypt and it wasn’t until they were down to their last bran muffin that Jacob reluctantly allowed his sons to return to Egypt to get Simeon back and to request more grain.

            So many of us react like Jacob.  So many of us look at the world horizontally rather than vertically.  So many of us adhere to Murphy’s Law rather than God’s law.  I love Murphy’s Laws.  Here are my three favorites.  One goes, “In any field of endeavor, anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  Another reads, “If there is a possibility of several things going wrong, the one that will to wrong is the one that will cause the most damage.”  And my very favorite Murphy Law goes, “If everything seems to be going well, you have obviously overlooked something.”

            Why do so many of think like that?  Why are so many of us pessimistic in our thinking?  How come so many of us live by the motto, “Nothing ventured, nothing lost?”

            And do you know what Jacob’s pessimistic outlook got him?  It got him a year’s delay in being reunited with his son Joseph.  That’s what his negative thinking got for him.  A year’s delay.

            And one would think that after meeting Christ and having the Holy Spirit take up residence inside us we would exclaim with the Apostle Paul, “I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me,” but so few of us do.  In light of that, if you are like Jacob, are you are like me, I challenge you to join me in doing two things the rest of the month.   Number one, Admit that I have fallen into the habit of negative thinking.  Admit it because confession is good for the soul.  Don’t try to rationalize it by saying, I’m just being realistic.  No you are not.  Like me you are being pessimistic.

            Number two, Force a vertical focus.  When the going gets tough say to yourself, “I know it looks bad, but God will strengthen me so I can handle it and God will show me a way through it.”

            That’s it for today.  Join us next week as Joseph’s adventures continue.