GENESIS 37-12-36

JANUARY 4, 2009


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            After her freshman year at UCLA she got a summer job as an usher at the Warner Brothers Theatre on Hollywood Boulevard in Hollywood, California.  She wanted the job because both her parents were out of work alcoholics, and she needed the money to continue her studies at UCLA.  Her boss that summer at the Warner Brothers Theatre was Mr. Claypool, a tall, thin, grey-haired tyrant with a neatly trimmed mustache.

            When the ushers reported to work Claypool insisted upon a morning inspection in front of the candy counter.  All staff were to be in uniform and stand at full attention with their shoulders back, chins up, stomachs in, and eyes straight ahead.  During the day when they saw Mr. Claypool they were to salute him as their commanding officer ... and, oh yes, they were not to speak to him unless he spoke to them first.  The regimented life made for long days for the ushers, and half-way through the summer Claypool fired her.

            It happened during the last ten minutes of an Alfred Hitchcock movie.  With ten minutes left, a couple came in off the street and asked to be seated.  She explained to them that there were only ten minutes left in the movie, and if she seated them now it would spoil the ending for them.  After all, it was a typical Hitchcock thriller, and wouldn’t they rather wait ten minutes and be seated then?

            During the course of the conversation Claypool, who believed one should never question a customer, intervened and informed the usher, “You are fired!” and with that he ripped off the epaulets from her usher’s uniform.

            Years later this usher went on to become a television star and the Hollywood Chamber of Commerce asked her where she wanted her star placed on the Hollywood Boulevard “Walk of Fame.”  She said, “Right in front of where the Warner Brothers Theatre used to be, at the corner of Wilcox and Hollywood Boulevard.”  She thought to herself, “Take that Mr. Claypool!”

            Oh, yes.  The usher’s name?  Carol Burnett.

            This morning we are going to study a story about getting back at someone.  As we continue our sermon series on the book of Genesis, we will watch some brothers get back at a family member who had really gotten under their skin.  Let’s turn to that now, Genesis 37:12.


            Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem.  And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem?  Come, I will send you to them.”  He answered, “Here I am.”  So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring back word to me.”  So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.


            Boy, this is a disaster in the making.  Were you here last Sunday?  Do you remember how much Joseph’s brother’s hated him?  Do you remember how Joseph had a tendency to bring back bad reports about his siblings?  And now what’s happening?  Jacob/Israel is sending Joseph out in order to bring back a report on his brothers!  What are the chances of this being a good report?  About as much chance as pigs flying.  About as much chance as Oprah keeping her weight down.  About as much chance as Presbyterian raising their hands during worship.  Given the siblings’ feelings toward Joseph, this is like throwing gasoline on a fire.  This is a disaster in the making.

            If you were here last Sunday, you know that the brothers did not have much use for Joseph.  They despised him, and their feelings toward him remind me of something a woman said.  She was sharing about her conversion experience, relating the transformation that had taken place in her life.  In the course of sharing she said, “I am so glad I got religion.  I have an uncle I used to hate so much I vowed I would never go to his funeral.  But now, I would be happy to go at any time!”

            The brothers would have been happy to go to Joseph’s funeral as well, and what Jacob/Israel was thinking when he sent Joseph to them, we will never know.  Apparently, he was oblivious to how much the brothers hated Joseph.  Let’s continue.


            He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”  “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me please, where they are pasturing the flock.”  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.


            You never know what is going to set some people off.  Most of us have something or someone in our lives that trips our trigger, and we have an irrational and sometimes an angry reaction to that thing or to that person.  For me, one of those triggers are people who do not signal when they make a turn, especially if I have been waiting for them to pass by before I can proceed.  For some reason, I take it as a personal affront, and I have irrational and angry thoughts.  I hate that behavior so much I have even dreamed up a way to get back at such drivers.  My idea is to have water balloon cannons as standard equipment on every car.  Each water balloon would be filled with colored water, and when someone failed to signal you could aim the cannon at the offending vehicle, and teach the driver a lesson.  It would be great.  it wouldn’t damage the car, and it would certainly grab the driver’s attention.

            Anyway, isn’t it amazing what gets under our skin?  Isn’t it amazing what sets people off?  Well, what set these brothers off was the very sight of their brother wearing that “life of leisure” coat his father had given to him coming over the hill.  Couple that with Joseph’s tendency to be a world class “tattle-tale,” and something inside the brothers snapped.  They lost control, and plotted to kill him.  Let’s listen in on their conversation.


            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.


            Reuben was the oldest, and the one with the coolest head.  Of course, some biblical scholars are rather cynical of Reuben’s motives here.  They say that being the oldest he would be the one held responsible for the death, so he’s just doing this to save his own skin.  They also contend that given the fact that he had greatly disappointed his father earlier by involving himself in a incestuous relationship with his step mother, Reuben saw this as an opportunity to get back into his father’s good graces.  Return Joseph to his father, save him from certain death, and his father would see him in a new light.  Let’s continue.  Verse 23.


            So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit.  The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

            Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.  Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it 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.


            This scene sends shivers up my spine for a couple of reasons.  First, it reminds me of another betrayal involving pieces of silver.  Granted, in Judas’ case he received thirty pieces of silver rather than twenty, but taking inflation into account it would be an equal amount.  Second, up to this point I had felt kind of sorry for the brothers, having to live with this pompous tattle-tale.  No more.  Talk about cold and calculating!  With their teenage brother pleading with them to release him, they go about eating their tuna on rye, and by the time they get to their pudding cups they have decided to sell Joseph into slavery rather than kill him.  “After all, he’s not worth anything to us dead.  We might as well make a little money in this deal.”

            This is just another reminder of how inhumane humans can be.  I think of prisoner of war camps, and how terribly prisoners are often treated in those camps, and how their captors can sit down and eat a lovely meal after all they have done to the prisoners.  How do they do that?

            Well, enough of that.  Let’s read on.  The story continues with Reuben returning and finding Joseph is gone.   Where Reuben had been when the brothers switched to Plan B, we do not know, and we pick up the story in verse 29.


            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.”


            Boy, what a cover-up.  The Nixon administration could have taken lessons from these guys!  And Jacob/Israel falls for it, hook, line and sinker.


            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 loin, and mourned for his son many days.  All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.”  Thus his father bewailed him.  Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials, the captain of the guard.


            As today’s story comes to a close, I suspect the main characters here had something in common in addition to being related.  In addition to being related, I imagine the main characters all suffered from a bad case of the “if onlys.”  As Joseph travelled to Egypt I imagine he said to himself, “If only I had acted more humbly toward my brothers, I would not be in this mess.”  I imagine Reuben thinking, “If only I wouldn’t have left my brothers alone with Joseph.  If only I had been more assertive with them this wouldn’t have happened.”  And I imagine Jacob/Israel thinking to himself, “If only I hadn’t sent Joseph to check on his brothers, none of this would have happened.”

            And one more thing.  I imagine Judah, who came up with “Plan B” thinking to himself, “If only I hadn’t suggested what I did.  If only I would have thought of the grief it would cause our father, I wouldn’t have acted so quickly.”  In fact, Judah feels so badly he leaves home for a bit.  He goes to stay with a friend for awhile.  He had to get away from the mourning in the house.  You can read about that in the next chapter. 

            “If onlys.”  Life is full of them, and like this family we have our share of them.  If only I had not said that.  If only I had worked harder at school.  If only I had insisted on that business venture.  If only I hadn’t judged her so harshly.  If only I had not flown off the handle.  If only I had waited longer to have children.  If only I hadn’t been driving so fast.  If only I had called.

            Bruce Larson relates a wonderful story in his book on Genesis titled My Creator, My Friend.  He tells of a friend how had an accident on the freeway.  His car was sideswiped by a sports car driven by a young woman.  Neither party was injured, but the young woman was distraught.  She said to Larson’s friend, “This is a brand new car.  My husband just bought it for me.  He’ll be heartbroken.” 

            Eventually the police came, and in the process of exchanging registrations and insurance papers, a note fell out of the glove compartment.  It had been amongst the insurance papers.  It was written by her husband, and the note among the insurance papers read, “Darling, if you ever need to use these, remember it’s you I love and not the car.”  When I heard that story I thought to myself, “If only I had done something like that.”

            And the cure for “if onlys?”  Let me suggest a couple of things.  First of all, don’t get stuck in them.  Old Redlegs loves to do a couple of things.  For one, Old Redlegs loves to keep people from coming to know Christ.  When he fails at that, he moves on to the second thing he loves to do.  Second, he loves to make Christians as miserable as possible.  One way Old Redlegs does that is have us become stuck in our “if onlys.”   Now, let me be quick to say that a little guilt is fine.  An initial feeling of remorse over our mistakes and inappropriate behavior is warranted and healthy.  God-given guilt wakes us up and has us take stock of our actions, but getting stuck in the guilt, getting stuck in the “if onlys” is a another matter.  That does not come from God, it comes from someone else.  So, if we have trouble putting the “if onlys” behind us, remember who might be causing our misery, and to borrow a quote from Jesus, it might be prudent for us to say in those instances, “Get behind me Satan.”

            The other way to get of the “if onlys” is to give them to God.  I think of Peter and Judas.  Both loved Jesus, and both betrayed him.  Judas did it with thirty pieces of silver and Peter did it by denying Jesus three times.  Furthermore, both suffered from a bad case of the “if onlys.”  Yet, Peter confessed his, he gave it to God and went on to become a great leader of the church.  Judas, unable to forgive himself, ended up taking his life.

            Think about that.