Narrative Lectionary Reflection
September 27, 2020
Read: Genesis 37:3-8, 17b-22, 26-34; 50:15- 21
Beginning with chapter 37 until the end of the book of Genesis, the story focuses mainly on one person, Joseph. The great-grandson of Abraham, you might have heard the story of Joseph as a kid, and over the last few years, you might have even seen a production of the Broadway play, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.
Our story opens with Jacob and his sons. Joseph is one of the “babies” of the family and tends to chores close to home instead of shepherding the flock with his older brothers.
Now, it’s quite common for a child to ask their parents if they love them or their sister/brother more. The parent will say that they love each child equally. You won’t find that story in today’s text. Jacob played favorites with his children, and Joseph was his number one son. Because he was the number one son, he got a special garment- a “long robe with sleeves,” the Bible says. It was a very fancy coat, one that set someone apart from manual labor. In popular culture, the coat is described as one of “many colors.” In reality, some translations note the coat was an ornamental coat and others talk about a multi-colored coat. Either way, it was a really nice coat that signified Joseph was special- which is something that really bothered his brothers. The text never said if Joseph knew that he was the favorite, but one could guess that he did and made sure his brothers did too. None of this endeared Joseph to his brothers. They couldn’t stand him. Now in most families, it quite normal to have some sibling rivalries. But as we saw with Cain and Abel, when brother feud in the Bible, it can sometimes get a little out of hand.
We learn that Joseph has a special talent: deciphering dreams. His parlor trick will come in handy later in our story, but right now all it does is annoy his brothers as we see in this snippet: 5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6He said to them, ‘Listen to this dream that I dreamed.7There 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.’ 8His 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.Genesis 37:5-8 (NRSV)
For his brothers, this was the last straw. It was time to do something. It was time to get Joseph out of the way. Permanently.
Joseph’s brothers were looking forward to getting rid (ie: kill) of this dreamer who was an annoying pest. His brothers were ready to kill him, but Ruben stopped his brothers from committing fratricide. Instead, Joseph is sold into slavery in Egypt, and Jacob is told that his precious son, his favorite son, is dead. Between chapters 37 and 50, we follow Joseph’s journey into Egypt. He gets to work in the house of a government official, and later falsely accused of raping the official’s wife, who wanted to sleep with him. Joseph winds up in prison, but it released when people learn he can interpret dreams. He is called by the Pharoah to interpret his dream and he is able to discern a famine is coming and the nation must prepare. Egypt is saved from a devastating famine and in turn, helps other nations that are affected by a drought. Joseph is made what would basically be the Prime Minister of the nation. Joseph’s brothers return to the scene again as they travel to Egypt to get food during the famine. In the end, Joseph is reunited with his brothers and his father. His family is welcome to come and live with Joseph in Egypt.
Genesis 50 opens up with Jacob dying. But Joseph’s brothers were afraid of him and for good reason. Now that Jacob is dead, will Joseph make life hard for them? They come to Joseph and tell him that before Jacob died he told them that Joseph must forgive his brothers. His brothers really hadn’t changed- they were motivated by self-interest. Jacob never said this. Instead of asking for forgiveness for how they treated Joseph, they instead invoke their dead father telling Joseph that he had to forgive his brothers because it was what dear old dad wanted.
In spite of their lying, Joseph forgives his brothers responding that God was able to use an evil experience and make it into something good. There is an important lesson to be learned here about suffering and the work of God.Joseph could see how God was working within his suffering and so he could see that something good came of the years of captivity and estrangement. However, it is bad taste for someone other than the sufferer to impose a meaning on them. What we see in chapter 50 is how God’s will works even in the midst of evil.
It was wrong for the brothers to seek to kill Joseph and then decide to see him into slavery.But God used this situation to help save the Egyptians from famine.We can’t and shouldn’t say that such evils are God’s will, we can see how God’s justice can work through human sin, just as it did later on in Scripture in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Dennis Sanders is the Pastor at First Christian Church of St. Paul in Mahtomedi, Minnesota. He’s written for various outlets including Christian Century.