Genesis 45:1-15, Romans 8:26-30
October 20, 2013
It has been said, and I think it’s true, that the main story in the Old Testament is that of Moses and the Exodus. That is the central focus of the Torah – the first five books of the Bible, and the heart of the Hebrew scriptures. The Exodus is the salvation story of the Old Testament!
However, I’m not sure if there are any stories in the Old Testament, other than the Exodus, that rival this one we read today. The story of Joseph is a wonderful story! It goes on for some 13 chapters, from chapter 37 to the end of Genesis. And I think it is unrivaled in its emotion and drama.
By the way, if you haven’t seen the musical version of this by Andrew Lloyd Webber, you ought to. Especially the one starring Donny Osmond. Say what you will, but that guy has some pipes!! (And so does the female lead!)
You know this story. Joseph is the favorite son of Jacob. And he’s not even the eldest son, who should have been the favorite! His father loved him the most and he gave him a very fancy coat. The word here could either indicate a coat “of many colors,” or simply a coat “with sleeves.” We usually associate this story with the many colors.
Well, the brothers are jealous, of course. But that’s not all. Joseph has these dreams which he tells his brothers about. And in the dreams his star, and his sheaf of grain, are worshipped by theirs. The interesting thing about that is that, if we know the story, we know those dreams will come true – when he is made second in command of all Egypt!
But it doesn’t help him now! The brothers conspire against him. They grab him and throw him in a pit, and cook up some scheme, that he was killed by a wild animal. But then they change their minds, only because they see they can make some money by selling him!
Well, there follows a series of encounters and eventually Joseph ends up in prison, where he meets a couple of prisoners who used to be part of the court of Pharaoh. One is the butler and one is a baker. They’re troubled by some dreams they had, and Joseph interprets them. One of them, the butler, gets good news. He’ll soon be released! But the baker gets bad news. He’s about to be executed.
Meanwhile, the Pharaoh, one of the most powerful people in the world, was having troubling dreams of his own. And by the way, this is not the “evil Pharaoh” who enslaved the Israelites. Egypt often gets a “bad rap,” and it’s seen as an “evil empire” because of that. But we have to remember that Egypt was a rich and advanced civilization. Egypt was one of the wonders of the ancient world!
So Pharaoh expresses his concerns about these dreams, and the butler tells him about a man he met in prison who was good at such things. So they send for Joseph. And he interprets the Pharaohs dreams, saying they’re about seven years of great harvests followed by seven years of terrible famine. Pharaoh puts Joseph in charge of food management, saying he is second in command of all Egypt, which is not bad for an Israelite!
The story comes to a climax in our chapter. The famine has affected all the middle east, including the lands of Jacob and his sons. So the brothers, seeking food, go to Egypt – which has now become the bread basket of the world. And who do they have to see? Who was in charge of that food? That’s right, Joseph.
Well, a lot has happened since they had last seen their brother, and they don’t recognize him. So Joseph gets a little revenge by making them squirm. And can you blame him? Actually he has the power to do much more than that! But in the end he doesn’t, and our reading for today is about him revealing himself to them and their reconciliation.
I gave you the “Readers Digest” version of the story today because I wanted to refresh all of that in your mind. And I want you to think about how Joseph framed this reunion and his previous experiences. And I want you to notice that he did say this. “God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God. And he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.”
I think we need to see a couple of things about that. Joseph was trying to console his brothers here. They were frightened that he was about to exact revenge on them. He was trying to say that all that had taken place was God’s means of preserving his people in the famine. However, I think it would be wrong to say that God engineered this whole thing from the very beginning. It would be wrong to say that God “did the first evil deed.”
You see, the phrase, God sent me here, referred to Joseph ending up in Egypt. I think it doesn’t refer to what the brothers did to him. This is a perfect example of the passage we read from Romans, where Paul says, “We know that in all things God works together for good.” And, as I said before, that doesn’t mean that God “causes all things!” God used this evil thing the brothers did in a miraculous and dramatic way to save the people of Israel. (Just as later he would use Esther to preserve his people. But he didn’t cause Haman to want to eliminate them.)
We need to keep that understanding ever before us. Because this idea that God “causes all things to happen at all times” is so prevalent in our world. Yes, God can “use all things” to his purposes. He can use something bad in our lives to teach us something or to make us strong, but we cannot say that he causes all things to happen to us good or bad! I hope you know how important it is that I say that!
Yet, just as I was writing this, a message came up in Facebook which was also on my computer screen. And on it, along with a number of nice sounding things, it said, “Believe that everything happens for a reason.” Friends, again, if that means that we are to believe that God causes everything to happen, and all the bad things in our lives are things he’s doing to us, I have to protest! That’s such an unfair and inaccurate thing to say about God!
know some of you are going to go home thinking “Our pastor doesn’t believe everything happens for a reason.” Actually that’s not true. I do! But sometimes the reason is that bad things simply happen! Or sometimes the reason is that people make bad choices and they do bad things to others. The more pertinent issue is not that God causes bad things, but why God allows bad things. Now that’s a valid question. And we could talk about that for a long time.
But not today. For today I want you to know that God can work in all things for good! He can take the boy sold into slavery and use him to save his people. He can take the difficult circumstances in our lives and use them as a means to show us that he is with us always, and to convince us, as Paul would say at the end of the chapter we read, that “nothing can separate us from his love!”
There’s the good news! And it’s the best of news! When bad things happen, we shouldn’t sit around trying to figure out “why God would do this to us.” The “reason” may be that he’s not doing anything at all. But he is with us! He can make good out of the bad and help us to grow through adversity.
So, I would like to conclude with Paul’s conclusion. This is what matters! He writes, “I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers,nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Amen!
Eternal God, you watch over us at all times, and your love for us is everlasting. Help us to look beyond this world to see the glory of your kingdom. Help us to know that you can use all things in our lives for your good. Help us to draw closer to you and to know your guidance and direction and comfort in our lives. For these things we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.