Arrogance, Abduction, and Absolution

Scriptures: Genesis 37:3-8; 17b-22; 26-34; 50:15-21

Well, I have quite a story today. That story is one that was just read, in part, in the Scriptures. It’s the story of Joseph, and it’s a great story. It has love, it has hate. It has imprisonment and it has escape. It has death coming near to people. It has God doing mighty acts, famines and things. It has dreams, and interpretations of dreams. And it has the story of a family. And it’s important for us to learn.

Before I get into this story, I have a couple of questions I want to ask people. First of all, how many of you have had a brothers or a sister? How many of you have had one of the same sex? How many of you have had one of the same sex that was born close to you, like within two years?

I had that too, and that’s a classic case for what they call sibling rivalry. I was the eldest, so I always pretended that it didn’t exist. We would play the charley horse game (do you guys know what the charley horse game is, where you take your knuckle, and you smack it into the other’s thigh, and the first one to say “Ow” loses?), or the reflex game.

Even as we got older, and I was in academics, and I did well, and my brother turned to sports. It wasn’t until we were both in high school, that we decided that each of us could do some of the other’s thing. And singing – my brother wouldn’t sing until his voice broke, and then he was a bass and it was OK because we could do duets.

I majored in molecular biology, as an undergraduate, and my brother majored in biology for one year, before he dropped out of college. But he married a molecular biologist, and he was very careful to share with me around the time of his wedding that she had a Ph D, and I only had a master’s.

Sibling rivalries can occur in any family, and this family was ripe for it. The story really is about how God can take imperfect people in an imperfect situation, and accomplish His perfect plan. But we need to understand some of these people that are here, and I’m going to start with Israel.

He is also known as Jacob. Jacob means the trickster. Jacob was supposed to be a really smart and sly sort of guy. I have to tell you, sometimes I wonder when I read these stories, about where they get their names. I understand that he tricked his brother out of his inheritance, and things like that. But he wasn’t the brightest candle in the lot either, it seems.

When he went to his uncle Laban and fell in love with Rachel and wanted to marry her, and as part of the fee for being able to marry her, for she was very beautiful, he worked for Laban for seven years. Then they had a closed-veil wedding, and after they were married he opened up the veil, and he discovered Laban had replaced Rachel with her sister Leah.

Unless they were like twins, I really don’t see how, after living there for seven years, he could make that mistake. But he did, and then he worked another seven years in order to be able to marry Rachel. During that time, he had some children with Leah. And he worked for another six years after that, approximately, for Laban, after getting married to Rachel, before he left.

Rachel, during that time, turned out to be barren. That’s a theme that frequently occurs in the Bible, where somebody who is loved is barren, and God makes miracles happen. But like most people, Rachel was a little impatient.

So she offered her handmaiden to Israel. She said, “Here, have fun with her, and any children I’ll claim.” And Israel – maybe it’s just that he’s a guy – but he said, “Sure,” and she had some children. Then Leah got jealous, so she gave Israel her handmaiden, and said, “Here, you take her.” And Israel said, “Sure.” And he started having children with her.

And then about eight or ten years pass by, and finally Rachel got pregnant, and they had Joseph, firstborn of his most beloved wife, if you will. They had another one, Benjamin, after, but Joseph is the one we’re talking about today.

And he doted on Joseph. You’d think he’d understand about dysfunctional families, because he came from one. His mother doted on him, and that’s why they stole the inheritance from Esau, and he had to leave and run out of town, and he had to have his own life in exile for a while, and then he had to come back and make up with his brother. You’d think he would have learned.

But no, he still shows the same kind of favoritism as his mom had. He kept Joseph in the house when all the other guys had to go out in the field, and work, and shepherd. And he taught Joseph his letters and his numbers, and Scriptures, so he could be a scribe. Then he gave Joseph an amazing, multicolored coat, when everyone else is wearing ordinary duds all the time.

By the way, if you ever want to see this story in video, there’s a really good musical called Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, and it’s on DVD. It has Donny Osmond as Joseph. I also saw it live at Circa 21, so I know it comes around every once in a while. A fun show.

But anyway, to get back to the story. Joseph, himself, seems to be a picture of disparity. Some people like to interpret Joseph as being a righteous kind of guy. He’s one of the few people in the Bible that no sin is mentioned against him.

But I’m sorry, I think he’s a combination of arrogance and naiveté. Being in the house all the time, living with his dad, having all the stuff showered on him, being given a multicolored coat – I think he was pretty much a spoiled brat. And he was arrogant.

We’ve all heard of sibling rivalries, and you can think back to your own. If he was as perceptive as everybody seems to think, you’d think he would notice his brothers hated his guts. And you’d think he would have thought twice about sharing a dream with them. A dream where he says basically “I’m going to rule it all, and you guys are going to bow down before me.”

Tell me, if you were to have a sibling that was in a position to do that, and you were older, and they said, “Guess what? You’re going to have to serve me,” how many of you, in your hearts, would actually take that with “OK”? Not the best thing to say. I don’t know about you, but I would suspect that that would get me smacked in the head.

And his brothers hated him even more. So then they were out in the field. They had taken their flocks to market, and Joseph went out after them. They saw him in the distance, and they said, “We hate this guy so much, let’s kill him.”

Now Reuben was the firstborn, and Reuben was in trouble with his dad. More dysfunction here – Reuben had slept with one of his dad’s concubines, to sort of prove his macho-ness and the fact that he was the firstborn. So his dad was kind of on the outs with him. So the last thing that he wants is that Joseph gets killed, because then his dad would be really ticked.

So he comes up with a plan. He says, “Let’s not kill him. Let’s throw him in this dry well.” He planned to rescue Joseph afterward, which is commendable, that’s a good thing – even if it was for a bad reason.

So they take Joseph, and they strip him of that coat, and they throw him into the dry well. And our passage stopped there. But what happens is, as Reuben goes away so he can circle around and help Joseph out of the well, the rest of the brothers see a caravan and say, “Let’s not just let him rot here in the well. Let’s make some money off him. He knows his numbers and his letters – he’d be a good slave. We’ll keep the coat, and dip it in blood. And we’ll tell Dad he died.”

So they did. And the Midianite traders took him to Egypt. Now, Joseph had lots of adventures in Egypt that I’m not going to go over, because we don’t have time. If you want to read them, they’re worth reading, they’re interesting.

But in that time, I will say, Joseph was true to God. He followed God’s way and God’s word that he knew. He was faithful to God in terms of being pure. He got thrown in prison, and while he was in there, he trusted in God. He wasn’t happy about being there, but he trusted that God had a plan. And he made friends with some guys there.

The time came, and Pharaoh had a dream. His dream terrified him, and none of the Pharaoh’s magicians, priests, scribes, wise men, or anybody, could figure out the Pharaoh’s dream.

But Pharaoh had a cup-holder that had been in prison with Joseph. A cup-holder, by the way, is the one who holds the cup while somebody pours the wine into the Pharaoh’s cup, and then he has to taste it. If he dies, then the Pharaoh knows he’d better not drink it.

That wine-taster, that cup-bearer, went to Pharaoh. “I know this guy that was in prison. He can tell you what your dream means.” And Joseph did.

Pharaoh, inspired by God, put him into control over Egypt. They had seven years of plenty where they had more food than they knew what to do with, and they stored everything away properly. Then they had seven years of famine. And they were doing all right.

But that seven years of famine also his Joseph’s family – Jacob/Israel and Joseph’s brothers. They were suffering from famine as well. Finally they had to come down to Egypt and get some food and some drink, and a chance to survive.

So they did. And Joseph recognized them. But they didn’t recognize him. So he made them jump through some hoops, and then he gave them what they needed. And he told them who he was.

As you might expect, from having threatened to kill then sold Joseph to a bunch of traders, they were terrified. And they’re begging him, so they bowed down. Just like Joseph had in his dreams. Even then they’re still scared, even though Joseph gives them everything they want. Still, as long as Dad was alive, they were kind of protected. Then Jacob died, and they were terrified even more.

So I find it funny, in a way, the first thing they do when they come back to Joseph after Jacob dies is they lie to him. They tell him, “Dad said that you’re not supposed to hurt us.” And Joseph says, “OK. Because who am I to be God? What you intended for evil, God intended for good.”

I know that Romans 8:28 gets overused, in my opinion. That where it says that “God works to good all things for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.” But the fact of the matter is that God had a plan all along.

Back when Israel was doing his thing, God knew that he was going to have Joseph, with Rachel. And when Israel pampered Joseph, while that might have been wrong in and of itself, it did a very important thing. It taught him his letters and his numbers and the Scriptures, so that he could be a scribe in somebody’s household – which is what he turned out to be when he went down to Egypt.

God moved the heart of Reuben, so instead of letting Joseph die, they had him thrown into the cistern (that’s a dry well). So they threw him into the well. Then they were moved by their own greed to sell him off. But God had a plan for that, so that Joseph would end up in Egypt.

Otherwise he would have been up in Canaan and never would have had any kind of exposure to this. And while he was there, he had a number of humbling experiences. I’m sure that Joseph wasn’t comfortable in jail, but God had a plan for him even there.

He learned and grew and matured and in his faith, and he trusted in God even during those times that, while he didn’t know that anything was going to turn out good, he did know that he was in God’s hands.

He made friends with the wine-taster – the cup-bearer – and he interpreted one of the dreams of the cup-bearer. And that led to Pharaoh. A lot of people these days don’t believe, they talk about amazing coincidences. Yeah, sure. I look back on these kind of things and I think I see God and His actions.

Finally, He put Joseph into a place where the very dream that we read about initially, in the story of Joseph, came true. The famine hit and his brothers and his family ran out of food. And what we see there is God putting a trial and a test before the people of God. But it’s not just because He wants to inflict pain. There’s a purpose behind it, and that is the fulfilling of God’s plan.

He was there in front of them, having all the wheat, having all the cattle, having all the everything, and his brothers had to bow down before him, and beg, and say, “We’re your slaves,” because they were hoping for a scrap to eat.

God had a plan all along. God’s grace and mercy show through everywhere, in the Old Testament as well as the New. Even when there are times of struggle and trial – and there was more trial to come for the Israelites down in Egypt, after a while – but right now, they could give praise to God, because He was so good to them.

He made a way from way back when, at least twenty years earlier, for them to survive where they were now. Did it make the times less rough? No. Did it make the struggles less hard? No. But it did show that God was with them through it all. And that’s important for us today.

We could take this story, and we really can apply most of it to our own lives. For everyone has had their times of trial, their times of struggle, their times of tribulation. And like the brothers, sometimes we get angry at family, or angry at God, and angry at our situation.

And like the brothers, sometimes we have this tendency to not ask until we’re desperate for help. We are proud, like the brothers. Then we have to humble ourselves, because we’re in such a dire situation.

Sometimes we’re like Joseph. Maybe we have what’s needed, and God gives us the challenge. Are you going to share it or not. Are you going to forgive or not? Are you going to show the love of God or not?

So we can look at this story, and see how, even though we are imperfect, even though our situation is imperfect, even though our family may not be perfect, we can still fulfill the perfect plan and purposes of God.

Look at this story of Joseph. An actual story where God had a plan. And all things work to good. Because Joseph loved God, and had been called according to God’s purpose, to the place that he was.

Now the way that he got there might not have been the most comfortable of ways – well, in fact, we know it wasn’t. But in the end, it glorified God and it kept God’s people safe and preserved.

God shows grace and mercy throughout all of the Old Testament, not just in the New Testament alone, and we see this in the story of Joseph, and we can see this in our own lives today. If you think back on some of the times of trial and tribulation that you might have had.

There’s one thing we can be sure of, as we walk through this life. We never do it alone. God will always be with us. Inspiring us, and encouraging us. Helping us to grow from the pain that we experience. Helping us to heal from the bitterness and anger, if we let Him. Helping us to love, even the unlovable – which includes ourselves.

I challenge you instead of looking for the pain, which is the first instinct that most of us have, look for where God might have been working in you and in those around you. Look for the ways that God brought you to where you are today through that pain.

There’s another saying that’s not in the Bible but it says that you are the sum of everything that you’ve experienced today, and everything you’ve experienced made you who you are today. And that is true, but God can do more than that even.

Because many of the things we experience might make us bitter, or angry, or sorrowful, in a way that’s unhealthy. But if we trust in God, then that pain, which is the only way we grow, can be used to strengthen our relationship with him, and to make us more faithful witnesses to the love that God has for us, as we go through the trial, as we are helped by those who love us as well (when we ask for it), and as we continue to be strong in our faith and trust in the Lord our God.

I pray that you would take this story to heart, that you’ll read it in full, and that you’ll put yourself in the place of the various people. Not just Joseph, who is the main guy, but the brothers as well, maybe even Israel.

See how God has worked in their lives, as you read this story. Then look at your own, and see where God has been working in yours. For it is only as we recognize God and His work on our behalf that we can give Him praise for His goodness and His grace.

The brothers were absolved of their heinous crime by Joseph. We’ve been absolved of our own sins by Christ. Go in that freedom, and serve God.

May you extend the hand of love, and lift up those who are in need around you, so that they too can see God in action. And together, then, may you bring Him praise and glory with everything that you do.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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