‘Come closer to me. I am your brother, Joseph’ (Gen. 45:4)
Jacob’s 13 children, 12 sons and one daughter, were born of four women: the sisters Leah and Rachel who were his wives, and the wives’ servant girls. The servant girls bore children on behalf of the wives when the wives were unable to bear, and their children were considered the children of the wives. The competition between the sisters was fierce, as each sought to outdo the other in producing sons for Jacob. Until she herself was unable to bear, Leah bore son after son while Rachel was barren, yet it was Rachel whom Jacob loved.
At last, Rachel bore Joseph, who became Jacob’s favorite son. Finally, she died giving birth to Benjamin, Joseph’s only full brother and the youngest of Jacob’s children. The jealousy between the sisters was passed on to their children, for the older sons were bitter against Joseph, a bitterness only inflamed when Joseph told them of his dream of seeing them all do him homage. Given the opportunity, they sold him into slavery in Egypt, where Joseph suffered ill before rising to the highest position in the land under Pharoah. Years later, during the great famine, Joseph’s brothers stood before him to purchase food, thus fulfilling Joseph’s dream.
Today’s lesson from Genesis opens at the moment Joseph reveals his identity to his brothers, and they are understandably dismayed. But Joseph is no longer the inexperienced conceited upstart of his youth. He is now a ruler of peoples and has learned much about the human heart and the power and presence of God. Raised in bitterness, jealousy, and dysfunction, he has risen above it and is able to see how God has been active throughout his life: “It was not you who sent me here, but God.” (Gen. 45:8). His care for his brothers and their families continues to the end, for he repeats these words in Gen. 50:15-21.
Look it Up
Psalm 105:17b-18 reads “Joseph…was sold as a slave. They bruised his feet in fetters, his neck they put in an iron collar.” Look up this passage in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. Although it is a mistranslation, it powerfully conveys the message of today’s lesson.
Think About It
Since all people are sinners, all families are characterized by a greater or lesser degree of failure to love. Have you, like Joseph, discerned how God was working nonetheless? Have you forgiven those who wronged you? Have you asked forgiveness of those you have wronged?