Pain and Promise

By David Baumann

A Reading from Genesis 37:25-36

25 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. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 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. 28 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.

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?” 31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 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.” 33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 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. 36 Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard.


Joseph is not killed; instead, he is held prisoner in the cistern. But now, having shown their hand, the brothers must make a decision. When Joseph is gone — out of their lives for good, so they think — they cover their tracks by dipping the hated coat into blood and send it to their father with the words, “Is this your son’s coat?” The very dry, emotionally flat question is ripplingly charged. We might think of the older brother in Jesus’ parable of the two sons, who addresses his father in anger, referring to his own wayward brother as “this son of yours.” Both deny the truth of the familial relationship.

For the next 15 years or so the ten brothers are bonded by a terrible secret, while Jacob, and surely Benjamin as well, live with severe, unrelieved grief. Surely the rupture, that began with Joseph’s birth, between the ten brothers and the rest of their family is intensified. Nothing has been solved; rather, things are worse — but, as far as the brothers know, nothing whatever can now be done to make things better.

Joseph, however, lands in Egypt as the property of Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials. He will make the most of his situation. He will become fluent in the Egyptian language and enter into Egyptian culture. He will grow and mature. Like Daniel and other Jewish refugees in Babylon, he will find great blessings in his life with God in the very seat of exile, servanthood to foreigners, and hardship that become the setting for a stunning deliverance. His dreams that could not have been rightly understood when he received them will prove themselves to have been evidence of the providence of God when they are fulfilled.

David Baumann served for nearly 50 years as an Episcopal priest in the Dioceses of Los Angeles and Springfield; he retired last year. He has published nonfiction, science fiction, and short stories. Two exuberant small daughters make sure he never gets any rest.

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Daily Devotional Cycle of Prayer

Today we pray for:

The Diocese of North Kigezi – The Church of the Province of Uganda
St. Mark’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas


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