Have you ever been to a family reunion? A reunion is a wonderful time seeing aunts, uncles, and cousins that you haven’t seen fora long time. If you haven’t seen them in a long time, it may be hard to recognize some of them. There is something else you should know about family reunions. There is plenty to eat and lots of hugs and kisses at a family reunion.
Today’s Bible lesson is somewhat like a family reunion. It is a continuation of the story of Joseph and his brothers. I’m sure you remember the story about how Joseph’s brothers beat him up, threw him in a pit, and sold him to some merchants who were on their way to Egypt.
When Joseph arrived in Egypt, a lot of things happened to him – some good — and some not so good. For example:
•Joseph worked in the house of Potiphar and was placed over all of Potiphar’s wealth.
•Potiphar’s wife told some terrible lies about Joseph to her husband.
•Because of his wife’s lies, Potiphar had Joseph thrown into jail.
•The head jailer took a liking to Joseph and placed him in charge of the other prisoners.
•Joseph used his God-given gift to interpret the dreams of the other prisoners.
•Joseph was stuck in jail for more than two years.
•Pharaoh heard that Joseph had the ability to understand dreams.
•Pharaoh released Joseph from jail to explain his dreams.
•Pharaoh believed what Joseph told him and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt.
Now, let’s see what happens next.
Just as Joseph had told Pharaoh, the dream he was having meant that there would be seven years when the harvest would be great and there would be plenty of food. Then there would be seven years when there would be nothing. God was telling Pharaoh to set aside grain during the good years so that there would be plenty of food during the bad years. That is exactly what Pharaoh did. When the bad years came, there was plenty of grain in Egypt, but all the countries around them were starving.
People came from all the surrounding countries to buy grain from Joseph, because the whole world was in need of food. Some of those people were Joseph’s very own brothers. When his brothers came, Joseph recognized them, but they did not know who he was. After all, it had been many years since they had seen him, and they probably didn’t expect to see him in such a position of power.
Joseph met with his brothers several times without telling them who he was. Finally, he could keep it to himself no longer. He told his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father alive?” But his brothers were speechless because they were afraid. But Joseph said, “Come closer. I am your brother, the one you sold! Don’t worry, and don’t be angry at yourselves for selling me into slavery. You see, it wasn’t you who sent me here. God has put me here to save people from starving.”
“Now, go and tell my father all about the high position I hold in Egypt, tell him everything you’ve seen here, but don’t take all day—hurry up and get my father down here.”
Silence followed the words, “I am Joseph.” Previously, Joseph only spoke in Egyptian through an interpreter, but now he spoke in Hebrew to his brothers. The object of their hatred and the evidence of their sin stood before them, and they were dismayed and terrified in his presence. Joseph’s statement that “God sent me before you…to save your lives” showed his ability to see God at work, turning the tragedies of life into triumphs.
Bad people can serve God’s purposes and unknowingly execute His plans. What Joseph’s brothers did is a good example. His story could be our story. Only when we get to heaven will we understand the role we played in God’s plan.
For years Joseph’s brothers assumed they had escaped all accountability for their behaviour. Now their fate was in Joseph’s hands. It was for their own good that they had to face what they did, but they were in for a big surprise. Instead of being punished, they were welcomed and blessed. They were at the mercy of Joseph, and he showed them mercy.
The brothers changed over the years. The hatred they had for their father’s favoured son was gone. They didn’t hate Benjamin for the special place he held in their father’s heart. They bore the guilt of what they did to Joseph. They saw their current situation as punishment for what they did to Joseph. It is this change of heart and the compassion they showed for their father that moved Joseph to reveal himself to them
Joseph refused to blame his brothers for what happened to him. Instead, he wanted them to see that God sent him to Egypt and that God had done so in order that many people might be blessed. Joseph was referring to the famine, but he could have been referring to God’s eventual plan to save the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. Joseph’s brothers were invited to see how an understanding of God can deal with bitterness and put sweetness in its place.
God’s promises to Abraham in Genesis 12 were fulfilled in Abraham’s descendants. Jacob’s family came to Egypt, and they were the great beginning of the great nation promised to Abraham. In Joseph, we see the fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 12:3 that “in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.” God made everything Joseph did prosper, even in slavery and in prison. When Joseph became second-in-command in Egypt, God used him to save the world.
Joseph chose not to live in his past. Instead, he chose to live in a new future. All of us are products of our past and our family origins, and they exert powerful influences on our lives. Some of us have good pasts, but most of us don’t. Joseph’s story may be a way out of the generation to generation of family disfunction.
Joseph was able to look upon the hardest days of his life and see the hand of God working for himself and all of God’s people. Joseph was able to look upon his awful experiences and see them as God moving to save His people and all the people of that corner of the world from famine. When he received God’s grace, Joseph could see that God had worked in all of his circumstances. Joseph was able to look beyond his brothers’ actions to see the larger picture. All the years of toil and trouble came to the point where grace and love could be extended and heal the wounds of the past.
Joseph showed wisdom and self-control, which are not natural traits. They have to be developed by a person and in a person. Wisdom is given by God and self-control is the last attribute listed in the fruits of the Spirit. It is through life experiences that we gain wisdom and it is through intense trials that we learn self-control, but experience and trials do not necessarily mean that people become wise and self-controlled. God wants to develop these traits in all of us. When God can trust us, He entrusts us with greater gifts and callings.
Joseph learned this lesson the hard way. People with wisdom and self-control bless God and others as well as themselves. God gave us an example of a man who endured years of trials and abuse but overcame the circumstances to be entrusted with governing Egypt. God does not promise to take away our pain and discomfort. He does promise to make great things happen, but they won’t come easily.
Joseph prefigured Christ in many ways, but the most important way was that Joseph forgave those who hurt him just like Christ forgave those who hurt Him. Both Joseph and Christ set a good example for us to follow. It’s a hard example for us to follow because love is daring and intimidating. It’s natural for us to want to seek revenge on those who hurt us, but that isn’t what God wants us to do. His grace doesn’t return hatred with hatred. His grace returns love to those who hate.
Most touching is Joseph’s reunion with his younger brother Benjamin. Joseph kissed all his brothers to demonstrate forgiveness: Reuben, unstable as water; Simeon and Levi, who brought trouble; and Judah, who saved Joseph’s life by suggesting that he be sold. Reconciliation brings peace, protection, provision, and proximity. Joseph forgave his brothers because God called him to forgive. Similarly, God calls us to have forgiving spirits.
This story teaches two important lessons. First, God is in control and He will prevail with or without our cooperation. God doesn’t ask us to sit back and wait for Him to lead us to success. He asks us to trust Him, obey Him and learn the lessons He is trying to teach us. Second, when we meet God our hearts will be so full of His love that love will easily flow from our hearts.
- Jeremiah, David: The Jeremiah Study Bible: New Kings James Version (Brentwood, TN: Worthy Publishing; 2013; pp. 63)
- “A Family Reunion.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Briscoe, D.S. & Ogilvie, L.J.: The Preacher’s Commentary Series, Vol. 1: (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.; 1987; pp. 349-354)
- Stanley, C.F.: The Charles F. Stanley Life Principles Bible: New King James Version (Nashville, TN: Nelson Bibles; 2005)
- F.B. Meyer, “Our Daily Homily.” Retrieved from Crosswalk@crosswalkmail.com
- Joni Eareckson Tada, “God Meant It for Good.” Retrieved from email@example.com
- Alan Wright, “Love Like You’ve Never been Hurt (Part 2).” retrieved from www.sharingthelight.org
- “Wisdom with Self-Control.” Retrieved from firstname.lastname@example.org
- Rick Morley, “When God Sends You.” Retrieved from www.rickmorley.com/archives/693
- Kathryn M. Schifferdecker, “Commentary on Genesis 45:1-15.” Retrieved from www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=121