Do you have any siblings? Brothers and sisters of one sort or another? Don’t sibling stories make some of the best stories of all time? If you want a good story, find a sibling story. Today’s story about Joseph and his brothers doesn’t disappoint.
I don’t assign a ton of weight to birth order studies. You know the type, the oldest sibling tends to be reliable and conscientious, middle siblings are people-pleasers and sometimes a little rebellious. Youngest siblings are of course, perfect in every way all the while being outgoing and sometimes a little manipulative. I don’t assign a ton of weight to these studies but there is still something to them, I think.
At least it certainly seems to apply in today’s story from Genesis about Joseph and his siblings. The story covers quite an arc of narrative and a pretty good chunk of time so we’re going to shrink it down into three parts. In this first part we see the conflict begin.
Joseph, the youngest of the brothers, has had a dream. In this dream he apparently becomes the leader over all his brothers. All the other sheaves of wheat bowed down to Joseph’s sheaf, indicating that his sheaf was going to be in charge. Now this wouldn’t be exactly surprising coming from the youngest brother. And Joseph would have been fine if he’d kept his story to himself but he doesn’t. And really, being the youngest, he really can’t keep it to himself because, well, it is all about him.
And so the fight amongst the brothers really gets underway. Being the favored son with the really cool coat with the really long sleeves, Joseph is already pretty much on their bad list. And now, and NOW, he comes in trash talking about their sheaves will bow to his sheaf. This isn’t going to end well, methinks.
Joseph’s brothers have been out and about working their livestock. Joseph gets it into his mind that he wants to follow them. Joseph may have been his father’s favorite son but in making this choice he indicates he isn’t the brightest of his father’s sons.
After irritating them pretty completely with the being in charge dream, Joseph ends up following his brothers out in the desert where they are doing their jobs. The text doesn’t mention it but apparently Joseph, as the youngest, has no real work to do while all his brothers must deal with their livestock. Joseph eventually locates his brothers and when they espy him coming to their camp, they begin to plot. They begin to plot his demise!
At first they want to kill him and throw him into a pit. That doesn’t seem very loving but as a youngest I feel safe in saying that there were times my older brothers wanted to kill me and throw me into a pit, at least metaphorically speaking. So I get that. Fortunately for our hero, and someday he will be just that, brother Reuben steps in and says, “No, no, no, don’t kill him! Just throw him into the pit and leave him there.”
That doesn’t seem like SUCH a nice thing to do but what Reuben is actually thinking is that if he can keep Joseph alive he’ll be able to figure something out later. Which was a pretty good plan, right up until the Ishmaelites show up. The Ishmaelites were wandering traders who cruised around the desert trying to make a living. With that in mind they buy Joseph from his brothers with the intention of taking him to Egypt as a slave. This keeps getting worse
And it does get worse. Joseph has a rough go of it in Egypt. He’s a slave and is treated accordingly. Apparently being a slave took away some of his arrogance and he manages to become the chief steward for his master. Still a slave but a high ranking one. Seems like things are on the upswing in Joseph’s life but then he’s falsely accused of actions he didn’t do and winds up spending time in prison.
Joseph doesn’t let even prison get him down. By now the wisdom gained from withstanding the rollercoaster of life’s up and downs is starting to show up in his life. He makes some good decisions, helps some folks out and ends up more or less as the prime minister of Egypt, working directly for the pharaoh. Now he’s got some serious power going on. He’s running the day to day operations of the entire country when lo and behold, who shows up begging for food?
Yes indeed, the brothers who threw him into a pit and sold him into slavery. And they know how wrong they’ve been wondering to themselves, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong that we did to him?” After throwing Joseph into a pit and selling him into slavery that’s an excellent question they really need to be asking themselves. Because as prime minister of Egypt Joseph can pretty much do what the wants. It doesn’t much matter whether he has any reason or justification, he can just do it. And with his brothers he has more than enough reason to pay them back. He has more than enough justification to do something really mean to pay them back.
But he doesn’t. Instead he responds with undeserved grace and generosity. Joseph has the reason and justification to exact retribution on his brothers as well as the position of power to do it from. Instead, he takes another path. A path of forgiveness. A path of redemption. A path of second chances.
I’m not a big believer in the idea that God gives us tragedy and heartbreak to teach us lessons. I don’t think God had Joseph thrown into a pit, kidnapped into slavery, and thrown into prison all to teach him some lesson. I don’t think God caused a famine in Israel so that Joseph’s brothers show up so that Joseph could use all those lessons he’s learned so that he could forgive his brothers when arrive.
I AM a big believer that every life has tragedy and heartbreak. I AM a big believer that we, like Joseph, can learn some things from our rollercoaster of life experiences. Mostly, I AM a big believer that our God is a God of forgiveness. A God of redemption. A God of second chances.