Monday found me in Genesis 40-42 after a miserable night of insomnia culminating in a delicious snow day morning. I sat in a comfortable space ready to delve further into the Joseph story, one often used as a Look how God worked everything out in the end! Evil for good, good wins!
This is true. And good. But as I arrived at the end of the day’s reading I could feel Jacob’s anguish. I know that anguish. I could feel Joseph’s tears. I’ve shed similar tears. I was experiencing the story and not just taking in the facts. This began some journaling on the passage, not to be confused with an exposition on the subject. Following are my observations from Joseph’s story:
Jacob exclaimed, “You are robbing me of my children! Joseph is gone! Simeon is gone! And now you want to take Benjamin, too. Everything is going against me!”
Genesis 42:21 (NLT)
I know the feeling that everything is going against me, even as many things are for me. God was sustaining Jacob’s life and his sons’ lives. Joseph was still alive, yet in the moment Jacob didn’t know. He felt everything going against him. While feelings are not truth, they often reveal how we are experiencing our present truth in light of our past.
Speaking among themselves, they said, “Clearly we are being punished because of what we did to Joseph long ago. We saw his anguish when he pleaded for his life, but we wouldn’t listen. That’s why we’re in this trouble.”
“Didn’t I tell you not to sin against the boy?” Reuben asked. “But you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood!”
Of course they didn’t know that Joseph understood them, for he had been speaking to them through an interpreter. Now he turned away from them and began to weep.
Genesis 42:21-24 (NLT)
I feel Joseph’s grief upon hearing Reuben reprimand his brothers.
When Joseph’s brothers saw him coming, they recognized him in the distance. As he approached, they made plans to kill him. “Here comes the dreamer!” they said. “Come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns. We can tell our father, ‘A wild animal has eaten him.’ Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”
But when Reuben heard of their scheme, he came to Joseph’s rescue. “Let’s not kill him,” he said. “Why should we shed any blood? Let’s just throw him into this empty cistern here in the wilderness.Then he’ll die without our laying a hand on him.”
Reuben was secretly planning to rescue Joseph and return him to his father. So when Joseph arrived, his brothers ripped off the beautiful robe he was wearing. Then they grabbed him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.
Genesis 38:18-24 (NLT)
Years before, many years before, the brothers had seen Joseph coming, and, out of envy and contempt for his favor and dreams, made plans to kill him. Reuben heard their plan and suggested an alternative, pleaing with them to throw him into an empty cistern. Later he planned to rescue Joseph.
This argument happened before Joseph arrived on the scene. He witnessed none of it as his robe was torn off and he was thrown into a cistern.
Then just as they were sitting down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of camels in the distance coming toward them. It was a group of Ishmaelite traders taking a load of gum, balm, and aromatic resin from Gilead down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, “What will we gain by killing our brother? His blood would just give us a guilty conscience. Instead of hurting him, let’s sell him to those Ishmaelite traders. After all, he is our brother, our own flesh and blood!” And his brothers agreed. So when the Ishmaelites, who were Midianite traders, came by, Joseph’s brothers pulled him out of the cistern and sold him to them for twenty pieces of silver. And the traders took him to Egypt.
Genesis 37:25-28 (NLT)
~Where was Reuben?~
Some time later, Reuben returned to get Joseph out of the cistern. When he discovered Joseph was missing, he tore his clothes in grief.
Genesis 37:29 (NLT)
Reuben was not around, because he returns later to discover Joseph missing. This causes him distress as the brothers kill an animal for its blood and prepare their story of Joseph’s demise. Joseph’s life becomes a meanwhile as he is lifted from his family’s story and dropped into Potiphar’s house.
Years pass through chapters indicated by phrases such as in the course of time, some years later, some time later. Clues such as pregnancy, birth, adulthood of children born, death of the mother, indicate that daily life continued for the brothers and Jacob just as it did for Joseph who was placed on a different track.
Life went on, routine events punctuated by significant ones. Joseph faced the trauma of false accusation and imprisonment, of being forgotten by the butler for two years after predicting the butler’s release in three days. He held hope that he would be soon remembered while being long forgotten.
When he is finally released and brought before Pharoah, things begin to turn around. He is 30 years old beginning the seven years of plenty. He is married to Asenath, a priest’s daughter who bears two sons. Joseph names them from his story.
Manassah ~ God has made me forget my troubles and everyone in my father’s family.
Ephriam ~ God has made me fruitful in the land of my grief.
Though life circumstances have changed for Joseph, there is still grief, lost time, questions.
He is 37 when the famine begins and 44 at its end. His brothers are older than him. His father describes himself as a grieving white-haired man. (42:38)
During the time of famine, Joseph’s brothers appear before him. He recognizes them, remembers his dreams, and begins to be harsh with them. He questions and accuses. He imprisons them for three days, changing his mind from sending only one back home to keeping only one. He gives the imperative to return with the youngest.
This results in a conversation among the brothers, overheard and understood by Joseph. The mood takes a turn.
After Reuben says, Didn’t I tell you not to go against the boy, but you wouldn’t listen. And now we have to answer for his blood! (42:22) Joseph turns away and begins to weep. (42:24)
The timing of the weeping struck me as I read. It came after he heard his brothers specifically name the wrong done to him. He is made aware for the first time that one of his brothers had spoken up for him. However cowardly, weakly, or poorly done, someone had not been in agreement. This, coupled with the changed hearts of his brothers, was a story-changer for Joseph.
For years, the data he had to work with was that all of the brothers hated him and had been unanimous in the decision to harm him. He carried that as he was sold into slavery, falsely accused, thrown into prison. Even as life began to change for the better, there was still an undercurrent of sadness and loss.
With this scene, the story lens shifts, more data is collected, and floodgates of tears are released. No facts of Joseph’s story change. A single traumatic event at the hands of his brothers after being set up by his father altered the course of his life, but redemption is close at hand through the path of weeping, grief, and repair of rupture.
I get to continue in this passage next Monday. Sometimes we have to sit in the unresolved sadness for awhile, in that space of grief and lament, where it feels as if all is against us, even when we know how the story ends.