Sunday, January 8, 2012

Sharing Blessings

Last week our lesson in Gen 41:37-52 indicated that Joseph continued to receive God's favor. He was elevated to a position of power, second only to Pharoah in Egypt, and was rewarded a wife and had two sons. The interpretation of Pharoah's dreams began to come true. Seven years of plenty was had all over the land of Egypt. 'And in the seven plenteous years the earth brought forth by handfuls. And he gathered up all the food of the seven years, which were in the land of Egypt, and laid up the food in the cities: the food of the field, which was round about every city, laid he up in the same. And Joseph gathered corn as the sand of the sea, very much, until he left numbering; for it was without number.' Gen 41:47-49 Joseph was the overseer and took charge of the harvest with the administrative thought of the seven years of famine to come. There was a need to store some of the harvest in the years of plenty to sell to the people in the years of famine.

When the famine began and was all over Egypt, it occurred in Canaan, also. Jacob looked at his sons (Gen 42) and told them to go buy corn in Egypt. He would not allow his youngest son Benjamin to go, for it would break his heart if anything should happen to him. Benjamin had become the favored son. They went to Egypt, met Joseph, and did not recognize him. Although he recognized them, he did not let them know. Perhaps he wanted to know whether they had changed. He called them spies and threw them in jail for three days. If they wanted to prove themselves, then they had to bring back their youngest brother once they were released. In exchange, he kept Simeon bound and jailed. He gave them food to return to Canaan and, when they were not looking, their money was replaced in the sacks on their animals. When the brothers told Jacob what had happened, they believed the lord in Egypt did not like them because of his harsh treatment against them, he had returned their money, and he insisted on their bringing the youngest brother to him. Jacob insisted otherwise.

The famine persisted. Jacob's resistance was brought lower when Judah vowed to become a surety for Benjamin, in essence guaranteeing his life in exchange for his youngest brother. Gen 43 Jacob tells his sons to take double the amount of money they took previously to buy corn along with the best frut, balm, myrrh, honey, and spices as a present. They were taking items that Canaan normally export. Jacob felt if he was to be bereaved, he requested mercy of God. When Joseph saw Benjamin, he had to go to another room to finally release the tears and emotion. He was not able to do so in front of them or any of the Egyptians. He was still known by his Egyptian name of 'Zaphnathpaaneah'. His brothers did not recognize him yet, and the Egyptians had forgotten his Hebrew name. Joseph wanted to dine with all of his brothers. He had three tables set. One was for the Egyptians, one for himself as lord, and one for his brothers. Benjamin was given five times as much to eat as his brothers.

After such a fine meal the next day, the brothers were given sacks full of food and money. Joseph commanded his steward to put his silver cup in the sack of Benjamin, along with the food and money. Then the steward was commanded to pursue them and accuse them of theft of the silver cup. Whosever sack it was to be found was to become Joseph's bondsmen. The brothers could not believe the accusation. When Benjamin pleaded his innocence, it meant nothing because the silver cup had been planted in his sack. Then Judah spoke up and pleaded in Benjamin's behalf. '...The lad cannot leave his father: for if he should leave his father, his father would die. And thou saidst unto thy servants, Except your youngest brother come down with you, ye shall see my face no more...And our father said, Go again, and buy us a little food. And we said, We cannot go down: if our youngest brother be with us, then will we go down: for we may not see the man's face, except our youngest brother be with us...It shall come to pass, when he seeth that the lad is not with us, that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave. For thy servant became surety for the lad unto my father, saying, If I bring him not unto thee, then I shall bear the blame to my father for ever. Now therefore, I pray thee, let thy servant abide instead of the lad a bondman to my lord; and let the lad go up with his brethren. Gen 44:22-26, 31-33 Judah gave long speech pleading for Benjamin's cause. They had long ago told Jacob that Joseph had been torn to bits by a wild animal (Gen 37:31-36). But his plea to be accepted as the bondman in Benjamin's stead shows there was a change of heart, even though there would still be an expectation of strife.

Today's lesson focuses on Genesis 45:1-15. Joseph was unable to continue hiding his identity from his brothers, recognizing God's plan to preserve his family's life and heritage. 'Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. And he wept aloud:...And Joseph said unto his brethren, I am Joseph; doth my father yet live? And his brethren could not answer him; for they were troubled at his presence.' Gen 45:1,2a,3 This startling revelation astonished the brothers to the point that they were unable to speak. This man of power who was second to Pharoah was weeping in front of them. He had the Hebrew name and said he was their brother, Joseph. Could it be true? They deserved the wrath he would give them from those many years ago for their mistreatment when he had done no wrong. However, at this point, Joseph only wanted to know whether or not his father, Jacob was alive.

'And Joseph said unto his brethren, Come near to me, I pray you. And they came near. And he said, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.' Gen 45:4-5 He encouraged them to come close to him. Perhaps he did not want anyone else to hear the conversation. Perhaps he simply wanted them to feel comfortable with him. When they were near, Joseph left no doubt in his brothers' minds as to who he was. Then he encouraged them not to be upset over something that had occurred long ago. He wanted them to forgive themselves because their actions, although not honorable, had been used by God for the greater good. Joseph forgave them to seek reconciliation. He did not seek revenge.

'For these two years hath the famine been in the land: and yet there are five years, in the which there shall neither be earing nor harvest. And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God: and he hath made me a father1 to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.' Gen 45:6-8 Joseph now tells his brothers how much longer the famine will likely last pursuant to his interpretation of Pharoah's dream, with God's help. The interpretation has proven accurate for the seven years of plenty and the prior two years of famine. There was no reason to believe there would not be five more years of famine remaining. Further, Joseph definitely wanted his brethren to know that God had brought good out of an intended evil. Looking at the big picture, he believed that God sent him to Egypt to save his family.

'Haste ye, and go up to my father, and say unto him, Thus saith thy son Joseph, God hath made me lord of all Egypt: come down unto me, tarry not: And thou shalt dwell in the land of Goshen, and thou shalt be near unto me, thou, and thy children, and thy children's children, and thy flocks, and thy herds, and all that thou hast: And there will I nourish thee; for yet there are five years of famine; lest thou, and thy household, and all that thou hast, come to poverty.' Gen 45:9-11 Joseph tells his brothers to hurry back to Jacob and tell him that God had made him lord of all Egypt. That is a much different story than he was torn to pieces by a wild animal. After Jacob is over the shock of it, he will accept God's blessing. Joseph wants to take care of his family in the fertile land of Goshen in Egypt. He wants them to pack their things in Canaan and come to Egypt because there will be at least five more years of famine.

'And, behold, your eyes see, and the eyes of my brother Benjamin, that it is my mouth that speaketh unto you. And ye shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that ye have seen; and ye shall haste and bring down my father hither. And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him.' Gen 45:12-15 Now that reconciliation had occurred, Joseph wanted everyone to see that he meant no harm to Benjamin or any of his brothers. He wanted his father, Jacob, to hurry up and see what God had blessed him with in Egypt for the sake of the family. All the brothers are happily reunited.

The lesson could have taken an awful twist if Joseph had been vengeful against his brothers. When others wrong us, we must be like Joseph. Have faith that God will use negative circumstances to accomplish larger purposes for our greater good. There is always a divine design.

Written by Deborah C. Davis

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