Sunday, August 17, 2014
Today’s worship service focused on the Joseph saga found in Genesis 35-50. Part 1 was a reading of Genesis 37: 1-28 followed by questions for reflection. Part 3 was a reading of Genesis 41 followed by prayer stations around the theme of forgiveness. In between was my retelling of Genesis 39-40, which went something like this:
Young Joseph seemed a self-centered braggart, pampered by father Jacob, the star of his own daydreams and nighttime dreams. He had no idea his older brothers rolled their eyes as he regaled the family with his dreams of grandeur around the breakfast table. He ignored the jokes his brothers cracked about his flair for fashion and that beautiful robe—puh-lease! He was oblivious to their complaints about the piddle-y household duties he performed while the burly bros tended sheep. His preening, petted, self-centered self got on their last nerve. You’d have found him obnoxious, too. Handsome and charming, yes. But what an ego. Yet this self-involved young man matured through hardships to develop a capacity for empathy and forgiveness. He developed from a boy who dreamed of self-glory to a man who implemented a dream to serve others. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Here’s part 2 in Joseph’s story:
Overnight he found himself sold as a slave in Egypt to one Potiphar, an officer of the Pharoah. But according to those who first told this story, the Lord was with Joseph because even in the worst of circumstances, everything he did prospered (39:3). Potiphar soon promoted the clever young man to overseer of his house and lands. Unfortunately, Joseph impressed not only Potiphar—but also Potiphar’s wife. So handsome was Joseph that Potiphar’s wife tried again and again to seduce him. One day, when “Mrs. Potiphar” and Joseph were alone in the house, she grabbed him by his robe. Fortunately, he escaped the temptress– “a common motif in the classic hero quest”[i]. Unfortunately, the garment came off in her hand. (Don’t you wonder if that kind of wardrobe malfunction happened often in the days before zippers, buttons, and belts?) The rejected woman screamed, accused him falsely, then held up his robe to support her accusation. Joseph was thrown into prison.
But God again was with Joseph “and showed him steadfast love” (39:21). Soon Joseph impressed another authority figure, the jailer, who put Joseph in charge of the other prisoners “because the Lord was with him and whatever he did the Lord made it prosper” (39:23).
Joseph continued to pay attention to dreams. He’d been fascinated by his own—though his family had not. In jail he heard dreams of fellow prisoners and helped others find meaning in them. One of those fellow prisoners was the cupbearer of the king, who would, Joseph predicted based on the cupbearer’s dream, be forgiven by the king and restored to his former position. Joseph asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him when he got out of jail. But the cupbearer forgot about Joseph—for two long years.
Until one day Pharoah awoke from a disturbing dream and asked his court to find someone who could interpret dreams. The cupbearer remembered Joseph then and told the king who summoned Joseph from jail to hear the dream.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile; and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, 23and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. But when I told it to the magicians, there was no one who could explain it to me.” Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (40: 17-25).
Do you remember how Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream?
CONGREGATION FILLS IN THE DETAILS about seven years of good harvests followed by seven years of famine (40: 29-32).
Joseph didn’t stop at interpreting the dream. He also suggested a fairly detailed plan to minimize the disaster it predicted and to care for all. The gist of his plan was this: in these next seven years of good harvests, one-fifth of the produce of the land would be stored in anticipation of the seven years of famine yet to come. He advised Pharoah to appoint a man “discerning and wise” to be in charge of OPharoahcare. And Pharoah responded, “You’re the man.”
In this way Joseph became the second in command in all of Egypt. He became powerful and wealthy, married an Egyptian, had two sons, and when the drought came, as Joseph rightly predicted, it was he who eventually held the fate of his brothers in his hands. For you see, the famine spread to other lands and Jacob’s sons in Canaan, hearing Egypt had a surplus, traveled to Egypt to buy grain. Since Joseph supervised the selling of the grain, he saw and recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. He devised a clever and complicated test of their integrity and their love for the youngest brother, Benjamin. As he’d foreseen all those years ago in a dream, the brothers bowed down to Joseph. When the brothers traveled back to Canaan and returned with young Benjamin, the scene was set for a tender reunion when Joseph disclosed his identity. And wept. And wept. There’s relief and joy for the forgiver as well as for the forgiven.
Mercy grew in the heart of a young man who learned not only to dream dreams but to listen to and support others’ dreams. Empathy formed within one who’d been pampered but became prisoner. Through God’s grace he and others prospered.
[i] Enright, Louise qtd. in Helpmakes, Harlots, and Heroes:Women’s Stories in the Hebrew Bible. Alice Ogden Bellis. (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1994, 93).