I did it again. Thanks to my lectionary last week — yes, I blame it — I got to Genesis 45 when Joseph loses control of his emotions and reveals himself to his brothers. . . . And I lose control of my emotions and have a sobfest. It happens just about every time. It’s a good thing that was in my private chapel and not during public worship.
But let’s back up. After all, I do not write to inform you what a sap I can be.
I won’t tell the whole story here; read it for yourself in Genesis chapters 37-48. But the gist of it is Joseph annoyed his older brothers by being a favored upstart as little brothers often are. They found his dreams particularly annoying. So one day they threw him into a pit, leaving him for dead. But then they changed their minds and sold him into slavery instead, whereupon he is hauled off to Egypt. They covered up their crime by pretending he was dead, much to the grief of his father Jacob.
Things don’t get much better for Joseph. He is even thrown into prison because of a false accusation of rape. And it wasn’t one of those nice low-security prisons. But then Pharaoh suddenly finds his wisdom and skill with dreams very useful in saving Egypt from a coming famine. So Pharaoh raises Joseph up, and he ascends to become in effect Prime Minister. (Doesn’t everyone have a proper British Prime Minister?)
The famine comes as Joseph had predicted. And back home, Jacob and sons need food. So the sons go to Egypt to buy grain, and guess who is in charge of that? Joseph. Now he hides his identity from his brothers for quite some time, and I will defer to the Scriptures for the fun details of all that.
But then comes the part that always gets me in chapters 44 and 45. The youngest brother Benjamin is in big trouble because of a supposed theft. But the older brothers cannot return to their father Jacob without him as Benjamin was the old man’s favorite. Losing Benjamin after losing Joseph years before would kill Jacob with sorrow. So Judah falls on his knees before Joseph and begs to take Benjamin’s place and be imprisoned instead.
And that is where Joseph — and I usually — completely loses control of his emotions and reveals himself to his brothers. And he tells them not to be angry with themselves for leaving him for dead and then selling him into slavery “for God sent me before you to preserve life.” (45:5) Years later, when the brothers were afraid Joseph would bear a grudge against them, he reassured them, saying, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good . . . to preserve many people alive.” (50:20)
There is a lot I’m leaving out, so read Genesis 37-48 for yourself, even the R-rated parts if you like. But let’s recap a bit.
Joseph is abandoned and left for dead by his kindred and is considered dead and gone by those who don’t know better. He descends to a hellish place. But then, he not only lives, but he ascends to the right hand of Pharaoh to rule. He forgives those responsible for his suffering, and God uses the whole episode to save many.
Why does that sound so familiar?
Oh, and Judah? He offered himself to bear the punishment of Benjamin’s sin so that Benjamin would be free and Jacob could live. That sounds familiar, too. Hmmm. Judah is the great great etc. grandfather of Jesus, not so by the way.
Well, no wonder these chapters are in my and other traditional lectionaries as Holy Week nears. It’s not just a holy conspiracy to make me cry during Lent. The story of Joseph, wonderful in itself, is also a big hint about what the Lord was going to do in Holy Week, in the Passion, Death, Burial, Descent, and Resurrection of Christ — “to preserve many people alive” and to bring them into His blessed Kingdom.
Of course, this is not the only hint in the Old Testament. In Psalm 22, Isaiah 53 and any number of pictures and prophesies, God told us what He was going to do for us through Jesus Christ and His Passion and Resurrection. The Gospel of Christ’s death and resurrection to defeat sin and death for us is not the invention of man; it is the loving act of God Almighty that He foretold for centuries before and then did for us.
I better stop before I embarrass myself and cry again. And maybe we should all use Passion Week and Holy Week for “the meditation of those mighty acts, whereby Thou has given unto us life.”*
*from the Collect for Wednesday in Holy Week
originally posted at Mark’s substack.