One of the key ideas of this message is that in different times and seasons of life all families have problems.
Joseph is about to fall into deep trouble, but he doesn’t know it yet.
For Joseph, his father’s favouritism, his own actions towards his brothers and his grand dreams are stirring up hatred and resentment in his family. His favouritism and status is symbolised in the coat given to him by his father Jacob. With this background of favouritism, relationships in free fall, hatred becoming entrenched, tensions rising, the story steps up a gear when he falls into his brother’s hands. They would have killed him but see an opportunity to solve their problems by selling Joseph as a slave. Let someone else work him to death! They come up with the big lie, the cover story, the family secret that will break their father’s heart. The coat which had been a symbol of Joseph’s favour and status, becomes the evidence of his death.
For the reader, Jacob’s grief is tempered with the knowledge that Joseph still lives. But Jacob does not know this, and he is inconsolable at the news of Joseph’s death. This is not a happy family. This dysfunctional family is not a model for us to imitate.
We have not yet mentioned God.
So where is God in Joseph’s story? Where is God in our story, when our family life is difficult? The bible doesn’t give us trite or easy answers. Neither does it rush to resolve the real difficulties facing Joseph’s family. We find, at least in part, an answer at the end of this story when Joseph says to his brothers, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20). A similar idea is found in Paul’s letter to the Romans, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” (Romans 8:28)
God’s plan is not thwarted by Joseph’s youthful arrogance or by the hatred and plotting of his brothers. God’s plan to save many, both Egyptians and Joseph’s own family is on track.
God in his sovereignty is able to use both the good and the evil of this world and shape it to fulfil his plans. God is able to bring about good despite the harmful intentions of people.
What is it that really matters about family life?
In this story, does family really matter to either Joseph or his brothers? Are they putting family first or themselves first? No one in this story so far is a role model for us to follow. Should we behave like Jacob, Joseph or his brothers?
You may find it uncomfortable that today the story of Joseph and his family is not resolved, but take comfort, God is at work! Maybe it is helpful for us to live with this unresolved tension for a moment, because unlike many family TV dramas, real life issues aren’t resolved in one short programme. It would be too easy and too trite to suggest the big issues you face in your family can be resolved so easily. Christianity is not a magic wand to be waved and make all your problems disappear. But here is something we can hold on to, even when facing difficulties: family matters to God who intends good, and is working for the good of those who love him.
Next week: Joseph goes from rags to riches, from slave to manager of Potiphar’s household, faces sexual temptations and ends up forgotten in a dungeon.
Rev John Malcolm