Sunday, August 14, 2011

Good From Evil

Genesis 45: 1-12

Last week, I used the beginning of this story as my preaching text, and heard from a few people that this story was new to them. So this week I thought it would be appropriate to finish the story.

When we last left our hero, he had been sold into slavery by his brothers, and the slavers had taken him into Egypt. (Last week I said that Potiphar, the person who bought him, was Pharaoh, but I was wrong. Potiphar is the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard.)

Joseph does well as a slave to Potiphar, and is eventually given management of all of Potiphar’s lands and properties. And as it says, Potiphar “had no concern but the food that he ate.”

The scripture says that Joseph was a pretty good looking guy, and he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife. She pursues him for extramarital relations, and he resists. She finally catches him when they are alone in the house and he slips out of a cloak rather than give in. She takes that cloask and uses it as evidence against him, accusing him of wht he had always resisted, and Potiphar tosses him into jail.

In jail, Joseph begins to interpret dreams for prisoners, and, when one prisoners’ fortunes are restored, he eventually remembers Joseph when Pharaoh has a hard dream. Joseph is brought up from prison, and interprets the dream for Pharaoh-seven years of good harvests, followed by seven years of famine. He suggests that Pharaoh put some of the good harvests aside for the lean years, and Pharaoh does so. Not only that, but he also raises Joseph to the role of manager of this plan, and gives him the symbols of Pharaohs’ second-in-command. So when the dream comes true, and there is a worldwide famine, Egypt has food for it’s people, and even sells to the other countries around them.

One of those countries that is starving is the country of Joseph’s father and brothers, and they are starving, too. They come to Egypt, and Joseph sees them. He puts them in prison, then tells them that they must go bring their youngest brother to him (they don’t know this, but he is asking to see his full brother Benjamin, who is the youngest of them all.) They go home with grain, and unbenknownst to them, Joseph has also put their money back into their sacks-he has given them grain.

They go back when the grain they were given runs out, and take Benjamin with them. Joseph sees them, and sees Benjamin with them. He prepares a meal for them, and eats with them (still not revealing who he is to them), at one point needing to leave because of how emotional he becomes at seeing Benjamin.

As they prepare to leave, Joseph decided to play with them again, and has a valuable cup put into Benjamin’s sack

The “theft is discovered, and Benjamin is detained. Judah, the brother who so long a go was the lead guy planning to sell Joseph to the slavers, steps up and makes a speech asking for Benjamin back, even using the language that Joseph had predicted they would use, when he was a boy and had the dream about them all kneeling before him. And here they are, just as he had seen.

So he finally gives up the game, and reveals himself to them. They are of course astonished, and more than a little afraid of him-he is now very powerful, and they are weak and hungry, and they remember they have already been in prison once by his decree.

But Joseph, in grace and in love, tells them to bring Jacob their father with them down to Egypt, and the family shall have the land of Goshen, and live prosperously.

And this is how the nation of Israel became part of Egypt. The slavery part came later, under a different pharaoh, and that is a different story for another day.

What do we do with this story? What can we glean from it about the loving hand of God? What can we see about the character of God, something that we see that is similar to the character of God we see in Jesus?

Joseph says it: What the brothers meant for Evil, God has turned it to the good.

There is power in forgiveness. Joseph could have easily sent his famil7y back to Canaan hungry, could have finally enslaved them as they did him, could have had them all thrown into the Nile, and no one would have thought much about it. Revenge is the usual way, after all, even now. But it is not God’s way.

There’s a sense in the world that God has our lives planned out. So many times people would say to me about Donna’s illness : “it is God’s plan.” Never once did I believe that. But I do believe that God makes good from evil. God can take the mistakes that we make, the things that happen to us and to our loved ones, and turn them to the good. I am a different person from whom I used to be, and I think somehow better. My relationship with Josiah is much different now than it used to be and much much better.

We must have faith and patience, not that God has a plan for all of this or that, but that God, in God’s infinite wisdom and power, can make a plan that will land us on our feet- will fall us forward.

If we listen.

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