Sunday, May 15, 2016

Journey with Joseph # 6 - Famine and Family

Over the past several weeks we’ve been journeying together through the life of Joseph. We’ve seen the favorite son mistreated by his brothers and sold into slavery in Egypt. We’ve watched as he gains the rank of Pharaoh’s second-in-command and charged with averting the disastrous effects of a coming famine. Chapters 42-45 in the book of Genesis are all about how famine can either bring about or shine a spotlight on already existing family drama. In the biblical story, a physical famine sweeps over the land, no doubt brought on by a combination of weather patterns and political conditions. This causes Joseph’s brothers to go to Egypt in search of food. Little do they know that the governmental official they encounter is Joseph himself. Bedecked in Egyptian clothing, speaking the Egyptian language, and no doubt bearing a new Egyptian name, they never recognize the imposing figure enthroned before them.

With his brothers groveling at his feet, Joseph finds himself in an interesting position. He knows that their very lives are in his hands. He can either grant or withhold mercy—the choice is up to him. He has suffered at the hands of his brothers, and now must decide how to repay their treachery now that he is in the power position. What will he do?

Joseph decides to use the opportunity to make them sweat. Instead of showing complete mercy, he uses his authority to scare them and make them grovel even more. They have mentioned that they have a younger brother, Benjamin, back at home. Joseph decides to hold an older brother, Simeon, in prison while the others brothers go back home in order to bring back Benjamin to prove that they’re telling the truth. Then, as he is filling their sacks of grain, he frames them to make it look like they have stolen money from Pharaoh. That way they will be afraid to return. In fact, they wait until all the grain they have brought home is eaten down and they have no choice but return, before they do go back to see Joseph and release Simeon.

When they return, they beg for mercy and return the missing money. Joseph is pleased because they have passed the honesty-test. Joseph then decides to play with them as a cat plays with a mouse. He refills their sacks of grain, but this time he frames Benjamin by placing Joseph’s own special goblet into his younger brother’s sack. When the missing cup is discovered, Joseph commands that Benjamin be made his slave. But Judah steps in as his younger brother’s replacement, unwittingly passing Joseph’s loyalty test. Then, filled with emotion, Joseph can control himself no longer. Genesis 45:4-10 (NASB) says:
4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please come closer to me.” And they came closer. And he said, “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great deliverance. 8 Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh and lord of all his household and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay.10 You shall live in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children and your flocks and your herds and all that you have.

Last seek we saw how Joseph the hero wasn’t always heroic. He used his position of power to not only save a nation, but to enslave a nation. This week we see how he used his position, along with the famine, to add more drama to the already existing family drama between Israel’s children. Every family has drama—no family is exempt. It’s not whether we experience crisis but how we handle it that determines the kind of people that we are.

Times of famine often heighten crisis and drama that families experience. Israel’s family had plenty of drama before the famine happened, but starvation simply made it worse. Famine can take many different forms. In Israel’s case it was scarcity of food. Maybe in your case it’s a lack of money, or wisdom, or patience, or love. Amos 8:11 says that there can be a scarcity that is “not a famine for bread or a thirst for water, but rather for hearing the words of the Lord.” So maybe it’s a spiritual famine that you’re going through. Perhaps your family is in a time of scarcity right now. There might be a shortage of physical touch, or an inability to spend time with loved ones. Maybe you yearn for words of affirmation from someone who won’t express them. Maybe you just need help from someone who’s unwilling to provide it. Or it could be that people are going behind your back and saying and doing things to undermine you. As with Joseph’s brothers, your family is going to experience drama. But it’s not whether we experience crisis but how we handle it that determines the kind of people that we are.

What can we learn from Israel’s family? Joseph’s behavior indicates that he believed that “the end justifies the means.” But author Nick Harkway says, “Don’t tell me the end justifies the means because it doesn’t. We never reach the end. All we ever get is means. That’s what we live with.” Harkway is right. That’s what we live with—a never ending drama, if that’s what we choose. Joseph’s story may end with reconciliation and restoration, but the fact is that none of our stories have endings. They just keep going. And it’s HOW we live that makes the difference. Romans 12:18 (NIV) says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” This is the Christian’s calling. It isn’t always possible, and it doesn’t always depend on you. But as long as it does, live at peace. Make peace. Don’t use crisis as an opportunity for more drama, but instead give physical and spiritual sustenance to help your family in famine.

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