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“Fulfillment of a Dream”

 

a sermon by

 

The Rev. Dr. Douglas E. Nagel

 

Sunday, November 12, 2017

 

 

 

TEXTS:  Genesis 45:1-15

 

 

 

Genesis 45:1-15

 

 

 

Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, ‘Send everyone away from me.’ So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?’ But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

 

 

 

 Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘Come closer to me.’ And they came closer. He said, ‘I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 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. You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.” And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring my father down here.’ Then he fell upon his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

 

           

 

 

 

                The area in which we lived in Southern Illinois is known as “Little Egypt.”  In the 1830s, crop failures in the northern part of the state forced people to come south to purchase grain and produce for their families.  Their journey reminded many of the time of Joseph and the Kingdom of Egypt.

 

 

 

The seven years of plenty in Egypt are over.  Rains have ceased.  Disease attacks the crops.  Things no longer grow.  Where once there was plenty, there is now scarcity.  Where once every Egyptian ate his fill, now the people eat once a day.  The famine spreads to regions outside of Egypt.

 

 

 

Pharaoh’s dream has come true.  They had enjoyed seven years of plenty.  Then, like someone turned a switch, every agricultural enterprise failed.  The good news is that the Kingdom of Egypt is prepared.  Granaries built under Joseph’s authority during the seven years of plenty are full.  Egypt can feed its own people.  In fact, Egypt can even support the needs of those far away, those who have the courage and foresight to make the journey.

 

It is the first year of the famine.  Jacob and his sons remain in Canaan.  Even there the effects of the famine are felt.  Jacob learns that there is grain in Egypt.  Joseph’s brothers make the 250-mile journey to Egypt.  The journey takes month.  They act on faith.  The travel in hope.  Benjamin, the youngest, Joseph’s only full brother by his mother, Rachel, remains at home.

 

 

 

They get to Egypt and Joseph recognizes them.  Joseph remembers the dreams he had about his brothers.   (Genesis 42:9) Joseph no longer looks like a shepherd and farmer.  He wears the trappings of the Egyptian court.  He bears Pharaoh’s signet ring on his hand.  All the pomp and majesty of the Egyptian court surrounds him.

 

 

 

He wonders . . . have his brothers changed?  Have they learned anything?  Is his father still alive?  Where is his brother Benjamin?

 

 

 

                Here is what the Book of Genesis says about this encounter. “When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. ‘Where do you come from?’ he said. They said, ‘From the land of Canaan, to buy food.’ Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, ‘You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!’ They said to him, ‘No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies.’ But he said to them, ‘No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!’ They said, ‘We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.” (Genesis 42:7-13)

 

 

 

                One is no more . . . they think.

 

 

 

                Spies must be dealt with harshly.  Joseph throws them in prison.  Here they experience the same kind of loss of freedom that Joseph has experienced.  They face the uncertainty of their future.  This is the ultimate “time out!”

 

 

 

                Imagine the conversations in the jail.  Think about their fears.  If they do not get out of prison and get the grain back to Canaan, their father, the youngest brother, and their mothers will starve.  What will become of them?

 

 

 

                Three days later, they are released.  Joseph has determined a test.  One brother will remain in prison.  The rest will return to Canaan to take back the grain they have come to purchase.  Then they will return to Egypt with the whole family.  This will prove the truth of their words.  The brothers agree.

 

 

 

                Now comes the “I told you so” moment.  This is what they say to each other in Joseph’s presence, “‘Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.’ Then Reuben answered them, ‘Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.’”

 

 

 

                The guilt is expressed.  Admission has been made.  Joseph hears and is moved to weep.  The brothers have changed.  Joseph, too, has changed.  At Joseph’s instructions, the Egyptians load their donkeys with grain.  They then hide the sacks of money the brothers have brought to purchase the grain in each of their bags.  The brothers depart.

 

 

 

                On the way home, one of them discovers his money in his grain sack.  For the first time, the brothers mention God.  “What is this that God has done to us?”  First, they are accused of being spies.  Now they will be accused of being thieves.

 

 

 

They make it home to Jacob and just when you thought things were getting bad, they get worse.  Each brother opens his sack.  Inside each sack is the money they took to Egypt.

 

They find themselves caught on the horns of a moral dilemma.  They can remain at home.  They can keep the grain and the money, but not return to Egypt for fear of losing their own lives.  If they do that, Simeon will remain in prison or be executed as a spy.  It will also mean they can never return to Egypt when this grain runs out.  It means, ultimately, that they will starve.

 

 

 

                The other choice is to return to Egypt.  They will prove that what they have said was true.  However, there’s that money to account for.   

 

 

 

                Sometimes, moral dilemmas are resolved by time.  We reach a point where there is only one choice.  That is true with Jacob’s family.  The famine becomes so severe, they must return to Egypt or starve.

 

 

 

                I believe Joseph knew this.  I also firmly believe that God works through our moral dilemmas to bring redemption.  That doesn’t always make it easy.  In fact, redemption often comes at a price. 

 

Doing the right thing is costly.

 

 

 

Jacob agrees send Benjamin.  He does not want to risk losing Benjamin.  He does not want to face the possibility that all his other sons will return to Egypt and be thrown in prison. He is backed into a corner.  To delay one more moment is to starve.

 

 

 

Jacob the schemer, the conniver, the one who plays favorites has a plan.  ‘If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry them down as a present to the man—a little balm and a little honey, gum, resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds. Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the top of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight. Take your brother also, and be on your way again to the man; may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, so that he may send back your other brother and Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.’ (Genesis 43:11-14)

 

 

 

They return to Egypt.  Joseph sees his younger brother and rejoices.  He invites them to a feast.  All the brothers are invited.  They are suspicious.  They are terrified about the money.  They smell a trap.  Before they enter Joseph’s house, they explain to the steward of the feast, ‘Oh, my lord, we came down the first time to buy food; and when we came to the lodging-place we opened our sacks, and there was each one’s money in the top of his sack, our money in full weight. So we have brought it back with us. Moreover, we have brought down with us additional money to buy food. We do not know who put our money in our sacks.’ (Genesis 43:20-22)

 

 

 

Joseph comes home for lunch at noon.  He sees the brothers.  He inquires about their father.  Joseph sees his brother Benjamin and is overcome with emotion.  Remember, this is the first time he has seen Benjamin in over twenty years.  He could never have been sure that his brothers hadn’t gotten rid of Benjamin because he, too, was Rachel’s son.  His fears are put aside.  His heart is full.

 

 

 

He weeps.

 

 

 

The brothers eat.  They receive food from Joseph’s table for the Egyptians do not eat with Hebrews.  Benjamin receives five times as much as the other brothers.  They don’t understand why, but having just left a culture of scarcity, they celebrate his good fortune.  They drink and are merry with him. 

 

The next test begins.

 

 

 

Joseph’s silver drinking cup is hidden in Benjamin’s sack.  None of the brothers know.  They leave with their grain.  A mile or so into the journey the steward overtakes them.  Joseph’s cup is missing.  The brothers are accused.  They proclaim their innocence.

 

 

 

‘Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover, the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.’ He said, ‘Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free.’ (Genesis 44:7-9) These last words are the words of the steward who represents Joseph.

 

 

 

Their sacks of grain are searched.  The cup is found in Benjamin’s sack.  They all know the consequences.

 

 

 

They go back to Joseph’s palace.  Joseph says that Benjamin, being the guilty party, will become his slave. 

 

 

 

Here is where we see a true change of heart on the part of the brothers.  Judah pleads for his brother.  Jacob will be devastated.  Jacob has already lost one son.  To lose another would kill him.  Judah offers his own life in place of his half-brother, Benjamin.  Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.” (Genesis 44:33-34)

 

 

 

The circle is complete.  Judah has come full circle.  Judah was the one to convince his brothers to sell Joseph into slavery.  Judah was the one who said, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” (Genesis 37:26-27)

 

 

 

Now Judah is the one who says, “Let Benjamin go.  I will stand in his place.  I will be a slave so that he might go free.”

 

 

 

No wonder Joseph is overcome.  He understands.  All that has happened is for a reason.  Joseph finds God in his own story.  He sees God’s hand in the story of His brothers.  He is seeing God’s redemptive hand at work.  He is overwhelmed.  He weeps so loudly that the Egyptians hear it, even Pharaoh’s household.  It is a primal cry of pain, rejection, hurt, anger, and sorrow for over twenty lost years.

 

 

 

At the same time, Joseph cannot help himself.  The dream has come true.  His brothers have bowed down to him.  Soon, his brothers, his father, and his father’s wife and concubines will come. 

 

 

 

The covenant-making God is at work.  God fulfills his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob through Joseph.  Now Joseph understands.  His brothers must understand as well.  They have all been part of a bigger plan, a plan whose perimeters they could not see.

 

 

 

Joseph sends everyone out but his brothers.  I can only imagine that they were quaking in their sandals!  Then, he lets his brothers in on the big secret.  He doesn’t use his Egyptian name.  He tells them bluntly, “I am Joseph.  Is my father still alive?”  (Genesis 45:3) The brothers are dismayed.  Joseph does not let them off the hook. “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” (Genesis 45:4)

 

 

 

                Justified in being outraged, entitled to anger, holding the lives of all his brothers in his hand, Joseph chooses to forgive.  Here Joseph foreshadows Jesus words, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”  Joseph can see it now.  His brothers must know it as well.  They didn’t know what they were doing.

 

 

 

                God did.

 

 

 

                Hear again what Joseph said.  And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither ploughing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:5-8)

 

 

 

                This saga has a wonderful conclusion.  Jacob dies.  Joseph’s brothers get worried.  What if Joseph seeks retaliation now?  What if he has just been playing the fox, waiting to get revenge?  After all, he has had plenty of time to plan it.  They ask in Genesis 50:15, “What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong we did to him?”  They go to Joseph.  They tell him, “Before he died, Dad said you should forgive us.”  Joseph weeps.  The brothers join him.  They fall at his feet.

 

 

 

                “We are willing to be your slaves.”

 

 

 

                “Nonsense” Joseph responds. “Do not be afraid!  Am I in the place of God?  Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today.  So have no fear; I myself will provide for you and your little ones.” (Genesis 50:19-20)

 

 

 

                Everyone who hears my voice this morning has been hurt by someone or by many “some ones.”  Some have been hurt by their own foolish choices or actions.  Some have just been hurt by life.

 

Such hurt does not go unnoticed by God.  Nor does that negate the pain of such hurts, the damage they do, or the consequences of sin and selfishness.  However, God’s promises for us, God’s dream for us, gives us hope of someday seeing and understanding a grand design beyond the pain of the moment.

 

 

 

                Psalm 56:8-9records these words, “You [God] have kept count of my tossings; put my tears in your bottle.  Are they not in your record?  Then my enemies will retreat in the day when I call.  This I know, that God is for me.”

 

 

 

                                Donald Grey Barnhouse, a noted Presbyterian preacher from the early twentieth century, made these observations from Joseph’s example: “To see God in all things, both good and evil, enables us to forgive easily those who injure us. It does not incline us to condone their fault as if they were unconscious instruments . . . for they act as freely as if God had no part at all. But we can pity, forgive, and pray for them…for they are the unwitting benefactors to our souls.

 

 

 

“This is strongly exemplified in Joseph, for he saw the hand of God overruling the designs of his brothers; and from that consideration, he not only readily forgave them but entreated them ‘not to be grieved or any with themselves,’ since whatever had been their intentions, God had used their misdeeds to accomplish His own gracious purposes.” (source: quoted by James Boice in Genesis, Vol. 3: Living by Faith, p. 1062)

 

 

 

                I will close with the words of the Apostle Paul to the Church at Ephesus.  They express well the Joseph story, Paul’s story, and your story and mine.  They speak to God’s dreams for us and how we must learn to trust God where we cannot see.  These are the words:

 

 

 

“Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever.”

 

 

 

                Soli Deo Gloria.  To God alone be the glory.  AMEN.

 

 


 



 


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