As it happens, this Sabbath for Sabbath School , the topic for the lesson is on Joseph and the famine of Egypt. There is a lot to like about this story, as it is possibly my favorite part in the entire story of Joseph. Why is that? There are a lot of reasons, and though I will try to be brief, I will give them. In the interests of brevity I will assume that the reader of these posts is familiar with Genesis 37-50, the so-called Joseph novella that closes Genesis . Those who are not intimately familiar with these passages are recommended to read along, at least through chapter 42 or 43, in order to understand the biblical references in what follows. Those readers who come armed with an understanding of my previous writings about the story of Joseph, and knowledge of my own life, will have more understanding of why the story is such a favorite of mine . With that said, let us begin.
At the age of 30, Joseph was in prison for a crime that he resolutely had refused to commit. He had been placed in prison on the false charge of committing adultery with his master’s wife. Before that, he had been sold into slavery by his envious older brothers, who then concocted a story that he had died because of some wild animal. His brothers had been envious of his obvious talent, but also his obvious tactlessness in telling them about dreams from God that he had seen that promised that his father, his aunt/step-mother, and his brothers would bow down to him. While in prison, he had interpreted the dreams of two courtiers of Pharaoh who had run afoul of their master as his birthday approached, one of whom was to be restored to his position, the other executed. Yet even two years after this he languished in prison, forgotten by all, it seemed. And yet his life was about to change in a dramatic fashion.
Joseph’s time of troubles, lasting from age 17 to 30, began and ended with dreams. Just as his dreams of God-given greatness had brought about his troubles by enflaming his other brothers with envy and jealousy, so to a troubled dream of Pharaoh would fulfill his childhood dreams of glory. When the Pharaoh had a dream that he did not understand, his butler brought to his attention the skill at dream interpretations of a young Hebrew prisoner, who was immediately scrubbed up and shaved and brought before the Pharaoh. In answering, he was both confident and humble, giving credit to God, but also subtly suggesting to him that as a great famine was approaching, so serious that seven years of plenty would be forgotten, that a wise man needed to be appointed to store up the food and distribute it so that Egypt and its satellite nations would survive. And so it was that in a single day Joseph went from a forgotten prisoner to the vizir of Egypt, made second in command over the entire empire below the Pharaoh, he was given a wife, and his dreams were about to come true, as literally as metaphorical dreams of sheaves of wheat and stars bowing before him, at least.
For it was the famine that brought his family close together, and both dealt with unfinished business and created more unfinished business. The famine had affected Canaan too, and in going to Egypt to get grain, Joseph’s brothers managed to run afoul of Joseph, who put them through extreme psychological torment in order to test their repentance for their sins, before a tearful scene of reconciliation that they were never entirely able to shake. And although the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams of greatness allowed his dysfunctional family to find a place of honor and plenty in Egypt, in the land of Goshen, while the rest of Egypt suffered through an epic famine, it created unfinished business as well. After all, it was the presence of the children of Israel in Goshen, and their eventual exploitation by the resurgent Egyptian New Kingdom, that led to the plagues of Egypt and to the events so memorably recorded in biblical history in Exodus.
What lessons does this have for us? A wise ruler rewards those who are able to see trouble ahead, and plan accordingly. Likewise, even when it appears that we are forgotten in obscure places, God knows the times He has set apart for His glory, and ours, and for making our dreams come true after they are continually mocked for a long period of time. Often, the fulfillment of our purposes for glory involve a great deal of responsibility and stress, for that which needs to be done is seldom easy to do, or else everyone else would already be doing it. Let us also remember as well that even when a particular bit of unfinished business is dealt with, that is usually a prelude to even more unfinished business being started. After all, the reconciliation of Joseph’s dysfunctional and broken family, the sort of private unfinished business that mars many lives in our contemporary age, led to a situation that involved high politics, and even geopolitics, as that fractious family became a disunited nation of deep importance in the history and affairs of the larger world around them. Be careful what you dream about, and what you wish for. It may be just as terrifying as your worst nightmares, after all, but far more rewarding for those whom you serve with your God-given abilities.
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