Scripture Genesis 46
JOSEPH'S STORY Chapter #8
(c) Copyright 2000 Rev. Bill Versteeg
Ask Children how far we got - (Joseph sent his brothers back to get his father and their families) What was the last instruction he gave to his brothers before they went? (Don't quarrel on the way!)
All this time, while the sons were gone, Jacob, their father sat at home, worried. He would have paced the floor back and forth, but at 130 years of age, that would be painful.
"Like the rest of my life." thought Jacob - "PAINFUL."
As Jacob got older, it seemed he remembered more about the days when he was young, the mistakes he had made, the challenges he had faced, and as he remember his life story - it seemed one thing came through again and again - pointless pain. On some days, he wished his life was over, it would be so much easier to be dead. And now with Benjamin gone too - it seemed it made his pain just that much harder to bear.
As he lay in his bed, that Friday afternoon, thoughts turned to dreams - he remembered it all clearly...
He remembered how he had bought Esau's birthright when Esau was famished and desperately wanted something to eat. He wanted to inherit twice as much from his father Isaac than Esau would. Later he tricked his father by putting hairy goat skin on his arm - tricked him into giving him Esau's blessing - but it all didn't seem to make any difference - when he fled from Esau who was determined to kill him, he fled with nothing, no money, no sheep of his own, no inheritance, nothing except the clothing on his back. Jacobs best plans just did not work out for him. And because he had to flee, he would never see his mother Rebeccah again - that was pain - in his dream he even felt his heart ache all over again.
He went to work for an uncle - Laban who couldn't be trusted. He fell in love with a girl named Rachael - he had to work 7 years for her - only to be tricked by Laban into marrying another girl Leah - he would have to 7 more years for Rachael - unfair - Jacob new it - life was unfair. And his two wives fought with each other over him, over his love. And they got two other women right into the middle of these fights Zilpah and Bilhah. By falling in love with one girl, he in the end got four wives who always fought with each other, and when those wives had children, they hated one another too. As he lay dreaming that Friday afternoon - he remembered fight after fight after fight. Not fun - more than he could bear, he remembered how often he wanted to be free from it all.
He remember how he and his sons burned with anger when his daughter was raped by one of the men of Shechem. And how two of his sons, by trickery how killed all the men of Shechem. The revenge soothed their anger - but revenge never soothes anger enough.
He remembered how he was traveling with his family on the road to Bethlehem, and his beloved wife Rachael was pregnant - she went into labour - and she died giving birth to Ben - She called him Ben Oni - (son of my trouble), he instead out of love for Rachael called him Benjamin (my favourite son). But there on the road to Bethlehem - he had to bury his most loved wife - beside the road - not in a grave yard - he remembered, even in his dream he was crying. He wanted his life to stop.
Then his son Joseph, Rachael's son, was eaten by a wild animal. He remembered his colorful coat, torn and blood stained in his trembling hands, overwhelming grief that seemed to never end went through his mind in waves. Sadness and pain seemed to be all that he could expect from life.
And then the famine came - which made him send his sons to Egypt for food. Things could not get worse. Now his son Benjamin - also Rachael's son, now his favourite was in Egypt with the rest of his sons - and how they would do in getting food, he did not know - but he did know that it was a terrible risk to send Benjamin - and if he lost Benjamin too, he would be better off dead.
He had noticed his eyes were getting poorer, and his bones ached all the time now - even as he slept - this was no pleasant dream - but then again, neither was his life.
The flaps to his tent let light break the darkness of his dream. His whole life in an hour - Jacob woke up, wishing it was all over. He heard the commotion outside - excited children seeing their dads again - excited because the sons of Jacob had come home again with food.
Jacob started getting up, his stiff bones made him slow - but he was eager - eager to see if his son Benjamin had returned too. But before he could get out of his tent, his sons were there as a group - and with hesitant smiles on their faces Judah cried out: him, "Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt."
Waves of trouble flowed through Jacob's body. Trouble and confusion. For years he had grieved the loss of his favorite son Joseph, he had just been fearful of losing his son Benjamin - now they come back with this story.
"What kind of sorry trick is this to play on an old rickety man?" he asked himself. His pain, his grief seemed worse, twice as heavy. It seemed his sons just did not understand the devastating power of grief. And now they just made it worse. Oh how he wished it was all over. Then he saw Benjamin - he hugged his now favourite son - back to him alive - Benjamin's presence gave him the strength to listen - especially when it was Benjamin who said "Its all true dad!"
Jacob had come to expect that his sons would lie to him - after all he was a master at it himself. They had done it before in small things, and in big things - he knew he didn't know all of their lies. He didn't really trust them. But Benjamin told the truth. "Its all true dad!"
So he listened. The brothers, one after another told an amazing story of a governor in Egypt who seemed to treat them strangely, who seemed to act strangely at different times, who used the name of their God, Elohim, who used their family blessing "God be gracious to you." How he had shown such special interest in how Jacob, their father was doing. How Joseph had forgiven them. (The next portion is because 45:27 says that they told him everything Joseph said - which would include the record of being sold as a slave)
"What do you mean - Joseph forgave you?"
There was silence, after swallowing hard Judah spoke - he had learned in front of the governor of Egypt that truth has surprising power to win in the long run. He and his brothers had hidden behind lies for a long time - the time now was to tell his father the truth about what they had done - so he told Jacob everything that Joseph had said - including the truth that they had sold their brother to slave traders for some cheap silver, including that they had tricked their father into thinking he was dead by putting blood stains on his coat. He told him everything that Joseph had mentioned - including what Joseph had said about God sending him ahead of them all to Egypt to save their family from starvation.
Jacob had feared that they had done something terrible - he knew the hatred between his sons had been that powerful - but until now his doubts about his sons had no evidence - now they were confessing what they had done - and all the sons were in agreement about what they had done.
All his sons agreeing with each other - what a strange sense of peace that brought to his family. Even though his racing heart pumped rage through his old and hardened veins, he could see that there was something different about all his sons - no longer were there biting comments and wounding words thrown at Benjamin - it seemed they had all become brothers together. And the angry quarreling that he had lived with for years - it seemed to have disappeared. And now they were telling what they said was the truth - all together - a skill that he had never taught them - something wonderful must have happened in Egypt - something that definitely made his sons, in these very painful moments, easier to live with.
Jacob however would not believe the truth they were telling him. Having lived for years with the pain of losing his favourite wife Rachael and then his favourite son Joseph, having worked on his grief for over 20 years, he was not about to let it go and hope again. That would be an awful lot of work wasted. Now rage and sadness churned his stomach - he would not believe them.
But his sons helped him up - they led him out to see the grain - and Jacob saw that these were not the old rickety carts that he had sent them off with - these were the latest Egyptian models made with some of the best woods, with a shiny finish and colorful decorations, even some cushioned seats - and not a lot of grain - just enough for a few months at best. And then they showed him their new clothing - especially Benjamin - with his five sets of colorful clothing and three bags of silver.
Jacob's wheeler dealer mind even in its age started working - the carts - wow - they could easily turn these into a new cart lot - and the clothing - if need be they would sell here for a good amount of money.
Could it be that Joseph was still alive and well - a governor, a ruler of Egypt?
What struck Jacob the most though was not the carts, and the clothing and the money - what struck him the most was that Benjamin had 5 times as much as the rest, but his brothers showed no envy. They weren't jealous of his colorful Egyptian clothing. Benjamin was being treated as the favourite - now by all his brothers. And there was no quarreling.
Something wonderful was happening. He had to admit it. He could feel hope lightening his step, relaxing his tension, drying his tears. Finally he made the decision to take the risk - the risk of believing that his son Joseph was alive again. Jacob took the risk of believing that God can even work through and overcome evil and hatred - that Elohim was behind this all.
"I'm convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die."
So they packed, their entire families packed, threw their belongings on these new racing carts - toys, tools, dishes, clothing, over 100 people including his sons Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Gad, Asher, Dan, Naphtali and Benjamin. 11 sons and 55 grand sons, on top of that their wives and his grand daughters - all together they loaded up the carts, they tied their animals behind and set off for Egypt.
They made it to Beersheba - there Jacob insisted on stopping - he had to thank God for what was happening to his family and he did it with an offering. And that night, as they slept under the stars - Jacob, the old man, had a dream - no more than a dream, more powerful than his grief dreams - this dream was so vivid, so real - it was a vision - even awake he had it. And for the first time in a long time - God spoke to him again...
"Here I am," he replied.
"I am Elohim, the God of your father," he said. "Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. I will go down to Egypt with you, and I will surely bring you back again. And Joseph's own hand will close your eyes."
There in that vision, he heard it with his own ears - and saw it with his own eyes - Joseph was alive and Elohim was doing something wonderful. With new energy, the next morning, Jacob sent Judah ahead to get directions to Goshen. And a while later, when they arrived - there was Joseph. Joseph, the ruler of Egypt in his many colored coat jumped off of his chariot and ran to his father and threw his arms around him and kissed him and cried and wept for a long, long time.
How wonderful it was - to have back his son whom he thought was dead - alive again. Jacob, for the first time in many many years was starting to taste joy again. Yet the mark of unresolved grief still shaped what he had to say...
"Now I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive." Still, he was talking about dying. Grief had left its scars deep within his heart. Even when he met Pharaoh a few days later, his words were still filled with sadness. "The years of my pilgrimage are a hundred and thirty. My years have been few and difficult, and they do not equal the years of the pilgrimage of my fathers." Life is hard and difficult and unfair. That was Jacobs theme - that was the story written in scars on his heart.
It would take another 17 years of living in the land of Goshen, with his family together, not quarreling, with his favourite sons and grandsons, with Joseph the ruler of the land - it would take another 17 years for healing to come to him. It was after those 17 years in the land of Goshen that Jacob confessed finally said to his sons and grandsons something very happy.
"May the God before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac walked, the God who has been my shepherd all my life to this day, the Angel who has delivered me from all harm --may he bless these boys."
Finally, Jacob at the end of his life, saw his story in a different light. No longer was his story one of difficulty, and pain and unfairness - now it was
The Lord is my shepherd...
God has delivered me...
I will sing of my Redeemer.
That became his song of joy - that became his children's theme of joy - their family - later, when they would get out of Egypt under Moses - They sang to the Lord, their redeemer.