Broad Brook Congregational Church
The 9th Sunday after Pentecost
August 10, 2014
Genesis 37: 1-4, 12-28
Today we continue the intrigue that is so much a part of Jacob’s story. After skipping over the genealogy of Jacob’s descendants, the lectionary begins the story of “the family of Jacob” (v. 2a). The story of Jacob and his descendants reads like a novel that a soap opera might be built on—“All My Sons” or As the World of Jacob Turns.” This narrative presents itself in rich color and imagery and thus it has become one of the most vivid and familiar parts of Genesis if not the entire Hebrew Scriptures. It is in this text that we are introduced to the golden boy Joseph, the son of Jacob and Rachael. Joseph is on of the twelve sons of Jacob and is favored by his father above all the others. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children because he was the son of his old age (v.3), the eldest child of Jacob and his beloved wife Rachael.
Joseph, handsome and gifted, was drew animosity from his brothers not only for his status as the golden boy but also because he was a tattletale and a dreamer who projected an attitude bordering on arrogance over his half-brothers.
Jacob’s favoritism toward Joseph is made even more pronounced by the gift of the “long robe with sleeves.” (“The celebrated “coat of many colors” of the King James Version is actually a misreading of this passage on the part of the Septuagint translators” Texts For Preaching: A Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV- Year A.) The brothers’ jealousy is so profound that it leads them down the path of a sin so ugly that it becomes murderous. We know the brothers are capable of murder because back in chapter 34 they sought revenge for the perceived rape of Dinah, their sister, by murdering all the males in the city of Shechem.
It appears that Jacob is nervous, as any father might be, because his boys are tending their father’s flocks up near Shechem. Perhaps they may get into some trouble while they are in the vicinity. Jacob decides to send the young Joseph to check on his older brothers. Interestingly, despite his bravado, Joseph becomes lost and is at the mercy of stranger who tells him his brothers have gone north to Dotham. Dotham is a few miles north of Shechem and was situated along a trade route from Syria to Egypt. As is the case in a soap opera there is always a crisis where something potentially bad happens. The help from this stranger is the last good thing that happens to Joseph for quite some time. Today’s episode leaves us in suspense with the main character, Joseph, being sold into slavery and on his way to Egypt. There is no happy ending in sight. And don’t we all wish for happy endings.
There are several questions that surface from this narrative. First is the question of where is the good news? Second, Genesis begins with God being active and communicative. God spoke to Adam and Eve, Noah, Abraham and Sara, Isaac, and Jacob. Why is God silent in this narrative? Must we linger in this silence? Barbara Brown Taylor writes: “When Joseph wanted to hear the voice of God, he listened to his life—to his dreams, to the people he met along the way, to the things that happened to him each day…” (Aren’t we called to do the same thing, even if we are not a biblical patriarch?) (Sermon Seeds: When All Seems Lost)
Joseph uses his dreams to hear the word of God. Regrettably, it is Joseph’s dreams that have landed him in the pit and on his way to slavery. It isn’t his fault he dreamed of his family bowing down before him. After all, it was commonly understood, in those times, that dreams were divinely and externally created. Despite that thinking, Joseph’s brothers think his dreams are a result his cockiness.
Therefore, we must stay in this place of silence where brother goes against brother, willing to do deadly harm, a point at which all seems lost.
The group came up with what they thought was a brilliant idea. They would kill Joseph and throw him in a pit—a cistern used to store rainwater and sometimes to imprison people. They would take the robe stained with blood to Jacob and lie and say that a wild animal had gotten Joseph. Rueben, who as the oldest would bare the brunt of responsibility for what happened, manages to talk the others out of killing brother Joe. Instead they will kill a goat and soak the coat in its blood and trick Jacob into thinking Joseph was killed by the animal. Here is the irony in that: Jacob deceived Isaac with the skin of an animal thinking Esau was dead and now Jacob is about to be deceived. The soap opera continues with greed, hatred, violence, and jealousy. We don’t have to look very far to know how such feelings can ruin a relationship. Do we identify with Joseph? Do we feel like we are in a Pit? Do we identify with the brothers and admit to knowing the resentment toward a tattletale brat whose arrogance knows no bounds?
Joseph’s struggle within his family and his suffering begs the question “Why.” We are tempted to ask the same question. This week we like Joseph must make the journey to Egypt, with no hope in sight. Question may haunt us or cause us to pause and ponder them, questions about God presence, God’s intention for Joseph and for us. Maybe all seems to be lost, but the narrative is to be continued. Stay tuned for Joseph, the Man: Part 2
In the greatest of hope may we find the good news and the happy ending we seek from this narrative and our own.