Enslaving Themselves

by Lois Tverberg

Joseph said to Pharaoh’s court, My father made me swear an oath and said, “I am about to die; bury me in the tomb I dug for myself in the land of Canaan.” Now let me go up and bury my father; then I will return.’ So Joseph went up to bury his father. All Pharaoh’s officials accompanied him—the dignitaries of his court and all the dignitaries of Egypt—besides all the members of Joseph’s household and his brothers and those belonging to his father’s household. Chariots and horsemen also went up with him. – Genesis 50:4-9

The redemption of Israel is a foreshadowing of the redemption of the whole world through Christ. Subtle motifs in the story hint that Israel is the representative of the world. Their enslavement to the false gods of the Egyptians is a picture of all of our enslavement to the false gods of this world, from which only Christ can free us.

When and how did the family of Israel become enslaved? Obviously, the first member of the family who was enslaved was Joseph, when his brothers deliberately sold him into slavery. Four hundred years later they were all enslaved by the Egyptians.

Joseph before PharaohAn interesting thing to note was that it seems that even though Joseph had great power in Egypt, he was still a slave even then and not free to leave. In the passage above, when Joseph wanted to travel to Canaan to bury his father, he had to ask permission. Scholars believe that the officials, chariots and horsemen who went with him were there partly to honor Jacob, but also to guard Joseph to make sure that he returned to Egypt.

If that is true, it yields an interesting insight – that from the moment that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery, someone from their family was trapped in bondage, unable to be released until God himself intervened 400 years later. True, God brought them down there to save their lives during the famine. But had they not sold Joseph into slavery, they wouldn’t have had the tie that brought them all down to Egypt, to the “house of bondage” as the Bible calls it.

Likewise, with the first sin, Adam and Eve were trapped in bondage, and the slavery to sin transferred itself to all their children, including us. Only through redemption in Christ can we be set free.

God’s Wounded Family

by Lois Tverberg

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph bears a grudge against us and pays us back in full for all the wrong which we did to him!”

So they sent a message to Joseph, saying, “Your father charged before he died, saying, `Thus you shall say to Joseph, “Please forgive, I beg you, the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong.”‘ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” And Joseph wept when they spoke to him.

But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.
– Genesis 50:15-17,19-21

Many people feel that brokenness in their background prevents God from using them for his greatest purposes. Yet, as we look at Jacob’s family, even though deep woundedness followed them much their lives, God worked to heal them. But we also see that the process can be long and slow.

The difficulties began back when Jacob was forced to marry Leah, the sister of the woman he loved, Rachel. Leah bore son after son for Jacob, each time hoping that finally, Jacob would love her as he did her sister. But he never did. This was evident many years later when the brothers asked Jacob to let Benjamin come with them to Egypt. He said, “My son shall not go down with you; for his brother is dead, and he alone is left!” (Gen. 42:38) The statement hints that he considered Benjamin his only “real” son, the only one left he really cared about. Jacob’s favoritism for Rachel and her children had left deep scars on his other sons.

Wounded Family

The unloved brothers’ woundedness was what caused them to nearly to murder Joseph, and many years later when they come to Egypt, they were still plagued by guilt for their cruelty toward him. When we read that Joseph made himself known and invited them down to Egypt, we think that we’ve reached the “happy ending” that all good Christian stories ought to have! But, the final verses in Genesis reveal that the issues in this dysfunctional family lingered for years after that. After their father died, the brothers returned to the worry that Joseph was still plotting to repay them for their crime against him. At that point Joseph wept one more time. Was it because he had thought that his family wounds had been mended and he saw that they still had not been?

Wounded Family2When we see that this family who was to bless all the families of the earth is very average in terms of its pain, we can take hope that God truly can use anybody. God worked through their sinfulness to accomplish his purposes, but he isn’t a God of magical, quick fixes. After a great act of redemption in their lives (moving them to Egypt to be saved from the famine) their problems weren’t over, but he was gently working to bring them back together as a family. This is the note on which their story ends.

Photo: Lawrence OP and Owen Jones