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

The Testing of the Family

by Lois Tverberg

Then they said to one another, “Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us. Now comes the reckoning for his blood.” They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them. He turned away from them and wept. – Genesis 42:21, 23-24

The final scenes in Joseph’s story, when his brothers come to Egypt, are very dramatic but somewhat of a puzzle. Why does he put them through so much torment and interrogate them as he does?

As we read the final story, it helps to remember that Rachel’s sons (Joseph and Benjamin) had a very cold relationship with the rest of the family because of Jacob’s favoritism. Joseph was very close to his brother Benjamin, but was convinced that his other brothers were liars and potential murderers for what they had done to him. When they came into his courts, he certainly would have been scanning their group for the face of Benjamin, but when he was missing, he probably worried that his brothers might have killed him because he was their father’s other favorite son. He devised a plan to force them to bring Benjamin to him, to see him and perhaps to protect him from their violence.

Joseph Explaining the Dream to Pharoah, Jean Adrien GuignetJoseph was also forcing his brothers to live through some of what he went through, to see how they would respond. Just as they put him in a cistern, he put them in a dungeon (the same word is used for both). By returning their silver in their sacks, it appears that he was reminding them that they had sold him for silver long ago. And, by imprisoning Simeon, the brothers were forced to see their father Jacob go through anguish yet again at the loss of a son in their company.

Finally, when Benjamin came with them, he treated him with favoritism to arouse their envy, and then put them to the ultimate test: when his cup was found in Benjamin’s sack, would they leave him as a slave as they did Joseph many years before? He must have thought that their jealous dislike for their half-brother would make it an easy choice.

Through this time of testing of the brothers, the brothers went through much anguish, believing that these troubles had fallen upon them because of what they did to Joseph. But, this process of soul-searching caused them to repent and change. For the sake of Benjamin, they all returned to plead for his release, showing that they considered him their brother, worthy of risking their lives for sake. And Judah, whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery, showed his complete repentance when he offered himself in the place of Benjamin as slave.

The family had finally come together – they would not abandon Benjamin as they did Joseph, as they did before. This was finally what brought healing, and they would never be the same again.

Photo: http://freechristimages.org

Following God’s Blessing

by Lois Tverberg

The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs and the obedience of the nations is his.
– Genesis 49:10

I used to struggle with why we have the stories we do in Genesis – about the sons of Jacob destroying the city of Shechem, or Reuben sleeping with his father’s servant girl. My expectation was that the Bible was a book of simple moral stories to teach me how to live.

Sons of Israel

Actually, the Bible has a completely different purpose. It is actually an epic tale about God choosing a family to become his holy nation, through whom he would send one to redeem the whole world. The goal of the stories is to trace God’s blessing throughout the generations, and understand who is chosen to carry it on to the next generation. Of Abraham’s sons, Isaac received it rather than Ishmael. Of Isaac’s sons, Jacob received it rather than Esau. It was God’s choice each time, and it was usually the less likely person that he chose.

Many stories are told about the twelve sons of Jacob, because each would become head of one of the twelve tribes of Israel. Interestingly, once again God made an unlikely choice. The very firstborn of the family was Reuben, but he was disqualified because he dishonored his father by sleeping with Bilhah (Gen 35:22, Gen. 49:3). Simeon and Levi are next in line, but they were both disqualified because they destroyed the city of Shechem (Gen. 34:25, Gen. 49:5-7). That is probably why that ugly story is included.

Jacob had his own idea of who should be heir, and he chose Joseph, the first born son of the wife that he loved. That was the source of jealousy and conflict in the family. It was why Jacob gave Joseph the special coat, and why Joseph’s dreams that his family would bow down to him made his brothers so furious. When Jacob was old he gave Joseph the inheritance of the first-born – a double portion of the estate. He did this by adopting Joseph’s two sons, Ephraim and Manassah as sons of his own, so that they would become two of the tribes of Israel.

Looking ahead into the future, it’s interesting to see which tribe God ultimately chose to carry on the greatest blessing. He used Joseph to save his family, so he blessed him in one sense. But actually, the ultimate blessing went to Judah, the fourth-born son of Leah, the unloved wife, who became the instrument of God’s redemptive plan. He was the one who would ultimately give rise to Christ. Jacob proclaimed it in an obviously messianic passage, “The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his.” (Genesis 49:10) This was fulfilled when Jesus, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, arrived on earth!

Photo: Herrad von Landsberg