Saturday, September 04, 2010

Joseph in the Pit - Genesis 37:23-27

So it came about, when Joseph reached his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the varicolored tunic that was on him; and they took him and threw him into the pit. Now the pit was empty, without any water in it. Then they sat down to eat a meal. And as they raised their eyes and looked, behold, a caravan of Ishmaelites was coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing aromatic gum and balm and myrrh, on their way to bring them down to Egypt. Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is it for us to kill our brother and cover up his blood? "Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh." And his brothers listened to him.

Joseph’s brothers plan to kill him and the oldest, Reuben, gets them to revise their plans to simply throw him in a pit. So when Joseph finally reaches his brothers, they take him and strip him of his multi-colored coat that Jacob had given him. They then throw him into the pit. We have no account of exactly what Joseph was feeling at the moment. We can assume that his brothers raged with anger, hatred, and jealously. It is possible they even told him how they felt as he was being thrown into the pit. But what about Joseph? What was he thinking as he was thrown in? Was he afraid? Was he sorry he ticked them off with his dreams? Did he apologize? We do not know.

The next sentence provides us with some critical content with respect to God’s awareness of ‘timing’. It says the pit had no water or anything else in it. Simply put, if a person were to stay down there too long, without food or water or anything to protect himself from wild beasts, he would die. God knew time was of essence.

So, here’s Joseph sweating it out for his life alone in a pit and what do his brothers do? They sit down to have a meal. Isn’t that what happens today? Someone can be struggling in a matter of life or death, and others are having a grand old time. Life goes on as usual. This is true on an individual level as many of us watch those we know suffer. It is also true on a larger scale as we watch whole nations like Haiti and Pakistan suffer through earthquakes and floods, respectively. The reality is that much of our suffering has to be done in solitaire. It is not necessarily the way it should be, but the truth is that it often is.

But God does not forget us even though others seem to. He brings about circumstances that help provide relief of our ensuing danger. Sometimes he uses the very people that have been the cause of our misfortune. Sometimes these circumstances open up entire new and wonderful opportunities for us.

So the brothers look up and see a caravan of Ishmaelite merchants coming along on camels, carrying spices among other things, and heading for Egypt. Those of you that know the ‘rest of the story’ cannot help but marvel at God’s amazing provision in this manner. God must clearly want Joseph in Egypt next in order to carry out His plan for His people and the best way to get him there is via these guys who have an eye for a good deal. But how does God actually bring the transaction about? Well, He uses another brother, Judah, this time. Collectively the group of brothers wanted to kill Joseph. Reuben talks them into just throwing him into a pit. Judah, was the fourth of six sons that Leah bore to Jacob. There is nothing significant about his order of birth, that is the 4th of twelve sons for Jacob, we can tie to his actions here, except that we will be hearing much more about the name ‘Judah’ in the rest of scripture. Anyway, Judah comes up with this idea that killing Joseph or even letting him die won’t gain the rest of the group anything. Instead, he recommends they sell him to the Ishmaelites saving themselves from murdering their own flesh and blood.

Three things to note here. First, God is totally in control of all the players. We can never, never forget that. Second, God uses Ishmaelites to accomplish His purpose. You will remember that Ishmael was the son of Abraham, Joseph’s great-grandfather, who was borne to him by Sarah’s maid, Haggar. Abraham, at Sarah’s request, ended up sending both Ishmael and Haggar away. Many claim that Ishmaelites are the original Arabs and especially Palestinians today. That’s not the point I want to make here. Instead, I want us to be aware that sometimes God uses people that we do not expect Him to use to accomplish His will. We need to be very sensitive to that possibility. But at the same time we need to be careful that we do not translate that use “by God to accomplish His will” into a position that says “they themselves are living in the will of God”. There is a big difference in my opinion.

Third, we see that blood is indeed thicker than water. We are created in a way that says we need to do all we can to protect our kin. God has built into us a sense of guilt that does not allow us to come to their support if we are at all in tune with Him. And that may well have been the case with Judah. For us the lesson is that we must consider our ‘family’ members in a very special way, even those that have sinned against us or caused us grief. Family is family in God’s economy and no argument from us will ever change that before God. It is for that reason that this section ends with the phrase, “And his brothers listened to him.”

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