Saturday, January 08, 2011

Joseph Recognizes His Brothers - Genesis 42:5-7

So the sons of Israel came to buy grain among those who were coming, for the famine was in the land of Canaan also.  Now Joseph was the ruler over the land; he was the one who sold to all the people of the land.  And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.  When Joseph saw his brothers he recognized them, but he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly.  And he said to them, “Where have you come from?”  And they said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.”

Can you picture it?  Some years back, the same brothers were tending their herds and they saw a caravan of traders heading for Egypt.  They decided to sell their brother Joseph, whom they deemed a ‘dreamer’ to them and then told their father he had likely been killed by a wild animal.  Now, they themselves were in a caravan that was much bigger, as many were heading from Canaan to Egypt to buy grain in order to survive.  If you ever wondered where the world’s first ever ‘bread line’ formed, you would be safe to assume it was ‘in Egypt’ wherever Joseph had erected a storehouse and had amassed the grain he had saved during the years of plenty.  These brothers not only were in that bread line, but they were about to be faced with the very person they had sold to the traders, many years ago, in their ‘past lives’.

The text does say, “Joseph was the one who sold to all the people”.  Whether that simply means he was in charge of the whole selling operation, or whether he was personally present at all selling transactions, I am not sure.  You will remember the proposal he had presented the Pharaoh with was to build storehouses all over Egypt.  It is possible that different storehouses were open for business on certain days only and Joseph was indeed present at all storehouses when they were open.  What we do know is that he certainly was there when Jacob’s sons’ turn came up to purchase their grain.

At the appropriate time, the brothers bowed to “the man that was selling the grain” with their faces to the ground.  Pharaoh had, upon Joseph’s appointment to ruler of Egypt, told him that people would do ‘homage’ to him (Genesis 41:40).  So, seeing Jacob’s sons do this was not unusual.  But way earlier in the life of Joseph, you will remember that he had a dream wherein his brothers’ sheaves bowed down to his (Genesis 37:7).  Can you imagine what was going through his head when Joseph actually realized his brothers were bowing down before him right there in Egypt?  The felt emotions must have been difficult to mask.  What were they?  Was pain present? Anger? Joy?  How would we have felt after all those years and after what had been done to us by the group now in front of us and at our mercy?

Joseph chooses to disguise himself and to speak harshly to them.  We have to assume that there was some means in the process of the trade whereby he had an opportunity to recognize them prior to having to address them and prior to their recognizing him.  That gave him a chance to disguise himself.  His rationale for doing so may well have been the opportunity to elicit more truthful information from them, perhaps about his father and younger brother, before they knew who he was.

But why did he speak harshly to them?  Let me suggest that it may well have been an attempt to cover up his emotions, or perhaps, a self-defense mechanism.  Some of you will remember times when your children or grandchildren did something very ‘cute’ but totally ‘unacceptable’.   One’s natural tendency on such occasions is to break out laughing (or crying out of joy).  Instead, you put on your stern voice and pretend to scold the child because such an opportunity to reprimand against unwanted behavior cannot be missed.  I think Joseph was operating from the same premise.

He then begins his further investigation and commences his enquiries of the brothers.  What then are the lessons for us from this passage?  I see two.

First, who amongst the brothers would have ever thought that their little kid,‘dreamer’ brother had become a ruler of the most powerful empire on earth?  Sometimes we discard the potential of those we interact with.  While we give up on them, God does not.  The very common adage “never burn your bridges” also tries to address this kind of behavior.  And scripture seems to point it out time and time again.  This instance here is certainly one of the early key examples.

Second, the passage provides us an opportunity to reflect on what we are like when we, once again, are in the driver’s seat after an undesirable circumstance.  How do we deal with those that have wronged us?  How do we treat them? 

If nothing else, let’s learn not to burn our bridges as much as it is reasonably possible within our means and let’s remember that it is up to us whether we show compassion or come out guns a blazing when we re-encounter those that have hurt us, even though they have not yet apologized.
 
Ken B. Godevenos, Church & Mgmt. Consultant, bringing you relevant information from all sorts of sources.  Subscribe free to Epistoli or follow us by clicking on the appropriate link in the right side bar.  An don’t forget to “share” this blog with your friends by clicking the “Share” link on your Navigation Bar.
 

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