Friday, January 21, 2011

Joseph Weeps and Then Takes Action - Genesis 42:23-24

They did not know, however, that Joseph understood, for there was an interpreter between them.  And he turned away from them and wept.  But when he returned to them and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and bound him before their eyes.

I remember once walking in Central Park with some friends.  They were real New Yorkers, born and raised there.  But since their parents were Greek, they had learned the language and found it convenient when they wanted to say something that they didn’t want others to understand.  This day, as we were walking, after church no less, we noticed two ladies just a few yards in front of us.  One of them was wearing a rather, even I must admit, absurd and elaborate hat.  And no, it wasn’t Easter Sunday.  One of my friends commented, in Greek (since we all spoke it), “Why, what a ridiculous hat.  I wouldn’t be caught dead in it.”  Apparently the volume was such that anyone nearby could hear it, but supposedly wouldn’t understand it.  Or so we thought.  Instantaneously, the woman with ‘the hat’ turned around, looked straight at us and said, in an equally strong Manhattan accent, “Why, thank you very much for such a lovely compliment.  I’ll be sure my hat won’t be in your casket.”  Surprise, you never know who speaks Greek around here!

So it was with Joseph and his brothers.  Speaking in their native language, who would have thought that this ruler of Egypt before them knew what they were saying?  Especially since up to now, Joseph had been using an interpreter to speak to them.

What they had said earlier in the text concerning how they had dealt with him and how they now believed to be paying for their sins touched him greatly.  And he had to turn away from them because his eyes had welled up with tears.  It is important that we always think about how our words, no matter what language they are uttered in, will impact other people – even if they were to hear them later from someone else, in the same language we said them.

Joseph clearly felt empathy for his brothers and somehow may have wanted to help them get out of feelings of guilt, yet he realized that he had to continue with his plans for the greater good.  Yes, he could save them from their misery now, but he had much greater plans for them.  I think that is what God does with us sometimes.  He can give us what we think we want right now, or He can allow things to develop in a manner that ultimately ends up in something much better for us. And if you are a parent or a grandparent you will know that sometimes that is the way we deal with our children and grandchildren.

So Joseph carries through with his demands on his brothers. He seizes Simeon, and binds him in front of their very eyes.  Simeon was Jacob’s second eldest son after Reuben and the second child of Leah, Jacob’s first wife.  We do not know for sure why he was selected.  It is possible that choosing an older brother meant that whoever it was could best withstand the prison stay and being left alone.  And he did not choose Reuben as he had heard what Reuben had said and felt at the time of Joseph’s own mistreatment and how he currently felt the remorse of what they had done.  Reuben would help make sure they carried out Joseph’s wishes this time.  So, it fell to Simeon to stay behind.

I also think there is some dramatic irony, for lack of a better expression, in the fact that now Simeon, a likely previous leader of the group because of his age (when Reuben had argued against killing Joseph) is now himself tied up and bound, and in front of his brothers’ eyes, just as Joseph was when he was sold to the traders.

As we live our lives, we must be aware that we often, one way or another, get treated as we have treated others in the past.  That is true of parents when they are old; often their children treat them in their old age as they themselves were treated by them.  It is also true of our dealings with friends or colleagues.  Recently my eldest grandchild came home from school upset because of the way one of her friends was treating her.  Sometimes it is necessary to point out how they themselves have treated that friend or others in a similar way.  We can all learn from what was happening now to Joseph’s brothers.

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