Thursday, March 31, 2011

Joseph Weeps - Genesis 43:26-31

When Joseph came home, they brought into the house to him the present which was in their hand and bowed to the ground before him.  Then he asked them about their welfare, and said, “Is your old father well, of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?”  And they said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.”  And they bowed down in homage.  As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?”  And he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.”  And Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother, and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there.  Then he washed his face, and came out; and he controlled himself and said, “Serve the meal.”

Joseph finishes his morning overseeing the business at hand, selling grain to Egyptians and others during the seven years of famine that part of the world was experiencing and he comes home for lunch.  He had already sent his steward home with the eleven Hebrews, giving him instructions to prepare them to dine with him.

Once he was inside, Jacob’s other sons, Joseph’s brothers, bring in the present they had prepared for him, at the suggestion of the steward.  They bowed down to him and nothing more was said about the gift; it was just something that was customary and expected.  At this point Joseph takes over the conversation.

I find it interesting how, even during these very potentially emotional times for him, he manages to be as courteous as he was, taking care first of all to ask about their own welfare and how they were bearing out.  His sincerity in that question, however, is something else.  It is possible that the Bible records no response from the brothers to that query because Joseph left them little time to answer.  He wanted to quickly move on to enquire about those for whom he had a greater interest.  It reminds me a little of how we often say as we pass one another, “How are you?” but never even slow down long enough to get a simple, “Okay.”  It’s really just a formality and we don’t genuinely care about the person we’ve posed the question to.  I remember a dear lady at church one Sunday stop me in the lobby as I whisked by her asking just that question, “How are you?”  She put one hand on each of my shoulders and looked me straight in the eye and said, “Ken, look, you and I are friends and we like each other.  But please do not ever again ask me ‘how I am’ unless you genuinely care and will stop long enough to find out.  I’d rather you just say, “Good morning, Mikki.”  Wow.  She was right and I have never forgotten that lesson that Mikki gave me that day.

Joseph then asks them about their father’s health, but as he does, he is ever so careful to ensure they did not forget how he knew about Jacob by adding the phrase, “of whom you spoke”.  His real concern was that Jacob was still alive.  To his relief, the brothers told him that Jacob was both alive and well, and they bowed down again to him as they reported this, identifying even Jacob as being Joseph’s servant.  You will remember that back in Genesis 37, Joseph had two dreams. One of the dreams suggested that someday Joseph would rule over them.  The second suggested that Joseph rule not only his brothers, but also Jacob his father in the future.  So, to see his brothers bowing before Joseph on their own behalf, while they refer to their father as “Joseph’s servant”, is very significant in the actualization of those dreams.

From verse 16 of this chapter, we know that Joseph had already seen Benjamin and that was likely the reason they got invited to dine with him at his house.  But still he asks them to identify him as such.  Again, the Bible does not record a reply.  Joseph did not wait for one.  Alternatively, the reply may have been a tacit one, simply a nodding of the head by the brothers.

But what is most significant here may well be the impact all of this had on Joseph.  We know that he left (or maybe even fled) the scene weeping to go his chambers.  He later composed himself and returned to give the order that the meal be served.  Between the time he left and the time he returned, what did the brothers think?  What were the servants wondering?  We’ll never know but these are questions certainly worth considering.  Our actions at times like these certainly have an impact on those that witness them.

Are there other, more personally applied questions that we would be well to ponder as we read this portion of scripture?  I think so.  Do you and I have a “weeping chamber”?  Is there a place we can go that allows us to deal with our emotions in human solitude, but in the presence of our heavenly Father?  Are we able with His help to compose ourselves, “wash” ourselves, and return to public activities?  And in so doing, will we be aware and then considerate of how our behavior has impacted those that know what happened?

There is no event or circumstance so difficult that time in our weeping chamber alone with God would not ease.  Yet, sadly, many of us fail to retire there for the necessary time.  I pray God will help each of us to realize the times this is necessary and give us the courage and the mind to do so.  I pray we will all be able to rely on His comfort and Word during those times, then compose ourselves, and return to the mission He has for us to accomplish.

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