This week we’re looking at this week’s and last week’s parsha.These sections from the life of Joseph are great to read together and would be great to look at on your own or as a family over this holiday break. So we’re looking at Miketz and Vayigash and next week is the last parsha in Genesis. We’re still with Joseph and his brothers and their crazy story. This chunk in Genesis starts in Genesis 41 and ends in 47:27. When this section begins, Joseph is still in prison. He met the cup bearer and the baker in the parsha before, but once they get out of prison they forget about him for a little while. This section starts with Pharaoh retelling his dream and Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams is remembered. When Joseph is pulled out of prison to hear and interpret Pharaoh’s dream, he has bad news to deliver. Pharaoh’s dream says that there will be 7 profitable harvest years followed by 7 years of famine. God gives Joseph the interpretation of these dreams, but also give Joseph advice to transmit to Pharaoh on how the people of the area are to survive the years of famine to come. Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph that he brings him out of prison permanently and puts Joseph in charge of food storage and rationing. Think about that for a second. You’re Joseph and when you wake up in the morning you are in prison and you’re not guilty of anything. At the end of the day you are out of prison and Pharaoh has given you pretty much the biggest job there is in the whole land of Egypt. And the biggest job puts him in charge of making sure that all of Egypt and the surrounding area survive the famine to come. Woah, that is pretty mind blowing!
The Bible tells us that during the years of plenty, Joseph’s life is also plentiful. He gets married and his wife has two sons named Ephraim and Manasseh and their names have pretty significant meanings. Manasseh means God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s household and Ephraim means God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.
…and then the famine begins. So Genesis 42 brings Jacob and the rest of Joseph’s brothers back into the story. The famine doesn’t just affect Egypt, it affects the surrounding areas as well. This part of the story with Joseph’s brothers in Egypt is pretty weird and also high drama. We have a scene where Joseph and all of his brothers (except for Benjamin) are in the same place at the same time, but the brothers don’t recognize Joseph. Joseph is in the power position in every way in this exchange and it takes awhile and several trips for Joseph to reveal his identity. Over the course of this time Joseph is testing his brothers which might seem kind of messed up until you remember that the last time he was dealing with them they were debating over whether they should kill him or just ruin his life and send him away. The details of how this all works are really interesting, but a little too complicated to go into in a blog post. The short version of it is, Joseph isn’t ready to entrust his identity to his brothers yet. The timing has to be right, but the text lets us know that seeing his brothers and being with them is emotional for Joseph. We see that at its fullest in the beginning of Vayigash. In Genesis 45:1-8 Joseph fills his brothers in and we get to hear in his own words how he feels about the years that have gone by.
Now Joseph could not restrain himself in the presence of all who stood before him, so he called out, “Remove everyone from before me!” Thus no one remained with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. He cried in a loud voice. Egypt heard and Pharaoh’s household heard. And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him because they were let disconcerted before him. Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come close to me, if you please,” and they came close. And he said, “I am Joseph your brother — it is me, whom you sold into Egypt. And now, be not distressed, nor reproach yourselves for having sold me here, for it was to be a provider that God sent me ahead of you. For this has been two of the hunger years in the midst of the land, and there are yet five years in which there shall be neither plowing nor harvest. Thus God has sent me ahead of you to insure your survival in the land and to sustain you for a momentous deliverance. And now: it was not you who sent me here, but God; He has made me father to Pharaoh, master of his entire household, and ruler throughout the entire land of Egypt.
In this holiday season which is often full of awkward social interactions and tense meet ups with family I am encouraged to know that nothing that happens over my holiday vacation will be this dramatic. I am also encouraged that Joseph’s read on the situation was positive and spoke of God’s goodness and control in the situation, not the brother’s malice and sin. The brothers did pretty much everything they could to break up their family, but God restores it and in the process enables Joseph to be in a place where he is able to save countless lives.
I think that the Joseph narrative is a great place to be reading in the Bible this time of year as we are celebrating the miracle of the victory at Hanukkah and as we are celebrating the birth of Messiah. When people are in control we choose disobedience and we choose power for ourselves and we choose to hurt others. And God brings restoration, hope, and promise for the future into the messes that we create.
I want to close this week with verses from Isaiah 11:1-4, 9. Some of you might have come across these verses in the Advent season, but I think that they pair really well with the story of Joseph and God’s restoration. These verses are about promise of the Messiah who was to come (Jesus or Yeshua) and how he will change everything.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him– the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of might, the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord– and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.
They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.
“For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea!” What an amazing promise. What hope that gives me and I hope gives you. Joseph saw God’s hand at work even in the midst of his struggles and even in the midst of heartache inflicted on him by his loved ones. Yeshua came into the world to restore all things and during his time on earth was rejected and mistreated. But, we can look forward to a day when the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. I hope these reminders of God’s goodness and sovereignty are an encouragement to you and pray that you would see God’s hand at work in the midst of your current circumstances.
Happy Hanukkah. Merry Christmas. Shabbat Shalom Camp Gilgal!