This passage from Genesis is where you’ll find the story of the Tower of Babel, which is a tale that explains why there are so many different languages on earth. There are varying opinions on whether this story is a historical retelling of the actual event or a fable meant to teach an important lesson. Either way, the story in Genesis presents a people who continue to attempt to be like God––the same temptation that led to the eating of the fruit in the garden (Genesis 3)––and as a result, experience further division due to their sinful desires. As we touched upon in our main section, the reason this story is so important to us is because the Holy Spirit’s first act was to undo and repair the divisive damage of the fall. The Holy Spirit came to continue the work of transformation and repair that which Jesus started. As an agent of unity, the Holy Spirit overcomes the barriers, like language, that divide people, so that we may begin to unite around the good news of Jesus Christ.
Genesis 15:1-12, 17-18
In this reading from Genesis, we witness a textbook example of God’s plan for a life that is undermined by a lack of faith. God promised Abram (later renamed Abraham) that he would father a nation as numerous as the stars in the sky. Yet Abram got impatient and, in an effort to take control of the production of said nation, colluded with his wife and slept with her maidservant. In other words, God’s plan for Abram’s life was far greater than he could imagine, and therefore, he chose to settle for a life that he could control. This is the same barrier that we face as we consider pursuing the life that God has for us. The question is: will we seek control, or will we seek Christ?
You’ve probably heard of our main character before, and rightfully so. Joseph and his multi-colored coat have inspired generations of young Christian kids all over the globe. His story found at the end of Genesis is truly an amazing tale. It spans from Genesis 37- 50 and recounts the story of an obedient God-reliant man who, through patience and trust in God, goes from being sold into slavery by his brothers to being the second in command of Egypt, one of the greatest civilizations of ancient times. Joseph’s story is so inspiring because God is present with him through all of the high and low points of his life. If you haven’t had a chance to read through it, consider brewing yourself a cup of tea, carving out thirty minutes, and reading it all the way through. I promise that it is worth it. In the meantime, let’s talk a bit about the moment in which we find ourselves this week and discuss the lessons of faith that we can learn from both Joseph and his brothers.
When the scene opens in verse 3, Joseph is reintroducing himself to his brothers. As we can see from the rest of the text, they are a bit awestruck and speechless. In fact, they don’t actually respond to him until the end of verse 15. This is a huge moment for Joseph and his brothers. To fully understand the gravitas of this moment, there is a bit of backstory to be considered. First, Joseph is the eleventh son of Jacob. The same Jacob that wrestled with God and was renamed Israel. Jacob had twelve sons, and he unabashedly loved Joseph the most. This is where the beautiful coat of many colors comes in. Just in case the obvious preferential treatment wasn’t enough to rile his brothers up, Joseph had a couple of dreams that he decided to share with everyone, and they pushed his brothers to the breaking point. In response to his dreams, Joseph’s brothers assaulted him, sold him into slavery, and told Jacob that Joseph had been killed by wild animals, which they faked by slaughtering a goat and dipping Joseph’s coat in the blood. This is where the storyline splits and Joseph spends roughly twenty-three years apart from his family. For Joseph, the first thirteen years are spent in servitude and prison before he is elevated to the right hand of the pharaoh for about a decade before we catch back up again with his brothers. What brings them back together again? A famine. A drought that was so bad that the brothers had to go and beg for food from the Egyptians and, unbeknownst to them, their brother.
As you might imagine, this big reveal is a very emotional ordeal that was most likely fraught with guilt, confusion, and relief. When you can sit down and read through the story in less than an hour, it’s hard to remember the amount of time that they all spent coming to terms with the atrocity that was committed against Joseph. When the frustration and hate of the brothers met with the grief and depression that came from losing a son, I would imagine that it didn’t take long for regret to seep into the lives of the aggressors. As Joseph spent years in a prison cell, rehashing the events that had brought him to that place, I would imagine he was faced with dark thoughts of revenge and betrayal that he had to work through. While we are joining in on this story near its end, we have to remember that, just like in our lives and the lives of those we share moments with every day, the present moment is deeply entwined with the past. This truth is integral to understanding the lessons that this piece of scripture holds for us.
When we look at Joseph, we see a kind man with a renewed purpose who extends unwarranted forgiveness to his brothers. In verse 5, we see that Joseph has come to understand the reason for his fraught past in a new way. He doesn’t blame his brothers for what they did. Rather, his identity is grounded in the ways that God was at work in his life. It wasn’t about their sin, but rather God’s plan. We will talk about this a bit more in the further readings section, but it is important to remember that the twenty-three years that Joseph spent relying on God contributes significantly to his response. The internal work of discipleship has external impacts on those around us.
When we realize the depth of forgiveness that the brothers experience at this moment, it is easy to understand their silence. We can only imagine the thoughts of disbelief and guilt that they must have felt. Personally, I can’t help but wonder how long it took them to realize that God used their original sin to ultimately save their lives. When they beat their brother up and sold him off, just to be rid of him, they could have never imagined what God had in store. The redemption and salvation that we see in this story can only be attributed to the goodness of God.
From Joseph, we learn the power of obedience and trust in God which leads to relationship. The truth is that our relationship with God changes us. It changes the way that we think about ourselves and the way that we think about others. It helps us to become less focused on our social standing and more focused on caring for, loving, and forgiving others. From the brothers, we learn the depth of forgiveness that we too have received through Christ. In our own ways, each of us has committed significant sins against our brothers and sisters. The first step to recovering from those sins is to name them and to recognize that we have been forgiven. Only then can we go about rebuilding. By the way, a bit of a spoiler for those who haven’t yet finished the book of Genesis: Joseph and his family are reconciled, and their families live and flourish together until his last days. Joseph’s story shows us a picture of God’s faithfulness, measured in moments but fully seen over the course of a lifetime.