HOPE CHAPEL - Sunday, May 2, 2021
Teaching Series - “Our Family Tree–Through the Bible in 2021"
Weekly Topic - “God’s Great Reversal”
Text – Genesis 39-50
In our journey through the Old Testament, we have come to the place where Joseph, the favourite son of Jacob, is sold by his brothers to some Midianites, who then sell him as a slave in Egypt. Those of us who know this story from Sunday school days, know that Joseph will be reunited with his family and will be made second in command of all Egypt. …And they all lived happily ever after. The end. However, when we begin to put the timeline together, this neat little story is given a whole new perspective!
Joseph was first purchased by Potiphar who recognizes how his household has been blessed by the addition of this young slave and he eventually puts him in charge of everything…aside from planning his meals. But Potiphar isn’t the only one who takes notice of this good-looking young man. Potiphar’s wife develops quite an obsession—she wants to treat him like a sexual play toy—but Joseph adamantly refuses. In her indignation over being repeatedly rejected, she lies and accuses Joseph of trying to rape her. Her enraged and disgraced husband, sends Joseph to prison.
While in prison, the prison warden recognizes, too, how everything within Joseph’s care is blessed and puts him in charge of all the other prisoners and all the workings of the jail. At some point while in prison, Joseph interprets the dreams of two of Pharaoh’s staff who have fallen out of favour and his interpretations prove true. Two years later, Pharaoh himself has dreams that disturb him and the staff—the cupbearer who had been reinstated as Joseph had said—tells the king of this young man who could interpret dreams. Pharaoh has Joseph brought from the prison, who after hearing the king’s dreams, is able to interpret them and suggests a plan of action. It is at this point that Joseph is elevated to second in command over all of Egypt…and we gain comfort from his story that God obviously had a plan all along.
But have you ever taken the time to calculate how much time passed between Joseph’s enslavement to his elevation? Joseph spent thirteen years of his life first as a slave and then as a wrongfully accused prisoner. Thirteen years or in other words somewhere in the margin of 4,745 days! Thirteen years to not know why God was allowing these unjust circumstances. Thirteen years during which time Joseph quite probably wrestled with bouts of depression, wavering between faithfulness and doubt, desperately pleading with God to tell him why but being met with silence. Thirteen years—the blink of an eye for God, but a potential eternity for Joseph who had to endure it!
Joseph’s life contained incredible highs and lows. By piecing the Scripture together, we know that Joseph received his father’s gift of an ornate coat at the age of seventeen (Genesis 37:2-3). Shortly thereafter, he is sold into slavery by his jealous brothers; he is called into the courts to serve as the second-in-command over all Egypt at the age of thirty (Genesis 41:46). By the age of 37, he is well established in his position in Egypt, is married and has two sons (Genesis 41:50-51). At the age of 39, he reveals himself to his brothers and invites them to take up residence in the land of Goshen (Genesis 45:3-6). At the age of 66, his father Jacob would die, and once again his brothers reveal their unresolved fear of Joseph—fear that now that their father was no longer around, he would finally take out his revenge (Genesis 50:14-21).
His brothers had lived with the ‘secret’ of their treachery for 22 years…all the time blaming anything bad that happened as punishment for having sold Joseph into slavery. So, despite the seventeen years of having the secret outed, they still feared reprisal. They offer to become Joseph’s slaves in an attempt to sway him from killing them. Joseph is deeply wounded by their offer. He weeps…for the passing of his father…for his brothers’ fear and distrust…for the lack of true restoration and harmony that he had been hoping for. I truly feel for Joseph as he grieves for an acceptance by his brothers that he has not experienced still, almost fifty years after being sold as a slave.
We could spend months unpacking all the various lessons that we could learn from the life of Joseph, but this morning I have chosen to highlight a couple of things that we can learn with regard to how we should understand the hardships in life that we all experience. Like Joseph’s brothers, we often assume that hardship is brought on as God’s punishment for sin. At one point in the story the brothers are getting panicky, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us” (Genesis 42:21). While it is true that our suffering or difficulties in life can be the result of self-inflicted consequences for disobedience, that is far too simplistic an understanding of why we experience hardships as we will see from these chapters in Genesis.
For starters, we must consider Joseph’s hardships. His thirteen years of enslavement and imprisonment were as a direct result of sin…but not his own! His hardships were not of his own making, but rather the result of his father’s favouritism, his brothers’ murderous jealousy and the lustful desire and false accusation of Potiphar’s wife. So, here’s a question for us to consider. How are we to understand the hardships that are experienced by the innocent?
EXPERIENCING HARDSHIP FOR THE SAKE OF OTHERS – Genesis 45:3-8
“I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. 4 “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. 5 But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. 6 This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. 7 God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. 8 So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt.”
In the twenty-two years that transpire between being sold into slavery and when Joseph declares himself to his brothers, he is able to find some satisfaction for his earlier difficulties. The brothers had intended harm, but God had orchestrated the events of Joseph’s life to unfold as they did for their ultimate salvation. Joseph suffered, so that others might be saved. In our modern thinking, we might not so easily accept this. We argue against the unfairness of it all. Couldn’t God have saved them another way? We recoil at the idea that God would allow Joseph to suffer for the benefit of others. Would God, too, ever make us suffer in a similar fashion—not for any fault of our own, but for the benefit of another?
But before we slam down the gavel for judgement against God let’s not forget one very important thing. If nothing else, Joseph’s story should remind us how unfair it is for us to experience salvation through the hardship brought on to another innocent—God himself, Jesus, put to death on a cross, not for himself, but solely for our benefit…
Here’s another thought that came to me as I was preparing for today…perhaps God’s allowing Joseph to be sold and then imprisoned, actually were of benefit to Joseph, too, by protecting him from both his brothers’ hatred and from Potiphar’s wife’s seduction. Both situations presented obstacles that Joseph could not have countered on his own—far outnumbered by his brothers and lacking the status to resist his master’s wife. And wherever Joseph finds himself, Scripture makes it clear that he was never abandoned.
God blessed all his work and the promotions were quick in coming—first from Potiphar who put him in charge of his whole house as a slave; next by the prison warden who put him in charge of the running of the jail and all the prisoners as a prisoner himself; then finally from Pharaoh who made him second in command over the whole country as a foreigner (Genesis 39:1-6, 19-23, 41:37-40).
It’s also interesting to note Joseph’s response. He appears not to waver in his efforts to do his best. He gives credit to God for being able to interpret dreams (Genesis 41:14-16, 28-32). And while he appears to struggle with himself when his brothers first come back into his life, just over twenty years after condemning him to slavery, during the months that follow he is able to embrace them with open arms and invites the whole family to come and live in Egypt as his guests (Genesis 45:12-15).
While we may resist the idea, Joseph’s story does teach us that the hardships we experience may be for the benefit of others as well as our own; however, even so, we can know God’s presence and blessing, as we continue to live in obedience regardless of difficulties.
But there are other reasons for hardship. We see that God was most definitely at work to relocate Jacob and his family to Egypt, but it took some persuading to get Jacob to see it. What Jacob considered the worst possible scenario, was in fact God’s good plan! After they had visited Egypt once, the families’ food situation again became desperate. Joseph (still unknown to his brothers) had made it clear that they were not to return unless they brought his youngest brother with them—only then would they see their brother Simeon released from prison and be able to buy more food. Jacob, who had earlier refused any thought of allowing Benjamin to go to Egypt with his brothers, thereby condemning Simeon to an Egyptian prison, is now facing probable starvation along with his whole family if he doesn’t change his mind.
ALLOWING GOD TO GUIDE US THROUGH HARDSHIPS – Genesis 43:1-14
“But the famine continued to ravage the land of Canaan. 2 When the grain they had brought from Egypt was almost gone, Jacob said to his sons, “Go back and buy us a little more food.”
3 But Judah said, “The man was serious when he warned us, ‘You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.’ 4 If you send Benjamin with us, we will go down and buy more food. 5 But if you don’t let Benjamin go, we won’t go either. Remember, the man said, ‘You won’t see my face again unless your brother is with you.’”
6 “Why were you so cruel to me?” Jacob[a] moaned. “Why did you tell him you had another brother?” 7 They replied, “The man kept asking us questions about our family. He asked, ‘Is your father still alive? Do you have another brother?’ So we answered his questions. How could we know he would say, ‘Bring your brother down here’?”
8 Judah said to his father, “Send the boy with me, and we will be on our way. Otherwise we will all die of starvation—and not only we, but you and our little ones. 9 I personally guarantee his safety. You may hold me responsible if I don’t bring him back to you. Then let me bear the blame forever. 10 If we hadn’t wasted all this time, we could have gone and returned twice by now.”
11 So their father, Jacob, finally said to them, “If it can’t be avoided, then at least do this. Pack your bags with the best products of this land. Take them down to the man as gifts—balm, honey, gum, aromatic resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Also take double the money that was put back in your sacks, as it was probably someone’s mistake. 13 Then take your brother, and go back to the man. 14 May God Almighty give you mercy as you go before the man, so that he will release Simeon and let Benjamin return. But if I must lose my children, so be it.”
God does not ‘force’ us against our freewill, but he will permit circumstances to persuade and direct us. In this case, God was allowing hardship through the possible starvation of his whole family, to help change Jacob’s mind. God wanted to give him a wonderful gift—the salvation of his family and to restore Joseph to him—but Jacob couldn’t even begin to fathom God’s intentions. If Jacob had known and could have seen God’s greater plan, he wouldn’t have hesitated, but Jacob had not learned to trust God as his grandfather Abraham had; despite seeing God face to face and speaking with him on numerous occasions, Jacob still relied far too heavily on his own ability to solve his problems. God knew that nothing short of this incredible hardship would cause Jacob to budge.
Once Jacob gave way and quit trying to have any control over the situation, things fell quickly into place. The next time he sees his eleven sons, they are bringing wagons, donkeys loaded down with provisions, an invitation to relocate to Egypt to wait out the famine and, most shocking of all, word that his favourite son, Joseph, still lives and has become second in command over all of Egypt. The hardship that forced his hand has now produced his rescue from starvation and reunion with his son whom he thought long dead over two decades earlier.
How does Joseph’s story relate to us?
UNDERSTANDING OUR HARDSHIP @ Hope Chapel
Our congregation is currently facing a crisis of sorts and I can’t help but see some parallels in Joseph and his family’s story to our own.
With few exceptions, we are all new to this congregation named Hope Chapel, the majority of us having begun attending together within the past five years. When Pastor Tim and Jackie accepted the role of pastor couple here in Collingwood, they stepped into a dying church. Denominational leadership had advised the church to close up, but members of the congregation were determined to see it continue. Since beginning to attend this church in the fall of 2016, I have seen God do some things which have been nothing short of miraculous.
So many good things have happened during that time—organizing and clean-up of our building and administration; Youth for Christ’s relocation to the church; greater partnership amongst the Collingwood churches, with our building serving as a catalyst for ministry to high school students; the development of a strong-knit community that has survived our need to go online and the relocation of many of our family and friends for health, work and retirement reasons.
Of course, we know it hasn’t all been easy. We have seen significant conflict. We have also seen God shifting us. I believe that he has been using hardship to get our attention and to cause us to change. And we have begun the process. I have also seen God’s blessing in the midst of our hardship—brought about in large part by our small, but willing group to serve God in the ways he makes available. God is allowing us to experience financial hardship at present—hardship that can bring about benefit to others as we seek to move beyond our four walls; hardship that can cause us to give way to our need to control and allow God to put his plan together; hardship that is not a punishment for wrong-doing, but is rather moving us in the direction of his choosing.
What might God be trying to teach us and in what ways might he be trying to lead us? Do we need to have greater faith in our ‘right on time’ God—never late, but never early either? Do we need greater generosity and consistency in our offerings to him for his work being done in and through Hope Chapel? Do we need to release an unsustainable financial burden and make way for God to do the unimaginable and astounding, even by relocating us to a whole new way of being Hope Chapel?
My encouragement for us today is to be like Joseph
· quick to acknowledge God
· resolute to give our best effort
· willing to embrace others, even those who have caused us harm
· quick to acknowledge that we don’t have all the answers and need God’s help if we are going to experience God’s great reversal
· Pray. Pray. Pray!
· and follow his leading…wherever it may take us
It may take time—just as it took 22 years before Joseph was able to reveal himself to his brothers. Will we trust God to do what only God can do? Will we look for his opportunities in whichever path he leads us? I hope your answer is a resounding ‘Yes, Lord’ just as mine has been!
Sunday, May 9, 2021- “A Baby Is Born” (Exodus 1-2:10) - ONLINE Only
Happy Mother’s Day!
Pastor Jane Peck, Hope Chapel
(Collingwood EMCC Church)
"Learning and Living the Way of Jesus!"
First licensed for pastoral ministry in 1994, Pastor Jane Peck has served in camp and church ministries in three denominations, five provinces and in a variety of roles. Her most recent position is that of Pastor at Hope Chapel which she began in 2020. She is excited to see what God can and will do in the days to come!