Lectionary Reading Genesis 37:1-4, 12-28
I have never attended a church that used a lectionary to govern the weekly scripture reading and sermon but Rachel Held Evans invited everyone to blog once a week on one of the lectionary readings and I thought I would give it a try.
This week, it is the story of Joseph’s brothers selling him into the slavery which eventually landed him in Egypt. According to verses 3 and 4, Joseph’s brothers hated him because their father loved him more than all the others. The famed varicolored tunic along with other things just added to their hatred. Joseph was the child of his old age and the son of his favorite wife. I would like to look at the two main characters in this reading, Joseph and Reuben.
Reuben was Jacob’s firstborn and as such, should have inherited the responsibility as head of the family upon Jacob’s death. He should have been the one the other brothers looked to for leadership. Earlier in the book, we saw Simeon and Levi murder every male in a village, the other brothers coming behind to loot. Reuben did not provide any leadership there. Jacob was sorely displeased with his boys but they took little notice. Reuben had also slept with his father’s concubine as a sign of defiance of his father’s authority.
Apparently, Reuben’s conscience did engage when it came to the thought of killing one of his brothers though, one of his blood. Reuben suggested that they just toss him in a pit with no water and let him die of his own accord. Reuben secretly thought to come back later to rescue Joseph. Unfortunately for both Reuben and Joseph, Judah suggested they make some money from him and sell him as a slave. (This is the Judah that became the ancestor of the Lord Jesus Christ.) Evidently, they did this while Reuben was not around because in verse 29, Reuben returned to the pit to retrieve Joseph and he was not there. What if Reuben had had the courage to say and do the right thing the first time against the prevailing hatred of the others? If he had said to his brothers, “No, this is wrong; we will not cause harm to our brother,” their father would have been saved many years of pain and heartache.
Please don’t say that if Reuben had prevented the deed, Joseph would not have been in place to take care of his family in Egypt. That serves to justify the actions of the brothers. God always wants us to do right in every situation. God’s providence and care are not dependent on our actions or inactions, right or wrong.
The first thing we learn about Joseph is that at the age of seventeen, he pastured flocks with his half-brothers, the sons of the concubines, and gave a bad report of them to their father. Later, Jacob sends Joseph out to check on his brothers and the flocks, wearing his beautiful varicolored tunic. The verses not included in the reading tell of Joseph’s two dreams that his brothers, father, and mother would bow down to him. His father rebuked him for this but remembered the dream.
The entire story of Joseph gives us to believe that Joseph was a righteous follower of God, that he told these dreams in all innocence without any pride or pomposity. But how did these dreams, his coming out to check on his brothers, his very visual sign of his father’s favoritism, and his reporting on his brothers come across to them? Am I saying that their crime against him was his own doing or that he deserved it? No, I am not. All parents should be aware of the effects of favoritism and do everything in their power to prevent sibling animosity so Jacob bears some blame here. But, my main point is that we can say things or do things innocently without ever having a thought that the attitude that comes across is not the attitude we are feeling; but that attitude that comes across can be just as devastating as if it were real. I challenge you to ask your friends and family what attitudes you exude.
I pray that we all will have the courage to do right at the first opportunity because we may not always get that second chance to make it right and that we will have the courage to examine how we present ourselves to the world as Christians.