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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Saturday, August 12, 2017

Today’s Scripture Reading | Genesis 37:1–4, 12–28

Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. This is the story of the family of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” He answered, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron. He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said; “tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” The man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt. (NRSV)

Sibling rivalry is a visceral experience, as any of us who have had the opportunity to grow up with sisters and brothers can testify. In today’s verses we get a memorable look at sibling relationships in Jacob’s family, focused on Joseph, the favored youngest son of the patriarch.

In expressive narrative, details help move the story line along and enrich our understanding. One specific factor that I had missed on earlier readings is that Joseph was a tattler, telling on his half-brothers, fueling the fires of sibling rivalry in the complicated family of Jacob and the several mothers of his children.

Then there is the fancy robe with sleeves that Joseph receives from his father (perhaps with many colors as well). Resentment reverberates among his brothers, furthered by the fact that while they are off in the fields, tending the sheep 24/7, Joseph is back at home with dear old dad.

What’s more, Joseph was a dreamer. And in the verses not included in our devotional reading, we learn the provocative (and prophetic) character of his dreams, with his brothers and even his father and mother bowing down to Joseph. Of course, Joseph shares his dreams. No wonder his brothers scheme to kill this dreamer!

Yet when Reuben, the eldest sibling, learns of their plans, he steps in to try and protect Joseph, only to have passing circumstances take matters out of his hands. Joseph’s brothers eased their consciences, selling him into slavery to some traveling Midianite traders.

In ironic fashion, out of this shadowy, very human story, the stage is set for the future of Jacob’s dysfunctional family. We will have to read on to discover just how the narrative unfolds.

God who travels with us on our life journeys, we thank you for the very human stories of our faithful forebears. Help us glimpse you at work in our lives, our life together in the household of faith and with all your people who journey with us toward your promised realm. Amen.

Written by Jeff Doane, Parish Associate for Older Adults

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