Summary: One of the great challenges in life is to deal with opposition and the knowledge that not everyone likes us. There are other experiences that are very hard for us to deal with and one of them is when we experience a sense of abandonment. It is then that t
Have you ever had the feeling that things were not going your way? That it was going to be a "bad hair" day and not much else was going to go well either? Robert Orben(1) was quoted as saying, "Sometimes I get the feeling the whole world is against me, but deep down I know that’s not true. Some of the smaller countries are neutral."
One of the great challenges in life is to deal with opposition and the knowledge that not everyone likes us. There are other experiences that are very hard for us to deal with and one of them is when we experience a sense of abandonment. It is then that the "pit of our stomach" ties us in knots as we cry and cry without any relief.
During WWII six Navy pilots left their aircraft carrier on a mission. After searching the seas for enemy submarines, they tried to return to their ship shortly after dark. But the captain had ordered a blackout of all lights on the ship. Over and over the frantic pilots radioed, asking for just one light so they could see to land. But the pilots were told that the blackout could not be lifted. After several appeals and denials of their request, the ship’s operator turned the switch to break radio contact--and the pilots were forced to ditch in the ocean.(2)
Abandonment is but one of the many things that the "pit knows" in our story about Joseph from the reading in Genesis this morning. The story of Joseph is a major story in the Old Testament. There are twenty chapters devoted to it in Genesis, rivaling the story of Abraham in length. It has been described by biblical scholars as a novella, or short novel, with its subplots and intrigue.
Summarizing this story is difficult. Part of the intrigue comes from the history and character of Joseph’s father, Israel. Before his name was changed to Israel, he was called Jacob, the youngest son of Isaac, son of Abraham. Jacob is the one who tricked his nearly blind father and stole Isaac’s blessing from Esau, the older brother. To get him away from Esau his mother, Rebecca, sent him to Midian to find a wife. Asking to marry Laban’s daughter, Rachel, Jacob works seven years to provide a dowry and is deceived when he discovers he just married Leah, the firstborn. So, he works another seven year for Rachel. Leah bears him ten sons, but Rachel does not bear a child for many years.
Reuben is the firstborn of Leah, and Joseph is the first born of Rachel. Reuben scandalized the family and lost the blessing and affection of his father, Jacob now called Israel, when he slept with one of his father’s concubines. One might get the impression that this was a dysfunctional family. In fact I’ve read that most of us have some dysfunctional elements in parts of our family experiences. I think that some TV shows and movies have borrowed from these narratives and just changed the names and settings to make it seem like a recent story. Of course, they leave out the part about relating to and serving God, while working through failures and sin.
As I was saying earlier, Reuben messed up by what he did and his father did not forget it. In fact it seems that Israel made a decision probably after Joseph was bar mitzvahed at age 12 to give his blessing to Joseph in place of the elder Reuben. The scripture tells us that Joseph had some dreams that were vivid and were about sheaves bowing down to him. He told the dream to his brothers and his father. The brothers were angry with him and felt that he was not only spoiled, but he was arrogant too.
There was little affection among the brothers for Joseph who seemed to get all of his father’s affection. In fact Israel had a special coat made for Joseph. It has been called a robe of many colors or a robe with sleeves. Its intent was to be a robe of distinction, however it was made. And it was perceived to be that by the brothers. Some scholars suggest that this was Israel’s outward announcement to the family that Joseph was the one who would receive his blessing. Stir that into the festering pit of jealousy, resentment and rejection.
Israel seems oblivious to the dysfunction in his own family and its consequences. So, one day the brothers are out tending their father’s herd of sheep. Joseph didn’t do that kind of work. Israel wants to know if the boys are doing all right and how the herd is doing. He decides to send Joseph to go find them and bring back a report to his dad.