Tag Archives: family drama

How one family’s drama was healed – Characters: Joseph, Part 5

1 Nov

In this Characters installment, we have been following the family drama in the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel. His is a story of extremes. Joseph lost his mother in childhood, but was his father’s favorite. His father loved him, but his brothers hated him. He had dreams from God about how he would rule over his brothers, but they sold him into slavery. Purchased as a slave by an Egyptian official, Potiphar, God was with Joseph, and he rose in favor with Potiphar, but was treated horribly by Potiphar’s wife. So Potiphar has Joseph jailed, but there rises in favor with the warden. When he interprets the king’s dream, through God’s empowerment, the king releases Joseph from prison and makes him second in command of all Egypt. Finally, it seems Joseph’s fortunes are settling into a good extreme. Then his brothers show up in Egypt, but now they don’t know Joseph is the governor. Shocked, emotional, Joseph throws them in prison, but eventually shows them a courageous act of mercy, giving them the grain they had come to purchase because the land was in a severe famine.

What happens next?

We learn in Genesis 43 that back in Canaan, Joseph’s brothers and father and family have eaten all the grain Joseph sent back with them. The famine has not let up, and they need more food. That means another trip to Egypt. But Joseph has thrown his family into turmoil because he said that if they come back to Egypt they must bring their youngest brother who had remained behind on their first trip.  You know who that other brother was?  His full brother Benjamin.  You can imagine that Joseph would really want to see Benjamin, the only brother with whom he shared both mother and father.  Their father, Jacob, however, loves Benjamin deeply, as he was Jacob’s only remaining connection to their mother, his wife Rachel whom he loved more than his other wives.  Jacob, for this reason, had not allowed Benjamin to go on the first trip to Egypt to get food.  Now Joseph has forced his hand, so Jacob concedes and sends Benjamin.  That brings us to Genesis 43:15. 

There we learn that once his brothers arrive in Egypt Joseph now invites them to his house. When Joseph sees his brother Benjamin, once again he is overwhelmed with emotion and has to leave the room.  When he finally composes himself, they have dinner together, but remember that his brothers still have no idea who Joseph is. They think he is just an eccentric governor of Egypt, who also holds their fate in his hands, because he is the one who can approve their purchase of more food.  Still toying with them, as he did on their first trip, Joseph seats them in order of age, which they think is an astounding coincidence.  He also gives Benjamin five times as much food as the others!  I bet Joseph had a hard time keeping from laughing as he watched them talking about this.

Joseph’s trickery continues through all of chapter 44, where he contrives to make it seem like they were trying to steal from him, and they are more distraught than ever.  Some scholars believe that in playing all these games with them, Joseph is shepherding his brothers to repentance.  Maybe.  It’s hard to know.  He plays quite an extensive ruse on them.  The games reach a high point at the end of chapter 44 when Joseph, having set them up as thieves, declares that their punishment is that Benjamin must stay behind, while the rest return to Canaan.  His brother Judah makes an impassioned plea for himself to stay behind in prison rather than Benjamin.  Perhaps that humility and sacrifice in Judah was the turning point for Joseph.

Turn to Genesis 45:1-8, and read Joseph’s amazing response.

Joseph can’t handle the ruse anymore.  He explodes in emotion and reveals himself as Joseph, the brother they sold into slavery 20 years before.  His brothers are terrified and shocked.

But as Joseph keeps talking, he describes the events of the last 20 years in a surprising way. He could be bitter, angry, and vengeful. Instead he says that God sent him into Egypt ahead of them, to save their family.  Joseph looks at all the years of pain and suffering and sees God’s faithfulness. 

Even in deep family drama, there is hope and redemption and forgiveness possible.  Even through the worst circumstances, even through our bad choices, God can and does use us when we make ourselves available to be used, like Joseph, to see our pain through God’s eyes.

Genesis 45 concludes in a beautiful fashion.  Look at verses 12-15.  The brothers are all reconciled, and what’s more, Joseph and the King Pharaoh invite Joseph’s whole extended family to move to Egypt and survive the famine.  And that is what happens.  Their father Jacob, now called Israel, moves his whole family to Egypt. 

Fast forward with me to Genesis 50:15.  The years have gone by and Joseph’s father Jacob has recently passed away. Joseph and his brothers keep Jacob’s wishes that they return his body to Canaan.  After doing so, they return to their homes in Egypt.  With Jacob dead, though, Joseph’s brothers fear that Joseph will now finally take revenge on them for what they had done to him all those years before.  Look at Joseph’s response in verse 20.

Amazing.  He continues to see God at work.  All these years later, the wounds of the past are healed.  Sometimes it takes time, repeated affirmation, especially when the wounds are deep.  Forgiving 70×7 as Jesus taught in Matthew 18 can mean that we have to forgive an offense multiple times because the hurt just keeps coming back.

There were many ups and downs in Joseph’s life.  Trials, temptations, jail-time. But when he was close to God, though the circumstances didn’t necessarily change, he clearly saw God at work. 

God is at work for redemption of what is broken.  Even when we are wounded and feeling lots of deep emotion about pain that people have caused us, we can pursue healing and reconciliation. That’s what God specializes in.  Maybe it seems like God isn’t there.  It can often feel that way.  Keep pursuing him. 

What is broken in your life that you need to take a step toward healing?

How to respond to family drama – Characters: Joseph, Part 4

31 Oct

How do you respond to family drama? Roll your eyes? Frustration? Anger? Weeping? It is particularly difficult when it is the kind of family drama that has hurt you. When your family has betrayed you, the pain can go so deep. Have you ever experienced that? What should you do? How should you respond?

In this series of posts on another character from the history of ancient Israel, we have been following the family drama in the life of Joseph. If you’re reading this post first, I encourage you to go back to Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3 to see how intense the drama actually was. Or you can read the story starting in Genesis 37. Joseph had one difficult hurdle after another, but finally, as God has been faithful all along, Joseph is now the second in command of all Egypt. While Joseph’s life has gone, literally, from the pit to the palace, the family drama that started off all the pain (and led to the pit) was never resolved. At the end of Genesis 41, we learned that while Joseph was now enjoying a new family of his own, and while his family drama was decades in the past, he still thought about it. It still hurt. And it was about to walk through his door.

Genesis 42 changes the scene from Joseph’s palace to Joseph’s father and brothers in Canaan who are dealing with the famine that came on the land. They run out of food and agree to go to Egypt where they hear plenty of food is for sale.    

They travel to Egypt where Joseph, as governor of Egypt, is the one responsible for selling grain to people.  He recognizes his brothers right away, but they don’t recognize him!  Of course not, right?  Who would ever expect that the 17 year old brother they sold into slavery all those years earlier is now the governor of the nation of Egypt?  Scholars believe at least 20 years had passed, so his appearance would have changed.  Also Joseph would be wearing Egyptian clothing, and verse 23 tells us he was speaking through an interpreter.  They had no idea this regal man speaking a foreign language was their brother. 

So Joseph toys with them, accusing them of being spies, throwing them in prison for three days.  Then as he overhears them arguing amongst themselves, blaming each other for this calamity because of what they did to him all those years earlier, Joseph can’t handle it emotionally.

Look at Genesis 42:24.  He weeps.  There is clearly lots of feeling going on inside Joseph at this surprising turn of events.  The whole situation is odd.  It is dramatic, for sure.  But why did Joseph toy with them?  For fun?  Well it clearly wasn’t fun, for them or him.  Why didn’t Joseph immediately reveal who he was and make things right? 

Perhaps he was shocked to see them.  If you look at Genesis 42:6-7, it seems that he is totally surprised.  This is unexpected.  You know how awkward you feel when a blast from the past enters your life?  Could be a high school flame.  Could be a person with whom you had a falling out many years before.  Someone you haven’t talked to in a long time.  And now you finally meet.  It is super uncomfortable, right?  Often you just want to get away, get out of there, and you might start physically shaking with nervousness, and all these strange unusual emotions come over you.  You don’t act rationally.

I think Joseph was dealing with at least some of that!  He reacts, and what comes out might be a bit of anger or revenge.  Yet there is mercy too.  In Genesis 42:25, for example, he loads them up with grain.  He could have said, “No way,” to their request for food.  He could have revealed himself, told Pharaoh what these guys did to him 20 years before, and Pharaoh could have easily disposed of them.  What Joseph does, though, in the middle of his emotion, is respond to family drama with an act of mercy. Mercy is when you have the power to punish but do not.  

We do not really know the motivation of his heart as to why he puts them through all that is to come.  Was he vengeful and ungracious? Or was he being wise and careful, having been hurt so bad by these guys previously? Whatever the motivation, what is clear is that Joseph gives them mercy. 

If you have been hurt, like Joseph was, by a close friend or family, what courageous act of mercy can you offer? It is scary, risky, and yet might be precisely what is needed to begin the healing process. It is wise to be cautious when you have been hurt. But in the caution, is there some act of mercy, even if it is small, that might start to decrease the drama?

Joseph’s interaction with his brothers is far from over. Check back in to Part 5 and we’ll learn where this leads.

When God is nowhere to be found – Characters: Joseph, Part 2

29 Oct
Photo by Brunel Johnson on Unsplash

Have you ever felt utterly alone and abandoned by your family, friends, and even by God? If so, you’re not alone. Maybe people hurt you. Maybe you made a bad choice. Maybe life turned out different from your hopes and dreams. There are many ways we can find ourselves in despair. Keep reading as our character for this week had a very similar situation in his life. There might be something helpful to you as you read his story.

In the previous post, we met 17 year old Joseph, and we learned that his family had a lot of drama, some of which seems to be his own doing. This is a blog series on Characters, people who lived in ancient Israel, people who were flawed and troubled, but people who God still used. At the conclusion of the previous post, Joseph had angered everyone in his family, including his father, who loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. The drama is about to get worse. Way worse.

As we continue the account in Genesis 37, verses 12-36, we read that Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers, and the brothers see this as an opportunity to vent their jealousy and hatred of Joseph, as he is far from home, from the watchful care of their father Jacob. They debate what to do, including killing Joseph, believe it or not, but the oldest, Reuben, intercedes, and they agree to kidnap Joseph and sell him into slavery.  In the process they take Joseph’s special coat, put blood from an animal on it, and give it back to their father Jacob, telling him Joseph had died. 

Imagine this experience from Joseph’s perspective.  17 years old.  Kidnapped by your brothers.  Sold into slavery.  That had to be horrible.  This is human trafficking, perpetrated by his own brothers. Imagine the darkness in Joseph’s soul.

How would this crisis have impacted Joseph?   Have you been through a crisis, a life-changing event?  It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Joseph’s, where he was kidnapped, and sold into slavery, betrayed by his own family.  But perhaps you can think of a difficult situation that happened in your life. 

Crisis can (and should) turn us to God. 

Crisis doesn’t always turn us to God.  Crisis sometimes makes us bitter.  Angry.  Harsh. 

How has crisis affected you?

It seems important at this point to note that something is missing in chapter 37.  Scan through the chapter.  It is a glaring omission.  What, or rather who, is missing?  God.  Not a single mention of God.  Not when Joseph is dreaming.  No mention when he is with his brothers.  And nothing about God when Joseph is sold into slavery.

I find it striking that God is nowhere to be found in this part of the story.

Hold that thought, as we see how crisis affected Joseph.

We’re going to skip over chapter 38, as that is a separate story.  Go to chapter 39 where the story of Joseph picks up.

We learn right away in Chapter 39 that a significant change has occurred in Joseph’s life.  Slave traders take him to Egypt where we meet Potiphar, one of the Egyptian King Pharoah’s officials, and Potiphar buys Joseph.  So a physical change has taken place as Joseph is far from home in a new land.  But there is a spiritual change as well.  Look who is mentioned in verse 2.  God is with Joseph, and Joseph prospered.  The Lord gives Joseph success in all he does. 

Back up with me a moment.  Think about all that Joseph has gone through.  I wish I could know if something changed in Joseph while he was in the hands of the slave traders.  The text doesn’t tell us.  But the presence and blessing of God in chapter 39 is quite striking when you consider the total absence of God in chapter 37.  Could it be that Joseph went through a dark inner struggle while he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery?

Did he wrestle with God like his father Jacob did, as we saw last week?  The text doesn’t tell us, but to me that is a possible explanation for the absence of God in chapter 37 and the presence of God in 39.  Also, God is faithful in our trials.  He is there.  He was always there, even when it didn’t seem like it.  Even when the circumstances don’t change, he is there. 

We don’t know how long Joseph was in the caravan of slave traders.  Weeks probably.  Maybe months.  But imagine being a 17 year old boy in that circumstance. Can you imagine all the emotions he’s got going on!  He was in a home where he knows he is the favorite and he is beloved, but he also knows and feels the hatred of his brothers on a regular basis. Then he is sold into slavery! I suspect he cried his heart out to God.  I suspect a change took place in Joseph’s relationship with God.  And God changed Joseph.  His identity became about who he was to God and not who he was to his father and to his brothers.  When we realize our identity in God, he is sufficient for us, even when the trials of life continue. 

We read that Joseph rises in favor in Potiphar’s estimation, as Joseph was very capable and blessed by God in all he did, so Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of his whole estate.  Because of this, God blessed Potiphar too. 

Then more trouble comes.  It’s like Joseph is a magnet for drama.  We read that Joseph is very handsome.  And Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him. Joseph’s response is amazing, showing the change that God has worked in him.   Look at Genesis chapter 39, verses 8-12.

Joseph refuses Potiphar’s wife’s advances saying, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?”  Here he shows his concern for purity, for following God’s ways.  Especially note verse 12 where he flees temptation.  Joseph is an amazing example for us in this.

But Potiphar’s wife is jilted and angry, and she lies to Potiphar, saying that Joseph initiated the advances on her.  Potiphar, angry, imprisons Joseph.  And yet what do we read in Genesis 39:21?  The Lord was with Joseph!  Basically the same thing happens in the prison as what happened in Potiphar’s house.  Joseph is put in charge, and God is with Joseph and blesses all he does.  But Joseph is still in jail.  So his circumstances are still difficult.  Just because Joseph is close to God and being obedient, he is still in prison.  Righteous living does not always mean that immediate results and rewards will come. When we find our identity in God, though, we find that we have all we need, even if our circumstances don’t change.

Do you have family drama? Characters – Joseph, Part 1

28 Oct

Family drama.  None of your families have drama, right?  Yeah, mine neither. 

(I hope you don’t believe that.)

Actually, family drama is the stuff of life. We all have it. 

Think about all the words we use to describe it.  Some of you might remember the classic line from the sitcom Friends, “We were on a break!”  Broken. It is a word that points to relationships that used to be close, but something happened.  It isn’t just boyfriends and girlfriends that break up.  It is sadly, also parents, kids, siblings. 

Another word commonly used to describe family drama is calling a person the black sheep.  Do you have black sheep in your family?  Have you ever been the black sheep?  Today we’re going to meet someone whose brothers treated him like a black sheep.   How did he handle it? 

We’ve started a series called Characters, looking at how God uses flawed people. This week we are looking at a guy named Joseph.

Last week we met Joseph’s father, Jacob.  We skimmed very quickly over the section where Joseph was born. Imagine with me for a minute what it would be like for Joseph to be born into his specific family.   He’s got 10 older brothers.  But they’re not all from the same mom. In fact, there are actually four moms in the family.  And all four moms live together in the same family!   That’s right, his father Jacob had four wives.  That’s called polygamy.  As I mentioned last week, polygamy happens in the Old Testament.  Not that God approves of it.  There it was in Joseph’s family.  What you need to know is that Joseph’s mom was Rachel, and of his father Jacob’s four wives, Rachel was Jacob’s first love and favorite.  Joseph was their first son.  Joseph also has a younger brother, Benjamin, but get this: during Benjamin’s birth, sadly, their mother Rachel dies.  That is family Joseph grows up in.  Imagine Joseph, growing up with no mom, a younger baby brother, three step moms (if you can call them that), 10 older half-brothers, and at least one half-sister in there too. And you think your family has issues!  Believe it or not, the drama is about to get even worse for Joseph.

If you want to follow along in your Bible, open it to Genesis 37.  In the beginning of chapter 37, we learn that Joseph is now 17 years old, and he is his father’s favorite son.  Why?  Well, remember that Jacob loved Joseph’s mom, Rachel, more than any of his other three wives, and Joseph was Rachel’s firstborn.  So even though Joseph has a whole bunch of older brothers, Jacob looks to Joseph as the special one.  He even gives Joseph a special cloak to wear. 

We often refer to this as the coat of many colors.  What kind of coat was this?  Rainbow colored?  Richly ornamented?  Likely, Joseph’s coat was long-sleeved and had skirts, which was not conducive for work, and thus a sign that he might have been exempted from work, or didn’t do much work.  His brothers had coats too, but theirs would have been short-sleeved, with no skirts, thus suitable for work. The special coat would normally have been given to the firstborn as sign of honor.  In this case Jacob gave the coat to his 11th born, and that’s a recipe for family drama.

In Genesis 37:2-11 we see numerous story elements that set up a great divide between Joseph and his brothers.  Read this passage and look for the family drama.

Did you see them?  I see four. 

First in verse 2, Joseph brings to his father a negative report about his brothers. He’s tattling!  And when the one who is younger and isn’t working tells on the older ones who are working, what happens?  Good feelings?

Next in verse 3 we read how their father Jacob (also named Israel) loved Joseph.  The brothers saw it.  I suspect most families have conversations where the children say to the parents, “So and so is your favorite,” and the parents disagree, of course.  In this case, it was obvious.  There was no disagreeing.

Third, in verse 4 we read that the brothers are very angry about Joseph being the favorite, even hating him. They were unable to speak to him on friendly terms. There was a lot of intense emotion.

Finally, and here is the kicker, look at verses 5-11 again.  Joseph has multiple dreams and he tells the dreams to his family explaining that they describe his superiority over his brothers and father.   None of them, including his father, are happy about this.

As I read this, I have to ask, was Joseph arrogant?  You know how a favorite child can own their favoritism and get a big head about it?  Is that happening inside Joseph?  Does the fact that he revealed such a confrontational kind of dream, and not once, but multiple times, show that Joseph is prideful?  Possibly.  We don’t know for sure.  Or was he just angry at his brothers’ meanness to him, trying to be vengeful to them?  We don’t know.  At the very least, I don’t believe he handled this right.  He could have kept the dreams quiet.  Or he could have told them only to his father, asking for advice on how to handle it.  We would counsel people in a similar situation to handle their families differently from how Joseph handled his brothers.  But we have to remember that he was 17, and he probably struggled with their anger toward him.  Younger siblings often look up to their older siblings, and here is Joseph getting nothing but bitter anger from them? That would be hard to take, even for someone much older than a 17 year old.

Clearly, there was family drama, and Joseph doesn’t seem to be helping things. As a result the drama is far from over, and actually only gets worse. How do we decrease the drama? If you want to remove drama from your family’s life, check back in to the next post as we follow what happens in Joseph’s family.