“A Happy Ending” – Genesis 45-50
Pentecost 15 – September 17, 2017
Introduction: Only one story?
As I was thinking about my message for today, I remembered an article that was taken from the Fall 1995 issue of Tapestry, the magazine of the Lutheran Women’s Missionary League. The article was actually written by Paul Hanley and first printed in the Saskatoon Star Phoenix. The article was developed as a dialogue, and with some minor adaptations it read as follows: [volunteer needed]
“Have you ever noticed that there is only one story?
Every piece of literature, every song and poem, every movie and TV show tells the same old story.
Not really. The pattern goes something like this: bad things happen to good guys but they triumph in the end. The same theme, in one form or another, is told and retold again and again. Once as a drama, then a love story, again as a comedy, next as a thriller, but it always follows the same pattern.
Oh, come on. There must be dozens, hundreds of patterns.
No, just one. What seems to be variation on the pattern occurs when we are exposed to a partial view of the story cycle. If the bad guys win, we just haven’t seen the ultimate conclusion. Let’s consider some examples.
Cartoon version: Elmer Fudd is hunting Bugs Bunny. He gets the wascally wabbit in his sights. He fires. Bugs has carrots stuck in both barrels. The shotgun backfires. Bugs escapes again.
Harlequin version: Nurse Jane is wrongfully fired by cruel Chief of Staff, Doctor Morgan. She moves to the Yukon, goes through some difficult times, but proves her metal to Trapper John, who turns out to be a doctor disenchanted by the same Doctor Morgan. Romance ensues as the two expose Morgan’s corruption and restore the hospital’s reputation.
Sci-fi version: Darth Vader subjugates the known universe, until the heroics of a naïve but pure spirited youth transforms the tyrant’s soul.
They’re all the same.
That’s a pretty far-fetched theory.
Not really. According to the great Canadian literary critic Northrop Frye, the structures or patterns in Western literature are the same because they reflect the structures and patterns of the great and primal book of our civilization, namely the Bible. That’s where the original ‘same old story’ is found.
This guy thinks all Western literature is derived from the Bible?
Yea, the Bible is a larger-than-life epic, so extraordinary that it actually describes the totality of human experience from the beginning to the end of time. And not only is the Bible a kind of prototype for the stories in our Western culture, says he, but all the parts of the Bible follow the same pattern as the whole book.
Now you’re losing me.
It’s like this. The whole Bible tells the story of the creation, the idyllic life, the fall from grace, and the redemption of humankind. But all the stories in the Bible follow the same ‘good guys win in the end’ pattern, in one way or another.
The story of Joseph. He’s the favourite son of his father, was disliked by his brothers, sold by them into slavery in Egypt, even imprisoned, but rose up to become the governor of Egypt, second only to the pharaoh himself.
Then there’s the story of Job. He’s the poor guy who was once rich and happy, is forced to suffer mightily as a test of his faithfulness to God, and then he gets the good life back again big time.
Of course the best example is the story of Jesus Christ, Himself, the central story of the Bible, the core pattern for all stories.”
Paul Hanley gives us some food for thought, suggesting that Christianity has been the strongest influence on our culture and our literature, and it’s interesting to keep this thought in mind when you’re reading a book or even a children’s book or when you’re out at the movies.
- The Joseph story concludes
a. Unmasking and true forgiveness
It’s interesting that Hanley actually mentions the Old Testament story of Joseph, which is where we have been for the past few weeks. Let’s finish the story and see if and how Hanley’s premise is true.
We kind of left the story with Joseph’s mind games with his brothers – accusing them of being spies, using an interpreter when all along he could understand them, asking about their youngest brother, secretly sending their money back with them, planting his own silver cup in Benjamin’s sack, lining them up in birth order. Finally, in Genesis 45, Joseph could no longer control himself. He sent his attendants out of the room, and unmasked his identity before his brothers with loud sobs. “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt.” And he asked a question that had plagued him for years, “Is my father still living?”
He knew of the heartache his disappearance some 20 years earlier must have caused his father. It’s like the families of all the missing children these days. Nothing erases the memory of that child. Joseph’s brothers were incredulous and terrified at the same time. They couldn’t believe that their brat of a brother had actually become someone, and they were afraid of what revenge might lead him to do to them. But Joseph explained his understanding of God’s hand in all that had happened, and he promised to provide for them.
His true forgiveness was shown in his actions of embracing them all and weeping freely at this unexpected family reunion. He likely would not forget what his brothers had done to him, but he wasn’t going to let that injustice ruin their family relationship forever. Forgiveness means starting over with a clean and right relationship, and never bringing up past offenses.
The Egyptian Pharaoh, himself, was pleased that Joseph’s family had come. He encouraged them to take supplies back home, but to return with their father and to enjoy the abundance of the land of Egypt. Joseph gave them carts and provisions and extra donkeys loaded with food. He gave Benjamin, his full brother, 300 shekels of silver and 5 sets of clothes. Off they went with Joseph’s fatherly advice: “Don’t quarrel on the way.” I guess he still knew his brothers!
b. Jacob hears and comes
When all the brothers arrived back in Canaan, they greeted their father and told him, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt.” Initially, Jacob was stunned and didn’t believe them, but when he heard the whole story and saw the carts full of generous supplies, his spirit revived. He said, “I’m convinced! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go and see him before I die.”
At some point in every person’s life, you decide that your traveling days are over. You stop flying in planes, even for a granddaughter’s wedding. Eventually, you even stop taking road trips. My parents are getting there. My dad is 87 and my mom is 83. I don’t think they drive out of the city of Regina any more, and my dad is thinking about giving up his driver’s license at the end of the year, and getting rid of his 20 year old car. Jacob, meanwhile, couldn’t resist taking one last trip by donkey and cart over rough roads to see his beloved son. Jacob was 130. He took all he had, all his belongings, all his sons and daughters and grandchildren – 66 persons – and set out from Hebron – just south of Jerusalem – on a couple hundred km. journey to Goshen in Egypt.
Joseph came out to meet him. What a touching reunion we witness as the Bible’s record tells us that “as soon as Joseph appeared before him, he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.” Picture those joyful airport reunions of sisters or brothers who haven’t seen each other for years. Then Jacob said, “I am ready to die, since I have seen for myself that you are still alive.” That happens today, too – someone sick or in the hospital waiting until a son or daughter arrives from far away, and then feeling content to take their last breath. Jacob’s life was now complete and content knowing that Joseph had not been eaten by a wild animal, and knowing that his formerly bickering sons were now reconciled.
It’s interesting that Joseph advised his brothers to tell the Pharaoh that they were shepherds. Joseph knew that all shepherds were detestable to the Egyptians, and such news would compel the Pharaoh to settle the family of Jacob in a separate region of Egypt, along the easternmost tributary of the Nile, apart from the Egyptians. There they could continue to live their lives as God’s people.
c. Jacob’s blessings for his sons
In the second last chapter of Genesis, Jacob knew that his days were coming to an end, and he called for his sons to gather for his blessing, which included some measure of both poetry and prophecy, and which were intended not just for those 12 sons but also for the tribes that descended from them. The blessings sometimes had a reference to the meaning of each son’s name, but also a reference to picturing a special future for each one.
When John Trent and Gary Smalley wrote their book entitled simply The Blessing, they used this story of Jacob’s blessing of his sons to identify five elements of a blessing: meaningful touch, a spoken message, attaching high value, picturing a special future and an active commitment. These are things that you can do and say as you bless your children or grandchildren.
I am not going to give you the details of those various blessings. You can read about them in Genesis 49. But I will say that one of them was very significant – the blessing of Judah… stay tuned…
- Happy ending – God intended good
OK, so let’s test out the Paul Hanley premise in this Joseph story. There were definitely some “bad guys” – the brothers who were jealous of Joseph and sold him into slavery and implied to dad that he had been eaten by a wild animal. Potiphar – Joseph’s boss in Egypt – was not really a bad guy, but his wife was kind of an evil seductress, who lied about Joseph and got him into prison. The cupbearer was just a forgetful dud that reneged on a promise to tell the Pharaoh about Joseph’s injustice. Lots of bad stuff happened to Joseph. But we do know that, finally, Pharaoh called Joseph out of prison to interpret his dreams and then Joseph really began to shine, and the story turned around. He became the administrator of Egypt, and when his brothers came for food, the family tensions ended up reconciling as well.
Joseph understood all these things from God’s perspective. These are the things he said:
“It was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.”
“God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth and to save your lives.”
“It was not you who sent me here, but God.”
“God has made me lord of all Egypt.”
“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
Happy ending? Yes, of course. Yes, absolutely. Joseph spoke kindly to his brothers. He provided for them. He had two sons, and before he died at age 110 he saw his great grandchildren. That’s a happy ending to a story that took many twists and turns.
- Jesus – Happy EVER after
I have referred to this last statement of Joseph a couple of times already in the previous sermons – that God intended good out of the bad, the harm, the evil that had taken place earlier in the story. The ultimate fulfillment of this “God intended it for good” took place in the life of Jesus, the son of New Testament Joseph. Jesus was not a descendent of Old Testament Joseph even though we might guess that, since the story line follows him. However, we can take a hint from the blessings that Jacob extends to his sons, especially to Judah.
Jacob’s words to Judah included these: “Judah, your brothers will praise you… your father’s sons will bow down to you… The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he comes to whom it belongs, and the obedience of the nations is his.”
From Judah would come a long line of kings, starting with David and then Solomon. But the kingship, the rule, the praise and the obedience belonged finally to just one descendant of Judah – Jesus, God’s own Son, our spiritual king. God took the evil and the harm that Jewish religious leaders and Roman soldiers and governor Pontius Pilate directed toward Jesus and He turned it into the good of Jesus’ sacrifice of Himself on the cross for our sake. Jesus took that harm, that punishment and turned it into the good of forgiveness and reconciliation for us with our heavenly Father. By faith in this Jesus, we, who are bad guys and girls because of our sin, experience the “good guys win in the end” conclusion because when we stand in faith with Jesus, we stand with the winner. And with Jesus, it’s not just happy for the rest of my life, it’s happily EVER after!! As in eternally!!
- God intends our good
So, what do you make of life? What did Hanley say? “What seems to be variation on the pattern occurs when we are exposed to a partial view of the story cycle. If the bad guys win, we just haven’t seen the ultimate conclusion.” Remember, there is only one story line. If bad, if evil seems to be winning in your life, you just haven’t seen the ultimate conclusion. In the end, God wins, and everyone who stands with Him wins. That’s what we discover in the story of Joseph in the first book of the Bible. And if you’ve ever read Revelation, the last book of the Bible, that’s the message, that’s the story there, too. God wins. Evil and Satan may appear to be winning – even in our world – but in the end God wins, and we win with Him. When evil and hardships come in life, remember that’s not the end of the story. God intends for our good, and the ultimate good is the saving of our lives… happy EVER after, thanks to Jesus! Amen.