Joseph’s Dysfunctional Family


Warren Gage/Christopher Barber and then James Jordan on Joseph’s wisdom:

“How strange Joseph’s behaviour toward his brothers appears to a modern reader! He recognises his brothers immediately but maintains his Egyptian disguise. He speaks harshly to them and then only through an interpreter. He charges them with spying — a capital crime for which he can sentence them to death. He takes one brother as a hostage. He returns their silver as they go home for the first time, and then he sets the brothers up in order to accuse them of stealing his silver cup on their second return trip, at which point he has them arrested. In short, he terrifies them.

What does this all mean? Is Joseph seeking revenge? Clearly that is not the case, for he so loves them he can hardly restrain himself fom revealing his identity — and his forgiveness — to them. Surely he is not vengeful. Why does he act this way? And why does the text go to such lengths to describe all of this?

Joseph is remarkable in the Bible for his wisdom. If we watch carefully what Joseph does, we will learn much about wisdom, a quality sorely lacking today. In our overly sentimental day, we might expect Joseph immediately to embrace his brothers. We would expect, perhaps, that he should welcome them immediately and tell them right away that the past injustice is forgiven. Because he does not, some today would probably charge him with being unforgiving and manipulative. But Joseph is certainly forgiving. He is also wise.

And thus, even though he longs to be reunited with his family, he cannot do so until he knows the condition of their hearts. It is not difficult imagine the questions swirling through Joseph’s mind. Have the brothers shown the same enmity toward his younger brother Benjamin as they showed toward him? If have have not changed, Benjamin’s life could be in jeopardy. Only ten brothers have come to Egypt. Jacob has kept Benjamin behind. Is Jacob showing Rachel’s other son the same favouritism he once showed Joseph? How will he truly discover the secrets of their hearts?

In short, Joseph wonders if God has redeemed his brothers in the intervening years. The mark of saving faith is love for the brethren (John 13:35). Do they love one another? Joseph knows that for reconciliation to be genuine, he must answer that question. He is not interested in revenge. His heart is willing to forgive. But until he knows whether they love one another, he will not reveal himself to them.

His great wisdom is displayed as he devises three tests for the brothers, each with the goal of revealing another aspect of the condition of their hearts. As he puts his plan into action, we can imagine Joseph watching from behind his Egyptian disguise and listening to the words they speak in their native Hebrew. He learns through his tests that God has done an amazing work in the lives of those who once hated him.

At the conclusion of his final text, where young Benjamin is made to appear as a thief, Judah steps forward. In the last lesson, we saw Judah declare to his father that he would stand as surety for Benjamin’s return. Now that promise is put to the test. Surely Judah could not be blamed if he and the others left Benjamin behind, when for all they know he has committed such a great crime! Even though Judah must believe Benjamin has committed a senseless act of petty theft, we see that the transformation of his heart is complete. Judah informs the Egyptian official of his promise to Jacob to stand as surety for the life of Benjamin and offers himself in Benjamin’s place.

The tests are now over. Joseph recognises that God has been faithful to keep His covenant with this family, He has changed the hearts of the brothers so that now they love one another. He has made the twelve sons worthy of the faith of their father Jacob and of their grandfather Isaac and of their great-grandfather Abraham. They are now brothers in faith as well as brothers in flesh. Now that Joseph knows they love each other, he is able at last to reveal himsel to them. Having restrained his love so long, his tears begin to well up as he longs to embrace them. He cries out, “I am Joseph!”…

What can we apply from this lesson in our own lives? Firstly, it should be a great encouragement to all of us to see the severely dysfunctional family we met in chapter 2 of our study now marvelously restored by God’s grace… no person, no family, no circumstance, is beyond the reach of God’s ability to heal. All of us, like Joseph, face relationships with others which are especially difficult, and we often do not know what to do. Should you confront the person who wronged you? Should you simply forgive and forget? What should you do? In times like these, we need the kind of wisdom Joseph showed to cooperate with the working out of God’s proises in the lives of others, rather than raking matters into our own hands. Joseph’s wisdom was displayed in his obedience to God’s timing, remaining faithful through many years despite great injustice and suffering.”

Warren Gage and Christopher Barber, The Story of Joseph and Judah (Bible Study), pp. 90-94. Expounds on how the text of Genesis deliberately contrasts these two brothers.

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“Joseph’s manipulation of his brothers, like Rebekah’s ‘wise woman’ manipulation of Isaac, is a model of great wisdom. It is not something Christians should try to copy unless they are very wise and insightful. Joseph’s manipulation of his brethren should be seen as the way Jesus manipulates our lives. Just as the circumstances of their lives showed the brothers their sins, so we must be alert to ironies that God brings about in our own lives, and we must change our ways if necessary…The road to dominion through service is often difficult. Doubtless there were many days when Joseph had to pray for God to give him a gracious and obedient spirit because he simply did not want to work. Yet he found God was gracious to help him do what had been set before him…

The road to dominion must never be understood in a pagan sense of sheer triumph and overlording. Joseph was given dominion precisely so that he could become a more effective servant…”

Humble service and dominion can never be separated.”

James B. Jordan, Primeval Saints, pp.127-128.

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