First, a note to Mandy who won the copy of Marion Stroud’s book: I’ve been trying to reach you by email to find out your mailing address so that I can send the book to you. Please email me your address at Kathyspeak @ aol.com (omit spaces).
Let’s return to our thoughts about why Joseph didn’t return to Canaan and what that means for us. After I wrote my last post, I talked to a friend whose daughter’s experience is exactly what I want to deal with by these posts.
Let’s call her Cindy. Cindy’s son is receiving the same kind of treatment that Cindy received. When she was in junior high, the cutting, attacking words of a youth pastor wounded her heart and have caused her emotional pain all these years. Those demeaning words have defined her view of herself to this day. Now her son is receiving a similar kind of treatment at their church.
It may have been a surprise to my friend when I wondered aloud whether God wants to bring healing in Cindy’s wounded heart through her son’s experience. But that is exactly the point of the story about Joseph’s brothers. God didn’t allow Joseph to return to Canaan because the contact would have been superficial. There might have been an on-the-surface kind of restoration of their relationship, but it wouldn’t have been completely healing, nor brought repentance and surrender to the hearts of the brothers.
Although different in some ways, Joseph’s brothers and Cindy are being exposed to experiences that relate to their sins or wounds. In the case of the brothers, God’s principle of “sow what you reap” is in effect to bring them to repentance. In the case of Cindy, she is being given an opportunity to heal her own wound and believe God’s truth about herself by seeing her son’s pain. She will need to teach him what she wasn’t taught: how to view himself as God sees him.
To see what God is doing in these situations, we first must examine the wounds and pain that Joseph experienced.
1. Genesis 37:15-17: Joseph has been sent by Daddy Jacob to find out how the brothers are doing. Imagine for a moment how his mission assignment most likely makes him feel valued and important. And of course, he’s wearing his identity: the multi-colored coat that defines him as someone special.
But Joseph can’t find the brothers. Where he thought they would be is vacant. He can’t find them and is “wandering in the field” (vs 15). He is informed by a man where they headed and “Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan” (verse 17).
Just imagine first the confusion of wondering where they are. He will not be able to fulfill the mission his father gave him. It was most likely very painful for him to think of returning to his father and tell him he failed at the mission given him. Would he lose the respect his father had for him?
But ah! The relief of finding what he was seeking. If he was lost, he may have felt like he was in danger and now his “salvation” from danger (the brothers) is found. What a relief. That must have set him up for the coming rejection to feel even worse.
2. Genesis 37:23: The brothers strip Joseph of his multi-colored tunic–the prized one that set him apart as special before their father. Some commentators believe they strip him of both the coat and his undergarments so he is naked.
A natural reaction would have been to grasp your clothing and try to prevent its removal. But many hands are jerking the cloth away. Wouldn’t such violence bring scratch marks on his skin? Is there blood seeping from the cuts? Even more difficult to handle are the scratch marks on his soul.
Again, feel his pain. He anticipates a welcome knowing he is on his father’s mission of care and concern. He has been lost and troubled yet seeing them fills him with gladness and relief. Instead of open and welcoming arms, those very arms rip off of him, and possibly even rip into pieces, his ultimate identity of his specialness and value: his multicolored cloak. We can imagine his innocence, not knowing of their plotting as he approaches. He comes with smiles, but suddenly, his face is clouded with confusion, terror, and uncertainty. What he depended upon as his identity is being treated with disdain and hate.
3. Genesis 37:18-24: The brothers throw Joseph into a waterless pit. He’s naked and terror-filled. His verbal reaction isn’t recorded here, but later, while the brothers are in prison, they recall Joseph’s reaction, “Then they said to one another, ‘Truly we are guilty concerning our brother, because we saw the distress of his soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen; therefore this distress has come upon us‘” (Genesis 42: 21).
Joseph is in the pit pleading with them and not only would they not listen, they ate food nearby. How cold-hearted can you be? Did Joseph’s stomach rumble from hunger because he had been wandering lost longer than anticipated and the food he brought had been eaten? He is hungry, rejected, cold, and powerless. His brothers are rejecting him in every way possible. His cries for help are ignored and most likely scoffed at. He is voiceless, abused, and victimized.
4. Genesis 37:27: The brothers sell Joseph to Midianite/Ishmaelite traders. Again, picture the scene and feel Joseph’s pain. He is in the pit when suddenly he hears sounds above him. The brothers start pulling him out of the pit or put down a rope so that he can climb out. Maybe in those few moments, he is relieved. He expects them to say, “Oh, sorry, brother. What a joke we’ve put on you. Come on out now and we’ll say we’re sorry. Here’s some food to eat.“
But no, his brothers most likely bound his hands and within minutes, he is sold for twenty shekels. Not a huge sum. His life isn’t even worth much, and since nine of the brothers are there (Reuben is somewhere else), each brother receives a little more than two shekels each. What a waste. Does Joseph even think, “I’m not even worth that much!” But the rejection, confusion, and panic must be overwhelming. And I’m still wondering if Joseph is expecting that the nightmare will end by the brothers turning it into a joke and he’ll be released.
But as he is carried, carted, or walked off with the caravan, he looks back at his brothers as they fade into the distance, and he’s wondering, “What about my dream that they will bow to me? How can this be happening? This isn’t what I expected of life.”
In summary, the brothers directly caused Joseph’s confusion, rejection, fear, panic, hunger, cold, voicelessness, victim mentality, and the loss of his innocence. After Joseph is sold to the Midianites, he will experience further fear, rejection, and confusion as he is a slave and then imprisoned–experiences indirectly caused by his brothers.
All this has occurred and God is not surprised. Joseph is surprised but God is not. We’ll see next time the feelings and experiences that the brothers must go through in order to come to the point of repentance and surrender.