Does everything happen for a reason?

August 16, 2020

Genesis 45:1-15

1 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence. 4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and Lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty. 12 And now your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my own mouth that speaks to you. 13 You must tell my father how greatly I am honored in Egypt, and all that you have seen. Hurry and bring your father down here.” 14 Then he fell upon his brothers Benjamin’s neck and wept, while Benjamin wept upon his neck. 15 And he kissed all his brothers and wept upon them; and after that his brothers talked with him.

By Rev. Minoo Kim

From where we left off last Sunday to today’s story, a lot of things happen in Joseph’s life. As a slave in a foreign country, Joseph goes through ups-and-downs as a servant and as a prisoner, but ultimately finds himself serving as a prime minister of Egypt, working under Pharaoh. And Joseph’s dramatic rise to power in Egypt is paved by his way of interpreting dreams, as his nickname “king of dreams” suggests.

Now what hits Joseph’s world really hard during his tenure as prime minister is this great famine that affected both Egypt and Canaan, where his family resides. Through his foresight, knowledge and leadership, he is able to prepare Egypt and its people thoroughly for the great famine, successfully preventing Egypt from the great food crisis. Yet, it impacts Canaan severely so much that Jacob’s family decides to travel to Egypt to buy food.

After some 20 years since he was sold to Egypt by his brothers, Joseph and his older brothers finally reunite in Egypt. Joseph recognizes them at once, but his brothers do not. While concealing his true identity, Joseph, as Egypt’s prime minister, gives a hard time to his brothers, which includes accusing them of being spies, demanding that their youngest brother, Benjamin, be brought back to him, imprisoning them for three days, and locking one of them up (Simeon) until the others brought Benjamin.

So, the remaining brothers travel back home and then return to Egypt with Benjamin. Once Joseph sees his younger brother, he throws a party for all his brothers. But after the banquet, Joseph frames and accuses Benjamin of stealing, forcing him to remain in Egypt as a slave.

Now, there is no way that the brothers can go back to their father Jacob without his youngest son Lil Benji. Their father Jacob thinks his favorite son Joseph died some 20 years ago. And the thought of losing Benji would literally destroy their father. So, the brothers decide to step in and step up, pleading to Joseph for Benjamin’s release, sharing their concern for their father. One of the brothers Judah even volunteers himself to remain as a slave in place of Benjamin.

And this is where today’s story begins. Joseph can no longer contain his emotion and weeps so loudly that even those outside of his proximity hear his cries.

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I talked about this turbulent triangle last week to explain the reality of human relationship: “as one having been loved too much, one loving too much, and one feeling loved too little.”

As one loving too much

Jacob, the one loving too much, his heart was shattered when his sons returned only with Joseph’s robe with blood stains. Since then, for some 20 years, Jacob believes his son was devoured by a wild animal. His wife Rachel, also the mother of Joseph, died while giving birth to his youngest son Benjamin.

Jacob as the patriarch now faces the great famine. And his decision to send the sons to Egypt to buy food results in his greater anguish. He cries out to his sons:

“I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!” (42:36).

Jacob’s last sentence is translated elsewhere as “Everything is against me!” (NIV) or “All this has come against me” (ESV), which shows what kind of state he is in at the moment. Everything he has loved too much is at the verge of extinction.

As one feeling loved too little

The brothers, the ones feeling loved too little, understand what kind of damage they have caused to their father by selling Joseph into slavery. Some of them, having become fathers themselves, also understand the weight of parenthood more intimately. They obey their fathers order to go and buy food in Egypt as they were all struggling in this great famine. And they seem to not care, unlike some 20 years ago, that their father’s now favorite son Benji is excluded in this trip for he is “precious.”  However, while making this trip, one of them is imprisoned. And they return to their father, explaining the dire need to go back to Egypt with Benjamin to retrieve Simeon, and this is how their father responds:

“My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol” (42:38).

Their father is again showing his favoritism towards Benjamin, putting his safety over his other son Simeon’s life as well as everyone else’s struggling under the famine. They are still feeling loved too little, but this time, they don’t seem to mind so much.

As food ran out again, however, the brothers convince Jacob to make a second trip to Egypt to buy more food, but this time with Benjamin. And as I mentioned earlier, Joseph then frames and accuses Benjamin of stealing.

Once the brothers learned that they might have to go back to their father without Benjamin, all of them “tore their clothes.” And Judah makes an emotional plea that he would rather stay as a slave in place of Benjamin, all for the sake of their father, saying,

"For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father" (44:34).

As one having been loved too much

And then there’s Joseph, the one having been lovedtoo much. From a spoiled miracle child to an orphan and a slave in a foreign country overnight. He could have blamed God for the injustice his very own brothers caused against him and the trials and tribulation he suffered in Egypt. He could have wished to build a prosperous life for himself in Egypt and perhaps even seek revenge against his brothers. And it almost seemed like that was what he was going to do. He endured twenty something years alone in a foreign county as a slave, as an immigrant, as an orphan, and as a prisoner. But now he is in the seat of power. And his brothers, who are kneeling before him, are trembling in fear. The stage is set perfectly for a sweet revenge.

Joseph opens up with his uncontrollable emotion,revealing his true identity, “I am Joseph.”

“ … I am your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors” (vv. 4-7).

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I want to again bring your attention to this triangle and reflect on it. We all find ourselves in this triangle in varying degrees. Relationship is difficult and no one has perfected the art of relationship. We all love too much, we all are loved too much, or we all feel loved too little.

But we cannot avoid relationships. We are social animals. We are meant to be with one another. Without relationships, we cannot be humans. There’s a reason why loneliness is one of the key factors to the decline in cognitive functioning.

So, we got to give this relationship thing a try, to be fully human, to be fully alive. Trying while knowing we are not perfect in it. Trying while acknowledging that we will fail and probably fail again. Trying while anticipating that people will fail us and we will get hurt and get hurt some again. In our trying, both good and evil will be done through us and against us. Despite our trying, some people do not grow much, as we see in Jacob’s continued habit of favoritism. But like Joseph’s older brothers, most people grow and mature when they put in the work—from selling their brother into slavery to volunteering to take his brother’s punishment, the kind of love Jesus modeled (John 15:13).

“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life forone’s friends.”

How great would it be if relationship is the only thing we need to worry about in our life? That’s not always the case. Life is unpredictable. For Jacob’s family, there was the great famine to worry about. For us, there is this global pandemic to worry about. These unpredictable forces put a hold in people’s lives and make this triangle even more complicated than it already is, and oftentimes such disruption and confusion breed anxiety, fear, pain, and suffering. But these unpredictable forces also shed light on what is most essential in our lives.

For Joseph, what was most essential for him was to be fully aligned with God’s desires and purposes. This is revealed in his speech to his brothers: “for God sent me before you to preserve life” &“God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors.” And Joseph immediately lays out a plan on how he is going to preserve his family in Canaan from the famine that would last another five years.

For without life, there can be no reconciliation. Without life, there can be no reunion. Without life, there can be norelationship. As Jesus said in John, the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy, but God sent Jesus to us so that we may have life and have “life” abundantly (10:10). And here, in Jesus’ teaching, “the thief’ refers to failed, false leaders.

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According to Joseph’s plan, Jacob’s entire family relocates to Egypt, settles specifically in the land of Goshen. And Joseph provides his father, his brothers, and all his father’s household with food, according to the number of their dependents.

The reconciliation between the brothers doesn’t happen until after their father Jacob’s death. Fearing for Joseph’s possible remaining grudge, the brothers ask for forgiveness for the crime they’ve committed. And Joseph, again while weeping, responds by saying,

Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (50:20).

Although the brothers planned evil, God’s design turned it to good. And what’s good here is God’s desires and purposes to preserve life.

Joseph is not saying that everything happened for areason. Rather, he is saying that despite human sinfulness and evildoings, God remains persistent and brings about God’s will. Joseph lived a tumultuous life as he experienced so many human sins perpetrated against him. Yet we are told that God was with him and turned his circumstances into good. And Joseph fully complied with God’s desires and purposes to do good also. Today’s story again leads us to the name Immanuel. In the midst of trials and tribulations we are facing, God is with us. In the midst of this uncertain and unpredictable forceof Covid-19, God is with us.

And if God is with us, as God was with Joseph in Egypt, what does it look like for us to fully comply with God’s desires and purposes for God’s creation? What does it look like for us to partake in God’s design to preserve life when the thief continues to steal, kill and destroy?

Amen.