Progressive Baptist Church's Website
In The Beginning: Part V
by Jackie Alston
"I will bless the Lord at all times: his praise shall continually be in my mouth.
O taste and see that the Lord is good: blessed is the man that trusteth in him."
We ended Part IV of "In the Beginning" with Joseph on his way to Egypt, but not by his own choice. He had been sold into slavery by his jealous brothers for twenty pieces of silver. And if that wasn't cold-hearted enough, the brothers sent their father Joseph's bloody coat, leading the old man to believe that his favorite son had been killed by a wild beast.
Before I continue with the narrative of Joseph, I want to mention a certain sin of Jacob's fourth son, Judah. Although the Bible covered this shamefulness in one chapter, the events took place over a number of years.
As I mentioned in Part IV, Joseph had reported to his father that his brothers were immorally involved with the Canaanites. So not surprising, Judah took a Canaanite wife and she bore him three sons, Er, Onan, and Shelah. The years passed and Judah arranged a marriage between Er and another Canaanite woman named Tamar. And the Scripture says, "And Er, Judah's firstborn, was wicked in the sight of the Lord and the Lord slew him." The Bible doesn't tell us what his wickedness was, but whatever, Tamar was left without a husband and without an heir. In following the custom of that day, Judah asked his second son Onan to marry Tamar so she could have a child. But the child could not be Onan's heir, he would be the heir of his dead brother Er.
Onan had no problem marrying Tamar, but he just couldn't see fathering a child that would not be his own heir. So every time He and Tamar were intimate, he would let his seed spill on the ground. And the Scripture says, "And the thing which he did displeased the Lord: wherefore he slew him also." So again, Tamar was without a husband and still without an heir, and Judah had lost two of his three sons. In keeping in line with the custom, Judah promised that Shelah would marry Tamar. So Tamar was sent back to her father's house until Shelah was old enough, but deceit was in the heart of Judah because he had little intention of letting his last son marry Tamar.
After a few years Judah's wife died, and with so much death in the family, I imagine it was even harder for him to let Shelah marry the unlucky Tamar. So Tamar took matters into her own hands. Earlier in this story you may remember that Sarah took matters into her own hands and it ended up in disaster.
Tamar decided to stop fishing in the little pond and go after the big fish. She covered herself with a shawl and veil and went ahead to a city where Judah was going, and she sat in the open place disguised as a religious prostitute. I know religious prostitute sounds kind of strange, but in Sunday School we learned that these women considered their sex acts to be religious acts devoted to idol gods and they would even hang around in the temples.
When Judah came to the place and saw the prostitute, not realizing that it was his daughter-in-law, he agreed to have sex with her for a young goat. Since Judah didn't have a goat with him, the prostitute asked to hold some of his personal items until he could send it. She requested his ring, which probably had his name inscribed, and the cord that held the ring, and his staff. And the Scripture says, "And he gave it her, and came in unto her, and she conceived by him."
Later, when Judah tried to send the goat to the prostitute, she was nowhere to be found. And that was because Tamar was back home playing the widow again. But three months later the widow was obviously pregnant. When Judah heard that Tamar was pregnant, he ordered her to be executed for her sin. She was to be burned to death for being pregnant through prostitution. But when Tamar was brought forth, she told her father-in-law that she had personal items that belonged to the father of her child. Then she asked Judah to identify his ring, his cord, and his staff. Instead of Judah becoming angry at being tricked, he said Tamar was more righteous than him because he had not kept his promise to let Shelah marry her. Later Tamar gave birth to twin boys, Perez and Zerah. And when we learn that Perez became the ancestor of King David and ultimately of Jesus, we can see this shameful story as a chapter of God's Amazing Grace.
Now we get back to the narrative of Joseph. I'm sure the brothers were happy to be rid of their despised brother, but what they had done for evil was all a part of God's plan for good. Yes, Joseph was a slave, but he was a slave in the right house, the house of Potiphar, where he would be tested over and over again. But, there is never a testimony without a test; and his every test was preparation for what God had in store. And the amazing thing for Joseph and even for us today is that God will never give us a test that we can't pass. Sometimes we may need a retake, but we can pass it. And Joseph passed all his tests with flying colors.
Just try to imagine how difficult is was for a seventeen year old to be sold into slavery by his own flesh and blood. But Joseph passed the first test by not carrying bitterness or hatred toward his brothers, he simply put all his trust in God. And the Scripture says, "And the Lord was with Joseph, and he was a properous man. And his master saw that the Lord was with him." So Joseph found grace in the eyes of Potiphar and Potiphar made him the overseer over everything he owned: his other servants, his finances, his business relations, and even his personal household. Joseph was in charge of it all; and everything he touched was blessed. But Joseph's second test was knowing what not to touch.
This next part should be familiar because Rev. Bell spoke on this test in Joseph's life in his sermon intitled, Yes and No. Well, over the years, Joseph had grown up to be a fine, handsome man, and Potiphar's wife became attracted to him. So she started begging Joseph to sleep with her. I know you're all familiar with the phrase, "Don't bite the hand that feeds you." Well, Joseph didn't. He refused to sleep with Potiphar's wife. To him, it was not only a sin against his master, but also a sin against God.
But one day Joseph was in the wrong place at the wrong time. There were no other servants around and Potiphar's wife grabbed him and tried to force herself upon him, but Joseph fled. But in fleeing he left behind his coat. Potiphar's wife was so angry and embarrassed by Joseph's rejection that she starting yelling out that Joseph had tried to rape her, and that she held his coat in her hand to prove it.
Back in those days, the sentence for that crime would have been death, but through God's grace, Joseph was thrown into a prison where the king's prisoners were placed. To go from overseer to prisoner was another test for Joseph, but he simply rested in God's presence. And the Scripture says, "And the Lord was with Joseph, and shewed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison." So Joseph rose to a leadership position even in prison.
While in prison Joseph interpreted the dreams of Pharoah's chief butler and chief baker. One would be restored but the other would be put to death. Joseph asked the butler to put in a good word for him to Pharoah after he was restored. And just as Joseph had interpreted, the baker was put to death and the butler was restored to his position, but the butler forgot all about Joseph.
Two years later, Pharoah had a dream that no one could interpret, and that was when the butler remembered Joseph. Joseph interpreted Pharoah's dream, but quickly let him know that it was not him, but God who had given the answer. In the dream God showed Pharoah that there would be seven years of plenty grain in Egypt followed by seven years of severe famine that would devastate the land. Then Joseph counseled Pharoah on how to deal with the situation, which pleased Pharoah greatly. And the Scripture says, "And Pharoah said unto Joseph, Thou shalt be over my house, and according unto thy word shall all my people be ruled: only in the throne will I be greater than thou." So Joseph went from prisoner to becoming second in command in Egypt. Oh, what amazing grace!
Now just as before, Joseph's interpretation of a dream came to pass. During the seven years of plenty, Joseph stored up grain in various cities of Egypt. The harvest was so great that the grain was piled up like sand of the sea. Everything was working perfectly for Joseph. Pharoah was so pleased that he made Joseph a citizen of Egypt, gave him an Egyptian name, and gave him a wife, Asenath, who bore him two sons, Manasseh and Ephraim.
When the seven years of plenty ended, the seven years of famine began. And in two years, the famine was so severe that people from all the lands around Egypt were coming to Joseph to buy grain, even from Canaan. So, a little over twenty years after selling Joseph into slavery, the famine brought his older brothers right to his doorstep. Although Joseph recognized them right away, they had no idea that the Egyptian governor named, Zaphnath-paaneah was their long lost brother, and for the time being, Joseph wanted to keep it that way. And the Scripture says, "And Joseph was the governor and Joseph's brethren came, and bowed down themselves before him with their faces to the earth." Now at that time, Joseph could have reminded his brothers of his dream that they would bow down to him, but he was much better than that, besides, his heart's desire was a sweet family reunion.
Joseph sensed that his brothers had changed but he had to be sure that they were no longer the evil, jealous, resentful men that had sold him for twenty pieces of silver. So he put them through a series of tests. First, Joseph accused his brothers of being spies, and in protesting their innocence, they told him all about their family, which is what Joseph wanted to hear. He desperately wanted to know about his father, and especially about Benjamin. You may remember earlier in the story that Jacob had sons by four different women. Joseph and Benjamin were by the same woman, Rachel. So naturally Joseph would be closer to Benjamin and he needed to see for himself that his baby brother was okay. So he commanded Simeon to be put in prison until the other brothers go back and return with Benjamin. He then ordered his servants to fill his brothers' sacks with grain and to secretly put their silver back into their bags.
After finally convincing Jacob to allow Benjamin to go, the brothers returned to Joseph, bearing gifts from their father. When the brothers appeared before Joseph, he almost lost his composure at the sight of Benjamin, so he quickly ordered that the brothers be taken to his house. The brothers feared they were in serious trouble because of the silver they had found in their sacks, but instead, Simeon was released from prison and they were invited to be honored guests at the governor's banquet.
When Joseph came in and saw all his brothers seated together, he desperately wanted to reveal himself, but there was another test. Joseph ordered the waiters to give Benjamin five times more food to see if his brothers had the same spirit of jealousy within them. But the brothers were so happy, they paid no attention to the favoritism shown to Benjamin. But there was still one final test before they all could be one big happy family.
After the feast, Joseph told his servants to fill his brothers' sacks with food and put their money back into their bags, but he also told them to put his silver cup in Benjamin's bag. Later, Benjamin was accused of being a thief and ordered to remain in Egypt as a slave. In doing this, Joseph brought his brothers' past sin to their remembrance. He had to know if they were repentant or still insensitive to the cries of a captive brother. But the brothers were changed men. Judah suggested that they all stay and become slaves, but Joseph rejected his offer, telling him that the rest of them were free to take their food and money and return to Canaan. But then Judah made a merciful plea on behalf of his little brother and his elderly father. He acknowledged that Benjamin was now their father's favorite son, and to lose him would be too much for the old man to bear. There was no more envy, jealousy or resentment in the hearts of Joseph's brothers. Then Judah made an unselfish sacrifice by offering himself as a substitute for Benjamin, which foreshadows Jesus offering himself as a substitute for us.
Joseph was so moved by Judah's plea that he couldn't control his emotions any longer. He ordered all his servants out of the room, and in one of my most favorites scenes in the Bible, he revealed himself to his brothers. The Scripture says, "And Joseph wept aloud: and said unto his brethren, I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt." Then he told them not to grieve or be angry with themselves for God had sent him to Egypt, to become their savior. Later, the Scripture says, "And Joseph fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck. Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him." So the brothers had a passionate reunion. Finally, the twelve sons of Jacob were like brothers were supposed to be.
So Part V ends the same way Part III ended, with a happy reunion between brothers. And it gets even happier in the Finale when old man Jacob gets to see Joseph again, alive and prosperous. But sadly, the Book of Genesis which began with creation will end with a coffin. Until next time, may God bless you and keep you. In Jesus name, AMEN.