In the name of the Father and of the +Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
We’ve heard how Jacob and Esau were twins: one was a hairy, manly man, his father’s pride and joy, and the other was a pretty mama’s boy. We heard all of the back and forth between these two. How Jacob cheated Esau. How Jacob ran away. How Jacob in turn got cheated. How the Lord sent him back to his murderous brother to face him. (Two weeks ago.) ow Jacob in turn goHow We’ve heard how the Lord took hold of Jacob. Changed him. Gave him a new name, Israel, and secured His promise to bless the world through Jacob’s loins by grabbing hold of the space in Jacob’s thigh. (Last week.) But we didn’t pay much attention to how while Jacob gone those 20 years he had been cheated by his uncle and the impacts of that. Jacob had wanted to marry his uncle’s younger, beautiful daughter, Rachel. He ended up getting both the older and younger daughters. That’s a lousy start to your wedded life with your beloved. And then because of the inevitable competition between these two sisters for their husband’s affection, they also gave him their own handmaidens, Bilhah and Zilpah, as wives, so that these slave girls could each produce kids that would be credited to them. But no one was fooled. Not the least of which was Jacob and his affections. He still loved Rachel best. He still loved the one child she’d bore him, Joseph, best. So he comes back to Esau with four wives, 11 sons and a daughter. He gets back to the land, meets his brother Esau, who forgives him (Gen. 33:1-11), for God has this all worked out in advance. Last week we heard how terrifying it was for Jacob to live through all of it, the fear of his brother’s hatred, but God is in control. But then when he’s back in the land, his favourite wife, Rachel, gets pregnant again. The woman he loves. The only wife he really wanted. The only woman he cares about. She bears him a second son. And dies in child birth. So now he has 12 sons, a daughter, and three wives. He’s bereft of his beloved. So in his grief, in the days that follow he pours love into the first son his beloved wife Rachel bore him. He neglects the rest. And you can imagine how he held his little baby, Benjamin, at arms’ length, the boy who killed his beloved. He’s special because he was born from Rachel, but he will always be a reminder of her death.
So by the grace of our Lord – the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus – Joseph is given prophetic dreams. First, sheaves of wheat. His rising up and the 11 brothers’ sheaves bowing before his, prophesying his ascension to importance and their coming to him for help. Next he dreams that the sun, moon, and 11 stars, mom and dad AND his brothers bowing before him. This time even dad rebukes him. “Who do you think you are? You are getting too big for your britches.” And the brothers who already disliked him, now downright hate him. They are jealous. For he has been given a gift from the Lord. And they are sinful human beings like you and me.
We’d like to excuse their hatred on Joseph’s sins and their dad’s sins. If only their dad hadn’t played such obvious favourites, if he hadn’t indulged Joseph’s tattling, if he had treated their moms and the boys better, they might not have hated him so much for his prophecies from the Lord. But we do this to let ourselves off the hook. For whenever we have a problem with what a pastor says, with God’s word teaches, we find fault with the pastor. He’s such a jerk. He’s so uncouth. He’s so lazy. He’s got a bad haircut. Don’t get me started about his wife. He doesn’t do _______. Whatever little thing you pick on to justify not listening to what he says from the Lord. And that’s what’s going on these brothers.
Sure, they are jealous of their father’s favouritism. Sure they are miffed that Joseph is a tattler. But their sinful human hearts are not satisfied with what they have and are jealous of the Lord’s gifts to another. For dissatisfaction, boredom, is the natural default of the human heart. Bible calls that covetousness. And God says don’t do it. Do not covet your neighbours’ possessions or relationships (Exo. 20:17; Luther’s Small Catechism: 9th & 10th Commandments) Be satisfied with what I give you. But they aren’t. You aren’t. Repent.
It’s the same with us. We have been given so much. But we fixate on what we don’t have: young people, bums in pews, money we used to have. We talk about it, gossip about it, pine for it, covet it. And make ourselves miserable. But the Lord has made us His own family. He has included us in this family of Abraham by faith in His Son who came through this family. And that’s why Joseph has been raised up. To proclaim and thus accomplish the Lord’s salvation.
What they don’t realize is how much he must suffer to do the Lord’s work, to be the instrument of the Lord’s salvation of them. There is always a cost involved in being the Lord’s man in your family, your church, your marriage. If you are going to be the Lord’s man or woman you will suffer. For the Lord is a God of death and resurrection. He worked your salvation through His suffering. His salvation is great and eternal, but He works His purposes out in our lives through death and resurrection, in, with, and through suffering. For these gifts of water, word and wine which give us Jesus are death to our sinful self and life in the Spirit. God’s Word is not called a sword for nothing. (Eph. 6:17; Heb. 4:12) Baptism is not done with water for nothing. For in that water you are drowned dead to sin and raised to life in Christ Jesus. (Rom. 6:3-4; Col 2:11-14) So having the name of the Triune God on you always puts a bull’s-eye on your back for the world. It brings suffering into your life. And if that is true for each of us, it is even more so for the Lord’s prophets, His pastors. For the sinful human heart despises God’s gift of grace to others.
But again there is suffering. This time in the form of one of the real housewives of ancient Egypt. She’s bored. She’s limber. She tries to entice Joseph. Day after day. And when he refuses her she cries out against him. And again he’s down in a pit. (Gen. 39:7-20)
But again the Lord is with him. And he rises to a position of importance in the prison. (Gen. 29:21-23) And there he meets two men who are members of the King’s household staff. (Gen. 40) Both of them have dreams. And Joseph interprets them, and says, “Remember me when the King restores you to your position.” (Gen. 40:14-15) But of course the King’s cupbearer doesn’t. (Gen. 40:23) He just goes back to his easy life. That is, until the king has dreams that no one can understand. (Gen. 41:17-24) Then, ding. Joseph. “Hey, king, I know a guy…” (Gen. 41:9-13) So up from the pit comes Joseph. He gets a shower, a shave, and fresh, fashionable Egyptian duds. (Gen. 41:14)
Joseph is a prophet of the Lord. He says what the Lord tells him. (Gen. 41:16) He imparts the wisdom the Lord gives him. He tells the king of the Lord’s purpose, “There will be 7 years of plenty and 7 years of famine. You saw it twice, because the Lord has fixed it.” (Gen. 41:25-32) Think of how many times the Lord had repeated His promises to Joseph’s fathers. How fixed was Jesus’ intention to save us? The Lord’s purposes were a certainty. He would save the world by becoming the seed of this family. (Gen. 22:18)
And if the Lord laid out all of this planning and used the suffering in Joseph’s life brought because of God’s calling on him, won’t He do the same for you, oh little flock?
The sufferings you go through will turn out to be for your good or that of those you love. (Rom 8:28) He will work good for those whom the Lord will call to Himself, in whose story of salvation you will have some part. For you are Christ’s man or woman in that place, whom He has provided to bring the light of Jesus into their lives.
For through Joseph’s family the world’s redeemer has come. He has taken on our flesh through this family. He has expanded His family beyond this family, into all the world. Have no fear little flock. Joseph’s Lord is Our Lord. If he led Joseph through all his trials and tribulations to save His family, won’t He do as much and more for you His family?
In +Jesus’ name, Amen.
--Pastor David Haberstock
Epiphany Lutheran Church
Thunder Bay, ON