Genesis 39:1-23 & Matthew 5:11-12 (preached at Elim 9/23/2018)
Blessed or cursed? Sibling rivalry. Power struggles. Feeling powerless? Victims of those more powerful than us and seemingly in charge with no balance or checks. Dysfunction. Favoritism. Betrayal. Lying and deception. Anger. Revenge. Prey and predatory sexual assault. What! Is this about Washington, D.C., the White House? Our president? No! This is an old story from the first book of the Bible. Genesis 39.
Last week we spoke about Abram—God later changed his name to Abraham, Father of many—and his call. Blessed to be a blessing. That is one of the key take aways from Abraham’s call. God does not call us to be special, spoiled children who have all the privileges and are loved more than others! We are called to be God’s instruments in reaching out and caring for the world. Called to be God’s presence—the body of Christ—in the world. Blessed to be a blessing!
Joseph’s story continues along the same theme!
Joseph showed signs of being blessed and “special” from early on in life. Jacob, his father favored him in an inappropriate way, causing conflict and jealousy among Joseph and his brothers. Joseph’s dreams added to that jealousy.
That sibling rivalry and jealousy erupted into hatred and plans of evil to kill Joseph. Joseph had been sent by Jacob to check on the brothers as they shepherded sheep, taking them from place to place for grazing. When Joseph found them they plotted to kill him. Reuben, one of Joseph’s brothers, talked them into throwing Joseph into a pit with the hope of rescuing him and returning him to their father. Before he could put his plan into action the brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelite traders and sell Joseph as a slave rather than murder him. Joseph is then sold into slavery and is purchased by Potiphar who just happens to be the captain of the guard for Egypt’s pharaoh. Joseph’s age is guesstimated to be about 17.
Talk about dysfunctional homes and families. This story has been turned into books and movies already, and rightly so. The drama continues. God has chosen Joseph, but at this point I’d question whether the idea of being chosen is a blessing. It sounds and looks more like a curse.
But, the text reads that God blessings everything that Joseph does. Potiphar sees that Joseph is a gifted, talented young man. He puts Joseph in charge of his entire household. Joseph is living a a foreign country amidst strangers speaking a foreign language. He no longer has any connection with his father or any of his brothers. He is alone and surrounded by people he doesn’t know and customs he is unfamiliar with. Yet he thrives. He is now the head butler. The chief steward. The household manager. Potiphar’s right-hand man. And Potiphar’s household thrives under his management and care. Verse 5 says that the Lord blessed Potiphar’s household for Joseph’s sake.
And the plot thickens! Mrs. Potiphar—we are not given her name—sees Joseph and wants him for herself. He is young, athletic, good looking and obviously confident and gifted. She wants to seduce him for herself. “Come, sleep with me!” she says. Time and again she tries to persuade him to go to bed with her. Time and again Joseph refuses. “How can I do this evil. My master trusts me with everything in his household. I have complete authority to do what I want. He’s withheld nothing from me but you because you are his wife. How can I do such an evil thing and commit such a sin!!”
This has has gone on for some weeks. Then it escalates. She catches him by himself in the house when they are alone. The other servants are absent. Mrs. Potiphar passionately grabs him to seduce him and tells him to make love to her. He refuses and flees from the house. Mrs. Potiphar has held onto him so tightly that he has to tear himself away—literally—and runs off with her holding his robe. He runs off naked or in his skivvies.
Now Mrs. Potiphar is the jilted lover. She has his cloak. She uses that as evidence against Joseph and gets her revenge by telling the other household servants that Joseph tried to rape her. When Potiphar comes home, she shows him the “evidence” and says “that Hebrew slave you bought and put in charge of everything tried to rape me!”
Potiphar is enraged and throws Joseph into the castle dungeon. Think about this. God blesses everything Joseph does, and Potiphar’s household is thriving because of Joseph. And now this. Is Joseph blessed? Or is he cursed?! At this point he seems cursed!
What happens next? Joseph finds himself in prison, and again is obviously gifted and talented. The Lord continues to bless everything he does, and the jailor puts Joseph in charge of the prison. Verse 21 says, “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. Verse 23 says, “the Lord was with Joseph and caused everything he did to succeed.” And yet he stays in that prison for more than a decade. Cursed!
Some things to consider. Joseph is “taken down” three times in our text, and then picked up and blessed each of those times. First, he is taken down by being thrown into a pit, with the plan to murder him. Yet he is “rescued—taken up” and sold as a slave. Then he is “taken down” to Egypt and sold again as a slave to Potiphar—captain of the guard for Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. He is lifted up because of God’s blessings and put in charge of everything in Potiphar’s house. And yet again—a third time—he is taken down by an angry woman who sought to use her power and position. For her own sexual lust she tries to seduce a slave. When Joseph refuses he is thrown into a dungeon. No trial. No defense. Just accused and convicted and sentenced. Blessed or cursed?! And yet again, Joseph is put in charge of the entire prison because the head of the prison sees how good Joseph is at managing things. He is a gifted, capable young man. God blesses everything he does. Just like Potiphar, the warden can put his feet up and not worry about anything because Joseph has it handled!
For those of you who know this story, which takes up a good part of the book of Genesis, you know that though Joseph lies forgotten for nearly a dozen years in the dungeon, he ends up being the Prime Minister of Egypt and saving the entire country from an extreme famine. Joseph’s father and all his family too are saved from the famine and we see the divine reason behind the scene for God’s choosing and blessing Joseph.
The final chapter of Genesis shows Joseph’s brothers fearing for their lives. “What if Joseph seeks revenge and has us executed. We deserve it! He has the power to make it happen!” Joseph tells them not to worry. “You meant harm, yet God was working behind the scene to bring about good and the saving of many!”
Blessed to be a blessing! Indeed! Can you see God’s purpose and plan being brought about in our world today? When evil seems to reign uncontrolled; when evil people get away with murder, literally! When the world seems to be out of control and God seems to be on vacation, look again!
God was on the move through Joseph’s life and brought about good back then. It didn’t happen over night. Nor does it today. But be patient. Also, be willing to be chosen and to be used as God’s instrument for change and healing. Who knows? Maybe you are the next Joseph. We are God’s hands and feet for the sake of the world today. One act of kindness, random kindness can lead to another, and to another. God can use a Joseph, or a Ruth Bader Ginsburg or you and me to bring about justice, healing and change. Don’t despair. Pray. And then in holy boldness act! God is on the move. Through us!
In Jesus’ name. Amen.