Magazine article The Christian Century

In Solidarity with His Brothers

Magazine article The Christian Century

In Solidarity with His Brothers

Article excerpt

Genesis 45:1-15

WHEN WE FIRST meet Joseph in Genesis 37, he is tattling on his brothers. His father gives him a tunic with long sleeves. At the very least, anyone wearing such a garment would not be expected to do any real work, and 2 Samuel 13:18 suggests that it may even have had royal associations.

Accordingly, Joseph has dreams of grandeur, and then is obtuse enough to tell the dreams to his brothers and his father. The dream of sheaves--the brothers' sheaves bowing down to Joseph's sheaf--excites his brothers' hatred. But the cosmic dream--the sun, moon and 11 stars bowing down to Joseph--calls forth even his father's rebuke.

The brothers are off pasturing their flocks, and Jacob asks stay-at-home Joseph to go off and see how the brothers are. He would still be capable of tattling, and of course he is wearing that fancy tunic.

"Here comes this dreamer," the brothers say, and they determine to kill him. They strip Joseph of the hated tunic, throw him into a pit and realize a modest profit by selling him into slavery in Egypt. After dipping the tunic in goat's blood, they hand it to Jacob, and persuade him that Joseph is dead.

Now the great mystery unfolds. The spoiled brat raised amid rustic sheaves and sheep is plunged into a new language, new customs and a world of large-scale social enterprises. He manages to find his feet and his destiny, although it is a world in which one can be abased as well. Potiphar, Joseph's new master in Egypt, finds him worthy of responsibility, but Joseph's attractiveness brings on the false accusation of Potiphar's wife that lands him in prison. There he is given responsibility for other prisoners; even there God is with him. He helps his fellow prisoners with their dreams, and eventually helps Pharaoh with his. As a result, Pharaoh makes him prime minister of the realm, with responsibility for social affairs. Once he had worn a special tunic with long sleeves; now he wears garments of linen and a gold necklace.

Now the scene shifts back to Canaan. The famine has begun, and Jacob's family has determined to seek food in Egypt. A game of cat-and-mouse begins. Joseph's brothers are depicted as confused rustics. …

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