Joseph has come a long way from that 17-year-old annoying brother, dreaming of all his family bowing down to him. He is in charge of all of Egypt and enjoying where God has brought him to.
Here we finally see those dreams of chapter 37 coming true as Joseph’s brothers come and literally bow down before him. No-one could have imagined how God would make those dreams come to pass. Joseph had some crazy dreams that he was bold enough to share, and ironically it was the sharing of those dreams that kick-started the process that led him to their fulfilment. Joseph is often seen as an arrogant youth, and he may or may not have been wise in the way that he shared his dreams, but he did believe that these dreams were worth sharing and whilst it could have been arrogance, it could also have been faith. When God promises us great things, we can have confidence that he can make those things happen, even when we can’t see how on earth they are possible. There is nothing that he can’t orchestrate. And God used some pretty dark circumstances to bring this about for Joseph. Being thrown into a pit and abandoned by his brothers, being sold into slavery in a foreign land, being wrongly accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. Only God could turn this around and use it for his purposes. The difficulty of our circumstances is not a reflection of how much God is at work in our lives or a sign that his hand isn’t on us. He sees the end from the beginning, he remembers the promises and dreams he has given you, and he can make anything out of anything.
But even as Joseph sees the fulfilment of those dreams unfolding in front of him, he is not fully prepared to deal with it and his past comes and smacks him in the face when he isn’t expecting it. This is a messy family. There is father Jacob who has 12 kids. He has 2 wives (at the same time – messy!). Rachel is his favourite, therefore her kids are his favourite kids (messy). Rachel died in childbirth (loss and trauma). There were times when both wives couldn’t get pregnant so gave their servants for Jacob to sleep with; they had some of his sons, therefore these 12 sons had 4 mothers (super messy!). Most of the sons were involved in the selling of Joseph into slavery and then lying about him being dead for the last 20 years (guilt, lies, mess, trauma, loss). Joseph has been through a heap of trauma and it was all his brothers’ fault (anger, loss, trauma, mess). A lot of us have messy family situations, and this can extend to friends and church family. Family is so important, it is God’s plan for us, and it is incredibly painful when there is division, betrayal, abuse or other difficult situations that cause pain and shame. In verse 51 of chapter 41, Joseph calls his first son Manasseh, derived from the Hebrew for ‘forget’, saying “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” But that wasn’t God’s plan. He didn’t want Joseph to forget, he wanted redemption for that family.
When Joseph’s brothers turn up he isn’t prepared for redemption. He pretends to be a stranger and speaks to them harshly (v7), and when he sees them bow down and is reminded of his dream, his immediate response is to embark on a long, drawn-out power play involving lots of lying and manipulation of his brothers. This also buys him time to work on his response to his brothers and in chapter 45 he is able to humbly forgive them, leading to an emotional whole-family reunion in chapter 46. But it took time.
We know God loves redemption. At times circumstances may be out of our control, but we can ask God to work in our hearts so that when opportunities for forgiveness and reconciliation do come, we make the most of them. And we can pray for redemption of relationships knowing that we are praying in line with God’s heart and that he is able to orchestrate it in ways we could never even have dreamed.