Theme: Family Reconciliation
Leading Question: Is it possible to redeem negative events of the past?
With this lesson, the study of the Book of Genesis concludes. It carries the title Genesis, the Book of the Beginnings. However, to truly understand the storyline of this book one must pay attention to its ending.
Genesis ends with three significant scenes. First, Jacob blesses his grandsons, Joseph’s sons, Ephraim and Manasseh. Second, Jacob blesses his twelve sons. In these the blessings spoken over his three eldest sons, Ruben, Simeon and Levi, reflect a significant amount of tension in the family. And third, after the death of Jacob, the brothers ask Joseph to forgive them, which he does.
The three scenes imply that at the end of Genesis, the book’s message is about the family. Family comes before the land, the nation, and before the pursuit of wealth and power. What matters in the end, is that family tensions and disagreements must find resolution before the page can be turned to the story of Exodus where the family of Jacob grows into a people and a nation. In the book of Exodus, the position of the Israelites in Egypt becomes very vulnerable, and all the power Joseph had centralized into the hands of Pharaoh would eventually be used against them. And so, Rabbi Sacks concludes, “How could they live together as a people, if they couldn’t even live together as a family?” Therefore, “Genesis is not about power. It is about families. Because that is, where life together begins.”1Sacks, “Family, Faith, and Freedom.” And, as the story shows, there is nothing easy about making and sustaining family life. Genesis does not praise the virtues of the family; rather, it is an honest account about the problems that exist even within the best of families, it is a display of the real messiness of family life. The challenge of Genesis then, is to find ways to handle family conflicts, to forgive wrongs of the past, and how to care for family members.
Question: In what way does Joseph’s reconciliation with his family inspire us to find resolution in our family conflicts?
There seem to be two unexpected ways of how the end of the Book of Genesis teaches family reconciliation. First, Joseph does something unusual when he reveals himself to his brothers. Fully aware that they will be shocked when they learn who he is, he reinterprets the past:
“I am your brother Yosef, the one you sold into Egypt!
And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves
for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.
For two years now there has been famine in the land,
and for the next five years there will be no ploughing and reaping.
But God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth
and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God.
He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.”
From a story of kidnapping and injustice his lifestory has turned to one of divine providence and redemption. “It wasn’t you,” he tells his brothers, “it was God. You didn’t realise that you were part of a larger plan. Although it began badly, it has ended well. So do not feel guilty. And do not be afraid that I want revenge. I do not. I realise that we were all being directed by a force greater than ourselves, greater than we can fully understand.”
Question: Can you think of any events in your life that seemed bad at the time but in hindsight were meaningful?
Often, we do not understand what is happening to us now until we can look back in retrospect and see how it all turned out. This means that we are not held captive by the past. Things can happen to us, that can completely alter the way our life unfolds, and we recognize the difference only when we look back and remember. That is when we will be able to reinterpret the past.
The second insight into the reconciliation of Joseph’s family at the end of Genesis, comes, when we take a closer look at the events of reuinion. We learn about an amazing sequence of seven events that display his emotional life: Joseph weeps! There are seven scenes of tears:
1. When the brothers appear before Joseph in Egypt for the first time, they said to one another,
“Surely we are being punished because of our brother.
We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life,
but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us” . . .
They did not realize that Joseph could understand them, since he was using an interpreter.
He turned away from them and began to weep, but then came back and spoke to them again.
(Gen 42:21–24; my emphasis)
2. On the second occasion, when the brothers brought Benjamin with them to Egypt:
As he lifted his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, he said,
“Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me?”
And he said, “May God be gracious to you, my son.”
Joseph hurried out for he was deeply stirred over his brother,
and he sought a place to weep; and he entered his chamber and wept there.
Then he washed his face and came out;
and he controlled himself and said, “Serve the meal.”
(Gen. 43:29-31; my emphasis)
3. After Judah’s impassioned speech, Joseph discloses his identity and weeps loudly:
Then Joseph could not control himself before all those who stood by him,
and he cried, “Have everyone go out from me.”
So there was no man with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers.
He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard of it.
(Gen 45:1–2; my emphasis)
4. Immediately after he discloses his identity to his brothers:
Then he threw his arms around his brother Benjamin and wept,
and Benjamin embraced him, weeping.
And he kissed all his brothers and wept over them.
(Gen 45:14–15; my emphasis)
5. When he meets his father after their long separation, Joseph wept for a long time:
Joseph had his chariot made ready and went to Goshen to meet his father Israel.
As soon as Joseph appeared before him,
he threw his arms around his father and wept for a long time.
(Gen 46:29; my emphasis)
6. On the death of his father:
Joseph threw himself on his father and wept over him and kissed him.
(Gen 50:1; my emphasis)
7. After his father’s death, when the brothers approached him worried that he had not forgiven their wrongdoing, Joseph wept:
When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said,
“What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”
So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died:
‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins
and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’
Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.”
When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
(Gen 50:15–17; my emphasis)
There is no parallel to the seven acts of Joseph’s weeping in the Bible. Every instance of weeping has its own significance. Each reflects the drama of his internal life. The descriptions of his tearful outbreaks span the full spectrum of emotion, from painful memory to the joy of being reunited with the brothers, especially with Benjamin and then with his father Jacob. There are tears when he discloses his identity to his brothers, and he weeps at Jacob’s deathbed. But the most intriguing are the tears he sheds last when he hears that his brothers still fear that he will take revenge on them after their father is no longer alive.
At this moment, Yosef discovers the limits of raw power. He discovers the extent to which the human connection, the personal connection, the family connection, hold far more value and importance than does power – both for the person himself and for all those around him . . .
He weeps over the weakness inherent in power, over the terrible price that he has paid for it. His dreams have indeed been realized, on some level, but the tragedy remains just as real. The torn shreds of the family have not been made completely whole.
When will the shreds be made whole? Only a few hundred years later, with someone who appears on the stage of Jewish history as an infant crying in a basket among the bulrushes. It is he who seeks the bones of Yosef and, in the midst of the exodus, takes the trouble to bring them up for burial in Israel. It is only when they leave Egypt, only when they leave the territory where Yosef had been lord and ruler, and only through renewed weeping, that Yosef succeeds – that history succeeds – in sewing the pieces back together.2Harav Aharon Lichtenstein, “Yosef’s Tears” (https://www.etzion.org.il/en/philosophy/great-thinkers/harav-aharon- lichtenstein/alei-etzion16-yosef%E2%80%99s-tears; retreived 29 April 2022).
Questions: What is more important to you: protecting your inner self and keeping emotional restraint or letting go of barriers? What are some moments when you allow your inner person to be seen? What does that do for you?
There are three times when the New Testament tells of Jesus’ tears (John 11:35; Luke 19:41; Hebrews 5:7-9) showing that the Lord truly “sympathizes with our weaknesses” (Hebrews 4:15).