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Fall Quarter: Love for One Another
Unit 1: Struggles with Love
Sunday school lesson for the week of September 27, 2020
By Dr. D. Craig Rikard
Lesson Scripture: Genesis 43; 45:1-15
Key Verse: 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. (Genesis 45:5)
The “cat and mouse” game of Joseph with his brothers, and the emotional offering of Judah as a surrogate for Benjamin
- Recount the moment when Joseph revealed himself to his brothers in Egypt
- Joseph seeks to understand and relay God’s will in the events from his childhood from Canaan to Egypt.
- Describe the beautiful reconciliation of Jacob’s family through love and family.
The opening paragraphs of the narrative of Joseph’s story could be described as a concoction of human sin and a cacophony of human behaviors. There is deceit, lying, slavery, arrogance and I am certain there are others. There must also be the sin of self-deception suffered by the brothers since they had to live with their sin and witness the grief they caused their parents for almost 20 years.
The story even jumps from one emotional state to another. Joseph speaks harshly, but has his moments of extreme tenderness. He sends his brothers on their way and then finds or creates reasons to bring them back to Egypt. It is also a story of revelation and deception. Joseph recognized his brothers but they do not recognize him from his Egyptian clothing and grooming. Joseph also learns of his younger brother Benjamin and later that his father is alive. Yet, his brothers have little idea who Joseph is. And finally, there is shifting of power. In the opening of the story Joseph is a weaker young man of 17. The brothers over-power him, toss him in a cistern, and sell him to the Midianites. As the years pass, Joseph is the one who possesses power over his brothers and can imprison them if he chooses.
The selfish rationale of his brother’s selling Joseph as a slave, when Joseph’s own love refused to do the same to his vengeful brothers emotionally touched Joseph, and deeply. His crying was so passionate he had all to leave him alone except his brothers so he could weep alone. His brothers were allowed to remain so Joseph could at last reveal his true identity. In response to his revelation Joseph’s brothers were terrified. Joseph would have been around 37, and many of them probably assumed him dead. Thus, his being alive, and holding such a high degree of power, would have been shocking. Joseph certainly had just cause to enact revenge. Yet, it is Joseph’s love for his family that Joseph first expresses. He wanted to know if his father Jacob still lived.
This section involves shock, fear, imprisonment, deception regarding identity, revelation of identity after several days, and a shifting of power. Now the narrative shifts to a most difficult question: is suffering used by God to accomplish his will?
The question of all questions
Does God employ human suffering to accomplish his divine will when we usually think of suffering as destructive and disruptive? This question has been a major philosophical/theological question for us from the beginning of human questioning and contemplation. The early Hebrews simply accepted the answer to the question of God’s using suffering to work in human history as “a given.” Suffering was simply a part of life. It wasn’t until we reach the years of the prophets, like Habakkuk, that we hear the questioning of suffering as a part of God’s sovereign will. Habakkuk asks why God allows their enemies to be used to chastise Israel. Of course, the entire book of Job questions God’s punishment of Job, who is known as a good, “perfect” man. Personally, I find it difficult to move forward in the story of Joseph without at least entertaining the question. For me, I have to return to the question as to why God created the second tree. If the second tree did not exist, human sin and the ensuing suffering could possibly be avoided.
However, the purpose of that tree reminds us that life is more than simply the opportunity to live with no difficulty, and to do so with longevity. The second tree has more to do with meaning than any other issue. Without the second tree, life may prove long and easy. Yet, what would it mean? For me, life has everything to do with meaning
. Life with meaning allows us to experience the wonder and joy of life. Remove the second tree and what would life mean? What would life mean without the possibility of death? What would love mean without the possibility of hatred? What would knowledge mean apart from ignorance? It is the opportunity the second tree offers that gives life its rich meaning. Without that tree, life is simply a shallow existence with little meaning. Our life would be robotic, and righteous, godly choices would have no meaning.
In conclusion in discussing this complex question, I considered the question that most hurts us, and can be the most difficult to understand. Why do the innocent suffer? Though my understanding offers little comfort, it still brings meaning to my understanding of life. Every good and noble accomplishment on the part of humanity has been born from our concern about the suffering of the innocent. For example, Mothers Against Drunk Driving exists because an innocent child suffered. We attempt to cure diseases so the innocent will not have to suffer. Humankind’s highest knowledge and richest compassion exists because innocent people suffer. Notice in John’s revelation that his vision of God’s Kingdom, presented in all of its glory, includes the removal of all suffering. Thus, we understand it was not God’s will that any of us suffer. But suffering allows us to raise our eyes from the difficulties of life to that glorious day when the kingdom arrives in all of its glory, to experience life when all of its meaning has arrived in its new heaven and new earth.
Suffering remains and will always remain a complex issue of mystery for me. Still, I trust God’s sovereign love and will as I seek to understand it. I pray each of you will never give up your quest to understand the powerful, loving will of God at work in all of human life, especially in the mysteries.
God sent me ahead of you
Joseph strongly believed God sent the suffering in the life of his family to save the people. He does not attempt to philosophically or theologically understand the “question of questions.” He never asks “Why?” Suffering for Joseph was simply a part of life under the control and will of the sovereign Lord. Suffering can be a special expression of God’s loving work among us. It would prove much easier to understand life if the Bible simply answered all the difficult questions. But then we would stop seeking, knocking, and looking for divine truth. I would spend far less time on my knees and less time looking for that day when God’s Kingdom fully arrives. And, I would not seek God in the sufferings of life. Not only can God use love and suffering to accomplish his will to grant us purpose in life, God can use the suffering itself to teach us wonder of life.
The next section includes a passage of scripture that includes Esther. Like Esther, how did Joseph not know that God had sent him into Egypt for the same redemptive purpose as Esther found herself in Persia: to save God’s people?
This is an important question to ask in times of suffering. How do I know that God has not sent me into this time for the wonder and beauty of God’s divine redemption?
It is important to realize that Esther and Joseph were not looking at life through their own ego-centric eyes. They saw life through God’s redemptive working. Therefore, there was no blaming of God, no matter how difficult life became. And, it is just as amazing that blame plays no role in this entire amazing saga. Within our human sinful lives there is always plenty of blame to share. But they do not blame God, and they do not blame each other. This refusal of blame was the liberating power that released them to live a new life of love together. Blame accomplishes nothing, but the refusal of blame can liberate everything.
In the opening passage I shared that one of the reasons the story of Joseph might have been included in Genesis is that it reveals how God’s covenant people ended up in Egypt. From there the most important historical covenant event occurred through the Exodus.
In 45:7 we read that Joseph understood God’s sending him to Egypt to preserve a remnant on earth and to save their lives by a great deliverance (the Exodus).
This lesson opened with the family learning their identity, and the redemption that followed. It then moves to the mighty sovereign working of God’s working through all the events from Joseph’s being sold to the Midianites to his rise to power in Egypt. The passage proclaims “God is in all, working through all, to accomplish his covenant will.”
Almighty God, teach us to bow before the mystery and the complexities of life. When we do not understand, teach us to seek, but always upon our knees. Remind us that you are the God of love, revealed in Christ, and thus all things will work toward your divine good. In Jesus name, Amen.
Dr. D. Craig Rikard is a South Georgia pastor. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.