Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. This is the account of Jacob’s family line. Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them. Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Today we start the Joseph narrative, given in the last 14 chapters of Genesis. Unlike the stories of Abraham and Jacob, this narrative is not made up of a collection of independent and disjointed memories but is a ‘sustained and artistically crafted statement of considerable literary finesse’ (to quote Walter Brueggemann).
The person of Joseph and the narrative about Joseph is the means by which an important theological statement is offered to Israel, as well as being a linkage between the nomadic period in Canaan and the Exodus account of oppression and liberation. Through hints and implications, the narrative tells us of the providential ways of God: God’s way will triumph with or without the contributions of any human actor, including Joseph. It is a highly moral tale of the innocent victim of jealousy and ill-will, who turns the tables on his persecutors and returns good for evil. Because of this, some have said that Joseph is suggestive of Jesus, a typological precursor.
In the first few verses we see the innocence of Joseph somewhat clouded by him behaving as if he were a cut above his brothers; like the spoilt darling of Jacob, and is further exacerbated by him telling tales on them. Despite this unpromising beginning to the narrative, Joseph is portrayed as a man of integrity who is happy to serve all. The more we read of Joseph the more we see Jesus reflected in him.
Father God, at times you remain hidden to us. But, like Joseph, we can see you at work when we look back. I pray that you will give us the confidence in all aspects of our lives, at all times, to live in the deep knowledge that you can and will use even us to fulfil your will. Amen
Alan Yates is Moderator of General Assembly, 2016-18