Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.’ He answered, ‘Here I am.’ So he said to him, ‘Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock; and bring word back to me.’ So he sent him from the valley of Hebron.
He came to Shechem, and a man found him wandering in the fields; the man asked him, ‘What are you seeking?’ ‘I am seeking my brothers,’ he said; ‘tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.’ The man said, ‘They have gone away, for I heard them say, “Let us go to Dothan.” ’ So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. They said to one another, ‘Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.’ But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, ‘Let us not take his life.’ Reuben said to them, ‘Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him’—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, ‘What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.’ And his brothers agreed. When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
Joseph is trafficked. Like countless individuals though history, and more than ever in our own time, he is going to find himself stripped of clothing, possessions and identity. And it’s all such a contrast with his dreams of a future that was going to be so much brighter and more assured than any of his brothers back home. Where did it all go wrong?
The young girl today who ends up in the massage parlour or the nail bar may discover too late that her family were naive, and too trusting of the smooth talking agents who promised her that wonderful job in the West. But Joseph has to live with the pain that those closest to him have betrayed him deliberately; and if he has overheard their conspiratorial conversations, he realises how half-hearted even Reuben and Judah have been in trying to defend him. To them too, he is just “this dreamer”.
But we probably miss the force of that word. Joseph is not what we would call a daydreamer. His dreams are not at all like the childish ambitions for fame and celebrity, or even those more specific longings for a new life in a better place, that lie behind many journeys today. Rather, Joseph’s dreams relate to the hidden purposes of the God who is hardly mentioned in these chapters, but who is the inspiration of the prophets who speak out in his name, and who prove themselves ready even to risk their lives as they cry out for justice, and an end to slavery and oppression in every age.
Dare we dream of, and then work for, a time when people are trafficked no more? “I have a dream” could still be a powerful cry.
Journeying God Be close to all who journey along ways that they have not chosen. Protect all who are victims of trafficking, exploitation and greed. Strengthen all who call for and work for their freedom that we may all journey with you in your ways of justice and mercy and peace. Amen
The Rev’d John Durell is a retired minister and member of Waddington Street URC, Durham