Then Joseph could not control his emotions before all those standing around,
and so he cried, “Have everyone leave me!”
So there was no one with Joseph when he revealed himself to his brothers.
He wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it -- even the household of Pharaoh.
Then Joseph said to his brothers,
“I am Joseph; is my father still alive?”
But his brothers could not answer him,
for they were dismayed at the sight of him.
Then Joseph said to them, “Please come closer to me.”
So they came closer.
Then he said,
your brother, whom you sold into
Now do not be grieved or angry with yourselves
because you sold me here,
for God sent me before you to preserve life.
For the famine has been in the land these two years,
and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.
God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on the earth,
and to keep you alive as a great band of survivors.
Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God;
and he has made me father to Pharaoh
and lord of all his household
and ruler over all the
Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him,
‘Thus says your son Joseph, “God has made me lord of all
come down to me, do not delay.
live in the
you and your children and your children’s children
and your flocks and your herds and all that you have.
There I will also provide for you,
for there are still five years of famine,
and you and your household and all that you have would be impoverished.”’
Look, your eyes see, as do the eyes of my brother Benjamin,
that it is my mouth which is speaking to you.
must tell my father of all my splendor in
and you must hurry and bring my father down here.”
Then he fell on his brother Benjamin’s neck and wept, and Benjamin wept on his neck.
He kissed all his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked to him.
One Sunday morning, Julie was abruptly assigned to substitute as a fifth and sixth grade Sunday School teacher. “What shall I teach these kids?” she asked herself. “I know, how about the story of Joseph – that’s always a hit!” So she told them about Jacob’s twelve sons, and how he gave his favorite one, young Joseph, a fancy coat. She told them about how Joseph was a taddle-tale, and had dreams of grandeur that his ten older brothers would bow down to him. She told them about how his brothers got back at him by selling him into slavery and tricking their dad into thinking he was dead. She told them how God was with Joseph as a slave in Egypt, and that he become the right-hand-man of Potiphar, and how it all went to pot when Potiphar’s wife got him thrown in prison for resisting her advances.
Julie told them how Joseph became the right-hand-man to the prison guard, and how he rightly interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s bartender and baker, and how the bartender forgot about him for two years until Pharaoh had some dreams of his own. She told the youngsters about how Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams to mean there would be seven good years for farming then seven years of famine. She told them how Pharaoh made Joseph his right-hand-man, and how he collected up grain for seven years, and how the whole world came to him to buy grain. She told them about how Joseph’s brothers showed up looking for grain, and how they did not recognize him, and how he made them go back and get his younger brother Benjamin. Julie told them about how Joseph’s brother Judah begged him to let Benjamin go home. She reached this climactic portion of the story, then asked the fifth and sixth graders, “What should Joseph do?” What was their reply? “Get back at them … put them in a pit … get rid of them!”
We might laugh at such ungraciousness. But those kids reveal how surprising it is that Joseph did not get back at them. No, Joseph said “You did not send me here, but God did.” What a statement of faith! Who can say such a thing? Who can blow through the hurt and pain and trauma to reach such a conclusion? Who can possess such a sanctified imagination?
Joseph has in this instance the uncanny ability to zoom out. He does not focus just on some part of his story. He zooms out to see the whole. From this angle he can take in the view: that God was at work in his life, even as his brothers sold him into slavery.
But there is more to
Joseph’s imagination. He also was able
zoom in. He focused on the details of
the story to point out exactly why God was at work in his life. This is not just blind faith. This is a thorough examination of God’s
precise plan. God sent Joseph before his
brothers to preserve a remnant of survivors.
God sent Joseph to
Joseph’s faith impresses us. But it may disturb us too. Sure, God did execute a secret plan via the schemes of Joseph’s brothers. But that does not change the facts. They still hatefully schemed to hurt their own brother. They still caused him to be separated from his family for nearly twenty years. Who wouldn’t trade all the wealth and even sustenance for time with their family? What value could one put on peace between brothers? How can Joseph’s brush stroke of providence wipe away the tears?
Maybe you have tried this brush stroke. Maybe some one has told you to look on the bright side of life. It doesn’t always work, does it? It’s hard to see how the beatings you took from older sibling were really God’s good work. It’s hard to imagine anything good coming out of your dad’s relocation to this crummy town. It’s hard to picture being passed up for promotion as a good thing. It’s hard to feel blessed by a terminal sickness. Maybe you try anyway. Maybe you see how those beatings gave you a drive to accomplish so much. Maybe you are learning to not rely on your popularity. Maybe a unique business opportunity opened that you would not have seen otherwise. Maybe your illness imparted to you a deep compassion for others. But it still hurts! You’ve tried Joseph’s brushstroke of providence, but it just can’t wipe away the tears.
Of course, Joseph did weep. Joseph cried and cried. He cried so loud that the Egyptians outside the room could hear. The sound of his agony even reached the house of Pharaoh. Could it be that his words of faith were not intended to wipe away those tears? Could it be that his imagination and his tears worked side-by-side? The story tells us that after these amazing words of faith, Joseph wept with his brother Benjamin. He then wept with all his brothers. His imaginative understand of God’s providence did not wipe away a single tear. Amidst this story of robust faith there is legitimate human emotion.
This is not the first time Joseph has cried over his brothers. Twice before he ran out of the room to cry in private. Was he just keeping his identity undercover? Or was he embarrassed of his tears? Did he not want anyone to know that he was weakened by the memory of his family? He did not feel free to cry. But he finally lost control. He let it all out. He cries out in front of his brothers. He weeps. And they cry with him.
It is this context, and only in this context, that Joseph speaks the words, “It was not you who sent me, but God.” Only under a sea of tears does his faith shine through. Joseph is not the patron of stiff upper lip Stoic faith. He does not fight his tears with imagination. He lets tears and imagination flow together.
It is this context, and only in this context, that you too can say with Joseph that God was at work in your hard times. You need a safe place to feel the full weight of human emotion before you try the brushstroke of divine providence. A place of freedom for your hidden tears. God has given you such a place. This can be your community of tears. Here you do not have to keep up a cover of strength in your time of suffering. Here you are free to cry. You don’t have to hide you pain to prove you are faithful. Faith and pain can coexist. Go ahead and cry.
If we learn to cry together like Joseph and his brothers, then we can learn to imagine together too. With our tear-filled eyes, we can explore how God is at work even in our suffering. In tears, you might glimpse that God was strengthening you through your sibling’s constant picking. In tears, you might see how you traded all those friends back there for that one really great friend here. In tears, you are able to realize that a more modest job placement has left more time for your family. In tears, you can notice that since the diagnosis of your illness, compassion and mercy have grown in you.
But don’t let me or anyone else imagine these divine possibilities for you. You are free to imagine when the time is right. What is the right time? When you – like Joseph – cannot control your emotions any longer. When you finally feel free to cry. Then you will also be free to imagine the hidden hand of God in your life.