Dreams and dysfunctions. Genesis ch37 v2b – 36.
Part 1 Dreams.
By the time Joseph was born into a family of ten brothers and several sisters, his father Jacob was an old man. As head of the clan, Jacob seemed to think he should behave as he pleased, which involved showing favouritism and unconditional love to Joseph. This created a schism between his older brothers and himself. The brothers saw that Joseph was different, there were to be no hand me downs for Joseph, only the best. There was sore resentment when Jacob produced that brand new, long sleeved decorated robe which has been illustrated in books and on film and ‘coutoured’ for many a school play, rising to full Andrew Lloyd Webber musical status.
By now, Joseph was 17, no longer a child, nor yet a man, an age in one’s life when ideas, expectations, plans and ambitions often come together either in the form of daydreams or dreams while asleep. Teenagers are the same the world over, pushing the boundaries, learning about themselves, coping with hormones and being totally self-obsessed.
How much has human nature changed since those times and the present day? Perhaps not that much. That might explain why Joseph seemed to be oblivious to his brothers’ feelings and the hatred and jealousy that were growing in them. Things became worse when he related a dream he’d had. You remember the sheaves of wheat, with Joseph’s one standing up and the other eleven gathered round bowing down to the middle one?
Well, they were incandescent at the thought that he would be a king and rule over all of them.
Had he really intended to degrade them?
Was he trying to wind them up?
Or could he possibly have realised that they couldn’t stand the sight of him and yet he wasn’t too worried because he was his father’s favourite and there was a kind of magic shield protecting him that they could never penetrate?
At any rate, he seemed to live in his own bubble of naivety, heedless to the hatred and jealousy that was simmering.
But even his father couldn’t stomach the telling of the second dream where the sun, moon and eleven stars bowed down to Joseph. Again, they had interpreted the dream. His brothers, mother and father were all bowing to worship him. It seemed to be a family gift to interpret dreams so easily! The dream message was downright insulting. We’re fortunate that the bible doesn’t relate everything the brothers and their father probably said to him after hearing the second dream!
They were indeed rather strange dreams – and possibly Joseph was so intrigued by them and his own importance that he wanted to let the family know all about them.
How often have we had a strange dream, and the first thing you want to do in the morning is to tell someone about it before it fades from your memory, because dreams nearly always disappear after you waken up. People who interpret dreams can usually explain at least some of the elements that appear and triggers can often be traced back to seeing someone for the first time in a while, or a conversation where someone or something is mentioned during the day before that night’s sleep.
Scientists will tell us that it’s the brain putting memories and sensations back into a conscious context. Tidying up and filing away in other words.
However, although this story is in the first book of the bible where we’re told God created our world and everything in it, the galaxies and the universe there is no mention of God and there are references to God speaking to his chosen ones through dreams in both the Old and the New Testament. Although everyone had a good idea what the dreams meant, nobody knew how they would come to pass. I am sure if Joseph had known what he would have to go through to become the king of the others, then he wouldn’t have been so arrogant when he described the dreams to the family.
But then, maybe that was the problem. God may not have been all that bothered about Joseph becoming powerful, but God was bothered about what kind of person he would be when he held that power. Power corrupts, but absolute power corrupts absolutely, or words to that effect, to quote a modern saying. And there’s always the possibility that that can be our problem too. We can be more concerned about WHAT is happening in our lives instead of WHO we are becoming.
Let us pray
The long hot summer is just a distant memory. Flurries of leaves are being swept along by chilly autumn winds and squally showers soak anyone who happens to be out at the wrong time. And comfort to their distress.
We pray for those here and around the world who have lost their homes and members of their families in recent disastrous storms and floods.
We ask you to be with them, bringing your calm to their chaos
We praise you for our lives, for the happiness and the people we have known. Family members who have helped us through the highs and the lows, people we have loved.
Friends who have shared times with us, caring, helping and supporting us and we pray that we have been as good friends to them.
Loving God, We pray for families in our world who are broken.
Often within families there are times when jealousies can create tension, misunderstandings cause hurt and anger, frustrations lead to harsh words and sometimes feud.
May your spirit of reconciliation work in such situations; bringing peace where it is possible and an end to increasing hurt and tension where it is not.
We pray too for the hungry of the world.
Where there is poverty bring the provision of adequate food.
Where there is famine brought about by dry conditions or flooding, allow a change in the environmental conditions that these situations might improve.
As you deal directly with us, may you plant in us an attitude that does not accept the way things are when there are injustices or unfairness in the way that business and commerce work, particularly in situations where some are prevented access to the resources that others have in abundance.
We pray these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Part 2 Dysfunctions.
One day Jacob sent Joseph to find his brothers and their flocks and check that they were OK. When Joseph finally found them, he was still a long way off, but as he was wearing “the robe”, they spotted him in the distance.
Still fuelled with anger at his dreams, they made a joint decision to kill him. Verses 19 and 20 give us a clear notion of how they were feeling.
(They said to one another, “Here comes that dreamer. Come on now, let’s kill him and throw his body into one of the dry wells. We can say that a wild animal killed him. Then we will see what becomes of his dreams.”)
Fortunately, there was some care and decency in the eldest brother Reuben’s heart and he persuaded them to throw Joseph unharmed into a dry well where he planned to return later and rescue his brother, sending him back to their father. Reuben went off to watch the flocks. Judah, another of the older brothers, also had some conscience about killing Joseph. He realised how difficult, nigh impossible it would be to explain the disappearance to their father. Yes, they had his torn robe, but describing a wild animal attack … well, which kind of animal? Why hadn’t they come to Joseph’s rescue and fought it off? Judah came up with an even better idea – to sell Joseph to traders so that he would be taken away altogether. They all colluded to the implication that a wild animal must have killed him, but not in their sight. The robe dipped in goat’s blood created that illusion and so they headed for home.
Did you notice what they said when they took the robe to their father?
“We found this. Does it belong to your son?”
It sounds so impersonal. They couldn’t even bring themselves to take ownership of Joseph as their brother, just ‘Jacob’s son’.
As many of you will know, Joseph’s future is eventually very successful, but I mustn’t take over all Jim’s material for his next two sermons!
The early years of Joseph’s life are shown in the light of a dysfunctional family. At the top of the hierarchy is a father who makes no secret of having a favourite who is excused from shepherding, work that the others have to do. In addition, he makes it obvious that he loves Joseph more than any of the others by giving him the exceptional robe.
We know that when a new born baby arrives, everyone is interested and visitors make a fuss of it. Parents are occupied in the early days and older children can feel left out, not loved and generally ignored. Caring parents take the time to include their other children and find ways to make them feel special in their own right until that little one is old enough to behave like one of the family and so be treated in the same way as the others.
The brothers, who are quite a lot older than Joseph, seem to have forgotten their teenage years and how it felt when they thought nobody understood them. They appear to be one mass of manhood, acting as a crowd, allowing their irritations to ignite with one another’s, openly showing their prejudice and resentment to their father’s treatment of Joseph. They are actually out of control. They club together in their treacherous plans, relying on the safety in numbers, no one need take the blame. Even Reuben and Judah agreed to keep quiet about what really happened.
There appears to be very little love in this dysfunctional family, apart from the obvious love Jacob has for Joseph. The brothers are all about looking out for themselves, even Reuben and Judah. Reuben was panic-stricken when he returned to free Joseph from the dry well and found it empty. He knew that, as the oldest son, he would be held responsible for the loss of Joseph. Judah knew that as he had suggested the sale of Joseph to the Midianites, nobody would back him up or help by sharing the blame. Judah would receive his father’s full anger and be responsible for his father’s grieving. Either way, it destroyed Jacob’s life and no one on Earth could comfort him.
All this time, however, although never mentioned, God was present. He loved this dysfunctional family. He could see that there was unrest, resentment and eventually murderous thoughts, but he never allowed it to go too far. He chose Joseph to be his hero and as he grew up, God was in his heart, making him a good man, generous, respected and well liked; and all this in a foreign country, Egypt, not his homeland.
The dreams were correctly interpreted by the family, although it would be many years before they would have cause to remember them. God’s plan was already under way and he was watching over Joseph’s life. Something in both Reuben’s and Judah’s minds made them think of plans other than murder. Something in the minds of the other brothers mellowed their killing lust and allowed them to be persuaded to release Joseph to the traders on their way to Egypt. Again, it would be many years before they would be reminded of the two dreams Joseph had described to them.
God is in all our lives, whether we welcome him or not. We are all loved by him, whether we are aware of it or not. Whatever our families are like, God loves us. God’s plans take a long time to unfold and even longer to be understood. We have to be patient, but we can always be sure that whatever life throws at us, we are not alone. God knows. God cares. God loves us.
Let us pray.
Loving and gracious God,
You have been here for eternity. You have shared people’s lives through their joy and sorrow, good times and bad. You know everything about us.
Thank you for family life which teaches us how to cope with others and helps build our character. You keep a watchful eye on us.
Sometimes, it’s long after an event or a change in circumstances that we look back and realise that things have worked out, not as we expected, but perhaps, for the best.
Even then, we may not recognise your hand in these changes. Forgive us for not speaking to you often enough.
Since long before Joseph’s time you have made amazing events happen to change people’s lives. It always seems easier to see you and your intervention in others’ situations.
We regret that sometimes we are caught up in the events of our lives and we’re so concerned about what’s happening, our hearts are not open to you.
You are concerned with who we become after life’s influences and how our characters are built by experience.
Loving and gracious God, help us to hear you in our prayers so that we may become the kind of people you want us to be – the best we can possibly be.