A few thoughts on the Old Testament text this week; Genesis 45.  I suppose a name change was in order. After all, Joseph’s dad had a name change. Jacob had wrestled with God and prevailed. As a result, Jacob name (meaning “cheater”) had been changed to Israel (meaning “one that struggles with God and men). The name change did Jacob a great deal of good. It prepared him for his reunion with his brother, Esau. (Jacob had cheated Esau out of his inheritance!)

Joseph’s new name would not come from the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob but his name change would come from Pharaoh, the Egyptian god-king. Egypt existed only because of the Nile River. Without that water source, Egypt would be a mere desert atop the Northern African terrain. Egyptians lived according to the cycles of the river. It would swell early summer until October, then a decline until June. Food production, festivals and business cycles all revolved around the workings of the Nile.

Now when Joseph heard the Pharaoh recount his dream of seven fat cows consumed by seven lean cows and seven fat heads of wheat devoured by seven thin heads, it was obvious that the dream was about the Nile. The precious life-giving cycle was about to be interrupted.

When Pharaoh heard this, he began to prepare for the predicted seven years of famine. In doing so, he put Joseph in charge. Joseph needed one thing – to erase his Hebrew past. A name change was in order. Joseph was called Zaphenath-Paneah. Some scholars thinks he means “one who reveals secrets”.

No one wanted to erase his Hebrew past more than Joseph. It was full of painful memories mixed with bitter recollections of the lost connections to those he loved. Joseph was only a boy when his father sent him to check in on his older brothers. They sold him into slavery. Tired of hearing his dreams that predicted they would bow in front of him, tired of watching his father dote lavishly upon him, they were just plain tired of being second, third and fourth place. So they told his father he had met his maker when a wild animal made lunch of the boy.

Joseph landed in Egypt, far from home. He did not know if his father was still alive, he did not know if his brothers ever gave a second thought to what they did or was life better for them without him. No one wanted to forget more than Joseph.

Any readers of the Old Testament would have assumed he did forget when his first son was born shortly after his promotion. He names the boy Manasseh, meaning “It is because God made me forget all my troubles and all in my father’s household.” For short, one could call Manasseh “forget”. But when the second son is born, Joseph names him “It is because God made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” Ah, see Joseph does still remember his suffering. He names his boys (shorthand names, of course) “forget” and “remember”.

We do remember don’t we? Powerful hurts are never far from the minds of those who were victims. You may be able to compartmentalize a separate saddle bag for these memories, but we still carry them. Joseph carried these memories. It was all he had.

The Nile River only feeds the upper portions of African continent. It is the rain of the Goshen Valley that feeds the contributory streams of Canaan. And Canaan is where Joseph’s family resides. How odd that a drought would strike Canaan and a famine strike Egypt at the same time?

Now Joseph’s brothers, sent by his father, come to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes them immediately but they only see Zaphenath-Paneah. As Joseph’s dream predicted, the older brothers bow before the him.  Joseph remembers his dream.

This is the part of the story where we are sorely disappointed. The happy reunion is postponed.  We want it right away, after all Joseph is the good guy right?  Our disillusionment stems from knowing the rest of the story. From the New Testament Jesus tells this story:

There once was a father that had two sons…..retell Luke 15:11-32

Joseph is not ready to take on the role of the forgiving father of Jesus’ story. If anything he manipulates his brothers into bringing his full brother, Benjamin to Egypt. Then Joseph manufactures situations for the brothers to negotiate. While his methods leave much to be desired, Joseph is looking for something as he observes his brothers reactions to the obstacles he places before them.

Joseph is looking for building blocks of reconciliation.

  1. Introduce the difference between forgiveness and reconciliation
    1. Forgiveness: embrace the pain, gain an understanding of what happened and let go of the grudge (the longing to do harm)
      1. This is a solo/inside job
      2. You can forgive someone without their participation, you can forgive a person who has passed, you can forgive yourself

        Reconciliation will never feel right if one or more parties push to forget what happened.

To forgive is to set the prisoner free and discover the prisoner was you. –Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget

  1. Reconciliation: mutual story exchange, express hurt, express remorse and begin the process of establishing trust
    1. It takes two who value the relationship
    2. The language is restorative verses retaliatory (slow process)

It takes one person to forgive; it takes two people to be reunited. –Lewis B. Smedes, Forgive and Forget

Joseph is looking for a changed brotherhood. And every time he finds it, he weeps.

Genesis 42:18-24 – The brothers do remember what they did and they do believe it was wrong.

Genesis 43:29-30 – Benjamin is well/his brothers kept their word

Even the Father of Jesus’ Prodigal Son parable jumps to return the son to his original status in the relationship after he hears the son’s remorse and attempt at restitution.

Genesis 44:18-33– Judah’s speech showing concern about Jacob

While Joseph’s methods are questionable, he searches for what we all seek when wanting to rejoin a broken relationship – trust. The brothers demonstrate a changed heart and mind toward the past (how they treated Joseph) and toward the present (how they treated Benjamin and Jacob).  Gone are the bullies from Joseph’s youth.  Before him are men, seasoned and thoughtful. This change is fertile ground for rebuilding what was lost – trust.  Because of their willingness to change, Joseph now remembers the event every differently.  No longer did his brothers do him harm.  But God used their harm to save the family.  Joseph no longer struggles for forget, but reframes his memory.

Reconciliation takes two, it takes trust and it takes time.

But what about those who refuse to reconcile?  (see postscript)

postscript:  Reconciliation is a rare thing.  Even Joseph does not fully achieve it.  His brothers remind him of his promise to Jacob to be good to them after Jacob dies.  Still they do not trust him.  This should come to no surprise to the Old Testament reader.  Jacob who supposedly reconciles with his brother Esau, departs from the meeting lying about his departure direction.  Obviously, full trust is never granted.  But that is not to say that it does not happen.  Reconciliation takes two who value the relationship, working to recover what was lost.

And even God, who forgives, still allows the consequences of bad behavior to take place.  Without a willingness to rebuild trust, attempts at reconciliation are futile.