Bible Study â€“ Meeting Joseph The story of Joseph is found in the book of Genesis, from Ch 37 through to Ch 50. Joseph's saga is integral to the overall narrative of the Israelite's descent into Egypt and is one of the most expansive, layered and elaborate stories in the Torah. The extensive coverage (14 chapters!) follows Josephs progression from favoured son and dream interpreting shepherd to his prominence as Minister of Egypt. From the beginning, in Ch 37, we are straightaway introduced to Joseph as Jacob's favoured son. Vs 3: "Jacob loved Joseph more than all his sons since he was a child of his old age". Joseph begins life basking in the love and devotion of his Father. But this favouritism, along with his talent for interpreting dreams, when combined with Josephs immature & ensuing behaviour (Genesis 37:2 & 37:5-11) raised the destructive jealousy we see enacted in the brothers. It doesn't take long for the brothers to act up. It's easy to imagine them sitting around in the shepherding fields, disgruntled by their shared experience of jealousy. The compounded jealousy bubbles up into action and - on seeing Joseph the dreamer appear in the distance - they ambush the unsuspecting favoured brother and throw him into a pit. They soon sell him to Midianite merchants on their journey to Egypt who in turn sell him on to Potiphar and into servitude. It's here that we connect with the theme of Joseph as a victim of human trafficking and slavery. For the brothers, betrayal begets deceit. The coat belonging to the favoured son is torn apart, dipped into goat's blood and presented to their Father Jacob as evidence of his son's death. Sin compounded by sin. This epic story contains so many classic themes: Calling. Favour. Jealousy. Despair. Determination. Courage. Relief. Forgiveness. Redemption and Reconciliation. [For those who want to explore the text further, this story falls into the theory of the "Genesis triangle" which plays itself out right through Genesis Abel/Cain : Abraham/Lot : Sarah/Hagar : Jacob/Esau : Joseph and his brothers. Favouritism - Jealousy - Reconciliation. A dominant theme where Gods action through his people demonstrates the triumph of reconciliation over the needs of the human ego and self.] Joseph's journey is a rich tapestry, mimicking - to lesser and greater degrees - life as many of us experience it. His life is a series of highs and lows, moving between the highs of favouritism and unconditional love through to the lows of victimhood and betrayal; through the bewildering experience of forced servitude, false accusation and imprisonment back to the highs of restoration, renewal and reconciliation. As we observe Joseph, we can make links between the experiences of the characters in the story and our own experiences. In this bible study, we also attempt to examine the plight of those who currently live through and experience the heinous crime of trafficking and modern day slavery and we seek to reflect on our own willingness to engage with their plight. The Hebrew scholar, Yoram Hazony, makes this point: "The bottom line is that the Bible introduces hope into human political affairs. What it does is it takes the individual, empowers that individual and says "Somewhere above you, there is a transcendent God who is not controlled by the King or by the Priests or
by the Military [or even by traffickers and slave keepers] â€Ś All of human history has proceeded from that first spark of hope that appears in the Hebrew scriptures." We follow this journey of hope through four themes: Beloved - Betrayed - Bewildered - Beginning again.
Text & Story Genesis 37 : 1-11
Trafficking & Modern Slavery
As Joseph had great value in the eyes of his Father, so we have great value in the sight of God! We all start out on the journey of life as the beloved of God - of great worth.
In the world famous musical story of Joseph and his coat of many colours...Everyone starts out with hopes and dreams: "Any dream, any dream will do!" So did Joseph!
Joseph - Who is Joseph and what is his place in the family?
Even with all this love and affirmation showered upon him by his Father, Joseph still falls foul of his own ego - ingratiating himself in the eyes of his father at his brothers' expense and demonstrating a somewhat arrogant superiority by flaunting his gift of interpreting and placing himself at the head of his family!! Betrayed
Genesis 37 : 1 36
But Joseph's dreams create his downfall... the brothers are jealous - resulting in their abhorrent actions of betrayal and deceit. (Ch 37 : 18 - 24 & 31-34) The Brothers SELL him to the Ishmaelite caravan of Midianite merchants, who in turn SELL him to Potiphar as a slave. Sold on from one hand to another - as chattel and commodity. BUT "The Lord was with Joseph" (Ch 39 : 2)
Genesis 39 : 1 23
Even in the depths of betrayal, Joseph rises up to be a trusted servant of Potiphar. He is
The lure of hopes and dreams is what traffickers play on...victims all too easily and unwittingly become vulnerable.
You - What is your value and place as a child of God? (1 John 3 : 1) Do you experience that as a daily reality? Victim - What might be the hopes and dreams that a trafficked victim starts out with?
This reminds us of how financially viable and valuable modern slavery is. Human beings are resilient and reusable - unlike illegal drugs. Modern Slavery, with human beings as commodities, is rapidly rising towards the top of illegal international trade.
Joseph - What are the root causes and attitudes of the brothers, which lead to Josephs betrayal?
We recognise victims of trafficking through their experiences of being Tricked, Trapped & Traded. Can we imagine what it is like to experience such betrayal? The characters in this story used Joseph for their own ends:
Victim - (Ch 39 : 21) Where is God for victims of slavery and injustice?
You - Think of a time when a family member, a close friend or a colleague betrayed you. How did it make you feel?
Joseph - Unjustly used, abused, accused. But (Ch 39:2 and 21)
acknowledged for his integrity and trustworthiness (vs 4) Events which follow, involving Potiphar's wife, prove to be a real attack on that integrity: Joseph is seduced, unjustly accused and even thrown into jail. The circumstances, the false accusations and the miscarriage of justice must have been a bewildering experience - deeply challenging to Joseph's sense of value and self worth. "But while Joseph was there in prison, the Lord was with him." (Ch 39 : 21) Beginning again
Genesis 41 : 9 14
Ultimately there was an intervention ( 41 : 9 - 14). It is this human intervention which offers Joseph the opportunity to recover dignity, value and worth. Joseph was restored. Whilst God was with Joseph in prison, it was the intervention of the cup-bearer which opened the door to freedom and a hopeful future. Can we be relied upon to open the door of freedom for victims currently entrapped? We work with God to be the human intervention in God's restoration act.
Potiphar, Potiphar's wife, Pharaoh. There are positive things about fellow humans who become trafficked victims. People with base motives wait to control, manipulate and exploit. Attractive woman are sold into sexual slavery - young men with energy and physical strength are used for profit in forced labour. Joseph maintained his Israelite identity through 20 years of separation from his family. Many victims struggle to keep their identity - physically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. But as Joseph's life remained valuable to Jacob and his brothers. God still had a purpose of restoration and reconciliation. What expectations can we have for the recovery of the damaged and broken victim?
we are reminded that "The Lord was with Joseph". Did God permit this to happen? If so why? You - 1 Peter 5:8 "Beware, your enemy prowls like a roaring lion..." Victim - How can we help potential victims to protect themselves (as much as is possible) from being tricked into exploitation? Joseph - What is the intervention that leads to Josephs release and how does he make the most of the opportunity? You - How has God - or another intervened in your life and how do you best take hold of that intervention both for your own good and to the glory of God? Victim - How can we commit to partnering with God through human intervention in this Modern Slavery struggle? What part can we play?
Final thoughts/reflection We began by noticing the Genesis triangle of - Favouritism / jealousy / reconciliation. At the conclusion of our study we note that any favouritism shown by God to Sarah or to Abraham, to Joseph or even to the whole of the Jewish nation does not necessarily bring with it an easy life. God doesn't promise us a life of ease - but he does promise to journey with us should we accept the invitation. The truth is also that a hard life - dare we even say a life of modern slavery - doesn't denote the absence of God's affection, of God's love or of our worth to Him. But we are called to play our part in the human intervention that even Joseph's rescue and restoration required. We are partners in the gospel of the Kingdom - God longs for our good and the good of all his beloved...and he invites us to work with him in acts of intervention to bring slavery victims to sustained freedom and hope.
Prayer Take time with each other to pray: • for Victims of Trafficking and Modern Slavery who are held in captivity today, that God will be present to them as he was with Joseph and that they will know their value and worth even in such despair. • For those who are caught up in the exploitation of fellow human beings. Pray for justice and mercy - For light to shine in their darkness and for the scales to fall from their eyes. And pray for appropriate, restitutional prosecution. • For those who fight for justice in this field at all levels of government and nation. That their words and their fight will be Godly and clear and powerful. • For those who faithfully serve and support victims as they seek recovery on their journey to sustained freedom. • And for yourself - that you also will know today of your value and worth in the sight of God.