Joseph Helps His Brothers
- Tell how Joseph helped lots of hungry people.
- Feel sure that God cares for hungry people.
- Thank God for giving us food.
Done reading the Bible passage yet? It’s a long one, and a great one. You’ll follow its main contours with your group of little ones.
There are two layers or levels in this long story about Joseph and his family. On one level, the human level, we watch how people’s past actions play out in their lives. On another level, the divine level, we watch how God provides for his covenant people during a famine. The one sentence that brings both levels together is found at the very end of the story. After old Jacob has died, and Joseph’s brothers are still not sure they trust him, Joseph says, “You intended to harm me [the human level], but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives [the divine level]” (50:20).
As today’s part of the story opens, Joseph is thirty years old (he was seventeen when he was sold into slavery). He’s endured thirteen years of imprisonment on false charges, but by God’s grace and his gift of interpreting, he is now second in command of all of Egypt, in charge of the all-important ministry of agriculture and managing the economy.
Meanwhile, his father and brothers are experiencing a famine that has struck the whole area. Knowing that the Egyptians have a plan and resources, Jacob sends the brothers there to get food. For that, they have to deal with Joseph. They bow low before this great dignitary without recognizing him. But Joseph recognizes them and, the Bible pointedly says, he remembers his dream that he had told them years before, about how they would bow down before him.
While this lesson for preschoolers emphasizes the help Joseph gives, the mature reader grasps a far more complex situation. Joseph isn’t ready to reveal himself to his brothers, and perhaps he isn’t able to emotionally. He’s harsh with them, and accuses them of spying. In the process they reveal that they have a younger brother, who is unknown to Joseph. Of course, Joseph wants to see him. He schemes to get the brothers to bring Benjamin to him.
At this point, Reuben scolds the brothers, saying that now God is punishing them for selling their brother Joseph into slavery. But Joseph overhears them, and all the pain and memories flow over him. He turns away and weeps. But he also secretly returns the money they paid for the grain in their sacks. Now they are really afraid, but they go on home, leaving Simeon behind as a sign of their intention to return with Benjamin. But old Jacob refuses to ransom Simeon by sending his youngest son back with them.
Joseph continues to torment his brothers with cruel psychological games. Angling for more information, he plants stolen goods in their sacks, accuses them of robbery, and demands again their little brother. This time, they comply. When Joseph sees Benjamin, the son of his own mother, Rachel, his heart softens. After one more frightening ploy of planting his own silver cup in Benjamin’s sack, and having the brothers arrested, they tell him the whole story, still not knowing who he is.
Finally, Joseph can stand it no longer. He sends everyone but the brothers out of the room, and reveals who he is. “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt! And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (45:4-5). Then the brothers all embrace as Joseph sends them back, laden with goods, to tell their father that he is alive. Humorously, Joseph’s last words to them as they leave are: “Don’t quarrel on the way!”
What an amazing story! And yet it’s meant to reveal something that goes on all the time. Our lives, too, operate at two levels: the human and the divine. Trusting that, believing that, knowing that, makes all the difference in our fragile human existence. There’s a sign over us: “God at Work.”
Children's ResourcesDwell's colorful, engaging resources come in a variety of formats designed for use in church and at home. Order them here.
OptionalNeed something for younger children? Many churches use the God Loves Me program for ages 2-3. Learn more.
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