Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Brothers Reconciled- Part Five

Joseph walked up to the house in Goshen, his sons following close behind. He knocked on the door. The door swung open and his brother Reuben stood before him. "Come in," Reuben said. "Our father is in the room in the back." He looked at the teenagers behind Joseph. "Hello Manasseh. Hello Ephraim."
"Hello Uncle Reuben," the boys replied as they followed Joseph into the house.
Reuben led the way to the tiny bedroom where their father lay in bed. He had sent for Joseph because their father was sick, and probably going to die very soon.
"Father," Reuben said, "Joseph is here to see you."
Their father sat up slowly in bed. Joseph stepped forward to stand next to his father, and Reuben stood in the back of the room, knowing he probably should leave, but unwilling to do so.
Their father said to Joseph, "God Almighty appeared to me at Bethel in Canaan and blessed me and told me that he would multiply me and make me into a nation and give me the land of Canaan. Now, your two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, who were born to you here in Egypt before I arrived are mine. I'm adopting them. They will be my sons, as Reuben and Manasseh are mine. Any other kids you have will be yours, and they will share with their brothers in the inheritance."
Reuben's eyes widened. His birthright as the firstborn son had just been taken by Joseph's sons! He couldn't believe what he had just heard!
"When I came from Paddan, Rachel died, and I buried her on the way to Bethlehem," his father added, almost as an afterthought. Then he looked up and saw the boys. "Who are those?" He asked.
Joseph pulled the teenagers forward. "These are my sons," he replied, "whom God has given to me."
Reuben thought for a moment that it was odd that his father had to ask that question. After all, he had met Manasseh and Ephraim before. But then he remembered that his father's eyesight was failing, and the boys probably just looked like blobs.
The boys knelt by their grandfather's bedside, leaning on it. He hugged and kissed them. Reuben blinked back tears as he observed the tender scene before him. His father looked up at Joseph and said, "I never expected that I would ever see you again, but know I am seeing your sons as well!"
The boys stood up and Joseph positioned the boys for the blessing he was sure would come. Ephraim stood by his grandfather's left arm, and Manasseh by his right.
Then a surprising thing occurred. Reuben watched in amazement as his father crossed his arms and placed his right hand on Ephraim's him the blessing of the firstborn. His father said, "The God before whom my fathers walked,
the God who has been my shepherd,
the angel who has redeemed me from evil, bless these boys;
and in them let my name be carried on,
let them grow into a multitude of nations."
Then Joseph reached out and tried to pry his father's hands off the boys heads and switch them. He said, "Not this way, my father, Manasseh is the older, put your right hand on his head!"
Reuben almost laughed aloud at the comical scene before him.
Then his father said, "I know that he is the oldest, I know. He also shall be a great people, though not as great as his brother." Then he cleared his throat and continued:
"By you Israel shall pronounce blessings and say,
'God make you as Ephraim and Manasseh.'"
Reuben was once again shocked at what had just happened. His father had blessed the boys, putting the younger one first. But he remembered a story his father had told about how he had tricked his older brother so that he received the blessing. Maybe it wasn't completely unexpected that the same thing would happen here.
Then his father presented Joseph with one final gift. "When you are brought by God back into the land of Canaan, you will get a certain mountain slope, rather than your brothers."
Reuben was confused about the gift, but his father was addressing him. "Go, get your brothers," he said. "I want to tell you what shall happen in the days to come."

The brothers assembled before their father. He cleared his throat and began.
“Come and listen, you sons of Jacob;
    listen to Israel, your father."

"Reuben," he called, and Reuben stepped forward. "You are my firstborn, my strength,
the child of my vigorous youth.
    You are first in rank and first in power."
Reuben nodded, anticipating a blessing to follow.
 "But," his father continued,"you are as unruly as a flood,
    and you will be first no longer.
For you went to bed with my wife;
    you defiled my marriage couch."
Reuben turned red as he remembered that day. How he wished he had known the consequences before he had done that!
"Simeon and Levi," their father continued, and the men stepped forward together. "They are two of a kind;
    their weapons are instruments of violence.
 May I never join in their meetings;
    may I never be a party to their plans.
For in their anger they murdered men,
    and they crippled oxen just for sport.
A curse on their anger, for it is fierce;
    a curse on their wrath, for it is cruel.
I will scatter them among the descendants of Jacob;
    I will disperse them throughout Israel."
The brothers looked at the floor in shame as their angry vengeance on the men of Shechem when they had defiled Dinah was punished.
"Judah," their father called, and Judah stepped up, a little nervous about what kind of a 'blessing' might come to him. "Your brothers will praise you," his father continued, "You will grasp your enemies by the neck.
    All your relatives will bow before you.
Judah, my son, is a young lion
    that has finished eating its prey.
Like a lion he crouches and lies down;
    like a lioness—who dares to rouse him?
The scepter will not depart from Judah,
    nor the ruler’s staff from his descendants,
until the coming of the one to whom it belongs,
    the one whom all nations will honor.
 He ties his foal to a grapevine,
    the colt of his donkey to a choice vine.
He washes his clothes in wine,
    his robes in the blood of grapes.
His eyes are darker than wine,
    and his teeth are whiter than milk."
Judah grinned and held his head high. What a blessing! He would be the Kingly line!
Their father continued and called Zebulun to the front.
"Zebulun will settle by the seashore
    and will be a harbor for ships;
    his borders will extend to Sidon."
He went on. "Issachar," he called, and Issachar stepped forward. "He is a sturdy donkey,
    resting between two saddlepacks.
 When he sees how good the countryside is
    and how pleasant the land,
he will bend his shoulder to the load
    and submit himself to hard labor."
Issachar wasn't sure he liked the idea that he would be a slave.
"Dan," he said, and Dan took a step up. "He will govern his people,
    like any other tribe in Israel.
Dan will be a snake beside the road,
    a poisonous viper along the path
that bites the horse’s hooves
    so its rider is thrown off.
 I trust in you for salvation, O Lord!"
Dan thought that governing and judging his people was an appropriate job for him, as his name was close to the word for judge.
"Gad," he continued, and Gad stepped up. "He will be attacked by marauding bands,
    but he will attack them when they retreat."
Gad puffed up his chest at the idea that he would protect his land from raiders.
"Asher," their father went on,"will dine on rich foods
    and produce food fit for kings."

Asher smiled at the promise of a life of plenty.

"Naphtali is a doe set free
    that bears beautiful fawns."
Naphtali also smiled at his blessing-he would flourish and multiply.

"Joseph is the foal of a wild donkey,
    the foal of a wild donkey at a spring—
    one of the wild donkeys on the ridge.
 Archers attacked him savagely;
    they shot at him and harassed him.
But his bow remained taut,
    and his arms were strengthened
by the hands of the Mighty One of Jacob,
    by the Shepherd, the Rock of Israel.
May the God of your father help you;
    may the Almighty bless you
with the blessings of the heavens above,
    and blessings of the watery depths below,
    and blessings of the breasts and womb.

 May my fatherly blessings on you
    surpass the blessings of my ancestors,
    reaching to the heights of the eternal hills.
May these blessings rest on the head of Joseph,
    who is a prince among his brothers."

The brothers rolled their eyes. Of course the longest blessing was saved for the favorite son, Joseph.

"Benjamin is a ravenous wolf,
    devouring his enemies in the morning
    and dividing his plunder in the evening."

Benjamin smiled. So he too would have descendants that were good at war.

Their father stopped. They all knew that the blessings were done. Their future had been laid out before them. But their father had one last thing to say. "I am about to die. Please bury me with my fathers in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite which Abraham bought. There Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Rebekah, and Leah are buried." When he finished this he lay back down in the bed, and breathed his last.
Then Joseph fell on the bed and wept over his father. The other men wept as well. When Joseph got up, he left the house to go and find his servants. The other brothers were left to talk with one another about the blessings their father had given.
Joseph saw to it that his father was embalmed properly, according to Egyptian custom. After 70 days, when the time for mourning was over, Joseph asked Pharaoh for permission to carry out his father's dying wish and bury him in Canaan. Pharaoh gave his permission, and all the brothers returned to Canaan to bury their father in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite. After they had fulfilled their father's dying wish, they returned to Egypt.
Joseph returned to his position as second in command of Egypt, and the rest of the brothers returned to Goshen with their families to care for the livestock.
"So, now Joseph has absolute power over us," Simeon said, "And there is no one to stop him because our father is dead."
"He could have us killed!" Gad exclaimed.
"Maybe we should plead for our lives," Asher suggested.
"Or ask forgiveness for what you did to him all those years ago," Reuben said.
"YOU!" Judah shouted. "Like you had nothing to do with it! Take responsibility!"
"Hey, cool off," Benjamin said. "We all had a part in it. We should send word to him and ask forgiveness."
So the brothers composed a message to send to Joseph.
"Before he died, our father commanded us to say this to you: 'Please forgive the transgression of your brothers, because they did evil to you.' Now, please forgive the sin of your servant."
The brothers remained uneasy, and finally decided to travel to see Joseph face to face. When they arrived, they bowed before him. Judah said, "Behold, we all are your servants."
Joseph said, "Do not fear, am I in the place of God? You meant evil against me, but God used it for good, to bring about the salvation of the people. So do not fear, I will continue to provide for you and your little ones."
The brothers breathed a sigh of relief.
Many happy years passed. The families multiplied more and more. When Joseph was 110 years old, he called his brothers to him and said, "I am about to die, but God will visit you and bring you into the land he has promised. Now swear to me that when God brings you up from the land, you will bring my bones with you up out of Egypt." The brothers swore to Joseph that they would do exactly that.
So Joseph died, and his brothers had him embalmed. And they spent the rest of their lives in Goshen caring for the livestock. But one day, God did visit their descendants, who were at that time slaves in Egypt, and they returned to the land of Canaan. But this brings us to the end of this story of how the brothers were reunited after 17 years of separation and conflict. The next part of the story is for another time.

(Based on Genesis 48-50. The story of the return to Canaan can be found in the book of Exodus.)

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