‘Here comes that dreamer!’ Joseph’s brothers said, ‘Come now, let’s kill him’. Genesis 37:19-20
Brothers and sisters, when I was a boy I was in to all things military, and as a result I used to buy books and watch documentaries about the Royal Marines. The Royal Marines are one of the foremost military units in the world, and one of the toughest to get in to. The Commando course is extremely hard physically, and many simply don’t get through. One of the things which struck me then about selection was the equal playing field; that the officers went through the same selection course as the men. To lead Royal Marine commandoes into battle quite rightly you have to have passed the same tests as them…only you need to do better. Here are a few examples: The Endurance course is a 6-mile course followed by a marksmanship test, to be completed in 73 minutes by ordinary soldiers, but in 71 minutes for officers. The Tarzan Assault Course is combined with an aerial confidence test. It must be completed in full fighting order usually in 13 minutes, but in 12 minutes for officers. Then we have the 30-miler wearing full fighting order. It must be completed in 8 hours for recruits, and 7 hours for Royal Marine officers, who must also navigate the route themselves. As you can see, if an officer passes the course his men can have full confidence that he can do whatever they can do; that he can lead from the front; that he will go where they go, and what’s more he will go first.
Come with me to Genesis 37. I’m aware, that after last week’s study at the first half of the chapter you may well have been left with some questions. After seeing how God leads us through, and uses difficult situations, we might end up thinking something along the lines of…‘Well it’s alright for God in heaven, on His comfy cloud free from the world’s struggles, He doesn’t have to go through this stuff’. Royal Marine officers have to go through the same hard tests the same pain and struggle that the non-commissioned ranks do, and they have to do it faster and harder. Royal Marine officers lead from the front. They go first into any and every situation. There lies integrity. There lies leadership. Is it too much to ask, that we find that in God? Answer: No. Our passage before us today viewed with the right eyes looks forward to the ‘God-who-goes-first’, to the God who goes through suffering and hardship, One who is rejected by His brothers, and left for dead in a hole in the ground. In today’s reading we hear what happened to Joseph—the chosen one—but we also see in him a forerunner of Jesus who in the events of his life foreshadows the events of Jesus’ life. Let’s just look at three examples. First, verse 13: ‘Israel (that is Jacob) said to Joseph, ‘As you know, your brothers are grazing the flocks near Shechem. Come, I am going to send you to them.’ Jacob sends Joseph—that is the father sends the son—unknowingly to his death. This foreshadows God the Father who sends God the Son to His death in the incarnation… the only difference being, God the Father sends His Son knowingly. God goes through the pain Himself…and His foreknowledge makes it worse for Him. Second, Joseph’s story foreshadows Jesus’ story in the response and plan of his brothers. Joseph’s brothers plan to kill him but God the Father—through the events and through the personalities of Joseph’s brothers—ensures that despite their evil plot Joseph is not killed. Verse 21: ‘When Reuben heard this, he tried to rescue [Joseph] from their hands. ‘Let’s not take his life’ he said. The brothers could easily have killed Joseph, but God protects him, and ensures that their plan do not succeed. However, when it came to His own Son the Father did not restrain the sin of those who hated Jesus. Though they planned Jesus’ death—just as Joseph’s brothers planned his—this time God the Father doesn’t send a caravan of passing Ishmaelites, instead He allows His Son to be killed for it is the only way in which His people can be rescued. Again, God goes through the scenario in our chapter Himself, only for Him it is actually worse. The third and final example is seen as we step back from the detail. As we draw back to see the events in the round we see that one of God’s own people—one who is destined to save his people—is the victim of of a crime committed by those who represent the Jewish people, the twelve tribes of Israel. So it is with Jesus. It is His own people—the Jewish people representatives of the twelve tribes—who kill One of their own, and One whom was destined to save His people. Once again, like a Royal Marine officer, God goes through everything He asks His people to go through and his experience is far worse than anything He asks Jacob and Joseph to go through. The God of the Bible—the only true God—is not a god who sits comfortably on a cloud, far away from suffering, danger, and death, asking His followers to go through what He has avoided. Rather the God of the Bible—our God—is a God who goes first, who leaves His home, descends to earth, lives a life with His people, and suffers and dies in ways we do not want to even imagine. This is the God who calls you to trust Him, to love Him, and to follow Him. He asks nothing of Joseph, and nothing of you, that He Himself has not gone through, and indeed, He had it worse.
Before we end though, we should note at least one key difference between Jacob and God the Father, and that is in the final verses of our first reading. Verse 33, Jacob sees Jospeh’s robe and: ‘recognised it and said, ‘It is my son’s robe! Some ferocious animal has devoured him. Joseph has surely been torn to pieces.’ Then Jacob tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and mourned for his son many days’. Though Jacob knows God, though Jacob has heard the stories of his father, Isaac’s, miraculous birth and how the God-who-goes-first had always been with his family, always kept His promises, always protected the one through whom he would work; on seeing Joseph’s robe, Jacob’s faith and hope completely disappears. For Jacob the dream has ended, and God’s plan is at an end, but not so for God the Father. Whereas Jacob accepted what his eyes told him, and thought God’s plan had been overcome, the Father knew better, not just in Jacob son’s case, but also in His own Son’s case where though He was actually dead God the Father foresaw and made possible the resurrection. God willingly and knowingly go through terrible suffering for the sake of you and me, and ensures that all of that pain and suffering is actually for a purpose and redeemed by the resurrection, to make sure that you and I can actually get to heaven. God has shown His love for us in His suffering that first Easter, and so…whatever you are going through, whatever you will go through in the future, the God-who-goes-first has proved we can trust Him, the question we must answer is will will follow Him? Amen. (from Fr Mike).