With the approach of the holidays, current joy within families is often commingled with past pain. Try as we might to repress painful memories, they inevitably resurface at other times of our lives, when we least expect them.
Pain is not a tidy emotion that we can conveniently tuck away out of sight. Buried events eventually reemerge; and when they do, we have an opportunity to resolve the pain and damage done earlier.
Genesis 42:1-44:17 focuses upon Joseph wrestling with unresolved pain as his brothers reappear in his life. This portion of the story line is one of the most powerfully drawn encounters in the Bible. As the action crosses back and forth between Egypt and Canaan, the tension between Joseph’s past and present becomes more tightly wound.
A footnote in the New Revised Standard Version lifts up these events could be ascribed to the period of the Hykos period in Egypt when the land was under rule which held Hebrews in a favorable light. During this time conditions would have been favorable for one like Joseph to rise to a prominent leadership position.
The famine brings Joseph’s brothers before him in search of grain. His recognition forces painful memories to resurface - revenge, anger and heartache plunge him into inner turmoil. In a reversal of his childhood trauma, Joseph now holds complete power over his older brothers.
Joseph charges his brothers with espionage and places them into prison (Gen. 42:9), but only for three days to have them experience a portion of his own previous sufferings. Their anguish brings to mind the anguish they once caused Joseph. Joseph has tears which demonstrate a breadth of feeling not yet uncovered. In hoping to produce transformation in his brothers, he now experiences a transformation within himself.
Joseph releases his brothers to return to Jacob their father, but holds Simeon until they return with the youngest brother, Benjamin, who is Joseph’s full blood brother. When the balance of Jacob’s sons stand before him and explain Simeon’s absence, his grief is inconsolable.
His memory returns to the last time the sons reported the loss of a brother, and he turns on them with accusation (42:36). With Joseph taken from him, Simeon held hostage, he now clings to his youngest son. Benjamin is the last link to his beloved Rachel and lost son, Joseph.
Genesis, it in own theme, emphasizes the long, slow path from hurt to healing, from betrayal to forgiveness. Families exist within complex and unresolved feelings. There are many form of bondage, from wells to prison cells to isolation within the heart.
Redemption is possible when the desire exists combined with love mixed with time. Do not despair. Be in prayer and await the movement of God which will allow an opening to enter through.