Loki, The Prodigal Son, and Me

Note One: This is a remix of my original series of posts on the subject, which you can read here: I am Loki.

Note Two: This is the story of how the movie Thor helped me understand the prodigal son story. But I want to say upfront: if your parents are abusive (physically, emotionally, verbally, etc.), you are in no way obligated to ever go home to them. Even if they accuse you of being a “prodigal.” Even if they say you are “bitter.” Take care of yourself. This is just the story of how Thor helped me come to terms with the prodigal son story and your mileage may vary.

*  *  *

There is a story as ancient as time.

Two brothers.

They both seek to be blessed and loved.

One brother is favored. The other brother is not.

The ending isn’t always the same. Sometimes a brother is killed (Cain). Sometimes he must flee (Jacob). Sometimes he is sold into slavery (Joseph). Sometimes he demands his inheritance and leaves of his own free will (Luke 15).

It is a story we still tell. Even to the point that is serves as the emotional backbone of an entire superhero franchise.

For a story to be repeated so many times, it must be important. It must bear truth.

For a story to be spoken by Jesus, it must be truth.

For a story to be put in a Marvel movie, it must have a hero and a villain. And the clear hero of the Thor franchise is Thor, while the villain is his brother Loki.

*  *  *

There is a son who demands his inheritance. He doesn’t want to stay home and work under his father’s rule. He wants to strike out on his own, be his own man.

His father allows him.

But things do not go the way the son expected, and soon he seeks to come back to his father’s house.

His father runs out to greet him, kisses him, and throws him a party.

There is another son.

This son stayed home. This son believed that staying home and serving his father was for the best—possibly for his own gain and possibly because he honestly wanted to do what was right and serve his family. This son never strayed. He never wandered. He never caused his father to worry.

And he watched as his father stared out the window, almost every day, hoping that a wayward child might come home.

So maybe he worked harder. Trying to please his father, to erase the sadness from his face. If he just worked harder, if he was just a better son, if he just did more, maybe his father could forget all about the son who abandoned him.

And one day the son is working out in the fields, doing his duty to his family. He looks up and sees in the distance that there seems to be a commotion at the house.

He sees a servant and asks what is going on.

“Your brother has returned!” the servant responds joyfully. “We’re throwing a party!”

Returned? A party? But no one told him. Were they going to let him work in the field through the entire party? Was he going to be out here doing his duty to his family for no reward while his brother who abandoned them was getting a party?

So he sulks in the field—doing his work, his duty, because it seems that’s all he was ever good for anyway.

The father comes out eventually, perhaps suddenly remembering he has two sons. But he does personally come out—finally—and personally invite him into the party.

But the son is hurt. And his hurt manifests in anger.

He says angry words, which his father hears, but his father does not hear the words on his heart. For even though he is a grown man, his heart is crying a child’s lament: “I just want you to love me.”

And for that he is the villain of this tale. For that he is immortalized by churches as the brother whose heart was too encased in bitterness that he wouldn’t join the party.

Was his heart hard? Yes, his heart was glass. It had withstood all the scratches of the past several years. It was scratched when his brother left, saying “I don’t care about this family.” It was scratched when his father would stare out the window lost in sadness instead of paying attention to the son he had at home. It was scratched every time the son started a conversation with his father about his own hopes and dreams, only to have the conversation turn back to the lost brother.

But his heart was glass, so it could withstand that. Because hard materials can be scratched without compromising their integrity.

But his heart was glass, so when he wasn’t invited to the party—when his own father briefly forgot about his existence—his heart shattered. Because hard doesn’t mean tough. And glass is brittle.

Because despite all his hard work, it seems in the end, no one really cares about him.

*  *  *

The prodigal son story always bothered me. From my teens years, through college, and graduate school, even after college, this story filled my heart with anger.

I had heard too many preachers expound on this subject. I had heard to many “prodigals” speak of how comforting it is that the father saw the “prodigal” from the window, meaning the father must always have been there at the window waiting for him.

If the father was waiting at the window, didn’t that mean his other son was being ignored? Why didn’t the father even consider sending a servant out to get the other son? He had to find out from a passing servant for goodness sake. Doesn’t that show the father in fact doesn’t care about him?

“But everything you already have is mine,” says the parent. Because yes, father, what I care about is your financial wealth, and not your attention, time, or love. Obviously.

*  *  *

There is a king, called Odin, who has two sons, close in age. He raises them in competition, telling them they are both meant to be kings.

But there can only be one king of Asgard.

The oldest son takes after his father. He is all brawn and athleticism, quick to make merry and quick to anger. He is brash and bold. A golden child. He is called Thor.

The younger son takes after his mother. He is quiet and reserved, slow to speak and slow to anger. But his mind is frighteningly fast and others can not keep up with its twists and turns. He is called Loki.

The two are inseparable. They are best friends and bitter enemies.

Only one child can receive the father's ultimate blessing and birthright. Only one child can be king.

In the end, it seems that it is Thor who will become king, but on the day of his coronation something goes wrong. Frost giants--the Jotun, who are the mortal enemies of Asgard--attack.

The father, who is still king despite the started coronation, thinks no action should be taken. Thor thinks Asgard should bring its full might to bear on Jotunheim.

Thor says, "As king of Asgard...!"

"But you're not king. Not yet," his father reminds him.

It will be Thor's inheritance to be king, but it is not yet his inheritance to have.

Once his father leaves, Thor devises a plan to go to Jotunheim anyway. He decides to punish them himself. As if he was king. But he's not.

He starts a war.

In the end his father is there to save them, as fathers do. And there are harsh words spoken between father and son. The father calls his son vain and cruel. Thor calls him a fool.

Odin realizes his son is not ready for the inheritance he is demanding, maybe not ever ready for it. So he banishes him.

Leaving another son left behind.

Loki.

Quiet Loki. Cunning Loki. Mischievous Loki.

Loki, who more than anything just wants to be loved.

But while following his brother to Jotunheim Loki discovered something horrifying.

He is actually a Frost Giant.

Suddenly Loki is re-watching his whole life with a different lens. Things that didn't make sense as a child--times when he was treated differently from Thor for no apparent reason--suddenly make sense. The pieces fall into place. Because Loki is a Frost Giant, and his parents have known that all along. That's why he's different.

That's why no matter how good he is, no matter how hard he works or tries to excel, he is never going to be king. Because a Frost Giant is never going to sit on the throne of Asgard.

Loki is confused and angry, but ultimately nothing has changed other than life makes more sense. His desires are still the same. He still wants to be his father's son. He wants to be Thor's equal. But most importantly, he wants to be loved.

Odin has a heart attack and is placed in a coma. Suddenly Loki is king. Because he's the only one home. He's the only one there to take care of Asgard. Because Thor was brash and demanded his inheritance before it was rightfully his. Now Loki has the burden of the entire family, people, and world on his shoulders.

Loki, the son left behind, must do his duty.

And Loki is king. He is now within his rights to demand the retribution from Jotunheim that his brother also wanted. But Loki learned from Thor's blunt force attack on Jotunheim. He cannot win such a battle. So Loki devises a clever plan. Perhaps too clever.

He invites the king of Jotunheim into Asgard to kill Odin, as if Loki is a traitor. The king takes him up on the offer. But right when the king is in Odin's throne room, Loki kills him. In one fell swoop Loki topples the Jotun's government and saves his own father.

A clever plan. Too clever for anyone else to understand. They can't understand it, so it backfires.

The prodigal son returns at the climax of Loki's victory.

Thor claims he's changed. He is a better man and able to be king after maybe three days on Earth. And as always everyone falls all over the prodigal son returned.

Suddenly Loki is the bitter son in the background, the villain.

But he did it for his family--his adopted family that he still loves regardless. He even killed his own biological father--the king of Jotunheim--to prove how much he loved his adopted family!

But it's not good enough. It never is. He is always second. Always one step below. Always the bitter, angry brother in the background.

In the end when Odin looks at Loki and says, "no Loki," Loki breaks.

He did everything for Odin. He just wants to be the son Odin wants, the son he esteems, the son he loves, and instead Odin looks at Loki as if he's the biggest disappointment.

And in that moment, Loki realizes there is nothing he can do. He will never be equal to Thor. He will always be Loki, the mischievous one. Never the thunder god.

So he gives up.

Because it's hard to love them. It's too hard to continue trying. It's too hard to get continuously rejected. So he gives up.

He lets go.

Everything in Loki's life was done to be a better son, a better part of the family, to prove himself an equal part of the family. Instead they think he's the villain.

And if they're going to think he's a villain, he might as well be one.

*  *  *

I don’t know if it’s true for everyone whose sibling goes prodigal, but for me when a sibling went astray, I wanted to work harder, to be a better child. Not necessarily for myself—but because I didn’t want my parents to hurt anymore. I thought if only I was better, if only I was a perfect child who demonstrated that it wasn’t their parenting, but rather that other child’s own personal ways that led them astray, maybe they’d feel better.

I did everything right.

I got nothing I wanted.

Because you can’t erase another child’s delinquency with your own inerrancy.

But Lord did I try.

I failed. I felt like a failure. I felt taken for granted. 

I felt unloved. Because the amount of time and worry my parents expended on this prodigal child—on a child who wasn’t even there—was more than it seemed I ever got.

And I felt that either my entire life was going to be this: being a perfect child who cannot afford to slip up and do anything wrong lest I cause my already hurting parents even more pain and disappointment.

Being the non-prodigal results in things like this. I call my parents weeping, over a serious issue in my life. But oh hark! Call waiting pings! AND IT’S THE PRODIGAL. “Oh joy! The prodigal is calling! We must answer! Just to hear their voice!” The parents hang up on the weeping child who needs them with a “we’ll call you back.” I am left on a dead phone line not sure how to progress. How long will their phone conversation last? Will they call me back?

I didn’t know. I just knew the prodigal was more important than me.

Always.

So I hardened my heart against these parental infractions against me, because isn’t that what we’re supposed to do? The good child just takes it, right? We don’t leave. We don’t fight. We just submit.

Our heart gets harder.

Our heart gets brittle.

Every time the prodigal hints they might come home, we throw the party! And when the prodigal doesn’t follow through or leaves again, it’s the child left behind who picks up the pieces. And for that the good child gets no praise. No reward. Because their behavior is expected.

So perhaps it’s no wonder I would walk out on sermons about the prodigal son. That I would get in fights with people in my Bible Study over what this story meant, that usually ended with me in tears.

*  *  *

There is a moment in Thor where Loki and his mother are having a conversation by the sickbed of Odin. They're talking about why Odin and Frigga never told Loki he's a frost giant. His mother is trying to explain. Loki doesn't get it, and he's worried about his father, who seems so frail, so sick, so old. Loki loves his father and doesn't want him to die. And his mother tells him to never lose hope, not for his father or for Thor. And Loki responds:

"What hope is there for Thor?"

Oh, that question. That is not a question where Loki is condemning Thor. That is not a question of wishing the brother was gone. The emotion of the question is, "Why are we talking about this right now? We're supposed to be talking about me and the fact that I'm a frost giant and you never freakin' told me? Can we please get back to me?"

But of course he doesn't voice that. Because that would be selfish. And we're not supposed to be selfish, no matter how much we work just for our parents’ attention. 

Oh that feeling. I know that feeling so well. In the past decade, I would say that 75% of my conversations with my parents revolved around my older siblings. And to this day I have put it up with it with little complaint just so I could talk to my parents. Because that's the topic they cared about. And I just wanted to talk to them. 

So Loki is at home without Thor, and he's enjoying as much as he can. This single child attention is all he ever really wanted, even if it is tainted with the occasional discussion about Thor. 

And then the prodigal returns. 

He claims to have changed. He claims he's different. And it doesn't matter that you've been working the fields at home or just saved your father's life. Your mother goes from mid-hug with you to flinging herself into Thor's arms. Leaving you just standing there. 

Leaving you bitter.

And the story of the prodigal stops there, but the story of Loki goes on. Because Loki goes where I've always thought to go.

When you have a sibling go prodigal and you see all the attention that gets them--attention you want--you have this serious temptation to go prodigal yourself.

I can't explain to you the number of times I'd seriously considered going prodigal, for a short while, so that I could get all that attention, worry, and concern to myself. And then I could come back to open arms and a party. 

I'd considered it so many times. I'd been deeply tempted. But it would hurt my parents, and I wasn’t callous enough to hurt them on purpose.

But Loki, Loki who has done everything for his parents, for his family, who has tried so hard to no avail, he does it. 

He gives up. He let's go. He goes prodigal. 

And it does get him attention. It works. His father goes to great lengths to send Thor to Earth in The Avengers in order to bring Loki home. He’s getting attention. What he always wanted. 

But the cost is too great.

The cost is villainy.

*  *  *

The story of the prodigal son doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It comes in a context of people complaining to Jesus that he hangs out with degenerates. Specifically, the people complaining are Pharisees and scribes, i.e. religious people, who are basically complaining that Jesus should hang out with them, the good people, and not the sinners/bad people.

Jesus responds with three stories.

In the first story, a shepherd with 100 sheep sees one go astray. He chases after that sheep, leaving the others behind. But then he brings that sheep back to the flock, and everyone celebrates that the lost sheep has been found!

In the second story, a woman with ten coins loses one. She searches the whole house looking for it until she finds it and now has ten coins again. Everyone celebrates the lost coin has been found!

The third story is the story of the prodigal, and it differs from the other two.  The first half, verses 11-24, seem to be very in line with the first two stories. A man loses a son. When the son is returned to him, he celebrates for his lost son has been found!

However, even in this first part there is a difference. The father did not go out looking for the son. He did not abandon his son at home to go find the prodigal. The father remained home, and the prodigal had to return of his own free will.

The other difference with this story is that it doesn’t stop in verse 24, it keeps going, and we get the perspective of the son left at home. The shepherd’s story doesn’t tell about how the sheep feel to be left behind by the shepherd. Presumably coins don’t have feelings to consider. But sons do.

If Jesus was just telling a story about God rejoicing when lost things are found, he would have stopped in verse 24, so why did he continue?

Well, who is Jesus talking to here if not the brothers left behind?

The father in the story isn’t rejecting the older brother. He is explaining himself, just as Jesus uses these three stories to explain himself to the Pharisees. But I also think Jesus is not rejecting the Pharisees here. Jesus is often harsh to the Pharisees in the gospels, but I don’t think this is one of those cases.

The Pharisees here are the sheep who haven’t wandered, the coins still in the purse, the brother at home. They’re already there. That’s the whole point of what the father says to the older brother. This story is an explanation to the Pharisees that they’re already home, and Jesus is trying to find the ones who are not and bring them home.

But the story of the sons is left open ended. It doesn’t end with the older son defying the father or the older son going into the party. We’re left hanging. Because ultimately, I think this story is an invitation to those very people Jesus is talking to. They’re not sheep. They’re not coins. They’re sons. And they can either join the party or leave.

No one ever talks about that.

When this story is preached the other brother is either villainized or worse—ignored. They just stop the preaching at verse 24. Because we other brothers aren’t important to the prodigal story, right?

But that’s not what Jesus is saying. Because this isn’t a sermon for prodigals. This is a sermon for the “other” son. Jesus is trying to reach the Pharisees. He is trying to explain to them why we celebrate for the prodigal, but that doesn’t mean God loves them less. It doesn’t mean they can’t come to the party.

God isn’t punishing them for not getting lost.

God is giving them a choice.

They can come to the party or not.

*  *  *

Loki could have come home at the end of the story.

He could have let Thor help him up. He could have seen how much his brother loved him—risking his own life just to save him despite all the villainous acts Loki had done. He could have had an honest talk with his father about how the false competition Odin had placed Thor and Loki in all their lives hurt them, and that Loki was no longer willing to play the competition game but he still loved them all.

But he didn’t.

Loki chooses to fall into a void, to possibly die, rather than face his family. He ultimately ends up in the clutches of Thanos—tortured and abused—before making it back to Earth where he regains familial attention, but not in a good way. As a supervillain.

*  *  *

I don’t want to be a supervillain.

*  *  *

Whenever I thought of the prodigal's brother, whenever I thought about my own situation, all I could think was "it's unfair", and then my mind would start churning justifications, times when I've been hurt and neglected. And you know what, it's not fair. I have been hurt. I have been neglected. I have been wronged.

But churning, holding on, acting on those justifications when it can't change anything--because you can’t change anyone else—that was leading me towards a path of villainy. It was leading me towards a path where I chose to go prodigal even though I knew it would hurt people. 

It didn’t matter how many times people said “bitterness will eat you up” or “you have to let it go.” Because the hurt ran so deep, the wound was so raw, and I knew I was justified. People could say let it go all they want, but how do you let something go when your heart is in glass pieces on the floor? You can’t glue it back together the same. Nothing will ever heal that.

My justifications weren't wrong. The “other son” is not wrong when being mad he wasn’t invited to the party. Loki's justifications of the unfairness of his life aren’t wrong. Thor has been favored over him. Brawn is valued more than brain in Asgard. He will never get to be king or equal to Thor no matter how hard he works, because he's a frost giant. He is completely 100% right.

And it doesn't matter.

No, that's not right. It's not that it doesn't matter. It's that somehow I've got to choose to be better. Because if I don't, if I don't choose to change my path, I'm going to come back in The Avengers with an alien army and try to subjugate the world. 

I don't want to be a super villain. 

I have to choose not to be a super villain.

This seems a simple conclusion--choosing a different path--one I should have realized a long time ago. But in Christian circles we have a saying, where things go "from your head to your heart." This idea has been in my head all my life, but it was the movie Thor that moved it into my heart. 

Because my life isn't about them, my family. It's about me. I can't change them. I can't make them treat me differently. But I can change me.

Because I may deeply empathize with Loki, but I don't want to be him. I don't want to be Thor either. I want to be me. I want to be who Loki would have been if he hadn't snuck frost giants into Asgard and tried to destroy Jotunheim. I want to be who God wants me to be, and that's not a person who holds onto anger.

I can't change what's happened to me. I can't change how others will treat me. But I can change who I become. 

It's all about choice. 

And I choose not to be a super villain.

 

Loneliness, Social Media, and Creating Community

The Sermon

In a sermon series claiming to be about Christians and Social Media, my pastor preached on the topic of loneliness. Loneliness, he said, afflicted many Americans, many Christians, many people. And that loneliness could only be exasperated by looking at social media.

It became very clear very quickly—as it does every time my pastor talks about social media—that he has no familiarity with “social media” outside of Facebook. And that while he admitted social media was a tool and therefore was what you make of it, it seemed he couldn’t see a social media that created actual interaction, actual community, actual growth.

In my pastor’s mind, the lonely person scrolls through his Facebook profile, looking at what everyone else has, and just getting lonelier and lonelier.

The pastor also made the valid points that

(1)    Lonely individuals cannot expect their loneliness to be fixed unless they speak and tell people they are in fact lonely.
(2)    If a lonely person speaks up, it’s the responsibility of the Church to rise up and meet that need.

But all of these points were couched in an anti-social media message. As if, a person could not be involved in social media and admit they are lonely. As if a lonely person is somehow making a choice between the time they spend on social media and hanging out with loving church members who want to cure their loneliness.

I listened to this message getting more and more upset. Getting angry. Wanting to stand up and shout.

Because I have been lonely in our church.

And the pastor was so incredibly wrong.

My Reaction

I don’t usually so vehemently disagree with the pastor. This was just a very specific topic, one practically designed to make me upset—though the pastor had no idea.

When I started attending our church, in around 2012, I was incredibly lonely. I was over 1,000 miles away from anyone I knew—family, friends, anyone. I had come to Albuquerque from grad school in Atlanta for a job. I lived alone, and being an introvert, for the most part I enjoyed it.

But I was lonely. It’s hard not to be when you spend every single day alone. When you work, come home, and do…what exactly?

So I did what every lonely person who is a churchgoer has been told to do. I got involved.

I went to church nearly every Sunday, not just service but the young adult Sunday School. I went to every young adult event the church held. I joined a small group, and at least two committees. I joined the handbell choir. I volunteered with a local convention—Bubonicon, and joined the Albuquerque Science Fiction Society.

But these were just…events. Things to do. Get involved, they say. They don’t ever say that keeping busy doesn’t fill the hole in your heart. Keeping busy doesn’t fill the void left by an empty couch or eating every meal alone.

I told people I was lonely. I told people at church. One or two of them even invited me over for dinner, once or twice. I remember one time a couple invited me over for pizza and to watch Captain America: The First Avenger with them and I was ecstatic. I came home and called my mom. “Mom, someone treated me like part of the family. Someone had me over and let me eat dinner with their kids and watch a movie with the family. Someone saw me, remembered what I liked, and said, let’s involve this person in our life.”

It never happened again.

I burned my hand on Father’s Day—a second degree burn that seared whenever I took it out from under the water—and had no one to drive me to the hospital. I sat on the floor of my kitchen and cried for an hour until one of my coworkers finally called me back.

So many times I was sick, and just needed someone to make me chicken noodle soup and maybe pick up some medicine for me—so I wouldn’t be the one puking in the aisle at Walmart (though I’m sure Walmart has seen worse). But I had no one to call because well….all the church people have families. They live far away. They have things to do. And to be honest, if given a choice between taking their kid to soccer practice and helping out a puking 26-year-old, no one chooses the latter.

I was terminally lonely while an active vocal member of my church, and the only thing that saved me, the only thing that was there for me, was social media.

Facebook

Facebook isn’t my social media tool of choice, but it was on Facebook that I stayed up until two in the morning talking to one of my friends as she cried.

It was through Facebook my high school friend Nicole and I discovered a shared love of Marvel and began texting.

It’s through Facebook that I keep up with my college friends.

It’s through Facebook that I see pictures of my nieces and nephews.

These things don’t make me feel lonelier. They help me feel connected.

Twitter

While living alone I lived tweeted every show and movie I watched. To my amazement, people just began responding. Suddenly I was never watching anything alone, but watching it with other people. And it wasn’t just my TV watching habits they cared about.

I tweeted about my writing, and they connected. I tweeted about feeling sick, and suddenly women were asking for symptoms and suggesting remedies.

I came into contact with a group of writers from Indiana, and would later learn they were all in the same writer’s group and considered me their “Imaginary Friend.”

I traveled a lot for work and discovered people wanted to have dinner with me when I was in their town.

I had people.

Everywhere.

Blogs

Miss Snark’s First Victim—a blog—hosted a “Critique Partner Matching” event. To help aspiring authors to connect with other aspiring authors. I met Jamie.

Jamie is another rocket scientist, around my age, who writes Middle Grade and Young Adult science fiction and fantasy, like me. But Jamie’s friendship didn’t just stop at reading each other’s manuscripts and giving feedback. Jamie met a need no one else had even realized I had.

Every week we watch—still to this day—Arrow together. Even though we live across the country from each other, through the power of the internet, we get on our computers, we start our recording at the same time, and we watch the same show, chatting the entire time. This grew from Arrow to include Falling Skies (while it was on) and Flash.

Watching TV as a family had been something sacred growing up. Watching a show we all loved—Stargate: SG-1—and spending the commercials talking about it. Suddenly something that had been missing from my life for a long time was filled.

It wasn’t just TV.  It was friendship. It was community. It was family.

Jamie became a part of my family.

Tumblr

A work friend brought me onto tumblr, and specifically into the mysterious and wondrous thing called fandom. While on this social media site, writing “headcanons” about my One True Pair, I met a woman who at the time I only knew by a tumblr name.

She was hilarious, imaginative, and pushed me like no one else ever had.

Eventually we moved beyond tumblr and to gchat. And we talked all the time.

Suddenly instead of spending my evenings alone, every day, I spent them with this awesome person, whose name was Caitlin. We didn’t live in the same state or time zone, but I wasn’t alone anymore.

Caitlin became—and is—one of my best friends. The person who I can talk to about anything: fandom headcanons, issues at work, and topics that are too TMI for most people.

It’s Caitlin who helped me through those terrifying early days of dating my now husband. It’s Caitlin that my husband conspired with when it came to planning surprises. It’s Caitlin who flies to Albuquerque every year so she can stay up with me to the wee hours of the morning for the Bubonicon Late Night Auction. It’s Caitlin who I still talk to nearly every day.

Conclusion

Social media did what the church failed to do. Through social media, people invited me into their homes—not for a quick dinner on one occasion but rather every night. To talk about my day, to talk about my interests, to get involved in my interests, and just show over and over again that they cared about me. More people than I can name or give credit to in a blog post: Sarah, Katie, Galen, Kat, Sam, and so many others.

This is what it takes to cure people’s loneliness. Not a onetime dinner and a movie. Not a onetime lunch. A continuing presence in someone’s life.

What does this look like off of social media? If you’re not a social media savvy person who wants to reach out to the lonely people around you?

Invite people into your life. Don’t just pat yourself on the back for helping a lonely person out once. Make someone part of your family.

Don’t tell me you’re too busy with your own family—focusing on your kids and their events or whatever. Because the only local friend I have who has done this for me has two kids of her own. But she is still there for me. There to go to lunch. There to invite me over to dinner with her family. Inviting me to the movies with her. Inviting me to weekly trivia. Helping me with learning how to create cosplays and craft. And just being all around awesome.

Lonely people come in all shapes and sizes. Young single people far away from their families, women who feel like they’re being swallowed by the title of “mommy,” men who feel like no one understands them when they talk, and older people who once had homes full of kids and now find it’s just…empty.

Reach out to people beyond the events. Form bonds with people outside of your family unit. Form community. Invite people into your life.

That is how we stop loneliness.

Moses & God (Moses Part 2)

Alright guys, it’s been a few weeks since we last talked about Moses and Spring Break was in there, so let’s recap and make sure we’re all on the same page.

Jacob and all of his sons moved to Egypt where things were pretty good. But then the Israelites started multiplying at a rate that frightened the Egyptians. So when Joseph and his whole generation was dead, including the Pharaoh he was BFFs with, the new pharaoh looked at this situation and was basically like “This is not good! These Israelites are going to join together with our enemies and overthrow us.”

So what was his grand plan? Not to make friends with them or better assimilate the Israelites in Egyptian culture, no. He decided the bets plan was to kill all the male babies. Needless to say, the Israelites were not happy about this.

One woman named Jochebed wanted to save her baby, but she knew she couldn’t hide him. It was inevitable that pharaoh’s men would find the baby and kill it. So she built it a little floaty basket and sent him down the Nile River—which would have been extremely dangerous.

Pharaoh’s daughter was out bathing in the water when she saw the basket. She pulled the baby out of the basket and basically decided that even though the baby was a Hebrew, she was going to raise him as her own.

That’s basically where we stopped. The Bible then skips forward a few years to when Moses was grown—at least a teenager if not a little older. Please go get your Bibles and turn to Exodus. Remember, Exodus is the second book of the Bible.

Can someone read Exodus 2:11-15?

11 One day, after Moses had grown up, he went out to his people and saw their forced labor. He saw an Egyptian beating a Hebrew, one of his kinsfolk. 12 He looked this way and that, and seeing no one he killed the Egyptian and hid him in the sand. 13 When he went out the next day, he saw two Hebrews fighting; and he said to the one who was in the wrong, “Why do you strike your fellow Hebrew?” 14 He answered, “Who made you a ruler and judge over us? Do you mean to kill me as you killed the Egyptian?” Then Moses was afraid and thought, “Surely the thing is known.” 15 When Pharaoh heard of it, he sought to kill Moses.

But Moses fled from Pharaoh. He settled in the land of Midian, and sat down by a well.

Moses is grown up and he goes out to the Hebrews. It says “his people” which makes it seem like he knew he was a Hebrew. Most movie adaptions of this story make the revelation of his birth a shock to Moses—whether it’s Prince of Egypt or the Ten Commandments—but we don’t know if that’s true or not. All we do know is at this point, when Moses goes out and see the Egyptian beating a Hebrew, at that point, Moses already knows he’s a Hebrew.

So Moses goes out and sees these people who are his people, not different from him except in the chance that he got found by an Egyptian woman. In another life—he would be one of these slaves doing forced labor. And he sees an Egyptian beating a Hebrew. And he couldn’t take it.

He kills the Egyptian.

But it very carefully says “he looked this way and that” before he did it. He didn’t want anyone to know what he’d done because killing an Egyptian is not just against God’s law—which he may or may not have known at this time—but against Pharaoh’s law—which he definitely would have known.

He doesn’t want anyone to know what he did.

But the next day he goes out and he sees two Hebrews—his people—fighting each other. And he’s basically like “Isn’t your life hard enough without you guys also beating each other up?” But the Hebrews don’t want his opinion.

The Hebrews probably don’t know Moses is a Hebrew—he would seem Egyptian to them—and even if he was Hebrew, they don’t want his opinion. And it turns out, they know he’s a murderer.

Somehow the word spreads and Pharaoh finds out and Pharaoh is mad. Killing an Egyptian is not cool for the adopted son of his daughter to do. Pharaoh wants Moses to pay the penalty, which is death.

But Moses doesn’t want to die so he flees. And he ends up in Midian.

Can someone read Exodus 2:16-22?

16 The priest of Midian had seven daughters. They came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 But some shepherds came and drove them away. Moses got up and came to their defense and watered their flock. 18 When they returned to their father Reuel, he said, “How is it that you have come back so soon today?” 19 They said, “An Egyptian helped us against the shepherds; he even drew water for us and watered the flock.” 20 He said to his daughters, “Where is he? Why did you leave the man? Invite him to break bread.” 21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave Moses his daughter Zipporah in marriage. 22 She bore a son, and he named him Gershom; for he said, “I have been an alien residing in a foreign land.”

In Midian, Moses basically meets a priest and his daughters. When he’s sitting at the well, the daughters arrive to water their father’s flock and are basically bullied by some other shepherds. But Moses defends them. So they take him home and introduce him to their dad. Basically Moses decides to stay here with these people forever. He marries a woman named Zipporah and they have a kid. Does it seem like Moses has any intention of ever going back to Egypt? [Let them answer.]

Definitely not. And why would he? He’s wanted for murder there! Sure he’s abandoned his people who were suffering—a people that he surely felt for at one point, that’s sort of the whole reason he killed that Egyptian was to save one of his own people. But now Moses seems determined to put that all behind him. Now that his own life is in danger, he’s not going back there. He’s not willing to risk himself for the Hebrews.

Moses is living a pretty good and decent life in Midian….while his people are suffering.

Can someone read Exodus 2:23-25?

23 After a long time the king of Egypt died. The Israelites groaned under their slavery, and cried out. Out of the slavery their cry for help rose up to God. 24 God heard their groaning, and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. 25 God looked upon the Israelites, and God took notice of them.

Moses may have forgotten his people, but has God? [Let them answer.]

No. He has not.

Can someone now read Exodus 3:1-3?

3 Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.”

Moses, however, is just living his life in Midian, being a shepherd. He’s out one day with his flock and he sees something crazy. There is a bush that’s on fire…but it’s not burning up.

You guys have seen something be burned before, right? When logs and paper and other things burn, the material turns to ash. This is natural. But this bush wasn’t turning to ash. It was on fire and nothing was happening to it. That’s a pretty crazy thing, and Moses thought so to.

Can someone read Exodus 3:4-6?

4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.

The burning bush has Moses attention, and then it really gets his attention when God’s voice comes from it. God calls his name, and Moses responds. God tells Moses to remove his sandals because he is on holy ground. Why? Why remove his shoes? This wasn’t something that was required of priests later in the old testament when they entered the temple and were in the presence of God, so why require it here?

I don’t know and my commentary didn’t have a very good answer either. It hypothesized that maybe it was a standard tradition of something to do before a superior person. Or it’s possible it’s because….God is trying to instill in Moses that this moment is special.

Moses isn’t entering the Holy of Holies of the Jewish Temple. He hasn’t gone through the purification processes required to do such—which serve the dual purpose of making someone clean and also putting their mind on the seriousness of entering God’s presence. Moses just kind of stumbled upon God, while doing his job, in the middle of the wilderness.

But God’s presence is holy no matter where it is—in a Temple, Church, on the street, at school, or in the middle of the wilderness. So maybe God wanted Moses to do something to recognize that holiness, so that Moses would realize the seriousness of this conversation.

God then explains to Moses he is the God of Moses’s people, and Moses hides his face, afraid to look at him. This makes me wonder if Moses does indeed know a little bit of who God is. Having been raised as mostly an Egyptian, it’s very possible his Hebrew religious education was lacking. But it’s also possible that since Jochebed was around when he was a small child, she might have taught him some basics. Or it’s possible covering your face is also a thing Egyptians would do should they come face to face with God. Regardless, Moses realized he was talking to someone of the upmost awesomness and importance and that deserved his humility and respect. And Moses was also probably a little afraid.

So why is God talking to this runaway murderer named Moses? We’ll let’s see. Can someone read Exodus 3:7-10?

7 Then the Lord said, “I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings, 8 and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians, and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey, to the country of the Canaanites, the Hittites, the Amorites, the Perizzites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites. 9 The cry of the Israelites has now come to me; I have also seen how the Egyptians oppress them. 10 So come, I will send you to Pharaoh to bring my people, the Israelites, out of Egypt.”

God has a mission for Moses.

Not just any mission: no, God wants Moses to go back to Egypt, where he is basically a wanted criminal, and somehow free all the slaves from under the rule of the Egyptians and then take them to the land God promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob—which is currently inhabited by a bunch of other people.

Do you guys think the Egyptians are going to be happy to see their free labor go away? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, no. This sort of thing rarely goes well historically. Slavery has sometimes ended without bloody revolutions, but that takes a long slow time, during which many people remain enslaved until the higher up people finally ever so slowly realize the people they are enslaving are humans too and maybe they shouldn’t be doing this. For slavery to end this fast? As fast as a guy coming in and saying “Let’s stop this now.” That usually takes a war or a revolution, as shown in our own country’s long history with slavery.

Or it takes a divine intervention, which in this case seems to be happening. It just so happens that God’s plan for a divine intervention involves Moses.

How do you guys think Moses feels about this? How would you feel if God gave you this huge responsibility? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s see what Moses says. Can someone read Exodus 3:11-15?

1 But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” 12 He said, “I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you that it is I who sent you: when you have brought the people out of Egypt, you shall worship God on this mountain.”

13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord, the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:

This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.

Moses doesn’t want to go, and he gives God excuses on why he can’t. First he’s all like “Who am I to do this? Surely I’m not qualified.” To which God basically responds, “Your qualifications don’t matter, it’s mine that do. I’ve got your back.” Does that satisfy Moses? No! Next he’s like “But if I go, who will I say sent me when they ask me your name?” God has an answer for that too, which we’ll come back to.

But Moses doesn’t stop with the excuses there. Oh no.

In Exodus 4:1 he says “But suppose they do not believe me or listen to me, but say, ‘The Lord did not appear to you.’” Which is basically “suppose they think I’m insane?” God has an answer to that too. He changes Moses staff into a serpent, and is like basically show them this trick and they’ll see the power I have given you.

Then can someone read Exodus 4:10-13?

10 But Moses said to the Lord, “O my Lord, I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor even now that you have spoken to your servant; but I am slow of speech and slow of tongue.” 11 Then the Lord said to him, “Who gives speech to mortals? Who makes them mute or deaf, seeing or blind? Is it not I, the Lord? 12 Now go, and I will be with your mouth and teach you what you are to speak.” 13 But he said, “O my Lord, please send someone else.”

Here Moses is like “God I’m not good at talking. Don’t send someone as bad at talking as me.” And God’s just like “Dude, I will give you the words to say.” And Moses is still like “But don’t send me God!”

Moses is literally talking to God, he has literally been given a divine mission from God, and he just doesn’t want to do it.

There is often when people in life are just like “If God just told me what to do, I’d totally do it!” But Moses is a prime example of sometimes we just don’t want to do what God says. Sometimes what he asks us to do is too hard.

We don’t want to go to Egypt. We don’t want to have to talk to people. Life in Midian is good. Moses has a wife and kids, a family. His life is simple and easy. But God doesn’t always call us to the simple and easy life does he? Sometimes he tells us to go back to the land where we can be arrested for murder, and go anger the most powerful guy in the whole world by telling him you’re taking all the Hebrews and leaving.

Sometimes what God asks us to do is really hard.

And sometimes we feel like we’re not the best person for the job. We think “God can’t want me to be a pastor, I’m not good at talking!” Or “God can’t really mean for me to help homeless strangers, I’m an introvert who doesn’t like meeting new people!” Or even “God can’t mean me to move to a land where being a Christian is illegal to spread the word there, I could die! That’s not safe!” But sometimes God really means for us to do those things.

Just like Moses.

In the end Moses does agrees to do it. He gathers his family and he goes back to Egypt. We’ll see what happens when he gets there next week. But for now I want to back up a little.

When Moses asked God who he was, what did God say? Can someone re-read Exodus 3:14?

14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’”

When Moses asked that question he was probably looking for an easy answer, like “oh yeah tell them my name is Bob.” In the ancient Egyptian religion that Moses would have been familiar with, every god would have had a name like Horace, Set, Osiris, and others. But God doesn’t give Moses a name.

He says “I am who I am.”

God’s answer is basically to state his existence. I am who I am. My Jewish commentary says this could also translate to “I will be what I will be,” meaning “My nature will become evident from my actions.” This can also be seen when God says many times how people will know him as Lord because of the wondrous things he will do. Basically a sort of “the proof is in the pudding.” You’ll see I’m God because it will become evident.

My Christian commentary also says it can be translated to “I cause to be because I cause to be.” Which is a statement of creation, that God is then indicating he created everything. I creates and sustains the world, and that name reveals that.

Why are there so many translations for what seems pretty standard? It’s because state of being verbs are weird. In English our state of being verbs are I am/You are/He is/They are. Or in past tense, I was/You were/He was/They were. When you say “I am” you usually follow it up with an adjective or a statement of who you are. “I am happy.” “I am Susan.” “I am hungry.” “He was cool.” You’re making a statement about your state of existence. I currently exist in a happy state. I exist as Susan. I exist in a hungry state. He existed in a cool state.

God says I am, he is…what? He is…everything. Creation is his signature. Everything is God. God’s name is that he exists. He is.

Now in Judaism, this phrase “I am who I am” is roughly translated to the name Yahweh. When people refer to God as Jehovah, that is a mistranslation of Yahweh. And if you’ve ever watched Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, in Latin Jehovah is spelled with an I because there are no Js in the Latin alphabet, fun fact that’s a little off topic. Jehovah is a mis translation that people often still use, we see it in a lot of hymns and old writings. So just know that.

But God says his name is “Ehyeh-Asher-Ehyeh” in Hebrew, I will be What I will Be, I am who I am, I cause to be because I cause to be.”

Now we’re going to flip way forward in our Bibles. I want you guys to flip forward to the Gospel of John. John is the fourth Gospel, which makes it the fourth book of the New Testament.

Before we read it a few things. In this section Jesus is talking to Jewish religious leaders in what was probably the temple courtyard. These Jewish leaders are not happy with what Jesus has been saying or doing. And as per usual, they’re basically trying to trap him into saying something wrong. And Jesus had been talking about God and Abraham.

Ok can someone read John 8:57-59.

57 Then the Jews said to him, “You are not yet fifty years old, and have you seen Abraham?” 58 Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, before Abraham was, I am.” 59 So they picked up stones to throw at him, but Jesus hid himself and went out of the temple.

The Jewish leaders ask him if he’s ever seen Abraham and he says “before Abraham was, I am.”

I AM.

Does that sound familiar to any of you guys? [Let them answer.]

Yeah. In that sentence, right there, Jesus is claiming to be God.  Before Abraham was, Jesus existed. But he’s not just saying that. If you just wanted to say you were alive since before Abraham, you’d say “Before Abraham was, I was.” “Before my little sister was born, I was born.” But that’s not what Jesus says.

The Gospel of John is written in Greek, the words he used were “ego ami” (Ἐγω εἰμι) which translates to that present case existence. I AM.

Before Abraham was, I AM.

You’ll hear people say Jesus never directly claimed to be God, and to a certain extent that’s true, because he never said anything that translates into English as “I am God.” And even here, the words are Greek, he didn’t call himself Yahweh. But he is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, claiming to be God right here. He is very clearly calling to the meaning of Yahweh and the name God gave himself when talking to Moses. And if that’s not proof enough, what do the Jewish leaders do in response? They pick up stones to stone him. They’re furious at him and according to the Jewish Law. It’s Leviticus 24:16, which I’ll read for you:

16 One who blasphemes the name of the Lord shall be put to death; the whole congregation shall stone the blasphemer. Aliens as well as citizens, when they blaspheme the Name, shall be put to death

Anyone who says something blasphemous is to be put to death, and this thing that Jesus said? Claiming to be the God, claiming to be I AM, that is the most blasphemous thing you can do! No wonder these Jewish leaders wanted to kill him immediately.

And this is not the only time Jesus says something like this. Pastor Doug likes to call them “I am” statements. They are all over the Gospel of John.

Our God doesn’t have a name. Our God is. He is. He exists. And Jesus lays claim to that. Before Abraham was, I AM.

Jesus is God, and right here he says it.

And this is part of why studying the Old Testament is actually so important. Without that context, without knowing who Abraham is—God’s chosen father of his people—without knowing the conversation between Moses and God, you might be able to infer that Jesus is claiming to be immortal, but it’s hard to see it in its full depth. But these Jewish leaders Jesus was talking to would have spent their whole lives studying the Old Testament and they knew exactly what he was saying.

And now, we do to. Jesus is the very same God who spoke to Moses in that burning bush.

Depression, Suicide, and Psalm 88

Lesson:

When I was your age, when I was in the seventh grade, my family moved to Georgia. We moved to this tiny little town where most of my mother’s family lived. I had so many cousins and aunts and uncles there that when we moved into the town we didn’t need the help of a moving company—not even our piano which was actually so heavy it took six guys to move.

One of the people who helped the most was my cousin Chuck. Now Chuck was an adult—he was actually my mom’s cousin—but he was probably only as old as I am now back then, so 30. Chuck was super friendly and willing to help out with anything. He was there helping out the entire time we moved in, and I remember him as being super friendly and very nice.

The first funeral I ever remember attending was Chuck’s. It was later that very same year—I was your age, in seventh grade. Chuck didn’t die from any illness or an accident. Chuck committed suicide.

He committed suicide on the anniversary of the day his father had committed suicide many years earlier, but I never knew his father, my Uncle Gene.

Why are we talking about this? Well I learned earlier this week that a teenager that I knew when she was your age committed suicide. And we need to talk about this. Because this may not affect you now, and I pray to God it never will affect you, but odds are someday you will know someone who suffers from depression, and maybe even suffer from it yourself.

Can you guys go get your Bibles? I need you to turn to Psalms. So the trick to finding the book of Psalms is just open your Bible directly to the middle. Page wise in the Bible, Psalms is in the middle so it can often be found this way.

Don’t flip to any specific one yet. I’m just going to talk about Psalms in general. Psalms is basically a book of poetry. People often contribute all of Psalms as having been written by King David, and while it’s true some of the psalms were, it’s basically a collection of poems written by different people. Now I don’t know how much poetry you guys have studied in school, but a good way to think about the psalms is basically as songs. Why do you guys think people write songs, and music? [Let them answer.]

I think people write songs to express emotions that are greater than words. Through a combination of sounds that create melodies and harmonies, a musician can create emotion. Movie music does this all the time. A movie composer is trying to express the emotion the people in the movie are feeling—since we don’t live inside the people’s heads. Let me play some examples for you.

Don’t tell me the movie but tell me what emotion does this song make you feel? [Star Wars theme song]

What about this one? [Jaws theme song]

And those are the ones without words. Psalms doesn’t have background music. It’s just lyrics. Can lyrics alone make you feel an emotion? [Let them answer] Well, here’s one of my favorite songs, I’m going to read the lyrics and I want you guys to tell me the emotions:

Oh, my love, my darling
I've hungered for your touch
A long, lonely time
Time goes by so slowly
And time can do so much
Are you still mine?
I need your love
I need your love
God speed your love to me

What emotion is this song about?

From the lyrics we can tell this is someone who has been separated from his love a long time, and because it’s been so long, he’s afraid she doesn’t love him anymore. But he still loves her and he hopes against hope she does. This is a song of love yes, but more it’s a song of yearning.

The psalmists are basically lyricists. They write lyrics that express emotions and feelings. Some of the songs are prayers and some are songs, but both are things in which they are expressing everything from the happiest of happys to the deepest of despairs. Today we’re going to turn to a Psalm where the writer talks about the deepest of despair.

Please turn to Psalm 88. It’s long so I’m just going to read the whole thing, but please follow along.

   Lord, God of my salvation,
    when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
    incline your ear to my cry.

3 For my soul is full of troubles,
    and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
    I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
    like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
    for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
    in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
    and you overwhelm me with all your waves.Selah

8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
    you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9     my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
    I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
    Do the shades rise up to praise you?Selah
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
    or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
    or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
    Why do you hide your face from me?
15 Wretched and close to death from my youth up,
    I suffer your terrors; I am desperate.
16 Your wrath has swept over me;
    your dread assaults destroy me.
17 They surround me like a flood all day long;
    from all sides they close in on me.
18 You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me;
    my companions are in darkness.

What is the emotion of this Psalm? [Let them answer]

There is a word for this level of sadness. It’s despair. The dictionary definition of despair is thus: “The complete loss or absence of hope.”

This Psalm is written by a person who knows God is his salvation, knows God is the one to whom he should take his troubles, but still he is in despair. He feels like God isn’t listening to him. He feels like God has put him in the lowest of pits. He has no friends left, he feels completely alone in the world and he feels like God too has abandoned them.

This level of despair where you feel completely isolated from everyone around you and feel like there is no hope left in the world, and that even God has forsaken you—this level where the Psalmist says he feels near Sheol—which is death—we have a word for this. It’s called Depression.

This is what depression feels like, this psalm. If you have a friend ever tell you they’re depressed and you don’t know what that means I want you to remember Psalm 88 and I want you to look at it. And if you ever feel like this—like you have not a friend in the world, including God—I want you to remember that this is what depression is. Psalm 88 is depression.

And this is not the only Psalm about this. Yes a lot of the psalms are about happy things, but if you read through the psalms you get a full spectrum of human emotion. Because we’re human, and some days we are happy and some days we are sad.

But depression is more than sadness. It’s like an oppressive never ending sadness. It’s despair, a feeling that there is no hope in the world. A depressed person looks to the future and they don’t see happiness—they don’t see any prospect of anything working out. They just see bleakness. They also often feel that not only have they been abandoned by all their friends, but that they are a burden to them. This is why depressed people don’t always get help. They think their presence and conversation is not even welcome—not just not welcome, but hurtful to you. They think their very presence is harming everyone around them.

This depression can lead to suicidal thoughts. Because if a person things they’re harming everyone around them, they think the best solution is to take themselves out of the equation. That by removing themselves they will make everyone else’s lives better.

This is a lie.

I’m telling you now that if anyone of you died, you will be missed. I would miss you.

Even if you think you’re my most annoying student, or you think I don’t like you, it’s not true. I think you all are smart young people with bright futures ahead of you. I pray for each and every one of you. And if you think no one else on this planet will miss you, I want you to remember that I will.

You have all touched my life. You have changed me and the way I approach the Word of God—how I study and present things with new and fresh eyes. And it’s not just the future I see in you, it’s now. You guys are changing lives for the better now. You are changing my life for the better now. You are not and never will be a burden on me. And it is never too inconvenient for you to talk to me. You can always talk to me about anything. Any time. That is literally my phone number on the board.

But I can guarantee it’s not just me who cares for you. I’ve met many of your parents. Whether you believe it or not, they would die for you if they thought it would spare you pain—that’s how much parents love their children. I’ve met many of your siblings, some are sitting here in this class. I’ve seen how your siblings look at you, how they interact with you. Even if you think they don’t, they love you.

My little sister annoys the ever-living daylights out of me sometimes. Sometimes I just want to shake her and say “Why can’t you be normal?” But I love her more than I can express in words, and if she ever died, I don’t know if I could recover. Nothing could ever fill the void she would leave in my life. Nothing.

But when a person is depressed, they can’t always see these connections. Just look at the Psalm. We know God is love, but the Psalmist thinks even God has abandoned him. This is what depression does. It feels like a wall that just settles around you, separating you from everyone else. And you feel like they can’t even see you, and that you can’t reach them.

And here the Psalmist is crying out to God, he’s saying to God please come help me! If we look at verses 13 and 14 he says,

13 But I, O Lord, cry out to you;
    in the morning my prayer comes before you.
14 O Lord, why do you cast me off?
    Why do you hide your face from me?

This is not the cry of a man who has lost his faith. Historically, some Christian groups have tried to blame depression on a lack of faith in God, but if we look at the Psalms we see that is just not true. This is written by a man who is devout. He cries out to God every single morning, “God take this pain from me!” That is not the cry of a man who doesn’t believe. That is the cry of a man who does. He knows God could take this pain from him.

But remember when we studied Joseph—we saw how Joseph’s life went into this out of control spiral of horrible things. His siblings sold him into slavery! Potiphar’s wife tried to rape him! He got put in jail because she accused him of raping her! A man he thought might be able to help him get out of jail forgot about him for two years.

Horrible things happen. We live in a world where people have the freedom to make choices that can be bad and affect you like Joseph.

But depression is different. Depression can certainly be triggered by things in your life going horribly—like if you were Joseph. But sometimes your life is going on just fine. Things are great. And that’s when depression strikes.

Because depression is a chronic illness, just like getting the flu or bronchitis. We live in a world where people can get sick. Where people can be born with things like cancer or birth defects. And you don’t get these things because God doesn’t love you. You don’t get them because of some moral failing. This psalmist didn’t do anything wrong or commit any sin. He was devout and doing his best. He felt like God didn’t love him, but God still did. The Bible is clear God loves us all. It’s John 3:16 “For God so loved the world…” Psalm 107:1 "Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good, his love endures forever."

He loves us. All of us.

But this illness called depression can cause us, just like the psalmist, not to feel that love. We can know God or our families or our friends love us, but we also just feel like…maybe they don’t. maybe it’s all a lie. Maybe they’re pretending and just tolerating us. And maybe they would be better off if I wasn’t here. You can see this is verse 8 of the Psalm.

If you ever start feeling like this, even if you think it’s a bother, you need to tell someone. The only way to fix bronchitis or flu or cancer is by treating it like the disease it is. Ignoring it will just cause it to get worse and people can and do die from the flu and cancer. Suicide is basically someone just dying of depression. And like those other sicknesses, if you go to a doctor they can help you and help make you better.

And that reaching out to someone for help is probably the single hardest thing for a person with depression to do, because remember a person with depression might feel like their very existence is a hassle to you. So if your friend ever reaches out to you that they’re feeling depressed or mention that sometimes they want to kill themselves, you need to take them seriously. You need to not argue with them, but listen to them. Be sympathetic but remind them emphatically that you are there for them. Do not under any circumstances promise to keep it a secret, because the most important thing is you need to tell an adult who can get them help.

And if you are depressed or feeling suicidal or someone tells you they are, and you’re afraid to go to their parents, your youth minister and myself are always here for you. The youth minister has made her cell phone number available to all of you, and mine is on the board.

And if you don’t want to talk to us? If you’d rather talk to a stranger because you’re too afraid. Or if you’d rather text a stranger there are numbers for that too. They are also on the board. I recommend you guys take pictures of these numbers, just in case. You may never experience depression, but odds are you will have a friend who does. And you want to be prepared if they ever reach out to you.

That said if you do have a friend who commits suicide, it is not your fault. Sometimes we blame ourselves, we think if only we had seen it. Or maybe they said something about suicide but we thought they were joking.

My cousin Chuck in the months before his death was one of the friendliest happiest seeming people I knew. If you had asked me, I would have said there was no way he was suffering from depression.

He was.

And he died.

It wasn’t my fault. It’s not your fault when you have a friend who dies of an illness.  And if you ever get depression, it is not your fault, just like it’s not your fault if you get a cold.

Illnesses happen. And if the Psalms are anything to go by, depression is an illness that has been around for a very long time. Fortunately, we now have modern doctors who can help with these things.

I hope none of you ever experience depression, just like I hope none of you get any other chronic debilitating illness. I pray for you all, and I am here for you all. If you ever need to talk, I am here for you. Like I said, my number is on the board. You can always call me. You can always call the church. That is why churches exist, for that community, so you’re not alone. Because God knows we need people on this earth who can help us.

And if you ever need help, even if it’s the hardest thing you ever do—ask for help.

And that’s it. That’s the end of today’s lesson. Shorter than normal I know but if you have any questions now is the time to ask.

Phone Numbers for the Board:

  • National Suicide Prevention Line: 1-800-273-8255
  • Crisis Text Line: Text "Connect" to 741741

If you'd rather talk to a teenager, there are specially trained teens who can talk to you:

  • Teen Line: 1-800-TLC-TEEN
  • Text "TEEN" to 839863

Notes from Class

We actually had a really small class for this lesson because it was the Sunday of Spring Break. Most of the students were on vacation. That said there was some good discussion and things I think that are good to capture here.

A seventh grade boy said, "My friends joke about killing themselves all the time. 'I got a B on my test, I'm going to kill myself' sort of thing. What do I do?"

The best advice I had was always respond as if he's serious. Respond with something like "Are you okay?" or "Do you need to talk about it?" or some variant of that. A kid who is honestly joking will be like "what? no man, I was joking." Then you should probably explain how that's an inappropriate thing to joke about and maybe even use the example of a girl from your church recently did commit suicide and it's not funny. But if someone is not joking and there is more going on, your seriousness will given them the opportunity to open up. If you have other suggestions of what kids should do in this scenario, please leave it in the comments! I would be happy to hear them and pass them on.

In both Sunday School classes (because we have two now, both at different hours) the topic of "being afraid to tell your parents" something came up. And I told them if they were ever in a situation where they needed to get out and they were too afraid to call their parents to come pick them, I would happily do so. But I also reiterated that they should call your parents, because it is better to be grounded than dead. 

Also when talking about how depression is an illness, I compared it to the allergies I was actually suffering from during the lesson. I explained how allergies are basically caused by your body freaking out, thinking that pollen is dangerous and going to kill you. So it throws your immune system into full drive trying to protect you. Your body thinks what it's doing is right, but it's actually not a necessary reaction. Mental illness is the same way. Your brain is either over producing or under producing something, and it's just doing what it thinks is best. But like allergies and any other illness, if you visit a doctor they can help you.

 

Pharaoh, His Daughter, and Jochebed (Moses Part 1)

Note: During the time of Lent I will be making an effort to tie all the stories forward to Jesus and something he said or did. So at the end of this lesson we talk about Matthew 5:43-47, and tie it into this story.

When we last left off, Jacob and his entire household—all of his sons and their families, all of his servants and their families, and all of their animals—had moved to Egypt. Who remembers why they moved to Egypt? [Let them answer.]

That’s right there was a famine and there was no food, and going to be no food for many years. But Egypt had food and Joseph was already in Egypt. Joseph was second to none but pharaoh and he basically said, “come live here, be safe, and you can live in this area of land.”

Alright let’s talk a minute about this group of people who just moved to Egypt. They are not Egyptians. They are from Canaan. They are all descended from Jacob and before him Isaac, and before him Abraham. Who remembers what Jacob’s name was changed to? [Let them answer.]

Israel. That’s right. From basically this point on everyone descended from Jacob is going to be referred to as one of two words: either Hebrew or Israelites. (Write the words on the board so they can see them.) So when the Bible says either Hebrews or Israelites it means all the people descended from Jacob and his twelve sons.

Now the twelve sons of Jacob were Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, Benjamin, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, and Joseph. [Write the names on the board]. You will often hear people refer to the twelve tribes of Israel. These are—more or less—the twelve tribes of Israel. Each of Jacob’s sons is the father of his own tribe. So every Israelite would know which son they descended from. They would consider other descendants from that son their tribe. Which is basically sort of like “We’re all sons of Israel but I am specifically a son of Judah.”

Basically, you now have all these people living in Egypt who don’t identify as Egyptians. They identify themselves first and foremost as Israelites. They are God’s people, and they would consider themselves set apart from the Egyptians. They might intermarry with Egyptians—Joseph for example did. His wife was an Egyptians. But even after generations, they considered themselves Israelites. And as we’re going to see, this worried the new leader of Egypt, the new pharaoh.

So today, for the first time, we’re in the book of Exodus, which is the second book of the Bible. It basically picks up right where Genesis left off, recapping that all of Israel has moved to Egypt and then fast forwarding a bit, to a time when all the sons of Jacob were dead and it’s their descendants who still live in Egypt.

Can someone read Exodus 1:6-14?

6 Then Joseph died, and all his brothers, and that whole generation. 7 But the Israelites were fruitful and prolific; they multiplied and grew exceedingly strong, so that the land was filled with them.

8 Now a new king arose over Egypt, who did not know Joseph. 9 He said to his people, “Look, the Israelite people are more numerous and more powerful than we. 10 Come, let us deal shrewdly with them, or they will increase and, in the event of war, join our enemies and fight against us and escape from the land.” 11 Therefore they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor. They built supply cities, Pithom and Rameses, for Pharaoh. 12 But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread, so that the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites. 13 The Egyptians became ruthless in imposing tasks on the Israelites, 14 and made their lives bitter with hard service in mortar and brick and in every kind of field labor. They were ruthless in all the tasks that they imposed on them.

So Pharaoh is afraid that since the Israelites don’t view themselves as Egyptians, basically they might ally with one of Egypt’s enemies and help overthrow Egypt from the inside. It’s not a crazy fear. There are historical examples of this sort of thing happening: where land is shared by basically two distinct people groups and one of those people groups helps overthrow the other. A possible way to solve this would be for the Pharaoh to say “I’m going to work harder at showing the Israelites that they are our friends. I’ll make it clear they are an integral part of this nation and that we love and respect them. Then they’ll never want to ally against us, because they’ll be like ‘NO way! The Egyptians are our best friends!’” But does Pharaoh say that?

No. Instead he says “I’m going to make their lives a living hell.”

I think what Pharaoh is going for here is that he think they’re multiplying too fast, and he thinks if he makes their lives miserable, they’ll slow down all this kid having business. And also maybe they’ll just all die. And they’ll be too beaten down to even think about allying with any other power. This is what we call “oppression” and it’s not cool.

And it doesn’t work for Pharaoh, does it? The Israelites keep multiplying. In response Pharaoh works them harder. But it doesn’t stop them. Why do you guys think that is?

[Let them answer.]

Well I think most importantly it’s because God is with them. Even if Pharaoh takes everything from them they know they have God and God has their back. God is not just going to let them all die in Egypt.

So Pharaoh’s brilliant plan is not working. Let’s see what he does in response to this. Can someone read Exodus 1:15-16?

15 The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, one of whom was named Shiphrah and the other Puah, 16 “When you act as midwives to the Hebrew women, and see them on the birthstool, if it is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, she shall live.”

Pharaoh’s response is basically to pull aside the Hebrew’s midwives and be like “Could you make sure all the boy babies happen to die in childbirth? We’re cool with girls though.”

This is a diabolical plan because it wouldn’t have pointed back to Pharaoh. A lot of babies and women died in childbirth back then. Like you were lucky to survive. So he was basically asking these midwives to skew those numbers so boys just happened to have higher rates of death. Which would be weird but probably not that suspicious.

However, in order for this plan to work, the midwives have to go along with it.  Let’s see if they do. Can someone read Exodus 1:17-21?

17 But the midwives feared God; they did not do as the king of Egypt commanded them, but they let the boys live. 18 So the king of Egypt summoned the midwives and said to them, “Why have you done this, and allowed the boys to live?” 19 The midwives said to Pharaoh, “Because the Hebrew women are not like the Egyptian women; for they are vigorous and give birth before the midwife comes to them.” 20 So God dealt well with the midwives; and the people multiplied and became very strong. 21 And because the midwives feared God, he gave them families.

Basically the midwives don’t do what Pharaoh asks them to do. Pharaoh gets upset and when he summons them back to ask why, they lie. Instead of being like “It’s because we’re not crazy murdering people and we love God” they say it’s because the Israelite women give birth before they can get there. Because remember back then there were no cell phones or even phones. So if a woman went into labor, someone would have to go run and get a midwife and bring her back. That trip could take some time. So it’s not completely unbelievable they could be having babies before the midwives arrive. However, I think it’s heavily implied here that the midwives are lying. They are still helping, they’re just not willing to kill babies or go against God.

God sees these midwives and what they’re doing and he blesses them because of it.

But do you think Pharaoh is going to be happy with this answer? [Let them answer.

Alright someone read Exodus 1:22.

22 Then Pharaoh commanded all his people, “Every boy that is born to the Hebrews you shall throw into the Nile, but you shall let every girl live.”

Pharaoh is basically throughs subterfuge out the window at this point. He’s just like “Every baby boy is ordered to be dead.” And he sends out his people to make sure it happens. From this point forward, every baby boy born is to be murdered.

Do you guys think the Israelites were happy about this? [Let them answer.]

Yeah me either. And back then a woman wouldn’t know before she was giving birth if she was having a boy or a girl. She wouldn’t know if her baby would get to live or die, if once she gave birth, soldiers would arrive at her door. So I imagine every woman lived in fear that her baby would be murdered, because they didn’t know if it was a boy or not.

Alright let’s see what happens. Can someone read Exodus 2:1-4?

Now a man from the house of Levi went and married a Levite woman. 2 The woman conceived and bore a son; and when she saw that he was a fine baby, she hid him three months. 3 When she could hide him no longer she got a papyrus basket for him, and plastered it with bitumen and pitch; she put the child in it and placed it among the reeds on the bank of the river. 4 His sister stood at a distance, to see what would happen to him.

Remember the House of Levi just means they were descended from Levite, Jacob’s son. A Levite woman had a baby who was a boy. By pharaoh’s command that should mean he must die. But she hides him. Maybe she did this by telling people her child died in childbirth? Maybe she did it by telling everyone he was a girl. Who knows. We don’t. We just know that after three months she couldn’t hide him any longer. But she didn’t want him to die. So she made a desperate attempt to save his life. She puts him in a basket and puts him in the Nile River.

Now it says she plastered it with bitumen and pitch because that’s how she’d make the basket water tight and float, so it just doesn’t immediately flood and the baby drown and die. And she put him in the reeds on the bank, but that area is not safe.

The Nile River is full of life. Crocodiles might seem that basket and think it’s a tasty snack. Hippos lived in that river, and while they don’t eat humans, if they saw something like a basket and they weren’t sure what it was, they might attack it just to make sure it wasn’t dangerous. Hippos are actually one of the most dangerous creatures out there because they are so big and strong. Both crocodiles and Hippos would probably be found around the banks of the river, where she put the basket.

More towards the center of the river, the basket would have to worry about actual human traffic like ships. Because the Nile was basically Egypt’s highway. It was the easiest way to travel through the kingdom.

Yet all of this danger of putting her baby in a basket was safer than the reality that the soldiers would come for him and murder him. By putting him in the river she was at least giving him a chance. A slim chance, but a chance.

To help that chance, the baby’s sister watched him to see what would happen. If he would be eaten, drown, or miraculously saved.

Let’s see what happens.

Can someone read Exodus 2:5-10?

5 The daughter of Pharaoh came down to bathe at the river, while her attendants walked beside the river. She saw the basket among the reeds and sent her maid to bring it. 6 When she opened it, she saw the child. He was crying, and she took pity on him. “This must be one of the Hebrews’ children,” she said. 7 Then his sister said to Pharaoh’s daughter, “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” 8 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Yes.” So the girl went and called the child’s mother. 9 Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages.” So the woman took the child and nursed it. 10 When the child grew up, she brought him to Pharaoh’s daughter, and she took him as her son. She named him Moses, “because,” she said, “I drew him out of the water.”

Pharaoh’s daughter is bathing in the river and she sees the basket. She asks her maid to get it, and when she pulls the baby out he’s crying. It’s very clear here that Pharaoh’s daughter immediately recognizes this as an Israelite baby, and she would know the decry her father the Pharaoh had set down. But does she through him the river and let him die, upholding her father’s command?

No. She chooses to raise him as her own son.

Now the baby’s sister who is watching all of this is a smart cookie. She basically reveals herself and asks, “Do you want a wet nurse?” Basically do you want me to find a slave to nurse this baby for you. Because women can only nurse babies when they have recently had babies. It has to do with hormones and biology. So if Pharaoh’s daughter hadn’t recently had a baby—which probably not—she wouldn’t even be able to feed the baby. Not to mention it’s always been fairly common for noble ladies to hire maids or acquire slaves to nurse babies for them so they wouldn’t have to do so.

When Pharaoh’s daughter agrees that she needs a wet nurse, the sister actually goes and gets the baby’s biological mother. Pharaoh’s daughter actually pays the baby’s biological mother to help her raise this baby.

Now up to this point none of these characters have been named, but here Pharaoh’s daughter names the baby Moses. Also we later learn that Moses’s mother is named Jochebed and his sister was named Miriam. Pharaoh’s daughter is never given a name, so we will continue to refer to her as thus.

Here at the beginning of Moses story, we have three incredibly courageous women.

Jochebed hides her baby from Pharaoh’s men and then when she can hide him no longer, she trusts him to God. It was a dangerous and incredibly brave thing to do. If she had tried to continue hiding him, he probably would’ve been found. It would have taken an act of incredible faith to place her baby, who she didn’t want to die, in that water. But also considerable bravery not to try to immediately take him back from Pharaoh’s daughter, but to retain her composure and realize that Moses being raised as a prince of Egypt would be in his best interest.

Jochebed has the bravery of a mother who realizes she can not raise her own son, so she gives him up for adoption. Sometimes that is the bravest thing a person can do, realizing that they cannot provide for their child. Holding on to Moses for herself would have led to his death.

Miriam was also incredibly brave. She is basically a slave child who walks straight up to Pharaoh’s daughter and suggest a plan of action. Not just any plan of action, but one as audacious as “I’m going to bring the birth mother here to nurse the child.” At best, Pharaoh’s daughter might have only ignored her. At worst, Pharaoh’s daughter might have had her punished for daring to talk to someone as high and mighty as her. But Miriam still steps forward and suggests her plan.

But Pharaoh’s daughter was also brave and held an important place in God’s plan. She took this baby out of the water and realized it was one of the baby’s her own father would have demanded the death of. She was risking Pharaoh’s ire by taking that baby in, and Pharaoh would have been completely in his rights to have her punished for defying him. But she decides to risk it anyway. Because when faced with the reality of a crying baby, she can’t go alone with Pharaoh’s plan.

But I also think there is another lesson to be learned from Pharaoh’s daughter. She obviously knew before this moment that the Hebrew’s babies were in danger. That’s why she immediately identified the baby in the basket as a Hebrew.

Sometimes we hear about horrible things, like Hebrew baby’s being killed by Pharaoh, or men women and children being murdered in other countries, but it doesn’t seem real and we don’t do anything about it. We don’t know these people and we don’t stand up for them. It’s not until we see a baby crying in its basket or a Syrian who finally made it to America, that we realize these people are people to. This disinterest in others is called “apathy” which means we just don’t care. And to a certain extent, that’s our minds protecting us from ourselves. It takes a lot of effort to care about everyone.

However, God calls us to care about everyone. Jesus tells us we are to love our neighbor as ourself, but he goes further than that too. Let’s flip to the new testament. Flip to Matthew which is the first book of the New Testament. We’re looking for Matthew 5:43-47.

Before we read it, keep in mind this is Jesus speaking. This is from a sermon he gave called the Sermon on the Mount, which is very long and this is just a part of it. Can someone read it?

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46 For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47 And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same?

Jesus says we are to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us! If someone bullies you, pray for them. Not just pray for them, we are to love them. He says it’s easy to love people you are close to, everyone does that, it’s hard to love those we are the enemies of and yet we are called by Jesus to this.

The kid who bullies you, you should pray for them and love them. The kid who annoys the crap out of you, pray for them and love them. The person who is the opposite political party of you? Pray and love them.

Pray and love.

This is not easy. This is in fact incredibly hard. It is so much easier to hate, and even easier to just in general be apathic. Because caring is hard. It exerts a lot of effort.

And when you honestly care, your actions will reflect that. You’ll find you just can’t stand by when people talk bad about other people—even when it’s entire people groups you don’t even know.

If you hear that Pharaoh is murdering Hebrew babies, you shouldn’t just sit there and think, “I’m Egyptian, that doesn’t affect me so I don’t care about it.” You should be thinking “These poor women. These poor babies. I can’t even imagine the hurt and pain.” Those thoughts of sympathy? That’s loving. You should then pray for them, and then you should go to Pharaoh and say “What the heck do you think you are doing?” Our love and prayers will often directly lead to this sort of action, because when we really care about someone or something, we have to do something about it. We have to stand up to Pharaoh.

Now the truth is most of us are like Pharaoh’s daughter. And that’s not all bad. We don’t know all that’s going on in the world or with people, so you may not realize there is even someone you should care about until you meet that Hebrew baby in a basket. Pharaoh’s daughter may not have ever given a thought to Hebrews before. Sometimes that’s just the reality of being human, and that’s okay. You can’t be all knowing.

But you should be brave enough to pick up that baby and risk Pharaoh’s ire to support it—even though it was born as the enemy. When these issues of suffering and pain come to your attention, we are supposed to care.

Even if they’re our enemies.

Love God. Love your neighbor. Love your enemy. Love. This is what it means to be a Christian.

Joseph (Genesis) Part 3

For the past two weeks we’ve been talking about Joseph. If you remember, the first week we talked about how his father, Jacob, favored him over all of his brothers—and he had eleven brothers. Because of this his brothers were super jealous and basically sold him into slavery. Joseph ended up in Egypt where a lot of terrible things happened to him but in the end, he ends up being Pharaoh’s right hand man. Because Joseph interpreted a dream Pharaoh had. Does anyone remember what the dream was about? [Let them answer.]

That’s right. Pharaoh’s dream warned him that there was coming seven years of plenty and seven year of famine. That they needed to save up during the seven years of plenty so they wouldn’t starve to death during the famine. So Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of this whole saving food business. And for seven years everything is great, and then the famine comes. And Joseph becomes Pharaoh’s guy in charge of handing out the grain—doing so I imagine in careful increments so they don’t run out before the seven years.

So that’s where we stopped last week. Can someone read, Genesis 42:1-5?

42 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at one another? 2 I have heard,” he said, “that there is grain in Egypt; go down and buy grain for us there, that we may live and not die.” 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain in Egypt. 4 But Jacob did not send Joseph’s brother Benjamin with his brothers, for he feared that harm might come to him. 5 Thus the sons of Israel were among the other people who came to buy grain, for the famine had reached the land of Canaan.

So this famine is everywhere, even back in Joseph’s home—Canaan. Joseph’s brothers and dad still live there. And they have no food now. But Jacob hears that Egypt has food so he wants his sons to go there and get food! But not Benjamin. Who is Benjamin? We really haven’t talked about him, have we?

Well, let’s figure out who he is. Let’s flip back a few chapters. Can someone read Genesis 35:16-19? For reference the “they” referred to in this section is going to be Jacob and his family. This is likely before Joseph was sold into slavery.

16 Then they journeyed from Bethel; and when they were still some distance from Ephrath, Rachel was in childbirth, and she had hard labor. 17 When she was in her hard labor, the midwife said to her, “Do not be afraid; for now you will have another son.” 18 As her soul was departing (for she died), she named him Ben-oni;[a] but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died, and she was buried on the way to Ephrath (that is, Bethlehem),

So if you remember Rachel was Joseph’s mother, and she was Jacob’s favored wife. That’s why Jacob favored Joseph, because he favored Rachel. But Rachel also had another son, though many years later. Benjamin probably would have been a baby or a toddler when Joseph was sold into slavery—so these two brothers probably never really knew each other. But after Joseph was presumed dead by his father, Benjamin would be the only remaining person Jacob had to remember Rachel by.

So why do you think Jacob didn’t want Benjamin to go to Egypt with his brothers? [Let them answer.]

The Bible only says it’s because he feared what harm might come to Benjamin. But why would he be worried about Benjamin’s well-being over his other brothers? Jacob probably favored Benjamin just like he used to favor Joseph.

So if Benjamin is the baby brother and is favored just like Joseph was, do you guys think these other older brothers also hate Benjamin? [Let them answer.]

Well we’ll see in a bit. Meanwhile, the older brothers but not Benjamin are traveling to Egypt to get food. Which means they’re going to come into contact with Joseph who they haven’t seen in at least 11 years. Can someone read Genesis 42:6-13?

6 Now Joseph was governor over the land; it was he who sold to all the people of the land. And Joseph’s brothers came and bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground. 7 When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he said. They said, “From the land of Canaan, to buy food.” 8 Although Joseph had recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Joseph also remembered the dreams that he had dreamed about them. He said to them, “You are spies; you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” 10 They said to him, “No, my lord; your servants have come to buy food. 11 We are all sons of one man; we are honest men; your servants have never been spies.” 12 But he said to them, “No, you have come to see the nakedness of the land!” 13 They said, “We, your servants, are twelve brothers, the sons of a certain man in the land of Canaan; the youngest, however, is now with our father, and one is no more.”

So Joseph’s brothers show up and come before Joseph and bow to him. Does that sound familiar to you guys? Like maybe like a dream Joseph bragged about where his brother’s bowed to him? Yeah?

Well this is certainly not the scenario any of them envisioned, and the brothers don’t recognize Joseph. It’s been at least—if not more—than 11 years since they sold their brother. At that time Joseph was just a boy, around seventeen. Now Joseph would around 30. People change a lot from when they are teenagers to when they are 30, so it’s not surprising that his brother’s didn’t recognize him. But Joseph recognized them. He knew it was them. And he treated them like strangers.

No worse than strangers. He treated them like spies, like he was suspicious of them. Why do you think he did that? [Let them answer]

Yeah maybe he’s punishing them, just a little. Also maybe he honestly thinks they are horrible people—they did after all sell him into slavery. So maybe he doesn’t think they really deserve any of the grain. Let’s continue reading and see. Can someone skip ahead to Genesis 42:17-20?

17 And he put them all together in prison for three days.

18 On the third day Joseph said to them, “Do this and you will live, for I fear God: 19 if you are honest men, let one of your brothers stay here where you are imprisoned. The rest of you shall go and carry grain for the famine of your households, 20 and bring your youngest brother to me. Thus your words will be verified, and you shall not die.” And they agreed to do so.

Joseph puts his brothers in jail for three days, and then he lets them out and basically says: I’m going to keep one of you here hostage. The rest of you can go back, but you have to bring back your baby brother the next time you come to prove you’re not lying. Seems pretty harsh.

Can someone read Genesis 42:21-22?

21 They said to one another, “Alas, we are paying the penalty for what we did to our brother; we saw his anguish when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this anguish has come upon us.” 22 Then Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to wrong the boy? But you would not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.”

Basically the brothers think that this whole scenario is a punishment from God about what they did to Joseph. Because up to this point other than their dad being depressed over Joseph’s death, their lives probably didn’t change much. But now they have famine, and a seemingly cruel Egyptian—who they don’t know is really Joseph—who is going to keep one of them hostage until they can bring back their little brother. So for them this is a reckoning about Joseph.

And they’re not completely wrong. This is a reckoning about Joseph. It’s just not a reckoning from God. It’s a reckoning from Joseph.

Basically what happens next is Joseph keeps Simeon as the hostage but gives the other brothers bags of grain. They actually have to pay for this grain. I’m not sure if everyone had to pay for the grain or it’s just because they’re not Egyptians, but they had to pay in silver. But when Joseph is packing the grain up he slips their payment in the sacks of grain. Why do you think Joseph would do this? [Let them answer]

Maybe he still cares about them. Maybe he knows that’s his father’s money, and he doesn’t want to punish his dad. Or maybe it’s because when they come back he wants to accuse them of not paying and stealing. I guess we’ll see.

But the brothers do make it back to Canaan, though now minus a brother. And they tell Jacob everything that happened. That there was this mean Egyptian dude who thought they were spies and is holding Simeon hostage and wants them to come back with Benjamin. How do you guys think Jacob is going to take this news? [Let them answer.]

We’ll let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 42:36-38?

36 And their father Jacob said to them, “I am the one you have bereaved of children: Joseph is no more, and Simeon is no more, and now you would take Benjamin. All this has happened to me!” 37 Then Reuben said to his father, “You may kill my two sons if I do not bring him back to you. Put him in my hands, and I will bring him back to you.” 38 But he said, “My son shall not go down with you, for his brother is dead, and he alone is left. If harm should come to him on the journey that you are to make, you would bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to Sheol.”

Jacob is basically like “heck no, you’re not taking Benjamin.”

Reuben wants to go back for Simeon. If we look at the family tree, you see that Simeon is the second born, probably the one that Reuben is closest too. He doesn’t want to leave his brother there! And basically tries to tell Jacob that if they fail to bring back Benjamin when they go back to Egypt, Jacob is allowed to kill Rueben’s two kids. But Jacob is still like “no.”

Jacob is not willing to risk Benjamin’s life to save Simeon. Which shows us that Benjamin definitely gets the same kind of preferential treatment that Joseph used to get.

And there is not really anything Reuben can do in the face of this. Jacob is the patriarch of their family. They need his permission to take Benjamin and Reuben is certainly not going to okay the kidnapping of another brother. So it looks like Simeon is going to be stuck there.

But remember this is a seven year famine. So after time, the family in Canaan runs out of grain again. And Jacob is like “hey guys, go back to Egypt and get us more grain!” Judah, one of the brothers, reminds them why they can’t. They can’t go back without Benjamin, and they still have the silver from last time. What if the Egyptians think they stole it?

But they have no food. They are going to starve to death if they don’t get more grain. And this time its Judah, not Reuben, who offers to take personal responsibility for Benjamin. Maybe all that changes Jacob’s mind, because let’s see what he says this time. Can someone read Genesis 43:11-15?

11 Then their father Israel said to them, “If it must be so, then do this: take some of the choice fruits of the land in your bags, and carry them down as a present to the man—a little balm and a little honey, gum, resin, pistachio nuts, and almonds. 12 Take double the money with you. Carry back with you the money that was returned in the top of your sacks; perhaps it was an oversight. 13 Take your brother also, and be on your way again to the man; 14 may God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, so that he may send back your other brother and Benjamin. As for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.” 15 So the men took the present, and they took double the money with them, as well as Benjamin. Then they went on their way down to Egypt, and stood before Joseph.

Jacob says for them to go back. This time he wants them to take gift from their land—the few things they can still produce in this famine as a present for this mean Egyptian dude they encountered last time. He also wants them to take double the money—so if they’re accused of stealing, they can pay back for the old grain and the new. And he relents and lets them take Benjamin. And he hopes the Eygptian man and God will spare Benjamin and his sons and let them come home to them, but he’s not very optimistic about it.

But if he doesn’t do this they’re all going to starve to death anyway.

So they take all these things and go back to that mean Egyptian dude, who is actually their brother Joseph.

What do you guys think Joseph is going to do? Treat them well? Tell them the truth? Be mean to them again? [Let them answer]

Can someone read Genesis 43:16-18?

16 When Joseph saw Benjamin with them, he said to the steward of his house, “Bring the men into the house, and slaughter an animal and make ready, for the men are to dine with me at noon.” 17 The man did as Joseph said, and brought the men to Joseph’s house. 18 Now the men were afraid because they were brought to Joseph’s house, and they said, “It is because of the money, replaced in our sacks the first time, that we have been brought in, so that he may have an opportunity to fall upon us, to make slaves of us and take our donkeys.”

Joseph throws them a party! Or at least that’s the plan. So it seems Joseph is happy to see them right? But the brothers don’t know why they’ve been called into the house and are afraid it’s because Joseph might think they stole the money.

As soon as they get into the house they tell Joseph’s steward everything. They’re like “we have the money, we have the baby brother” and you know what they’re thinking is “please don’t enslave us!”

But the Steward is all like “no, you’re cool. We don’t you in our books as stealing any money, so if there is money in your sacks it must be because your God put it there. Now why don’t you come in for a nice awesome Egyptian party and by the way here is your other brother, Simeon! You can have him back now.”

Alright now let’s see what happens when Joseph shows up for this party. Can someone read Genesis 43:26-30?

26 When Joseph came home, they brought him the present that they had carried into the house, and bowed to the ground before him. 27 He inquired about their welfare, and said, “Is your father well, the old man of whom you spoke? Is he still alive?” 28 They said, “Your servant our father is well; he is still alive.” And they bowed their heads and did obeisance. 29 Then he looked up and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!” 30 With that, Joseph hurried out, because he was overcome with affection for his brother, and he was about to weep. So he went into a private room and wept there.

Joseph comes in and he asks about their dad—his dad. Joseph may be upset with his brothers, but his dad didn’t do anything wrong, and Joseph has been away from him for all this time. It’s probably a relief to Joseph to hear that his dad is alive and well. Then Joseph turns to Benjamin, who shares a mom with him, and who Joseph probably hasn’t seen since he was a baby. Joseph probably couldn’t even imagine what Benjamin looked like in his mind before this without seeing a baby, and now here he is. And it’s too much for Joseph. He has to leave the room and weep.

Because he has nothing against Benjamin. It wasn’t Benjamin who threw him in a well.

So they have this great lunch/party. The food is great and Joseph makes sure that Benjamin has like five times as much food as everyone else. And the brothers are probably thinking, “man this is going well. We’ll get out of here with both Simeon and Benjamin and it’s going to be great!”

But things don’t go quite as smoothly as they want. Because Joseph is still not sure he’s cool with these brothers who threw him in a well. So let’s see what happens. Can someone read Genesis 44:1-12?

Then he commanded the steward of his house, “Fill the men’s sacks with food, as much as they can carry, and put each man’s money in the top of his sack. 2 Put my cup, the silver cup, in the top of the sack of the youngest, with his money for the grain.” And he did as Joseph told him. 3 As soon as the morning was light, the men were sent away with their donkeys. 4 When they had gone only a short distance from the city, Joseph said to his steward, “Go, follow after the men; and when you overtake them, say to them, ‘Why have you returned evil for good? Why have you stolen my silver cup? 5 Is it not from this that my lord drinks? Does he not indeed use it for divination? You have done wrong in doing this.’”

6 When he overtook them, he repeated these words to them. 7 They said to him, “Why does my lord speak such words as these? Far be it from your servants that they should do such a thing! 8 Look, the money that we found at the top of our sacks, we brought back to you from the land of Canaan; why then would we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? 9 Should it be found with any one of your servants, let him die; moreover the rest of us will become my lord’s slaves.” 10 He said, “Even so; in accordance with your words, let it be: he with whom it is found shall become my slave, but the rest of you shall go free.” 11 Then each one quickly lowered his sack to the ground, and each opened his sack. 12 He searched, beginning with the eldest and ending with the youngest; and the cup was found in Benjamin’s sack.

Joseph gives them the grain but he has his steward hide a silver cup in Benjamin’s bag of grain. Then he has his men go after the brothers and basically accuse them of robbery. The brothers are like “No, we didn’t! But if someone did let them die as punishment!”

Which might seem like an overreaction, but Joseph could have them all put to death for less reason if he wanted. So they probably thought getting one of us killed but the rest can live would be fine. But they were also probably thinking “We didn’t steal the stupid cup!” Because they didn’t! And since they were all innocent of course they would agree to this.

But then the steward finds the cup in Benjamin’s bag. Benjamin. The brother that if they don’t bring back to Jacob they’re all going to be in deep deep trouble.

So what is going on here? Why do you guys think Joseph did this? Why put a cup in Benjamin’s bag to accuse him of stealing it? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s see what happens. Remember how Judah personally swore to Jacob he would bring Benjamin back? Well all the brothers go back to Joseph—cuz they have to, they’re basically criminals right now—but it’s Judah who pleads the case in front of Joseph. Can someone read Genesis 44:30-34?

30 Now therefore, when I come to your servant my father and the boy is not with us, then, as his life is bound up in the boy’s life, 31 when he sees that the boy is not with us, he will die; and your servants will bring down the gray hairs of your servant our father with sorrow to Sheol. 32 For your servant became surety for the boy to my father, saying, ‘If I do not bring him back to you, then I will bear the blame in the sight of my father all my life.’ 33 Now therefore, please let your servant remain as a slave to my lord in place of the boy; and let the boy go back with his brothers. 34 For how can I go back to my father if the boy is not with me? I fear to see the suffering that would come upon my father.”

Judah basically says if Joseph keeps Benjamin their father will die and offers to take Benjamin’s place. Judah says he will stay there and be a slave so as to not cause his father any more suffering.

Judah offers to take the favored young brother’s place as a slave. So I ask again, why do you think Joseph did this? Why did he put a cup in Benjamin’s bag? [Let them answer.]

He did it as a test of is brothers. Joseph knew Jacob would favor Benjamin—since Benjamin was both the baby and the child of Rachel. He remembered how that favoritism had made his brothers so jealous that they sold him into slavery. So he wanted to see if his brothers were unchanged, if they were still willing to get rid of a favored brother if they had the chance. And he gave them the perfect excuse. He put the cup in Benjamin’s bag, making Benjamin a criminal. Judah and the other brothers could have left and essentially been faultless, saying Benjamin was a criminal, and been free of their favored baby brother.

But that’s not what Judah does. Judah—the very brother whose idea it was to sell Joseph into slavery—offers to take Benjamin’s place and become Joseph’s slave instead, because Judah cannot bear to cause his father pain.

Judah has changed.

And Joseph sees that.

Can someone read Genesis 45:1-4?

45 Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Send everyone away from me.” So no one stayed with him when Joseph made himself known to his brothers. 2 And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard it, and the household of Pharaoh heard it. 3 Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph. Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, so dismayed were they at his presence.

4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Come closer to me.” And they came closer. He said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.

Joseph is overcome with emotion when Judah makes his declaration that he will take Benjamin’s place, and Joseph cannot contain himself anymore. He tells them the truth, that he is Joseph. And the brothers don’t believe him, which isn’t surprising. They probably thought Joseph was dead—slavery is a really hard life as Joseph learned firsthand—and if Joseph was still alive, they wouldn’t think he would be pharaoh’s right hand man!

But then Joseph calls them closer so they can see his face clearly—a face that would be changed by age but not unrecognizable—and tells them he is their brother which they sold into slavery, which no one else but them would have known.

Can someone read Genesis 45:5-11?

5 And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. 6 For the famine has been in the land these two years; and there are five more years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvest. 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8 So it was not you who sent me here, but God; he has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt. 9 Hurry and go up to my father and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph, God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not delay. 10 You shall settle in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near me, you and your children and your children’s children, as well as your flocks, your herds, and all that you have. 11 I will provide for you there—since there are five more years of famine to come—so that you and your household, and all that you have, will not come to poverty.’

What is Joseph saying here? He’s saying that they should forgive themselves for selling Joseph into slavery, because God has used their horrible behavior not just to God’s glory, but to save them. It’s only two years into a seven year famine. They have no food in Canaan, but because of Joseph’s position and job there is food for them in Egypt. He tells them to go get their dad and move to Egypt.

And I want to be clear here, what the brothers did to Joseph was bad. Wanting to murder your brother is something we’ve already talked about God not being cool with. But even bad things God can use to further his plan. God knew the famine was coming. And he prospered Joseph in Egypt to make possible the survival of God’s chosen people. All of this was used to further God’s plan.

Sometimes we make mistakes. Sometimes we do truly horrible things, but not even the most horrible of mistakes and sins can unravel God’s plan. God can use anything for his purpose, and he can use even an arrogant boy like Joseph to save his people. And even his murderous older brothers were saved and became better people who learned from their mistakes.

God saved them all by bringing them to Egypt.

So we’ll end with one last passage. Can someone read Genesis 45:25-28?

25 So they went up out of Egypt and came to their father Jacob in the land of Canaan. 26 And they told him, “Joseph is still alive! He is even ruler over all the land of Egypt.” He was stunned; he could not believe them. 27 But when they told him all the words of Joseph that he had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to carry him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived. 28 Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I must go and see him before I die.”

Jacob learns Joseph is still alive and it says he is “revived.” Remember Jacob had been depressed every since Joseph died. And Jacob doesn’t care that Joseph is ruler over Egypt or anything like that. He’s just happy to know his son lives.

So all of Israel’s household moves to Egypt. His children, their children, their servants, and livestock. They leave Canaan behind. And we’ll see next week what comes of that.

And yes, after three weeks we are done with the story of Joseph.

Joseph (Genesis) Part 2

So last week we talked about Joseph. Can anyone recap what we learned about him?

[Let them answer. If they can’t, recap with:

Joseph was the son of Jacob and Rachel. Because he was Rachel’s son, Jacob favored him over his other sons. This caused resentment amongst the brothers, and they hated Joseph. So they devised a plan to get rid of Joseph. They threw him in a well and then sold him into slavery. They then lied to Jacob and told Jacob that Joseph had been killed.

Joseph was taken to Egypt and sold to a man called Potiphar, who was a trusted member of Pharaoh’s court. Potiphar trusted Joseph with taking care of all of his matters. But Potiphar’s wife lusted after Joseph and tried to force him to sleep with her. When he would not, she accused him of trying to rape her, and Joseph was thrown in jail.]

So when we left off last week, Joseph was in a pretty dark place. He had gone from being a favored son to a slave to now a prisoner. He’s basically hit rock bottom, and I bet Joseph probably felt many times along the way God had abandoned him, but did God abandon Joseph? [Let them answer.]

That’s right. God didn’t.

Can someone read Genesis 39:21-23:

21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 the keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.

Even in prison God is with Joseph. And Joseph is still the hardworking person he learned to be during his time with Potiphar. The guy in charge of the prison sees that, and is basically like “huh, I can use this guy to help me out and keep track of things.” So basically even though Joseph is a prisoner, and he cannot leave the prison, he becomes a manager of the prison.

It’s probably not the life Joseph ever wanted or envisioned himself having, but it’s probably better than sulking for years because he’s in jail for something he didn’t do.

In his new position, two prisoners come into Joseph’s care. One is the chief cupbearer and the other the chief baker for Pharaoh himself. These two guys worked directly for the head of all of Egypt and for one reason or another were sentenced to prison by him.

Now I’m pretty sure you guys know what a baker is, but do you know what a cupbearer is? [Let them answer.]

A cupbearer is literally the person who holds Pharaoh’s cup, the person who pours and holds his drinks. Why is this a job that needed to be done? [Let them answer.]

Well it’s not because Pharaoh is so powerful and opulent that he just wants someone to hold his cup for him. This is actually a really practical job. As the most powerful man in Egypt, there were probably people who wanted to kill the Pharaoh. And the easiest way to kill him would be to poison his drink. There are a lot of poisons in this world that all it takes is a little bit to kill a full grown human. Ultimately it’s the cupbearer’s job to make sure that pharaoh’s drink is not poisoned. He is to watch and keep safe the Pharaoh’s drinks. And if the pharaoh is uncertain if he can trust it, he might even have the cupbearer take a sip before him. So if the cupbearer lets the drink get poisoned he is risking his own death.

We don’t know why the pharaoh put these two in jail but what we do know is that controlling the pharaoh’s food and drink is a very important position. And if the pharaoh thought they might be traitorous in any way, that would be reason enough to jail them, if not have them killed.

So the cupbearer and baker end up in jail, and are basically put in the care of Joseph.

Can someone read Genesis 40:5-8?

5 And one night they both dreamed—the cup bearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were trouble. 7 So he asked pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” 8 they said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.”

Basically both of these guys had weird dreams, and they thought they might mean something. But there were no priests in prison with them to interpret their dreams so they didn’t know what they meant. When Joseph went to check in on them and ask why they were upset, they told him about these dreams. And Joseph offers to interpret them, since if they have a meaning or interpretation, it would be because of God. And Joseph is the only one in Egypt who knows the real God.

Can someone read Genesis 40:9-15?

9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, it’s blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes.11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” 12 Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift you your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”

The cupbearer tells Joseph about this crazy dreaming having to do with like vines and grapes and cups. Joseph interprets it to mean that in three days, the cupbearer will be back in his old job serving Pharaoh. This is good news for the cupbearer! And for this interpretation, Joseph asks for one thing in return. What is it? {Let them answer}

That’s right. When he gets out to remember Joseph and plead Joseph’s case to Pharaoh. Because pharaoh is the highest law of the land and if he says it’s cool for Joseph to get out of prison, then Joseph gets out!

Now let’s see what the chief baker dreamed about and what it meant. Can someone read Genesis 40:16-19?

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream, there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basked there were all sorts of baked good for the Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” 18 and Joseph answered and said, “this is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. The birds will eat the flesh from you.”

So the baker’s dream isn’t as good is it? Joseph interprets the dream but the baker is going to be put to death, which I’m sure the baker wasn’t happy to hear.

But in the next few verses, it explains that in three days everything happens as Joseph said they would according to the dreams. The chief cupbearer is restored to his position and the chief baker is put to death.

Now if you’ll remember, Joseph asked one thing of the chief cupbearer. That he speak to pharaoh about him. Do you guys think, the chief cupbearer does this? {Let them answer}

Well let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 40:23?

23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph but forgot him.

The chief cupbearer gets out of jail and forgets Joseph. His life is great now, back in his old position. I don’t think he’s intended to be malicious, I just think he’s so happy to be alive and back in his old job and getting back into the groove of things that he just sort of forgets. I don’t know about you, but I do that a lot. I tell someone something like “I’ll pray for you” but then I get so busy with my own life that I forget to do it. I’m not trying to be mean, I’m just busy and forget. Do you guys ever do anything like that? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, it’s a very human thing to do. But the cost here is that Joseph is stuck in jail, and in the next verses it’ll say Joseph is stuck in jail for two whole years.

Because the cupbearer got busy, Joseph suffers. When you promise someone you’ll do something, it’s important that we actually remember to do it. This is an extreme example, but our thoughtlessness and forgetfulness can actually hurt people.

So for two years Joseph is in jail and the chief cupbearer is serving the Pharaoh. Let’s see what happens next, can someone read Genesis 41:1-8?

1 After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Bile, 2 and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. 3 and behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. 4 and the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And pharaoh awoke. 5 and he fell back asleep and dream a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. 6 and behold, after them sprouted seven ears thin and blighted by the east wind. 7 And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold it was a dream. 8 so in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret it.

So Pharaoh has two crazy dreams that are almost identical. In his dreams there are seven healthy and good things that are then consumed by unhealthy things. In one dream its cows in the other it’s ears of grain. Here the word ‘ear’ doesn’t mean like an ear on your head. Basically when you get a corn on the cob, that’s an ear of corn. It’s just a term used for describing the part you actually want to harvest of corn or grain.

Since Pharaoh has the exact same dream basically twice in a row, he’s pretty sure it’s important and means something. So he gathers all the important religious and wise people he knows and asks them to interpret it. But none of them can.

Why do you think they couldn’t? [Let them answer.]

Well it’s a weird dream, that’s definitely part of it. But remember Joseph said all interpretations come from God. Do you think the magicians and religious people of Egypt were very familiar with God? Yeah, probably not.

Suddenly the cupbearer, who is probably always very near pharaoh, remembers Joseph. After two years he remembers this kid who interpreted his dream. So he’s basically like ‘hey pharaoh, when I was in jail with the baker, we had these crazy dreams. And there was this young man in jail named joseph who interpreted it for us and then three days later exactly what he said would happen happened! I was restored to my position and the baker was put to death!

And at this point pharaoh is desperate, so he’s like “Okay! Let’s get this kid out of jail and bring him before me!”

Can someone read Genesis 41:14-16?

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”16 Joseph answered Pharaoh, “it is not in me; god will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.’

In order to come before Joseph, they have to clean him up. Because jail back then would not be like jail now. There would be no showers or way for Joseph to shave or anything like that. He would smell like he hadn’t taken a bath or had a new set of clothes in two years. So they clean him up and give him new clothes so that he is presentable to come before Pharaoh.

Once Joseph is there, Pharaoh explains the situation. Now remember, Pharaoh is the ruler of everything. He is the ultimate authority in all of Egypt and probably the single most powerful person in this area of the world at the time. There was no one in the Middle East more powerful than him. And he has come to Joseph for help.

It would be really easy for Joseph to claim that he can interpret the dream and that he is special, but does joseph do that? No. He points everything he is doing to God. It is not Joseph who is interpreting the dreams but God. Joseph is giving all the credit to God.

So then Pharaoh explains the dream to Joseph. The seven healthy cows being eaten by the seven unhealthy ones and the seven healthy ears being eaten by the unhealthy ones. Now it’s Joseph’s turn to interpret what it means. Let’s see what he says. Can someone read Genesis 41:25-36?

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 the seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28 It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29 there will come seven years of great plenty through all the land of Egypt 30 but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31 and the plenty will be unmown in the land by the reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32 And the doubling of pharaoh’s dream means the thing is fixed by God, and god will shortly bring it about. 33 Now, therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt 34 Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35 and let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store of up grain under the authority of the Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36 That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

Joseph interprets the dream and says the dream is God warning Pharaoh about what is to come. There will be seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Let’s talk about famine for a moment. Do you guys know what that is? [Let them answer.]

Right it basically means a lack of food. Famines usually happen when the weather is bad, and there is drought or excessive rain—either of those things can be super bad for crops. And without crops there is no food. Now, here in America, we don’t’ experience famine a lot do we? You can just go down to the store and buy a box of crackers, right?

In America we are really lucky for a number of reasons. We have a large nation that crosses a variety of climate zones. New Mexico’s climate is drastically different from New England’s, and if we’re experiencing a drought that doesn’t mean New England is! But most of America’s food comes from our middle states, the area that’s generally considered to be the breadbasket of our country: the Midwest and the plains states. These are long flat stretches of land that get just the right amount of water and sunshine for plants to grow! Which doesn’t mean we don’t have droughts. But we have modern irrigation technology. Which means with our ability to pipe water and with sprinklers it almost doesn’t matter if it rains, because we can get the water to the crops.

I say almost doesn’t matter, because all the water has to ultimately come from somewhere. And if it doesn’t rain for a long time that can be a real problem. But it doesn’t have to rain exactly over you for you to get water. If it rains down the street or a town over, you’re probably going to be fine.

Things didn’t work like that back then. They only had the most basic understanding of irrigation, which was mostly creating downhill ditches to run water from the Nile River to other places, or to capture water when the Nile River flooded.

And the Nile River was the only reason why Egypt was fertile. Every year the Nile River would flood—I believe it’s due to snow and rain waters in the mountains that the Nile originates in [maybe look in the map to see if you can find it]. When all the snow in the mountains melt, it runs into the Nile and floods all the land with the nutrients the Nile carries, making the soil fertile for planting once the Nile recedes again.

But if there isn’t enough snow in the mountains? The Nile might not flood at all.

If the Nile doesn’t flood, there are no nutrients and things won’t grow like they should.

If things don’t grow like they should, then there is no crops, which means no food, and people go hungry.

Remember this is a long time ago. People didn’t have trucks to ship food across the nation. They didn’t have ships to send food from America to other countries. If your country didn’t produce enough food, your people died.

And that is what God is warning Pharaoh about. If Pharaoh doesn’t do something, his people will die. Egypt will die. Do you think Pharaoh wants that? [Let them answer.]

Yeah I don’t think so either! There is no Pharaoh without people! Even if he didn’t care for them at all, without them he has no job! But I think Pharaoh probably cared, because he would consider running Egypt his job, his sacred duty.

So Joseph tells Pharaoh what the dream means, and he doesn’t stop there. He also tells Pharaoh what to do to solve the problem! During the years of plenty they should hoard food so that during the years of famine they have food. And he tells Pharaoh that in order to do that he’s going to need a very trustworthy person to oversee it, as well as trustworthy overseers. Because all it would take is one person stealing food from the stores and selling it or keep it on the side and it could mean they don’t survive the famine.

Now Joseph is taking a risk by advising pharaoh like this. Joseph is a nobody. Pharaoh just asked him for an interpretation. It’s not really Joseph’s place to tell Pharaoh what to do. But God has given this insight to Joseph, and joseph cares more about doing what god asks him to do than he does about his own life. Which is why he tells pharaoh everything.

How do you guys think Pharaoh is going to react? [Let them answer.]

Well let’s see. Can someone read genesis 41:37-44?

37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and al his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee! Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”

Pharaoh hears Joseph’s proposal, and then makes Joseph is second in command in all of Egypt. Pharaoh makes his foreign slave more important than anyone else. Joseph answers to no one except Pharaoh. That’s insane! Pharaoh barely knows this guy! But he sees God in him. And he sees he can trust Joseph, Joseph who since he has come to Egypt has only ever worked hard. But it’s not Joseph’s hard work that got him here. It doesn’t say Pharaoh interviewed Potiphar or the guy in charge of the jail to see if he’s fit for this job. It’s because Pharaoh sees God in Joseph that Joseph gets the job.

Joseph didn’t earn it. God through Pharaoh gave it to him.

So Joseph is put in charge and the years of plenty come. During this time Joseph gathers food and stores it away. He also gets married to an Egyptian woman and has two kids. These are a good seven years for Joseph. But let’s see what happens when the famine comes.

Can someone read Genesis 41:53-57?

53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”

56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth.

So the famine comes and Joseph is in charge of the food. The people cry out in hunger, and the Pharaoh sends them to Joseph. Now imagine if Joseph hadn’t stored food. People would cry out for food, and the Pharaoh has nothing. What do you think would happen? [Let them answer.]

Governments get toppled over this sort of stuff. You can google “bread riots” and find out all sorts of stuff about times when common people didn’t have food and because of it they took down the rich and the wealthy. Starving people only have one concern in life, and that is feeding their families and surviving. And if they think the nobility is hoarding the food for themselves, that usually results in violence and the downfall of that nobility.

But pharaoh heeded God’s warning and he wasn’t storing the food just for himself. Joseph stored the food to dispense to the people so they would not go hungry.

And according to these verses, this famine is everywhere. Now it says it’s all over the world, but back then they really weren’t aware of much of a world outside of the Middle East. So was there famine in China? Well if there was, I doubt they were sending people to Egypt to pick up more food. That’s like a two to three year journey, not really worth the risk. But the Middle East—which would’ve been all the world they basically knew about? The famine was everywhere there. All the places we’ve talked about in the past few weeks; Ur where Abraham is from, Haran where Laban lives, and even Canaan, were suffering from this famine. They had no food. But Egypt did.

So people from all of those places were traveling to Egypt in hopes to find food.

This includes Joseph’s brothers, the ones who sold him into slavery. Do you think Joseph is going to be happy to see his brothers? [Let them answer]

Do you think his brothers are going to be happy to see him? [Let them answer]

Well, we’ll see next week. Because this is a long story, and an important one. So next week we’ll finish the story of Joseph and see what happens from there.

But I think the moral for this week, the moral of this part of the story, is that God used Joseph wherever he was, for God’s purpose. Joseph’s time in jail and his time as pharaoh’s right hand man are all used to God’s purpose. All parts of Joseph’s journey help him to get to where he is, Pharaoh’s right hand man, saving the Middle East from famine. And that was God’s plan.

We’ll see next week how this saga of Joseph finishes up.