Depression, Suicide, and Psalm 88


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.

Divergent by Veronica Roth

Note: This review was originally posted on my blog "Shelf of Friends" on March 6, 2012.

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Pages: 576
Genre: Dystopian
Age Range: YA
Publication Date: 5/3/2011
Publisher: Harper Collins Publishers

What’s it about?

Beatrice, Tris for short, lives in the city of Chicago, but a Chicago of the future, and a Chicago that seems isolated from the rest of the United States. In her society, people are divided into five factions. The selfless and serving Abnegation, the honest and candid Candor, the artistic and caring Amity, the knowledgeable and studious Erudite, and the brave and fearless Dauntless. Every citizen is a member of a Faction, and those without a faction—the Factionless—are an untouchable caste.

Tris grew up in Abnegation, but every teenager is tested for which faction will best suit them and allowed to choose. The test is a simulation where several scenarios are presented and the reaction shows whether they are selfless, honest, caring, studious, or brave. Tris must choose to either stay with her family in Abnegation—where she has never felt she fits in—or to choose her own path—which will mean she will never truly be with her family again.

When Tris chooses to follow her heart and become a Dauntless, she must face the consequences of leaving her family and jumping into the dangerous initiation rituals of the Dauntless faction. And she must also keep secret the true results of her test, a secret that if revealed would be even more dangerous than the often deadly Dauntless initiation.

It’s YA. Tell me about the boy!

Four (yes, his name is a number) is everything you expect from a cliché YA boy….at first. He’s mysterious, aloof, unpredictable, and dangerous. But he’s a member of the Dauntless Faction so “dangerous” pretty much characterizes everyone in that faction. And I was really afraid for a good half of the book that Four was only going to be that dangerous, cliché boy—the one that you cringe to think about any girl being with. However, as the story progresses and our main character gets to know Four better, we see that all this cliché expected stuff is a very surface interpretation of him by a girl who barely knows him. The more we learn the more we discover that Four is anything but cliché. He’s a fully realized character, and if anything seems like a real boy in his late teens. (And really making a character seem real is the highest compliment.)

What makes Four real is not only his characterization but the relationship he develops with Tris. This is not your standard dangerous boy that girl is mysteriously drawn to and can’t help it. And it’s not your standard, boy completes girl by being awesome and being so much stronger than her at everything. Four is good and strong in some areas, and in some areas he really needs someone like Tris in his life—someone to be strong for him, to protect him. I really can’t say more than that without being spoiler-y, but I thought the relationship that developed between Four and Tris was amazing.

What makes this dystopian different from all the rest?

In most dystopias—especially YA dystopias—the main characters somehow know or quickly learn there is something innately wrong with the world they live in. One day they find an old document that describes how the world used to be and the main character thinks “What freedom people used to have! We are so oppressed. I’m dissatisfied! Argh!” Now in some dystopias, this response makes sense (example: Dark Parties. I don’t really think there is any other reaction you could have upon learning what she learns.). But this response doesn’t make sense in every dystopian situation.

A dystopia by definition is the opposite of a utopia, a land that is not a perfect idyllic place. Well, I love my country and I’m so glad I live in America, but let’s be honest. We don’t live in a utopia. Star Trek is a utopia. Modern America is not. But most of us don’t look at our world and think “I must overthrow all of this now!” Instead we look at our world and say, “I see the good intent here. I see the beauty and strength of the Constitution. But we as a society are missing something. We need a course correction.”

That is exactly the response Tris has to her world and it’s beautiful. It fits perfectly. She doesn’t look at her society with horror, seeing it as a place of restrictions and oppression. She looks at her society the same way we look at ours. She sees the intent behind the society, understands it, and wishes not to completely alter her world but to bring it back to its roots and intents. Is she correct? Should she want to completely alter her world and make it our own? Some people probably think the answer to that is yes. I think that’s a little ethnocentric. Our own society of freedom has its downfalls, it’s aspect of dystopia, just as hers does. Perhaps we’ll discover in sequels that her society is even darker than we think and the answer is to overthrow it. But for now, I think her desire not to overthrow but to fix is more realistic, and I love that. It’s a different perspective than most dystopias have, and honestly I think it’s the more realistic one. And that makes this book worth reading.

If this was a movie, what would its rating be?

This book is pretty safe when it comes to sexual situations and language. At the most there is some kissing and I can’t recall any bad language. But there are a couple of other things for parents and readers to be aware of.

Tris is encouraged to do many things that in our society would be viewed as reckless (jumping on and off of trains, jumping off buildings….). She also gets multiple tattoos, and I know some people don’t like tattooing in general, so just be aware of that.

However, the worst thing rating wise is undoubtedly the violence. The students are trained in hand to hand combat—which overall I wouldn’t say is a bad thing, but the hand to hand combat takes a turn for the worse when one of the instructors basically encourages the students to beat each other to a pulp. There are also some rather violent assaults (people being stabbed, people being threatened with being dropped over a cliff) and a suicide. There is also basically a massacre. I’m not talking a war. I’m talking people being lined up and shot. So yeah. Violence wise this probably gets an R. However, I think it’s important to note that none of the violence is gratuitous. It all makes sense in the world that Tris lives in and the story that is being told. And the violence isn’t glorified; most of the violence is viewed in a negative light.

So even though violence is R, I would say everything else is around PG or PG-13. This book is more than appropriate for teen readers (who are the target audience) and even advanced younger readers. I could have read this in fifth grade with no emotional scarring.

Overall, how was it?

Overall I loved this book. It was quick, fast paced and it sucked you in. It had great tension and characters who readers can relate to. If you love dystopians or just YA in general, you will love this book. I give it two thumbs up!

Joseph (Genesis) Part 1

Last week we talked about the wives of Jacob, Rachel and Leah. Jacob favored his wife Rachel over his wife Leah, but it was Leah who had the most children. Rachel for a long time couldn't, until finally she had a son. Does anyone remember that son's name? [Let them answer]

That's right. Joseph. Today we're going to talk about Joseph, and we'll see how Jacob's favoritism of Rachel affects his children. Please go get your Bibles.

Now can someone read Genesis 37:1-4?

37 Jacob settled in the land where his father had lived as an alien, the land of Canaan. 2 This is the story of the family of Jacob.

Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the flock with his brothers; he was a helper to the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he had made him a long robe with sleeves. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

In verse 2, Joseph is described as being seventeen, so a teenager, and a helper to his other older brothers, because remember he was younger then all of them by a lot. But it seems he also would report back to his dad what the brothers did, and he brought back a bad report. It doesn't say what happened or whether the brothers were doing bad stuff, so why do you think the Bible mentions this? [Let them answer.]

Well if your brother told on you--even if he was right--would you feel good about that? Wouldn't you resent him for it? So we're laying the ground work here that Joseph's brothers may not be very fond of him.

Then in verse 3 and 4 this is made more explicit. Because Jacob--who remember is now called Israel--loves Joseph the most. Because Joseph is the son of his favored wife and because Joseph is the baby. So he makes him what your Bible calls a "long robe with sleeves." My Bible calls it a "varicolored tunic." Another translation of the Bible I have calls it an "ornamental tunic" and also "a coat of many colors." Does this sound familiar to you guys?

So Joseph's dad makes him this very special coat to wear, and doesn't give one to his other children, which makes them all very jealous of Joseph. Have you guys ever been jealous when your siblings got something they wanted? [Let them answer.]

Yeah, me too. I think we all have, that's human nature. But for these brothers this was just one of many things that represented the fact that Jacob loved Joseph more than all the rest of them put together. And they resented Joseph for that.

Okay can someone read now Genesis 37:5-11

5 Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream that I dreamed. 7 There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright; then your sheaves gathered around it, and bowed down to my sheaf.” 8 His brothers said to him, “Are you indeed to reign over us? Are you indeed to have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more because of his dreams and his words.

9 He had another dream, and told it to his brothers, saying, “Look, I have had another dream: the sun, the moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.” 10 But when he told it to his father and to his brothers, his father rebuked him, and said to him, “What kind of dream is this that you have had? Shall we indeed come, I and your mother and your brothers, and bow to the ground before you?” 11 So his brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

So Joseph has a dream and goes to tell his brothers. Do you guys know what a "sheaf" is? It's a bundle of grain stalks that are tied together after a reaping. Here let me draw it for you. [Draw a rough semblance on the board. I did a google search of sheaves of grain for my reference for drawing it.]

In his dream the brothers are all binding together their grain into these sheaves. But then basically the other brother's sheaves bow to Joseph's, like this. [Draw rough semblance of the sheaves bowing down to Joseph's on the board. Basically the other sheaves sort of leaning or blown over towards his.]

Joseph's brothers don't react well to being told this, why? [Let them answer.] Right, because it sounds like Joseph is predicting they will all bow to him one day and he will rule over them.

Joseph, however, doesn't seem to see that his telling of these dreams makes his brothers unhappy--or if he does he doesn't care, because he tells them about another dream, in which the Sun, the Moon, and the stars all bow down to him.

Now this time his dad is there when he says this, and his dad reprimands him. Why do you think his dad is upset with Joseph for relaying this dream? [Let them answer.]

Joseph is basically implying that his whole family will bow to him. And they don't necessarily know if this is a dream from God or just the delusions of a teenage boy who thinks he's special. But even if it is from God--even if these are visions of the future where God is telling Joseph his plan for him--do you think Joseph should have told his brothers? [Let them answer.]

I think there is a time and a place for everything, and an appropriate way to share information. I think there would have been an appropriate way for Joseph to share his dreams. Probably by going to his father in private to share and maybe discuss with his old wise father what they mean. But announcing them to the whole family? Announcing these dreams that highly indicated that they will all serve Joseph one day? That’s boasting and arrogance.

Joseph was sharing his dreams out of arrogance and pride, out of a desire to look better in front of his brothers. Which is why I think Jacob reprimands him for it. He calls Joseph out on this arrogance. But the damage is done. Sharing the dreams just makes his brothers hate him even more.

So after this, Joseph’s brothers go out into the fields with the sheep, and a little while later, Jacob asks Joseph to go check in with them. Basically Jacob is asking Joseph to go check on the status of everything and come back. This does show that Joseph is given some sort of special job. All of his brothers are in the field except him. Jacob is definitely giving Joseph special treatment, the brothers aren’t wrong about that. But instead of working through these problems with their father, and trying to handle it like grown-ups, they hatch a plan. Can someone read Genesis 37:18-22?

18 They saw him from a distance, and before he came near to them, they conspired to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we shall say that a wild animal has devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand and restore him to his father.

They see Joseph coming and they want to kill him. Seems a little extreme don’t you think? Have you guys ever been so mad or jealous of your siblings that you wanted to resort to violence? [Let them answer.]

I know I have. I’ve hit my siblings when I was mad or jealous. But that’s definitely not right. And what these brothers were planning was even more extreme then just hitting or punching. They wanted to murder him. And the only brother who at all seems alarmed is Reuben. Now remember, in the birth order Reuben is the oldest. He is the son of Leah and the first she had—making him Jacob’s oldest son. So by all accounts really, he should be the favored the son—the one who is getting the birthright and the blessing, all of that. But Reuben is also the leader because he is the oldest, and he is concerned by this idea of killing Joseph. He doesn’t want to do that—but he does still want to punish Joseph a little. Shake him up a bit, maybe humble him. I think there is a temptation with a lot of older siblings—and I know we have several of you who are the oldest in the room—to kind of view yourselves as having authority over your siblings. You’re the oldest and the one left most often in charge. But it is not Reuben's nor is it your place to punish your siblings for you parents.

Now if Rueben had wanted to have a talk with Joseph, brother to brother, and try to explain how Joseph’s actions are hurting his brothers? That would be reasonable. If Rueben had a talk with their father about how he thought Joseph was a little out of control and it was also hurting the other brothers? Also reasonable. But allowing the other brothers and himself to decide Joseph deserves to be punished? That is a step to far. It is not your place to punish your siblings. And as Rueben is going to see, it quickly gets out of hand.

23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the long robe with sleeves that he wore; 24 and they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.

25 Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed. 28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

So Joseph shows up and his brothers steal his special robe and through him in a pit. It’s not a well—which is why the Bible clarifies there was no water in it. Just a hole in the ground that he wouldn’t be able to climb out of.

After that they decide to have lunch. It’s later in this verse implied that Rueben is not around at this part. Was he there when they put Joseph in the pit? Probably? But we’ll see in a later verse he’s not present for what one of the brothers is about to suggest.

They see a caravan traveling to Egypt and Judah—who is also one of Leah’s sons—has the idea that they should sell Joseph to the caravan, as a slave.

Now Judah might have thought he was sparing Joseph, because he might have thought that even though Rueben told them not to, they were still going to kill him. Or it’s possible he wanted to kill Joseph but since Rueben told them they couldn’t, he thought this was a way to get around that. Getting rid of their brother without dirtying their own hands.

So they sold Joseph into slavery.

They gave their own brother to strangers to take to a far away land and sell to strangers. I don’t think I’ve ever been so angry at my siblings that I wanted to do that.

Alright can someone now read Genesis 37:29-30?

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes. 30 He returned to his brothers, and said, “The boy is gone; and I, where can I turn?”

So Rueben comes back and sees Joseph isn’t there and is surprised. But does he say “Oh no what happened to my baby brother, whom I love?” No! He basically says “Oh no! What’s going to happen to me? I lost my dad’s favorite son.”

Which kind of shows that Reuben's concern over Joseph wasn’t for Joseph’s life, but how Joseph’s disappearance might affect Reuben.

He’s also worried about what they’re going to do. They can’t tell their dad they sold his favorite son into slavery!

Can someone read Genesis 37:31-35?

31 Then they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the robe in the blood. 32 They had the long robe with sleeves taken to their father, and they said, “This we have found; see now whether it is your son’s robe or not.” 33 He recognized it, and said, “It is my son’s robe! A wild animal has devoured him; Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” 34 Then Jacob tore his garments, and put sackcloth on his loins, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters sought to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted, and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father bewailed him.

Basically, the brothers fake Joseph’s death. They kill a goat and cover Joseph’s special coat in the blood and take it to their father. And the worst part is perhaps that they don’t say “Hey, we found Joseph and he’s dead.” No, the act like they stumbled upon this bloody coat and are like “see if it belongs to your son.” Not our brother but your son. Have you guys ever done that? When you’re mad at your parents maybe and your talking to your sibling and you’re like “your dad is so awful” but he’s both of your dad. You’re just distancing yourself with your language. Or maybe you’ve heard your parents say that about you when you’re misbehaving. Your mom says to our dad “Your daughter” instead of “our daughter” because she’s irritated. It’s a verbal way of distancing yourself from someone. Of being like “this person isn’t mine, they’re yours.”

So Jacob sees the bloody robe and thinks Joseph is dead. And everyone tries to comfort him but he can’t be. His favorite son is dead. He says in verse 35 “I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Do you guys know what Sheol is? [Let them answer.]

Sheol is basically the Jewish place of the dead. It is NOT hell and it is NOT heaven. It’s more like a place of sleep. When a Jewish person died they would go there and basically sleep, regardless of whether they had been good or bad in life.

It’s rather complicated and off topic as to how this relates to our New Testament view of heaven and hell. And I’m not really smart enough on theology to talk about it in detail. But remember the Jewish people are God’s chosen people—through Abraham—and they had the Old Covenant. The rules were different for them under this Old Covenant than it is for us now under the New Covenant.

All that to say, Jacob was really sad and would rather be in death with his favorite son then up there living with his other sons.

I also want to mention that here, Jacob is deceived by his sons. This is a little bit of poetic justice, since Jacob deceived his own father when he stole Esau’s blessing—as we discussed a couple of weeks ago. He is now on the receiving end of a deception, and unlike Isaac who realized almost immediately he had been deceived, we’ll see that Jacob will think Joseph is dead for years, if not decades.

But let’s see what’s happening with Joseph. Because we’ve been talking about the brothers here and their reactions to Joseph and selling him. But if you were Joseph, how would you feel if your brothers sold you into slavery? [Let them answer.]

So let’s see what’s going on with Joseph. Let’s flip forward to chapter 39. Can someone read Genesis 39:1-6?

39 Now Joseph was taken down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man; he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him, and that the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him; he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge; and, with him there, he had no concern for anything but the food that he ate.

Now Joseph was handsome and good-looking.

Joseph reaches Egypt and is sold to a man named Potiphar. Potiphar is described as “an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” Another version I have says “a courtier of Pharaoh” and “a chief steward.” Either way, it’s clear this is someone way up on Pharaoh’s government and is someone Pharaoh trusts.

Remember the Pharaoh is the rule of Egypt, the head honcho. Pharaoh is the most important person in Egypt and Joseph is now a slave to someone Pharaoh trusts.

In verse 2 it says the Lord was with Joseph. Do you guys think Joseph felt like God was with him when his brothers sold him into slavery? [Let them answer.] Yeah, probably not. He probably felt abandoned and betrayed by everyone, and that might have included God for a time. But God did not abandon Joseph. He was with him even in Egypt—which wasn’t the promised land he was supposed to be living in.

These verses explain that God prospered Joseph in Egypt, while he was under Potiphar. Joseph worked hard and Potiphar noticed. So he put Joseph in charge of everything, basically making Joseph his right hand man. And the Bible says in verse 5 that Joseph was so good at taking care of everything, that Potiphar didn’t have to worry about anything except his food!

Joseph was in a crappy situation, a really crappy one. He had been sold as a slave. No one wants to be a slave and it’s one of the worst things I can imagine. His freedom, his ability to choose, his agency over his own life had been taken away. But Joseph worked hard despite his crappy situation and earned his master’s favor. For now.

Because these verses end in a way that seems kind of random. “Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.”

Okay…what does looking good have to do with being a hardworking servant who is in charge of Potiphar’s whole house?

Well let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 39:7-10?

7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Look, with me here, my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my hand. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” 10 And although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not consent to lie beside her or to be with her. 

Joseph was handsome and Potiphar’s wife notices, and she wants Joseph to sleep with her.

Joseph is a slave. Potiphar is his master’s wife. Now in ancient Egypt Potiphar’s wife sleeping with a slave may have not been viewed as wrong by the Egyptians. I don’t know. From her perspective, she may not have thought she was doing anything wrong. It’s even possible she and Potiphar could have some sort of agreement that they could sleep with whoever they want. Marriage contracts that dictated those sorts of things weren’t that uncommon in ancient Egypt. But from Joseph’s perspective, this was not the case. He lists two reasons why he can’t do it. (1) It would be an abuse of the trust his master has placed in him. (2) It would be an offence against God. This is adultery, which is not something God approves of.

There’s also a third reason why this is wrong in our modern sensibilities. Potiphar’s wife is in a position of extreme authority over Joseph. Remember Joseph is a slave. His life can be forfeit if he missteps. And Potiphar’s wife has the ability to ruin his life, as we’ll see. This is coercion—which basically means getting someone to do something through threats and force. And if you get someone to have sex with you through threats or force, that is rape. Potiphar’s wife was trying to rape Joseph.

So with that in mind, do you think Potiphar’s wife is going to settle for an answer of no? [Let them answer.] Well, let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 39:11-15?

11 One day, however, when he went into the house to do his work, and while no one else was in the house, 12 she caught hold of his garment, saying, “Lie with me!” But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled outside, 14 she called out to the members of her household and said to them, “See, my husband has brought among us a Hebrew to insult us! He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice; 15 and when he heard me raise my voice and cry out, he left his garment beside me, and fled outside.”

So one day Joseph is alone in the house with Potiphar’s wife and she basically jumps him and tries to demand he sleep with her. He flees to get away from her, but she had grabbed onto his outer coat, so when he escapes, his coat gets left behind because she’s holding onto it.

Since she has his coat and she’s angry with him and no one saw what happened, she gathers all of her servants and basically tells them that Joseph tried to rape her, instead of the reality that it was the other way around. But she’s very mad at Joseph for defying her and wants to punish him. When Potiphar comes home, she tells him the same story. She lies.

Who do you think Potiphar is going to believe? His most trusted servant? Or his wife? [Let them answer.]

Well, let’s see. Can someone read Genesis 39:19-20?

19 When his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, saying, “This is the way your servant treated me,” he became enraged. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined; he remained there in prison.

Potiphar becomes enraged and he has Joseph put in the pharaoh’s prison.

That’s not usually what we expect will happen when we follow God, right? Joseph did the right things in this scenario. He wasn’t arrogant or prideful like he was with his brothers. He was a good servant. He followed God’s commandment not to commit adultery, and does he get rewarded? No, for that he gets put in jail.

Joseph follows God not because there is a reward at the end, but because it’s the right thing to do, what God wants him to do. Sometimes we do the right thing, and we don’t get rewarded. Sometimes we tell the truth and we get punished. Sometimes we do no wrong and we get penalized. We live in a fallen world, and God doesn’t promise us prosperity.

So Joseph goes from being a favored son to a slave to a prisoner. At this point, it couldn’t get much worse. Sure they could kill him, but then he would just be dead, like his father already thinks he is.

Things are looking pretty grim for Joseph.

But we’ll see next week where this story goes. Because Joseph’s story doesn’t end in a jail cell. Remember those dreams he had at the very beginning, of all his brothers bowing to him. That is yet to come. And we’ll continue the story of Joseph and see how that all comes to pass next week.

A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans

Title: A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself Sitting on Her Roof, Covering Her Head, and Calling Her Husband 'Master'
Author: Rachel Held Evans
Pages: 352
Genre: Faith, Biblical Living, Woman's Issues, Feminism
Age Range: Adult
Publication Date: 10/29/2012
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Medium: Audiobook

What brought this book to your attention?

When I read non-fiction it's usually because either (a) a book has been given to me by someone else, (b) a book has been so highly recommended I can't ignore it, or (c) it covers some issue I'm struggling with. For me, this was definitely an option c.

I got married a little over a year ago, and leading up to my marriage I was concerned by a couple of issues. The theological idea of "complementarianism" was something I had been raised in, the idea that the man is the head of the household and a woman should subjugate herself to him. This wasn't an idea that had ever sat well with me--strong, independent, headstrong me. And if complementarianism was true, where did we draw the line? Was I supposed to cover my hair when I prayed (1 Corinthian 11:5)? And if I was supposed to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17), did that mean I was always supposed to keep my hair covered? Suddenly I was wearing hats to church every other Sunday, unsure if I was supposed to be doing this or not, but at least seeing what it felt like.

But wasn't Christianity about freedom? Wasn't always wearing a hat legalism? How's a modern Christian girl to navigate these waters?

Well I found the blog of Rachel Held Evans and discovered I wasn't the only modern woman asking these questions. In this book, Rachel tries to follow the different aspects of being a woman, as expressed across the Bible or encouraged by certain belief systems. A modern twenty-first century woman was asking the same questions as me and trying to follow through--for a whole year--and then seeing if there were any conclusions to be drawn. The book isn't quite the scientific methods by any means, but it had enough of that idea to draw me in. So I got the audiobook to listen to on my drive to and from work.

Did you learn anything?

I was actually surprised how much I learned. I consider myself pretty well learned when it comes to things of the Bible, which is probably a mistake since the Bible is such a diverse and controversial book.  I always thought I knew what Proverbs 31 was about: a description of a woman we should all aspire to be. But I learned in this book, that's not true. Proverbs 31 has been used too often in churches as some sort of measuring tape all women have to stack themselves again, instead of what it truly is: a poem of praise of wise women, women of valor, "eshet chayil" in the Hebrew. The woman in the poem is just an example of a wise woman--but she comes from a very specific economic and social bracket. Should we all be holding ourselves to the standard of a wealthy, ancient Jewish woman? No! We should be seeking to be women of valor in our lives and that looks different ways! MIND BLOWN.

Also I had never before heard of the apostle Junia. Was it because I had Bible translations that misgendered her as Junias? Was it because my Sunday School teachers and complimentarian pastors just never wanted to point out that a woman was given the highest honor the apostle Paul could give her? I have no idea. But I learned she was a woman, "outstanding among the apostles" who Paul considered his equal and friend.

I also learned a lot about the many ways different Christian and Jewish faith traditions have interpreted the role of the woman. Rachel went and met with Amish women. She made friends with an Orthodox Rabbi's wife. She didn't limit herself to just one faith tradition but really tried to dwell in how women across the Christian spectrum have interpreted these different verses. And it was enlightening for me. I learned so much.

Did you disagree with anything?

I honestly don't remember disagreeing with anything in any visceral way, and that's probably because Rachel's end claim really that there is no one single prescriptive way to be a Christian woman. I maybe disagree with some of the woman she spoke with on their particular beliefs, but these beliefs aren't put forth by the book as things we should all believe, but rather different interpretations of the same faith. I think the only people who will disagree with this book are people who do believe there is only one distinct way to be a Christian woman and all other women are wrong. Which is an opinion people can have, but not one I maintain. So no, I didn't disagree with anything the author said really.

How did you like the book overall?

I loved this book. I learned a lot, and the audiobook narrator was very good. It was a perfect book to listen to on my commute to work. And I highly recommend this book to any woman who is struggling with what it means to be a "Biblical woman."