So how did the twelve sons of Jacob, all their wives, all their children, all their livestock and animals and all their belongings end up in Egypt?
Because of a famine.
Those naughty sons of Jacob, raised in Dysfunction Junctionville, mommas a plenty, but a dad who couldn't or wouldn't trust God before God proved himself, had a little problem with the "favorite" son. The one born to the woman Jacob loved most.
That boy, it appears perhaps, was a little arrogant around his older brothers. He probably behaved as little brothers do when they know they're the favorite and they can get away with anything. Perhaps Jacob was just tired of the four nagging women, the constant wrestling of twelve boys and did not have the energy or the will power to stand up against all the noise. Like many of us do with several children, it is easier to let the baby of the family get away with things the older children would have NEVER been able to get away with. (I can imagine a lot of head nodding here. Chuckle, chuckle).
I don't know.
I'm not a boy. I'm not a dad. I raised one son and two girls. I've been around families of boys and I can only imagine the struggle it was to maintain control in the best of circumstances, let alone the mess he had going on behind closed doors.
Sometimes the jealousy for a parent's love comes out in the funniest ways. Even by grown men, which most of Joseph's brothers were at the time, feel jealous over the oddest things. I've heard of families who have split over money, over land, over houses, over a table so it's no surprise then to find that similar jealousies over silly things were felt in the days of the Bible characters. Imagine that!
There was this coat, a beautiful coat, a coat that only one son got - the favorite son, the son of Jacob's beloved Rebekah.
Apparently the coat was the last straw for these boys in men's bodies. A lifetime of watching the battle between the mothers, the longing looks of Jacob for Rebekah and Leah for Jacob were more than these boys could handle anymore. The coat, for the favored son, was the last straw. It wasn't about the coat anymore than it was about a tent.
It was about the famine in their own souls.
So what do starving people do? Hunger pangs, or "being hangry" as we say in my house, can make one edgy, grumpy, easily annoyed and clear thinking is diminished. Truth thinking takes a back seat when all we can feel is the hunger pangs.
The unnourished souls of Jacob's ten sons took an ugly turn over a coat. The favored son was sold by his hangry older brothers into slavery in Egypt.
One of the precursors to the brothers selling out their brother after deciding the guilt of killing him would be too much to bear was the day little Joe told them he dreamt that they were all sheaves of grain in the field and "when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it."
And the brothers said, "Wow, how cool!"
"Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?" The account in Genesis says "And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said."
So it was never about a coat. It never is about the material thing we think our relationship breaks are about.
But instead of the young favored son staying a slave, thrown in prison for the rest of his life, he ended up working as the king of Egypt's right hand man. Far, far away from his jealous and guilt stricken brothers.
One day, while Joseph was in prison, he was called to Pharaoh to interpret a dream that predicted seven years of abundance and then seven years of famine. Pharaoh believed the interpretation and made the spoiled boy the man in charge. The favored son received the favor of the king. The most loved boy saved the Egyptians from starvation. The most loved boy, in the end, saved his own brothers, those who tried to first kill him, then sold him, were saved from physical starvation from the very brother they thought was surely dead by their own manipulation.
A famine of food brought Jacob and his eleven sons to their long lost brother. A famine of food redeemed the famine of soul to ten grown men with little boy hearts still beating inside. A famine restored the relationship wounded and torn apart by the bondage of jealousy and insecurity.
So that's how Jacob and his family ended up in Egypt. That's how God put that part of his promise in motion. A famine brought Jacob and his twelve sons back together. The famine kept them in Egypt where they got the best land from Pharaoh where they worked as shepherds and farmers in the best farmland.
As many of us have experienced when we are uprooted from our homes or our job or whatever we leave temporarily, we promise ourselves we'll go back. I would venture to guess each of Jacob's boys vowed the same. Their stay in Egypt was not temporary, however, Jacob's sons stayed longer than they probably thought they ever would. Soon the roots were deep as they began to flourish in a land of promise. Slowly the unpleasant promise God had made to their Grandpa Abraham may have been forgotten, but the fulfillment of the promise was always in motion.
Like all humans eventually do, the king who favored Joseph died. As happens when the eyewitnesses die, soon the stories of who Joseph was and how the farmers and shepherds became part of the Egyptian economy became fragmented bits and pieces passed down among the Egyptians who were there when it all happened. It probably only took a few generations before Joseph's and Pharoah's story was retold and reorganized, the truths denied, the white lies started.
The descendants of Jacob had to wonder how the stories they were hearing led to them being slaves. Did the story break apart in the Israelite line too, I wonder? It only takes one or two in a generation to break the story of truth before it fractures and splinters into family history.
"Then a new king, who did not know about Joseph, came to power in Egypt. 'Look,' he said to his people, 'the Israelites have become much too numerous for us. Come, we must deal shrewdly with them or they will become even more numerous and, if war breaks out, will join our enemies, fight against us and leave the country.'
"So they put slave masters over them to oppress them with forced labor, and they built Pithom and Rameses as store cities for Pharaoh. But the more they were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread; so the Egyptians came to dread the Israelites and worked them ruthlessly. They made their lives bitter with hard labor in brick and mortar and with all kinds of work in the fields, in all their hard labor the Egyptians used them ruthlessly."
Four hundred and thirty years passed before they were released from the consequences resulting from the famine the original twelve boys of Jacob experienced. A few minutes to God, but several lifetimes to his people.
The promise God made to Abraham, remember that one, the one about being Abraham's shield and very great reward? Don't forget the other part of the promise mixed in with all the feel good ones.
"Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years. But I will punish the nation they serve as slaves, and afterward they will come out with great possessions."
I wonder if that part of the promise got passed down from Abraham to Jacob and to the twelve boys. I can see them smiling and shouting those words just as Grandpa Abraham may have passed them along to Isaac and Isaac to Jacob and Jacob to his boys, "I promise you, God told me not to be afraid that he was my shield and my very great reward!" The children would be sitting around the storyteller, soaking in the triumphant words.
I wonder though, when they got to the part about Grandpa Abraham falling into a deep sleep and hearing God talk about slavery and oppression, did they scratch their heads from time to time when they got to the part Abraham must have told, maybe something like this: "I must have dreamt that part." But maybe he'd look in the eyes of his audience and say, "You know, I fell asleep, but for some reason I can't shake the feeling that something bad is going to happen."
I wonder, when Abraham first retold the story of that glorious covenant night did he shake his head and look off into the distance, wondering if the bad promise was only a dream? Did he shrug his shoulders and laugh when he said, "You know me, just an old man dreaming dreams, but I think God said to me, "Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a country not their own, and they will be enslaved and mistreated four hundred years."
And then when Abraham's story got told and retold and retold again, they'd have to tell that part too, but maybe they'd shake it off and say, "Yep, Grandpa Abraham. Old man dreaming about us being slaves. How can that happen when Abraham said God told him he was Grandpa's shield and very great reward?"
Who of them could imagine their slavery story would start because of that darn coat?
Genesis 37-50; Exodus 1; Genesis 15