Genesis 37:28 (New International Version)
28 So when the Midianite merchants came by, his brothers pulled Joseph up out of the cistern and sold him for twenty shekels of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took him to Egypt.
Genesis 42:25 (New International Version)
25 Joseph gave orders to fill their bags with grain, to put each man's silver back in his sack, and to give them provisions for their journey...
Some of us are in week three of The Marathon of Biblical Proportions and I have to say it's been fun doing this reading through the Bible with a relatively large group of people of friends and to have our pastor preaching from some of the passages we have "marathoned" our way through each week.
The pace though, feels more like a daily sprint than a marathon at times, and reading 3 or 4 consecutive chapters a day is like watching a reel of one of those old black and white silent movies in which the people all seem to be running in fast motion. Fall behind a day and it's hard to catch up.
Yesterday, as I was reading Genesis 44, racing to the end of chapter 45 because I had to leave for work, I felt God slow me down in spite of myself. I picked up journal and pen and began to make some quick notes so that I wouldn't lose the thought he was giving me, and tried to finish the reading, but that wasn't good enough. It felt as if his hand was on my shoulder saying, "Look deeper, there's more." So I did; and there was.
I'd been reading through the dramatic, colourful story of Joseph, and had almost finished the part where Joseph's brothers come to Egypt in a desperate quest to buy grain during a time of famine. Joseph had been living there for years and had risen to a position of power, after having been sold into slavery by his brothers for 20 shekels of silver. He recognised his brothers immediately, but they didn't recognise him.
Twice, in chapters 42 and 44, the account is given of Joseph giving orders that the silver with which they had bought the grain, and finally Joseph's special silver cup, was hidden in the sacks of grain, causing dismay and fear among his brothers when they discovered it.
By then, silver had little value to them, in comparison to the grain they needed to stay alive, but, just like someone who ate forbidden fruit and then was forced to eat that fruit until he was nauseous and vomited, Joseph confronted his brothers repeatedly with silver, the substance they sold him for. It was as if he was giving them opportunity to remember, to face what they had done, and repent.
And I thought of how God is like that. He lets us gorge ourselves at the table of the world until we "see;" until we come to our senses, just like the prodigal son, in a story told many years later. He softens our hearts through the resulting trials and sorrows until we are ready to listen. These circumstances brought Joseph's brothers to their knees in repentance. but soon made them recipients of great blessing from the hand of the one they had rejected. And painful, desperate circumstances can be a kindness, when they bring us to God.