Lessons from Joseph: Stop the Clock!

a sermon preached 12 August 2012. Text Genesis 37:11-36

When in the 7th form we played numerous practical jokes on the staff.  One day a very loud alarm clock was hidden in the lectern before Assembly, as the deputy-principal began to speak the clock was heard to go off and our class the hall on mass.  We knew that the clock was actually a stink bomb and that with the alarm going off so would the bomb. 

As soon as the clock began ticking it was always going to go off, unless somehow someone or something intervened and stopped it.

Last week as we began to understand Jacob’s favouritism, Joseph’s arrogance, and the brothers growing resentment combined to create a stink-bomb – which was simply waiting to explode.

It didn’t have to be this way – there was time to avoid carnage but nobody seemed aware or willing to stop the clock.

One would have hoped that Jacob the father of this family would have woken up to the tensions in his family – but despite his own annoyance at Joseph’s arrogance and the fact that it obviously played on his mind (verse 11) he chose to do nothing.

And so the clock kept ticking.

Joseph’s dreams were the last straw for this family – the brothers were offended, outraged, and maybe even fearful for what if it was really true.

I wonder how you would handle such a situation?  Admittedly it’s hard for us to put ourselves in the picture here – Joseph’s world is far removed from ours, but nevertheless I’m sure that each of us are called to deal with a difficult people, an ominous situation, or ‘dark knowledge’ about ourselves.

How do we deal with the dark truth about our families?

  • their brokenness,
    • and divisions,
      • their jealousies,
        • and sins?

How do we deal with the dark truth about ourselves? 

  • Our pride and envy,
    • our brooding anger,
      • our bitter thoughts
        • our sin
          • our depression,
            • our dark desires
              • our loneliness.

Jacob and sons had their ways of handling the darker side of life, and the passage shows several responses – none of them positive, but all of them typical – much like us.

As we read the text we see 4 responses that this family made to their situation.

  • They were paralysed by it.
    • Became twisted by it.
      • Tried to kill it,
        • And to hide it.

All with little success.

Jacob sets the tone for the family when he is paralysed by the situation and does nothing, so the clock keeps ticking.

Clearly from verse 11 he is troubled – we are told that he kept the matter in mind.  He seems disturbed by the attitude of his young son, possibly he has begun to ponder the impact on the rest of the family.  Yet at the very moment this father was called upon to show some leadership he folds – he abdicates responsibility and does nothing.

Maybe he was fearful of making the situation worse – of upsetting temperamental Joseph, maybe his strong love for Joseph was such that he could not quite comprehend how serious their situation was.  Maybe he simply did not know what to do.

Whatever the reason Jacob did absolutely nothing and frozen in inaction his inability to lead and assert his authority gave opportunity for evil to have it’s day. Tick – Tock!

At the same time the brothers’ resentment grew deeper and became more and more deep rooted until they became twisted by jealousy.  

Their jealousy, mentioned here in verse 11 is variously translated as envy and jealousy – both of which seem too mild as the Hebrew word here: ‘qana’actually has a hint of violence in it.

Their feelings of envy had grown well beyond a mild irritation so that while their father did nothing they schemed.  They allowed their feelings to grow and twist out of control.  So that rather than seeking ways to restore their relationship with their brother increasingly they looked to ways to surpass him, to show him up.

Envy and jealousy are natural human reactions to hurt but left unchecked they are dangerous.  When we allow these attitudes to gain a foothold in our lives we become twisted, self-focused, bitter people.

Psalm 73 speaks of the danger of focusing on others.  The psalmist in a declaration of great honesty says: “as for me, my feet almost slipped; for I had nearly lost my foothold.  For I envied the arrogant when I saw their prosperity.”

It is easy to understand why the brothers would be envious but their envy was destroying them as well, and would in time give evil the opportunity to run rampant.

After wrestling with the human tendencies to revenge and envy the psalmist concludes by saying: “as for me, it is good to be near God.  I have made the Sovereign LORD my refuge.”

Like the sons of Jacob we too have a tendency to allow our disappointments and hurts to fester into envy and jealousy – often quite mild to begin with but soon such jealousy becomes the scheming, boiling ‘qana’ of the brothers – a jealousy so strong that it has twisted their rational, pulled their focus off God and concentrated all their energies on their perceived hurt.

Jealousy distorts the truth, twisting it out of shape, even denying the truth.

And the ‘qana’ – the extreme jealousy of the brothers also leads almost as assuredly as our ticking clock to the greatest denial of all.  It’s simple really if you can’t beat it you kill it. 

It of course is not some inanimate object or situation but their half-brother Joseph, and his dreams.

They give no thought to God in all this, no thought to their parents, no thought to Joseph – their only thought is of themselves.

I wonder when the last time was that you did likewise – these thoughts do cross our minds at times but we must be vigilant and refuse to give them room to develop.

Matthew 5:21-26

21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. …

Jesus is warning of the power and danger of our anger, anger unchecked – just waiting to go off: like a ticking clock.

How often to we wish harm to someone –– “I could kill you”  “I hate you” “I wish you were dead”

When situations are this bad we sometimes find ourselves looking at an equally horrifying possibility: “I wish you were dead”, “I wish it was gone” – but I can’t do that so “I wish I was dead” – the ultimate escape.

Such thoughts left unchecked lead to disastrous outcomes; and grieve God’s heart. Thankfully there is always as alternative. We can stop the clock!

The brothers, following their older brother Reubens’ advice back away from the plan to kill Joseph – instead they merely stuffed him down a deep disused cistern or well.

BTW this wasn’t what I meant by stopping the clock – all this achieved was to reset the clock.

Out of sight out of mind they might have thought as they threw him into the cistern – if only we could deal with our problems so easily.

There’s another type of cistern in our homes – wouldn’t it be great if we could take our problems and all the dark knowledge of our relationships and ourselves throw them in the toilet, pull the cord and … relief! – peace, our problems flushed away!

But it doesn’t work like that does it – you see we carry the problem, the darkness, the sin in us, it’s not something external but deep within ourselves.

The brothers had a problem, they thought it was Joseph – but their real problem was within; it was the hatred they had allowed to grow inside them.  Removing Joseph from the scene does nothing at all to remove the hatred within.

Sure they do get rid of their little brother, they even made a little money on the side, they must have been pleased with themselves, for a while at least.

Yet as time would prove decisions like this tend to have a way of coming back to haunt us. The clock maybe muted but it was still ticking!

They are just like us – this household of Jacob – are we just like them?

What do you do with the dark knowledge and fears in your life?

Have you attempted to hide your fears and knowledge?

Maybe you’re trying to block out the truth about your situation; deny it, hide it away so that it will not trouble you again.

You may wish you could kill it – that’s the ultimate hiding place – ultimate denial.

Likely you have allowed adverse situations and dark knowledge to twist you.  To twist your sense of proportion and reality or simply Jacob-like you have allowed the fears and knowledge to paralyse you.

This must be one of the most common reactions to problems – at the very point we need to take decisive action, at the point we need to make a stand, or assert our own needs we become paralysed and do absolutely nothing.

We must realise that when we let situations, hurts and fears continue unchecked we are allowing the clock to tick – sooner or later it will go off.

There is a better way, the psalmist referred to earlier recognised it.  He knew that God was not defeated by the situation.

God knows and holds the future and we can have strength to face our fears, disappointments, and discouragement’s because in him all things do work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

My friends – we won’t stop the clock until we face the truth of our situations

  • take our eyes off the problem,
  • take our eyes off the other person,
  • acknowledge the guilt in our own lives

and allow God to deal with it; it may take prayer, sometimes counseling, but it begins by owning up to it, naming it, confessing it to your God who is just waiting for you to turn to him.  Do so now – and stop the clock!

Then in God’s time we can trust that God will bring good and lasting glory to each of us who love God and are called according to His purpose.

Arohanui 

Ian