A Journey of Forgiveness, Joseph and His Brothers
Have you ever felt as if some grown-ups liked another kid more than they liked you? Maybe your teacher lets someone else get away with stuff you would get in trouble for. Maybe your mom or dad doesn't make your brother or sister do as much work as you have to do. Or your brother or your sister gets to stay up later than you, or they have more toys. Or your grandparents pay attention to the baby and ignore you.
It's not fair.
Sometimes, when we feel as if someone else is getting special treatment, when they're the teacher's pet or the parent's favorite, we get angry. We get angry at the grown-up for not being fair, and we get angry at the other kid for being the favorite one.
Once, a long time ago in a land called Canaan, there lived a man named Jacob. He had four wives and thirteen children: one girl and twelve boys. Wow! That's a lot of kids. Do any of you have 12 brothers and sisters? It might be hard to remember all the names. Jacob's boys' names were Joseph, Rueben, Naphtali (Naf-TAL-ee), Issachar (IS-sah-khar), Dan, Gad, Zebulum, Judah, Benjamin, Asher, Levi, and Simeon (SIM-ee-on). These brothers became the leaders of the 12 Tribes of Israel in the Hebrew world. I have flags with each brother's name to remind us how important the 12 brothers were to the Hebrew people.
(Leader: Distribute the flags to volunteers. Say the names so non-readers will know which flag they are holding. Invite them to hold up the flags when you say the brothers' names later in the story.)
Of those four wives, Jacob loved Rachel the best. Of those thirteen children, Jacob loved Rachel's two sons, Benjamin and Joseph, the best. Joseph was the favorite one.
And his sister and his brothers all knew it. They knew their father liked Joseph best. At meal times, their father let Joseph sit next to him and eat the best food. During the day, their father let Joseph stay in the tent and while they all had to go farm in the fields or take care of the sheep.
Their father even gave Joseph a beautiful coat to wear. It had long sleeves and was finely woven with shimmering colors. Whenever Joseph wore it—and he wore it all the time—everyone stopped and turned to look at him. Because in those days, long ago, clothes took a long time to make, and they were very expensive. Most people only had one set of clothes, and they were usually brown, or maybe grey or black. Nobody except the very richest people had blue or green or red or yellow clothes. Nobody except Joseph, that is. He had a coat that was all those colors, and more. I wonder how you would feel if you had a beautiful coat with long sleeves like Joseph.
So Joseph knew he was his father's favorite. He knew he was special. He even had special dreams, dreams that told the future. He told his eleven brothers about one of his dreams. "I dreamt that we were in the field harvesting the corn, and your eleven sheaves of corn all turned and bowed to mine."
The brothers didn't like hearing this. Who can wave their flag and help us remember all the brother's names?
(Leader: Help and encourage the children to say the names on the flags.)
Well, the brothers didn't want to bow down to Joseph. They didn't like Joseph. They were jealous of him. They were angry at him.
They seemed to hate him.
One day, when Joseph was seventeen years old, he went to the fields where his brothers were taking care of the sheep. As always, he was wearing his beautiful coat of many colors. His brothers grabbed him, tore his coat off, and shoved him into a pit. "Let's kill him," said one brother.
"No," said another. "We can't kill our own brother. Let's sell him as a slave."
And so Benjamin, Asher, Levi, Simeon, Judah, Dan, Zebulum, Gad, Rueben, Issachar, and Naphatali sold Joseph to slave traders for twenty pieces of silver. Then the brothers dipped Joseph's beautiful coat in the blood of a goat and ripped it all up. They took the bloody coat back to their father, Jacob, and told him, "Joseph has been killed by a wild animal."
But Joseph wasn't dead. The slave traders made him march for days, on a long journey to the land of Egypt, and there they sold him as a slave. People ordered him around all the time, and sometimes they would hit him. Joseph had never been treated like that before; he'd always been the favorite one. And Joseph had never had to work very hard before; his father had let him stay in their tent. Joseph wondered if he could ever forgive his brothers for selling him.
What do you think? Is it hard to forgive brothers and sisters?
But Joseph did what they told him to. He did the work well, and he didn't complain. His owner noticed and began treating him better. But after a while his owner got angry with him and put him in jail.
Joseph certainly wasn't the favorite one now. Not only was he a slave, he was a slave in jail. Joseph sat in that jail, day after day after day, alone and forgotten. Sometimes, he would wonder about his father and his sister and his eleven brothers. Was his father still alive? Did his sister still like to weave cloth? Did his brothers still farm the fields and take care of sheep? Had any of them married and had children?
Joseph didn't know. And he wanted to. Earlier, when his brothers had sold him into slavery, Joseph had been very angry with them. He had hoped that they would be torn away from their family and sold as slaves. He had wanted to hurt them the way they had hurt him.
But now as he sat in the jail, alone and far from home, and the days and the months and years went by, he began to understand why his brothers had been angry. Even though his brothers had done a horrible thing to him, Joseph missed them, and he wanted to see them again. Joseph forgave his brothers. But his brothers didn't even know that they were forgiven.
More years went by, and Joseph stayed in jail. Then one night the king of Egypt—called a pharaoh—began having a strange dream: a dream about seven thin cows who ate seven fat cows but stayed thin. One of his servants said, "Lord Pharaoh, there is a man in jail who knows about dreams. His name is Joseph."
The pharaoh sent for Joseph, and Joseph told him that the fat cows meant there would be seven years when food grew well, and the thin cows meant there would be seven years when food didn't grow. First there would be plenty to eat for seven years, and then there would be a famine for seven years and people would go hungry.
The pharaoh was impressed. He said, "Joseph, you are free, and you shall be my governor, in charge of all the land and all the food that is grown." For the next seven years, the farmers grew a lot of food, and Joseph made sure they stored most of it.
After seven years, the famine started, just as Joseph had predicted. No plants grew. But the people in Egypt didn't go hungry because they could eat the food that Joseph had stored.
But far away where Joseph's family lived, they hadn't stored any food. They hadn't known a famine was coming. Joseph's father and his sister and his brothers and their wives and children were starving. "Let's go to Egypt," one brother said. "I heard they have food."
His brothers made the long journey to the land of Egypt, walking on the same road that Joseph had walked as a slave all those years ago. When the brothers got to Egypt, they went to the pharaoh's governor, the man who was in charge of all of the food. They bowed down low in front of him, saying, "Please, sir, let us buy food for our families. We are starving."
Thus it was that the dream Joseph had told them about all those years before—the dream of the eleven sheaves of corn bowing down before Joseph's sheaf—had finally come true. But the brothers didn't know the pharaoh's governor was their brother Joseph. They hadn't seen him in more than twenty years. He'd grown up and was wearing different clothes. He'd changed.
He'd changed on the inside, too. He had forgiven his brothers for selling him into slavery, and he was happy to see them again.
He could tell his brothers had changed as well. They were worried about their father, and they took good care of Joseph's younger brother Benjamin, and they were sorry for what they'd done. They didn't hate Joseph anymore.
So Joseph said to his brothers "I am Joseph, your brother." And they were amazed, and worried that he would be angry with them and put them in jail or kill them. But Joseph said, "I forgive you. I welcome you. Bring our father and all your wives and children to Egypt, and live here with me."
So Jacob and his children and their children came to Egypt, and the entire family was together again.