Family Divided: Joseph and his Brothers

Families sometimes have to divide before they can reunite in a better place. In Genesis, an awful separation set the stage for an awesome reconciliation.

We can understand the very human need for reconciliation — whatever the cause of the initial breakup. And that’s why the Genesis story that unfolds in our text is so full of poignancy and pathos.

A violent conflict had separated Joseph and his brothers. The story of Joseph begins with his brothers conspiring to kill him, and then throwing him into a pit and selling him into slavery (37:12-28). After this breakup, Joseph is taken down to Egypt, where he becomes a successful manager in the house of an Egyptian officer. Unfortunately, the officer’s wife attempts to seduce Joseph, and her unsatisfied lust results in a jail term for Joseph (39:1-23).

But the Bible tells us that “the LORD was with Joseph” (39:21), so he becomes the favorite of the chief jailer, and later rises to the position of second-in-command to Pharaoh himself, gaining control over all the land as governor (41:37-45).It is in this position of power that Joseph encounters his brothers again, and their painful breakup results in a divine reunion.

Canaan has been hit by a severe famine, and so the brothers of Joseph travel to Egypt to buy grain. They meet with the governor, not recognizing that he is Joseph, and they ask for his assistance. He toys with them, and even throws them into prison for a while, but ends up giving them the grain they need.

Then Joseph reveals himself, saying, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt.” Their jaws hit the floor. “And now do not be distressed,” he continues, “or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:4-5). Joseph sees that God used their ugly breakup for a beautiful purpose — to put Joseph in a position where he could help his family survive a deadly famine. The brothers might have intended evil for Joseph when they sold him into slavery, but God intended it for good. “So it was not you who sent me here, but God,” explains Joseph; God made him ruler over all the land of Egypt so that he could preserve a remnant of his family on earth.

The original breakup may have been painful, but it wasn’t all bad. In fact, it was really quite divine.

It’s a story that reminds us that when we’ve experienced awful separation it’s possible to move to awesome reconciliation. Evil is turned into good, and loss transformed into gain. Events like this can help us gain a fresh understanding after an experience of failure, and a new sense of purpose after a time of pain.

It’s a story of estrangement and reconciliation, and it’s an account that unfortunately reflects some of the pain we all experience from time to time.

This Sunday concludes our summer-long journey through the stories of Genesis–our faith beginnings! You will find us on Facebook live for our virtual worship at 10am at If you miss us then, you will find us a little bit later in the day on our church’s website,

With Health and Wholeness,

Pastor Gaye