“Then Joseph could not restrain himself…and he cried out ‘Make everyone go out from me!’ And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it. Then Joseph said to his brothers, ‘I am Joseph; does my father still live?’” (Genesis 45:1-4)
This is one of the most gripping moments in all of Scripture. Not just this once, but seven times in Joseph’s emotion-packed story the depth of his emotion is expressed in tears. For sheer *pathos it’s hard to find a family narrative more touching than that of Joseph, his father, and his brothers.
In their story, God is making a strong statement. Is there a message for us in Joseph’s piercing cries? Was he merely releasing the floodgates of frustration and hurt, or is there added meaning – hidden value – to these seven instances of his heart leaking through his eyes?
Here is a powerful man, the prime minister of the Egyptian Empire. In the first encounters with his brothers coming to get food during the famine, they had no idea they were dealing with the brother they’d sold into slavery twenty-two years before. The first time Joseph wept, moved to see them after so long, he did not want to be seen. Weeping openly would not befit his position. Nor did he want to reveal himself as their brother – yet.
To test them, he put his brothers through nerve-wracking accusation, allowing them more than once to fear the uncertainty of their fate in his hands.
What told Joseph that his brothers finally “got it?” Perhaps it was Judah’s selfless offer to be a sacrifice in the place of young Benjamin that broke open the fountain deep inside Joseph. For at this point he at last wept before them openly.
What is leaking out of his heart, through his eyes? Love, longing, lost years. He’s forgiving them, amazingly! It is the power and grace of God being played out on the stage of a very flawed, yet destined family. Joseph had already achieved greatness, yet this weeping signaled the healing of his family – and prepared the way for Israel’s national history, leading to Messiah’s redeeming the world as the promised king from the tribe of Judah. (For a stimulating examination of the dysfunctionality and eventual healing of Joseph’s relationship with his brothers and his father, I highly recommend Russell Resnik’s book, A Life of Favor, Lederer, 2017).
What awaits you and me – that can only be fulfilled when we have born the wounds of life, faced our pain, and summoned the courage to forgive and release?
Weeping Over Relationships and Emotional Health
Have you ever wept over a relationship? I have. Relationships are the stuff of life. They can be exhilarating and unnerving, deeply satisfying and dreadfully complicated. But, unless we adopt a hermit’s lifestyle, we will always be involved with people. What can Joseph teach us about relationships?
Joseph’s tale includes all of the above and more. He began with the extreme favor of his father, Jacob. That led to jealousy, compounded by his own youthful enthusiasm over his future. The ensuing series of trials tested his heart. He easily could have chosen bitterness and enduring anger. I’m sure unplumbed wells of regret, loss, and perplexity lay within Joseph’s soul. But he chose to move forward, somehow placing the past on hold – hoping for a better future.
In Peter Scazzero’s insightful and challenging book Emotionally Healthy Spirituality, he reveals his own painful journey of finally facing the impact of un-dealt-with emotions. He notes “God made human beings to feel a wide range of emotions. When we deny our pain, losses, and feelings year after year, we become less and less human” (page 69).
I am a person who feels things deeply. Sometimes that’s a liability. I can get consumed with those feelings. But reading the story of Joseph, and the writings of Resnik and Scazzero, I’m realizing that everyone has deep feelings. It’s just that some of us are not as in touch with them, or live a cauterized existence. So, how can we deal with our emotions in a healthy, godly way?
Scazzero gives the following list as a starting point:
- Don’t ignore the emotions of anger, sadness, and fear.
- Stop denying the past’s impact on the present.
- Resist covering over brokenness, weakness, and failure.
- Refuse to crawl along with unresolved conflict.
A New Calendar Year: Time for Inventory?
This past year has been undeniably difficult. Covid still rages. Many of us have lost loved ones. Suffering and loss take a heavy toll on us emotionally. What have you accumulated this year (or longer) in the way of emotional baggage? Can you respond as Joseph did?
Joseph wept. Jeremiah wept. Jesus wept. You don’t have to weep physically to be emotionally healthy (though it sure can help). But it should not escape our notice that these great, spiritual men (including the Son of God) expressed such depth of emotion. They did not agree with the false, damaging saying: “Big boys don’t cry.”
His brothers’ emotions are also explored in the Genesis account. Their jealousy turned to murderous resentment. Yet, upon seeing Joseph, before knowing who he was, they felt the weight of guilt and remorse for the crime against their brother. “We saw the anguish of his soul when he pleaded with us and we would not hear” (Genesis 42:21). Ultimately, when he revealed himself, they were shocked, stunned, dismayed, and at last bathed in Joseph’s tears and kisses (Genesis 45:14).
Joseph’s Response to Rejection
Joseph experienced decades of potentially crippling emotions. At the time of reunion with his brothers, he had traveled through rejection, bitterness, anger, loneliness, grief, sadness, and anguished bewilderment. How was Joseph able to reconcile the injustice he suffered at the hands of his brothers, with the goodness of God? This may be a question you’re asking too.
At the end of Joseph’s Genesis story he says, in effect “Even though I passed through many grinding trials after you rejected me, God was with me and even authored my journey in order to save you.” At the profound moment of Joseph’s “reveal” he reveals the mystery of his suffering. “Now do not grieve or be angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” For emphasis, he repeats this startling conclusion. “And God sent me before you…to save your lives…So now it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:5,7,8, my emphasis).
*(My dear friend, artist Baruch Maayan has captured the pathos of Joseph and his brothers in the above painting which he has been so kind as to let us publish here. See more of his work at www.baruchmaayan.com)
This article originally appeared in Oasis newsletter, January 2022, and reposted with permission.