Wednesday, August 23, 2023

Sons of Abraham

So who did Joseph's brothers sell him to that shapes the way that we have to understand the story?

If you went looking for the answer yesterday, you likely found first the name of the Midianites and then perhaps went on a wild goose chase, trying to figure out who the Midianites were and why that matters. Maybe that was beneficial for you; maybe it wasn't. (I always think it's better to know more things about the Bible than fewer, and if God names a people, it's important.) 

But if you kept reading past the first mention of the Midianites passing through, you would have found that Joseph's brothers sold him to a group of Ishmaelite traders within that caravan. 


Where have we heard that name before?

Ah, yes, we mentioned it the other day (and not by accident - I did that very much on purpose). Ishmael was the son born to Abraham when he was unsure about waiting on God's promise and decided to have a child with his wife's slave woman, Hagar. Ishmael was about a decade older than Isaac, the promised son, and when Isaac came along, Abraham's wife Sarah got jealous and sent her slave woman and the "illegitimate" child into the wilderness to starve or die or whatever might happen to them (she didn't really care, as long as they weren't there to mess things up for her and Isaac). 

When God came to Hagar in the desert as she was dying of thirst, a stone's throw away from Ishmael because she couldn't bear to watch him die, He told her not to worry, that Ishmael would become a nation all his own - because of who his father was (Abraham, yes, but also God. Right? You follow?). But He also promised that Ishmael and his descendants would always be at odds with Isaac and his descendants. 

And wouldn't you know it, just two generations later, they're picking up the beloved son and carrying him off to Egypt. 

That's not an accident. 

That's not a coincidence. 

I mean, you could try to say that it is. That the Ishmaelites were a more nomadic people who spent a lot of their time traveling from place to place in caravans and that they were skilled traders, so it made sense that when a caravan came through, there were Ishmaelites among it. That's what they did. That's who they were. And that's what region of the world they lived in. You might even try to compare it to, say, standing in the bus station in New York City and not being surprised at all at the number of folks commuting in from Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Of course they are. That's where they live and work and that's the kind of life they live. It wouldn't be surprising at all. 

And yet...

The Ishmaelites weren't the only people who lived around there and did that kind of thing. We know they were in a caravan with the Midianites, who also, obviously, lived around there and did that sort of thing. And who knows what other nationalities were represented in that caravan? Joseph's brothers could have sold them to any one of them. They could have sold him to the Midianites. 

But they didn't. 

They sold him to the Ishmaelites. To their long-lost cousins. To the descendants of their grandfather's illegitimate brother. To the other sons of Abraham. To the ones who were cast out into the desert. 

That's not an accident. 

That's not a coincidence. 

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