Challenge 3 Good out of bad

CONTENTS

 The story shown in bold is explored in full in the Big Bible Challenge book www.scriptureunion.org.uk

Stories in this challenge

Sold!                                      Genesis 37:17b–28

Prison and a promotion        Genesis 41:14–16,28–39

The brothers meet again      Genesis 42:1–8

Back to Egypt                        Genesis 43:1–14

Reunion                                  Genesis 45:1–15

 

COMMON tips for this and every challenge

  • Always have a Bible in a child-friendly translation available, as you take the Big Bible Challenge. Even when the Bible verses are printed in the Big Bible Challenge book, find them in a Bible as well. This will help the child gain confidence in handling the Bible and become familiar with its size and number of pages.
  • Finding your way around the Bible can be a challenge in itself! Each reading from the Bible is shown in a certain way, like this:

Genesis 2:15–22.

  • Use the Index or Contents page of the Bible to help you find the book (or books) in the Bible for the readings in this challenge. In this example, the book title is ‘Genesis’.
  • Each book of the Bible is in chapters. In this example, the reading is in chapter 2.
  • Each chapter is split into verses. In this example, the verses are 15–22. In most Bibles, the verse numbers are printed very small.
  • Many of the challenges have five readings from the same part of the Bible, so use a bookmark to keep your place and it will be easier to find the Bible reading next time.
  • The Bible consists of many ‘books’ collected together and presented as one. See if you can work out what sort of ‘book’ you are exploring: is it history or is it a letter? Are you reading words spoken by a prophet or written as a song?
  •  Spend time looking at and chatting about the artwork in the Big Bible Challenge. Find out more online in ‘How does the Big Bible Challenge work?’
  • When you have finished this challenge, use the simple evaluation sheet [here: hyperlink]. Find out more online in ‘How does the Big Bible Challenge work?’

 

COMMENCE: your introduction to this part of the Bible

The drama of Genesis continues – the drama of God’s plan of salvation, rescuing mankind from the consequences of rebellion and sin. The first people have disobeyed God and been exiled from the perfect Garden of Eden but God does not leave humankind without hope or a future. He sets in motion a grand scheme to restore the broken relationship.

God has chosen the family of Abraham to be the focus of his covenant promises – not mighty nations or great and wise rulers. (See Big Bible Challenge page 11 for more about the covenant-promises between God and his people.) Abraham’s son Isaac and grandson Jacob have experienced the confirmation of these promises but this is far from an ideal family, as we have already seen (Genesis 27, 28; see also Isaac and Ishmael in Genesis 21:8-20).

In the face of difficulty and opposition, God remains in control and preserves his people and his promise. The story of Joseph is one of family breakdown, political intrigue and national disaster and recovery. One man stands at the heart of it, but God is the true initiator of the action, as Joseph recognises in Genesis 50:19,20.

This was a time of international upheaval with people migrating in search of food. Through it all, God is working out his own purposes. The promise to Abraham, which again seems to be under threat, is maintained. In the process, Joseph is preserved from his brothers and from the seductions of Egypt – financial and sexual. He obtains his freedom and a position of authority.

Finally, we have a picture of transformation and reconciliation as Joseph and his brothers come together.

 

CONNECT: the five stories in this challenge

In the later chapters of Genesis, family conflict comes to the fore in the story of Joseph. Sometimes we think that family crises and family breakdown are peculiar to our generation. But this is not so, as we will quickly see in Joseph’s extensive family: intrigue, trickery, favouritism, quarrelling and broken relationships are the experience of his kinship group (themes likely to resonate strongly with children). His was by no means a perfect family but, despite the difficulties and problems, God carries out his plan and we learn a great deal about the way God works in his world.

The key story in the Big Bible Challenge book is the first in the life of Joseph. His story is a long one, with many twists and turns – and God barely gets a mention until near the end. Looking back, Joseph is able to see how God has worked through his life and made sure he was in the right place at the right time to save the whole family. As you follow his adventures together, you may find these themes emerging:

  • God works even when we can’t see it. The brothers clearly had no idea that God was using them. Joseph must have been puzzled, wondering what was going on; but, through it all, God kept working out his plan. Notice the emphasis on God being with Joseph (Genesis 39:2,3,21,23).
  • God works even when we don’t understand it. Forgotten in prison, Joseph could have been puzzled and depressed. But God knew exactly what he was doing. Did Paul have the story of Joseph in mind when he wrote Romans 8:28?
  • God works through the actions of sinful men. Genesis 45:5–8 is the key to the whole section. The selfishness, jealousy and weakness of the brothers, the lust and lies of Potiphar’s wife, and the forgetfulness of the wine steward all have their place. God never makes men sin; but, when they do, it can form part of his overall plan. Joyce Baldwin puts it like this: ‘… the life of Joseph shows how God’s overruling is well able to encompass human wilfulness, correct the wrongdoers, and at the same time provide for their needs’ (Joyce Baldwin, The Message of Genesis 12–50, The Bible Speaks Today, IVP, 1986, p224).
  • God expects his people to trust and follow him. Jacob and Joseph, like Abraham and Isaac before them, have their faults. But even when things are tough, they do trust God and they believe that he will do what he has said. Not only do they believe in God, but they learn to act in ways that reflect the character of God (for example, through Joseph’s remarkable forgiveness of his brothers). God looks for that sort of trust and action from us too.

CONSIDER: what this challenge means today

Notice the way in which the story ends (Genesis 50:22–26). Joseph’s final words express his confidence that God will keep the covenant promises he has made to his chosen people. He looks forward to the day when God’s people will return to Canaan and, in anticipation, makes them promise to carry his bones with them to the promised land (see Exodus 13:19). His unburied body will be a constant reminder to future generations that Egypt is not their true home and that one day God will rescue them. The scene is set for the story of the Exodus.

There is a lot of detail in the story of Joseph and not enough space or time to cover it all. Please make yourself familiar with the whole story because the overall themes are important: for example, God bringing good out of evil; choosing generosity over revenge; the potential for change in each of us.

Jacob’s family is dysfunctional, torn apart by favouritism and jealousy. These stories may open up familiar situations for some children, who may want to talk about their own family struggles. Some may want to talk about bullying in, or outside of, their family. Be sensitive: listen and help the child to see positive ways forward. Please don’t push them to talk about things they are not yet ready for and be aware of national laws and guidelines about safeguarding children.

 

CLARIFY: issues that may arise from this challenge

Slavery

Some children may be interested in exploring this further. It will open up to some of them the reality of childhood for many people in the world.

Slaves were common in biblical times – and, of course, throughout history. Your child might be familiar with William Wilberforce’s campaign that ended the slave trade (buying and selling slaves) in England and eventually led to laws stopping slavery (so that it was against the law to own a slave and no one could be a slave). They may not know that his determination came from his commitment to God.

But slavery is not a thing of the past. This is a true story:

Juliette was only seven when a group of strangers approached her in her village in south Benin. They offered her a job in the nearby country of Cote D’Ivoire; they even paid her parents. She recalls:

“There were a lot of children going. I wanted to go with them…I was excited to be going somewhere in a car.”

But Juliette was actually being sold into slavery. Now she wakes at 6 am to clean her master’s house and spends the rest of the day selling knick-knacks at a local market booth.

In some places people are forced to work for no wage because they have been too poor to pay a debt. For example, a family may have borrowed money to pay for medicine and now someone in that family has to work – maybe for years. Many children are forced to work in very bad conditions and for almost no pay. Some are forced to fight wars. It’s illegal but it involves millions of people every year.

Some children might raise the issue that Abram’s family had slaves. This was true throughout Bible times. This doesn’t mean that God condones slavery. The Bible sets strict standards to ensure the protection and care of slaves.

Potiphar’s wife

Children may ask more about why Joseph was imprisoned. How you deal with this story will depend on the child. Those who are familiar with television ‘soaps operas’, for example, will perfectly understand that Potiphar’s wife had wanted Joseph to sleep with her. What they might find hard to imagine is that Joseph said ‘no’ – especially to a woman with power over his own life. With more naïve children who ask, it is enough to say that Potiphar’s wife wanted to cheat on her husband but Joseph refused.

Joseph’s coat

The coat that Jacob gave his favourite son, Joseph, was very long and had long sleeves. It showed that Joseph was not expected to work with his hands. Usually it would be the oldest son to whom such a coat was given, so Joseph’s brothers were not pleased when it was given to the second youngest!

 

COMMUNICATE: talk with God

Draw and label a simple graph of Joseph’s life, marking the high and low points. He started high (he was his father’s favourite son – Genesis 37:3); then low (he was sold into slavery – 37:27); high (he was put in charge of Potiphar’s household – 39:4); low (he was put in prison – 39:20); then very high (he was made governor of all Egypt – 41:41). Remind your child that Joseph knew this was all part of God’s plan. God allowed Joseph to go to Egypt so that he could save the rest of his family and ensure that God’s promise to Abraham and his descendants would be fulfilled. Point out that God was able to bring good even out of bad circumstances – and he still can!

Talk with your child about what they would like to do with their lives. Listen and show interest in their ambitions. Assure them that God has a plan for their future and will be with them throughout their life, just as he was with Joseph. Pray for your child’s future, asking God to be with them and to use them to fulfil his purposes.

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