For one last time the boy stood by
The woods of Hebron to reply,
If only by the stillness of
A grateful heart for all the love,
And good, and favor he had known,
Now seventeen, and almost grown
To be a man. He stood and spoke
As softly as the winds that stroke
The balsam trees at dawn, though no
One heard his voice. He said, “I owe
My life to you, though barely do
I have a memory. I knew
You as a child until you bore
My brother Benjamin, and tore
My heart in two because you died.
I thank you for my life. You tried
To name him Benoni, the “son
Of sorrow,” but my father spun
Another cord out of the torn
And ragged shreds that still adorn
The memory of your hard life.
You were the first and favored wife,
More precious than his flocks and herds,
More sweet than honey-seasoned curds.
Though you transcended all his land,
He named him “son of my right hand,”
Not signifying mastery,
But as a place to lean when he
Was old. And so he taught me, by
My brother's name, that you can die,
And yet somehow not die, but live,
And make the greatest loss still give
More life for almost sixty years.
He taught me that a husband's tears
Can water heaving soil where grows
The tree of hope, and that the woes
Of widowers and sons can make
A woven cord that cannot break.
I thank you for your life and death.
I owe you now for every breath,
And all that I have been assured
By what my father has endured.”
For one last time he looked back at
The little room where Leah sat
Beside his sister, dying there
beneath her mother's rugged care,
And said, beside the Hebron wood,
“ I thank you, Leah, for the good
That you have done to me. And I
Believe, though it is strange, that high
In God's design, your seed, and not
Your sister's child, will rule the plot
Of Jacob's history. My dreams
Of brothers bowing down, it seems,
Are but the momentary taste
Of what some son of yours, high placed
Above my little lord-like sheaf,
Will drink down to the dregs. All brief
And small, my momentary day
Compared to his unending sway.
For God has shown me in my dreams
That even death must yield, and screams
Of breech-birth mothers, bleeding to
The grave will turn somehow, and through
A greater scepter sing, than I
Will ever wield before I die.”
And so all full of hope, and yet
Not one step known, though all is set
In heaven, Joseph goes to find
His brothers and to ease the mind
Of Jacob. Shechem was to be
The place with pasture lands where he
Would find them in the fields. But they
Were not in sight. A stranger lay
Beneath a Tamarisk and hailed
The boy, “You lost, young man?”I've trailed
My brothers down from Hebron. Do
You know if any men passed through
With flocks?”O, yes, I heard them say
That they would graze their flocks today
In Dothan, by the springs.”I thank
you for your help.” The stranger drank
Once from his wineskin pouch, and then
He said, “A brother to these men?”
“That's right.”I wouldn't go if I
Were you.” So Joseph asked him, “Why?”
“That's all I heard them talked about
Young man. They aim to snuff you out.
They hate your dreams. I've never seen
Ten brothers be so mad and mean.”
“I've heard them talk that way before.”
“I'm telling you they're really sore,
Young man. They're going to kill you if
You go to Dothan — off a cliff,
Or down a well, or slit your throat.
I heard them talk about your coat,
And how they'd show it to your dad,
And tell him, just like they were sad,
That some wild beast had taken you
Away. That's what they're going to do!”
“Perhaps. I better go.”Why don't
You send somebody else? They won't
Hurt anyone but you.”I told
My father I would go. He's old,
And he's my father. So I'll go.
Besides, more than my brothers know
Hangs on this simple trip. And what
They now scheme and devise is not
What they imagine it will be.
They do not know, nor can they see
What God designs. Farewell, my friend.”
“Farewell to you. I hope your end
Is not what they design. I hope
Your God can rend the hateful rope
With which they plan to bind you like
A sacrifice before they strike
You dead.” As Joseph turned to go,
He said, “There is one thing I know:
My God can rend a rope. Or he
Can choose to set a prisoner free
Another way. He is not bound
By ropes. No human schemes confound
His purposes. A rebel mind
May bind God's messenger, but find
That he has only bound him to
Some new and holy mission through
A means that God designed and chose:
The agency of all his foes.”
The sun had set when Joseph came
To Dothan. He could see the flame
Encircled by his brothers near
The springs. He stopped, and in his fear,
He prayed, “O God of Abraham
And Isaac, Jacob, Great I Am,
Please give me strength to keep this long
Obedience whatever wrong
My brothers do to me tonight.
And let me see the morning light.”
And as he prayed, they saw him on
The southern hill, a shadow drawn
Against the ashen sky, not near
Enough to recognize, but plain
To them with his uncommon cloak.
His eldest brother Reuben broke
The stillness with a shout and went
To meet the boy. “Our father sent
You here to see if we were well.”
“You knew he would. And shall I tell
Him you are well? Perhaps instead
You plan to tell him I am dead.
So much you love this aging man!”
But Reuben said, “Now here's the plan.
I'll tell you as we walk. They aim
To kill you, yes, but I will claim
That brother's blood should never stain
Our hands lest we be cursed, then feign
To have you die of thirst in one
Of Dothan's pits. Before the sun
Has set tomorrow night I'll come
And pull you out and send you from
This place to tell our father we
Are well. Now say no more, they see
That we are talking, and they know
My heart is not their own.” And so
It was that Reuben spared the boy,
And kept him from their bloody ploy.
But in the morning at the break
Of dawn, before he was awake,
The plan of Reuben fell apart.
And while he slept, the craft and art
Of greed conceived another scheme,
Another step toward Joseph's dream.
A caravan was passing by
Of Miduanites, along the high
Road down to Egypt toward the coast
Of Gaza. “Look, Levi, the most
We can expect from Joseph's death
Is trouble,” Judah said. “The breath
Of our own father may come down
With curses on our heads and drown
Whatever pleasure we obtain
In getting rid Joseph's bane.
Here comes a caravan. Let's sell
The boy, and then at least we'll tell
The truth when we reply that we
Don't know his fate or destiny.
Why should there be no profit in
This dreamer's death? He is our kin,
And I should think as such would bring
A handsome price, a silver ring
Or maybe gold.” And so they brought
Him up and he was quickly bought
For twenty silver shekels by
The men of Midian.
Was crimson as the caravan
Departed on its way again.
And Joseph, fettered hand and foot,
Watched Judah count the coins and put
Them in a bag. Their eyes met one
Last time, and Joseph whispered, “Son
Of Leah, if you only knew
The profit that will come to you
From this embittered sale, you'd take
Your coins and throw them in the lake,
And kiss the hand of providence
And stand in awe that your offense
Will not bring judgement on your face,
But endless years of saving grace.”
Now Joseph rides to Egypt bound.
In thirteen years he will be crowned.
This is the light of candle two.
And it is meant for those of you
Who ride in caravans of pain,
All fettered now with rope and chain,
And numb beneath the ice of crime,
Betrayed by brothers for a dime.
Lift up your eyes and look. The Lord
Of Joseph reins today and will reward
Your faith. Hold fast the mystery
Of providence, and you will see
How every evil that is meant
God makes to serve his sweet intent.