The story of Joseph closes out our time in Genesis and it does so in a strange way. After all of our stories of covenant, the story of Joseph is when things start to go downhill for the people of Israel once again. The themes of covenant and God’s provision are less apparent and at times almost seem to disappear. While it is true that throughout much of the almost 20 chapters on Joseph, he seems to get out of a lot of trouble and to garner the favor of Pharaoh, at the end of Genesis, Joseph is buried far from his ancestral homeland; that is, far from the land that God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Sometimes when we read this story, Joseph is portrayed as a hero and the story seems to end on a high note with reconciliation among Joe and his brothers. But, when we tell this story, we have to keep in mind that at the end of it, the people of Israel are enslaved. It is quite some time before God raises up another leader on whom Israel can depend to bring them back to the land which they are promised.
The story of how Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers (Genesis 37:3-36) explains how the people of Israel end up in Egypt and how they come, years later, to live as slaves under the oppressive hand of Pharaoh.
The children in your class are likely to know many of the stories of Joseph, but as usual when we think we know the story, we are often missing something in it. For example, in many children’s curriculum’s, one of the primary stories about Joseph is the coat of many colors, but our text doesn’t say Joseph had a coat of many colors, it says that Joseph’s father gave him a coat with long sleeves (check out the NRSV on this one). This is a small detail, and one that doesn’t seem to have a lot of significance, except that a big deal is made over this coat of many colors and almost every children’s craft about Joseph has some many colored coat craft. In this class, focus on the details of the story as they are offered by Scripture. I think that Children’s Bibles are okay on this story, but not great. They tend to be a bit moralistic and add details that are not in the text.
Hear the story
Share the story of Joseph being sold into slavery by his brothers in Genesis 37:3-36. This text is long, but interesting enough for children as it includes details about how Jacob favors Joseph, and the details of Joseph’s dreams (about his brother’s sheaves of wheat bowing down to his own sheaf, or the Sun and moon and stars bowing to Joseph). When you read these details, it becomes pretty obvious why Joseph’s brother’s don’t really like him.
Younger children might want to hear this story told in your own words. Older children may be able to read this story from Scripture. Because the stories of Joseph are so familiar to the students in your class, you may want to begin by asking them to tell the story of what happens, helping them with the sequence and details as you go.
Respond to the Story
This week, I wanted to try something a bit different. Rather than giving your students a project to complete, offer them several open-ended activities. The four suggestions below will get you started.
Open-ended response: Choose one or two of the response types below, then set up your classroom space. After you share the story, tell you students that they can respond to the story at one of the stations you have set up. Allow students to work independently, and check in as their work progresses. Encourage them and help them if they get stuck by asking questions. As their work progresses, you may want to ask them about the content by saying something like, “tell me about your picture here.” Keep all of the art at the end of the class so that we can hang them up. The biggest prep for this is the way you lay out materials, so think about items that you know are in the supply closet, and how they might encourage open-ended exploration.
1. Body Response: For this station, set out costumes, and objects that might represent materials from the story (Wheat, some paper stars), some of the Egypt materials from the supply closet. At this station encourage your students to act out the story together.
Alternatively, they can tell the story to each other and come up with body gestures (every time someone says Joseph, everyone takes a particular body posture).
2. Artistic Response: Provide blank pieces of paper, a variety of materials, and something like paint or colored pencils. Ask them to think about the part of the story that is most important to them. Then, they can create an artistic depiction of that part of the story.
3. 3-D Artistic Response: Offer play-doh or modeling clay from the supply closet. Cover the tables with brown craft paper and allow them to work with an image or theme from the story that was important to them. Ask questions and offer a listening ear as they work.
4. Written Response: For this response, provide writing materials and a couple of prompts to choose from. Encourage students to illustrate their writings. Here are some suggested prompts:
What part of the story is most important and why?
If you could change one or more things about the story, what would it be and why?
If you were asked to tell this story to someone, how would you tell it?
Ask your students to help you clean up the space before snack and closing in prayer.