So, when Jeremiah buys a piece of land in prison, knowing that that land is going to be overrun by Babylonians, what is he doing? For one thing, he is standing on the promises that God made to Abraham. And he is sending a message of hope to the people of Judah, saying: "I put my trust, not in kings, not in armies, not even in a piece of property. But I'm going to buy it to show that I put my trust in God who will bring us home."
So, the message in the formation of Israel is this: don't let the enemy write your story. In concrete terms, that means don't lose hope in the midst of a messy divorce. Don't give up your faith because of financial stress or chronic illness. Don't abandon God or think that God has abandoned you because your life is busy or your family is crazy. Don't be tempted to go after other gods because you don't see how this One has done anything for you lately. Instead, do what the ancient Hebrews did. Like Joshua, keep telling your story, over and over, until you can find God in it. Because, by locating God in your past, you will be convinced that God is also living in your present.
Jocheved didn't just stand there. She made a basket of hope and gave Moses to God. If she hadn't let go of that basket, there would be no Moses, no exodus from Egypt, no Mount Sinai, no people of the Covenant, no Promised Land. There would be no King David, no Jesus Christ, no Christian Church, no kingdom come thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. You see, God has big plans. The prophet Jeremiah tells us: "For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope." [Jer 29:11] So I don't care how old you are. If God were finished with you, you wouldn't be here. There's still life you need to live, still growing you need to do. So what we all need to do is make ourselves a basket, plaster it with hope, climb inside and push out into the river of life.
So the story of Joseph teaches us to put our hope onto a much bigger canvas than the one upon which we paint our little dreams and plans. Like most of us, Joseph was scheming for himself and didn't realize that he was part of a much bigger plan that no one but God could see or comprehend.
If you want to understand something about the intersection of race and religion in the world today, just read Genesis. It's a book that is chock full of ancient ethnography: stories that don't just tell us about individual heroes and heroines, but are intended to tell us about the relationships between different tribes and races of people. The story of Hagar is known by the three Abrahamic faiths, but it is told from very different perspectives by Jews, Christians, and Muslims, all of whom have different motives in telling it. The question is not "whose version is the right one?" The question is whether the differences in these stories can still point to the same God and testify to the same hope. Is there Truth here that is not just tribal, but also universal?