The Fragrance of Justice


Gen. 37:25   Then they sat down to eat; and looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels carrying gum, balm, and resin, on their way to carry it down to Egypt.  26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?  27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and not lay our hands on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers agreed.  28 When some Midianite traders passed by, they drew Joseph up, lifting him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.


It was John Chrysostom who referred to this event as “the fragrance of justice.” This is divine justice which is catching up with this family and its members who have not always made the best decisions in regard to relationships. Joseph is to be the savior of his brothers and yet, they are far too jealous to be able to see this truth. The entire story becomes a foreshadowing of the redemption which will be found in Jesus Christ and the rejection that he will experience as well.

Joseph was rejected by his brothers — his own flesh and blood. He had come to bring them food and in their jealousy they plotted to kill him. They sat and ate food while he, presumably went without while sitting at the bottom of a well. Instead of killing him they decide to sell him into slavery and the instruments of that pathway to slavery were the Ishmaelites. These were the rejected cousins of the children of Abraham. They had been discarded by Abraham and Sarah once their son Isaac was born. Interestingly they are called Ishmaelites and Midiantes, which the commentators believe is no mistake. These represent two sets of rejected family members — both Ishmael and Esau.

The fragrance of divine justice is about to fill the air as the rejected become the saviors for without the divine intervention of the rejected family members Joseph would not have been saved. He then becomes the salvation for more than just his family when he provides for all those who are suffering from famine. The Ishmaelites/Midiantes — the ones who would have been considered the pagans, are sellers of perfume, and they spread the sweet smell of justice producing a result that eventually provides an opportunity for all to become partakers of the bread of salvation.


God’s justice is fascinating and a lesson for us as we grow spiritually. It was the disgraced and discarded relatives who were used to save the day. This ought to make us think about those whom we overlook. Who is it that we throw away, and what if they are the very ones that we need for salvation?

The homogenous group of brothers could not save themselves. Instead they fought among themselves and without knowing were plotting their own self-destruction. It could be that our own homogenous groups may become our achilles heel, for we begin to only listen to ourselves and we talk and encourage ourselves into believing we are doing the right thing because there are no dissenting voices. There is power in diversity that helps bring about God’s justice in the world. For the kingdom to be fully empowered there needs to be intentional inclusion of all races and genders to bringthe necessary voices to the table, for this is the way in which God works.

The call of Matthew 25 is to reach out and offer a cup of cold water to those who are in need, for in doing so we will have reached out to Christ, himself. The fragrance of justice means…

We need the poor

We need the lost

We need the prisoners

We need the orphans

We need the widows

For in serving them we will discover that we are serving Christ and find our salvation. The fragrance of justice takes us to the most improbable corners of our world so let’s not be afraid, but move forward in radical faith participating with the one who sets us free.


Lord, may your justice prevail.  Amen.
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