Sunday, October 5, 2014

Do you know the Bible Story of Joseph?

"Joseph Lowered into the well by his brothers"
By Peeter Sion

You can find this story in Genesis chapters 37, 39 through to the end of Genesis; this is one of the great narratives of the Bible.

Joseph, at seventeen, was working as a helper to two of his father’s wives. According to the story, his brothers must have done something wrong while shepherding their father’s flocks, so Joseph brought a bad report to the patriarch of the family. Joseph’s brothers were older than him with families of their own. This was a large extended family “clan.” We can only try to imagine the complicated family dynamic that may have made the older brothers worried for their inheritance because of the favor shown to Joseph. This story focuses on the hatred of the brothers for Joseph. But if you try and imagine power struggles within a family business, you may begin to get the idea that what we are reading is a very abbreviated version of a much more complicated story.

Joseph seemed to have gained favor with his father, so he was given some sort of robe made by Jacob (or commissioned to be made by him) which somehow identified with that regions royalty; some Bible transliterations use the terms “many colored,” “a long robe with sleeves,” or “ornate” but this robe seems to be something that may have been fancy and set Joseph apart, perhaps being given special authority by his father. It is very possible that Joseph was given some leadership over this shepherding business that put him above his older brothers.

When Jacob sends Joseph to check up on his brothers in the wilderness, this gives the angry brothers opportunity to get rid of him.  Rather than kill him outright, his brothers end up selling him into slavery; which was in some cases, a death sentence anyway.

But Joseph ended up with Potiphar as an owner, and then later (when running afoul of Potiphar’s wife) owned by the jailer. In all this, Joseph showed integrity, management skills and honesty; that to any that were his master, he was faithful in his duties. Neither Potiphar nor the keeper of the jail had any worry about their own things.  Genesis 39:6 and 39:23 record that neither owner had any care for their own property; that God blessed Joseph’s work.

Then when the Cupbearer and the Baker both were thrown in jail with Joseph, Joseph interprets their dreams; the Cupbearer gets his job back and the Baker is killed.

Joseph asked the Cupbearer to remember him to Pharaoh and asked him to “…please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this place.” (Gen. 40:14)
And the Cupbearer forgets Joseph…for two more years.

But then Pharaoh has his fateful dream that only Joseph can interpret. 
Look again at verses 41:33-36 where Joseph says to Pharaoh:

“Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

So as it is written, Pharaoh made Joseph overseer of all Egypt.Where am I going with this?When Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream, he did not start by saying “OK Pharaoh, I will interpret your dream if you set me free.”And he also didn’t say, after advising Pharaoh,  “So since I interpreted your dream, make me the chief financial manager in charge of grain collection.”

Joseph gave Pharaoh a business plan for free. He allowed himself to be used by God to help an entire nation make it through an extreme famine.Joseph had his chance to ask for freedom.He had a chance to ask for justice.

But he didn’t.

Yet, it was given to him. Freedom and power were given to him.Think about this for a minute; that Joseph, after seven years of collecting grain, probably had a power base equal to Pharaoh in Egypt. And once he was managing the sales of grain during the years of the famine, he could have overthrown Pharaoh.

But he didn’t.

When he had his brothers in his power, he could have had revenge; he could have killed the brothers who wanted him dead, and gained the inheritance. It would have been him and his younger brother Benjamin as heads of this family clan.

But he didn’t.

We often have heard light and cute sermons over Joseph ratting out his brothers, and how Joseph was so righteous to not sleep with his master’s wife, or some sort of marvelous blind faithful trust of God that somehow God magically blessed Joseph because his brothers were mean to him. That in the end, God just blessed silly, stupid, Joseph for his blind faith; and made him the second in command of all Egypt.

But I see something more: I see a youth with great leadership gifts; wanting to help his father’s business run better and honestly; but it was a threat to the status quo.

I see a man of integrity who wanted his “boss” (owner’s) company to do well and did not want to over-throw his owner by taking the wife and killing the “boss.”[1]

I see someone who even while in a tenuous life situation still used the gifts of management and leadership to run the jail efficiently, with no promise of life for tomorrow.

I see a person, using these life-lessons-learned to take a vision given by God to save an entire nation from being de-populated by famine; and with that, the additional risk of being overthrown by another invading nation.

And finally, I see a human being given so much power with so much trust from the god-King of Egypt, it never occurred to him to become the ultimate ruler with unlimited power.In the end, with his brothers in his power, he showed mercy.That is the reason God could use Joseph.

Joseph saved a kingdom and a people: with integrity and mercy.

But Joseph could not see any of this while he was in the pit waiting to see what his brothers would do to him.

And he couldn’t see a future while working for the jailer.

And I sure that he had no idea what the future held for him when he dreamed his dream of his father and brothers bowing down to him.But look how it all turned out.

Dear Lord, help me to trust you like Joseph did—to not allow bitterness to grow in my spirit that will interfere with my walk with you. I know that I cannot see the future anymore than Joseph could while serving the jailer. Help me to keep on going with integrity, honesty and faith; no matter where my story may take me.

[1] I see that offer to Joseph as more than a roll-in-the-hay with the boss’s wife…but I could be wrong.

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