I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that at least seventy percent of all Old Testament stories that are told by teachers to little children, and that are written in Bible Study books for Sunday School and preached on by ministers in pulpits are about David. His life as a shepherd, as a future king, as a fugitive hiding from the reigning king, his glory days as well as his failure days as the greatest King in Israel’s history. Even stories about his son and heir to the throne, Solomon, are all remembered and told in light of who he was, David’s son.
All that is well and good; there are things to learn from the cautionary and the triumphant happenings in David’s life, and believe me, I’ve heard them all. More than once. Like, over and over and over again.
The life story that most appeals to me, however, is not David’s. It’s Joseph’s. He was a favored son. Not the worst way to begin life, right?
God gave him a gift: he had dreams that let him and family know what the future held. Useful skill, right?
He was part of a large, wealthy family so he lacked for nothing. Sounds good so far.
The biggest problem was that he was favored by his father above his ten older brothers. They did not take kindly to that. And then, to make matters worse, he talks about these visions or dreams he’s having, which might be ok, I mean you could tolerate some silliness from a much younger brother, but the dreams were all about how he was going to be the most important, the leader and his brothers would be his subjects. This was far before Israel had a king, so the very idea was foreign as well as repugnant. And all those typical, human emotions reared up in his brothers; anger, jealousy, envy, bitterness, rage, hatred and they smacked Joseph up the side of the head and knocked him into a deep pit. It was the lone voice of reason of his brother, Judah, that saved him from being killed and instead he was sold into slavery.
When we see Joseph some time later in Egypt he has proved himself so capable that he had full charge of the household of a wealthy and prominent man, Potiphar. God appears to be on his side again and it seems he landed on his feet, so I’m thinking, maybe this kid has more going for him than just being a favored, pampered son. I’m happy things are going well for him and though a slave, he has the use of wealth and prominence, so he’s better off without that big, shepherding family that no longer wanted him around, right?
Or not. Again jealousy and rage are dogging him, this time from the master’s wife and the result is that Joseph is thrown in the pit again. Imprisoned. For years. Can’t have been easy, but even in prison there’s still something different about him. God speaks to him in dreams. And then tells him what the dreams mean. Not only that, he rises to the top of the prisoner hierarchy. The guys in charge see his value and put his skills to work.
This says to me that whatever Joseph did, wherever he was in those years since excitedly sharing his dreams with his brothers, he did the tasks well. He was trustworthy. He was not a cheat or a con-man or miserable or depressed or angry. He never gave up. He even reminds guys who are getting sprung from the dungeon to remember him to the man in charge.
His code of behavior and his persistence pay off, or to put it another way, when God was done working on him in the prison, He got him out. And once again Joseph rose to the top so that by the time the land is deep in famine, he is in charge of all the storehouses in Egypt. He has the power to destroy or to honor those who work for him and anyone who appeals for help. And everyone, Egyptians and the rest of the nearby world, come to him for help. Including his brothers.
This is the big moment. This is when we will see the underbelly of his character. Is he still angry? Nursing an old grudge at the betrayal by his family? Has his heart turned to false gods and practices of a foreign land while he’s been away from his own heritage and his own people? Has he stayed true to God and the faith of his father, Jacob, his grandfather, Isaac and his great-grandfather, Abraham?
“You meant it for evil,” he tells his brothers when he has revealed who he is and they are begging for mercy, “but God meant it for good.”
I wonder. How much trauma and loss would I have to go through before I totally gave up in self-pity? What if I was ripped from everything I knew and it was seventeen years before I saw any of my family again? How would my everyday vision in those long years have to be changed so that I could see that God meant it for good? For me. For the people my life effects.
Joseph is the guy who shows us what it means to truly believe and to fully trust in God, even when there appears no end to the nightmare. Is it any wonder that when his brothers finally came to him, he broke down in tears and moaned and lamented so loud that all the neighbors heard and Pharaoh sent word to find out if he was ok?
One last thought. By the time Joseph is a power in Egypt, married with children, he is no longer telling about dreams from God. He is living the dream from God. The fulfillment is right in front of his eyes, yet there is no boasting. No, I told you so. There’s just joy to be with the family he hadn’t seen in seventeen years. Oh, and he keeps on doing the job God sent him to do. He saves the newly formed Israelite nation from being wiped out by a famine. Now that’s living out the potential God gives.