For anyone who has undertaken to read through the Bible in a year, or listen to it (as with the #DailyAudioBible, which I recommended earlier in the year), has undoubtedly encountered the story of Joseph. For those new to the Bible, this Joseph isn’t the earthly father of Jesus (who doesn’t appear on stage until the New Testament). This Joseph is the eleventh of the 12 sons of Jacob (a.k.a. Israel). The saga of Joseph is important enough that it spans the last 14 chapters of the book of Genesis, beginning in chapter 37.
Joseph’s story doesn’t have the greatest beginning. Through a combination of Joseph’s arrogance as a youngster (telling his older brothers about his dreams that they would one day bow down to him) and less than stellar parenting by Jacob (in which he blatantly declared that Joseph was his favorite by making him a fancy coat–of the “Technicolor Dreamcoat” fame), his brothers ended up hating him. They flirted with killing him, but ended up selling him into slavery and told their father, Jacob, that he had been killed by wild animals.
Joseph gets bought by Potiphar, captain of the guard for Pharaoh, king of Egypt. God seems to bless Joseph, and the success he enjoys propels him to become the head of Potiphar’s household. But then everything seems to fall apart again. Joseph has become a good-looking young man, and he has also matured. Potiphar’s wife tries to coax him into bed. In a display of considerable maturity for an 18-year-old, he tells her no, saying it would be a sin against God and the wrong thing to do to Potiphar. But his reward for doing the right thing is getting thrown in prison when Potiphar’s wife lies about what happened.
Although he has a chance to get out, people let him down again, so he’s stuck in prison for several years. While there, he seems to be blessed again, to the point where he is in charge of the prison. He finally gets an opportunity to get out when he’s asked to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. He says he can’t do it, but God can. Pharaoh likes Joseph’s/God’s interpretation and associated plan so much that he appoints Joseph to be second in command and in charge of all of Egypt.
Seven years later, a severe famine strikes the world, which Joseph had predicted in his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, and prepared accordingly. And wouldn’t you know it? A couple years into the famine, his 10 older brothers show up and bow down before Joseph, begging to buy grain so they and their families won’t die. Joseph’s arrogant dream from so many years ago comes true! They don’t know it’s him yet because they don’t recognize him, but he knows it’s them.
After some time, Joseph finally reveals to them that he is the brother they had sold into slavery. Joseph is a powerful man and could have them tortured or killed. He may have been right to do so, after what they had done to him. But instead, he shows them grace. None of them deserves this–that’s why it’s called it grace. At the end of it all, Joseph is also reunited with his father, Jacob, and his younger brother, the only brother from his mother. They all move down to Egypt, where there is food. And because of Joseph’s high standing with Pharaoh, they are well regarded and taken care of.
What’s the point of all this?
Joseph could have been bitter. He could have been angry toward God and toward his brothers. As hard as he had tried, he couldn’t sustain any pattern of success, at least not by worldly standards. And for a long time, his life sucked. But instead of feeling sorry for himself or shaking his fist at God, he did the best he could in whatever situation he found himself. Since there is no mention in all 14 chapters of Joseph feeling abandoned by God, we can safely assume that he continued to trust God despite all the evidence, prolonged over years, that might have turned so many people into depressed, militant atheists.
Near the end of this epic saga, right after Jacob dies, Joseph’s brothers again fear that Joseph will retaliate for the way they had mistreated him in his youth. Joseph reassures them that he will do them no harm, telling them, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20, NIV)
I wonder at what point during his decades-long odyssey Joseph arrived at that conclusion, that God had orchestrated the whole thing in order that the sons of Jacob, which would go on to become the 12 tribes of Israel (and the lineage of Jesus), would survive the 7-year famine that plagued the earth.
At what point in our own journeys should we take the long view that, no matter how crappy and challenging things get, God has a plan for each of us as He guides us along our winding paths, which always seem to be shrouded in a misty fog if we try to peer more than a day ahead? And how many other people will be impacted, or even saved, because we persevere, clinging desperately to the outstretched hand of our loving Savior and King?