Joseph Receives his Brothers, by Gustav Dore (1832-1883)
(…continued) Sold by his brothers into slavery, Joseph is carried away to Egypt. There, he spends many years as a slave, and then, in jail after being falsely accused of a crime. He, of all people, could blame his misery on his childhood; and there were plenty to blame– his brothers, certainly, and also his father, and, Joseph himself contributed to the conflict.
But blame never becomes the central element of this story, because there are far more interesting things going on. Joseph’s thoughts on the whole matter are not revealed until the very end, fourteen chapters later. In the meantime, the writer tells us nothing of what Joseph is thinking, only what he is doing. In spite of the poor hand he was dealt by his brothers, Joseph makes the best of a bad situation. Joseph works hard, rises through the ranks of slaves, and is soon in charge of all his master’s business. Then, there is a setback. He is falsely accused of trying to rape his master’s wife, and is sent to prison. There, he also works hard, does well, and, is soon in charge of the administration of the entire prison. Joseph, who was an arrogant brat at age seventeen, grew and matured, and in the chapters following this first chapter of the story, his behavior is noble in every way. God is with Joseph, and he is given the ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh, the ruler over all of Egypt, hears of this gift, and sends for him. The king is pleased with Joseph, and Joseph, in just one day, is promoted from being a prisoner in the dungeon, to being second in command over all of Egypt. But again, we hear nothing of what Joseph thought of all this. Earlier there was not a word of his despair or frustration, and now, not a word of his joy or gratitude. We hear only what Joseph does; and he continues to do great things, serving his masters well, and being extremely productive and successful in all his work.
In the end Joseph is reunited with his ten older brothers, and only then do we begin to see some of his emotions. He asks about his father Jacob and his little brother Benjamin. He has not seen either one for many years, and he weeps when he hears of them. Soon, Jacob and Benjamin join the happy reunion.
Not until years later, at the very end of the story, do we find out what Joseph thought of his life’s journey. Jacob has just died, and the brothers fear that Joseph will now seek revenge on them. But Joseph says to his brothers:
Do not be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, do not be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.
In those few words, Joseph expresses his thoughts on his incredible life. There are two amazing things about this reply. First of all, Joseph forgives his brothers. That is a godly act, considering how much suffering they caused him, and how he now had complete power over them. But not only does Joseph decide not to punish them, he chooses to continue to treat them and their children with all the finest that Egypt had to offer for the rest of their lives. The second thing Joseph does is he views his whole life from the perspective of his faith in God. Joseph does not even mention his own suffering, only the fact that God was able to work out his greater purposes through him. In all the previous chapters, the writer focuses on what a good worker Joseph is and all the great things he is able to accomplish. But here at the end, Joseph attributes everything to God’s grace. Joseph believed God was able to use the suffering in his life to accomplish a far greater good, working through him to save many lives. That is an amazing act of faith and good will.
As we look over the events of our own lives, we can view them from many different perspectives. I began by pointing out how popular it is nowadays to find someone else to blame. Another approach might be to blame God for what we believe is lacking or goes wrong. We might even consider our own blame or credit, although we usually get this all wrong too. Some folks are far too hard on themselves, and others refuse to take any responsibility for anything.
Joseph gives us a far better example. Joseph could have taken all the other approaches. He could have blamed his brothers. They sold him into slavery and were the most obvious culprits. Or, Joseph could have blamed his father for favoring him and turning him into such a brat. Or, he could have been hard on himself and blamed himself for flaunting his favored status and irritating his brothers. Or, he could have taken all the credit for working so hard and doing such wonderful things. Or, at the end, he could have just as easily blamed God instead of giving him credit, and he could have had his brothers killed. Joseph’s remarkable life could have been viewed in so many different ways. But Joseph chose to focus on God’s grace, and not on his own works. Joseph chose to view all what happened to him with gratitude, and not with resentment. And Joseph chose to forgive those who mistreated him, and not blame them.
Hearing and believing in God’s Word may not get you more money or better luck than your neighbor who pays no attention to God’s Word. But hearing and knowing and applying God’s Word to your life will give you something far more valuable than good luck or a comfortable life. It will give you the wisdom to understand life, and then to live life with gratitude, love, patience, faith, and, an eternal hope; rather than with blame and resentment and envy. If we, like Joseph (and like Clarence Thomas in yesterday’s meditation), can see things from the perspective of God’s grace, everything will look completely different. We will see life as it truly is and we will be able to “give thanks in all circumstances.”
I Thessalonians 5:16-18 — Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.
Romans 8:28 — We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
Genesis 50:19-21 — Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
Lord God, in whom we live and move and have our being, open our eyes that we may see your fatherly presence ever about us. Teach us to be anxious about nothing, and when we have done what you have given us to do, help us, O God, to leave the outcome to your wisdom, knowing that all things are possible to us through your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.
–Richard Meux Benson (1824-1915)