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Weekly Message 12-07-08: Joseph


As governor of Egypt he saved many lives, including those of his own family, thus preserving God's people during a time of famine. Other than committing a youthful indiscretion of sharing dreams that made hiss brothers so deadly jealous of him, it is hard to find fault with Jacob's favorite and younger son, Joseph whose name means "May He, the Lord add." And the Lord did in fact add to his life because he submitted it freely for the use of our God. He never said, "You want too much of me, God!"

A dreamer and an interpreter of dreams he overcame serious adversity to rise to a place of prominence and power in the great land of Egypt. A great-hearted man, God blessed him with wisdom and success because of his faith response. To have been sold into slavery by his own blood brothers who hated him, and to have been imprisoned for a crime he did not commit, was a horror beyond horrors for this young man who was committed to God by Abraham's promise. To be reconciled with his brothers and reunited with his father and then to have been used by God to preserve their lives and the lives of many others is the glory which was his destiny that God's will, though he never really understood what was happening, might be fulfilled.

Shut up in the depths of an Egyptian prison, Joseph had time enough to mull over the events of his life. How his mother Rachel, had died giving birth to his younger brother, Benjamin, how Jacob, his father had favored him over his half brothers. How deeply his other brothers hated him for it.

In isolation of the damp corridors of a state prison, he recalled the handsome coat his father gave him and the dream that caused him so much trouble, the one he had foolishly interpreted and shared with his older brothers: "We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it." After that came another dream. "Listen," he had said, "I have another dream, and this time the sun and the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to me." Even his father scolded him. 'What is this dream you had? Will your mother and I and your brothers actually come and bow down to the ground before you?"

A short while later, the favored life Joseph had enjoyed since his youth was altered forever. It happened in an isolated field far from Jacob's watchful eye. Now, as he sat in his dungeon prison, the dreadful scene replayed itself across his mind.

He was just a boy, sitting at the bottom of a dry well, stripped of the robe his father gave him. He could hear his elder brothers plotting his murder and then changing their minds out of guilt, deciding instead to sell him to traders bound for Egypt. The fear, the sense of betrayal, the anguish of believing he could never see his father or his brother Benjamin again, the old emotions felt red and raw, as if they were brand-new again.

Even in Egypt he experienced God's favor. Hadn't he landed in Potiphar's household? Had not his work so pleased this captain of the guard that he had been placed in charge of everything Potiphar owned? But then Potiphar's wife cornered him, pestering him to sleep with her because she was overcome by his virility and youth? But how could he betray the trust of his master, how could he turn his back on what God taught him? Angered by his refusal, she accused him of raping her and Potiphar had him thrown into prison.

But even in the isolation of prison, Joseph experienced God's blessing, where the warden recognized his abilities and put him in charge of other prisoners.

Joseph's memories were suddenly interrupted by keys clanging in the lock. Pharoah had summoned him to court. He heard of Joseph from a former prisoner whose dream Joseph accurately interpreted.

"I had a dream," Pharoah told him, "and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can decipher its meaning." "I cannot do it," Joseph replied, but God will give Pharoah the answer he desires." Joseph proceeded to explain the dream that troubled Egypt's ruler, saying it predicted seven years of abundance followed by seven years of famine. Then Joseph advised him to store a portion of the food produced in the seven good years to prepare for the seven difficult years that would follow. Pharoah was so pleased by Joseph's wise counsel that he declared, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you." So Joseph became responsible for preparing Egypt for the coming famine.

The years passed just as Joseph said. Before long, famine struck a wide region of the world, including Egypt and the Holy Land. When Joseph's father, Jacob learned there was in fact food in abundance in Egypt, he sent every son, but Benjamin there to buy grain. As soon as they arrived, they bowed down to Joseph, the imperial governor without realizing who he was.

Pretending not to recognize them, Joseph accused them of being spies. In return for selling them grain, he took Simeon hostage, instructing his remaining brothers to prove their honesty by returning at a later date with their youngest brother, Benjamin.

Without realizing that Joseph could understand them, the brothers turned to each other in abject dismay, saying, "Surely we are being punished because of our brother Joseph. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen as our hearts were hardened; that is why this distress has come upon us." Joseph had to turn to hide his tears and the brothers returned home with the grain. Sometime later, after their food was nearly gone, they returned to Egypt, this time Benjamin accompanied them.

Joseph greeted his brothers warmly but instructed the steward to plant a silver cup in the bag of grain belonging to his brother Benjamin. In the morning, shortly after his brothers left to return home, Joseph sent a militia after them. His steward accused the brothers of stealing Joseph's personal silver cup. If it was found on one of them, that man, he assured them would become Joseph's slave.

When Benjamin was identified as the guilty party, he and his brothers were dragged before Joseph. But Judah pleaded with Joseph for mercy, saying, "If Benjamin is not with us when I go back to my father he will die of grief. Let me return here as your slave in place of the boy and allow the boy to return to with brothers to my father."

Judah's willingness to enslave himself for the sake of his younger brother broke Joseph's self­control. Weeping loudly, he exclaimed to them "I am Joseph, your brother! Is my father still living?"

Terrified by the realization the most powerful man in Egypt, save Pharoah, was the brother they betrayed and sold into slavery, his brothers were unable to speak. So Joseph calmed them. "I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into slavery into Egypt. Now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that our God sent me ahead of you to preserve for you a remnant on earth. You intended to harm me, but our heavenly Father intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So do not be afraid. I will provide for you and your children."

So Joseph was reconciled with his brothers and reunited with Jacob and his youngest brother Benjamin. The Patriarch Jacob moved his family to Egypt and his favorite son, Joseph lived to be 110 years old. Before Joseph's death he made the younger generation of his family promise to carry his bones out of Egypt when, he reminded them, God would take them to the good land he promised to their4 great grand-father, Abraham.

After suffering so much misfortune, Joseph prospered in remarkable ways, governing the land he entered as a slave and being then reunited with his family. It is almost a storybook ending in which the hero lives happily ever after. The blessing of God's hand was so firmly felt by Joseph that nothing could keep him down, neither the jealousy of his natural brothers, nor slavery, nor false accusations nor imprisonment. He was like that proverbial Ivory soap bar that keeps rising to the top no matter how many times it is shoved beneath the water.

Was there something about Joseph that made it easy for our God to use and bless him? Consider his position in Potiphar's palace and his response to the incredibly sinful and unfaithful wife in her attempt to seduce him. "No one is greater in this home than I am. My master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God, against him, against you and myself?"

Consider the first temptation of the first man, Adam. "The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the Lord God commanded the man, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it, you will surely die"' Genesis 2: 15 - 17. Like Joseph, Adam was put in charge of everything - fruit from a tree in Eden. But unlike Joseph, it was the one thing Adam could not refuse himself. He deserved it, he erroneously reasoned within himself. And his disobedience ruined him for paradise and profligately abused our inheritance. He cheated us out of what was destined for us.

It becomes again obviously clear that obedience is a key to experiencing God's blessing. A life of obedience, coupled with a life to which we are called, is similarly what enabled Joseph to provide deliverance for so many people. A life of obedience is what enabled Jesus to restore our relationship with our heavenly Father and open the gates of paradise. Exactly like our Saviour Jesus Christ and just like Joseph, we are all called to counter Adam's sin by living our life in loving obedience to God, realizing his blessings are a taste of the paradise which awaits us and for which we are by creation destined.

Already in his young life, Joseph is severely punished and severely chastised. What does his story tell us about the faithfulness of our God? Unlike Adam who gladly consented to eat of the forbidden fruit, Joseph resisted the temptation to take the one thing his master withheld from him. Let us think about all the good things given us by our God. Then let us ask ourselves whether we have been more like Adam or Joseph regarding the things He has withheld from us!

Joseph only forgives the crime of his brothers, but realizes it was our heavenly Father not they, who sent him to Egypt. What does this say about the faith of Joseph? About the surprising ways of our God?

In many ways the life of Joseph mirrors the story of the Old Covenant Chosen People as it will unfold in the future. Like Joseph, the Israelites will first be blessed in Egypt and then, cast into bondage as Joseph was unjustly cast into prison. Finally, through the leadership of Moses, they will be raised up again in the eyes of the Egyptians. But the life of Joseph also bears similarities to the life of our Saviour Jesus Christ. As we meditate upon it, what resemblances can we find between the two?

Remarkably the long ordeal of his life made Joseph not a victim, weakened by what he suffered, but a strong man, whose character and faith was forged from undeserved hardship. He was wise enough to lead a nation, big enough of soul to forgive his brothers, understanding enough to see that our heavenly Father was doing something far much greater and bigger with his life than merely giving him a "good life" free from struggle. Joseph reminds us of all these values and blessings we want in our own lives: heavenly grace from God for the sake of others. The book of Proverbs provides inspiration for us all, "The faithless will be fully repaid for their ways and the good man rewarded for his" Proverbs 14: 14.

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