Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Finding God's Glory: Slave, Prisoner, Dreamer, Ruler

Sometimes God’s glory is easy to see. Sometimes we are sitting on top of the mountain watching the most breathtaking sunrise and the entire world is going our way. More often than that, we find ourselves mired in sin, suffering or other circumstances that make God’s glory seem miles away.  As we have progressed through our Biblical heroes we have seen a lot of sin but we have also seen God’s amazing, redemptive power still uses sinners for His glory.  This week’s story, the focus isn’t about sin as much as it is suffering and circumstance and how God’s grace and His glory are still there even in the midst of it all.

I have been asked to share my testimony before and I have always said it wasn’t remarkable. I was about 7 years old when I walked down the aisle of an old country Baptist church. I read John 3:16 and accepted Jesus as my savior.  So, if you fast forward 30 something years, I guess you would expect everything from that point on to have been all smiles with nothing but peace and prosperity. If that’s what you expect you would be wrong. My testimony doesn’t necessarily speak to salvation as it does to God’s protection and provision.  My parents were probably too young to have kids when I was born, both of them had addiction issues at the time and both would spend time behind bars. I was passed around from grandparents to aunts and uncles, returning to my mom’s care every time she would “get her life together”.   I didn’t really know my dad until I was older. I remember having no food in the house at all. I distinctly remember the beginning of the month when we would get our WIC basket with off brand cereal, some fine yellow cheese, powdered milk, and that disgusting generic peanut butter. I witnessed more domestic violence and substance abuse than any kid should have to witness.  I truly believe everyone involved in raising me did the best they could at the time; however through no real sin of my own and despite putting my trust in God at a young age I often times found it very hard to see His glory. 

As I begin preparing for this week’s post looking at Joseph, I started to wonder if, because of his circumstances, he too didn’t often find it difficult to see God’s glory.  In looking at Judah in a previous post I talked a little bit about Joseph’s story, but nowhere near enough to do it justice.  In today’s post we are going to discuss some key events and how God’s hand of providence was there even when Joseph felt like it was miles away.

As far as background, Joseph was Jacob’s 11th son and his first son with Rachel, the woman he really loved. All of his other children had been born to Rachel’s sister Leah or to one of his concubines. Because of his love for Rachel, and because he had waited so long for Joseph, Jacob preferred him to all of his brothers.   Jacob’s favoring of Joseph was not a secret; all of his brothers could see it.  Even though he was the youngest, scholars believe at the age of 17 he was already put in a position of authority over his brothers. His dad had also made him a special coat that wasn’t just fancy to look at but also was likely a symbol of the authority he had over his brothers. 

“Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them”. Genesis 37:2b

When the Bible mentioned that Jacob brought back a bad report about his brothers some people immediately think this is referring to some type of childish tattle telling.  More likely this is more of a supervisor reporting back to the “big boss” about workers who were not behaving as they should be. Perhaps Jacob had put Joseph in the authority role, but his older more experienced brothers didn’t respect him or recognize his authority.  In any case between knowing their dad favored Joseph, being put under his authority, having to look at his special coat their dad made for him, the animosity grew between all the brothers to the point that they didn’t even speak to Joseph.

Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him. Genesis 37:3-4

Joseph didn’t ask his dad to love him more, he didn’t ask his brothers to hate him, but also didn’t help things either. I can see this 17 year old man-child relishing his role as favorite son. I can see him taking advantage of the authority he was given. His biggest issue though may have been he didn’t understand how much his brothers hated him.  Joseph had a dream, in the dream it indicated that he would reign over all of his brothers. Even after all the animosity was already present, Joseph excitedly shared his dream with them.

His brothers said to him, ‘Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?’ And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. Genesis 37:8

Perhaps Joseph was young and naive and thought his brothers would be super excited about his dream, maybe he was an arrogant jerk who wanted to rub their noses in it, or perhaps he just had no concept of how much jealousy and resentment they had for him; either way, he shared not just the one dream, but also a second dream that included his parents bowing down to him as well. This dream was enough to not just get an angry response from his brothers but also a rebuke from his dad as well. 

The next time the brothers took the livestock to graze, Jacob sent Joseph to go check on them. As a kid I think I envisioned Joseph just kind of bounding up full of teenage energy just kind of wanting to hang out. In truth the brothers were close to 70 miles away from home and Joseph was most likely being sent as a supervisor to check on them. He was to make sure they were grazing the sheep the right way and that they weren’t misbehaving. As we noted in some previous posts, based on some of their actions, they probably needed someone to check on them; however they didn’t want it to be Joseph.

As they saw him approaching all their hatred boiled over; I am sure they thought “here comes daddy’s little boy in his fancy little jacket to tell us how to do our jobs.” As we discussed in Judah’s story, the brothers first wanted to kill Joseph but eventually decided to sell him into slavery instead.  So now Joseph is stripped of his special coat and of his position of authority; he is taken from the home where he is loved and now becomes someone else’s property. That must be a pretty hard place from which to see God’s glory.

The traders who bought Joseph took him on to Egypt where they sold him to one of Pharaoh’s officials where he had become a household servant. On a side note I have not found any accounts where slave traders or slave owners in that time treated their slaves with any type of kindness or dignity. 

God’s providence was still covering Joseph because he rose quickly to a place of trust in his Egyptian Master’s home. Joseph worked hard and took care of everything his master wanted him to take care of. The household flourished and the master gave Joseph more and more trust and responsibility.  Joseph had again ascended to a position of authority and even though he was now a slave, he was treated well and given dominion over the other slaves. That is until once again circumstances turned against him as his master’s wife began trying to seduce him.

Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’
But he refused. ‘With me in charge,’ he told her, ‘my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care. No one is greater in this house 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?’ 10 And though she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her or even to be with her.” Genesis 39: 6-10

Like with his brothers Joseph tried to do the best he could with the authority he had been given; but again things seemed to happen to him that he couldn’t prepare for. After rebuffing her advances many times Joseph again found himself alone with his Master’s wife. This time she was more persistent, insisting he go to bed with her right then. In a moment of panic, Joseph ran away; but he left his cloak behind.

One day he went into the house to attend to his duties, and none of the household servants was inside. 12 She caught him by his cloak and said, ‘Come to bed with me!’ But he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house Genesis 39: 11-12

I am sure there is probably some theological thought about him leaving his coat/cloak behind every time something bad happens, but I am not smart enough to know what it is.  Angered about being rebuffed yet again and probably scared that someone would find her with Joseph’s cloak, the Master’s wife began to scream that Joseph had raped her. She claimed that he had left his cloak behind when she started to scream and resist him. Of course this made the Egyptian master extremely angry. He had trusted Joseph with his household and now he is being told Joseph raped his wife.
Surely one of Pharaoh’s officials could have had Joseph put to death. He was nothing more than a Hebrew slave who had disrespected him and defiled his wife. Some scholars believe the Egyptians actually believed Joseph, others believe he was embarrassed by the entire situation. For whatever the reason instead of having Joseph killed he threw him in prison.

Now through no real fault of his own, Joseph has gone from the favorite son of a rich man in Canaan to a slave and now to a prisoner in an Egyptian prison. Again these are tough circumstances from which to see God’s glory and provision. Joseph remarkably still wasn’t broken; he continued to always do his best and continued to serve the God of his father.

But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. Genesis 39:20-23

Joseph had once again made the most of his circumstances and had risen to a position of authority even amongst the prisoners.  Even being in a position of authority, he was still a foreigner in prison for a crime he didn’t commit, a place he wound up staying for many years. It must have been very difficult, but Joseph never lost sight of God’s glory and His provision, even though it would have been very easy to. 

While in prison, Joseph interpreted a dream from Pharaoh’s chief baker and his cupbearer. It was good news for the cupbearer, not so much for the baker.  The cupbearer promised Jacob he would remember him when he got out of jail, but he didn’t, not for another 2 years. Finally, when Pharaoh had a dream no one else could interpret, the cupbearer remembered Joseph.  After languishing in prison for many years, Joseph was called to interpret the dream.

So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’
16 ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’ Genesis 41:14-16

Joseph had not lost sight of God’s power and glory despite his circumstances. He was able to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and was not only granted his release from prison, but was also granted a position working as an official second only to Pharaoh himself.

39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 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.’ Genesis 41:39-40

This is a seminal moment in history for the Egyptians, and the Israelites. With Joseph having such a high position of power, he was eventually able to move his father and his brothers to Egypt. This was important for a few reasons. First it helped them survive the great famine that occurred at the time. Secondly because of their status as foreigners the Egyptians would not marry and procreate with the Israelites. This was important to help them build their faith in God and hopefully turn away from some of the behavior they had fallen into in their homeland. While living in Egypt, even though they eventually became servants Jacob’s family, the Israelites grew to be a mighty nation with a rich history and a deep culture. When Jacob and his family arrived in Egypt there were 70 in there party. A couple hundred years later the Bible says when the Israelites left Egyptian captivity there were more than 600,000.

Despite every negative circumstance, despite how easy it might have been to take his eyes off of God, Joseph was always under God’s grace and provision. When his brothers hated him, when he was a slave, when he was falsely accused of rape, and when he was a prisoner God was providing for him in ways he couldn’t even imagine.  In our lives we encounter so much hardship every day; it’s so easy to lose sight that God is still at work in our lives. It wasn’t easy for me to think God could use me when I was growing up as a poor son of an addicted mom and a broken family. It also isn’t easy to imagine He would want to use a slave that became a prisoner from a family that didn’t even want him.

He can use us regardless of our circumstances. His grace is always more than sufficient

Joseph dealt with a lot of circumstances but kept his eyes on God. We will look more at his life next week including how he sought to get a little payback at his jerky brothers.

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