Wednesday, July 13, 2016

God's Plan is Bigger Than Joseph's

Over the last couple of weeks, the blog has taken a different turn as it has focused more on my own brokenness and problems I have been dealing with and less on our character studies of our Biblical heroes. I thank everyone who may be reading for bearing with me. My grandmother’s health is currently stable but we have a long arduous road ahead.
Getting back to form; let’s shift our focus back to studying Joseph.  Some of what follows will be a review from a couple of weeks ago. While Joseph’s story is remarkable, many of his struggles are the same things we deal with today.
Ever been at your lowest point, not real sure how to deal with your problems and some well-meaning Christian reminds you that it’s all part of God’s plan? Those words can bite. Why is it God’s plan for me to suffer? Why is God’s plan so painful? There is simply no way to see God’s plan in your current circumstances.
A few weeks ago as we looked at Joseph’s afflictions we were able to see God’s hand of provision there for him the entire time even when he probably felt like he was all alone.  As Joseph went from favorite son, to slave, to prisoner it was probably very difficult to even think that what was going on was all part of God’s plan.  God’s plan was bigger than Joseph and his current situation. Around 200 years before Joseph was born, God had already told his great grandpa what was going to happen.
“And God said to Abram, “Know for certain that your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, where they will be enslaved and oppressed four hundred years. But I will also judge the nation whom they will serve; and afterward they will come out with many possessions” Genesis 15:13-14.
God’s larger plan was probably the furthest thing from Joseph’s mind while he was in prison.   He was sitting in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. It had been 13 years since his brothers had sold him into slavery; I am sure the last thing he wanted to hear at the time was that it was “all part of God’s plan.”
Two years prior Pharaoh had thrown 2 of his officials; a cupbearer and a baker into the prison Joseph was in.  I imagine Pharaoh had a bad meal and became sick. He had to blame either his cupbearer who had allowed him to drink poison or the baker who had cooked him a bad meal.   Neither of the officials slept well that night and both had disturbing dreams. Joseph was able to help them both understand their dreams. Joseph predicted that the baker would be put to death and the cupbearer would return to his job.  Again, using my imagination I can picture Pharaoh dealing with his food poisoning for a day or so than launching an investigation to figure out which one of his servant had tried to kill him.  I would love to see a special CSI: Ancient Egypt to see exactly what processes he used to finally determine the baker was guilty. Whatever the process, Joseph had interpreted the dream correctly, the baker was dead and the cupbearer was back on the job tasting pharaoh’s drinks.  Joseph did ask one favor in return from the cupbearer:
14 But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 15 I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.’ Genesis 40:14-15
Despite Joseph being completely right about his fate, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph. He left him them to languish for 2 more years.  Finally, one night Pharaoh had 2 dreams that disturbed him greatly. He called for all of his magicians to help him interpret the dreams. Keep in mind we aren’t talking about Chris Angel type magicians; these were highly intelligent people who were trained in magic arts of the day but also were trained in dream interpretation. They likely had interpreted many dreams for Pharaoh.   They were completely stumped this time though.  It was then, after watching all the wise men fail and watching Pharaoh grow more and more uneasy that the cupbearer finally remembered Joseph. 
Now 30 years old with nearly half his life spent as a slave and a prisoner Joseph was getting called before Pharaoh.  I am sure I would have wanted to take this opportunity to plead my case before the ruler of the land. Let him know my circumstances. Or at least bargain with him; “Sure, I can interpret your dream, but in exchange I want my freedom.” Joseph didn’t do either of those things; in fact, he humbly interpreted the dreams, letting Pharaoh know that Egypt and the entire region could expect seven years of great prosperity followed by seven years of extreme famine.  Joseph didn’t stop just with the interpretation though; he also laid out a plan for Pharaoh.
33 ‘And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.’ Genesis 41: 33-36
The king liked the plan so much that he immediately implemented it, and chose Joseph to be the “discerning and wise man” in charge.  Pharaoh gave Joseph an Egyptian name and an Egyptian bride. He clothed him in the clothing of an Egyptian ruler and had him adorned with fine jewelry. Joseph even rode around in Pharaoh’s chariots.  He was kind of a big deal.  
The prosperous years were great! Joseph implemented his plan and the Egyptians looked like serious doomsday preppers, they put away some serious stores of food getting ready for the hard times that were to come.  When the hard times started Egypt was ready, but much of the neighboring region was not. This leads us to Joseph finally being reunited with his brothers.
 The famine had gotten bad in Canaan; Jacob and his family were feeling the effects. Word got around that there was grain to be bought in Egypt and Jacob’s boys went to go buy some. They had left their youngest brother Benjamin at home to take care of their now elderly father.  There were people there from all over the region each having to see the Viceroy (or Governor) of the land to make their purchase. That Viceroy was Joseph.
This is where the story gets intriguing to me. Here stood ten of Joseph’s brothers waiting in line to buy food from him, he recognized them immediately. These are the same brothers who had sold him into slavery a few years prior. Whether it was because of the 22 years that had passed that had turned Joseph from a boy into a man, or whether it was the Egyptian garb he was wearing the brothers did not recognize him. 
I can only imagine Joseph’s thoughts. If it was me I would be thinking; what a great opportunity to get back at these jerks.   All the years of suffering Joseph had endured: the slavery, the imprisonment, being taken away from him home and his loved ones; now he was finally going to get his chance at revenge. He was governor over all of Egypt and these jerks were now in front of him wanting to buy food. He could trump up charges and have them thrown in jail. He could have them put to death.   Look at them, they didn’t even recognize him. They had probably forgotten all about him. They would remember him now.
When we feel like someone has wronged us and caused us pain it is easy to consider revenge. It is easier still to consider celebrating when bad things happen to them. We see from the next couple of chapters that Joseph struggles with this just like we do. 
Joseph did not speak directly to his brothers; he used an interpreter. He did not want to reveal himself. He accused them of being spies and put them in prison for three days. On the third day, he same to them with an ultimatum.
“I am a God-fearing man. If you do as I say, you will live. 19 If you really are honest men, choose one of your brothers to remain in prison. The rest of you may go home with grain for your starving families. 20 But you must bring your youngest brother back to me. This will prove that you are telling the truth, and you will not die.” Genesis 42: 18-20
The brothers decide to leave Simeon behind and take the grain and supplies back home. Scholars debate Joseph’s intentions here. Some suggest he is merely testing his brothers and means no harm to come to them.  While that may be the case, knowing their history, knowing what they already did to him, what confidence can he possibly have that they will come back for Simeon?  There is little in their history to think that other nine love Simeon enough to endanger Benjamin by bringing him back to the Viceroy. 
I wonder how Simeon must have felt being left behind. Wondering if he would rot in prison or be put to death; how much confidence could he really have in his brothers?
When they returned home and told their dad about the trip to Egypt and about having to leave Simeon behind, he was distraught. He was not in favor of sending them back for more food, especially with Benjamin.
38 But Jacob replied, “My son will not go down with you. His brother Joseph is dead, and he is all I have left. If anything should happen to him on your journey, you would send this grieving, white-haired man to his grave.[b]” Genesis 42:38
It wasn’t until the family was almost out of food that Jacob would even listen to an impassioned plea by Judah to go back to Egypt, get more food, oh yeah and rescue Simeon.  When the brothers finally arrived back in Egypt they were afraid. They didn’t know if they could trust the Viceroy.
I wonder if Joseph was surprised to see his brothers come back. I wonder if he was surprised their dad had let them bring Benjamin.  Joseph didn’t want to reveal himself, he wants to remain aloof; but seeing his brothers come back and seeing the baby brother he had never met caused him to really struggle with his emotions.
24 The manager then led the men into Joseph’s palace. He gave them water to wash their feet and provided food for their donkeys. 25 They were told they would be eating there, so they prepared their gifts for Joseph’s arrival at noon.
26 When Joseph came home, they gave him the gifts they had brought him, then bowed low to the ground before him. 27 After greeting them, he asked, “How is your father, the old man you spoke about? Is he still alive?”
28 “Yes,” they replied. “Our father, your servant, is alive and well.” And they bowed low again.
29 Then Joseph looked at his brother Benjamin, the son of his own mother. “Is this your youngest brother, the one you told me about?” Joseph asked. “May God be gracious to you, my son.” 30 Then Joseph hurried from the room because he was overcome with emotion for his brother. He went into his private room, where he broke down and wept. 31 After washing his face, he came back out, keeping himself under control. Then he ordered, “Bring out the food!” Genesis 43: 24-31
Joseph has now seen his little brother for the first time. He has found out his father is still alive and he is setting to dine with all of his brothers for the first time in 22 years. What a swirl of emotions he must have had; but he couldn’t show any emotions at all. He couldn’t even sit and eat with his family because Egyptians viewed Hebrews as lower class than them. 
To me, Joseph’s next move was a bit curious. As his brothers were preparing to head back home with the food they had purchased; he had his servants hide his silver cup in Benjamin’s travel bag. After giving the brothers a head start he then sent his guards after them to arrest them for stealing his silver cup. After bringing the brothers back before Joseph he decreed that whoever stole the cup would have to stay with him as his slave.
I find this curious because I am not sure how Joseph thought this would play out or what he hoped he would accomplish. Was he has still harboring anger and resentment for his brothers and this was the set up for his final payback. Was he hoping they would sulk off and leave Benjamin there with him so he could get to know his brother? Did he think they would try to fight him? Did he think this would shame them and they wouldn’t come back to Egypt? Did he consider how this would affect his father? Did he think Holding Benjamin as his slave would get his Dad to come to Egypt for a big suspenseful reunion?
I don’t understand his motives, but I can’t imagine he fathomed what would happen next. Judah, the same brother that had sold him so many years ago, the same brother who had so little regard for anyone else was now passionately pleading for Benjamin’s life and safety over his own. His long plea ended with Judah offering himself as a slave instead.
33 “So please, my lord, let me stay here as a slave instead of the boy, and let the boy return with his brothers.34 For how can I return to my father if the boy is not with me? I couldn’t bear to see the anguish this would cause my father!” Genesis 44: 33-34

This outpouring was more than Joseph could bear.  If he had a diabolical plan still in store for revenge on his jerk brothers watching Judah’s heart break in front of him had put it to rest. Judah was revealing his heart in a way Joseph couldn’t have imagined. 
I think Joseph knew God had a bigger plan the entire time, I believe in this moment he was finally sure of it. I believe that until this moment Joseph had doubts. He doubted he would ever see his family again. He doubted sometimes if God was there in his suffering. He questioned if God really had a bigger plan for him. I imagine he questioned right up to that moment what he would do to his brothers.  I firmly believe that in that moment Joseph’s doubts and questions ended. I believe he knew at that point that everything prior to that had been to prepare him to keep his family through the famine.  In that moment, Joseph understood that everything that had happened to him had all been ordained by God.

Joseph could stand it no longer. There were many people in the room, and he said to his attendants, “Out, all of you!” So he was alone with his brothers when he told them who he was. Then he broke down and wept. He wept so loudly the Egyptians could hear him, and word of it quickly carried to Pharaoh’s palace.
“I am Joseph!” he said to his brothers. “Is my father still alive?” But his brothers were speechless! They were stunned to realize that Joseph was standing there in front of them. “Please, come closer,” he said to them. So they came closer. And he said again, “I am Joseph, your brother, whom you sold into slavery in Egypt. But don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors.[a] So it was God who sent me here, not you!  Genesis 45: 1-8

The brothers would return to Canaan and bring their entire family back to live in Egypt even their dad, Jacob. Because of Joseph’s relationship with Pharaoh the family was given a prime spot to live and flourish in Egypt. They were safe from the famine and free to grow into the mighty nation God had promised they would be. God’s Plan was bigger than anyone could see.

Joseph didn’t want to hear about God’s plan when he was a slave or a prisoner. We don’t always want to hear about it when we are going through our tough times. His plan is always bigger and greater than we can possibly understand. Though Joseph finally grasped part of it, he still didn’t understand that his family would become slaves in Egypt. He didn’t know they would grow while serving in Egypt into a great nation. He didn’t know that one day through his family lineage a Savior would come and change our lives these thousands of years later.  Like Joseph it isn’t easy for us to see God in our current suffering, but it is important to know he is there and that he his plans are so much bigger than we could ever imagine.

The other lesson we can learn from Joseph in this encounter is about how to treat those who have wronged us. I have been wronged many times, but I have never been sold into slavery.  Joseph would have been totally justified in the modern eye to just totally go all savage on his brothers. If we were watching on TV we would even cheer for him as he trounced them.  We will never know where his plan was taking him; he may have trounced them and reveled in their destruction. Fortunately, God had worked in Judah’s heart and never allowed Joseph’s to grow hard. Instead of a great revenge story we get a great redemption and restoration story It is important that we have our hearts open to forgive our brothers and sisters too, no matter how difficult. No matter what others try to do to us; God’s plan is bigger.

20 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

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