We’ve been up to our ears in the Genesis story of Joseph this month. I just finished my fifth year of Bible Study Fellowship (shameless plug: www.bsfinternational.org. They have classes for all ages and in most cities. Life changing.) and this year’s study was Genesis. Our church has gone through a sermon series on Joseph and my husband is preaching on Joseph this weekend.
Last weekend we watched an animated Joseph movie with our kids. Everett has been loving the stories of Joseph from his kid’s class at BSF. At the beginning of the movie the kids were mesmerized as Joseph’s brothers circled around him, taunting him and threatening. They dumped him in the pit and Haley’s chubby toddler hands covered her eyes. ”Cary! Cary” (“Scary” in Haley speak.)
“They’re the meanest brothers ever!” My older kids proclaimed.
Then Everett chimed in. ”No guys! It’s okay. God wantsJoseph to go to that other country. It’s not scary. Watch. Watch. It’s supposed to go this way.”
So we watched, popcorn in hand (and on the floor. I have four young children). The entire time, Everett’s words kept coming back to me.
I spent a lot of time imagining what I would do as Joseph. I imagined being thrown in a pit by traitorous brothers and what my prayers would consist of. Probably a lot of, “Get me out of this pit, God! Justice! Fairness! Rescue me!”
I imagined the wallowing if I were sold into slavery as Joseph was. “Why God? I don’t deserve this! All I ever wanted to do was obey you and make good choices. How did I wind up here? Clearly this can’t be your will. Am I being punished? Get me out of these circumstances.” If not literally escaping, surely in my mind I’d be escaping.
Instead, “The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority.” Gen. 39:2-4
Joseph took the “wallowing over my circumstances” energy and instead poured it into God’s presence, into developing discipline, into managing a household and proving himself trustworthy. He put his hand to the work there was to do instead of obsessing over God fixing it his way. (Side note: he wasn’t just mustering up a decent attitude… notice “The Lord was with Joseph” in bold. That’s his secret.)
As Joseph works his way up in prominent official Potiphar’s house and proves his integrity, he is falsely accused when Potiphar’s wife seduces and then accuses him. The incident lands Joseph in prison.
If I would be a wallower as a slave, certainly I would digress to sniveler as a prisoner. ”God?! What are you doing? Haven’t I been through enough? I honor you and I land here?! Why? When are you going to fix it?” I would analyze. What decisions did I make to get here? Why isn’t God answering me the way I want? Why do a disproportionate amount of crazy things happen to me?
Instead, “the Lord was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing.” Gen 39:21,22
Joseph wasn’t focused only on prison, on getting out, on changing his situation. God’s presence and his own character were more important than the setting. He knew he was being shown mercy even though mercy wasn’t in the form of escaping his circumstances. He was able to show compassion to others instead of sulking in the cell corner.
When Joseph emerged from prison, he did so to interpret Pharaoh’s dream. He told Pharaoh straight up, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.” God gave Joseph an interpretation for Pharaoh; a game plan for the seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. Pharaoh marveled, “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God?”
Boom. Suddenly Joseph’s wearing the signet ring, riding in a chariot, watching Egyptians bow to his humble Hebrew face.
Everett’s words resonated with me because I can read Genesis and see how God orchestrated all things for Joseph’s good. I can see what Joseph couldn’t from the bottom of that pit. God used traitorous brothers to get Joseph to Egypt, which He had a plan for. God used slavery and prison to cause Joseph to depend on Him and know Him. He used it to shape him into the strategist who would save Egypt from famine. He used it to give Joseph empathy for others, to give him the humility he would need for his future leadership.
I can see that God used Joseph’s circumstances to develop the nation of Israel, to bring the twelve tribes to Egypt as was prophesied, and ultimately to save them too from famine.
Joseph was a bright guy. He had been through a lot and he saw God’s hand in it. Because of His confidence in God’s providence (and through God in him) he was able to forgive and reconcile with his brothers. He tells his brothers, “do not be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.” Gen. 45:5 He didn’t get hung up on the circumstances his brothers wrongfully caused. He believed even the ugly was used for the important.
In Joseph’s lifetime he didn’t even get to see the big, big picture. He had no idea people would use his reconciliation, deliverance, and provision for his brothers to point to Christ- the ultimate Reconciler, Deliverer, and Provider. He had no idea God would use his position in the story of building His people or that we would be learning from it thousands of years later. But he trusted. He trusted and did what God required of him.
Oh… if I were Joseph…
How many times have I obsessed about my circumstances instead of asking the Lord what He requires of me within them? How many times have my prayers stopped at begging for relief instead of continuing on to ask Him to create in me dependance and trust? How often do I see my circumstances merely as circumstances and miss that there might be eternal significance? How quickly do I look for an out instead of resting in the Lord was with Shilo? Are my eyes open to His mercy or am I too busy trying to claw my way out of the pit?
Last night the I-5 bridge over the Skagit River collapsed, 45 minutes south of our town. Both of my brothers live within minutes of it and my dad pastors a church half a mile from it. After checking to make sure our family was safe, we sat glued to the news, praying for the situation and cringing at how bad it might be.
Darla turned to me with blue eyes wide. ”But, Mom? God let that happen so that means He can do something good with this. He’s going to… right?”
Wondering about possible people trapped under crushed metal, speculating what I would do with four non-swimmers in a rushing river with car seats to unbuckle, imagining the months ahead with our major freeway re-routed… I nodded. Here is where theology meets real life.
“Yes Darla. I can’t see ahead to know what God’s doing in this…”
I imagine the faces of brothers taunting, menacing, threatening Joseph- their faces suddenly looking like collapsed bridges, tornadoes, or debilitating illness. The brother’s scowls remind me of all the circumstances I’d like to erase, change, or escape.
“…but we don’t have to know how He’ll work to know thatHe’ll work.”
“No guys! It’s okay. God wants Joseph to go to that other country. It’s not scary. Watch. Watch. It’s supposed to go this way.”
Just throwing myself out there a bit...