“And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you.” ~Genesis 45:5
Logically, I know that I have not suffered very much at all at the hands of others. I have never been physically tortured or abused. I have never feared for my life.
Emotionally is a different story. It is often too tempting and too easy to take the small injustices I have suffered and hold myself up as a great martyr all should wish to help. I have those experiences and people in my life which have hurt me and feel I am justified in withholding forgiveness and grace. But Joseph is one example from Scripture of why I’m not justified in my actions.
Joseph’s story is found in the book of Genesis. He is the youngest of his brothers and the only son born to Jacob from his favorite wife, Rachael. During this era of history, it was a given in the culture that the first born son was his father’s favorite and would inherit most, if not all, of his father’s estate. But this was not the case for Jacob and his sons. He favored Joseph, his youngest. (Genesis 37:3).
To say this caused some issues would be an understatement. In some ways, Jacob was to blame with his actions which made his preference for Joseph blatant to everyone. In some ways, the brothers were to blame because they didn’t deal with their growing envy and jealousy. And in some ways, Joseph was to blame because he didn’t do anything to share his good fortune with his brothers. Regardless of your favorite scapegoat in the story, the consequences of long term favoritism, bragging, and bitterness are felt for everyone.
Joseph has two dreams, one of 11 sheaves of wheat bowing before him, one of the sun, moon, and 11 stars bowing before him. For his 11 brothers, the meaning of the dreams is clear, and very unwelcome. (Genesis 37:5-10) So when an opportunity to be rid of their little brother presents itself, Joseph is sold to some passing Ishmaelites who eventually sell him into slavery in Egypt (Genesis 37:25-28).
Joseph has to start a brand new life. He must learn a new culture, a new language, He has to learn how to fend for himself without his father watching out for him. He has no way to contact his father to tell him he is alive. No reminders of home. No reason to assume anyone will ever care again if he lives or dies.
But he turns to God for strength, guidance, and wisdom and God takes care of him. He is placed in Potiphar’s house, the house of a high-ranking royal official. He rises through the ranks to quickly become Potiphar’s most trusted servant. In fact, Potiphar thinks so highly of Joseph he put him in charge of everything he had (Genesis 39:6). Do you have someone you would trust that much in your life? Joseph has overcome incredible odds to even still be alive let alone to be in such a powerful position in Potiphar’s house. A seemingly happy ending.
Until Potiphar’s wife decides to seduce him. While he honors the trust Potiphar has put in him and, not only avoids her eventually fleeing from her, he is still thrown into prison as a result of wrongful accusations. He finds himself having to begin again when it comes to figuring out how he will survive. And once again, God is with him as he finds favor with the prison guards and is eventually put in charge of the other prisoners. While being in prison is never ideal, being at the top of the totem pole is the best position to be in while you are there (Genesis 39:6-20).
A glimmer of hope appears when two royal servants who found themselves in prison discover Joseph is able to tell them what their dreams meant (Genesis 40). But it would be 2 more long years before the cup-bearer would remember his promise to Joseph. And then he only remembers because, like he once experienced, Pharaoh had a dream which troubled him. After being wrongfully imprisoned for several years, Joseph could have easily been angry with God, mad at the world, and looking for revenge. But we don’t see that. We see someone who has continued to trust God and is ready to give credit to God for his ability to speak the meaning of dreams to people (Genesis 41).
Because of this, Joseph is given the chance to begin yet again in his life. This time as a trusted adviser to Pharaoh. Once again, those in power see how GOD has blessed Joseph and as a result, put Joseph in charge of everything. He is second only to Pharaoh himself (Genesis 41:38-39). But God wasn’t done with the story. You see, God still had to answer an important question: What happened to Joseph’s brothers? By now, it has been at least 20 years since Joseph has seen from or been in touch with any of his family. Do his brother’s regret what they have done? Have they experienced any consequences? What would Joseph do if he were come face to face with them again?
So God brings them before Joseph seeking food because they have been affected by the famine. Joseph learns his father is still alive, he has a younger brother he has not met, and eventually is able to re-establish a relationship with his family and save them from starvation (Genesis 42-45). Joseph and his family get the ultimate chance to begin again in their relationships with each other. They get the chance to learn from their mistakes and do better.
Joseph’s story is filled with major points to begin again. Few of us will experience such extreme points of starting over in our lives. But Joseph’s example can help us remember two key points for when we do find ourselves starting over:
God is always with us. Joseph could have easily chosen to more fully assimilate into the Egyptian culture by worshiping their idols and turning his back on God. Instead, he held onto the faith his parents taught him and God blessed him and those who worked with him because of his faithfulness. So hold onto God when life brings you back to square one and trust God to be working in the midst of everything you experience in this life no matter how many times you have to begin again.
God can and will redeem whatever you have been through. Joseph acknowledges this when he finally speaks to his brothers and reveals how God has used his journey to save his family. God’s plan isn’t for suffering and sorrow in our world but he will redeem it if we put ourselves in a position to allow redemption to happen.
Take the time to read the story of Joseph and his family in Genesis. It’s longer than most of us realize covering 13 chapters of Genesis. Read one or two chapters each day this week and ask God to reveal some new insight or detail you have not noticed before in the story.
Joseph isn’t completely blameless when it comes to the hatred his brothers initially felt towards him. Take some time to search your heart. How have you contributed to difficult relationships in your life? How can you take steps to repair those relationships before they result in revengeful actions? How can you put yourself in a position where God is able to redeem the situation or relationship?
A key part of Joseph’s survival and eventual success is his diligence and trustworthiness. In what ways are you diligent to do the work God places before you in a high quality, trustworthy manner? How do you not only listen to God, but put what he tells you into action so that others may also be blessed by what God is directing you to do?