Many of us have had experiences that we would like to forget and some that keep us up at night. Maybe they were things done to us while we were children or adults or maybe while we serving in some capacity. Despite the circumstances those memories will always be with us. How we view these experiences can have a lasting affect. There is a story in the Old Testament that may offer a helpful perspective.
The story is about Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob. Jacob is also known as Israel; God changed his name to Israel when he entered into Bethel in Canaan with his eleven sons (Gen 35:10, ESV). It is also worth mentioning that Joseph’s mom, Rachel, died giving birth to Joseph’s younger brother Benjamin.
Some may consider Joseph to be an optimistic kid. It seems that no matter what happened to him he always looked at the bright side. But, there is something more meaningful going on. His story begins when he is 17 years old. The Bible says that he was his father’s favorite son (Gen. 37:3, ESV) and that his father gave him a cloak that had many colors. Joseph also would snitch on his older brothers when they were disobedient to their father. Needless to say there was bad blood between Joseph and his older brothers. Then Joseph had a couple of significant dreams and when he described them to his family, it caused a greater division between and him and his brothers. The dream basically placed Joseph as head over his father and brothers.
Then one day Joseph was sent north (approx. 40KM) by his father to check on his brothers. His brothers saw him approaching and devised a plan to kill him. But instead of killing him they threw him into a pit and eventually sold him into slavery. Knowing that they would have to face their father, they also kept his multi-colored coat and smeared it with animal’s blood to convince their father that he was killed by a wild animal. This brought a tremendous amount of grief on his father, Jacob.
Joseph was sold to the Egyptian Captain of the Guard, named Potiphar. Although Joseph had fallen on hard times the Bible says, “the LORD was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:2a, ESV) and that he found favor in Potiphar’s eyes; this resulted in Joseph becoming overseer in Potiphar’s house. Joseph was a handsome young man and he caught the eye of Potiphar’s wife, who wanted to seduce him. Joseph’s response was Godly: “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Gen. 39:9b, ESV) But Potiphar’s wife was relentless, she took an opportunity to corner Joseph and seduce him again when no one else was home. And when Joseph tried to escape she grabbed a hold of his outer garment and he ran out of house. She devised a lie and told her husband Joseph tried to rape her. Potiphar was so angry that he threw Joseph in prison.
Again, “the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Gen 39:21, ESV). Joseph was promoted in prison to be in charge of all the prisoners. Some time after, two men who served Pharaoh (the cupbearer and the baker) committed a crime and were thrown in the same prison. They each had a dream and Joseph offered to interpret the dream. He interpreted their dreams and before they left Joseph told the the cupbearer to remember him. Joseph’s interpretation of their dreams came true, but the cupbearer forgot Joseph, for another two years.
Reflection: Can you think back to a time when you have been wronged? How did you respond? Did you want justice? Were you left with confusion and frustration? Did you respond in kind? Certainly, Joseph had reason to respond to his situation with frustration: He was one of the sons of Israel, God’s chosen people, yet time and time again his circumstances grew grim. At this point in life I think I would have lost hope. Fortunately, Joseph’s story doesn’t end there.
Two years after the cupbearer forgot Joseph Pharaoh had a couple of dreams. The Bible says that Pharaoh couldn’t find anyone to interpret his dreams, not even his Egyptian magicians. Then the cupbearer remembered Joseph and informed Pharaoh that there is someone that could help. Pharaoh called for Joseph and asked if he could interpret. Joseph responded, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:16, ESV) Joseph continued to give God the glory. Pharaoh’s dream meant that Egypt would be blessed with seven years of abundant harvest followed by an earthly famine the world has never seen. Joseph had recommended storing up one fifth of the harvest once a year for seven years and when the famine strikes Egypt could sell the stored grain to all the earth. Pharaoh was so impressed that he pardoned Joseph’s sentence. He said “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” (Gen. 41:39-40, ESV) Pharaoh made Joseph second in command over all of Egypt. Pharaoh also said, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” (Gen. 41:44, ESV). The Bible says that Joseph was 30 years old when he was promoted second in command over all of Egypt.
Seven years of abundant harvest had passed and Jospeh fathered two boys. Now came time for the famine. Although God had greatly blessed him, Joseph never forgot what his brothers had done. He was so affected that when his brothers came to purchase grain he accused them of being spies. His brothers did not recognize him and denied it. They were genuinely there to purchase grain and they explained to Joseph that they had left their younger brother home with their father (Jacob). Then Joseph devised a plan to have them bring their younger brother (Benjamin) back to Egypt. After they returned with Benjamin, Joseph divulged his true identity and his brothers were flabbergasted. Eventually, the whole family was reunited in Egypt and Joseph’s father (Jacob) wept with joy. After Jacob’s death his older brothers were worried that Joseph would retaliate for what they put him through. They said, “Your father gave this command before he died: ‘Say to Joseph, “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, because they did evil to you.”’ And now, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” (Gen. 59:17-18, ESV). Joseph answered, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” (Gen. 59:19-21, ESV).
How does Joseph’s story relate to us? God had a plan for Joseph. God has a plan for us. I will always remember the difficult times in my youth, as well as my military career. I will always remember my failures as a husband and father. But one thing I have learned: despite my failures, God is faithful. “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” (James 1:2-5, ESV)
James is saying that when we go through trials (and we will) we may lack wisdom, we should ask God and He is faithful to give us wisdom. The Apostle Paul is pointed in saying “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.” (Romans 8:28-29, ESV)
We were created by God. And although trials may come, we have options. We can either choose to isolate or seek wisdom from the God who made us.