Vol. 4, No. 12
~ Page 15 ~
Joseph had been humbled by his brothers and exalted by God (Genesis 37-50). Jealousy had prompted murderous notions among his kin, but cooler heads succeeded in lowering their presumptuous sentence to slavery. When serving faithfully and thereby exalted to a chief position in his master's house, Joseph was falsely accused and subsequently imprisoned. Serving well there, he rose to prominence even among the inmates. Upon interpreting dreams and patiently waiting, he was finally released from prison to become, of all things, second power in the land -- under only the supervision of Pharaoh himself. Indeed, "whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper" (Genesis 39:23b NKJV).
In full power of the food supply for Egypt and the surrounding world during the time of predicted famine, Joseph encounters those brothers who had started his outlandish journey into foreign lands and infamous circumstances. They came begging this Egyptian leader for food, but they did not yet know it was Joseph. He toyed with them a while, then could no longer contain his emotion. He "wept aloud," and with poignant bluntness tempered by curious humility made himself known: "I am Joseph; does my father still live?" (Genesis 45:2-3).
From this point, the brothers' reaction was quite predictable, but one could argue Joseph's was quite not. The brothers had already been hounded by their guilt (Genesis 42:21-22). Now, the one they sold and called murdered not only stood in their presence but also was in utter, life-and-death, control of their fate. It is no wonder Joseph's "brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed in his presence" (Genesis 45:3).
This point in the story is an appropriate time for pause and reflection. In Joseph's shoes, what might I do? Might bitterness rule my decision? Might revenge exact its ignoble lashes through the authority of my position?
This point is, further, a good stopping place to make more realistic application. I'll likely never be second in power in the world's mightiest empire, and I don't even have any brothers. But, is there something here to learn?
Indeed, there is, and it is found in Joseph's unpredictable reaction. Note what transpired between the brother and the bullies of days gone by:
And Joseph said to his brothers, "Please come near to me." So they came near. Then he said: "I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life. For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt." (Genesis 45:4-8)
How about that? Feelings of malice were so far removed from Joseph that he almost seems to thank them for their wicked treatment of him. What point of view could so steer the mental and emotional capacity of an individual?
In context, it appears that Joseph's grasp of the big picture freed his energies from wasteful preoccupation with the contrast between the rights he had deserved and the wrongs he had been done. Israel, the nation through whom the Christ would come to die and bless all, was just beginning. The leaders of the famous twelve tribes were none other than the brothers who did the selling. This famine was endangering their livelihood. Starvation is a slow and treacherous physical death to die. But, even more than the physical was at stake. The spiritual well being of the world was hanging in the balance.
One may reasonably argue that should these men have died off without progeny, God would have provided other means for sending his Son, but the discussion of such is totally unnecessary. Why speculate about what could have happened? Rather, be amazed, as Joseph was, at what God did! God had worked through the situation handed Joseph to bring about good. God has perfect foresight, and was able to save the Israelite nation from extinction even at its inception, when only very few of this race were alive. And Joseph, being in touch with God's will through his lifelong devotion, was able to set aside any pettiness (dare we even call it such? These were mean things his brothers did) and praise God for the good wrought even through his suffering. He looked at the big picture, and it saved him from the many errors that the bullies of malice and vengeance aim to impose upon conscience and ego.
So, here it is time for the second pause. Do I have a big enough view of time and God to save me from such mistakes? When people hurt me, am I able to avoid the petty backlashing and backstabbing that promises to feel so good, but really destroys more utterly than the initial offense? Am I able to leave vengeance in the hand of the Lord and go about my business trusting that he'll fulfill his promise to exalt the humble (James 4:10)?
May each ever remember that only God knows the big picture. Where I fit into the scheme of things may not be ascertained in earthly life. I am but duty-bound to obey God's commands and trust him to work things out for good (Romans 8:28).