Our best examples for life’s trials and lessons mostly come from the Bible. The stories are told without the hesitation of modern courtesy. We can be sure that God is honest with us. The characters are presented “undiluted” and “unpolished”. When we look at a large piece of history, like the story of Joseph in Genesis, we are transported in history to around 1400BC, mid Bronze age and the development of complex societies.
There lived the wealthy nomad called Jacob, son of Isaac and Rebecca and grandson to Abraham, who was called by God from the land of Ur in Chaldea to move with his household to Canaan, which God has ordained for a nation to be born. According to chapters 25 to 50 in Genesis, the house of Jacob was somewhat chaotic. His birth was difficult. He was the younger of the twins born to Rebekah after years of barrenness. Isaac prayed for her. God answered Rebekah’s prayer about the uncomfortable pregnancy and said:
“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)
It was the beginning of a lifelong strife between Jacob and Esau. Jacob’s deceit in stealing the blessing of the firstborn fueled generations of offence and repeated deception. Jacob was sent to Laban to work for him. There he met Laban’s two daughters, Leah and Rachel. He fell in love with Rachel and had to work seven years for Laban for her hand. The evening of their wedding, Laban deceived Jacob and sent Leah instead of Rachel as she was the eldest. Leah had four sons named Rueben (meaning: behold a son), Simeon (meaning: God heard and knows), Levi (meaning: joined or attached). In the names of her first three sons one can discern the great sadness in Leah that she was a pawn of her father in his greed to get Jacob to work for him longer – her heart longed for the love of her husband while she knew he wanted her sister.
By the time her fourth son was born, she looked to the Lord and named him Judah (meaning: praise). After another seven years Jacob marries Rachel but she is barren for many years. After a while she offers her slave to Jacob who bears him two sons. Leah does the same and her slave bears Jacob two sons. Leah bears him another two sons and a daughter, bringing the total for Jacob up to twelve sons and a daughter. This family is the foundation of the twelve tribes of the nation of Israel. In the process much hatred, deceit and offence rule in the house of Jacob. When Rachel falls pregnant and has Joseph, Jacob, very unwisely, favours him above all the rest, dresses him in a multi-coloured coat and sets him up to “spy” on his brothers and report back to him. He is the proverbial spoilt brat. With no sense of wisdom or tact, he tells his brothers the two dreams he had. One was of his corn sheaf being bigger than theirs and theirs bow down before his and the other was of the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him.
Jealousy rages amongst the brothers, which translates into a murderous plan, averted by Reuben, who suggests throwing him in a pit with the plan in his own mind to later go back and save Joseph. It seems that Reuben was not present when the other brothers decided to sell Joseph as a slave to Egyptian slave traders. The brothers deceive their father, Jacob by a lie about Joseph’s death and the chaos and strife increase. Years later Rachel has Benjamin – a comfort to Jacob in his old age but Jacob loses his beloved wife in childbirth. In Genesis 38, the chaos in the life of Judah is described in the incident with his daughter in law, Tamar. She was the first woman named in the genealogy of Jesus and serves as an example of the abused woman.
With Joseph presumed dead, the house of Jacob fades into depression, confusion and more deceit. It is summed up in Jacob’s last words over his sons in Genesis 49.
Whoever hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him. (1 John 3:15)
One might think for a moment that death and destruction are the only solutions to some of life’s hard situations. The entertainment industry might suggest instant justice followed by immediate sentencing could give the satisfaction that this broken and confused world needs. I do not judge all of history by this principle, but I think much bloodshed might have been avoided by the Kingdom principles that the church so often failed to apply. Love and forgiveness are always better, even when it does not seem like the best way.
Joseph’s story continues. He is sold as a slave and works in the house of Potiphar. He distinguishes himself as a trusted servant and is quickly promoted, so that he becomes known to Potiphar’s wife. He does not want to give in to her advances, is falsely accused of rape and lands in jail. He has no back-up, no family, no hope and is completely alone. From the teaching in his home, he knows God. He works hard, is trusted once again, but time goes by. After the interpretation of the dreams of the Pharaoh’s baker and butler, the butler is released and some for Joseph some hope is rekindled, but time passes and once again the future is bleak. He spends most of his twenties in slavery and prison.
Then comes the big break. Although the Bible does not say so explicitly, I imagine that Joseph has come to complete dependence on God. He is promoted to second in command of all Egypt, but this is not the triumphant end to the story. The end is the very complicated, emotionally draining road to reconciliation and forgiveness.
Jacob comes to Egypt in his old age to enjoy the presence of Joseph once again. What could have been the words between father and sons and the brothers amongst each other? We can only imagine. All we know is the timeless words of Joseph that concludes the story and is truly the happy ending to years of deception and woundedness.
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 45:7,8)
When Joseph spoke to his brothers, he spoke with heaven’s perspective. His mind was renewed. His thoughts and interpretation of all that has happened, was in line with God’s provision and grace. All the years of suffering worked together for good in the light of reconciliation and forgiveness.
This is the triumphant end to the story – a renewed mind, true insight, wise words and a sure calling– a life of excellence.
Mercy triumphs over judgment (James 2:13)