Sunday, January 24, 2010

Joseph

Joseph may be my favorite historical person from the Old Testament. His story affects me more deeply the older I get.

Joseph is the almost youngest son (his full-brother Benjamin is the last born) of Jacob/Israel. He is the firstborn son of Jacob's favorite wife, Rachel, and it is obvious from the beginning - to everyone - that Joseph is his father's favorite son, too.

Israel's obvious favoritism leads to jealousy among Joseph's ten older brothers and ultimately to Joseph being sold into slavery by them.

I've heard his life interpreted two ways.

First, Joseph is an arrogant brat who needed years of slavery and imprisonment to squash the "holier-than-thou" out of him. This is supported by the "coat of many colors" given to him by his father, his regular tattling on his older brothers, and the prophetic dreams he relates to his entire family that sort of become the spark that sets fire to his current life. Without his tempering, Joseph would never have been able to forgive his brothers and save his family.

Second, Joseph is an exceptional guy, doing his best for God in extremely difficult circumstances beyond his control. This is supported by the fact that he cannot control how his father treats him, every time he moves into a new situation God prospers him, and he is continually escaping the worst possible consequences (slavery instead of murder, imprisonment instead of death, vizier over Egypt instead of, well, anything else) and instead moving up in the world with each life change. He is obviously trusted completely by his masters and they prosper as a result. This is not typical of brats, who tend to irritate strangers and bring all manner of grief on themselves as a result (I know whereof I speak).

David Jeremiah is the only one I've heard give the second option, but David Jeremiah is a compassionate guy. He's the only person I've ever heard cut King Saul some slack, too.
Most preachers assume Joseph starts as a jerk and changes to a hero.

Maybe.

I'm a brat, and God continues to temper me. Thankfully my brothers never tried to kill me, but I've been assured that was because of the threat of our father, not any particular merciful sentiment on their parts.

I was pretty awful.

But Joseph, whether he begins as a brat or not, shows one of the most forgiving spirits in the history of the world. His love for his brothers is genuine. When he recognizes his brothers but they don't recognize him, it hurts him. He feels their guilt over what they did to him and that hurts him, too. He understands how God used them, and doesn't hold it against them. That's forgiveness.

If you get the chance to hear David Jeremiah's sermon series on Joseph, take it. It will change your perspective of this famous man who saved the world during seven years of famine. Hopefully it will strengthen your perspective of his God, who showed the ultimate forgiveness on the cross and saved the world from ultimate death, if it will only accept the gift.

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