You may not think that you are an expert on the complex genealogies of the bible, but you probably know more than you think. For instance, you probably know that Moses and Abraham were key figures in the Old Testament. You probably know that those generations lead to these generations and I bet you know who the grandson of Abraham is if you have ever been to or heard about Broadway. Ring a bell? We’re talking about Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat. Right, we’re talking about THAT Joseph. There were two Josephs who figured prominently in the Bible and I bet you know who the other was. If you have ever seen that show you know that it has cowboys, sheep, Elvis and Donny Ozmond flying around on a wire, at least in the original version. What a distraction! Although this show was based on a biblical story, the real version is much more exciting and has lessons to learn as well as a healing, life message.
Joseph was actually the realization of an astounding prophecy that God gave to Abraham. He was, so to speak, the Old Testament incarnation of God’s word. He was the son of the son who Abraham almost slaughtered as an offering, in an act of total obedience to God. Images of Jesus yet to come! Joseph was the youngest son of Jacob in his old age, the baby boy, the miracle child! He was preceded by twelve brothers who would eventually spawn the Tribes of Israel. Therein lies the problem. It seems that in all of human history we have the tendency to repeat our same human nature over and over. Go figure. Joseph’s twelve brothers hated him! Joseph was the beautiful boy who was a visionary, literally. He could “see things”. His father so favored him that he even made him a gorgeous coat made of brightly dyed fabric. This was all the more reason to hate him. One of his visions included the sight of Joseph himself standing before twelve trees which were bowing down to him. A final straw, the last aggravation for the older brothers.
Joseph’s father sent him on a mission to find and gather his brothers who were away tending flocks in the remote areas of Canaan. Joseph obediently proceeded on his mission only to find a most uncordial welcome. The aggravated brothers plotted to get rid of him but for one brother who had some sense, they would have murdered him and disposed of the body. The errant brother convinced the others that the blood of murder should not be on their hands. They then tossed Joseph in a well and eventually hauled him out and sold him to a caravan that was going to Egypt just before he died down there.
Joseph’s odyssey continues in a way that could not be described as a “fun trip”. The caravan brings him to the foreign land of Egypt; Joseph is taken as a slave and thrown into the Pharaoh’s prison. So far he has not had many “good days”. But true to his reputation as a man of vision he continues to exercise his gift with no complaining or despair. Because of this, he eventually comes to the attention of the guards and then Pharaoh himself. Pharaoh has had a puzzling dream and calls the “man of vision” to assist him.
Despite all of his misfortunes, Joseph continued to focus on his abilities, not his problems. Upon his meeting with Pharaoh, once again, everything changes for him. Pharaoh shares his dream and receives unusual clarity from Joseph’s council. Because of this, Pharaoh has a clear understanding that this slave is close to God Himself and declares Joseph to be in charge of his entire household and second only to himself in all of Egypt. Not surprisingly Joseph proves to be a prudent and wise leader and increases Egypt’s wealth because of his visionary skill.
In his wisdom, Joseph stores 20% of Egypt’s abundant crops every year and as fate would have it a famine envelopes the entire world. All countries are literally starving except, of course, Egypt. Joseph is also a generous and compassionate man and is more than willing to share his surplus with people in desperate need. Canaan is starving and Jacob sends the murderous brothers to Egypt to beg for assistance. Much time has passed and Jacob believes Joseph is dead. When the brothers arrive in Egypt they do not recognize the grown man that Joseph has become, but he recognizes them! As a matter of fact, he is so overwhelmed at the sight of his family that he sends his servants away in order to weep in private. He holds no grudges but wants to make sure that the brothers recall that they have a baby brother that they have lost track of. They are sent back to their Father Jacob with instructions to return with their youngest brother. The family returns with the second youngest and sheepishly admits that they have a “youngest” that they have lost track of. In the emotional moment Joseph declares: “I am Joseph… is my father still in good health?” The brothers were literally dumbfounded. To his speechless brothers he continues: “I am your brother Joseph, whom you once sold into Egypt. But now do not be distressed, and do not reproach yourselves for having sold me here. It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you.” (Gn 45: 1-5)
In a sweep of generosity Joseph moves his Father, brothers and all their households of their tribes to Egypt, the land of plenty and safety. After many years Jacob dies and requests to have his remains returned “home” so that he can be buried next to Abraham and Isaac. Immediately the brothers panic. Now that their Father is gone Joseph could easily kill them with no repercussions. Once again they trump up a lie. They approach Joseph and tell him this: “Before your father died, he gave us these instructions: ‘You shall say to Joseph, Jacob begs you to forgive the criminal wrongdoing of your brothers who treated you so cruelly.’ Please therefore, forgive the crime that we, the servants of your father’s God, committed.” (Gn 50:20) Joseph does not even bat an eyelash and tells them: “Can I take the place of God? Even though you meant harm to me, God meant it for good, to achieve his present end, the survival of many people.” (Gn 50: 23)
There are so many comments we could make here; big picture versus small picture, the virtue of forgiveness, being so stuck in a way of thinking that you completely miss the blessings that God is desperate to give you, focusing on your current circumstances so that it stifles your ability to hear and do God’s will, and so on. But let us give full attention to Joseph. Throughout his extraordinary life he is not recorded as speaking one cruelty about others or any complaint against God’s unfairness. He never ceases to hone and practice the gifts that God gave him despite the fact that these gifts made some people mad or jealous. He never voices one complaint against his crazy family; he does not even consider dabbling in revenge or retribution; he does not gossip to others about how unfairly he has been treated; he does not tell his tale of woe over and over to anyone who will listen.
In short, there was really only one train of thought that occupied his thinking; how could he serve and how could he put his gifts to the service of others. Because of that, he was agile and able to respond to every opportunity that the Lord handed him despite the fact that some of the “opportunities” were couched in apparent disasters. Clearly, his thinking was not clouded with all the things that can distract us as humans. Real spiritual life is lived “in between the ears” and then manifested in the world. How’s your attitude? If God gave you a miracle wrapped in a disaster right now this minute would you be able to respond to it like Joseph did? Meditate on Joseph of the Old Testament. He possessed extraordinary survival skills which lead him to abundant prosperity with the gift of giving that to others with no strings attached.
Copyright © 2009, Kathryn M. Cunningham, all rights reserved. Learn more about Kathryn and her thoughts on practical spirituality at: www.atravelersview.org
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