Posts tagged Joseph
I can already tell that blogging through the New Testament is going to be a challenge. While the Old Testament writers often devoted multiple chapters to the same story arc, the New Testament writers, especially the writers of the gospels – the books about the life of Jesus – have a tendency to move a little more swiftly.
Here, in just four short chapters, Matthew moves us from the time prior to the birth of Jesus through his birth, baptism, testing in the wilderness, the calling of his first followers and all the way to the beginning of his public ministry. That’s around 30 years of history in the life of the most important man in history condensed to 4 chapters.
But you see, Matthew really wanted to cut to the chase. He wanted to get to the part where Jesus truly began to make a visible impact on the world around him. The rest, for Matthew, is background. But the background is important! In fact, Matthew takes great pains to make sure that the people of Israel (and, ultimately, we) can connect the dots.
He begins with a genealogy that traces Jesus’ lineage all the way back to Abraham – 42 generations. To us, this may not seem all that significant, but for the Jews, this was key to them receiving and understanding Jesus as the Messiah. The Messiah would come from the line of David and Abraham. If Jesus wasn’t from that line, then nothing else mattered.
Matthew then goes on, in several passages, to show how Jesus’ life fulfilled the prophecies about the Messiah from centuries earlier. He ties the virgin birth, the birthplace in Bethlehem, the time spent in Egypt, Herod’s killing of baby boys, the childhood home of Nazereth, the appearance and ministry of John the Baptist and Jesus’ ministry in Galilee – ties them all back to the prophecies found in scripture. Again, all of this in just 4 chapters.
There is so much more contained here, but I want to point out one series of events that has served as a guiding light and reminder to me throughout my life. They begin with Joseph, the “surrogate father” of Jesus. Joseph played a crucial role in God’s plan for the world – especially in those early years.
Just look at the obedience of Joseph and how it plays into the prophecies about the Messiah. We know from other accounts that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem for a census because it was Joseph’s hometown. Jesus, then, was born in Bethlehem, which fulfilled a prophesy. Joseph gave him the name Jesus, as instructed by an angel. Joseph then, after being warned in another dream, took his family to Egypt, which fulfilled another prophecy. Then, after beginning the journey back to Judea, he was once again warned in a dream and instead took his family and settled in Nazareth – fulfilling yet another prophecy.
You see, Joseph, by most accounts, is kind of a background player in the life of Jesus. But, as we’ve discovered, the background can be very important. Joseph’s role here seems to be that of unknowing prophetic tour guide, leading this baby Messiah down the path that God had already carved out for him. I have to wonder how many other times, in Jesus’ young life, Joseph was the guiding force, steered by the voice of God to lead and raise the child who would save the world.
Background is important. Bit players are important. Joseph, for me, serves as a constant reminder of that. I would rather play a bit part in God’s great story than to strive to be the star of a show he didn’t write.
Have you ever felt discarded? You know, like people would rather you not be around – perhaps even wish that you were dead? Now, have you ever had the opposite experience? Have you ever felt like people were falling all over themselves to welcome you? You know, that feeling of wondering what favor someone wanted to ask of you, because they were being way too nice to you.
Now, imagine that those two feelings came from the same person or group of people. That’s exactly what happened to Jephthah. Here was a guy who, because of who his mother was, had been discarded by his brothers. He had been driven out of his home town and wound up living in a place called Tob. His brothers probably felt pretty proud of themselves for getting rid of him. That is, until they needed a mighty warrior (Jephthah happened to be a mighty warrior.)
And so, in need of another military hero, the elders of Gilead approach Jephthah with an incredible offer. Not only will he be able to return to his home town, but he can actually be the ruler…if he can just manage to defeat the Ammonites. And so, Jephthah accepts the offer, returns and defeats the Ammonites.
As I read, I can’t help but notice the similarities between Jephthah and a couple of other central figures in the Bible – Joseph and Jesus. Like Jephthah, Joseph was hated by his brothers and driven out of town. Jesus, while perhaps not hated by his brothers, was certainly misunderstood by them. Jephthah was the son of an important man and a prostitute. Jesus, in comparison, was the son of a man from the noble lineage of David and an unmarried girl – an illegitimate son in the eyes of those in his town. Also like Jephthah, Jesus managed to surround himself with a group of less-than-savory characters (at least in the eyes of the church).
But in the end, Joseph, Jephthah and Jesus were all called to execute God’s plan, partially because they were the only ones capable of doing it. For Joseph, it was his family heritage, his knowledge of Egyptian culture and his incredible wisdom that came together into the package that God needed to save the people of Israel. For Jesus, it was his perfection, his deity and his incredible wisdom that God needed to save the world.
For Jephthah, the fact that he was a mighty warrior – and obviously one who was aware of God’s history with his people – was enough for God to bring him back to his home town to do God’s work. I have to wonder how Jephthah would have turned out if he had been allowed to continue his life of privilege, rather moving to Tob. Would he have forgotten about God and, instead, turned to the foreign gods? Who knows, but one thing’s for certain, Jephthah embraced the call of God when and where it happened and rescued the people of Israel.
The opening chapters of the book of Exodus offer us the tiniest glimpse into the early life of Moses. But before we jump into that, it’s interesting to note the series of events that have taken place to get us to where we are. First, Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. Then, he rose to power (even though it took a while) and moved his entire extended family to Egypt, giving them the best land and resources. With those resources, Joseph’s family and their offspring managed to do pretty well and become quite a force to be reckoned with.
Then, within one generation, after Joseph had died, the Israelites went from being guests of honor to being slaves in Egypt. So, depending on your perspective, you could reach any of the following conclusions:
1. That Joseph’s actions ultimately led to the enslavement of the people of Israel.
2. That Joseph’s brothers actions ultimately led to the enslavement of the people of Israel.
3. That without the actions of Joseph and those of his brothers before him, there would be no people of Israel.
You see, the land was in famine. If Joseph’s brothers hadn’t sold him, he would never have ended up in Egypt. If he hadn’t been in Egypt, he would not have interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. If he never interpreted the dream, he wouldn’t have been put in the position he was in. If he wasn’t in that position, he wouldn’t have been able to offer his brothers food, let alone invite them to the more fertile land of Egypt. And, without being in Egypt, it is possible that all of Israel’s people would have died.
Now, I think it’s a legitimate question to ask whether it’s better to die or to live in slavery, but in the long history of Israel, their slavery (and the events before and after) not only saved their nation, but forged a certain identity which still exists today. Through this series of events, the people of Israel came to discover what we still have to rediscover every day – that we view the world from a limited perspective. We don’t really know the repercussions of our actions and we don’t know the ultimate outcome of our current circumstance. It may be that our day of darkness is preparing us for the future.
Now, let’s take a quick look at Moses, because here is yet another example of a series of unfortunate circumstances subsequently leading an individual into exactly the right place at the right time. In fact, if not for Pharaoh (the new one) insisting that the baby boys of the Israelites be killed, Moses would probably have never ended up in that basket and would not have had the educational opportunities that he had, which would serve him well later in life. In fact, if he head not been in that place at that time, he might not have had the desire or opportunity to kill the Egyptian, which led him to flee to Midian. You get the drift – whether ordained by God or simply used by him for good, the events in the lives of people like Moses and Joseph (and you and me) are not insignificant.
Where we came from and what we came through determines where we will end up. So, embrace where you came from, what you’ve been through and where you currently are. Who knows, God may be using those things to get you to where he needs you to be. Oh, and, if you run across any burning bushes with a booming voice, you might want to stop and listen!
In today’s reading, we see the passing of two of the major characters of the Bible: Jacob (also called Israel) and Joseph. What is interesting to me, though, is a series of events that happens just before Jacob’s death. In previous posts, I talked about the chaos of Jacob’s family and how odd it was that this family would be the “chosen ones” of God. In today’s reading, you’ll notice that some of the same chaos is revisited on the next generation.
From our earlier reading, we know that Abraham, after he was told that he would be the father to many nations, had a son by his wife’s servant, Hagar. This son, Ishmael, was Abraham’s eldest son and, therefore, should have received Abraham’s birthright and blessing along with the highest place of honor among Abraham’s children. However, that was not God’s plan for Abraham and, instead, allowed Sarah, Abraham’s wife, to have a child. This child, Isaac, would be the one to receive God’s blessing and would be the one through whom God would fulfill his promises to Abraham. In this, God essentially flipped convention on it’s head by giving the blessing and authority to the younger son.
Then, later on, Jacob and Esau were born to Isaac and his wife Rebekah. In that famous story, again, the birth order was flipped on its head as Jacob, the younger brother, received the birthright and blessing that his brother Esau should have received. In our current context, we may not fully understand the significance of these events. What was happening here was not only a slap in the face to the traditional way of doing things; it was essentially telling a child, “You are no longer my firstborn, no longer the oldest and no longer have the privileges you once had.” It meant that these older brothers lost a significant piece of their identity.
For the younger brothers, however, this was like winning the lottery, the World Series and the Super Bowl all at once! And the upside-down blessing that Isaac, through God’s intervention, received, he passed on (unknowingly) to Jacob. Jacob then, through no effort or choice of his own, would see Joseph (son number 11) rise to power and rule over his brothers. Even in his blessing of his sons in today’s reading, he actually curses his firstborn, Rueben.
But the thing that I think is the most significant in these chapters is his blessing of Ephraim and Manasseh. Here, Jacob again signals the blessing of the younger over the older. But this time, Jacob is intentionally choosing the younger. Gone is the deception that Jacob used to get his blessing from Isaac. Gone is the sibling envy that served as a precursor to Joseph’s rise to power. Instead, here is a grandfather choosing the younger grandson. His son, Joseph, even tries to correct him. But Jacob indicates that he knows what he is doing and that his desire is to bless the younger son.
So, why is this so significant? Simply put: because we need it to be. The lives of these patriarchs – Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would serve as models and illustrations from that time until now (and beyond). They would be used to tell two stories: the first was the story of God choosing the nation of Israel. They were, in essence, his firstborn. He gave them the inheritance, the blessing and the protection. And he gave them a Savior.
But he did something else. He began to write the second story : a story where the forgotten son – the one born to a servant girl, the one thrown into a pit and sold into slavery – was given the blessing. When God began to send missionaries into the Gentile communities claiming “son-ship” and “daughter-ship” for those people, the “first-born” Jews were incredulous. They were losing their birthright, their blessing and part of their identity. If anyone could be God’s chosen, then who were they?
The good news – for the ancient Jews, modern Jews and all the rest of us – is that, unlike earthly fathers, God has enough blessing to go around. The kingdom is upside-down, but even though the “last shall be first” and the “first shall be last” in the kingdom of heaven, there’s no indication that either group isn’t allowed in. And so, whether first-born or last-born, slave or free, Jew or Gentile, God has made room for us all!
A famine so severe that people selling themselves into servitude is seen (by those people) as a blessing, because at least they won’t die. Again, this is a picture of the kingdom of heaven – playing out in real life in ancient Egypt. These are people who have nothing to offer. In fact, if Pharaoh wanted to, he could have just taken their land. He didn’t have to pay for it. But Pharaoh, through Joseph, allowed them to offer themselves and their land in return for that which only Pharaoh could give. Does that sound familiar?
They “offered their bodies as living sacrifices”, as the New Testament scriptures say. This was the end of the rope for these people. They had come to the place where they had lost all self-reliance and were completely reliant on Pharaoh. As strange as it may seem to watch Joseph make the Egyptian people into servants, this is a perfect picture of how we are to approach God.
Our notions of self-reliance have to be tossed, our egos in check and the love of our possessions eliminated. We have to approach God with an understanding that he doesn’t need anything we have – our abilities, our giftings, our possessions or even our lives. Then we must be willing to give all of those things to him. Through this story, we are reminded who holds the provision for our lives and, ultimately, what that provision is worth – everything.