Weekly Meditation - 20th August 2017
Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32
The story of Joseph is an important one, taking up thirteen of the fifty chapters of Genesis- roughly a quarter of the book. It is easy to overlook it as a children’s tale, but it teaches some profound truths. Its purpose is mainly twofold; firstly it shows us part of God’s plan of salvation as he shaped the emergent nation of Israel and protects them through a serious famine, so that eventually they would be the people into whom the Messiah would be born; secondly – and perhaps even more importantly - it is an account of extraordinary forgiveness.
Joseph first appears in chapter 37 as a seventeen year old, his father’s favourite, a bit of a tale-bearer and very unpopular with his older brothers. His quality is revealed, however, through a series of disasters. He is thrown into a pit by his brothers, who intend to kill him. Then he is sold instead to some travelling merchants and becomes a slave in the household of Potiphar in Egypt. It is here that he first shows himself to be a young man of great integrity, gaining his employer’s trust so that he has oversight of the entire household. Wrongly charged with molesting Potiphar’s wife, he is thrown into prison, where he again conducts himself in such a way that he is given charge over the other prisoners. God “gave him success in whatever he did” (Genesis 39:23). Later, when he has correctly interpreted the dreams of two fellow-inmates, he has hopes of release. He asks the cupbearer, “when all goes well with you, remember me ... mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison.” (40:14) but the cupbearer does not remember Joseph, he forgets him for “two full years” (41:1)
Because of Joseph’s privileged position in prison, we might envisage him as a head prefect, living in relative comfort. Psalm 105 puts us right in that respect. Life in an Egyptian jail was clearly not a picnic – “They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons.” (v 18) And for how long was Joseph in prison? He was thirty years old when he was released into Pharaoh’s service – that makes thirteen years captivity, either as slave or prisoner.
In view of that, Joseph’s response to his brothers when finally they meet again, is mind-blowing. Not only had they sneered at him, threatened his life and sold him as a slave, he had been falsely accused, and held captive for all his young manhood. In addition, his brothers had allowed their father to suffer the anguish of believing his son to be dead – torn by wild beasts.
There are many parallels between Joseph and the Lord Jesus. Both were favoured by their fathers and obedient to them, treated with hostility by their brothers, sold, tempted, slandered, handed over to Gentile authorities, refined through adversity and engaging in life-saving work. Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers mirrors the forgiveness that Jesus showed to his persecutors, and points the way to the forgiveness that comes at the cost of Jesus’ blood.
Forgiveness must not appear to be cheap. Joseph wanted to see if his brothers were sorry before he revealed himself to them, and he caused them to experience the same anguish they had caused their father. But, finally, he could no longer restrain himself. Joseph’s brothers feared his wrath, but instead he met them with forgiveness, love and understanding. He recognised God’s hand in what had taken place, realising that God had sent him ahead of them, to save their lives “by a great deliverance.” (Genesis45:7) Probably Joseph did not see the cosmic significance of what was taking place. He could not have seen ahead to the establishment of his brother Judah as head of the kingly tribe (Genesis 49:10) nor to the child ofthat tribe who would one day be born as saviour of the world (Luke 2:11; 3:23-33), but he had played a significant part in the sequence of events that led to the coming of the Messiah.
By Susan Thorne