Posts Tagged With: Joseph

 
 

Joseph in God’s Leadership Training Program

His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (Genesis 50:18–21, ESV).

joseph_sold_by_his_brothers

Joseph’s story did not start well, as he was sold into slavery by his brothers. Illustration from a Bible card published by the Providence Lithograph Company, via Wikimedia Commons.

The last fourteen chapters of Genesis focus mainly on the life of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob (also known as Israel). Genesis, the first book of the Bible, begins by describing the origins of the human race, before focusing in on the birth of the nation of Israel. It also chronicles the faith journeys of several key patriarchs, particularly Abraham and Jacob. With Joseph, it describes his development as a man of God and as a leader.

Genesis depicts Joseph as the first Israelite to emerge as a world leader. As a youth, he dreamed that his brothers and parents would one day bow before him (Genesis 37:5–11). By the time that actually happened, he was a changed man, equipped by God to lead. He started with dreams and ambition. He developed through God’s leadership training program, and found himself in a place where he could serve others for God’s glory. This should be the pattern for all Christians who seek to become leaders, whether in the church or in secular institutions.

At the beginning of his story, Joseph did not look like he was destined for greatness. Since he was the eleventh of twelve sons, it would be assumed in his culture that he would rank near the bottom of the family’s social order. His status in the family took a downward spiral as sibling rivalry gave way to complete hatred. Joseph brought a “bad report” about four of his brothers to his father after they had pastured their flock together. Did he have to bring the bad report, or was he trying to score points with Dad to get special treatment? If Joseph was trying to win his father’s favor, he succeeded. Jacob gave him a robe of many colors (Genesis 37:3), which showed Joseph’s status as “dad’s favorite.” (A note to the fathers and grandfathers out there: It is one thing to treat your children differently because they are unique individuals; it is not OK to play favorites.) Before long, all of the brothers conspired to sell Joseph to slave traders (who eventually sold him to an officer of Egypt’s Pharaoh), telling their father that he had been killed by a wild animal.

Joseph was not off to a good start on the path to power and prestige. Playing off of favoritism to build yourself up by tearing others down tends to backfire. It may bring short-term benefits, but it usually backfires in the long term.

Now, let us fast-forward many years. Joseph began to show some genuine potential while in Egypt, but he cycled between opportunities and setbacks. His master promoted him to be head of all his household slaves. Then, he was falsely accused of sexual assault and imprisoned. He earned the respect of the jailer, who put him in charge of the other prisoners. He interpreted dreams for two of Pharaoh’s servants, thereby showing that he had divinely inspired wisdom. Finally, after years of hardship and disappointment, Pharaoh needed someone to interpret dreams for him. Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered the gifted dream-interpreter and recommended him to Pharaoh. Joseph not only interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams (a warning that a severe famine would come upon the land), but proposed a way to prepare for it so that the people would survive. Pharaoh appointed Joseph to administer his economic programs.

Joseph had endured a turbulent journey: from favorite son and despised bratty tattle-tale brother; to slave; to prisoner; to the top of an empire’s government. The man who was exalted by Pharaoh was not like the boy who had been rejected by his shepherd brothers. Pharaoh may have ordered people to bow before Joseph, but Joseph was more concerned about serving those God had placed under his care.

His brothers would bow before him several times, but that was not Joseph’s big concern. In Genesis 50, after Joseph had brought the family to Egypt so he could provide food for them, his father died. His brothers though he might seek revenge, now that he had power and nobody could not stop him. However, Joseph had learned God’s design for leadership. He did not need them to bow before him. His title did not matter. He did not see himself as the Egyptian ruler who could seek revenge: He was God’s servant, called to serve others.

Joseph’s focus was on God’s purposes: “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.” Joseph no longer thought about how he could gain power and how others would honor him. Instead, he wanted to know God’s will. What was God doing? How can God bring good out of this situation? What could he do to manifest God’s will? These are the questions every leader should ask when facing difficult circumstances.

Instead of seeking his brothers’ respect, Joseph was committed to providing for his brothers and their families. True leaders look for ways to build others up and make sure their needs are met.

Most importantly, Joseph forgave his brothers. Great leaders are not so obsessed with their feelings or what others have done to them that they forget their mission. God had entrusted Joseph with an important job, which would ensure that his family would fulfill the covenant God had made with Abraham (Genesis 12:1–3). Christ calls His disciples to forgive others, and leaders—especially Christian leaders—must exercise patience and not allow insults or offenses to derail them from God’s plan:

Good sense makes one slow to anger,
and it is his glory to overlook an offense (Proverbs 19:11).

Joseph had grown beyond the pride and impulsiveness of youth to become the prototypical servant leader. He could remain focused on his mission, seek to provide for those below him, and forgive others so that negativity would not derail his mission. This is God’s call for all who seek to be leaders or make a positive impact on their world.

Copyright © 2018 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

Categories: Bible meditations, Character and Values | Tags: , , , , , | Leave a comment

Shepherds, Wise Men, and Ordinary People

And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

“Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”

When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger (Luke 2:8–16, ESV).

04567_christmas_nativity_scene_at_the_franciscan_church_in_sanok2c_2010

Nativity scene at Franciscan church in Sanok, Poland. Photo by Silar (own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons.

The nativity scene (or crèche) is one of the most popular Christmas decorations. Many homes and churches display one throughout Advent and Christmas. According to tradition, it was invented by St. Francis of Assisi (ca. 1181–1226) as a simple teaching aide to help people remember the biblical account of Jesus’ birth. All the key players are present: The Virgin Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, a few shepherds, three wise men, one or two angels, and a bunch of animals. In a society when most people could not read, such a visual aide was necessary to teach a central story of the Bible.

It may not tell the story perfectly. For example, the shepherds came to visit the baby Jesus possibly within 24 hours of his birth, whereas the Magi (who were not kings) came possibly as late as two years later, when the Holy Family was now living in a house. Nevertheless, we can see the main figures in the account of Jesus’ birth together in one location at once. However, it works as an effective story-telling device.

The story of Jesus’ birth has become so familiar to most Christians, though, that many of us miss a few key points. Consider the key characters:

  • Mary was a virgin, but could anybody really believe that? An unwed woman could be pregnant in only one way: via premarital sex. In a very religious society, the punishment could be as severe as stoning. At the very least, she could face rejection by the community, perhaps even her parents and immediate family. The best she could hope for would be a quiet divorce by her husband and a life of shame and rejection (betrothal was legally binding). She actually got better than she hoped for.
  • Joseph was a working-class artisan, probably living day-to-day. Although we think of him as a carpenter, he may have engaged in other skilled work with his hands to build and repair things. Could he really believe Mary’s excuse, that the baby was sent by God and she had not had sex with another man? If he married her, it would suggest to the rest of the community that he must be the real father. One can only imagine how his carpentry business would fare when he is known as the reprobate who could not control himself until his wedding night.
  • The shepherds: We like to think of them as gentle souls who spent their days taking care of cute little farm animals. However, most people in Bethlehem would have a different perspective: a bunch of dirty, uncouth rogues who smell like sheep droppings, among the outcasts of society. They may not be as bad as tax collectors and harlots, but they would still not be likely to get an invitation to celebrate the birth of a King.
  • The wise men or Magi were perhaps some of the worst pagans a Jew could imagine. Tradition refers to them as kings, but they may have been emissaries for a king. Magi were actually astrologers, who made their living engaging in a practice deemed abominable in the Old Testament (see, e.g., Isaiah 47:13–15).

Who is missing from this story? The Roman emperor with his appointed regional vassal King Herod, the wealthy, the religious elite, the powerful, etc. The people whom we would most likely include in a strategy to save the world from certain doom are not in the nativity scene. God chose to send His Son into the world through the womb of an ordinary woman, one whose family would never appear in the historical records otherwise, into a very ordinary family, in a small town within a politically insignificant occupied territory within in a pagan empire. He chose to reveal His Son first to people from the outer fringes of society and pagan astrologers who found out about Him via a condemned occult practice of observing omens.

However, you do not need to be left out of the nativity scene. Jesus came to invite you to have eternal life with Him and His Father. While the world worships at the altar of materialism and Santa Claus, join the shepherds and wise men to bow before the Son of God in the manger. Invite Jesus to take His place at the center of the most ordinary aspects of your life, so that Christmas can remain with you every day.

This post copyright © 2017 Michael E. Lynch. All rights reserved.

 

Categories: Bible meditations, Church Calendar: Holy Days and Seasons, Holidays, Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Set Apart

The story of Joseph and his brothers is a rich source of spiritual lessons. Believers throughout the ages have learned great truths about faith, perseverance in hard times, overcoming injustice, forgiveness and reconciliation, and other issues. However, one lesson is often overlooked, even though it introduces a theme that has preserved the Jewish people’s ethnic and religious identity throughout the ages. That lesson is the importance of being set apart, and it is a lesson that Christians today need to relearn.

The story of Joseph and his brothers takes up a significant part of the book of Genesis, but I will focus primarily on Genesis 46 and 47. To avoid extending this post unnecessarily, I will urge readers who are not familiar with this story to read Genesis 37-45 (yes, it is a lengthy story!)

After Joseph identified himself to his brothers and forgave them for selling him into slavery, he urged them to bring their father and the rest of the family to Egypt, since they faced a famine that would last several more years. God appeared to their father, Jacob, in a dream, reassuring him that he should go to Egypt. Even though it involved leaving the land that God had promised to Jacob’s grandfather, Abraham, this was God’s will. He would use the sojourn in Egypt to preserve the people of Israel.

Upon their arrival, Joseph (who probably had adopted many of the cultural mannerisms and clothing of an Egyptian by now) met his father in the Egyptian region of Goshen:

“Joseph said to his brothers and to his father’s household, ‘I will go up and tell Pharaoh and will say to him, “My brothers and my father’s household, who were in the land of Canaan, have come to me. And the men are shepherds, for they have been keepers of livestock, and they have brought their flocks and their herds and all that they have.” When Pharaoh calls you and says, “What is your occupation?” you shall say, “Your servants have been keepers of livestock from our youth even until now, both we and our fathers,” in order that you may dwell in the land of Goshen, for every shepherd is an abomination to the Egyptians'” (Genesis 46:31-34, ESV).

It is worthwhile to note that Goshen was in the northeastern corner of Egypt. By staying in Goshen, the Israelites would be on the outer fringes of Egyptian territory and, as a result, on the outer fringes of that nation’s culture. I do not know if Joseph knew the significance of his decision at that time or not. Joseph knew the famine would last Land of Goshen, (also Goshen, Gosen) (Genesis ...five more years; perhaps he figured he would escape with his family (or they would return without him) to the land of Canaan after the famine. However, it turns out that the people of Israel would be in Egypt for about 400 years. They arrived as a small contingent of about 70 persons; the Bible tells us they grew to become an entire nation while in Egypt.

It would have been easy for that small group of sojourners to be absorbed by the Egyptian culture and disappear into the shadows of history. Yet, God had planned to bless the entire world through the seed of Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; 15:1-6). His desire was to use Egypt as an incubator where the fledgling nation of Israel could grow, not as a place where they would become part of another culture.

This principle of being “set apart” continued throughout the Old Testament. Leviticus 20:24-26 gives an example where one of the Old Testament’s purity laws is a reminder of the Israelites’ need to separate themselves from the pagan nations around them:

“But I have said to you, ‘You shall inherit their land, and I will give it to you to possess, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ I am the Lord your God, who has separated you from the peoples.  You shall therefore separate the clean beast from the unclean, and the unclean bird from the clean. You shall not make yourselves detestable by beast or by bird or by anything with which the ground crawls, which I have set apart for you to hold unclean.  You shall be holy to me, for I the Lord am holy and have separated you from the peoples, that you should be mine” (Leviticus 20:24-26).

Just in case anybody thinks that this is an Old Testament concept, irrelevant to New Testament believers, I also cite 2 Corinthians 6:17: “Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you.”

God did not intend for this separation to be a source of national bigotry or arrogance, but a means of preserving their identity as the covenant people of God. One thing is certain: this separation has preserved the Jews throughout the ages. Even though they spent almost 1900 years without a land of their own, they have survived as an ethnic and religious group. Where are the Hittites of the Bible? What about the Idumeans and Edomites? I have not met any. Yet, even during nearly two centuries of dispersion throughout Europe, they preserved their cultural identity, even when the Gentiles around them tried to destroy their culture.

Now, this seems to pose a challenge for Christians in modern culture. Sadly, we have lost our sense of separation. We assume that we live in a “Christian nation” with a Christian culture, but for the most part, this is an illusion. We have adopted many of the values of a post-modern, humanistic and/or existentialist society.

In the 1950s, many evangelical Christians would not attend movies, because they viewed the entire film industry as opposed to Christian values. In the 1980s, the mindset was more like, “Well, we can go to movies if they do not have sex, nudity, or too much foul language.” Now, it seems like many Christians will say, “This movie had some tastefully-done sex and nudity, and a bit of foul language, but it also had a redeeming social message.” We have adopted so much of the culture’s values, that we will no longer set a serious moral standard for our entertainment choices.

Throughout the Old Testament law, the Jews were taught to abstain from eating certain foods, or to avoid wearing certain kinds of clothing, and so on. Perhaps we do not want to slip into the trap of legalism. Yet, maybe it would be wise if each Christian would consider in his or her own heart: “In what ways does the non-Christian world try to absorb me into its value system and culture? What radical steps can I take to separate myself from the world?” It might be a different set of choices for each of us. “I do not go to movies, because I am trying to follow Christ.” “I do not watch sitcoms, because I am trying to be transformed by the renewing of my mind.”

I am not sure that there is a hard-and-fast, one-size-fits-all, solution to the church’s worldliness. Maybe there is one, but I am leery to propose it. One thing is certain: Christians need to recognize that we have been set apart by Christ and bought with a price. We must make a choice to resist the forces that seek to absorb us into the value system of a world in rebellion against God.

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