Wednesday, November 28, 2012

13 Years and 13 Chapters

For the first 17 years of his life, he was the his father's favorite.
Then he was sold, for 20 pieces of silver, by his own brothers.
For the next 13 years of his life, he was a slave and a prisoner.
Joseph knew what it felt like to be on top, then hit the bottom, but rise to the top once again.
He lived to be 110 years old --- and during the 80 years after his years of slavery and imprisonment --- Joseph was a living testimony to God's ability to take what men meant for harm and transform it into great good. 

From the moment he was born, Joseph's father made no bones about it --- Joseph was his favorite son. Perhaps he felt estranged from his other brothers during those years of childhood, but if so, it apparently did not alter him. After all, when he had dreams predicting his brothers would bow down to him, he was not shy about sharing them. His brothers "hated him all the more". Even his father "rebuked" him over his second dream where the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed down to him, depicting the father, mother and brothers bowing down to him. He could have kept the dreams to himself. He didn't. The jealously in his brothers grew.
(Genesis 37:5-10) 

Even as a child, when hearing the story of Joseph and his relationship with his brothers, i felt a bit sorry for the brothers and wondered if Joseph carried arrogance on his shoulders along with the special coat his father had given him. But then the story continued... and everything changed...

Why has my soul been so fixated on these 13 chapters? It's not by choice. If i could choose i'd rather spend my time dreaming over the animals walking two-by-two into the ark or the beautiful love story of Ruth and Boaz. But interestingly, the trials and triumphs of Joseph have breezed through my thoughts for weeks now.
It may be because i'm captivated by the steadfastness of this man under fire.
Seriously -- his brothers threw him into a dried up well and debated how to kill him. He heard them, oh how it must have hurt. We can read the 13 chapters in less than an hour; a lifetime of take-a-deep-breath moments are packed within those 447 verses. It's a quick read, but a gruelingly long journey.

I do not know of one person in my life who has endured the kind of rejection, injustice, false accusations, and loneliness this man faced. And he did it with so much courage and perseverance.
He suffered --- silently.

It's a sort of wake-me-up and smack-me-good story.
It convicts me in healthy ways ---- there is much to be learned from Joseph's forgiving, selflessness. Even when he was given charge over Egypt and had the authority to wreak havoc in his brother's lives --- he did not. He chose the good path regardless of how he had himself been treated.

Living in a society where horns are blown if the person driving the car in front of us moves too slowly or too quickly, where complaints are waged if someone does not cater to our wishes, where tempers rage and words fly if our expectations are overlooked or ignored. Living in a "world" where we get what we want or we sound off about it ----- yes, i'm captivated by the persevering steadfastness of Joseph's goodness under fire.

Joseph is not alone, there are many of his sort even today.
There is a gentleness in the air that's mixed with a charge of powerfulness surrounding the unselfish and gracious souls among us. But their "power" will not be used to get their own way --- it will only be used to strengthen their perseverance and intensify their care for others. It's a beautiful thing to see, it can take your breath away with its simple, sincere goodness.
Joseph is the Biblical picture of this unselfish, persevering, powerful, presence.
I know a modern day Joseph as well --- but she goes by another name. She wakes up each day with praises on her lips and an eagerness to give and do for others. The room lights up with her; she walks with kindness and care. It's always a challenge to try and serve her or do for her --- because she honestly never thinks about what she wants or needs. She is so busy with the outflow of goodness to others, she doesn't even seem to notice her own needs. She has been hurt, she knows what rejection and persecution and grief feel like, but she uses those memories to minister to those hurting in front of her now. I've never once heard her major on the minors --- she makes the world better --- she overflows with love. She memorizes scriptures and then focuses on living them. I've heard her whisper scripture to herself, under her breath, reminding herself, keeping her thoughts and actions in check.

So what is the common factor between Jacob's son Joseph and this modern day lady of God?

They both have known what it felt like to be loved by some, persecuted deeply by others, cling to God's ways, and overflow with God-sized goodness to others --- regardless of how life treated them.

In contrast, I read something else in those 13 chapters. When the brothers are sitting around the dried up well, having just thrown Joseph down in it, they are debating over what to do with him. Joseph's brother Judah hatches the idea to sell him to a passing caravan. Judah's plan is agreed upon and they sell their brother for 20 silver coins. Judah could have spoken "for" his brother, he could have joined with Reuben and saved Joseph. But instead he spoke "against' him and Joseph went from being the favorite son to slavery in moments. In the very next chapter of Genesis, there appears to be an odd rabbit trail turn. We go from telling the story of Joseph to suddenly revealing the demise of Judah. Judah separates from his brothers, goes to another land, marries a pagan woman, has mean-hearted sons, and engages in sex with what he believed to be a prostitute but was in fact his own daughter-in-law. Astonishing, disgusting, why is this inappropriate chapter placed here in Genesis. Perhaps it is so we won't miss the direct connection between Judah selling his brother into slavery and Judah's overflow of bad "fruit" in his personal life.  

God will not be mocked -----

It took 13 years for Joseph to navigate the treacherous path between the bottom of the pit and the honor of wearing Pharaoh's signet ring.
Five words made all the difference,
"The Lord was with Joseph"... (Gen. 39:2, 39:21)

Did it look like the Lord was with Joseph? Did it feel like the Lord was with him?
The external evidence was obviously weak, but internally Joseph surely must have felt God's goodness flowing in him.
Still, if someone were judging God's nearness by the appearance of Joseph's circumstances ---- they would have missed Him all together.

Oh how comforting it should be to us, what a life-line it is for me, to read in black and white print on age-old pages that lead down ancient paths ----  
"The Lord was with Joseph, 
and he prospered... 
he showed him kindness... 
and granted him favor...".

The grand finale of Joseph's story comes next ---- and it shimmers of grace and forgiveness, goodness and GODness.
It's found in Chapter 50.
Joseph's father, Jacob, had died and selfishly his brother's think of themselves -- again. They become afraid that Joseph, all these many years later (93 years to be exact), would retaliate against them for the wrongs they committed against him. So they send Joseph a message  ----- asking once again for mercy -- they knew how wrong they had been.
Joseph's response to his brothers ---
"Don't be afraid... You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done..."

It took 13 years to recover from the pit.
It took 13 chapters and 93 years for Joseph's story to travel from the pit to the great revelation.

What men intend for harm ---- God will use for good!
And so...
when we are harmed by men, we are wisest of all, if we keep our eyes firmly set on the Lord and watch, wait, anticipate how HE will use it for good.

That's the captivating quality of Joseph.
That's the beauty of my friend.
They endure well the ugliness of this world and give us all the chance to see GOD's handiwork in and around them --- and we are blessed and strengthened and encouraged.

Oh yes --- i'm learning... slowly... but surely...and watching diligently.
“Paul never glamorized the gospel. It is not success, but sacrifice. It’s not a glamorous gospel, but a bloody one–a gory gospel, and a sacrificial gospel. Five minutes inside eternity and we will wish that we had sacrificed more, wept more, grieved more, loved and prayed more, and given more.” -Leonard Ravenhill

©2012 Donna Taylor/Reaching for the Robe

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