For the week of November 27, 2010 / 20 Kislev 5771
Torah: Bereshit / Genesis 37:1 - 40:23
Haftarah: Amos 2:6 - 3:8
God Is in Charge
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers they hated him even more. (Bereshit/ Genesis 37:3-5; ESV)
The story of Joseph is one of the most mind-blowing stories in the entire Bible. It is the story of how God uses a most dysfunctional family for his plan and purposes. Not only did he use jealousy and hatred to preserve the nation of Israel, but also of Egypt and the surrounding region. Joseph's understanding of how God was involved in his difficult circumstances are summed up by his words to his brothers some time after the whole clan moved to Egypt, when he said, "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" (Bereshit / Genesis 50:20; ESV). There is no doubt in Joseph's mind that God's good intentions for Israel, Egypt, and many others were carried out through his brothers' evil intentions.
Let's look at some of the details of what happened. Joseph, the eleventh of twelve sons, was his father's favorite. Jacob had no qualms about broadcasting his feelings about Joseph in public in that he gave Joseph the gift of an extraordinary outer garment. Joseph had no qualms about speaking badly about his brothers to their father. This all would be sufficient to cause significant problems between Joseph and his brothers, We read "But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him" (Bereshit / Genesis 37:4; ESV).
Then we read that Joseph had two dreams that predicted that he would rule over his parents and brothers. We do not know Joseph's motivation in sharing his dreams with his family, since the Torah provides no behind-the-scenes commentary on what he was thinking. All we know is that his older brothers hated him all the more to the point of wanting to kill him. One day when Jacob sent Joseph to check up on them, they were about to murder him. The eldest brother, Reuben, convinced the others to hold off in hopes of rescuing him. While Reuben was away attending something, the nine brothers sold him to slave traders on their way to Egypt. They then deceived their father into thinking that Joseph was killed by wild animals. Do note if it wasn't for Reuben's intervention, Joseph would have been killed.
Joseph served as a slave in Egypt. Yet God made him successful in his work. Even when he resisted his master's wife's advances, which ended up in his going to prison, there too God was with him, resulting in his being put in charge of the other prisoners. It was due to his accurate interpretation of some dreams of his fellow prisoners that he was eventually called up to interpret some of Pharaoh's dreams, thus resulting in his release and promotion to second in command in Egypt. This was the set up for the fulfillment of Joseph's earlier dreams concerning him and his family.
In the midst of all the human intrigue, jealousy, hatred, and lust, God's was at work for good. The Torah in no way excuses the evil just because God used it for his own good purposes. Also, there is no impression given that God made the bad stuff happen. The people did the bad. Yet the bad stuff served the overall purposes of God.
People also did the good stuff. Joseph was faithful to God in the midst of his terrible circumstances. It was not as if he was a passive spectator as God manipulated the situation to accomplish his purposes. He actively trusted God and worked hard. At the same time, it was not as if Joseph had the ability in himself to make things work out as they did. God did that. The Torah gives no impression that people are mechanically controlled by spiritual forces. Human responsibility in the affairs of life is not an illusion, but a reality. But whatever effect our actions have, God's plans and purposes cannot be thwarted. That's why we can trust him no matter what happens to us. While we cannot understand how this works, it is comforting to know that God is in charge.
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