Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father's wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father. (Bereshit / Genesis 37:2; ESV)
This week's portion begins the story of Joseph, one of the most noble of all Bible characters. To be honest, I have always thought of him as more than just noble. To me, he seemed to be just about perfect, if not perfect. I know nobody's perfect, but the favor of God was on him in such an unusual way that set him apart from everyone else. I always thought of his suffering and enslavement at the hands of his jealous brothers and his eventual unjust imprisonment as nothing less than absolute victimization of a pure and innocent man.
But after pondering this story over the years, I started thinking that perhaps Joseph may not be so pure and innocent after all. I know it's not his fault that he was the object of his father's favoritism, but it appears that he allowed that to get to his head. His bringing a bad report about his brothers may have been innocent enough. And we probably should cut him some slack for telling his brothers the first dream. Chalk it up to immaturity. But after they understood it to signify Joseph's eventual reign over them, why would he share the second similar dream? By that time, there was no doubt how his brothers felt about him. Did he not realize that telling them about the second dream would only infuriate them all the more? It's possible he thought that the confirmation of the first dream would put them in their place, but, regardless, his lack of wisdom is evident.
He seems to be far more the innocent victim in the later incident, after his brothers sell him into slavery and his master's wife attempts to seduce him. His resistance against her advances is exemplary; the basis of his moral stand appears to be rooted in his relationship to God. For he said to her, "How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?" (Bereshit / Genesis 39:9; ESV). But I wonder if, like in his situation with his brothers, he didn't contribute to his own problem. Just before her final seductive attempt, the narration may hint at another unwise action on Joseph's part. We read, "But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house" (Bereshit / Genesis 39:11; ESV). In his role as chief servant, would he not have known he would be alone with her, thus purposely putting himself in a potentially compromising situation?
It's not that I am trying to place blame on Joseph for his troubles. There are no excuses for what his brothers or his master's wife did. It's that I have come to realize that how I saw Joseph got in the way of what God was seeking to teach me through him. To me Joseph had been more than a good example; he was exceptional - a cut about the rest, somehow immune to the normal weaknesses of life. The problem is there is no such human, except for the Messiah.
What made Joseph exceptional was not that he possessed a superior moral quality that enabled him to withstand intense rejection, hardships, and temptations, but that as a normal human being with common strengths and weaknesses, he was able to do endure as he did. The Bible doesn't depict its exceptional characters as heroes, but as normal people like you and me. What made them exceptional are not exceptional innate qualities, but their relationship to an exceptional God. The power of God to do exceptional things is available to all.
But in order to experience the power of God in your life, you need to first be on good terms with him. This is only possible by trusting in the Messiah Yeshua, who gave up his life for our sins, and rose from the dead, so that we could be reconciled to God and be his true children. If you want to know more about how you can be exceptional, contact me.
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