Glory Out of Failure Meditations: 7. Joseph – spoilt brat to godly ruler
Gen 37:2 Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
Gen 50:20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.
More on Jacob: The story of Joseph really starts with Jacob – before time has worked wisdom, grace and revelation into him. Yes, he’s old and he has a favourite, Joseph, but it goes right back to when Jacob was tricked into marrying both Leah and Rachel (see Gen 29) – and Rachel hadn’t been able to have children, it seemed (Gen 30:1) and so she had given him Bilhah, her servant to have two sons on her behalf. Leah meanwhile had already had four sons! When Leah stops producing she sees how important children are to Jacob so copies her sister and had given Jacob Zilpah, her servant, to do the same and she also produces two sons. Next, Leah starts producing again and has two sons and a daughter. Meanwhile Rachel still appeared barren but because she had been Jacob’s first love he is grieved and so when she does eventually conceive and Joseph is born he is doubly blessed and spoils the boy. A little while later Rachel conceives but dies bearing Benjamin the last of the twelve sons of Israel (Gen35:16-18). Perhaps that made Jacob even more loving of Joseph. He gives him an ornate robe, a fashion statement if you like, and thus his brothers hate him for all this.
Young Joseph: Our opening verse speaks volumes. Joseph is looking after their many flocks – with the sons of the two servant women and he tells on them. We don’t know what but there is obviously bad feeling in the family setup. He is seventeen, a spoilt teenager surrounded by jealous older brothers. “they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.” (Gen 37:4)Wisdom says keep your mouth shut and your head down but Joseph is a teenager and they are not normally known for their wisdom, so when he starts getting prophetic dreams, he blurts them out, regardless how it might make the rest of the family feel. (Gen 37:5-11) So, it’s not terribly surprising what ensues – his brothers selling him off to slave traders and the whole process gets under way whereby, fourteen years later, he is second in command to the king of Egypt.
Lessons? Remember this is about going from failure to glory, so let’s observe the low points so far. Number one, don’t have favourites on the family; it only provides grounds for jealousy. Second, recognise teenagers for what they are, young, often brash, full of hope and careless of others (not always but often). So don’t expect too much of them, don’t burden them with expectations beyond their years. Third, realise they can hear God, they may appear more spiritual than you, even though immature. Enough for the moment.
Maturing Joseph: Now here comes the big lesson. Our second starter verse shows us how Joseph has changed. He is now all powerful and could easily have meted out vengeance on his brothers who are now in his power, but instead he graciously reassures them it is all right, for he’s come to see that the hand of God was on him, God was there working through all these past events to bring him to the place where, with more revelation from God, he could act as saviour for the whole Middle East. He now understands what the original prophetic dreams meant but it was not to be for his glory that they were bowing before him, but simply to recognise what God has achieved.
The Big Lesson: So hold on to your seat, here is the big lesson that comes through all this. God chooses us, knowing we are imperfect but spends the rest of our lives changing us. Not because He’s fed up with us but because He wants something better for us. Those changes we call ‘sanctification’, His ongoing work by His Spirit to change us into the image of Christ. Where our hearts are open to Him, He simply speaks to us, either through His written word which he uses for, “teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness,” (2 Tim 3:16) or by the whispered word of His Spirit from within us. Where He sees we are set in our ways or not yet open to listen, He will step back and let the ways of the fallen world in on our lives so that we are put under pressure that, like the Potter of Jeremiah 18, reforms us and conforms us to the likeness of Jesus in the way we live, act and react.
This is exactly what happened to Joseph as the bad attitudes of his brothers put him into slavery which led to prison, during which both times the Lord was with Him giving him favour as his character was being formed to take on authority and responsibility. Eventually that prepared him to be able to hear God to bring His words of wisdom into the situation involving a widespread famine, to save the whole region, and to rule over the administration of all of that. Who could have foreseen that when he was say, sixteen? Who would have guessed how those two prophetic dreams would have worked out in such a much greater manner than might have been obvious when he spoke them out?
And Us? Dare we face our imperfections that God is working on, recognizing that He has bigger and better things for each of us? Can we receive them with open hearts or do we have to go through a Potter’s wheel experience where He uses the world to conform us?
(We’ll have a week’s break and then return here)