Sunday, November 20, 2016
TheLifeOfJoseph : Genesis 50:1-21
I've decided to break up this last chapter for two reasons. One, there just simply is too much to digest for a single entry. But two, because the ending of the chapter 'ends the chapter' of Joseph's life. As this entry is about Joseph's father, I felt it necessary to honour both characters by giving them an entry to themselves. I see three things in this section: dedication, delay & doubt.
Dedication is clearly seen through the first section (found in vss. 1-13; climaxing at vs. 12 'His sons did for him as he had charged them...'). It is hard to miss Joseph's leadership. It reminds me of something I find it a bit strange. We tend to see dedication in some of the most grievous times of our lives. When people need to 'show up to do their part', they often do during times of tragedy. When asked later, they simply say, 'I did what I had to do'. Period. But maybe it's my mindset this morning, but what gives people the ability to do 'what they had to do'? In context of Jacob's story, his sons really didn't have to do what he had asked them to do. Notice the dedication on Joseph's part (needing to ask for time off from his very demanding job), his brothers' part and the part of the rest of the clan (all the servants of Pharaoh, elders, and all the household of Joseph - see vss. 7, 8). There was much preparation, much emotion, and much energy necessary to do this task Jacob had asked of them - and they all willingly did it. Some, in dedication to their master, some in dedication to the 'cause of honouring the dead', and some because, again, 'it's just what you do'. It is very clear that Joseph shines as a person of dedication all through this story of his life. Yet even better, his dedication rubs off on others and we then get great stories from a great leader who had the ability to satisfactorily write the remaining chapters of his life. He was a gifted leader who was filled with a great character-trait of dedication.
The second thing I see in this section is delay. I have always found it intriguing to hear and read of how different cultures grieve over the loss of a loved one. Frankly, in a North American context, I think we do a very good job at hiding what death really is. Perhaps it's too emotional, our culture says, to reveal the finality of death in this way. So we cover it up (literally, with make-up on a dead person) and flower it up (literally with flowers at a funeral) and are, relatively speaking, quite quiet. But we see a picture here of delay in grieving. In some cultures, there is a sense that grieving over the loss of someone should take upwards of a year (comparing to a North American mindset of minimum three days leave after a loved-one dies, the contrast is sickening). In the story we find here, Jacob was mourned over for at least 47 days (see vss. 3, 4) but we also see a prolonging of mourning once Joseph and the rest of his clan reach the threshing floor (vs. 10) for an additional 7 days. Yet at some point, as many counselors tell us in the grieving process, there is a time to find a 'new normal' - you do need to learn to live without them. As hard as it is, there is a sense of the need to live on in their memory, allowing all the emotions to be unpacked and dealt with, in time. And so we see the same with Joseph: After he had buried his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, he and his brothers, and all who had gone up with him to bury his father (vs. 14). After the delay, after the mourning both before and after the journey to bury his father, Joseph returns to his life. But just like every good (or not so good) story, there always seems to be a conflict. There is doubt.
It seems to come at the worse time (as all conflicts seem to). Joseph's brothers, perhaps because they are now unpacking their own emotional backpacks, believe that they are now out from under protection of their father. They believe Joseph has every right to avenge. If Joseph was a different man (as many of our characters seem to be in popular movie plots), he could have easily plotted revenge. After all, they did sell him into slavery. It seems there is a very good lesson for us here. The emotions we unpack all have a thread of truth to them. The issue is what we do with them. If we dwell in the place of doubt and discouragement, these emotions will, literally, overwhelm us to a point of despair. However, if we confess these to loved ones and ask for help, (as Joseph's brothers indirectly did) we can healthily deal with them. Joseph's brothers could have gone about this another way. They could have confessed their doubt to Joseph and saved a lot of heart-ache. They could have said something like, 'Joseph, we know how loved you were by our father and we know that we have done an awful thing to you. Please, let us help each other. We are so very sorry for what we did and need to make sure that there is nothing between us, as this is what our father would have wanted'. Instead we have a very assumptive and almost manipulative statement by his brothers (see vs. 17ff). Perhaps out of fear, they didn't relay the message directly but sent it through a messenger. And Joseph's response is his famous statement that we all should learn to grasp the meaning of in our lives (another reason why I felt it necessary to split this chapter in two): "As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. So therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” So he comforted them and spoke kindly to them (vss. 20, 21).
It seems we could easily use these themes for the entire story of Joseph. There seemed to be a thread of dedication, delay and doubt weaved into the story of Joseph to teach us valuable lessons about how to live our own stories. Joseph's was always about preserving people. His dedication to the cause of the right was always on his mind. Yes, we also see delay. But isn't this like our lives? Sometimes life just seems to slow right down when we would rather it speed up. But isn't it curious that when we want life to slow right down, it never does. And finally, we have doubt. But the question that should always be on our lips is what to do with it. Confession is a power thing, and we see it, though distorted and messy (not unlike our lives) in this story.
May we learn today to make a focus for our lives and stop at nothing to achieve it. Our lives are meant to be lived for the Glory of God and to seek His perspective in every circumstance (modeled amazingly by Joseph's statement). In Jacob's life, though messier than most, he seemed to do something right. He gave the opportunity for Joseph to live a life of dedication to others - perhaps indirectly taught Joseph this by his own life. Through the line of Jacob, Joseph comes as a breath of fresh air to us - giving us a very good example to follow. May we all strive to be as forgiving and dedicated as Joseph.