(Illustration: “Jacob’s Sons Selling Their Brother Joseph” from the 1897 book “Bible Pictures and What They Teach Us” by Charles Foster)
I discovered something missing today in the Bible. I found it missing in the account of Joseph being sold into slavery in Egypt. His story is told in Genesis (chapters 37 and 39-45). What I discovered missing was his complaint. When I consider how little it takes to upset my apple cart, I am ashamed and humbled by Joseph. There is no angered call for vengeance, raining down of judgment or even a plea for vindication uttered through clenched teeth.
Joseph did not ask God to strike Potiphar’s wife with premature unsightly wrinkles, frazzled split ends, a miscarrying womb or simple hives. He did not rail against his brothers who conspired against him, the band of Ishmaelites who sold him, Potiphar who used him, Mrs. Potiphar who wickedly accused him, the jailor who took advantage of him, fellow prisoners who ignored him or even the butler who forgot him.
Joseph recognized that his enemies were not his brothers, the Ishmaelites, Mr. and Mrs. Potiphar, the jailer, the other prisoners, the butler, Pharaoh or even God. Joseph saw his enemies as fear, envy, injustice and ignorance. Fear in the pit, envy that drove his brothers to desperation, the injustice of slavery and the ignorance that governed other people’s actions were the enemies.
These enemies are not Joseph’s alone. They are the enemies of all mankind and creation. Joseph experienced more. What lurked beneath the relationship of Mr. and Mrs. Potiphar? Was it the enemy of unfulfilled longings and frustrations? Other enemies persisted. Depression, discouragement, poverty, greed, selfishness and lies are enemies that prey on human hearts. Lack of trust, want of feeling, loneliness, despair, dashed hopes and disappointed dreams work like a famine to dry up the human soul.
Joseph witnessed these things and so could also see them in others – and lovingly understood.
The psalmist declares, “Until the time that his word came: the word of the Lord tried him” (Psalm 105:19 KJV).
While Joseph was in prison, the Word of the Lord tried him. Joseph’s response to the trials he faced was not to pour out complaints to God or curses on men, but to hold on to God and to hold on with both hands.
When he was presented before Pharaoh as a man who could interpret dreams, Joseph boldly affirmed that it was not in him to interpret dreams but in God. Here Joseph is in a position to really help himself to win honor from the Pharaoh. Instead he proclaims his steadfast faith in God. The glory always went to God.
Humbled by Joseph’s example, my afflictions seem slight. I have not been sold into slavery or wrongly accused and imprisoned for a crime I did not commit. But I am and we all are confronted by Joseph’s same enemies.
Like Joseph, we must recognize that our enemies are not the people who may appear to be against us, but they are the evil forces that prey on people’s minds and corrupt people’s hearts. We all need the transforming power of Christ through the Holy Spirit for deliverance from evil.
Clinging to a Cliff
Let us try to look at it in this way. A man was clinging to the side of a hill with death below and no way to climb up. How he got there is immaterial. However, some will say that he was pushed; others say it was his own fault. Still others insist that it was a simple accident of nature or an act of God. Whatever; he needs help. There he was clinging on for dear life without the means of saving himself when a man appeared from the top of the cliff. The man lowered a rope and told him to grab hold of it.
As the rope came within reach, the man on the cliff frantically stretched out a hand and grabbed the rope. However, he still could not move. Then from the top of the cliff, a voice called down, “Take hold with both hands. Hold on with both hands, and I’ll lift you up.”
A Rope of Mercy
When Joseph was lifted out of his pit and elevated to one of the highest positions in the world, he used that position to lower a rope of mercy to his brothers.
When we find ourselves on a cliff being tried by the Word of God, that is not the time to pour out complaints to God or accusations toward others. That is when we need to try holding on in faith to the Word of God. But we need to let go of the cliff of our resentments, failures and rejections. Hold on in faith with both hands to God’s rope of mercy.
Martin Burrello, a school teacher for three decades, is a conference ministerial candidate in the New England Conference assigned to the Oak Ridge Free Methodist Church in Herkimer, New York.
1. How did Joseph’s response to persecution and temptation differ from the way many people react to difficult situations and conversations?
2. Why is it sometimes hard to hold on to your faith during hard times?