Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Joseph - Lessons From Old Testament

God’s Word in Action

The books of the Old Testament in the Bible contain numerous accounts of believers who hung on to their faith in the Lord in the midst of adversity, and were subsequently rewarded. Joseph is one of them.

Characters of the Old Testament - Joseph

Joseph’s detailed account in the Bible begins with an illustration of his character and his dreams in Genesis 37. Though he’s only 17 his character is already high and pure, not how his father Jacob was at his age. The fact that God had already chosen him to fulfill his great plans for himself, his father and the future nation of Israel is clear from the divine intervention of dreams in his life.

Innocence Desired by God:

What a fool Joseph would be considered by the worldly wise people whom Jesus warned against. The Old Testament records that Joseph tells the truth about the dishonesty of his much older brothers to his father, Jacob, is open about the potentially envy-invoking dreams he had, and goes alone to visit his physically more powerful brothers wearing the very garment that invoked hatred in them! Surely, Joseph should have known better.

But that’s the very quality God at times expects us to have – innocence. The Bible always gives us honest descriptions of its characters, and the young Joseph is depicted so pure that he never expected his brothers to feel jealous about his dreams as well as Jacob’s special affinity to him. An innocent man knows no evil and can’t even comprehend evil in anyone else, unless he sees that individual doing wrong. A Christian needs to be that – not foolish or ignorant, but innocent. One should know about evil, but not know it.

It may not be successful always, but as this Old Testament character reveals, God has better and long term plans for believers in this world and the world to come. If Joseph hadn’t talked about his dreams or gone to visit his brothers alone, they wouldn’t be angry with him and wouldn’t have manhandled him. He also wouldn’t have been sold to Egypt. If he hadn’t reached Egypt, he wouldn’t have become Prime Minister (Genesis 41). If he wasn’t Prime Minister his brothers and father wouldn’t have been fed in the time of famine (Genesis 42). They also wouldn’t have settled in Egypt, beginning the first phase of Israel’s history as a nation (Genesis 45-47).

It is the Bible’s way of showing that God works in mysterious ways that bring him glory and do us good eventually. God sees the bigger picture since he’s greater than us. And it’s only through honesty and innocence that we can expect to be part of God’s greater plans for us.

Insight into God’s Word:

The Bible’s account of Joseph’s life in Egypt begins with Genesis 39. Again, the Lord is with him (God always blesses those who serve him truthfully), and he’s taken into the service of Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials. He doesn’t have to serve as a bonded laborer. But the new job presents challenges, certainly not helped by Joseph’s progress to manhood. He’s now handsome, muscular and responsible as well. But his character hasn’t changed one bit. He never gets puffed up with pride. A true Christian can never fall prey to evil, even if circumstances show the way. Daniel is another great example mentioned in the Bible.

A beautiful wife and a handsome servant under the same roof is mostly a recipe for disaster. In this case only Joseph ends up in immediate trouble, thanks to his unique insight into God’s law. Remember, this is Old Testament period before the Ten Commandments were given. This is more than 2000 years before Jesus gave his Sermon on the Mount, and much before the Holy Spirit who would “guide you into all truth” was bestowed. And yet, Joseph knew and accepted even in the height of temptation that having a sexual relationship with his master’s wife would be first a sin against God and then a crime against his master (Gen 39:9).

The seductress couldn’t succeed, just like the Devil couldn’t do with Jesus millennia later. She couldn’t draw delight from Joseph’s body so she, by falsely accusing him before her husband, sent him straight to jail. His insight got him there, but the prison was where Joseph’s character and gift of interpreting dreams eventually raised him to Egypt’s second-in-command.

Again, it’s fitting into the bigger picture of God’s plans that matters, not temporary escapades from reality. A Christian is required to have this insight into God’s law when faced with crucial choices, especially since the Holy Spirit has been gifted to every believer in the New Testament age.

Integrity God Delights In:

No sooner is Joseph shown in prison than the kindness he receives is mentioned. God was with Joseph, and he didn’t remain sulking in despair thinking of the misfortunes that seemed to faithfully follow him. No doubt he cried about his situation – the misunderstanding of his master, his loss of reputation, and the tragedy of suffering for a crime he never committed – but he moved on from there and soon displayed his integrity in prison. Genesis chapter 39, verses 22 and 23 describe the trust the jail warden put on Joseph.

The Bible maintains that the Lord rewards those faithful to him, and Joseph soon rediscovers his talent to interpret dreams. The royal cupbearer and the baker get their dreams interpreted, the former would be released from jail and reinstalled to his original position in Pharaoh’s service, while the baker would be hanged (or impaled). It happens as Joseph interprets, but the cupbearer fails to present Joseph’s case before the Pharaoh (Gen 40). This is further heartbreak for Joseph but he continues to be a faithful individual. Joseph’s integrity contrasts with the callousness of the cupbearer who is very much a representation of the common man.

But then Pharaoh himself requires the services of Joseph to interpret his dreams. This not only brings Joseph out of prison, but also promotes him in an unimaginable manner. He becomes second only to Pharaoh in authority in all Egypt. What happens next is clearly recorded in the Old Testament and marks one of the major milestones in Israel’s history and the Bible’s depiction of it.

Message from the Old Testament:
The Old Testament speaks to us in words as clear as water. Christians professing their faith in Christ need to live a Spirit-filled, truthful and witnessing life. This will be rewarded, if not immediately, then surely later or in God’s kingdom to come, which the Bible tells is lasting and therefore more important.