The story of Joseph’s rise to power in Egypt is remarkable. Joseph was the eleventh of Jacob’s sons, but his firstborn by Rachel. Jacob favoured Joseph, and his brothers all resented him for it. Betrayed into slavery in Egypt by his jealous brothers, and imprisoned unjustly on the testimony of a frustrated seductress, the future didn’t look good for Joseph for a while.
When life turns against us unfairly, often our temptation is to ditch our regard for God. We like Him fine when things are going well, but we doubt His goodness when the going gets tough. The lesson from Joseph is that God’s faithfulness is constant, even when our circumstances suggest otherwise. God is bigger than our troubles.
Joseph eventually became the most powerful man in all Egypt – describing himself as “father to Pharaoh, lord of all his house, and ruler over all Egypt.” (Genesis 45:8). From the bottom of the pit to the heights of the palace, Joseph had never taken his eyes off God. His circumstances didn’t determine his faith.
It was from such a position of power that Joseph was able to arrange for the security and prosperity of his extended family – even the brothers who had done their best to get rid of him. Having secretly tested them for honesty and loyalty, he finally lets them in on the secret of how their plan to destroy him had actually brought about his chance to save them. A hard famine was starting to bite, and Joseph’s kindred were all in its grip. Their only hope was to accept the grace and mercy of the one they had all despised. The pattern echoes forwards nearly two thousand years to the Cross, when the stone the builders rejected became the most important stone in the entire enterprise. Christ was betrayed, humbled – even to death on a cross – but then can tell his disciples that “all authority in heaven and on earth” had been given to Him (Matthew 28:18).
As the title of this article suggests, Joseph had a warning for his brothers as they went back to Canaan, loaded with gifts and provisions, to fetch old Jacob and bring him to the safety of Egypt. Don’t quarrel on the journey back (Genesis 45:24). Jacob’s sons were Olympic-class quarrellers. Joseph had given each of them gifts and clothes, but he had shown particular generosity to his young full-brother Benjamin. If the brothers were given the chance to let resentment stir them up again, as they had with Joseph so many years before, there could be nothing but trouble ahead.
They had just been given much when they deserved nothing. They had just been given forgiveness when they deserved justice. They had just been given mercy. But Joseph knew them well enough to caution them not to slip back into their old sibling squabbles. The family dynamics had shifted, and they were to behave accordingly. When we are given much (and much different from what we deserve), isn’t it true that we can still let petty jealousies and old arguments still govern our behaviour? Isn’t it easy to slip back into the selfishness that dogged us before we were rescued? The way forward is under the watchful care of the Lord who died for us. If he says don’t go back to our old ways, we should listen and obey.