Boosts from the Bible #8 (The Story of Joseph)

Welcome to “Boosts from the Bible, Number Eight,” our spiritual devotions that delve into the depths of the Holy Scriptures, in order to receive a boost of God’s wisdom, God’s love, and God’s hope and peace during this strange time.

Let me start with a few sentences that I read earlier today in an article: “The nature of a pandemic is living with constant uncertainty and learning as we go,” it reads. “There is no certainty whatsoever about any of it at this point, and our understanding literally changes by the day. The pandemic is something we can’t control. And by threatening our health, upending our economic situation, and completely throwing off our sense of normal, it has disrupted our sense of security.”

I am an amateur historian, and what I just read could also apply to the people of Salem, Massachusetts, in the year 1692. They were not enduring a pandemic, but they were having to endure a series of setbacks that, added to their very dire “Puritan Way” of looking at life, led to the Salem Witchcraft Crisis.  You see, the people of Salem and the rest of the Massachusetts Bay Colony had just endured some major setbacks up north; the local Native Americans had burnt down homes and either taken hostages or killed many of many people they knew in those new villages which were just few miles away in southern Maine. So the colony put together a military expedition, and that army had lost to the tribal armies and ran home, many soldiers they knew having been killed. Meanwhile, the economy was in shambles for almost everyone; the many local farmers were very angry that the few sea merchants along the coast who were making money while the farmers themselves practically starved.

But something else added to this mix: a sense of being cursed by neighbors who seemed to them to have become witches and warlocks. Every bad thing was attributed to a neighbor that you just had an argument with – your neighbor had just made a cutting remark, usually, at that argument’s end, which was seen as a curse – and so whether it was a measly thing – say, after the argument your horses were uncontrollable, or your only pig died, or you couldn’t get any sleep that night, or your dog bit you, or you had a bad nightmare or two – or something terrible happened soon after an argument with your neighbor – like your baby died, or your crop failed, or you got ill all of a sudden – well, these things happened because your neighbor had become a witch or warlock, AND HAD CURSED YOU. And it was terrible, oh so terrible, in the minds of these people, that for the rest of your life you would be cursed!

When I was a student chaplain in a hospital for nine short weeks, even in those nine weeks I came across people who thought they were cursed. Oh, they may not have used the word “curse” but that’s what they meant. While they were there in the hospital fighting cancer or heart disease or lung disease or some serious illness, they would share with me not only the disease they were going through but all those regrets in their lives that amounted to a running curse over them.

Is this what this coronavirus time is all about? Being cursed? I know that the longer that all of this goes on, the more tempted we humans are to think that way. With that feeling often comes another feeling, to “give up” on the one hand, or “act out” on the other. So what does God’s Word say about all of this? Is there anything in the Bible that can help get us straightened out, so that we may avoid that “being cursed” feeling, that useless feeling? Why, of course there is! At least one!

I give you Joseph. No, not the Joseph who was with Mary but the first Joseph, the one in Genesis – the one who was featured in the musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat” – the Joseph who was almost the youngest boy in a clan of 12 boys, all sons of the godly patriarch, Jacob, grandson of Abraham. This is the great family that became, over many generations, the nation of Israel – the birth clan of the followers of Yahweh, our God.

Joseph was his father’s favorite, receiving from his father that famous beautiful coat. Joseph dreamed dreams and shared them with his jealous brothers – dreams that one day they would all bow down to him. So one day the brothers thought of killing him but instead stuck him in a deep well and then sold him to slave traders, who took Joseph to Egypt and sold him to a captain of the Pharaoh’s guard, a man named Potiphar.

Now let me jump ahead in the story of Joseph to the time that parallels our time the most. In this part of the story we find Joseph in prison – and we find him to have been in prison for many years. What can Joseph look back on to give him hope in this situation? Why should he still believe in his God? Why, not, rather, might he feel that he has been cursed, and cursed forever?

Let’s review these years in the life of Joseph. First, he was almost killed but instead thrown in a deep well for a while and then sold to slave traders who in turn sold him to Potiphar, the Egyptian official. Next, Joseph became a well-respected slave in the house of Potiphar. But then Potiphar’s wife tried to lure Joseph into an extramarital affair. Joseph refused, saying it was wrong to injure Potiphar in this way and adding, “How then could I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?” For his fidelity to God, Joseph was accused of rape and thrown into prison. Then Joseph inspired a fellow prisoner, the former cupbearer to the Pharaoh, to have hope of being reinstated to his former position. You see, this cupbearer had just had a dream, and Joseph interpreted that dream to mean that the cupbearer would be welcomed back into the Pharaoh’s household. And that did indeed happen, as Joseph prophesied. Joseph had made the cupbearer promise this: “Remember me when it is well with you again; please do me the kindness to make mention of me to Pharaoh, and so to get me out of this place. For in fact I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews; and here also I have done nothing that they should have put me in this dungeon.” But what happened next, after the cupbearer was restored to his post? We read: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph but forgot him.”

Groan! That must have been the toughest time for Joseph, just as we are going through tough times. As the time drags on for us, so the time must have REALLY dragged on for Joseph. Just as he thought he was getting OUT of this mess, nothing happens. Nothing. But did Joseph give up? It is likely that he did NOT give up. Even though the cupbearer did not mention him to Pharaoh for TWO LONG YEARS, Joseph did not feel cursed, but rather he was ready, really ready when his time for redemption arrived. You see, after two years Pharaoh had an important dream, which no one could interpret at his court. It was thenthat the cupbearer remembered and recommended Joseph to interpret this dream. His interpretation so struck Pharaoh and his court that they not only lifted Joseph up out of prison but made him second in command of all of Egypt! Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream allowed Egypt to save a lot of grain during the upcoming 7 successful farming years, in order to prepare for the following 7 quite unsuccessful farming years, with the result that Joseph saved not just Egypt but a whole region from starving – including saving his father and his brothers and their families from starvation; now these brothers, when they came to Egypt for some grain, at first did not recognize Joseph, and later, when Joseph did reveal himself to them, they became very afraid that he would seek revenge against them.

Now here’s the thing. We can feel cursed, and lose hope, but God does not want us to lose hope! God has a deep plan going on here, just as God had a deep plan with Joseph. Let us keep faith with God just as Joseph kept faith with God. As Joseph told his fearful brothers, referring to how they sold him into slavery and caused his difficult travail: “Do not be afraid! Am I in the place of God? Even though you intended to do harm to me, God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as God is doing today. So have no fear.”

No matter what we are going through, God’s intentions are good, and, if you will note from the way Joseph put it…God’s intentions for good often become clearer and clearer over a long time. Even when Joseph was alone, like we are, and in jail, God was planning ways in which Joseph would not only be freed from his isolation, but also God was planning ways in which Joseph’s godly talents would be used not only to save the people of Israel…who generations later would produce Jesus…but also Joseph’s talents would be used to save thousands upon thousands of people from a terrible and lengthy drought –saving OTHER, non-Hebrew people…people who were ALSO made by God in God’s image and likeness.  And even now God is working through people the world over to do the same thing, to save the same people He has made. Of that, let us be thankful …and let us hopeful, not living in cursed dread, for the future…even if, like Joseph in his dungeon, you and I have to wait longer than we like – a length of time we might be worried that we can get through. Ask God for more of God’s endless supply of patience, and God will, as with Joseph, deliver. Amen.

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