I was at my men’s group from church this evening. We are looking at ten different men from the Bible this semester in the hopes of becoming more Godly men. This week we were looking at the life of Joseph.
Each week our group begins with 5 minutes of silence, something much needed in the fast-paced environment of Washington DC. Then we sing a few songs. We are a large group—as many as 30 people on a large night. Following our singing we will have discussion in a large group setting and then breakout into smaller groups. During this evening’s smaller group we honed on one quote from Joseph to his brothers that really resonated with me.
When Joseph was in his teens, he was, well, a bit arrogant and he happened to be his father’s favorite. When he was seventeen Joseph has a dream that he shares with his brothers which make it sound like his brothers, all eleven of them, will worship Joseph. Sibling rivalry is not something new that has come about—this dream truly pisses Joseph’s brothers off. So much so, that they decide to kill him. However, a debate over this approach ensues and they decide to sell him into slavery instead.
Twenty-two years would pass between the time that Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery and when Joseph is reunited with his brothers. Genesis 37-44 captures this story—Joseph has gone through a lot during those twenty-two years—some good, some really bad. Chapters 44-50 focus on Joseph’s reunification with his family.
Back to tonight’s group. We had a question for tonight of whether or not God guides or directs our path. When we broke into our smaller groups someone mentioned Genesis 50:20 quoting Joseph, who is now a man of great wealth and power, responding to his brother’s request for forgiveness while expecting revenge. Joseph says to his brothers, “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good…” For a bit our conversation centered around whether or not God was complicit with the brother’s selling of Joseph into slavery. The question was asked in our group, does not God permit or actually advocate for evil activity to show his goodness?—Joseph does state that “God meant it for good.”
Reading Genesis 50:15-17: "When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘It may be that Joseph will hate us and pay us back for all the evil we did to him.’ So they sent a message to Joseph saying, ‘Your father, [not their father but his father’] gave this command before he died, ‘Say to Joseph, Please forgive the transgressions of your brothers and their sins, because they did evil to you.”
This led me to question did Joseph really believe that God actually predestined all these events—was God part of the evil? Or is Joseph here a foreshadowing of Jesus? Is Joseph in essence stating, yes of course I can forgive you, but what is that worth? Is it possible that perhaps Joseph’s brothers are so afraid of Joseph that they are forgetting God. Are we, close to 4000 years removed from this story, oblivious to the rivalrous character of the pagan gods that were a part of Joseph and Israel’s culture that we are missing the prophetic message that Joseph is attempting to share with his brothers?
If I am one of those 11 brothers I know damn well that there is no pagan god responsible and certainly not Yahweh that is responsible for the actions I took with my jealousy at my younger brother who I betrayed—it was all about my sibling rivalry. When Joseph says God meant it for good, this is not Joseph saying that God had a hand in this evil action, it is stating that God, Yahweh, can redeem it. Yes, I, Joseph can forgive you for your evil, but you know what, there is no angry god holding this against you either, Yahweh forgives you as well. It is strikingly familiar to Jesus statement on the Cross: “Forgive them for they know not what they do.”