We’ve lurched our way into 2017 in our household with bad colds for Pearl and I. Peter and I made it to 10:30 on New Year’s Eve and I spent most of January 1st in bed. Pearl picked up the illness from me and has had a rough couple of nights recently. Despite that, I’m hopeful for 2017. I’ve set some goals (I don’t know why that sounds better to me than resolutions but it does) and while the year may not look the way I hoped it would last summer, I am still looking forward to what it does bring.
As we enter into a new year, the story of Joseph has been on my mind. I know, not exactly seasonally appropriate but here’s what’s been on my mind.
Growing up, I heard this story a lot. Joseph and his dreams, Joseph and his colourful coat. Joseph and his brothers, more dreams, his success in Egypt. It’s told as a success story. It all worked out because in the end Joseph saves his family from famine. His brothers betray him, sell him into slavery, and lie to their father but it has a happy ending.
That’s not a false telling of the story but what’s struck me recently is that this couldn’t have been God’s ideal plan for Joseph and his family. Joseph is the son of Jacob, the great-grandson of Abraham. For four generations God has been promising to expand this particular family. God has promised that a great king will come from Abraham’s line, that Abraham descendants will be more numerous than the stars in the sky. It was never in God’s plan to let this family die of starvation three generations later. God could have kept them alive and safe in their own land. But He didn’t because Joseph’s brothers sinned hugely. Jealous of their younger brother, they could barely restrain themselves from killing him. Instead, they sold him into slavery in a foreign land where he suffered for years. He served in other men’s households. He was accused of crimes he didn’t commit. He spent years in prison. Genesis tells us that Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh. His entire youth was spent in slavery and imprisonment.
We know less about what Joseph’s brothers were up to in that time but what we do know points to them suffering too. Aside from a devastating famine, we know that Judah at least has turned from his brothers and raised sons who are “wicked in the sight of the Lord” and things degrade (Genesis 38, that’s a whole other story). We know also that the brothers are wracked with guilt for what they did to Joseph. When they stand in Joseph’s presence in Egypt and don’t recognize him, one of their first reactions to Joseph testing their honesty is to recall how Joseph begged for his life and they didn’t listen. No matter how many years have passed, his cries still echo in their ears.
My point is that none of this would have been what God wanted for this chosen family. God uses it, yes; Joseph remains obedient to God and faithful in his worship no matter the circumstances and God raises him up to a position where he’s able to help his family. But I don’t think God’s perfect plan involved those years of suffering for the brothers. It didn’t involve what followed for the Israelites – enslavement, escape, wandering through the desert.
I take comfort in this because I don’t think the way 2016 unfolded was God’s perfect plan for my life. We live in a sinful, fallen world, just as Joseph did and that means death and decay and broken hearts. It’s so hard to understand why an all-powerful God doesn’t step in and fix these things but as Christian we also believe that He is doing so. That when He sent His Son to die for us on the cross, that was the beginning of fixing all things. Making all things new. We’re not there yet and so we suffer. We suffer because we know that things are not as they should be. Just as Joseph suffered, knowing that his life should have been different, even as he gained power in Pharaoh’s court.
Joseph trusted that God could redeem what had happened to him. That enslavement and betrayal was not the end of the story. We don’t know what Joseph’s relationship was like with his brothers after they were all reunited in Egypt. I can’t imagine that it was ever as good as it could have been. There are wounds that are not healed this side of Heaven. But the healing process can begin on this side. God works in our lives now, despite the sin, despite the roadblocks we try to put in His way. He works now. He is working now.
I am excited to see how God unfolds His plan for our family in 2017.
(The story of Joseph is find in Genesis 37-47.)