You meant it for harm but
“What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.
His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.
But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them.
For some reason, the strange story of Joseph, youngest and most beloved son of Jacob–Israel–keeps recurring to me.
I’ve loved this story of the seventeen-year-old boy who doesn’t know the rules from the first time I ‘met’ Joseph.
Or maybe he does and just ignores them?
It’s likely that Joseph’s brothers made their hatred of him apparent. Jacob preferred Joseph to all the others because “he was the son of his old age.” And yet, Joseph told his brothers about the dreams predicting Joseph’s lordship over them all. And when Jacob had created a special coat for the boy, Joseph hastened to find his brothers to show them.
The boy evokes this as he appears in his ‘coat with long sleeves.’ “Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits; we shall say that a wild beast has devoured him and we shall see what becomes of his dreams. But when Reuben he heard it, he delivered him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life….Shed no blood…”
It’s got everything, this tale: love, jealousy, hatred, maybe pride on the part of Joseph. But primarily Joseph’s story foreshadows Christ: hope and salvation.
They sold Joseph for twenty shekels
Genesis reveals only snippets of Joseph’s life between his seventeenth and thirtieth year. But we’re told the Lord has his hand on him. Working for Potiphar, one of Pharoah’s officials, he prospers, until he lands in the dungeon.
We’ve no way of knowing how Joseph feels during the rollercoaster ups and downs of his life in Egypt. But we can guess.
We’re provided details about his boss’s wife sexual aggression. Over and over, she tries to get him to lie with her. Even to the point of Joseph telling her that Potiphar has put everything he has in his hands, except his wife. “How can I do such a wicked thing?” But Joseph’s refusal merely whets her desire; she surprises him and “removes his garment.”
But saying no had to have been difficult. Perhaps she was alluring, certainly provocative and because Joseph knew well the cost of rejecting her advance
But he refused to disobey God’s law and ran, ending up in the dungeon because, of course, she lied, making herself the victim.
How long was Joseph in the dungeon?
Most likely, long enough to learn the single most important lesson of life:
“Without Me you can do nothing….(John 15:5)
He didn’t say, you can’t do much without Me but you can do nothing.”
Although the Bible doesn’t provide the details, saying no to the powerful woman had to have been exquisitely difficult for Joseph–on more than a few levels.
A few years ago, I wrote The Battleground of the Conscience. Rereading it for this reflection offers advice I have trouble holding on to. And that’s 16th century’s Lorenzo (Dom) Scupoli’s counsel about contrition. About the daily at times, minute by minute, slips and slides from Him. The self-criticism can weigh me down.
Negative thoughts are never from Him
Guessing that you too may occasionally do a deep dive into self-disgust, here’s Scupoli’s admonition on that point:
To preserve our hearts in perfect tranquility, it is still necessary to ignore some interior feelings of remorse which seem to come from God, because they are reproaches that our conscience makes to us regarding true faults, but which come, in effect, from the evil spirit as can be judged by what ensues. If the twinges of conscience serve to make us more humble, if they render us more fervent in the practice of good works, if they do not diminish the trust that one must have in divine mercy, we must accept them with thanksgiving, as favors from heaven. But if they trouble us, if they dishearten us, if they render us lazy, timid, slow to perform our duties, we must believe that these are the suggestions of the enemy and do things in a normal way, not deigning to listen to them.
(The Spiritual Combat, chapter 25)
When we next see Joseph, his enforced silence and solitude has transformed a prideful youngster into a prudent, humble, righteous man. When asked if he can interpret the strange dreams of the Pharaoh, Joseph replies that he cannot.
But God can.
“And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
Joseph’s tale immerses me in the terrible suffering of our Israeli brothers and sisters.
Of course we pray for the souls of the dead.
And offer our fasts and sacrifices.
But more than those, we trust that God’s mysterious, unknowable Divine Will prevails. You meant it for harm but God intended for good to accomplish…