Tag Archives: #man

Comfort in pain and the reality of Joseph’s experience (Genesis 37-50)

Joseph is a cracker of a story isn’t it? He’s young and exciting, he has dreams, he’s God’s chosen – he even has a fancy coat and a musical. So even in popular cultural people know bits and bobs about him.

Image result for joseph and his amazing technicolour dreamcoat

As Christians, we might know a bit more. We might understand the context of his story in the broader arc of the whole Bible. We also tend to zero in on Genesis 50:20: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.

This is the pinnacle of the whole story. Focus too far in and you would miss what God is doing. Joseph had the ability to step back and see the broader picture of what had been happening.

However, keep the focus too far out and we might miss the beauty in the detail. The beauty is in the picture of two men – father and son – and their deeply emotional expressions. In seeing their raw and honest emotions, there is profound teaching for all of us.

So lets trace Joseph’s story very quickly:

  • We meet Joseph aged 17 in Genesis 37:2 and he has 10 older brothers. He’s precocious and kind of a jerk – he brings his father Jacob a bad report about his brothers and when he has dreams suggesting that his brothers will all bow down to him, he tells them (which is the worst thing a younger brother can do!). Jacob doesn’t help and shows his favoritism by getting him a fancy coat.
  • At this age, or some time after, the brothers decide to kill him (37:20) but his brother Reuben intercedes. They are going to throw him in a cistern but decide at the last minute to sell him as a slave.
  • Joseph is sold as a slave to Egyptian official Potipher and the Lord was with him (39:2). But Potipher’s wife fancies him. When he refuses her, she accuses him of attacking her and Joseph is thrown in jail.
  • In jail, God is with him again (39:21). While there, he interprets 2 people’s dreams and his predictions come to pass, but it is another 2 years before he gets out and goes into the service of the Pharoah after correctly interpreting his dreams.
  • Genesis 41:46 says Joseph is 30 years old when he enters Pharoahs service and after this, there are 7 years of abundance. Two years into the 7 years of famine, Joseph’s brothers and Jacob intersect with him again – so as the story comes full circle, Joseph is 39 years old.

So Joseph suffers for 13 years before he is released from prison, and 22 years before he is reconciled with his family. We tend to think abut Joseph’s suffering in terms of the “God was with him” bit. I don’t know about you, but when I have been in a difficult place, it is has been possible to see that God is with me, and it is a comfort, but it doesn’t make the circumstances easier to bear in the immediacy and logistics of the situation. If we have a death in the family, or loss of a job, a serious medical issue or a crumbling relationship, we know that God is there and it comforts us – but we still worry and we still mourn and we still feel the pain or the situation.

So lets re-think this a little because there are several clues in the text as to what Joseph really thought and how he felt.

In his late teens, Joseph is facing his own brothers who are going to kill him, or throw him into a cistern in the middle of the desert. Cisterns were wells for capturing water. They were usually dug out of rock and were about 15-20 feet deep.

Ancient Cistern

Ancient cistern. Source: https://www.bible-history.com/biblestudy/cisterns.html

This prospect alone would be terrifying and in 42:21 we see what happened that night. When Joseph, as Pharoah’s administrator, toys with his brothers (who don’t recognise him), the brothers say to one another “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”

How distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life. Its a chilling picture. Joseph was terrified. He was just a scared boy.

The same night he is ripped from his family and sold into slavery. We have seen enough photos from around the world of people torn from their homes to begin to understand what he must have been feeling – confusion, fear, panic, loss. Deep down, he may just have wanted his mum.

But he survives. And he loses his young precociousness. In the house of Potipher, it turns out he, with God’s gifts, is a great manager and administrator. But then he is pursued and falsely accused. The injustice must have been a horrific burden. And then again, the fear of not knowing what will happen – rape was punishable by death or castration in ancient Egypt. But he is imprisoned.

Even though God was with him in prison, Joseph was still a prisoner in what must have been dark, crowded and disgusting surroundings. And he was there around 10 years. He endured for 10 years. It’s interesting that when it says “the Lord was with him” it doesn’t say that Joseph bore up well, or that he was content in heart. He was apparently steadfast and trustworthy enough to have been put in charge by the prison warden. But we don’t know how his heart was affected by his experiences there.

Then when Joseph comes face to face with his brothers, his emotions overcome him. He is the most important man in all of Egypt. He is a father and husband. He has saved countless lives through his management of the abundant and famine years. But when he first sees them, he engineers things so that one brother remains and is put in prison (42:19), just as he had been. Then he plants silver in their bags so they must live with the fear of false accusation – just as he had been (42:25-28). They are also to bring the last brother back to him, as what? As a slave? Possibly. But here we see Joseph in a tumble of ragged emotions and knee jerk responses. All the while, dealing with deep and bitter anger and frustration and who knows what else that had been building up in him for over a decade:

  • He (Joseph) turned away from them and began to weep (42:24)
  • Deeply moved at the sight of his brother, Joseph hurried out and looked for a place to weep. He went into his private room and wept there (43:30)
  • Then Joseph could no longer control himself before all his attendants, and he cried out, “Have everyone leave my presence!” So there was no one with Joseph when he made himself known to his brothers. And he wept so loudly that the Egyptians heard him, and Pharaoh’s household heard about it. (45:1-2)

This is where his life of anguish ends as he is reconciled with his family – but the anguish never leaves. We know this from our own bitter experience unfortunately. We may overcome. We may even triumph. But the experience shapes us. What we can say is that God was and is with us, and when the grief subsides, we can see the broadest arc of what He was doing in our lives.

And how about Jacob? My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left.” (42:38) This single line holds such passionate despair and fear. But what is Benjamin the only one of? The only other son of Rachel, Jacob’s beloved wife. Benjamin was the last piece of her that he had.

Both sons had been favoured by Jacob because he loved her so much. Jacob had been tricked by his father in law into marrying Leah and allowed himself to be enslaved and abused for the sake of marrying Rachel, such was his love for her (Genesis 29:18). She died in childbirth with Benjamin and so after the loss Joseph, Benjamin was Jacob’s only link with his departed wife. As hard as that must have been for his other children, we can understand the depth of his longing.

All these years he had grieved and now here Joseph was. Yes, a triumph. Yes, God’s plan. But there is such tragic beauty in the detail. We see strong men expressing their deepest emotions. God did not erase their pain, but He was with them.

The emotions are clear and honest. These emotions are God-given. And this story of Joseph is not the only place that we see God helping and guiding us in them. We see in Psalms, God gives us words to speak to Him in our anguish – we should use them. All of us will face circumstances that we think could break us. It is part of our human experience. But God did not leave us empty handed. We see in Joseph’s story a man remaining steadfast while experiencing all the most natural, honest and raw emotions. And Psalms shows us what we can say when the pain is so deep there are no words. We should not shy away from these.

Women can be good at this but this helps us to have shape to our emotional processing.

Men have not had a history or a culture of being able to do this. So for men, this might be liberating.

Don’t forget, if you find the rawness of these circumstances and emotions scary, let us remember that Jesus showed us the same. He showed us anger (Matthew 16:21-23), he showed us sadness (John 11:32-35), he showed us fear (Mark 14:35-36).

Look to Jesus and the humanity he displayed in all its realness. Take heart from Joseph and Jacob. Read the story. Read them as real people, just like you are. Read Psalm 69 or 86 – see how God helps us to cry out the words to Him when we might not even have them ourselves.

There is beauty in the detail when it is pointed God-ward. We don’t revel in in our negative feelings, but we can embrace the emotions that God gave us to process the pain. Only then can we step backwards and see the greater arc in what God is doing in our lives.

What makes a “good man”? (Or a good anyone?)

I was going to call this blog “Don’t high-5 each other just because you never raped anyone”. OK that’s a super provocative title, but I wanted to get people’s attention. The other problem with that title, is that it only relates to men and the issue that I wanted to talk about is actually an everybody-issue.

Let me explain.

I was reading an article recently. That’s it – not a madly exciting thing to happen, but its what it said. It talked about what makes a good man. As a mother of boys this is important to me. One of the criteria pulled me up short – “A good man will never abuse you”.

When did that become a criteria for being a good man? Have we become so used to despicable behavior that the mere absence of it is considered “good”?

So let me be clear:

Not hitting, stalking, raping or killing, or in any other way abusing someone, isn’t “good” behavior – its normal behavior. As humans, these are things we have, through time, collectively agreed are the opposite of good behavior. We have framed laws and protections against people who engage in them. To now be at the point in history that we would define someone’s goodness by the absence of abnormal behavior makes me heart-sick. And I am outraged on behalf of my sons and all the young girls out there that we would have them think that not being raped or abused by someone makes them a good man.

It would be easy to make this piece about culture-whinging and man-bashing but that’s not my jam. My aim with all these observations is to look at where we can get a course corrective that is positive and collaborative. The place always for this is the Bible. What does the Bible say is a good man?

Here’s some examples:

  • good man obtains favor from the Lord, but a man of evil devices he condemns Prov 12:2
  • The backslider in heart will be filled with the fruit of his ways, and a good man will be filled with the fruit of his ways. Prov 14:14
  • for he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Acts 11:24
  • And there was much muttering about him among the people. While some said, “He is a good man,” others said, “No, he is leading the people astray.” John 7:12

According to these passages, a good man “obtains favor”. How does a man obtain favor? Isaiah 66:2 says “These are the ones I look on with favor: those who are humble and contrite in spirit, and who tremble at my word.”

A good man will be filled with the fruit of his (good) ways. This looks like its saying a man reaps what he sows, but there’s more to it. The word translated as “filled” is the same for the backslider and the good man. It is the Hebrew saba and can mean both “satisfied” and “paid back”. From the context it appears apparent that the backslider will be paid back and the good man will be satisfied. How is one satisfied? As famed preacher Jonathan Edwards said: The enjoyment of God is the only happiness with which our souls can be satisfied. Check out some of the Psalms which give us a fuller picture of this:

As for me, I will be vindicated and will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness. Psalm 17:15

You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. Psalm 16:11

The Acts passage describes Barnabas as he goes to Antioch. As a good man, he is full of the Holy Spirit and faith. And in John 7, we see that some saying Jesus is a good man being opposed by those who say he can’t be a good man because he is leading people astray.

This just starts to build a picture of what a good man is and gives me, as a mother of boys, a foundation for building my boys in character. We see a definite pattern here of being in God, knowing Him, seeking Him, having faith, humility, integrity and strength.

Of course the person who exemplifies these characteristics is in God himself, in His son, Jesus. Jesus’ sacrifice for us, washes us clean and we get to start again, rebuilding a new life in Him. He sent the Spirit to help us in this growth in Christ-likeness and we are to be led by Him. This is what Paul discussed in Galatians:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Galatians 5:22-23

This. THIS should be the criteria that defines a good man – and a good woman.

We must always remember that the air we breathe can influence the course of our thoughts and beliefs and attitudes. This cultural air proliferates everything in our lives through TV and radio, music, film, advertising and social media. As Christians we have a bigger picture than that and our God is bigger. And we are His image-bearers.

If we are to live in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice, we must assess ourselves against these criteria – not the absence of despicable behavior, but a passionate pursuit of God above all else, and the deliberate growth in Christ-likeness.

And if we are deficient or immature in these areas, we need each other as Christian brothers and sisters, to help each other grow. We must ask each other – what would gentleness look like in our contexts? What would self-control involve? Are there things to repent of in these areas? If we truly look at ourselves, are there things we need to change, develop, mature? This is the higher bar. It takes courage, self-reflection, honesty, humility – a big God, and trusted Christian friends.

God commands us to be different to our culture. And looking at our culture, our sons and daughters need us to be different too.

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do. James 1:22-25