Week of Jan. 8: God's constant love and mercy paves the way for Joseph
By the Rev. Sam and Helen Rogers
Scripture: Genesis 41:37-45, 50-52
Background Scripture: Genesis 41: 1-52
We left Joseph languishing in Pharaoh’s prison. While there, the jailer recognized his administrative abilities and placed him in complete charge “because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” The constant presence and guidance of God is crucial in understanding the unfolding events of Joseph’s life.
Two officials of Pharaoh’s household “offended” him and were incarcerated with Joseph. Each had disturbing dreams. In his ability to interpret dreams, Joseph always affirmed his gift came from God. The difference between a natural talent and an ability given by God for a specific purpose is a matter to pursue—but let’s wait a bit!
Joseph asked one of them, the cupbearer to Pharaoh, to remember him, but he forgot. Joseph had already suffered two betrayals: through the jealous violence of his brothers and through the twisted passion of Potiphar’s wife. Now comes another injury less malicious, but hardly less disillusioning. Here is a man he had befriended and helped. The cupbearer did not set out to do him harm; he simply did nothing at all. He just went off casually and forgot. But to Joseph, in prison, that neglect was as hurtful as if it had been a deliberate wrong. The sins of omission often are our worst!
Only later when the Pharaoh himself was in anguish about his dreams of fat and lean calves and full and thin heads of grain did the cupbearer remember and mention Joseph to Pharaoh. Interestingly, Joseph took time to shave like the Egyptians before presenting himself before the king. In asking for Joseph’s help, the Pharaoh gives Joseph the credit for his ability. Once again Joseph demurs by declaring, “I cannot do it, but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.” There are to be two periods—one of seven years of plenty and one of seven years of famine. Not only does Joseph interpret the dreams, he also offers a plan to ameliorate the devastation famine will bring. Pharaoh is to name an agricultural commissioner with unlimited powers to use the seven years of plenty to prepare for the seven years of famine. Pharaoh recognizes the man he needs is Joseph himself.
First Potiphar, next the jailer and finally Pharaoh himself – all see in Joseph the special gifts he possesses. At every stage of his life, Joseph finds favor because of “hesed”- God’s constant love and mercy. Thus ends his 13 long years of suffering. From the boastful adolescent’s fateful trip to Dothan to the man who rises to the position of power second only to Pharaoh, there has come a maturity honed by suffering.
That maturity encompasses the faith others can see and recognize because Joseph time and again “gives God the glory!” The honors heaped upon Joseph measure up to what he will accomplish. The signet ring used as the royal seal, the gold chain around his neck as sign of honor and his own chariot and guard to ride behind the Pharaoh—all speak of power to act! Too often when confronted with overwhelming problems, we are paralyzed rather than energized. When Pharaoh asked, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” we hear evidence of the power of personal witness to the reality of God.
Joseph is careful to separate his natural talents and abilities from his spiritual gifts of administration, wisdom, and governing (See Romans 12 and I Corinthians 12). A spiritual gift is given “for the common good” and for a specific divine purpose. Here they are for the saving of many lives. Later they will be to preserve the Covenant people (Israel) and fulfill God’s promise to Abraham. God uses people in every sphere of life—not just the religious sphere. In Egypt, national policy was determined by the nation’s great need. Would today our leaders think similarly! God’s blessings are not just for the chosen ones, but include everyone. The prevention of starvation is a matter of universal concern. Joseph’s wise plan will care for many—including his own family back in Canaan.
As Joseph becomes increasingly involved in Egyptian life, he is given an Egyptian name and wife. His name means: “God speaks and he who bears his name lives.” Although married to a non-Hebrew, he gives Hebrew names to his two sons. Their names also have meaning. Manasseh means “making to forget” and Ephraim means “to be fruitful.” These character traits serve Joseph well. God enables Joseph to forget, to put the past behind him, and to move beyond dwelling on misfortune and get on with the work God has given him to do. The fruitfulness of Joseph’s life is obvious and becomes the reason for the ultimate fulfillment of God’s purpose for Joseph and his people. In adversity and prosperity, God has been with him. The remarkable transformation from conceited youth to an altruistic adult is proof again: “to whom much is given, much is required!” God has a mission to accomplish and everything has happened for this reason.
Another intriguing factor in the story is his marriage to the daughter of a priest. While elsewhere in the Old Testament there is prohibition for such a marriage across religious boundaries, here there is a remarkable capacity for the integration of the Hebrew faith with another culture and another religion. Joseph illustrates that such integration can be a positive experience and not carry negative results. (New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. I, page 624.)
With ever increasing literary power, the story of Joseph in Egypt has unfolded. With superb skill, the biblical writers have set the stage with sharp delineation of characters, intense human interest and emotion and an all-encompassing sense of the unseen, but never absent, providence of God. We wait expectantly for the story’s climax, when once again Joseph meets his brothers.
Helen and Rev. Sam Rogers are a retired clergy couple. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.