I love the Joseph story (and it’s various retellings. Technicolor Dreamcoat anybody?). It’s always been a particular favorite of mine, seeing how God uses one man to impact so many people, even though things don’t always seem to go well for him.
I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to be him: to be sold into slavery by your own brothers. The sense of abandonment he must have felt, and yet he never turns away from God. Then, to go from rock bottom as a slave in a foreign country to being household overseer for an important man, only to have it all taken away from him when he did nothing wrong. I can’t believe I ever complain about my circumstances.
I don’t really have anything new to say about this story that hasn’t been said before, but it still amazes me. It amazes me how God uses horrible circumstances for his purposes. If not for Joseph’s brothers selling him into slavery, it is possible the famine would have wiped out Israel and his children.
And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. (Genesis 45:7)
But God is always in control. It may not seem like it at the time, we may become overwhelmed with the pain and evil in the world and wonder where God could possibly be in the midst of all that. But we must hold on to those moments of clarity, when we see God’s hand in our lives and in our world. We must hold on to those moments in the midst of trials and remember: there is a God who loves us, and he is ultimately in control.
I also love that Joseph gives all the glory to God. When asked to interpret dreams he immediately points to God as the source of the interpretations, not him. I know this is something I need to remember for myself, that any gifts I have are really from God. This idea was brought up often in my ministry courses, as it’s common and so easy for people in ministry to begin to rely on their own strength, wisdom and skill, while relying less on God and the power of the Holy Spirit.
I pray this will not happen for me, or for anyone else for that matter: that we will remember we can do all things through Christ who gives us strength (Phil. 4:13).
An odd and often confusing section here is the story of Onan and Tamar in Chapter 38. Tamar is the wife of Er, who is put to death by the Lord, leaving Tamar a childless widow. Tamar is given to Onan, Er’s brother, so that she may have children by Onan, for Er. However, Onan does not “fulfill his duty” (v. 9), and so the Lord puts him to death.
We went over this story in detail in one of my classes, but I can’t find my notes, and I don’t remember the specifics of the context for this story, which is unfortunate. However, of what I remember, the key here is tied up in ancient customs regarding inheritance, and that the offspring would be “for his brother, [Er].” The understanding of reproduction at the time was flawed to say the least, and so the child born would have been considered Er’s firstborn child, and therefore the one who would receive the largest portion of the inheritance, leaving less for Onan’s children.
Also, Onan would have been seen as depriving Er of life after death. The conception of an afterlife as we know it was not a part of their beliefs: they believed they lived on after death through their children. So, by denying Er a child, Onan was denying him life after death. I don’t know about anyone else, but I find that to be pretty interesting stuff.
A final point of interest that stuck out to me in this reading was this: Jacob/Israel blessed Pharoah (47:7-10). I find that amazing and astonishing. I wonder what the scene was like, how those in the room reacted to Israel giving a blessing to the ruler of all Egypt. It continues to astound me how well respected these patriarchs were by those around them.