The Narrative Lectionary leads us farther into the Old Testament story this week by pointing us to Genesis 39. If there is an ancient story with more contemporary ties, I don’t know what it would be.
Bible students are familiar with the long arc of the story of Joseph. He was the 11th son of Jacob and a favorite son. It was upon Joseph that the coat of many colors was bestowed. Joseph had dreams of his brothers bowing down before him. As unlikely as this was (from a human perspective), Joseph showed little discretion in telling his brothers about it. They hated him for his favored status and his delusions of grandeur. Sibling rivalry, it appears, is an ancient reality. So they sold him to some Ishmaelite traders (Thankfully, Reuben talked them out of killing him. That’s what big brothers are for!). They dipped his colorful coat in animal’s blood and cold-heartedly told their father that Joseph was dead. I guess they learned deception from the master of it. Uncle Esau almost killed their father over a lie and the loss of a blessing, but that’s another story. Our text finds Joseph in the next chapter of his life, a slave in Potiphar’s house.
No one would think Joseph was a lucky guy, but he did get taken down to Egypt where one of Pharoah’s officials bought him. It became obvious to Potiphar that the Lord was with Joseph and he gave him the keys to his house and business to oversee everything. It became obvious to Potiphar’s wife that “Joseph was well-built and handsome” (vs. 6) and that she wanted to seduce him. He did refuse, out of loyalty to Potiphar. But Mrs. Potiphar continued “day after day” … until she cooked up a plan to bribe him into sleeping with her. He didn’t give in, and she put her plan into motion. She produced “evidence” that he had tried to sexually assault her. For this, he was put into prison. In prison, by the way, the warden could see that the Lord was with him and he gave him responsibilities.
This story is epic. We won’t cover the ascension to a powerful position as a ruler Egypt. We can’t get to the reunion with his brothers and father. We can’t talk about the offer for Israel and his people to come to the land of Goshen. And how that all led to 400 years of slavery and the Exodus. We are anchored in this one episode – an episode that many times we read over quickly to get to the exciting part of the story. But we shouldn’t move too quickly, for there are some important things here in our text.
*Joseph suffered several injustices that we often see today.
– He was a victim of human trafficking, being sold by those who had power over him.
– He was a victim of human slavery. Although he was treated well and given responsibility, we cannot lose sight that he was a slave against his will.
– He is a victim of racism, as he is typecast here as a slave because of his background. Potiphar’s wife exclaimed, “This Hebrew…”
– He was a victim of sexual harassment. There was someone with power over him demanding sexual favor.
– He was a victim of wrongful accusation. He was not believed.
– He was a victim of incarceration because of false circumstances.
– He was a man of integrity, running away from temptation.
Human trafficking, slavery, sexual assault, wrongful accusation, false imprisonment – did this story come from this week’s headlines? The injustices this Hebrew young man faced would leave anyone bitter, resentful, and disinterested in a God who would let this happen. But that is not his attitude.
*The Lord was with Joseph. Four times in this text the Scripture says that the Lord was with Joseph. From a human perspective, that’s not quite evident, is it? We generally believe that when life is good the Lord is with us. How many times when misfortune or injustice strikes do we say ‘the Lord is with us’?
Our text leaves us with Joseph in jail and his life story unresolved. In a way, that is good, because that describes our own situations. We don’t know how everything is going to turn out. What do we do when life has given us one hurt after another? Not just general unhappiness, but the kind of hurts that leave scars and make us wonder if we’re going to survive. A few overall observations about considering that ‘the Lord is with us’ in our times of pain…
*The Lord is with us if we are with Him. Many ungodly people wonder why bad things happen and God doesn’t do anything about it. While I do believe God hears every prayer, for those who have rejected God in their lives we shouldn’t wonder if the Lord is with them. In light of what we know, He allows us to wander away and go out on our own and be prodigal children. So everyone who suffers and injustice does not do so as one who is with the Lord.
*The Lord is with us but that doesn’t remove suffering. Joseph suffered in multiple, dehumanizing, painful ways. The idea that living for God only results in good things happening in life is false. One only has to look to Christ on the cross to know that godly living does not remove suffering. In some ways, people can suffer because they live for God.
*The Lord is with us so we can act in godly ways during distress. When faced with a crisis many people abandon the Lord, others seek him more deeply. Joseph continued to serve God and he was ultimately rewarded to be in a place of power. It was during this time of power that his brothers came and bowed before him and begged him for help (not knowing he was their brother). This is the perfect time for revenge. Everyone in a position of power over him had sought to harm or treat him in inhumane ways. It was during this time he used his power for good. Although Joseph doesn’t know what the future brings as we read our text, we do not see him mistreating others.
*The Lord is with us and in His presence tells us…..
– He knows our hurts.
– He hears our prayers.
– He gives us strength and grace for endurance.
– He empowers us to make a difference.
– He will never leave us.
– He ultimately will rescue.
In our day Joseph could have used a #metoo hashtag and could have spoken out against sexual harassment. He could have named the one who attempted to molest him. He could remind us of the destructive practice of human trafikking. He could have spoken out against slavery. In these ways Joseph is very real in our world. Whatever hurts you have experienced, whether we named them this morning or not, I encourage you to find your hope in the Lord who is with you.