Young people are bombarded on all sides about what is wrong and what is right. Too often they make their decisions based on what they think they should do or not do. Sometimes they grow up in homes where they see a lack of fair play, either against them-selves or another member of the family. When parents or leaders, who should show by example, equity in their dealings with people, especially those who are most vulnerable, they set a train of feelings and emotions that can be difficult to arrest. The story of Joseph in Genesis provides us with a good example.
Jacob favoured his youngest son, Joseph, because he was born in his old age. Because of this show of preference, Joseph’s brothers envied him. Envy nearly always produces hate. Joseph was only 17 when he told his family of a dream he had in which his sheaf stood upright and those of his brothers bowed down to his sheaf. The brothers became angry. They questioned whether he was to have dominion over them. Joseph had a subsequent dream in which the sun, the moon and eleven stars were bowing down to him. When he told the family of this dream, his father became angry, to think that himself and his mother and brothers would be bowing down to Joseph. His brothers were enraged.
Jacob had made for Joseph a long-sleeved robe of many colours While the brothers were out pasturing their flock, they saw from afar off their younger brother clad in the multi-coloured robe. Jacob had sent him to keep abreast of their activities. At once they plotted to kill him, to put an end to the ‘dreamer’ as they called him. Envy had turned to hate and now to a plot of murder. God, however, had better things in store for him. Reuben advised them not to shed any blood. He was hoping to return to rescue Joseph later and return him to his father.
Should Jacob not have sensed that by showing favouritism to Joseph, albeit the youngest, that he would have incurred jealousy among the brothers? James 2:1-9 tells us how God disapproves of favouritism. He says if we show partiality we commit a sin and reminds us to love our neighbour as ourselves. Jacob committed a sin and suffered the consequences of it. Only Reuben had thought of Jacob’s feelings. He had planned to return to take his brother out of the pit and take him back to their father. However, on his return he found that the brothers had sold him to some Midianite traders. To cover their sin they dipped his coat in some goat’s blood. They appeared at their home without Joseph and disguised their culpability by showing the father the blood-stained robe.
Jacob was overwhelmed with grief. He rent his clothes and mourned for his young son for many days. He was inconsolable, despite the family’s attempt to comfort him. He was sure that he was soon going to meet his son. God, however, works in mysterious ways. He had other plans for Joseph and for the family. The way God brought about the manifestation of Joseph’s dream is one of those beautiful bible stories that demonstrate in a poignant way that God’s ways are not our ways. That faith in God which is a foundation for integrity, honesty and righteous living strengthens us to overcome trials and adversity.
Such was the case with Joseph. The traders sold him to Potiphar, an Egyptian officer, who recognizing his skills, left him in charge of everything. Potiphar’s wife, captivated by Joseph’s good looks, tried unsuccessfully to lure him into her bed. Furious that she was scorned she trumped up a charge against him that he tried to seduce her. For this charge, he was put into prison where he stayed for thirteen years. But God continued to be with Joseph. He was working behind the scenes to bring about his divine purpose.
Jacob, on the other hand, suffered unnecessarily. The injustice his older sons meted out to Joseph afflicted him greatly and so he paid for his shortsightedness. Selfishness is a human condition that is universal as it is eternal and this lack of feeling by Joseph’s brothers brought endless suffering to the family. It was necessary though for these events to occur to bring about the revelation of Joseph’s dreams. God had already seen what was in the brothers’ hearts and the device He would use to save the youth.
The wickedness of the brothers set off a chain of events. This culminated in God’s bringing about the fulfilment of their younger brother’s dreams. The anguish that Reuben must have felt when he returned and did not find his brother. The deceitful and wicked trick Jacob’s sons played on him, causing him to grieve needlessly. The guilt some of them might have felt at what they had done, both to brother and father. The selling of Joseph to Potiphar. The accusation of Potiphar’s wife. Joseph’s imprisonment. The interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream by Joseph while Joseph was imprisoned, and his promotion out of prison to be Pharaoh’s right-hand man. The revelation of Joseph’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, i.e, the seven years of plenty and the seven years of famine that brought the brothers to Egypt to bow before their benefactor. Finally, the discovery that their benefactor was really the brother they almost murdered and sold as a slave to the traders.
Some people say that God too shows favours to some over others, but we must remember that God has the Master Plan. Human beings cannot control the future, only God can do that. As Christians we can take heart when we understand all the events leading to Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers. We can remind ourselves that while we are experiencing afflictions and tribulations, if we stay focussed on Christ, that God is working out solutions to our problems in ways we can never imagine. We can be assured that even those who have wronged us will be made to feel ashamed of their actions. Paul, the apostle said, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Cor. 10:13). We must remember “To show partiality is not good.” (Prov. 28:21)