to weep and wail: Alleluia.
First in the pit and then in
He knew what Pharaoh’s nightmares
Next thing he’s practically
Name at least one thing to dislike about Joseph?
If you had been one of Joseph’s brothers in this story, you
probably would have found many things to dislike about him, starting with the
fact that he was the favorite of his father, Jacob.
That puts the spotlight on Jacob so let’s look at him first. He
was the grasping twin who came out of the womb with his fingers wrapped around
his slightly older brother Esau’s heal. He’s the mean-spirited brother who
wouldn’t feed his starving twin unless he gave up his birthright. He’s the liar
who pretended to be Esau to get his father’s blessing so that there was nothing
left for Esau. This Jacob later on has no idea of the dissension he’s causing
among his children by playing favorites. He gave Joseph, the only child of
Rachel (whom he loved a lot more than Leah), a fancy coat. He let him stay home
while his 10 brothers worked the fields. He even let him revel in his grandiose
dreams of being worshiped by his brothers. Jacob
and Joseph are two of my favorite Bible characters; they’re so human.
Grandfather Abraham has his share of human frailty, too. First
he’s the model of the true believer. He doesn’t waiver in his faith in God’s
promise to make of him a great nation even when God tells him to sacrifice his
only son, the son of his extremely old age. Then he goes down to Egypt,
and, because his wife is pretty, he instructs her to lie to Pharaoh and tell
him she’s Abraham’s sister. That way Pharaoh can have her for his wife without
necessarily killing Abraham. A wee bit of a lapse of faith in God’s promise
there, if you ask me. And what is God’s response? He punishes Pharaoh instead
of Abraham. Abraham gets rewarded with rich gifts from none other than Pharaoh
himself. Abraham learns his lessons well. He goes and finds another occasion to
do the same thing, and his son Isaac does it once as well.
Whoever gave us these stories was pretty intent on spelling out
his ancestral heroes’ flaws. There
is a theme here that runs through the Bible. Being God’s choice is no reason to
brag. It’s hardly ever based on merit. God chooses in a way that goes against
our expectation. We'd expect God to choose the top of the line. Instead it’s a
couple too old to have children. It’s the second or the youngest son. It’s the
flawed character and even the flaw itself. God looks squarely at all human things
and settles down right in the midst of them.
Israelites considered themselves to be under a strict obligation
to give glory to God. There could be no such thing as hero worship for them. I
don’t think you would have found among them a great concern for positive
self-image. Their favorite image was of times when God was with his people,
faults and all.
The Joseph story takes up about the last third of the book of
Genesis. It's not history but great literature. Maybe a couple hundred years
after this story was set down (or a couple hundred years before—there’s
controversy about when these Bible stories were written) Greek playwrights were
coming up with some great literature, too. Their heroes also had flaws, tragic
flaws that always led to their downfall. The Fates would see to that. But the
Bible introduces us to the “happy fault,” the flaws through which God is
pleased to work. Because of Joseph's insufferable dreams and his brothers’
violent response and even because of the wiles of Potiphar's wife that landed
Joseph in jail, a nation is able to survive through famine. The story moves Israel's imagined ancestors
where further turns of fortune await them. But it's providence, not fate that
moves the world.
God has work for me and you. Alleluia.
We’re not perfect, but we’ll have to do. Alleluia.
On to Moses