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From Prison to Power

Genesis 37-50

Jacob had twelve sons and one daughter. Which of them would be destined to carry Abraham’s legacy?

Once again, it is not the firstborn. Jacob may have sensed it from the beginning, because one of his sons was clearly his favorite. Jacob clearly favors Joseph, the baby of the family. And Joseph was spoiled. He seemed to take pleasure in feeling superior to his brothers, perhaps even taunting them, and was something of a tattletale. And when he started having dreams that one day his brothers would bow and pay homage to him, they could stand it no longer.

Barely stifling an urge to kill him outright, Joseph’s brothers take him and sell him to a passing caravan. He is then transported to Egypt and sold to a high-ranking Egyptian military official.

Josaeph’s life in Egypt is a series of mishaps. He is falsely accused of making advances to his master’s wife and thrown into prison. While in prison he becomes known as an interpreter of dreams. A fellow prisoner promises to tell Pharaoh of Joseph’s skill, but upon his release he forgets all about him.

Then one night, two years later, Pharaoh cannot sleep. Disturbing dreams keep waking him up. His cupbearer, the man who had been in prison with Joseph, finally remembers Joseph and tells Pharaoh about him.

Joseph reveals the meaning of Pharaoh’s dreams: Egypt will enjoy seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of famine. Showing some political skill Joseph manages to convince Pharaoh that a special administrator is needed to carry Egypt through the crisis and that he, Joseph, would be the perfect man for the job.

When the years of famine finally arrive the entire region is affected. Under Joseph’s stewardship, Egypt conserved many resources from the previous plentiful years and prepared for the crisis. Back in Canaan Jacob’s family is suffering from hunger, and so Jacob sends his sons to Egypt to procure food.

In Egypt they see their brother for the first time since they sold him to the caravan. They do not recognize him, but Joseph knows who they are and tests them rather harshly, accusing them of spying and forcing them to prove themselves. In a climactic scene Joseph finally reveals his identity. The brothers are reconciled and Jacob comes to live with them in Egypt.

Joseph’s life is a model for the person of faith. He witnesses no spectacular miracles. Instead, we are simply told that God was with him in all that he did. The timing of events in Joseph’s life - even the tragic ones - seemed always to point Joseph toward his destiny, even though he did not know it at the time. Had he not been sold by his brothers, had his master’s wife not falsely accused him, had he not been thrown into prison where he met the royal cupbearer, he would not have found himself at the right hand of Pharoah, in a position to save the country and to find his family again. Even in the cold darkness of the prison, redemptive forces were working in his life.

This is how the Covenant operates. It is not a promise of miracles, or of immediate relief from suffering. It is rather the assurance of God’s guidance acting in our lives, gradually revealing our destiny, which becomes like a magnetic pole towards which all the events in our experience begin to point. Even our suffering contributes to our destiny - we could not find our destiny without it.

Faith is the ability to witness this process and to trust that it will work, regardless of how dark our lives may seem to us at the moment.

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