A few days ago while flipping stations on my car radio, I came across a protestant preacher, and stopped to listen for awhile because what he was saying sounded interesting. He was talking about the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, and how poor Joseph was “always getting the short end of the stick.” Not having heard this particular angle taken before, I listened, giving consideration to his thought process. He explained that Joseph always had things going wrong and about telling his dream to his brothers (about the sheaves bowing to his sheaf), well, he just needed to learn wisdom and grow up a little. He explained Joseph was an arrow being polished for the Lord’s quiver so that he would be ready to go on God’s time.
Ever since I heard that particular interpretation of Joseph’s story, I’ve wondered about it, most particularly the “short end of the stick” part. Although Joseph went through many trials, could it really be claimed that he got the “short end of the stick”?
I decided to read that story again during Adoration yesterday and try to do so with new eyes.
You all know the story: Joseph is a child of his father’s old age, so is a favored and quite coddled son. One night Joseph has a dream that he and his brothers were binding sheaves, and the all arose and bowed to Joseph’s sheaf. His next dream was of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to him, and this second dream annoyed even Joseph’s father.
As I read that, I could see, of course, how Joseph was taunting his brothers. While on the surface he seems only to be revealing a dream, it’s easy to imagine the not-so-pure fallen human using the dream against his brothers instead of simply keeping it to himself. His father’s own reaction, rebuking Joseph, seems to support the fact that he did indeed realize Joseph was being a pill and was not merely innocently recounting a dream.
Joseph’s brothers then went off to move the flock and one day Israel ordered Joseph to find them to see if they are well, and to bring word back.
This next part is fascinating, for it seems out of place:
So he sent him from the valley of Hebron and he came to Shechem. And a man found wandering in the fields; and the man asked him, “what are you seeking?”
“I am seeking my brothers,” he said, “tell me, I pray you, where they are pasturing the flock.”
And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say ‘Let us go to Dothan’.”
So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
very time I read this story, I pause at this section. Who is this random unnamed man? Look again at the dialogue:
“What are you seeking?”
And Joseph doesn’t answer with a “what”, but a
“I am seeking my brothers.”
Joseph is given direction by the unnamed man who clearly knew who his brothers are, and he goes, and finds them.
This passage is so loaded; it reveals a prefigurement of the Messaiah, and a subtle shift in power; it is not his brothers who seek him, but Joseph who seeks his brothers.
Of course, he finds them, they plot to kill him and at the behest of Reuben who wants no harm to come to his brother, convinces them to put him in a cistern instead (so Rueben can restore him to his father). Instead, Joseph is sold into Ismaelite slave traders, who take him to Egypt and sell him to Pharaoh’s Captain of the Guard.
Genesis Chapter 39 tells us that the Lord was with Joseph and he became a very successful man as a slave in Potiphar’s house, and finds favor; he was actually placed in charge of the household.
Then the woman of the house hit on him and when Joseph refused to submit, fleeing the woman’s greedy embrace, she lied and accused him of attacking her, causing him to be thrown into prison.
Genesis 39:21-22 tells us the favor of the Lord was steadfast and he caused the prison keeper to have regard for Joseph, and all prisoners were placed into his care. It was in this context that Joseph met the butler and baker of the king of Egypt.
The two servants of the king had mysterious dreams, and Joseph found them downcast, and upon learning the dreams, stated, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” So they told Joseph the dreams and he interpreted them; both came to pass as Joseph said. The baker was executed and the butler restored to the King’s service.
Two years later the Pharaoh had a dream, and the Butler remembered Joseph and told the King about him. Joseph was summoned from prison and brought before the King, where he interpreted the dream and gave advice on how to proceed with the prediction of the oncoming famine. Because of his gift and his wisdom, the Pharaoh set Joseph as his second in command and put him in charge of preparing for the famine.
As I re-read all of this, I kept pondering the protestant preacher’s words: Joseph was getting the short end of the stick? Really?
Let’s take a closer look:
Well, first we have a spoiled brat who taunts his brothers, and he brothers go overboard on the revenge. OK, granted, that was a pretty awful thing to do; to plot to kill one’s own flesh and blood and then sell him into slavery. Very low. That does seem to be quite a detriment.
Well, Ishmaelite slave traders weren’t exactly known for being gentle folk, and Joseph could have been sold anywhere – but no, he want to Pharoah’s Captain of the Guard. Then he is placed in charge of the household. Oh, right, he was thrown into prison for a crime he did not commit, but then he still found favor. After all, as scripture tells us, the favor of the Lord was upon Joseph and everywhere he went, even prison, he was the favored son and experienced the best of conditions.
No matter how I read this, I simply can’t see that Joseph EVER got the “short end of the stick.”
Did he suffer trials? Indeed, and yes, they were harsh!
Still, Joseph was cared for by God, and I see those trials as a purification; he had misused his gift and had to be taught how to use it. Not to benefit himself, but, rather, to benefit others. He had to learn not to abuse his gift to grow in regard of others, but rather, to grow in humility and wisdom.
While Joseph, after he favorably interpreted the dream for the Butler, asked him to remember him when he was restored, and revealed he was unjustly imprisoned, we hear not a word of complaint from him for the two following years as he continued his prison work.
It was not until he was sufficiently purified in God’s eyes that he was called upon to place his gift and himself at the service of the Pharaoh and all his kingdom, and ultimately, his own family.
What are you seeking?
Look again at the unnamed man in the field and his conversation with young spoiled Joseph.
He was seeking his brothers, and even when those who had sold him came to him, he sought until he had found them all. Joseph was not satisfied with only a few brothers; he ached for his family and his homeland and knew he could not reveal his identity until the time was right, and when all had been properly restored…and forgiven.