I preached on Joseph several years ago now. This afternoon some thoughts came to crystallize in my brain.
They basically deal with the potentially-massive problem of reconciling former friends who, for various reasons, are now at loggerheads.
This was all brought on by the allegiance of Joseph to his God-given prophetic vision - the LORD revealed to Rachel's eldest that he was destined for dominion; some day in the distant future, or maybe sooner than later, his own father, mother and brothers would all bow the knee to him. To them, of course, this was no article of faith to which they could subscribe. On the contrary, it seemed quite pretentious and really wound them up: their hearts were full of hate, their minds were envious, and their words were laced with spite! It was this apparent brash, bragging-rights, bravado that, in the course of events, would lead to a catastrophic breach - those sovereign events were to radically alter the whole course of their lives and shape the future history and destiny of God's church.
As the account continues throughout chapter 37 of Genesis it becomes apparent very quickly that the situation is so dire his brothers cannot even speak peaceably to Joseph - their hatred then breaks out into murderous intent: it is with a farewell and good riddance that they give him over into Ishmaelite bonds and a bumpy camel ride.
The answer is not forthcoming immediately - there will be lies told about the whereabouts of Joseph to father Jacob; and then the doom of the dungeon, false accusation, imprisonment again (from Joseph's end), while brothers languish in guilt: it would be 13 years before this protracted estrangement would begin to be resolved.
With Joseph elevated and promoted to the position of Vizier of Egypt in days of predicted famine, God's purpose starts to ripen, with Joseph's brothers sent down from Canaan. Accused of being spies, now in fear of their lives, and later charged with theft, their future outlook and welfare initially seems bleak. Even when Joseph finally drops his mask and shows his brotherly face - preceded by tears concealed during a banquet - and displays good will by relocating their families in Goshen, fear remains a dominant minor chord. Despite repeated assurances of affection and kindness, until after Jacob's death, unity and harmony are not restored; nor is their fraternal guilty conscience cleared or calmed.
At the end of the account of Joseph, with the nation of Israel now in Egypt, God's one big happy family learns God planned it all along - difficulty, pain, estrangement, death and dread, had to all have their say before the hostility could be healed and the fraternal bond repaired. They just didn't realize through all the years of hurt that though they intended harm the LORD worked it all for good.
Now it is true, no doubt, that the Joseph story is a key part of early redemptive history and in that sense is unique - we must not make too much of the precedent that it sets for our own relationships. Happily we are told when troubled about our brother to leave our gift and the altar and seek quick repair forthwith. Yet, at very least, it does provide a flesh-and-blood warning illustration of the complexity of some human relationships - those relationships which tragically turn sour and can be very slow, or in this life, nearly impossible to repair.
How hard, on occasion, it can be to effect reconciliation within the family of God without protracted delay or painful suffering - deep, divine dealings are sometimes necessary to chasten, rebuke, humble and correct openly warring parties. As any surgeon knows, deep wounds are hardest healed - time by itself only allows slow drift to continue, but time plus distance plus grace, under God's most-wise hand, can providentially achieve what no man himself can perform.
Many points in the account of Joseph are a shadowy type of the escalated pattern of vocation, humiliation, suffering, resurrection, exaltation and government in the person, work and offices of Christ - Moses traces for us, in a dim, faint, outline, sketch, the deeper experiences of One who suffered infinitely greater woes to realize God's sovereign plan to draw many beloved blood-brothers to Himself in peace.
Has Christ suffered immeasurable agonies on behalf of his brethren, to deliver them from the pit, and share in God's heaven-forged armistice? Then however intractable and stubborn problems in God's family may become, we must look to His loving, generous, example of forgiveness and faith - trust God to work and fix. We must appeal to the LORD for almighty power that resides in Jesus breast - He alone has gentle love to supply, delicate kindness to mend, and patient tenderness to repair what has been sinfully sundered and unite those currently alienated.
Whether inside or outside our own fellowships - or among friends and family - regardless of the cost, we must be willing to call time on war and seek a truce: the blood of the Cross constrains us, as far as it lies within our power (there may be nothing active we can do beyond the instructions of Matthew 18 - passive, prayerful, pain may have to watch and wait), to embrace those with whom, in spite of our best efforts, we are tragically at odds.
If we cannot resolve these things in our own strength, through fasting, prayer, wisdom and grace, the healer of hearts will provide all necessary strength and supply the sovereign context - it is this that, by grace, will finally provide the yearned-for, wept-for, peace. Joseph reminds us of the motto of the self-doubting saints:
In God Do We Trust!
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