Living in the present with Joseph (Genesis 50:19-20)

My last post was about living in the present moment so that we can maximize our enjoyment of the Lord and can give ourselves away for the blessing of others. If I am dwelling in the past and lamenting things that cannot be changed, or if I am fearing the future and fixating on the threats that might come, then I am not living in the present. And the present is the only place where I can live and be faithful to my calling (Ephesians 4:1) and accomplish the works the Lord has given me to do (Ephesians 2:10).

In this post I wanted to further explore this idea of living in the present by looking at some biblical pictures of this and asking, “So, what do I do with my past? How do I handle thoughts and feelings about my past? Do I just pretend those things never happened?”

TWO ASPECTS OF THE PAST: MY OWN SINS AND THOSE OF OTHERS

It occurs to me that there are two aspects of our past that can prevent us from living fully in the present. First, there are my own sins and failures. There are the things that I have said and done in violation and rebellion against God’s moral Law and have thus wounded others, and these things now bring me the pain of shame and guilt and regret. How can I ever remove these black marks from my past when the sins are committed, and the words are said and cannot be taken back and are etched in history’s stone? Who will set me free from this guilt and shame (Romans 7:24)? The good news of Jesus Christ answers this question, because most of what the Bible has to say about our past and about how we are to deal with our past is focused on this aspect of our past. The Bible declares that, “Though your sins are as scarlet, they will be as white as snow. Though they are red like crimson, they will be like wool (Isaiah 1:18).” The Bible proclaims that, because the Lord Jesus Christ died on Calvary’s cross, your sins can be forgiven and your guilt and shame can be removed if you will place your faith in Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior. The gospel, and only the gospel, offers forgiveness, full and free, from all your sins and failures (John 8:36).  

But the second aspect of our past that can prevent us from living in the present is the things that have been done to us by others. This second aspect has to do with dealing with how others have wounded and harmed us. People can often be thoughtless, and they can be intentionally cruel, and they can inflict deep and long-lasting damage to us. But regardless of who or how the damage is done, we are the ones who must mend and forgive and untangle and resolve and defang these deep pains from our past. These kinds of wounds can stay with us a long time and can leave us trapped in the wreckage of the past. How do we deal with this part of our past? How are we able to bury these specters from the past so that we can live and flourish in the present?

JOSEPH RECEIVED CRUEL AND EVIL TREATMENT, AND YET . . .

            Joseph was the favorite son of his father, Jacob. Then one day, while obeying his father’s instructions to find his ten older brothers (Genesis 37), his brothers conspired together to strip off his special coat and to throw him into a pit to die. Before they could kill Joseph, however, some slave traders come along, and the ten older brothers decide to sell Joseph to the slave traders heading to Egypt. When Joseph is gone, they dip his robe into goat’s blood and tell his father that he is dead. Meanwhile, as a slave in Egypt, Joseph is falsely accused and thrown into an Egyptian prison. Here is a man who should have been trapped by his past and by the evil that was done to him by others. Here is a man whose major hope for the future would be to get out of prison so he can take revenge on his brothers.

            But that is not what we find. Through God’s providence and God’s plan, Joseph is dramatically promoted from prison to the palace and is made second in charge to Pharaoh, the king of Egypt. And what does he do with the pain of his past?

MANASSEH AND EPHRAIM

            Pharaoh gives Joseph a wife and through her, Joseph has two sons. He names the firstborn Manasseh, for “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house (Genesis 41:51).” The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction (41:52).” Joseph is able to break free of the poison of his past because he focuses on what God is doing, and he focuses on God’s goodness. It is as if he says, “Yes, people can be cruel and evil, but God is good and I will rejoice in Him and I will trust Him to run His universe as He sees fit.” Joseph could have remained trapped in the past, bitter and vengeful and blaming others for his pain, but he chooses instead to trust the Lord and to live in the present and to do today what God has commanded him to do today.

RECONCILES WITH HIS BROTHERS

            What will Joseph do with his feelings toward his brothers? How can he ignore the hateful evil that they did to him, throwing their own brother in a pit and then selling him off to slave traders? But even in this Joseph will not be a slave to his past. He will not be trapped in the pit of self-pity or in the chains of revenge. Instead, when he finally confronts his brothers, the men who robbed him of his home and of the peacefulness of his youth, he says, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life (Genesis 45:5).” Joseph knows the God is the one who used the evil deeds of his brothers to preserve life in Egypt. God is the one in control. and God is good. God has made Joseph lord of all Egypt (45:9). Joseph focuses on God and is thus able to escape the slavery to his past. So, Joseph chooses to forgive his brothers and not to hold them under his judgment, and thus is able to live and love in the present. At the end of this scene, Joseph “kissed his brothers and wept on them, and afterward his brothers talked with him (45:15).”

CONFESSION OF SIN AND FORGIVENESS AT LAST

            Joseph has been freed from his past, and he has forgiven his brothers’ sins against him, but because his brothers have never admitted (confessed) their evil to Joseph and have never asked for his forgiveness, they remained trapped in the past. They remain fearful that Joseph may some day remember the evil that they have done to him and may take revenge. But finally, the brothers, too, are set free from the evil that they did to Joseph. “Please forgive the transgression of your brothers and their sin, for they did you wrong (Genesis 50:17).” Joseph responds to their request for forgiveness by weeping, as all the evil of the past and its pain finally rolls away, and he says, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good to preserve many people alive (Genesis 50:19-20).”

FORGETTING THE PAST SO WE CAN FULLY LIVE IN THE PRESENT

            By fixing his focus on God, and not on the evil deeds of men, Joseph is able to move past his past, so that he can fully live in the present. The Lord has given him the ability to forgive his brothers so he can forget their cruelty to him. He thus forgets what lies behind, so that he can be free to embrace what lies ahead (Philippians 3:12-14). When we focus on the Lord and His goodness, we remove from our past the power to enslave us and we can joyfully live in the present.

SDG                 rmb                  10/1/2020

Joseph’s Mysterious Steward (Genesis 43-44)

There is an interesting character that appears here in this part of the Genesis story: Joseph’s house steward IN Genesis 43-44. Just as a “by the way,” it is fascinating that the Lord builds little points of interest into His story of the patriarchs, little nuggets of gold. For those who are paying attention and who know where to look and when and what to look for, these subtle details make the story captivating regardless of how many times the story is read. Just when it would appear that all the details have been studied and all the viewpoints have been exhausted, another twist in the road will be found and another trail to explore will be uncovered. And so, for this reading the “new trail” is a consideration of this ‘house steward’ of Joseph, the person that does Joseph’s bidding and interacts with the brothers on Joseph’s behalf.

The first time that we encounter this steward is in Genesis 43:16 when the brothers have come to Egypt for the second time to buy food, because the famine is severe in all the land. The steward is commanded to bring the brothers into his house. They try to justify themselves by telling the steward that they brought back both the first money that appeared in their sacks and also more money to buy food. The steward listens to them and then says to them, “Peace be to you. Do not be afraid. Your God and the God of your father has given you treasure in your sacks. I had your money.”

What an interesting thing for the steward to say! First, he declares to them peace. The steward represents Joseph, the one in power, and instead of threatening them he declares peace. “Do not be afraid.” Jesus would often say exactly these words to His frightened disciples. In the Old Testament, when angels appeared to men the angels almost always spoke of peace and told the humans not to be afraid. Here also the steward tells the brothers not to be afraid. “There is no threat here. Yes, you are in the house of the most powerful one in the land, but you are here in his peace and you have nothing to fear. The sovereign may be awesome and glorious, but you have found favor in his sight and you do not need to be afraid of him. In fact, here in his land he will protect you. You are safe and you are favored.” Thus, the steward speaks for Joseph and speaks to his brothers.

The steward also mentions God and gives Him the credit for returning the money into their sacks. Then he makes another noteworthy statement when he says that God put treasure in their sacks and he adds, “I had your money.” (NASB) The ESV says “I received your money.” What does this mean? It is clear that the steward had not received the money and did not have the money, but had given the money back to the brothers. The steward is declaring that he knew where the money was all the time and that their money does not spend in Joseph’s domain. “Your money will not be accepted here as payment for these goods.” It is also significant that the steward acts without Joseph’s consent or knowledge. He does not need to get Joseph’s permission to speak very boldly about what has taken place. (This can raise the question about the identity of the house steward. Could this minor character be a cameo appearance of the Son of Man, a theophany of the pre-incarnate Christ?)

Probably the most fascinating interchange takes place in 44:6-13. Here the brothers have once again started to leave Egypt with their food when the steward catches up with them. The dialog is remarkable. Joseph tells his steward exactly what to say and the steward speaks those harsh words to the brothers, words of accusation, that they have responded to all Joseph’s benevolence by stealing his silver divining cup. The brothers respond defensively and say, “How could we steal silver or gold from your lord’s house? WITH WHOMEVER OF YOUR SERVANTS IT (THE DIVINING CUP) IS FOUND, LET HIM DIE, AND WE ALSO WILL BE MY LORD’S SLAVES.” Pay close attention to this and to the reply of the steward. The brothers propose that if the silver cup is found on anyone, the one who has it will die, and the rest will be slaves. But the steward says, “Now let it also be according to your words; HE WITH WHOM IT IS FOUND SHALL BE MY SLAVE, AND THE REST OF YOU SHALL BE INNOCENT.” Notice what has taken place here. The brothers say the guilty party should die, but the steward says that the guilty will be his slave. The brothers say that the rest will be slaves, but the steward says that the rest shall be innocent! Yet the house steward prefaces his statements with the words, “Let it be according to your words.” Given the opportunity to exercise severe judgment, he instead changes the sentence to one of grace. One brother will pay the penalty for the crime and the rest of the brothers will be considered innocent. One will be punished and the rest will go free. Notice further that the favored brother, the one most beloved by his father and the one who was the most innocent (Benjamin had almost certainly not been with his brothers when they sold Joseph into slavery) was the one who would bear the penalty for the other brothers’ crime. Also notice that Benjamin had been selected by Joseph as the one who would be considered guilty. All the brothers except Benjamin were equally guilty of selling Joseph into slavery, but only the innocent brother was chosen to bear the punishment for the crime and then the rest would be considered innocent. It is almost as if the crime of the ten guilty brothers is imputed to the one innocent brother.

Of course, the analogy is clear. We are all the ten guilty brothers. We all come into the presence of God with blood on our hands, with myriad sins that stain our multi-colored tunic. We are the ones who have stolen the ruler’s silver cup. We are the ones who tremble before the holy God who justly accuses us of our crimes and of our sins and asks us who we have to bear our deserved condemnation. In the terror of His gaze we need an innocent brother. We need a chosen sin-bearer who is Himself unblemished and spotless, who is holy and sinless, who is undefiled and separated from sinners and yet who will willingly accept the divine wrath that must be satisfied for the sins we have committed. This is the glorious Lord Jesus Christ, the spotless and sinless perfect sacrifice, the Brother who has endured the full weight of the wrath of God on the cross. And yet here is the wonder of God’s grace, that when I gaze at the cross and embrace as my Savior and Lord the crucified and risen Son of God, then the blood is removed from my hands and the stains are removed from my tunic and I am considered innocent. I am wrapped in a robe of righteousness and my sins are separated from me as far as the east is from the west and they will be remembered no more and I am received into the house of the King as a favored child and a full heir. Glory be to God! Here in Joseph’s house steward we see a foreshadow of the coming Messiah, a picture of Jesus Christ and of His mission of redemption which He accomplished on the cross. Let God be praised for His magnificent Word.

SDG                 rmb                  10/2/2019