Tuesday, November 8, 2016

A Lesson from the Past: God's Perfect Plan

I grew up being home-schooled for the greater portion of my life. One of the fruits of this was the books which I was introduced to and fell in love with. As a child and teenager, a good deal of my readings were classics and historical fiction (which often cross paths), and while I might have protested this at one time, I am grateful that it was these kind of books I got to read. Now I must admit, I am not much of a factual reader. I will read for facts if necessary but when it comes to pleasure reading, I like a well written and engaging sort of book. Thus, despite the multitude of historical fiction which I have read, I paid less attention to dull historical facts and was more drawn to the story and emotion.

When I was in my early teens I got to know books by the author Rosemary Sutcliff, who often focused on historical novels within the Roman times. One story I remember is a gut twisting, heart wrenching tale of a young man who is rejected by people group after people group, subjected to slavery, and overall abused by civilization. The story ends rightly with a note of victory as he is prompted to try to live anew but the overall story is hard to swallow. Can you even imagine? A favorite book of mine, Ben-Hur, touches a similar note. Judah Ben-Hur is a wealthy prince in Israel during the time which the Romans are in control. Unexpectedly he is stripped of everything - family, title, possessions, and liberty. He, like the young outcasts described above, is subjected to slavery. Both stories make a good read, delve into the historical times, and envelope one in the trials and triumphs of the characters. Despite these stories being fictional, the idea is real, messy, and tough.

Recently, I came over a story which fell along a similar note. It can be found in the Bible- you know in the portion (Old Testament) which I have hardly visited the last several years. A journal gift from a friend prompted me to start reading Genesis once again and it has been amazing to see the different lessons which have presented themselves. It is not like I have never heard the stories of Genesis before, from the creation story all the way to Joseph's death in Egypt. I have heard most of them more than once. And yet, now they appear somewhat new. Things I would have never noticed before have begun to pop out. And truth to be told, the Old Testament of the Bible is not quiet as old and dull as it would seem,

Today, let us journey back in time before North America was even known to exist by most of civilization, before the focus was on Europe, before the Romans were the world power house, before the Greeks introduced democracy, before the Jewish people entered the Promise Land. Yes, our story takes us back to a time when the tribes of Israel were the names of living and breathing descendants of Abraham. The character I would have you recognize is Joseph, on of the twelve sons of Jacob. He is the favored son of his father, so I imagine he has it pretty good. However, Joseph is not the favorite of many of his brothers. As a matter of fact, one day some of these good fellows decide to sell him to merchants who are trekking across to Egypt (it was that or kill him- talk about sibling rivalry!)

Imagine. In an instant, Joseph goes from being the favored son to a nobody with nothing material of his own and without the ability to even proclaim himself his own. I imagine it was a hot, exhausting trip and that Joseph was certainly no passenger of honor- how difficult that would be. Would you despair? We are not told if Joseph despaired but I imagine he had his moments- lost, afraid, angry, disgraced. His next stop was to be sold to an Egyptian and from here at least the sun perhaps looked a little brighter. Joseph was made to have great success, even as a servant to his master Potiphar. Now what I find interesting here is that Joseph was said to have the LORD (Yahweh) with him. I am sure Joseph had times of despair and turning from God but it does seem that he chose to follow God rather than turn his back on Him in the heart of a struggle. So here is a lesson. What do I do? Do I allow God to have His hand actively in my life even in a tough season?

"The LORD was with Joseph, and he was a successful man."
-Genesis 39:2 

Well it seems that things are going a little better for Joseph. I mean he might still be held in Egypt but he is doing as well as can be and trusted by his master. So how about a plot twist? Joseph is accused of wickedness by his master's wife and is thrown into prison. How is that for frustrating? Have you ever been accused of something you did not do and had to suffer punishment? Joseph went from a high position once again to the low. He ended up in a dungeon. And yet even here God was with Joseph and helped him. Joseph was given authority here in the prison. God was faithful to Joseph and Joseph had the help of Yahweh to rely on. Next, Joseph is able to interpret dreams for two men demoted from working in the house of Pharaoh. One of these men dies and the other is allowed to continue as a butler. Despite Joseph asking the butler to help him out of prison, the butler goes his merry way and forgets about him. For two whole years. Now imagine how that comes across. Discouraging, am I right? If you send an e-mail to someone asking them to do something for you, it is down right frustrating after a few days to not receive a reply. But Joseph is forgotten by this excellent man for years. 

Ah, but God had a perfect plan. See He was going to use Joseph to save the lives of many- both Egyptians and eventually his brothers and father. Joseph may have not gotten out of prison when he wanted to, but God brought him out at just the right moment. See Pharaoh has dreams which no one can tell him the meaning of and that is when the butler recalls Joseph. Joseph, through the power of God, is able to interpret these dreams and they foretell of some years of prosperous crops and then some years of famine. Pharaoh's move is to give Joseph much power over the land of Egypt and Joseph is put in the position which will enable him to enforce a plan which will keep the Egyptians alive in the soon coming famine. God's plan was perfectly executed. Yes, it took a while and it was definitely painful for Joseph. However, it was worth it in the end. 

I wonder how God worked directly in Joseph during this time. Did He teach Joseph humility? Did He uproot pride? Did He teach him that God alone can provide? Did He teach him that God is trustworthy and righteous? Struggles push us to God and in the hands of God, a wonderful Craftsman, we can let Him mold us into what He wants us to be. We can be vessels through which He can execute His will. Joseph had to go through valleys and peaks for many years before he was in the position where God would use him for great things. (Not that that didn't mean God didn't use him in the other places. In Potiphar's household and in the dungeon Joseph appeared to learn to be faithful in whatever he was called to do and wherever he was.) 

I wonder if Joseph had to work through the emotional and psychological effects of rejection, abuse, and betrayal. I find it fascinating to look at the names of his two sons. The first is Manasseh. I looked this name up and it is defined as "to forget." Joseph is quoted as saying this about Manasseh, "For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father's house." His next son is named Ephraim and Joseph says, "For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction." I wonder if these names show healing for Joseph from the great Physician. His sons are some of the many blessings which God gives to him, despite all of the trials. Joseph never would have had his two sons if he had stayed in his father's house. What a beautiful reminder. God gives us good gifts, even when we are allowed to walk through the dry dessert or sail a turbulent sea. 

The end of the story will be familiar to anyone who has read it before. Joseph's brothers come to buy grain from Egypt because of the years of famine. Joseph eventually tells them he is their brother and instead of punishing them for what they did to him, he welcomes them, Jacob (their father), and all their family to live nearby. I love what Joseph says after his father dies and his brothers get nervous that he might be harboring anger against them. 

"Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones."
-Genesis 50:19b-21a

So many lessons. Many which I have yet to learn fully or haven't even yet begun. But may we submit ourselves to God and recognize that His plan is righteous, bigger, more beautiful, and perfect. He provides, guides, shepherds, comforts, refines. He is a loving Father and the God of the universe. I'll leave you with some lyrics from the song "You know better than I" from a cartoon movie about Joseph (which I haven't seen but I love the idea of the song.)

"For You know better than I
You know the way
I've let go the need to know why
For You know better than I."

No comments:

Post a Comment