Family life in the McClure household is always full of surprises and this week has been no different with much to learn! One of the things we love to do as a family (well most of us at least) is to hike in the mountains and there is so much to learn from all of the challenges that we encounter on the way. Learning lessons is key to our growth and in order to learn we must observe, evaluate and all change.
For me this year is one of transition as we shift from working with students (2000-2020) to working with young adults. In doing so we have been trying to get our heads around the idea of life stages and the kinds of challenges and opportunities afforded by those different stages. Over the past couple of weeks I have been thinking about the life of Joseph which is a brilliant case study on this. There is a wealth of material about his life and it falls quite neatly into three sections covering his learning years (0-17 years), his maturing years (17-30 years) and his investing years (30+ years). Having completed a set of eight Bible studies on Joseph I plan to blog about some of the highlights of his life which I think has a huge amount to teach us.
1. Complicated beginnings (Gen 29-30)
Joseph’s early years were heavily impacted by life in a dysfunctional family. He had one brother (Benjamin), ten half brothers (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Gad, Zebulun, Issachar, Naphtali & Asher) and at least one half sister (Dinah). Between them they had four mothers (Leah, Rachel, Bilhah & Zilpah). Joseph was his second wife Rachel’s first child and came eleventh among the twelve sons. Rachel was also the woman Jacob truly loved and so her children (Joseph & Benjamin) were particularly special to him. Wow! Joseph really was coming from some complicated beginnings!
Our families, and rightly so, make a huge impact on the kind of people we become. Those early years are hugely formative on our development as people and as we begin to move out of the shadow of those who have come before us we begin to see what lies beneath. In that regard I am hugely grateful to my own family and I am sure that I could not have had a better start in life. I was brought up in a Christian family and don’t remember a time when God was not a factor in my life. I know that there have been people praying for me since the word go and many people contributed to the decision I made in September 1993 (aged 14) to follow Jesus for myself. Like the younger son in the Parable of the Prodigal Son some peoples stories of finding Jesus involve their lives go off the rails in some respect. For me however my story is more like the older son who was instead full of pride and self reliance. Both sons needed the grace of God to break into their lives!
2. The Special One (Gen 37:1-10)
The first we hear of Joseph is as a young 17 year old. We are told that Joseph was “well-built and handsome” (41:6) and the story begins with him shepherding the families flocks alongside his half brothers. When we are told that Joseph brought his Father (Jacob) a bad report about his brothers we can really appreciate that this did nothing to endear himself to his brothers. The next verse tells us that Jacob (Israel) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons.
3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.Genesis 37:3-4
As a Father of five (four of whom are boys) I can really appreciate the danger of favouritism. Indeed, I think such a charge will always be levelled by our children whether or not it is true because of a sense of insecurity. But in Jacob’s case it was most definitely true: Joseph was his favourite and his gift to him of an ornate robe certainly made that clear! This robe was a full length gown: not the kind worn by the working class but rather by the nobility. I think it is likely that the robe reinforced a feeling of superiority over his brothers. He truly was the special one and they all knew it. Verse 4 says very strongly that his brothers hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Verses 5-9 detail a pair of dreams that God gives to Joseph. I think we see a glimpse of Joseph’ own immaturity here. Would you really share your dreams with your family if they described your family bowing down before you? Even Jacob was pretty surprised at the nature of the dream, though rather than speak out, we are told that he just kept the matter in mind. I think Joseph was just over excited about these dreams that God had given him but they were always going to drive a wedge between him and his brothers. Was Jacob aware of the relational dynamics developing amongst his children? Its hard to imagine that he didn’t, but for whatever reason, he allowed them to simmer. In many ways he was even the catalyst because of the way that he treated Joseph. No wonder then that Joseph had a bit of a chip on his shoulder.
3. When things go wrong (Gen 37:11-36):
The next part of the story sees Jacob sending Joseph out to check on his brothers while they were out with the flocks. They see him coming and realised that this was the opportunity they had been waiting for. So they plot to kill him but Reuben convinces them to throw him into a cistern instead. Reuben planned to return and set him free but before he gets a chance the other brothers had sold him into slavery with some passing merchants. They take his robe and having dipped it in blood, they offer it to their father as evidence that he was dead. As far as they were concerned he was as good as dead!
All of these things are the boiling over of all of their childhood tensions and relational dynamics. It has been coming for some time and Joseph sharing his dreams pushes the situation to breaking point. The hand of God is however all over this – those dreams came from Him after all. The dreams were a foretaste of a scene some years later when Joseph would stand in front of his family as ruler of Egypt. The dreams begin a chain of events that will eventually lead Joseph to that place.
In the meantime things are going to get pretty challenging for Joseph and this was part of God’s process of growth for this young man. In time he would become one of the most powerful men in the world and God was preparing him for that. God will use anything and everything to teach us to trust Him and transform us into the likeness of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Remembering back to my teens I think I was pretty eager to prove myself. I am the third son (of four). I had had a great start to life and was especially blessed with some great teaching, help and input in matters of faith. Yet as I went to Uni and moved on into my early twenties I think I too had a pretty arrogant and proud streak.
Increasingly I’ve seen students that are not coming to Uni with the kind of spiritual heritage that I had enjoyed. And yet what I have also come to learn is that it does not so much matter how much you know but who you know. Pride puffs us up but God says that the righteous person lives by faith (Habakkuk 2:4). In my twenties as I got more and more involved in ministry activities, I began to think I could change the world. I was still proud and took great satisfaction from the encouragements coming my way. I made plenty of mistakes especially in terms of relationships with others. There were plenty of hard times during that period, not all were my fault, but there was a huge amount to learn about working with and alongside others. Looking back now I see how pride had made its mark on me.
When I came to Christ this was also the key issue. Growing up I had assumed that my Christian-ised life was more than enough. However God showed me that in reality I could never do enough. No I had to swallow my pride and accept that only Jesus could do what I could never do and take the punishment I deserve. Every day since that time has included a daily choice to live under the grace of God and not my own strength.
Maturity doesn’t happen over night but gradually as the Holy Spirit does His work in our hearts. Next week I will write some more about what I am calling ‘Joseph’s Maturing years’. These came on the back of all that happened here which dumped Joseph into slavery and later prison. He would not emerge from this phase for a further 13 years. I wonder what lessons God is teaching (or has taught) you as He took you through this phase of life and growth.
See more in the Life of Joseph Series