One of the things I’m most passionate about is the Bible. Specifically whether or not we are treating it properly and getting it right. Today we’re going to play Mythbusters with one of the most popular, and perhaps most misunderstood, stories in Genesis: Joseph.
Now, whenever you hear the story of Joseph presented, it usually includes emphasis on how Joseph was virtuous and because of this, God blessed him. There is a popular parenting curriculum that holds Joseph up as a role model for what we should be training children to be. Though the author may have great insight into parenting, he’s missing both the point and the details of this story.
You see, Joseph is not a role model. He is not virtuous. He is, actually, kind of a jerk.
Exhibit A: Joseph is a spoiled brat.
Joseph gets a lavish gift from his father. A coat that either has many colors or very long sleeves depending on your manuscript of choice. Let’s say many colors because there are fewer phrases that are more fun than “Technicolor Dreamcoat”. Man, so his dad got these awesome coats for all his brothers, that’s awesome! Wrong. He got one for Joseph, his youngest son.
Wait, why did he get the coat, again? Oh, that’s right, because HE TATTLED ON HIS BROTHERS.
Let me get this straight, Joseph tells on his brothers, then gets rewarded lavishly for it? Yeah, his brothers had every right to have beef. No wonder they go all “snitches get stitches” on him at the end of chapter 37.
Exhibit B: Joseph has the situational awareness of a cat in a whirlpool.
So, after his brothers are upset with him because he’s been rewarded exorbitantly for telling on them, Joe has a dream. In the dream, it seems that his brothers were bowing to him. Joseph, completely unaware that his brothers are seething towards him, decides this would be a great thing to share.
Extroverts, this is probably part of the story that is hard for you to see the error in. Just trust me, this is an over-share.
Oh, did I mention Joseph has another dream and this time disrespects his parents in telling them that they will bow to him, too? Cause that happens. Joseph is lucky Moses hasn’t walked the 10 Commandments down the mountain yet, cause I don’t know how well that jives with “honor your father and mother”. Just sayin’.
Exhibit C: Joseph is a lazy brat.
Remember the first section of chapter 37? Where Joseph is pasturing with his brothers and then tattles on them. When we get to verse 12, he has stopped working. Maybe all these dreams have gone to his head and he can’t be bothered with peasant work any more? How rude.
Serious interlude: I know this is a relatively snarky and light hearted post today, but this is serious lesson 1 of 2. When you have a dream from God, you can’t give up on the responsibilities that are still in front of you. You have to grow where you’re planted. Hold on to the dream in an open hand and when it’s time, God will bring it to fruition. Your responsibilities do not end because you can see the destination.
Exhibit D: Reuben is actually the most virtuous character in this whole story.
His brothers want to kill Joseph. Reuben schemes to not only stop them from doing it, but also to rescue him and keep him from serious harm. This is more grace and care than Joseph ever shows him.
Exhibit E: Everything good that happens to Joseph is out of his control.
Chapter 39 introduces a theme that repeats itself quite often. “The LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” Everything Joseph does that works, yeah, that was the Lord. Solely. Joseph does nothing right. God makes everything work in his favor.
Exhibit F: Every single person reading this blog post is better than Joseph.
This is what people usually hold up as their example of the “virtuous Joseph” in this story.
Raise your hand if you’ve had an affair with your employer’s wife. This website triggered the camera on your computer, the confession will be good for the soul. Come on, go ahead, put ‘em up.
Oh wait, NONE of you have done that?
Wait, are you also a complete jerk to your entire immediate family? ‘Cause if you answer “no” to that question… YOU ARE MORE VIRTUOUS THAN JOSEPH.
So what is the point of this story? Our problem is that we make the story about Joseph and it’s not. The story is about God and His work in Joseph’s life. everything good that happens to him is because the Lord makes it succeed.
The gem in the story isn’t “Joseph was a good person, so God makes him successful.” It’s quite the opposite. It’s that in spite of the fact that Joseph is prideful, aloof, and disrespectful, God is STILL able to use him to keep what would become Israel from starving to death in the famine. He is still able to do great things with Joseph, despite his flaws.
Just like God can and wishes to do with all of you.