As I step into chapter 42, Joseph has been in this 2IC leadership role for some time. He is dressed, and schooled as an Egyptian priminister and has been proving himself to be great at his role. He has carved out a life where the Egyptians serve him and follow and do what he expects of them. For at least seven good years and however many years of hard years have passed, he has served the Egyptians as an important figure in thier history. He knows what happens if you get it wrong … He met the baker and cup bearer years ago….
Every day since he was dragged behind a caravan of camels, was preparation for the stage he now leads from. He is an ‘Egyptian’ schooled and prepared for this role over many years. As his brothers arrive on the scene, they are about to encounter an important leader of Egypt. Second only to Pharoah, this man carries great authority. This ‘Egyptian – clean shaven, dressed and styled in latest Egyptian threads, speaking, sounding and looking like an Egyptian and almost 20 years older than the last time his brothers saw him, is unrecognisable. He is anything but the scrawny younger brother of 17 they knew years ago….
Back in Canaan, the land and its inhabitants have take a hit. Famine has taken a hold and things are not looking good for this nomadic family. Israel (known also as Jacob) and his sons and their families are caught in the middle of a drought. These men are doing nothing to fix the problem and Jacob hears from the neighbours that they have bought food from Egypt….His words to his boys are comical.. ‘What are you doing standing here… do something’ . Jacob has no idea why his boys are still standing around waiting for some miracle to happen when grain is available in Egypt. They too would have heard that grain was available in Egypt….what was keeping them??? Note the contrast between these men and Joseph. They are still looking to their Father for leadership but Joseph doesn’t need his Father to tell him what to do. That severance from his Dad, years ago had lead him to leadership training college ..the school of a business man, a jailor and now the Pharoah. The absence of a Dad did not leave him lost and dysfunctional. God was with him. There are times when we feel that our pain and experience is good reason to become nothing and our difficult circumstances are a good reason for our dysfunction but in fact God can use our apparent suffering to school us for our future.
One son remains behind…Joseph’s younger brother. Jacob refuses to let Benjamin go..he has lost his favourite and his new favourite is not allowed out of his sight. I wonder what this dynamic looked like as Benjamin grew up. Did Jacob end up parenting Benjamin out of grief and loss and fear or was it genuine love and protection?…we are unsure, but we know that the brothers leave this boy behind and don’t try and talk their Dad into allowing him to come.
So they head off to Egypt to buy grain. What did the trek to Egypt sound like….did they ponder and discuss family issues, shepherding ideas, politics? Did they discuss their concerns about challenges in Egypt.
How did the Eygyptians know to store the grain? If we had known the drought would last so long, we would have stored up plenty?
When this band of brothers arrive with the many others from their region, seeking help from the Egyptian Pharaoh, the person they are to speak with is pharaoh’s assistant. That is all they see. They see nothing more than a man who holds their future and their resources in his hands, a man of status and authority and they bow…
He has power…oh how the tables have turned and they don’t even know it…
They arrive with one agenda but God has another agenda in play. He has restoration and redemption in play.
They are without.
They can not speak the language.
They are at the mercy of foreign political standards of negotiation.
They are now at the mercy of someone who has the power to snuff out their future and their family. As far as they knew, they were speaking to an Egyptian, an authority figure, someone who had the capacity to send them home with nothing. They don’t realise God has been setting them up for salvation since the moment they sinned against him in the back of the desert where no one could see and hear their murderous plot. They were in Egypt, seeking help, on their father’s behalf and their families behalf and here purchasing their future existence. They were at the mercy of an ungodly nation asking for food but not realising that they are about to encounter how the grace of God works for all of us.
They have come seeking physical manna but are going to be offered life, grace and forgiveness in the same package and the future of their nation and all that God has spoken over them in their history.
What an amazing picture of who God is for us. We come seeking salvation in our daily physical bread yet he has something so much more in store. We are just blind to it. We are so consumed with our current situation and need of resource that we can not see his plan of grace that is more than enough and satisfies the needs of our soul and needs of our legacy to come.
As they stand before Joseph, they are recognised by him long before he reveals who he is. Jesus too..sees us, long before we see him. He can see that we long for mercy and grace long before we realise what he can provide.
Humanity craves salvation on a purely physical level yet they are unaware that God has so much more than our physical well being in mind. He see our need for forgiveness and grace and has been writing the plan and the script long before we get to that chapter. Here, a band of brothers, who in the previous chapters have proven their dysfunction and disorder and weaknesses, deserving severance, deserving of humiliation and public shaming, deserving of ridicule, deserving of distance and retaliation. Without realising it, they face a situation where a mere human holds their future in his hands and Joseph has a choice to send them home empty handed, have them executed, he could have chosen to distance himself or even to shame them and humiliate them.
He takes his time to test their hearts. He doesn’t immediately give them what they want. Forgiveness is not just a forgetting and allowing and empowering them to hurt others again. He uses his anonymity to test their authenticity. I love this. It is an empowering encounter that teaches me about forgiveness. Just because he see things from God’s perspective does not mean he automatically trusts them or draws them in. He ‘plays’ with their hearts and tests their motives. He is insightful and intuitive about relationships. He has endured incredible suffering and grief and longs to have real connection but not at any cost. He does’t leave his position, he doesn’t run back home, he doesn’t fall at their feet and beg to be enfolded, he doesn’t even tell them who he is. He takes his time and walks this part the story, slowly and strategically and in the mean time continues to lead and administer his role as Pharaoh’s second man.
He doesn’t allow his personal story to rob him of his platform of leadership nor does he allow his personal story to sabotage his role in leadership. He can see that God has used his personal story to help the nations not just himself. This is not about him and his own rescue but this is about the dreams God gave him as a teenager and now he is living out of his calling. How often do we allow our personal stuff to over shadows what God has put in us and where he has placed us. Joseph helps me see the God perspective that stops me chasing my own personal agenda at the cost of His plan for humanity.