Blooming Where Planted: Joseph II

Have you ever known one of those people who, regardless of the weather, are sunny?  How long have you spent with someone for whom every situation seems to be another opportunity to shine.  Not only does nothing seem to get them down, but they succeed at everything.  They really annoy me, because they show just how bad my attitude really is, and how cynical I’ve become.  Do you know anyone like that?  Except for the “sunny all the time” bit, that’s Joseph.

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an Egyptian officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the bodyguard, bought him from the Ishmaelites, who had taken him down there.  The LORD was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. (Genesis 39:1-2 NASB)

Sold into slavery, by his brothers no less, and he works, works hard, and is successful.  I’ve always wondered if Joseph was “cheery” as he worked, or if his attitude improved as his success increased.  Was he despondent when he first arrived?  Was the trip down there loud and obnoxious, a spoiled brat calling for his dad?  Did he progress through the “stages of grief” or whatever it’s called when your life drastically becomes worse and you have to adapt?  Would it be stages of trauma or disaster?  He’s a human, so I’m guessing he did.

But, when you read about those stages (like in Psychology Today), the stages aren’t necessarily automatic.  So, a lot of people, without help, get stuck in the progression.  Joseph doesn’t.  I admit, I probably would.  Think about how you would react.  Being sold, by his brothers, into slavery, in a foreign country, it all completely undermined the safety and control Joseph had assumed he had.  Parental preference actually meant a lot less than he thought it did for his safety.

Somewhere in that traumatic shock of powerlessness and violation, he discovers that Yahweh is with him, that the God of his father is giving him success.  We’re not told how he noticed it.  We’re only told that Yahweh was with Joseph, and “…he was a man causing success; and was in the house of his master the Egyptian.”  What a strange way to put it.  He was a man causing success.  In other words, whatever he tried, worked.  That is, except escape or to not be a slave.  This God of his father wanted him as a slave.  And Joseph lived with that, blooming where Yahweh planted him.

Which of us could bloom in such hard ground?  I’m not sure my sense of personal entitlement or pride would totally prohibit me from blooming, but it sure wouldn’t help.  What do you think you would do?  If you tried to escape, where would you go?  The desert is in all directions.  My passive aggressive nature would probably kick in, do you have that too?  Yet, all we’re told is that Joseph succeeded, he caused success, even to those around him.  I’m not sure how I’d react to that.  Somehow, I’m sure I’d figure out a way to try and use that for my personal gain, and that would be what would fail.

Joseph is elevated in the household of his master.  He’s a slave, but he’s the chief slave, running everything, and everything he runs succeeds.  It’s the life, perhaps the best of a horrible situation, but he’s finally doing well.  Until that woman.

It came about after these events that his master’s wife looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, “Lie with me.”  But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, with me here, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house, and he has put all that he owns in my charge.  There is no one greater in this house than I, and he has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:7-9 NASB)

The clue that Joseph hasn’t given into complete self indulgence due to his success is how he responds to his master’s wife.  Perhaps he’s smart enough to know that she is a disaster, and would eventually spell his death if he cooperated with her.  Maybe there were already stories of predecessors who had suffered her, and then suffered because of her.  All we’re told is that he resisted her, and did so because of his success, and that he ascribes such an act as a sin against God.  He recognizes who is responsible for his success, he knows it’s not him.  I’m not sure I’d be that insightful, how about you?

Eventually she traps him alone, and he escapes without his cloak.  She uses that to accuse him, and his master has him imprisoned with the king’s prisoners.  Where has that success from God gone now?  He did not sin against God, yet his circumstances grew worse?  No good deed goes unpunished?  And yet, we don’t have a complaint against God lodged by Joseph.  Although, we do have clues about how he views his circumstances later on.  Maybe tomorrow.

In the meantime, what do you learn from Joseph’s adaptation to his slavery?  What do you learn from his deteriorating circumstances, even after doing the right thing?  I learn that my circumstances aren’t what define the character qualities of my Master.  I know that, but my emotions sure don’t like that.  My circumstances do not define the character qualities of my Master, and that means good or bad circumstances.  So, my Master is who He says He is, regardless of my day, week, month, or year, or even years.  In good or bad circumstances, my Master is good, loving, and sovereign.

What’s your view through your knothole this morning?


Perspective On Sin

Then the sons of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD; and the LORD gave them into the hands of Midian seven years. The power of Midian prevailed against Israel. Because of Midian the sons of Israel made for themselves the dens which were in the mountains and the caves and the strongholds.  For it was when Israel had sown, that the Midianites would come up with the Amalekites and the sons of the east and go against them.  So they would camp against them and destroy the produce of the earth as far as Gaza, and leave no sustenance in Israel as well as no sheep, ox, or donkey.  For they would come up with their livestock and their tents, they would come in like locusts for number, both they and their camels were innumerable; and they came into the land to devastate it. (Judges 6:1-5 NASB)

Context and perspective are everything?  Well, no, not really.  We say that, but then we tend to “emphasize” a particular perspective to suit our desired point.  Our behavior differs from our pithy statement.  Perspective isn’t everything. Actually, we focus on what we want, and find a perspective that supports that conclusion.

The writer of Judges has an audience.  They have these kings who, every other generation, wander from God.  It’s frustrating, and causes no end of confusion.  It’s not that they don’t know who the One True God is, but for one reason or another, these kings add another god into the worship of Yahweh.  The writer of Judges points out that this is nothing new.

But there are things about the time of the judges which are very different from the time of the kings.  For instance, without a central standing army, nomadic peoples can descend on Canaan and overwhelm the farmers.  And that is what’s happening here.  The writer of Judges has the perspective that this happens due to the people’s sin.  That’s his perspective.

On the other hand, this also affects the Canaanites who have not been driven out, the Philistines living in the plains, and the “city folk” who don’t live on farms.  We sometimes forget to view these descriptions with the “response to sin” removed.

At this time, Egypt is busy getting their stuff together, recovering from a recent occupation.  Mesopotamia is between empires at the moment.  The kings of Syria haven’t yet arisen, and the Hittites are still in the mountains of Asia Minor.  It’s pretty much up to the squabbling city-states of Canaan to address this issue.

The land is in chaos during the time of the judges.  The Canaanites of Meggido have iron chariots, but they do them no good against the camel cavalry of the desert nomads.  The only option in response to these migrant invaders is to hide the produce in mountain strongholds and caves.  And that is only partially effective.

Saying that seven years of these nomadic invaders comes as a response to the sin of the Sons of Israel is one perspective.  It’s one that interprets the events of that day in light of the relationship of the people, chosen by Yahweh, to be His people.  Whenever they chose not to be “exclusive” in their relationship with Yahweh, they suffered.

But this perspective does not address all the “bad” stuff that happened to the people.  Some bad stuff happened while the people were following Yahweh.  We’re not given those events.  They don’t support the author’s point.  On the other hand, he never says they don’t happen.  We know they had to happen.  This author sticks to his point, his perspective supports it, and other points are left to others to make.

These events are what they are.  The perspective used to derive meaning from the events can vary.  But, the choice of perspective is driven by the author’s intended point to make to his audience.  The chosen message for this author is that, when God’s chosen people are unfaithful to Yahweh, He permits them to suffer.  That is not to say that this is the only time people suffer.  But it does point out that God holds His people accountable for their actions.

That perspective isn’t an error.  It’s true.  It’s not the only explanation of why bad things happen, but it was never intended to be.  Later on, during the reign of Hezekiah, Assyria attacks Judah, and gets all the way to Jerusalem.  Yet Hezekiah and the people are doing well with God.  So, why did the Assyrians have so much success?  Answering that question wasn’t the author’s point, so we aren’t told.  But, we are told that God used that attack to demonstrate His power over even earthly powers considered unbeatable.  But only the Sons of Israel were given that point or perspective.

The unfaithfulness of the Sons of Israel was the explanation of why the nomadic peoples were able to oppress the land.  The reason given for most of the events in Judges is the same.  God holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  That point is supposed to be our take-away, our lesson, our insight gained from Judges.  So, keeping that point in mind, what’s going on in our world?  Are there things that indicate we may not be honoring our relationship with God?

God still holds His people accountable for their relationship with Him.  We live under a new covenant, but it’s still a covenant.  There are things for us and for God by which to abide in order to be faithful to the covenant.  He has done His part through His Son, Jesus.  We do our part when we rely on Him, and put this relationship ahead of every other, including ourselves.

Stuff happens when we are not faithful.  Stuff often happens anyway, but why ask for more?  Why not be faithful and avoid additional problems.  Isn’t closeness with God what makes it easier to get through the stuff of this life anyway?  If we have a solid relationship with the Creator of the universe, what else matters anyway?  If nothing can separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:35-39), then why does stuff bother us?  The only stuff that should bother us is the stuff our Master uses to bring us back to Him.  The other stuff just deepens what we already have with Him.

Well, that’s my perspective through this knothole this morning.  What do you see of God through yours?

Evil For Dinner, Revenge For Dessert

Jonadab, the son of Shimeah, David’s brother, responded, “Do not let my lord suppose they have put to death all the young men, the king’s sons, for Amnon alone is dead; because by the intent of Absalom this has been determined since the day that he violated his sister Tamar. Now therefore, do not let my lord the king take the report to heart, namely, ‘all the king’s sons are dead, ‘ for only Amnon is dead.” (2 Samuel 13:32-33 NASB)

Chapter 13 of 2 Samuel begins the ‘Absalom’ narrative within David’s story.  It begins with the tragic character of Tamar and proceeds through her humiliation by her step brother Amnon, to the eventual revenge of her brother Absalom on Amnon.  What adds to the intrigue is the small details about the edges.

Amnon is the first-born, and therefore the ‘assumed’ successor to David.  He would make a disastrous king; he’s self-centered, arrogant, manipulative, with no regard for anyone.  The reader finds him repulsive very quickly in the account.  But he is the first-born.

Absalom is very near the top of the list of king’s sons who might inherit the throne, but not at the top; he’s third (second doesn’t appear anywhere but in a list in 2 Samuel 3, and under a different name in 1 Chronicles).  So the setting of this ‘revenge’ is set within the sons of the king, a king sitting on a throne; and therefore on an inheritance that only one can inherit.

David is the father who is suffering consequences for his sin with Bathsheba (see chapter 12).  In a sense he too is a victim, or I see him as such.  He ‘hears’ of an atrocity among his children, but not from them.  What does he do?  The penalty is death, but no one will talk about it (sound like a modern family?).

What does happen is that Absalom has told his sister to be quiet while he harbors hatred toward her attacker.  So Tamar is not only victimized in one of the most horrible fashions possible (even worse in their culture than ours), she’s not given justice nor the opportunity for justice.  She’s not even given an explanation of why this happened to her.

This situation goes on for two years, and then Absalom manipulates his father, the king, into allowing all the kings sons to dine with him somewhere north.  At the meal, Absalom has Amnon killed.  He escapes to grandpa Talmai (what happens to Tamar now?), and the rest of the princes flee home.  By any assessment, the situation is a disaster.

Why? Why is this even in this book?  It’s not in Chronicles.  It’s only here in the book of Samuel.  Why in the shuffle and tussle of spoiled princes of a warrior-king is the victim, Tamar, sidelined?  In fact the ‘backdrop’ for this, repeatedly pointed out by the author, is the degradation of David’s family indicated in incest and murder. The repetition of ‘her brother’ and ‘his sister’ is almost irritating until you get the point.

David tried his best to guide and direct his children.  He had them work in the shrine of the Ark of God.  He made them ‘ministers’ with duties in the administration of the kingdom.  He gave them wise counselors like Jonadab.  They knew the job, they knew what was involved, and they knew where David’s power came from, his God.  Yet it seems they saw the ‘chair’ as either deserved by right of birth, regardless of character (Amnon); or up for grabs by whoever could manipulate their way into it (Absalom).

David makes an easy target for us, but I doubt we truly appreciate the problems he faced in parenting.  Tamar is swept aside and remains a tragic figure, but only to setup what happens to Amnon by Absalom.  I think that only deepens her tragedy.  Amnon is a cruel and despicable person; a fool who needs to die rather than become king.  Absalom is a manipulative ambitious conniver who would even use his sister’s humiliation for his own ends.  Jonadab is said to be wise, but we can’t tell if he was manipulated or participating in Tamar’s humiliation, and then in Absalom’s revenge.

The character list is peopled with characters, but not a lot of moral fiber.  This isn’t a ‘success story’ or a ‘parenting bestseller’, it makes soap operas seem bright and cheery.  As I look through the ‘knothole’ I see it’s still a story about David, but of his woes.  I see it’s about his consequences on the one hand, but about his inability to control even his own children on the other (a theme common today).  I see it is about horrible incomprehensible evil being done to a victim, and the ineffective application of justice.

What I learn about God is that He permits tragedy, He permits monsters, He permits bad things happening to good people.  It’s a hard thing to see about God.  In a real sense it’s incomprehensible; but God is supposed to be incomprehensible.  In another sense it seems He has His hands completely off the situation, yet He predicts this very thing in his prophesy through Nathan.  He knows it’s coming and doesn’t stop it.  He doesn’t make life roses and song-birds for everyone.

And so I’m challenged to regard my own life, and not use my circumstances as the litmus test for my relationship with my Master.  Some bad things are consequences, and some are not.  Can I accept both from my Master and still be confident in His perfect love and perfect power?  David was able to, and he didn’t even point to Jesus as compensation.  Rather his faith was based on the other things he saw his Master do.  Will I learn to also rely on my faith based on what I have seen my Master do?  Or will I give into the view of here, now, the darkness I sense, and the hopelessness I think I face?

What about you? What do you see through the knothole?