Passages under consideration: Genesis 37-54
This weekend, as we continue our exploration of God’s grace, we’re doing something a little different. Rather than looking at a single passage, we’re looking at a story that covers at least 10 chapters! Our focus today will be on the story of God’s using Joseph, and what that story reveals about the grace of God.
To understand Genesis 37ff, we need to understand something of the family history. Joseph is a son of Israel (Jacob). His father – having stolen his brother’s inheritance – ran away and fell in love with the beautiful Rachel. But, having worked 7 years for her hand in marriage, Jacob was tricked into marrying Rachel’s older sister Leah instead. (How one can be tricked like this sort of beggars belief. One can only assume that the candles were very poor quality – or else that the wedding wine was of great quantity!)
These two sisters were constantly competing for Jacob’s affection. Leah bore him son after son – but Jacob’s heart was for Rachel. Both sisters got him to marry their servants in a kind of ancient surrogacy scheme. But still, Rachel was Jacob’s love. Eventually, Rachel gave birth to Joseph – the 11th-born son – but clearly Jacob’s favourite. A little later, Rachel again gave birth to Benjamin, and died in the process. Jacob was gutted at the loss of his beloved. But one can’t help but wonder if his overt favouritism for Joseph increased to compensate for her loss.
It must have been hard for Joseph’s half-brothers to live with the knowledge that their father cared far less for them than for their younger half-brother. That much was clear to everyone. At age 17, Jacob (Israel) gave Joseph a special coat. Traditionally, we’ve spoken of a multi-coloured coat. This was quite possibly a sign of high office – a sign that Joseph was white collar to his brother’s blue-collars. Certainly, Genesis 37 speaks of his often tending his father’s flocks. And although he worked for his half-brothers, he is recorded as reporting back on them to his dad (Genesis 37:2). We also read of Jacob sending him out to do an inspection and report on the half-brothers and the flock. (Genesis 37:14)
But before this, Genesis 37 speaks of God giving a couple of dreams to Joseph… dreams where Joseph stands in authority over his entire family. Reading ahead, we know that this will be an act of grace – of God saving them. But the effect on the brothers wasn’t one of gratitude to God. Rather, their hatred for the boy increased.
Grace can be offensive to us – especially when we don’t understand what God is doing. We so easily assume that God must bless us according to our merit – or our own worth. But right from the start, grace insists on humbling us. God so often works through what the world considers weak. God so often first has to break our own sense of self-sufficiency before we’re ready to accept his grace in our lives.
Sometimes we think – in practice if not in theory – that if God is active and present in your life – if grace is abounding to you – then everything will go well for you. You will be financially secure. You will be without worry. You will have no need to fear. Your relationships will flourish. You will be well-thought of and highly esteemed by everyone. Whatever your heart desires, you will have.
That all sounds good – but I suspect that a lot of Christians might read a paragraph like that and come to one very obvious conclusion: In that case, God can’t be very active and present in my life. In that case, I must have a serious deficiency of grace. But does that paragraph represent the whole truth of what God’s grace in our lives looks like? Does grace mean an easy life?
Joseph’s experience – and that of his brothers and father – would say no – grace doesn’t guarantee an easy life. God’s grace doesn’t always shield us from life’s troubles. But grace can use those troubles – even the evil that we do and that is done to us. …God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them. (Romans 8:28)
Which raises a question: why? Why would God’s grace not just override the evil and guarantee an easy life?