Sunday, February 25, 2007

The LORD was with him?

Old Testament scholars tell us ancient Hebrew writers often use repetition to make a point. If this is true, then the point of Joseph’s story in Genesis is the fact that “the LORD was with him.”

When I ask myself what I would expect to result from a repeating statement like this, I know it wouldn’t look anything like what actually happened to Joseph.

Jealousy and hatred get the best of his half-brothers. They kidnap their father’s favorite son and throw him into a pit with every intention of murdering him. Then, in a so-called act of mercy, they sell him into slavery. Seventeen-year-old Joseph is chained and hauled off to Egypt. If his brothers were tried for such offences today, they’d all be serving time.

But Joseph’s troubles have only begun. Torn from his father, betrayed by his brothers, given up for dead—Joseph is habitually the victim of the treachery or forgetfulness of others. He is sold, falsely accused, and unjustly imprisoned. Twenty-two precious years with his father and his younger brother Benjamin are lost.

Then, when Pharaoh’s cup bearer is restored, and at last there’s finally a glimmer of hope, Joseph is promptly forgotten and left in prison for two more long years. I can’t imagine how profoundly dumbfounded Joseph felt.

Grief is the subtitle underneath Joseph's story. Later his brothers would be tormented by the memory of his desperate cries and tears. But how many tears were shed that they knew nothing about?

Our storybook versions of his sufferings don’t begin to grasp what he endured. The Psalms tell us “They bruised his feet with shackles, his neck was put in irons” (Ps.105:18). What was it doing to Joseph’s heart? We read his story in minutes. He suffered for years, and the scars remained with him for a lifetime.

Yet there it is—that simple repeating reassuring refrain, “the LORD was with him”—winding through Joseph’s story like a stubborn thread all tangled up with the misery and the utter sense of being forgotten. It’s hard to put it all together.

I don’t pretend to know how to make sense of it. It doesn’t fit the formula we usually hear and certainly not the one we want. All I can see is that these two conflicting realities coexist: God’s continuous presence with His child and heartbreaking calamity. If Joseph’s story can be trusted, our troubles are no proof that God isn’t around. And although this unleashes a whole new set of questions, still I find it strangely comforting.



Anonymous said...

Reminds me of the mystery of "concurrence" which you discuss in your first book, which by the way, is one of the best books I have EVER read (over and over)! These are definitely the days to be doing this kind of thinking and writing, trying to put things together, and the Lord is with you too as you do this. I know from experience that God will keep leading you graciously through these days in his time, for your good. Praying for you still.

Becky Byrne

prof said...
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