Purpose in the Pain

“Joseph Arrives in Egypt” (c. 1869) by artist Owen Jones
Can you relate?

Joseph seemed to struggle with feelings of bitterness (anger, too?) toward his brothers for the way they treated him in his youth. And why not? Their behavior was nothing short of abysmal! To be honest, I can easily relate to Joseph’s struggle with his emotional response, his desire to “keep it together” in front of those who mistreated him – even years and years after the fact. And to add insult to injury, they were Joseph’s own family!

Let’s back up.

Joseph’s life began pretty cushy. Dear ol’ dad loved him most. Everyone knew it. He gave him a showy coat. He trusted him as his go-between with his other sons. Even Joseph’s unconsciousness seemed to bless him with dreams of greatness. What happened? His brothers sold his blessed life for a few coins just to be rid of him.

Skip ahead in Joseph’s biography. He’s now a slave in a well-respected Egyptian’s home. He’s kind of a big deal in the man’s house, a position he undoubtedly both deserved and earned. He was living large, for a slave. What happened? The guy’s wife began making eye babies at him and eventually lied about Joseph making a pass at her. And our guy Joe, who had done no wrong, had to exchange slavery for imprisonment.

Fast-forward to Joseph’s life in prison. Eventually even his jailers saw his integrity and rewarded him with elevated status, though he remained imprisoned. By and by, he did a couple of fellow prisoners a solid by interpreting their dreams and all he asked in return was to be remembered when they left the slammer. What happened? Absolutely nothing. He was forgotten.

Time passes. Cue Egypt’s #1 being plagued by dreams even his most trusted advisors couldn’t interpret. What to do? Only then did Joseph’s cup-bearing friend finally have a light bulb moment and remember the one whom he so quickly forgot.

The skinny of it is this.

Joseph so impressed the Pharaoh that he was released, elevated to  2nd in the land and basically not only saved all of Egypt from the ensuing famine, but “as fate would have it,” also his own family.

Speaking of which, those brothers who so altered Joseph’s pleasant life all those years ago – the brothers responsible for his slavery, the brothers whose actions led to his imprisonment – yeah, they showed up on his doorstep in need of a favor. They were starving because of the famine and needed help. They didn’t recognize their brother, but their brother sure did recognize them. And the emotion of all of his years of slavery and imprisonment seemed to wash over him when he stood face-to-face with them. He wasn’t sure what he felt toward his brothers and continued to struggle with his emotional reaction to them after so many years after their hurting him until he realized

“…it was not you who sent me here, but God.”           Gen. 45:8

It seems at that very moment the Tetris pieces fell into place in Joseph’s heart. He realized that it wasn’t his brothers after all who had sent him to Egypt so many years earlier when they exchanged his freedom for slavery, pocketing the coins. In His sovereignty, God had orchestrated it all

“…for God sent me ahead of you to preserve life!”    Gen. 45:5

Ponder this.

Joseph wasn’t delivered from the prison of his own bitterness until he realized every event, every wrong done toward him was a part of his sovereign God’s plan for him. And God’s plan was bigger than Joseph’s feelings or comfort level or preference in the matter. When he shifted his perspective from horizontal to vertical – when he quit glancing to and fro at the hurt inflicted upon him by his brothers and instead focused his gaze on God – that was the moment he was truly set free.

“The Messiah has set us free so that we may enjoy the benefits of freedom. So keep on standing firm in it, and stop putting yourselves under the yoke of slavery again.” Gal. 5:1

Are you in a prison of your own bitterness toward someone who has hurt you? Perhaps a family member, coworker, neighbor or longtime friend has wounded you? What do you feel the Lord saying to you today in light of Joseph’s life?

I’m embracing feedback this year, so please leave yours in the comments – the good, the bad, the indifferent. I want to hear from you!

Meet Naomi

Simeon Solomon's "Naomi and the Child Obed" 1881 wood engraving was scanned by Simon Cook. You can see more of Simeon Solomon's Bible illustrations here.
Simeon Solomon’s “Naomi and the Child Obed” 1881 wood engraving was scanned by Simon Cook. You can see more of Simeon Solomon’s Bible illustrations here.

Naomi is one of those women that you know of, but have never really known. Because of her more famous daughter-in-love Ruth, the spotlight has always just missed her. About three years ago at a Women’s Bible Study, that all changed for me. I connected with Naomi over the fact that we had both endured the unspeakable – the burial of our children. This is a club few are in and none want to belong to; when you come across other members, you tend to gravitate toward them. That semester was eye-opening for me as Naomi (with Ruth) shared her heart, hurts, and healing with our group.

I reconnected with Naomi last summer for a week and I learned even more from this wonderfully pleasant woman of God. Through her losses, Naomi remained rooted in the knowledge that God is sovereign. She is the first to confess that her losses weren’t easy to endure. (She actually renamed herself “Mara” for a time, which translates bitter.) Her grief was often ugly! Her faith in His sovereignty wasn’t rooted in her feelings, however, as mine tend to be. For Naomi, His sovereign control was a firm & unwavering fact. She knew (with the great Patriarch of her faith, Job) that God gives and God takes away. He is sovereign in the giving and He is still sovereign in the taking away.

The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.” Job 1:21 (NASB)

I invite you to spend some time with Naomi this week. She is a woman who has journeyed through the valley of the shadow of death many times. Because of that, she is uniquely qualified to lead you as you learn to trust in His sovereignty through your own valleys.