We would be hard pressed to find anyone in scripture who suffered more setbacks in life than Joseph. His brothers were jealous of him and, finding an opportunity to do away with him, sold him to slave traders who were passing through the land. He was brought to Egypt and purchased by Potiphar, a wealthy and powerful Egyptian, who eventually recognized Joseph’s intelligence, honesty and hard work, and put him in charge of all that he had. Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce him and, when he refused her, she accused him before her husband and he was imprisoned. Even in prison his character and his deep insight continued to impress others. He interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s servants and was promised freedom, but was then forgotten and left to languish in his prison cell. Finally he got his opportunity, when Pharaoh himself had a troubling dream and Joseph was called to interpret it. This he did, saving the land and its people from a deadly famine. He rose in Pharaoh’s eyes and became a powerful ruler, second only to Pharaoh himself.
And then we read that his brothers, experiencing famine in their own land, came to Egypt seeking food. Joseph recognizes them, but conceals his identity from them. He sends them home with food, but arranges for his younger brother to be brought to him. In the touching passage we read today, he finally breaks down and reveals his true identity to them. “I am your brother Joseph, whom you sold into slavery,” he says; “And now do not be distressed, or angry with yourselves, because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life” (45:5).
Joseph is a man of faith, who is able to see God’s hand at work in his own life and in the lives of his family and the people of both Israel and Egypt. We marvel that he has escaped the powerful temptation to be resentful and bitter, or to seek revenge for the wrong that was done to him. Instead, he sees only God’s faithfulness, which has helped him overcome every setback and defeat. Later in the story, when he meets his father, he reveals how he has chosen to interpret the events of his life: “Even though you intended to do harm to me,” he says to his brothers, “God intended it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people, as he is doing today” (50:20).
All of us, at one time or another, have experienced setbacks in life – sometimes through our own fault, sometimes through the fault of others. Or perhaps some sickness or tragedy has entered your life and altered your path. Joseph’s example today inspires us to look beyond these setbacks and apparent obstacles to see and trust God’s faithfulness. God has a way of overcoming evil with good, of conquering hatred with love, of countering despair with hope.
God will never give up on us, but will help us surmount the challenges and disappointments and setbacks of life, and will carry us through it all.
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