Joseph

by Glenn Conjurske

Joseph is one of the fullest types of Christ which we find in the Old Testament, and particularly a type of “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow.” In what is more personal, we find in Joseph a telling exemplification of the fact that in the ways of God the way of suffering is the way to glory.

Joseph was born to a life of suffering. His first misfortune was his birth, for he was born into a world of strife in his father’s house, where two sisters were engaged in an intense rivalry for their husband’s love, and where the bearing of children was the chief battle ground. The polygamy of Jacob was as innocent as any polygamy could be, having been forced upon him in spite of himself, and quite against his own inclinations, but polygamy is polygamy, and it never can breed anything but envy and quarrels and strife. The birth of Joseph brought joy unmixed and unmeasured to the heart of Rachel, but we can scarcely suppose it brought any joy to the heart of Leah. By this birth she was robbed of her one little sphere of superiority, for which she had wrestled with God and with Rachel, and to which she had so tenaciously clung for so many years.

Leah no doubt felt all this most deeply, but we are hardly to suppose that she gathered her sons around her and told them tearfully, “Boys, the battle is over now, and Rachel is the victor. Rachel is a mother now, and I am conquered. She has taken away my one little sphere of superiority, and I have nothing left. She had almost everything before, but now she has all, and I have nothing.” Her feminine pride would scarcely allow of this. However she may have wept out such things to God in secret, in company she must put on another face:

“Yonder walks the sum of feminine beauty, in all her glory! She has a baby! One baby, after all these years, but this will no doubt make her too proud to speak to a mother of six. And you would think that with all her boasted beauty she could have had a good-looking one, but look at the ugly little thing!” Joseph was probably not Joseph in Leah’s mouth, but “Rachel’s glory,” or some such reproachful epithet. We know how quick the tongue of Leah was to deal out pettish reproaches to Rachel’s face, and we can hardly suppose that tongue would be silent behind her back. And to whom would she speak such things, if not to her boys? They would no doubt laugh, and take up the reproaches, for “Mocking is catching.”

Some will doubtless be ready to affirm that I put too much into the mouth of Leah, but they will hardly contend that I put too much into her heart. Feminine jealousy is as incorrigible as it is inveterate, and I have heard just such talk from some Christian women in the present day, where there was no contention at all over a husband’s love, but only over the acceptability of their children. By contemptuous reproaches they seek to establish the worth of their own unruly children in finding fault with the children of their sisters. We know the bitterness of Leah’s plight, the desperation of her rivalry with her sister, and the pettishness of her reproaches. We know, therefore, what her attitude must have been towards Joseph, and “Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh.” Her feelings would certainly make themselves known to her boys.

Thus Joseph was probably despised by his brethren as soon as he entered the world, and as he grew older their disdain grew into a settled hatred. Three things contributed to this: his own goodness, his father’s love, and his God-given dreams.

Joseph was no doubt loved supremely by Rachel. This we would expect, and it could hardly be otherwise. Neither would this cause any difficulties in the standing of Joseph with his brethren. What would they care if his mother loved him? But he was loved supremely by Jacob also, and this they could not so easily pass over. Jacob’s love for Joseph was quite understandable, for Joseph was the only son of his beloved Rachel, and it was perhaps unavoidable that Jacob should love him as he did. But Jacob was not very discreet, and as he showed great partiality towards Rachel, so he did towards Joseph also. And as his partiality for Rachel excited all the envy of Leah, so his partiality for Joseph excited all the envy of his brethren. “Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age, and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him.” Parents might love one son above another, and yet treat them all alike. Those who are partial to one child do him no favor—-indeed, do him no justice—-for he is certain to be despised by the rest of the children for it. This was Joseph’s unhappy lot. His coat of many colors was the permanent badge of his favored place, and a constant provocation of the envy of his brethren.

Emotions are for the most part involuntary, and we would not pretend that Jacob could help loving Joseph above his brethren, but the coat of many colors he might have helped. This was the grand provocation. By this “his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren.” ‘Tis a wonder that Jacob, shrewd as he was, did not foresee this, and it is another wonder that Joseph continued to wear it, for he must have heard many bitter taunts about his coat of many colors, from brethren who “could not speak peaceably unto him.”

Joseph’s goodness was no doubt a further reason for the strength of his father’s love for him. “Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report.” It is easy to love a good son, but evil sons will take this very ill. Little worth always feels itself slighted, when it gets neither more nor less than its due, and frets and complains when true worth gets its own. The leader who trusts and promotes true worth is always severely blamed by those who neither earn nor deserve nor receive that trust.

Joseph’s goodness gained him nothing, therefore, with his brethren, but quite the reverse. The unworthy can bear anything but goodness. That goodness, however, was known in heaven, and while Joseph was hated by his brethren, God showed him that he would yet be exalted above them. “And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren, and they hated him yet the more. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: for, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words.”

The extreme simplicity of Joseph is rather surprising. His brethren hated him already—-”could not speak peaceably unto him”—-and will he tell them such a dream as this? This was casting his pearls before swine, and the only possible issue of it was that they would trample those pearls under their feet, and turn again and rend him. But mark, it is not sinful to cast our pearls before swine, only unwise. “The bad man always suspects knavery,” but the good are the last to suspect evil, and those who are harmless as doves must usually be taught in a hard school to be wise as serpents. That school was soon to open its doors to Joseph.

First, however, he must dream another dream, and tell it, too. The glory of the second dream was far in advance of that of the first. In the former it was their sheaves bowing down to his sheaf. Now it is, “Behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me.” If the first dream was galling to his brethren, this one must have been much more so.

Yet those dreams were of God. The Bible relates no other kind, and if it be thought that this is an exception, and that these dreams are related not for their origin, but for their effect, I reply that their nature proves that they came from God. We all know that the workings of nature are very confused in our dreams, but they are never confused after this fashion. If this was the mere working of nature, these were not dreams at all, but hallucinations. No man or boy dreams such things by nature. A boy may dream of his dog chasing a rabbit—-nay, of a rabbit chasing his dog—-but he does not dream of sheaves bowing down to a sheaf, much less of the sun, moon, and stars bowing down to himself. However confused and fanciful the scenes and roles and circumstances may be in our dreams, yet they are confined to the realm of rational thought. They do not attribute personality to the inanimate.

Joseph’s dreams were of God, and Joseph doubtless knew that they were, or at any rate came in time to know it. Jacob obviously suspected that they were, and evidently so did his brethren, for though “his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth?”—-yet “his brethren envied him, but his father observed the saying.” There had been no occasion for his brethren to envy him for his dream, if they had despised it as a vain imagination, nor any occasion for Jacob to “observe” it, if he had not suspected its divine origin. He knew not what to make of the dream, and therefore hid it away in his heart, to observe the issue. Just so when Joseph and Mary “understood not the things which he (Jesus) spake unto them, … his mother kept all these sayings in her heart.”

So Jacob did also, and though he may have lost hold of these things when he received the manufactured evidence of Joseph’s death, yet we can hardly suppose that Joseph ever lost hold of them. These were his sustaining medicaments through all the years of his sufferings. These were the levers by which he added force to his prayers through all his years of languishing in the prison in Egypt, so that if God gave these dreams to Joseph once, Joseph no doubt gave them back to God a thousand times. He who can doubt this has never had a dream from God. He that has ever had a dream from God cannot doubt it.

We need not speak now of dreams of the night. There are dreams of the day as well, dreams of the spirit, dreams of exploits and triumphs for the cause of Christ, which are as much the work of the Spirit of God as ever were any visions of the night. Such dreams are deeply etched in the soul of man by the Spirit of God, and they become the ruling passion and the driving force of the life. Such dreams make an unlearned cobbler the father of the missionary movement, put the wild gipsy boy behind the pulpit and before the multitudes, set the simple coal miner at the head of the Welsh revival, and make the uncouth and uneducated shoe salesman the leading general in the hosts of the Lord. No man who has such a dream from God can ever be again what he was before, nor can he ever relinquish his dream until he sees it fulfilled.

Such a dream Joseph had, and it no doubt sustained his sinking spirit through all the years of his exile, as Moses’ dream sustained his through his forty years in the back side of the desert.

Meanwhile, Joseph has been imprudent enough to cast his pearls before swine, and the immediate effect of this was the direct opposite of what God had given him to expect. But this was of God also. The dreams which God gives are always for the future, and the path to their fulfillment is usually a long and hard one, and sometimes a bitter one. Joseph’s way was all of the three. If God had meant to give the fulfillment now, there had been no occasion to give the dream. The dream is to nerve and sustain the spirit through the long, hard road to its fulfillment.

Joseph’s goodness, Jacob’s love, and God’s approbation all combine not only to draw out the hatred of Joseph’s brethren, but to increase it also. Sent of his father to learn of their welfare, “they saw him afar off”—-saw his hated coat of many colors—-and “they conspired against him to slay him.” This was bitter hatred, to conspire to slay their own brother. What harm to them, if he breathed and walked the earth? What harm had he ever done them? What harm was he likely to do, if he lived? Ah, his dreams were too much for them. Hatred might allow him to live and breathe, but it could never brook the thought of bowing down to him. Hatred could not brook this because pride could not. As love everywhere appears to be the twin sister of humility, so hatred plainly appears here to be the twin sister of pride. In cold blood, therefore, “they said one to another, Behold, this dreamer cometh. Come now therefore, and let us slay him, and cast him into some pit, and we will say, Some evil beast hath devoured him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams.”

Little did they dream that they must yet reckon with those dreams, long years after they had put the dreamer out of the way. If a man has a dream from God, this may be for his neighbor’s faith as well as his own, and it may be for his neighbor’s humility also. To think to set aside the God-given dream by setting aside the human dreamer is impious effrontery, and this was an affront to God as well as to Joseph. They must yet reckon with Joseph’s dreams, and till then they must live with an evil conscience.

Joseph is sold into Egypt. His goodness serves him well there, and he is made head over all his master’s house. In this position he was doubtless thrown much into the company of his master’s wife, and so came to pass that same thing which takes place daily throughout the world. Her heart was quite overset by his pleasing presence, and she, heathen that she was, approached him boldly with the seductive temptation, “Lie with me.” He reasons with her, but to no avail. Her heart is ruled by passion, and reason enters but little into such a heart. He avoids her presence, refusing so much as “to be with her,” but it was too late for this to avail anything. Joseph is all her thought, and she knows where to find him. She has yielded herself wholly to this passion, until her soul is quite immersed in it, and she can take no denial. She continues her enticements “day by day,” doubtless waxing more and more bold, and employing all the instinctive arts of femininity. Her “lips drop as an honeycomb,” as Solomon says, “and her mouth is smoother than oil.” If he withstands her bold assault on the citadel of his virtue, she will take him by smaller steps: “Then at the least kiss me. You can’t conceive what one kiss would do for me—-and what harm in a kiss?” But here Joseph’s goodness shines as gold, being proof against the most powerful temptation which a man can endure. And since all this avails her nothing, and since she is driven by a consuming passion which will take no denial, she at length lays hold of his garment, to press him at close quarters with all her soft and sultry charms.

Yet Joseph’s goodness remains untarnished. Where many men have fallen before the first breath of such temptation, Joseph withstands a daily and long-continued assault of all its fiery darts. But now his goodness is to serve him as ill as it had served him well before. He flees from fornication, but in order to do so he leaves his garment in her hand. This was not wise: better far to have wrenched it from her grasp; but goodness suspects no evil. This is now the second time that enmity has had Joseph’s coat in one hand and a lie in the other, and she shall make a worse use of it than his brethren did. There is scarcely anything on the face of the earth so implacable as wounded feminine pride, and her pride was wounded to the quick by Joseph’s rejection of her advances. Though all his thought was to reject her sin, all her thought was that he had rejected her person, and all her feminine charms. It is the way of women in such a case to conceal their wounds behind professions of disdain for the man who thus dares to spurn them, but it was far too late for this. Doubtless confident of success, she has cast off all her natural feminine restraint, and forcefully and repeatedly made known to him her consuming desires for his love, so that to pretend anything else now would be a transparent falsehood, which could only bring contempt upon herself. And having so forcefully made known her own desires for him, her pride could scarcely bear his rejection, and nothing will do but revenge. This was easy enough, with his garment in her hand. “She laid up his garment by her, until his lord came home,” meditating her revenge, and thus innocence is cast into prison. Thus innocence suffers at the hands of guilt. After the usual manner of noble manhood, Joseph has dealt much more tenderly with her than she deserved. Though her temptations continued day after day, yet his lips were never opened to expose her. He wounded her only so far as necessity absolutely required, to avoid his own complicity in her sin. Nevertheless, the wound which she had thus forced him to inflict upon her was a deep one, and now nothing will do but he must suffer for it.

Yet now his goodness will serve him well again. The keeper of the prison takes note of it, and sets the whole prison under his hand. But what is prosperity without liberty? This was a far cry from the fulfillment of his dreams, yet the hand of God was in all this, as much as ever it was in giving those dreams to him. He who shuts and no man opens has shut Joseph up in the prison, and there is no opening till God opens. The way to advancement is the way of suffering, and there is no help for it. But who would ever choose such a road to advancement? Who among short-sighted mortals can so much as approve it? Who can see any reason in all this languishing in the prison-house? Why this redundance of suffering? Why this waste of tears? Why this waste of years? None of us would enter the prison-house voluntarily, if God did not shut us in. There are shorter and easier roads to advancement—-though usually by compromise—-and God may allow the impatient to take them. His own chosen vessels might take them also, if they could do so without compromise, and if God would permit it, for we can see no reason for the long delays and the bitter disappointments. God therefore shuts the door of the prison, and leaves his chosen vessel no avenue of escape, till he sees fit to open the door himself.

We know that Joseph would have opened the door of the prison, if he could have. He indeed endeavored to do so. He charged the butler to remember him, when he was restored to his place. Even those who are possessed with no restless unbelief, who have faith in the living God, and who would gladly “let patience have her perfect work, that they may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing”—-even these have little understanding of when patience has had its perfect work. We know not when we have suffered enough. We know not when we have waited long enough. God therefore shuts, and no man opens, and all Joseph’s endeavors in that direction were perfectly useless.

How could Joseph know when he had suffered enough? What did he know when he was fit for his place? The day in which his prison door was opened was the same in his eyes as a hundred other days. So far as he could understand anything of the matter, he was now no more fit for his place than he was the day before, or a year before. But God works not only to fit the man for the place, but to make the place for the man, and he is never in a hurry. He shuts, therefore, and no man opens. This is the school of God, and in this school the servants of God must be educated.

Man has schools of another sort, where men may learn Greek, Hebrew, and Latin, and perhaps a smattering of English also, with a little of false or shallow doctrine thrown in, and by this means they think to prepare men for the ministry. But the disappointments and delays and sufferings which constitute the chief courses in the school of God will never be found in the curriculums of men. These schools, with the precision of a factory, turn out little wheels and cogs and bearings, fit for nothing but to fill a ready-made place in an existing machine. Men of God are not made after this fashion. No man so much as knew—-Joseph did not know himself—-what place he would fill, until the hand of God set him in that place, and how could he know what preparation he needed for it? God knew all, and God made the place for the man, and the man for the place.

Having finished his work in Joseph, and set him in his place, he now begins to work on his brethren. They were not let in to the secret of the Lord. They knew nothing of the coming dearth, and made no preparation for it. They now begin to feel the pinch of famine. And here we see how God arranges the affairs of the whole world, merely to vindicate his hated servant, and to exalt him over those brethren who hated him. “And all countries came into Egypt to Joseph for to buy corn, because that the famine was so sore in all lands.” All this merely to do for Joseph what Joseph deserved, and what God had long before taught him to hope for.

And as God deals with Joseph’s brethren, so Joseph deals with them also. “He made himself strange unto them, and spake roughly unto them.” Though his heart yearned over them, so that he must turn away from them and weep, yet we see nothing of “My brethren! My brethren! How good it is to see you!” Nothing of the sort. No, there was an old score which must be settled first. I have known people who will wrong a man, and then sweep the whole wrong under the rug, and endeavor to go on as though it had never been. But the man who has received the wrong really has no business to allow such conduct. The man who allows others to wrong him with impunity in fact wrongs them. Joseph therefore makes himself strange to them, and speaks roughly, all to convict them of their sin, and bring them to repentance. In this he is an exquisite type of Christ dealing with the Jews in the last days.

And observe the workings of conscience in Joseph’s brethren. Not a word did Joseph speak to them of their great sin against himself. He rather brings against them a false charge, saying, “Ye are spies.” The false charge might rather have led them to a vigorous defense of themselves, but the true charge was lodged against them in their own hearts, and conscience is swift and unerring. It takes them directly to the great sin of their lives—-though they had been guilty of a thousand lesser sins—-”and they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother.” All this Joseph secured in his first interview with them.

Yet I observe that Joseph is in no hurry in his dealings with them. Though nature would have made haste on every account, and especially on account of his aged father, who was yet mourning his loss, yet Joseph had long been a student in the school of God, and God is never in a hurry. Joseph had learned the ways of the Lord, and learned them well. He is in no hurry in his dealings with his brethren, but will do thorough work in securing their conviction and repentance. He was months in doing what would be done in five minutes today—-or not done at all. A respected leader in the church asked me some time ago, endeavoring to impugn the gospel which I preach, what I would tell a man if I had two minutes in which to preach the gospel to him. I told him I would preach the same things as if I had two months—-but I do not generally expect to convert a soul in two minutes. There are old scores to be settled, and the determination of the heart against God will rarely be broken down in two minutes.

We must yet observe the faith of Joseph. It is the way of faith to take all things from the hand of God. It therefore lays no blame on its persecutors, or on any of the subordinate agents of its troubles. It says as David said of Shimei, when Abishai was ready to take off his head for his cursing, “What have I to do with you, ye sons of Zeruiah? So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Who shall then say, Wherefore hast thou done so?” (II Sam. 16:10). This is the viewpoint of faith, and all this shines with peculiar luster in Joseph. His brethren are troubled at his presence, but he says, “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither, for God did send me before you to preserve life. … So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God.” And once again, “But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”

Such faith is the royal path to love, for it knows not how to blame its persecutors, and that love overcomes the enmity of its enemies also. Joseph “kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them, and after that his brethren talked with him”—-those same brethren who “could not speak peaceably unto him” before.

We observe also that Joseph’s sufferings were not for himself, but to fit him to serve others. There are many who say, “Here am I: send me,” who think only of the glory of the ministry, and nothing of the sufferings which lead to that glory. Yet if they are sincere, God may send them indeed, but it may be to the prison, and not the pulpit. “It was not you that sent me hither,” says Joseph, “but God.” All these sufferings are sweetened by the consciousness that they are for the benefit of others. “And whether we be afflicted,” says Paul, “it is for your consolation and salvation.” Some of the keenest sufferings which we endure are to teach us that wisdom by which we may spare others those same sufferings. Faith and love can submit to all this without complaint, for such sufferings establish a sweet bond of fellowship with Christ, all of whose sufferings were for others.

We need say but little more of Joseph. His dreams are all fulfilled, and that in a manner which is exceeding abundantly above all that he asked or thought. Not only are his brethren penitent at his feet, but he is lord of all Egypt, and saviour of the world. His sufferings are forgotten in the glory that follows. With Job and with David he is an eminent example of faith and patience, and in him also we see beautifully portrayed “the end of the Lord,” in his vindication and exaltation, and the fulfillment of all his dreams, in this life.

Glenn Conjurske

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