Responding to God
The final and most crucial part of the Yosef story unfolds: the unveiling of his real identity. The Torah says that God meant his whole journey up to this point for GOOD! (Genesis 45:7-8). That one sentence shows utter conviction of faith and trust in God, not only in the good times but in ALL things. Not for us the notion of a capricious deity who randomly interrupts our existence with events to taunt and annoy us, nor a deity who only gives good and anything bad must be ‘of the evil one’. We are called to deeper discernment than that; after all, no one would claim that the agonising and brutally vicious execution of Mashiach was not of God…
Yosef, although a spoiled, passive and arrogant young man at first, was submitted to God’s leading in his life. Even though it brought him pain and heartache, ultimately the reasons became clear. God was not moving Yosef through a ‘wellness programme’ but a discipleship programme.
Yosef’s life was planned for a single outcome: Israel’s good. We may be shocked by this but the pattern laid down by the early Fathers clearly demonstrates that painful as it was, the separation of brothers in the end brings salvation and deliverance. It shows us that even in our own lives, pain and hardship ARE the pattern of a holy and submitted life unto God. It may not make sense now but it will later.
Consider Ya’akov in all this: he has already, so he thought, lost Yosef to wild animals and now, as he is buffeted by events, he is pushed first to surrender his last son Binyamin and then to leave the land given to his fathers. How can he leave this place? It just doesn’t compute. He was discovering the same truth we all eventually see: the will of God in our lives is almost never straight.
Ya’akov’s reaction to the unexpected is fear (Genesis 46:1-4). It is encouraging though that this normal human response is fully understood and elicits an almost compassionate response from the Lord. Rather than rush off to Egypt, Ya’akov plans a pit stop in Beersheva to offer sacrifices there. Why there? Because that was where Avraham had first begun to open up the wells to show that the Land could be fruitful and support the life of the nation to come. It demonstrated the longevity of the promise of God and represented faith in action.
Beersheva is often linked with Dan as an expression of the southern and northern limits of the inhabited Land, so a stop here was rather like a stop at the border, a moment of reflection before setting off into the unknown. And so he worshipped and offered sacrifices. To do this in the face of the unknown future with a known God was to put his trust and confidence in God completely for what came next. And the Lord rewards the response by speaking to him and re-assuring him there.
In fact the Lord tells him that he will die outside the Land… he will not personally experience the fulfilment of the promise of God. What he does hear is that despite his own sure demise, Israel will prosper and be brought up again; he can truly rest in peace. His response in the face of the unexpected and unknown unfolding of his life in the overall purposes of God was right: worship and submission to God’s will. In fact, very much what Yosef learnt too. This should be our response. He certainly had not planned his life in the way it unfolded but learnt that God’s will was to be trusted, even in the difficult and perplexing bits.
And the brothers needed to learn this lesson; Yosef would have had every right to be angry and vindictive against his brothers for what they did. Yet he moves so swiftly over this we almost don’t see it, saying in fact that the BROTHERS should not be angry with themselves!
Yosef knew that his brothers’ actions which were spiteful, hatred driven and hurtful were used of God to bring about a much greater miracle; in fact we could say that this is once again a demonstration of God’s ability to turn evil into good, to redeem for His own sake. If this is true, then the brothers should indeed NOT be angry or berate themselves… they were part of the plan, or became part of the plan. This has a direct application for us too.
We mess up badly. We sin, create problems for others around us by our actions and thoughts, by our words, we upset people, offend them and even hurt them, sometimes even deliberately. We may, upon reflection begin to metaphorically whip ourselves and ‘self-punish’ in some way, yet Yosef deeply understood that the sovereignty of God in life is absolute for those who have placed themselves under it, AND that Israel was to function as the community of the forgiven and redeemed.
It also means that for those who have been wronged or affected by others’ sins then we have to be merciful and magnanimous to all because it’s not just about you and your feelings, it’s about seeing in all this the bigger hand of God at work. It takes real spiritual courage to wait on the Lord in such situations, but we must; faith and trust demands a pause. Life rarely goes in straight lines and at times even the wrong direction can, in the grace and mercy of God and His overview, be eventually the right direction.
Just as Yosef’s life served the higher purpose of creating a holy and chosen remnant forged in the furnace of Egypt, so too our lives are in the process of creating that remnant again after nearly 2000 years. We have a job to do, a spiritual home to create and God has called us to do it. Others will come after us to go further but we must do the bit allocated to us. We need to see the ‘bad’ bits as well as the ‘good’ bits as a blessing, because we know that our life destination is to be a blessing for our people Israel, and that will take preparation time and a certain amount of spiritual hard graft (on the Lord’s part to us!).
Shabbat Vayigash (and he came near)