Taken: Joseph

Three cowboys were caught stealing horses down around the Rio Grande. The posse who apprehended the miscreants had their right to do what they wished with them. Horse thieving was a hang-able offense, so they decided to go that route. But what would they do with the bodies? They had no intentions of touching the dead wranglers so they hatched a brilliant plan. They would hang them from the trees on the cliff that hung over the river. Once they quite kicking, they would cut the rope and the bodies would float down river, peacefully carried along by the meandering current of the Rio Grande.

The tied the noose’s, attached the to the trees and picked their first victim. The executioners asked him if he had any last words. His reply: “The horses were worth it!” Then they kicked him off the solid ground and his feet began swinging. The noose, however, did not pull tight and he slipped through the knot. Splashing into the river, he chuckled, waved to his apprehenders, and joyously floated down the river, relishing in his positive turn of fortune, and second chance on life.

The second man up had the same result as the first. When asked for his last words, he simply said: “Death don’t scare me!” Then he slipped through the noose, splashed into the river and swam out of sight. The posse, never the quitting type, proceeded onto the third man. They put the noose around his neck and offered the chance to say a few final words.

After pausing for a second, the horse thief said: “Can you tighten this noose a little bit? I can’t swim!”

When it comes to deserved punishment, everyone likes to see it doled out. Justice is a central desire of a man’s heart. When people have wronged us, been unfair, or unjustly praised or successful, there is a little bit of us that wants to see retribution. For many it’s a little bit bigger than a “small part of us.” Justice is even sweeter when we get to hand it out. When our fingers get to rest on the cold steel of the switch or we are kicking them off the cliff. When the key to their cell goes in our pocket or we get to clamp the chains on their wrists. Punishment, sentencing, discipline at the hand of the offended is the way we would like it but contrary to the way God intended it.

If there was anyone in scripture who had a reason to want justice it was Joseph. He was apprehended by his brothers, thrown in a pit, and sold into slavery. His brothers had had it out for him for sometime and then acted upon their jealousy. They lied to his father about his whereabouts.

But God took him from slave to second in command of Potipher’s house.

While he was in Pothiphar’s house “the Lord was with Joseph and he prospered” and his “master saw that the Lord was with and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did”. (Gen. 39.2-3) Potipher worried about nothing in his house because Joseph, through God, had it covered. Second-in-command is far from where he was in slavery with the Ishmaelites, but not far enough away to never return. A false accusation from Potipher’s wife, another lost coat, and once again Joseph finds himself in chains. This time it was the prison of the Pharoah.

But the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success and the Lord took him from prisoner to second-in-command of the prison. (Genesis 39.30-23) Still a prisoner, but one with power and authority.

As a powerful prisoner, God gave him the opportunity to influence people, interpret dreams, and tell his story. And just as we the readers are privy to the whole story, Joseph fills in those in prison. He says: “I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in this dungeon.” (Gen 40.15) In contra-distinction to God, the cup bearere would forget Joseph. (Gen 40.23) God never did!

Two years later, when Pharoah had a dream, Joseph was called into action.   When Joseph had interpreted the dreams of Pharoah, he was promoted to second in command of the kingdom of Egypt.

Joseph again was taken, by God, from prisoner to palace, from slave to second in command.

But for what purpose?

Reading the story for the first time, without any prior knowledge, this story would be a frustrating tale. Repetition and duplication abound in this story. He’s lost two coats, ended up a slave/prisoner twice, been in charge twice and interpreted 3 different sets of dreams. Much of this story has not even touched the main conflict that began it: Joseph and his brothers.

God has been at work for the last 13 years all to bring about this meeting in Genesis 42. God has brought famine to the land of the Hebrews, dreams to Pharaoh and position to Joseph, all in order to bring Joseph and his brothers face to face in chapter 42 (and a second time in 43). During the ensueing chapters, the tension builds to a breaking point with Joseph. In the beginning verses of chapter 45, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers.

In that moment his brothers were “terrified [hb. bahal] at his presence” (Gen 45.3) Here this man, who they thought had been dead for years, has appeared before them. Where they terrified at what they thought he would do to them? Terrified that he was a ghost? Terrified at the thought of his power?   Scripture isn’t explicit, however, Joseph has a choice here:

  1. He is the 2nd most powerful man on earth and he can fix this wrong that’s been done to him.
  2. He can start anew and move on from the 13 years of torment that started that fateful day in the Judean wilderness.

In the New Testament a couple different words are translated “forgive”. One of them, aphiemi, means ‘to let go”; like a jar left [aphiemi] at a well (John 4.28) or a fever that leaves [aphiemi] a person (Mark 1.31). Go ahead, sing the song…you know you want to bust out a few lines of “let it go” from Frozen.

Another word translated “forgive” is the word charizomai. Literally, the word means to give grace like it is translated in Romans 8.22. This is one of Paul’s favorite words for forgiveness. It puts the second touch on the process of forgiveness. Which is clearly seen in the Joseph.

Step 1: “Let it go!” Joseph met with his brothers a couple times before he became known to them (Gen 45). He spent considerable time with them and asked them a couple times, in odd ways, if they had learned their lesson. Joseph was in the place where he finally had to let it go and move on. He released the act from his mind.

Step 2: “Give grace” Joseph could have let it go, but still turned his back on them; “Stab me once shame on you, stab me twice shame on me” kind of thinking. But forgiveness is a two-step process. Letting go is the first step, but giving grace is the second. Joseph saved his family…he gave grace. He treated them better than he had before the transgression had taken place.

When you have been wronged; when the chance comes up to “settle” or “forgive”, how do you respond? Can you “let it go” without “giving grace”? Do you respond by treating them well, but never letting it go? Does bitterness take root?

Joseph’s next 30 years would be forever changed because he was able to “let it go” and to “give grace”. His family was saved, the people of God saved, because Joseph was able to forgive. “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.” (Gen 50.20)

From slave to savior…because of forgiveness.

Bullets and Bones

090402DodgeBootHillSigns-26e“You never know what to live for today, until you know what you would take a bullet for tomorrow.”

Weeks have a tendency to fill up and fly by.  Hours of freedom and relaxation get shrunk down into minutes and minutes become seconds.  A week without plans, gets filled with everything imaginable.  Seasons of life go by in fast forward and years rush by.  Time has a way of speeding along and the bystander is powerless to stop its moment and trajectory.

Hunters have “woods time”.  It is a documented fact (used in the loosest sense of the term) that time moves slower in the deer woods.  Deer don’t run on schedules, attend meetings, or rush to appointments.  They move at their own pace and show up (sometimes) in their own time.  The same can be true of horses.  The time it takes a horse to learn something new or master an obstacle isn’t set in stone.  Some horses have better minds, more athleticism, or better conformation, that makes picking up new skills and training easier.  To put a deadline on that is to handicap the horse, rush the process, and stress the trainer.

In the fast paced American culture, where time is money, the speed limit is 5 above posted, and the 3g internet is too time-consuming, living life at a deliberate pace is a battle that was lost long ago.  Speed is dictated by scope.  A narrow-scope of life, living to get through the next day, hour, minute, causes hurry and stress.   But a life live with a wide-scope, a larger view, a higher vantage point, keeps the end in mind and prioritizes the important.  The quote at top was by Mark Scott during a sermon to middle school students about their legacy.  Legacy is taking a wider scope.  Legacy is determined by thinking about the future, now.  I often wonder what the legacy I leave will look like.  I hope mine is like Joseph’s.

Because of the way Joseph lived his life, he left a legacy that lived well beyond his children and his children’s children.  To the point that he shows up in an event that he really had no part in.

Exodus 13.19 breaks into the story of the release of the Hebrews by adding this:

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath.  He had said, ‘God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place.’

Joseph’s life was marked with being faithful to God, providing hope to his people, and a giving a future to his offspring.  He saved his family from drought, starvation, anonymity, and alienation.  Just before his death he gave them hope for a future.  “God will surely come to your aid…”, Joseph reminded them (Gen. 50.24).  The hebrew word paqad is doubled in this phrase to give its meaning.  It gives the sense that God has already come to the assistance of the Hebrews [paqod in the qal perfect sense]…but hasn’t completed the action yet [yipqod in imperfect].  Joseph is taking a wide angle view of life, telling his lineage of God’s working already and in the future, especially as it pertains to the oppression and the Exodus.

Looking at Exodus, the of doubling the word paqad, showing God’s interest and action on behalf of the Hebrews, appears another time.  Sandwiched between Joseph’s words on his deathbed in Genes 50 and his quote during the Exodus, God speaks to Moses.  While the Hebrews are suffering in Egypt, God tells Moses, in the desert from the burning bush: “…I have watched over you and have seen [paqod paqad] what has been done to you in Egypt.” (Ex. 3.16)

At the lowest point of the story of the Oppression in Egypt, as the chosen deliverer is wasting away as a shepherd in the desert and the people are toiling under ruthless rulership, God reminds them that he has “watched and seen”.  He is acting and will act.  He is aiding and will aid.

And when God acts, like Joseph was sure He would, he wanted to make sure he went with his people, out of Egypt to home.  Its one thing to ask it to done (Genesis 50.24) but its another to have a people centuries later, to whom you are a distant memory, follow the request (Exodus 13.19).

So as they carried their plunder (Exodus 12.36), their armament (Ex. 13.18), they carried  the bones of Joseph (Exodus 13.19); an honor and testimony to a faithful and hopeful legacy.  A legacy that took care of his family, was faithful to his God, and was diligent in the Lord’s work.  Joseph’s wide-view of what God was doing cemented his place in the train of people leaving Egypt.  A legacy like Joseph’s, one that lives well beyond his generation, begs for a bigger-scope of life.

So what legacy are you leaving?  What will your great-to-the-8th grand kids hear about you?   Is there something that needs to change today, to reserve your place, to change your legacy?  I know some of my actions and priorities need some tweaking.  My family and wife needs more of my priority time, my students need a more gracious and consistent mentor, and my quiet times need more depth and devotion.  A few years back I wrote an Obituary for myself.  It was an attempt to keep me on track, change my actions daily, and live with the end in mind.  (I have attached my obit here Travis Long–Obituary).  It was a great chance for self-reflection.  If you have some free time I would suggest you take a second and write some things down…and then wait many, many years for it to be printed.

These are things that I say I would take a bullet for tomorrow, now its getting me to change, today.