[Reflection] Was Joseph All That Great?

I am at that point in my life where everything seems so uncertain and I feel so behind everyone else (it is hard not to think this way if you live and/or work in New York), and I often wonder if God can ever make good use of me.  But recently, God shifted my thinking as I re-read the story of Joseph.

I first learned about the story of Joseph when I was a child.  Nobody ever taught me this way, but for some reason, I grew up thinking that Joseph was extra special, and that’s why he became the main character of a famous Bible story with a happy ending.  But the other day, it dawned upon me that there was nothing spectacular about Joseph.  Quite frankly, he was not all that great.  In fact, had I lived during the Biblical times and in the same village as Joseph, he is someone I wouldn’t even want to befriend.  As a young boy, Joseph is either arrogant or seriously lacks tact as he tells his family about these great dreams he had in which he is ALWAYS the main focus, or when he goes to check up on his older brothers while wearing his rainbow-colored coat -- yes, THAT coat which so infuriated his brothers.  

I’ve always thought that Joseph is a man of extraordinary faith when he rejected and ran away from the wife of his boss who tried to seduce him.  But could it be possible that Joseph was just ethical and moral, and did not want to give up what he probably worked so hard to get after being unfairly sold as a slave to Egypt by his jealous brothers?  (Ever notice that there is no mention of Joseph missing his family or trying to find his way back home as he rose to the ranks in Egypt?  He seemed to be enjoying his newfound status just fine.)  The time when Joseph gets thrown into prison is the very point when his journey of faith is just beginning.  So this tells me that Joseph is not a finished product or “great” at this point.  It was in prison that Joseph learned how to wait upon God to rescue him in the right time, rather than relying upon people who forgot about their promises to Joseph.

Joseph is -- just like everyone else in the Bible, and just like us-- a very flawed human being.  Joseph is not some lofty spiritual person who is on a different playing field as us.  The only reason Joseph succeeded was because God was with him, whatever he did, wherever he was, like the secret ingredient in the delectable dish.  And it was God who gave Joseph his credentials, wisdom, and everything else.

Our good intentions to work hard at life can sometimes make us forget to trust in the power of God.  They can also, unfortunately, make us prolong our promises and commitment to God for as long as possible until God needs to throw us into some dark, lonely, and inescapable place (for Joseph it was a dungeon; hopefully it’s not for us) where our plans, goals, and timetables necessarily dissolve into powder.  But even in that dark place, God is with us, as evident in Genesis 39:21 (“But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.”) (NLT).  

Joseph’s character certainly changed towards the end of his story, as evident by how compassionately he treats his brothers.  But rather than concluding that Joseph became “great” as time went on, I believe it is more accurate to conclude that Joseph was greatly used by God, irrespective of how great Joseph was.  

Are you working to get from point A to point B in your career path?  Or are you trying to attain XYZ in the realm of your relationships?  Trying to fix that annoying character flaw?  Today, let’s remember the Good News and stop trying to reach a certain “level” in life to become acceptable enough for God to use us.  Right now, as we are, we are acceptable to God.  Let’s live in accordance with this truth and be encouraged.


Ian Park

with illustration by Karam Byun

September 2016