For the week of December 26, 2020 / 11 Tevet 5781
Torah: Bereshit/Genesis 44:18 – 47:27
Haftarah: Ezekiel 37:15-28
Download Audio [Right click link to download]
And Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph! Is my father still alive?” But his brothers could not answer him, for they were dismayed at his presence. (Bereshit/Genesis 45:3)
When I read the stories in the Bible, I try to put myself in the shoes, or should I say, “sandals,” of the various characters. I want to get the impact of the story from their perspective as much as possible. That’s a challenge for many reasons. There is a great deal of linguistic, cultural, historical, and religious layers to dig through. And then, many Bible readers already know the outcome of these stories. So, it is difficult to imagine what the characters were thinking and feeling in the moment. The characters don’t know how things are going to turn out. Moreover, even without knowing the end of the story, the reader may know more of what’s going on than the characters due to what in literature is called, “the God perspective.” It is thus named, because the reader is given information about the situation that the characters don’t have. We encounter this in suspense thrillers, for example, when a detective is investigating a murder, and we are taken (in the story, of course) to the murderer’s hideout to learn of his or her plans.
Much of the Bible is written from the God perspective. That shouldn’t surprise us as, unlike most other stories, God is the main character. Still, we get a sense of the suspense when we are given information that other key characters don’t have, as is the case of Joseph and his brothers.
Because we have the God perspective, we experience tension, knowing that they have no idea that the Egyptian leader they are standing before is their very own brother, whom they had sold into slavery. They didn’t know that the reality of their situation was very different from appearances. And learning the truth that the second most powerful man in Egypt – the man who held their lives in his hands – was their very own brother – was just the beginning. Once Joseph revealed himself to them, they would have a difficult journey of reconciliation ahead.
The God perspective in the Bible is not simply a literary device within its stories. The Bible equips us to have the God perspective on all of life. Scripture rightfully understood, provides all sorts of insights into how the world works whether it is the current pandemic, political intrigue, media bias, sex scandals, poverty, racism, and so on.
Due to the God perspective, we don’t need to live life blind. The worst kind of blindness is not knowing that we are blind. This is what Yeshua said to some arrogant religious leaders of his day: “If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, ‘We see,’ your guilt remains” (John 9:41). The God perspective in the story of Joseph and his brothers, shows us how badly we can misjudge the situations in which we find ourselves. Actually, Joseph’s brothers’ blindness goes back about twenty years before, when their jealousy blinded them to the favor that was upon Joseph. God chose him to save them one day. They couldn’t see it then and they couldn’t see it later, until it was revealed to them.
I can relate to Joseph’s brothers. Growing up, hearing about the person called “Jesus,” I thought he was a Gentile god. He certainly didn’t look like a, not to mention the, Jewish Messiah to me. I had no idea that not only did he, like Joseph, hold my life in his hands and was prepared to rescue me from the oppressive darkness that controlled my life, but also, like Joseph, he was my brother, the true Messiah, whom my people had longed for for so long.
What a shock it was for me to learn that the New Testament is one of the most Jewish books ever written. Contrary to my people’s common perspective, it was not an anti-Semitic manual, but rather a Jewish love story through and through. The New Testament confirms God’s promises to our people as it documents the outworking of God’s commitment to Abraham that his descendants would be a blessing to the whole world (see Bereshit/Genesis 12:3; compare Galatians 3:8).
Like Joseph’s brothers the God perspective enabled me to see the truth of what life is really all about. It’s not that my accepting the God perspective means that I always see things perfectly now. Rather it enables me to be willing to allow God to change my perspective as needed again and again.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version