For the week of December 9, 2023 / 26 Kislev 5784
Torah: Bereshit/ Genesis 37:1 – 40:23; B’midbar/Numbers 7:18-29
Haftarah: Zechariah 2:14 – 4:7
Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his sons, because he was the son of his old age. And he made him a robe of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peacefully to him. (Bereshit/ Genesis 37:3-4)
Joseph had a target on his back. From a young age, his life situation set him up for trouble. We just read twice in quick succession that his father not only loved him more than his brothers, he made a big deal of it by making a special garment for him. The Hebrew word for love is “ahav,” which functions much like English in that it expresses strong affection and/or desire toward a person or thing. Jacob had and demonstrated a great preference for Joseph over and against his other sons.
Something similar was going on with God and Joseph as well. I wouldn’t say that God loved Joseph more than his brothers or anyone else. But he certainly bestowed upon him a special favor not shared by others. Joseph was gifted by God in having revelatory dreams, the ability to interpret dreams, and great administrative skill. Moreover, his thriving in the midst of great and painful circumstances at the hands of his own family and others is also credited to God’s being with him in an unusual way.
God chose Joseph unto a very particular purpose. This is not to say that the rest of us are insignificant. Each and every human being is created in God’s image and thus is designed to represent God on Planet Earth. At the same time, however, we are not all called to the same level of importance and impact. Joseph was unique in this regard. Not completely unique, of course, as the Bible includes a long list of such individuals.
Being called to a privileged position in God’s overall plan comes with great existential challenges. Through the years, as I have examined Joseph’s life, I have considered how both Jacob’s and Joseph’s attitudes and actions may have contributed to Joseph’s trouble. But had it not been for the special role God called him to, it is doubtful his life would have been so difficult.
Last week, we looked at how Jacob’s striving and prevailing with God is an illustration of the essence of truly knowing God. I may not have said it exactly that way, but the more I think about it, the more obvious it is to me. From the earliest chapters of Torah, God’s intention was to confront and eventually overcome the curse that resulted from our first parents’ rebellion against him. Since then, anyone truly aligned with God and goodness goes against the grain of the prevailing evil that has been unleashed upon the whole creation.
Those who are called by God unto the service of good will find themselves targets of all sorts of trouble. Trouble from family, trouble from friends, trouble from co-workers, trouble from enemies. And it’s not because God’s servants are troublemakers. Look at the trouble caused by Pharoah’s wife (see Bereshit/Genesis 39:1-23). It was difficult enough to be a slave in Egypt, but then to be falsely accused of attempting to rape his master’s wife, resulting in imprisonment in a dungeon? If you know the story, you know that God would use this in Joseph’s life as a long, difficult road to great prominence in Egypt and as the means to preserve his family and God’s purposes. Wonderful indeed, but at great personal cost to Joseph.
To be favored by God is to have a target on your back. Failure to understand this causes us all sorts of confusion and unnecessary grief. That’s why the Messiah said: “If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you” (John 15:19). Let’s not be surprised when it happens.
Scriptures taken from the English Standard Version