The words of the Bible can be like cut flowers. The words of Jesus, like the laws of Moses, can be selectively chosen and arranged for anyone’s temporary purposes and enjoyment. But once the words are sheared from the stem and root of the story they are telling, they begin to fade in significance like a bunch of dying flowers.
Consider, for instance, the story of Joseph as we meet him in the pages of Genesis (37–50). Let’s see what we lose if we cut the important lessons of his colorful coat and life from the bigger storyline of the Bible.
As the favored son of his father’s later years, Joseph angered his older brothers, not only by wearing that coat, but by telling them about his visions of ruling over them (Genesis 37). The brothers were so unnerved by his dreams and the attention he got from their father that they eventually sold him to Egypt-bound slave traders. By smearing his trademark coat with goat’s blood, they convinced their heartbroken father that a wild animal had killed him (37:18-34).
Far from home in Egypt, Joseph experienced a series of betrayals, imprisonments, and unlikely promotions. Ironically, his ability to interpret dreams eventually gave him favor with the Pharaoh who made Joseph second in command over all Egypt. From there he used his God-given foresight to prepare Egypt for 7 years of famine. In the process, he saved the lives of the Egyptian people—and even the brothers who had betrayed him when they came to Egypt looking for food (Genesis 39–50).
The most memorable moment happened when, in the surprise reunion with his brothers, Joseph told them that what they intended for evil, God meant for good (50:20).
Joseph’s story is an important chapter of Jewish history. It explains how the ancestors of Israel ended up in Egypt, first for refuge and eventually as slaves. His story also showcases a God who knows the future, rules over circumstance, and cares for us in ways that are far beyond our ability to understand.
In addition, countless readers of the Bible, in every generation since, have found Joseph to be an important source of personal inspiration. His self-control and wisdom in the face of sexual temptation have strengthened many. His integrity and trustworthiness during forgotten years of imprisonment has been a source of moral strength to many trapped in limiting circumstances. The integrity he showed in the service of an Egyptian Pharaoh reminds us that light does its best work in dark places.
Against all odds and in all these ways, Joseph lived a beautiful life. In spite of all of the bad that happened to him, he ended up being like a gift from the heart of God not only to his undeserving brothers but to the whole land of Egypt in their 7 years of famine.
But what does Joseph’s story say to readers who feel shamed by his moral strength and courage? What about those of us who sense that we are more like his envious older brothers than like him? Most of us, after all, know that we have not even lived up to our own expectations, let alone the God-centered honor of someone like Joseph.
Apart from what follows, the colorful life of Joseph, like the goodness of the law of Moses, fades like cut flowers with our own sense of failure (John 1:17; 2 Corinthians 3:6).
Only when a long-awaited Savior finally arrives, and not until He rises from the dead, does the rest of the story come into focus.
At this point, the storyline of the Bible comes to a triumphant climax. Every other word, from Genesis to Revelation, either leads up to or flows out of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Every other detail or supporting actor is there to help us appreciate what He did for us. At the same time, it is what our Savior suffered in our place that gives perspective to every other word of the Bible.
Because Jesus’ sacrifice helps us to understand how much God loves the whole world (John 3:16), His willingness to be crucified on a Roman cross can deepen our appreciation for what we see in the story of Joseph. Now we can better see the heart of the God who used Joseph to save the people of Egypt and to forgive his undeserving brothers. Only in the love and grace of Christ do we find fullness of meaning in God’s willingness to make Joseph and his forgiven brothers into fathers of the nation that would eventually give us not only the Bible but also the Living Word and Savior of the world.
Father in heaven, forgive us for separating words You have inspired from the stem and root of Your intent. Please help us to remember that whatever is good, true, or beautiful in Your Book, or in our world, has its root and life in Your Son.—Mart DeHaan