Seems to me that the story of Joseph, the son of Jacob, is one of the most compelling and provocative stories of the Bible. Indulged as a child of his father’s old age, Joseph, in the apparent innocence of youth, talked to his other brothers about dreams of reigning over them.
Together his brothers were so put out by the apparent arrogance of their indulged little brother that they eventually found a way to fake his death and sell him to Egyptian slave traders.
When they told their story to Jacob, he was brokenhearted. But they no longer had to put up with what they must have considered their father’s spoiled little brat. Joseph, meanwhile, had begun a journey that would unfold in a lifetime of personal honor, betrayals, humiliation, imprisonment, and God-given advancement. In the end, through a series of orchestrated twists of fate, he was second in command to the Egyptian Pharaoh, and used by God to rescue not only the the land of Egypt but the brothers who had betrayed him (Gen 50:20).
Quite a story. But what does it mean? Why is it in the Bible? Is it there to give us an example of why no one should ever give up, even in the worst of circumstances? Is it there to teach us about the dangers of parental indulgence? Or the murderous dangers of fraternal envy?
The questions we ask of Joseph are questions we can ask of the rest of the Bible. Why the stories? Why the proverbs, the songs, the predictions, intermingled with records of every kind of evil and broken dreams?
One answer is that Joseph’s story, together with every other element of the Bible, is to be read as our story. In so many ways it shows our plight in a world so broken that even family members do terrible things to one another.
Another answer is that Genesis to Revelation is to be read as God’s story. Invisible as he is behind scenes of ever changing circumstance, he is at work using even the worst of evils as an occasion to show his ability to bring meaning, purpose, and triumph to our human experience.
To really understand the heart of such a God, however, we need to stay with the story long enough to see the way it all points to the Son, who comes to reveal the heart of his Father.
According to Jesus, all of the Scriptures are telling his story (Matt 5:17-18); (Luke 24:25-27); (Luke 24:44). Together, stories like Joseph are woven together in anticipation of one who would be the Savior of those who had betrayed him, in an effort to protect themselves.
Every positive story of hope, wisdom, and honor in the Bible finds its fulfillment in the person of Christ—presented as God with us, asking us to believe in his ability to bring, at his own expense, all who trust him to his Father’s house.
But the goal of the Bible goes even further. In the process of revealing the goodness of God, the Scripture brings us to Christ as a means of bringing us to the point of doing exactly what Joseph’s brothers didn’t do: love one another.
The messenger of the New Testament we know as Paul shows us that in the story of Christ, and beyond all of the complexity of the God-breathed Scriptures, there is a simplicity of purpose and goal of our rescue. In his letter to the Galatians he says that all of the Law can be summed up in one word: to love our neighbor as ourselves (Gal 5:14).
This we do not in our own strength, but through the Spirit of the One who has loved us enough to suffer and die for us (Gal 3:3); (Gal 3:22-23).
Seems to me that this is what knowing the Bible is about. It is the story of the Son, who reveals the heart of his Father, so that having been loved, we live as loved… to the benefit of all, and to the delight of our eternal Father.
Does it make sense to you that if we read the Bible in this way, we will use it to find unity of purpose and life, rather than endless debate and division?