Genesis ‘51’: Joseph manages the Covid 19 response.

God has covenanted with us through generations, starting with the special call of Abram’s family.

God worked through Joseph’s parents: Jacob, Rachel and Leah; as He has worked with Jacob and Esau; and with Isaac and Rebekah before them; as first of all with Abram and Sarai…

God’s sovereign working oversaw Joseph’s childhood, and Joseph has become a pattern to show us that God’s eternal purpose is as it always has been- to bring healing in and through our family relationships, to make us nation builders: kingdom builders. 

Now the Lord [had] said to Abram, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonours you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”

Gen 12: 1-3 ESV

Joseph, the favoured son of Jacob and Rachel, is marked out for blessing in his family both by extraordinary dreams and his father’s bias. As will later be repeated with Moses and then with Jesus, incarnation of God’s call and purpose with His human creatures is inescapably admixed with the realities of life in this world- God’s world and our human world, marred by the systemic rooted sinfulness at all levels: in self, in family and in society.

God’s vision and plan is bigger than we generally anticipate.  There appeared to be terminal breakdown in Joseph’s generation: his brothers narrowly avoided killing him. Instead, they sold him into slavery on a happenstance- so he was sent to oblivion in a distant and foreign land far from their cares, remembered only by his father Jacob in his grief.

A camp of the Baharvand Lurs in the mountains of southwestern Iran photographed by Frank Hole in 1973 before the Iranian revolution.

Yet the prophetic life can be meaningful and empowered in the uninterrupted and uninhibited grace of YHWH!

We find that Joseph is still very much in God’s view; very much not forgotten as a person; very much not forgotten as the focus and embodiment of God’s dream-plan for nation formation and blessing of all the families of the earth.

We may ask, ‘What does ‘not forgotten as a person’ look like under God?’  It might include- this is probably going to be unwelcome news- being an obedient slave, yet not simply a slave who works to avoid punishment, but ‘as to the Lord’, exactly as Paul later put it in his letter to the Christians in Ephesus:

Bondservants,[a] obey your earthly masters[b] with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, 6 not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as bondservants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, 7 rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, 8 knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a bondservant or is free. 9 Masters, do the same to them, and stop your threatening, knowing that he who is both their Master[c] and yours is in heaven, and that there is no partiality with him.

Ephesians 6:5-9 (ESV)

Mulatto ex-slave in her house near Greensboro, Alabama 1941 (above) These cotton hoers work from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. for $1.00 near Clarksdale, Mississippi, June-July 1937. (left)

Joseph’s service continued faithfully when Potiphar was away on his business, because Joseph was living before the eye of YHWH. When the eye of his mistress fell on him, Joseph ran before the judgement of his Lord, and so his life was preserved even by his master on earth.  Joseph was thrown back into the dungeon, his life again spared even though accused of sexual sin in his master’s household.  The nature of human life before God is not merely in the business of survival- of crops and water, of herds and land, like the animals, but there is transcendence in the life of the heart, of dreams and motives, of ethos and the ways we live with each other, internally with ourselves. It matters how we think, and how we will choose to relate with one another, and there is freedom and agency in all this wonderful life we have been gifted with.  All the perils of Joseph’s life have, so far, been the products of the minds and culture of his community.

Joseph resisted the temptation to become cynical about the value of maintaining good character, and once again his faithfulness resulted in recognition and promotion to responsibility, even in the Egyptian jail.

Now Joseph discovers that not only is his personal morality a constant before God, wherever he finds himself geographically, but now he finds that God wants to speak through him into the minds, lives and destiny of those who do not yet know they can be the covenant people of the One God YHWH.  Though the word of God in Joseph’s mouth, listened to because of the quality of his life, and proved by the immediate results for the baker and cupbearer, yet God’s timing is still ‘not yet’ for Joseph.  Another two years must pass before Joseph discovers what God has been ‘working all things together for good’ for.

Much of the soil in the forest is a reservoir of untapped potential, a world of uncertain possibilities.  In addition to the accumulated water and mineral nutrients, there is a bank of dormant seeds, each concealed at various depths in the ground, apparently inactive, in a state of limbo between life and death. But one day- perhaps there has been a storm- a great tree falls and the soil is disturbed. Certain seeds are churned up to the surface after untold years, and light floods down to activate them.

The door of the jail is wrenched open, and the jailer brings word to Joseph. “Get washed and shaved! Pharaoh wants to see YOU.  That hapless cupbearer finally remembered what was hidden in his memory, and now your insight is called for!”

God has revealed possible futures to this ruler of men in this mighty land where Abram was once taught a lesson, both in morality and in the greater truth that YHWH God is in fact God of All (see Genesis 12:18). In an encounter that will resonate with Joseph, deeply probing and testing his heart attitude, Pharaoh has had two dreams, and his own ‘wise men’ and counsellors are judged inadequate for this crucial task of national leadership.  At this point, nothing has happened. Its all just been in Pharaoh’s head. God is God of gods and Lord of all! He is closer to us than breathing and He is certainly able to speak inside your head.  Pharaoh is now awake and perceives that the situation is one of life and death, on a scale much greater than his earlier concerns.  He gives up on appealing to his gods- they are not even mentioned. He gives up relying on his own insights- he is desperate, and his forgetful cupbearer now remembers that there is a man who has been tested and could just perhaps be of service. Joseph is Pharaoh’s last resort for searching out wisdom. A foreign slave in my jail, consigned to an inevitable death while an important raped woman awaits delayed justice. As Desmond Tutu describes, God’s justice wins. Oppressors must fail. Now Joseph stands before the ruler of the most advanced civilisation in the world.

‘Now is still the time of plenty. But life and death faces us all, as your baker and cupbearer discovered for themselves. You were once their judge, but now a greater than you is speaking to you, and this time of plenty will come to an end.  Then death will come for you all, but the true God, my God, YHWH God of my fathers and also God represented here in me is offering you a temporary rescue. We must all die to this life in the end, but it need not be now. You have seven years to prepare.’

Nothing has happened. Egypt has designed and self-created its own fruitfulness. God has gracefully and extraordinarily given a warning, but why should anything else change? Pharaoh does not make this mistake. He perceives that he has encountered the true God through God’s human servant, but does not make this response a religious one, but rather responds to its incarnational form and looks to the man that God has honed; the humble, obedient servant who is prepared to serve as a slave.  So he can promote Joseph if he wishes, and yet remain as a divine king himself, as was the habit of pharaohs. No matter- the ultimate reckoning will surely come.

There may be abundance now…

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. 27The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. 28It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 29There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, 30but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, 31and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. 32And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. 33Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the landb of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. 35And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. 36That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.”

37This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants.  38And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?”c 39Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command.d Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!”e Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 

Gen 41: 26- 46

And by the way, note the parallels with this episode in the book of Daniel.

Immediately the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall of the king’s palace, opposite the lampstand. And the king saw the hand as it wrote. 6Then the king’s colour changed, and his thoughts alarmed him; his limbs gave way, and his knees knocked together. 7The king called loudly to bring in the enchanters, the Chaldeans, and the astrologers. The king declaredb to the wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing, and shows me its interpretation, shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around his neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.” 8Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or make known to the king the interpretation. 9Then King Belshazzar was greatly alarmed, and his colour changed, and his lords were perplexed.

10The queen,c because of the words of the king and his lords, came into the banqueting hall, and the queen declared, “O king, live forever! Let not your thoughts alarm you or your colour change. 11There is a man in your kingdom in whom is the spirit of the holy gods.d In the days of your father, light and understanding and wisdom like the wisdom of the gods were found in him, and King Nebuchadnezzar, your father—your father the king—made him chief of the magicians, enchanters, Chaldeans, and astrologers, 12because an excellent spirit, knowledge, and understanding to interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve problems were found in this Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar. Now let Daniel be called, and he will show the interpretation.”

13Then Daniel was brought in before the king. The king answered and said to Daniel, “You are that Daniel, one of the exiles of Judah, whom the king my father brought from Judah. 14I have heard of you that the spirit of the godse is in you, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in you. 15Now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me to read this writing and make known to me its interpretation, but they could not show the interpretation of the matter. 16But I have heard that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Now if you can read the writing and make known to me its interpretation, you shall be clothed with purple and have a chain of gold around your neck and shall be the third ruler in the kingdom.”

17Then Daniel answered and said before the king, “Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another. Nevertheless, I will read the writing to the king and make known to him the interpretation. 

Daniel 5:5- 17 ESV

So Joseph’s long season of management of the land of Egypt began in the time when normality and blessing continued unabated. The world God created is indeed God’s ‘good’ earth, and even under regular human husbandry there can be really good times in it. Yet as human beings under God we can see beyond this, because God made it that way. God built transcendence into God’s wonderful and ‘very good’ creation. God ceased from one activity- creating- and rested. God ‘took a break’ from this regular kind of action and did something that does not quite make sense from a here-and-now-thinking point of view. God made a holy day, and says to his covenant people that they should join him in this, as beings in his likeness should do the same sorts of things, in other words, be transcendent to the cosmos as we find it, because who and what we are is intended, by creation design, to go beyond what we see and touch.

Joseph has an insight into investing in the future. Perhaps not quite ‘store up for yourselves treasures in heaven that will not spoil’, but something prophetic of this. God has spoken to a foreign ruler and nation about a limited aspect of the future, and this must whet one’s appetite to consider what will lie beyond our mortality.  Exactly what the generation of the Egyptians at the time of Joseph made of that question we are not given insight into. Contemporary scholars known to me, such as Prof Colin Humphreys and others, are divided as to how realistic the Genesis 36-50 accounts are regarding Egyptian history, but the realist possibility is bolstered for Humphreys (personal communication) by the remains of very considerable grain stores from a plausibly appropriate period of history.

This is one of the sites where evidence can be found for the existence of granaries of very significant size, though not shown in this photograph. It is possible that the tomb under this stepped pyramid could itself have been a deep granary, which was then repurposed. There are also very considerable remains of arched brick roofed granaries similar to the Tunisian design pictured above at the temple complex of Luxor at Thebes. Some suggest direct correlation between these remains and the work of Joseph, for example, at josephandisraelinegypt.wordpress.com See my references for links to posts which find this possibility very persuasive. What I take from all the available evidence is that the ancient Egyptians had clearly learned a very considerable technology of storage for their harvest which was designed on an industrial- not merely a domestic- scale.

The Step Pyramid Complex of Djoser was built during the Third Dynasty (2800 BC) in what is now Saqqara.  Photograph by Dennis Jarvis, used with permission.
Pharaoh appoints Joseph as ‘Prime Minister’ of his nation, recognising the spirit of God in his life. He puts the entire nation’s food supply, prosperity and survival under Joseph’s management simply on the strength of his own persuaded convictions.

Joseph has been embraced as Manager-in-Chief of the nation by the Pharaoh and his servants. He is adopted into the Egyptian nation with a new name and family, inculcated into the priestly community by marriage and his family is recognised.  What a prophetic picture this is if the people of God serving their community as the outworking of their faithful devotion to God. Truly Joseph is ‘married to the land’!  He travels by personal private jet (!) to the far reaches of the Egyptian lands, in order to exercise watchful and directive management over the collection and storage of food and the building projects this must entail.  We can only speculate on the ramifications of the implementation of this visionary project.  The accomplishment of such a programme of public works must rival or even equal that of any of the other Wonders of the Ancient world; it is certainly equal in scale to what is thought the likely duration of construction of even the greatest of the pyramids of Egypt. And this was no vanity project, sustained out of the excess of production and spare time. This was motivated by the understanding that the very survival of the population as a whole was at stake. It was so successful at scale that when the neighbouring peoples came calling in the time of world famine, Pharaoh sent his desperate visitors to Joseph- there was enough and to spare!  So it was not simply the construction project that was placed in Joseph’s responsibility- it was the entire civil programme of management of the transportation, storage, cycling and release of food supplies, during the years of plenty and into the extended period of famine following. Joseph was deeply inculcated into the structure and function of Egyptian society at all levels, just as had been the case in principle in Potiphar’s household. Except this time, the mechanisms of society were at his direction, so there would be respectful compliance under Pharaoh’s delegated authority, shown by the transfer of ring, chain and chariot. 

A design of grain storage found across north Africa, as well as in Egypt from the second millennium BC.

But this situation did not continue, after the visits, testing and reconciliation between Joseph and his brothers, as Genesis 47 describes:

Now there was no food in all the land, for the famine was very severe, so that the land of Egypt and the land of Canaan languished by reason of the famine. 14 And Joseph gathered up all the money that was found in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, in exchange for the grain that they bought. And Joseph brought the money into Pharaoh’s house. 15 And when the money was all spent in the land of Egypt and in the land of Canaan, all the Egyptians came to Joseph and said, “Give us food. Why should we die before your eyes? For our money is gone.” 16 And Joseph answered, “Give your livestock, and I will give you food in exchange for your livestock, if your money is gone.” 17 So they brought their livestock to Joseph, and Joseph gave them food in exchange for the horses, the flocks, the herds, and the donkeys. He supplied them with food in exchange for all their livestock that year. 18 And when that year was ended, they came to him the following year and said to him, “We will not hide from my lord that our money is all spent. The herds of livestock are my lord’s. There is nothing left in the sight of my lord but our bodies and our land. 19 Why should we die before your eyes, both we and our land? Buy us and our land for food, and we with our land will be servants to Pharaoh. And give us seed that we may live and not die, and that the land may not be desolate.”

20 So Joseph bought all the land of Egypt for Pharaoh, for all the Egyptians sold their fields, because the famine was severe on them. The land became Pharaoh’s. 21 As for the people, he made servants of them[a] from one end of Egypt to the other. 22 Only the land of the priests he did not buy, for the priests had a fixed allowance from Pharaoh and lived on the allowance that Pharaoh gave them; therefore they did not sell their land.

23 Then Joseph said to the people, “Behold, I have this day bought you and your land for Pharaoh. Now here is seed for you, and you shall sow the land. 24 And at the harvests you shall give a fifth to Pharaoh, and four fifths shall be your own, as seed for the field and as food for yourselves and your households, and as food for your little ones.” 25 And they said, “You have saved our lives; may it please my lord, we will be servants to Pharaoh.” 26 So Joseph made it a statute concerning the land of Egypt, and it stands to this day, that Pharaoh should have the fifth; the land of the priests alone did not become Pharaoh’s.

Gen 47:13-26 ESV

Not only has Joseph been affirmed in his diagnosis for the Egyptian economy when he first interprets the double dream given by God, but now Joseph is given further authority over the whole country.  There are many subtleties in this passage, which must be carefully respected. However, I observe that the state of the nation is still in peril. The predicted famine has indeed occurred, as expected after the extended period of plenty, where much food was stored. The way the economy was made to work is indicated but perhaps not described in full. It is clear that the Egyptians have to buy the grain they need to eat from the store; Joseph directs that grain is sold back to the people from the national store, not only for food but also for sowing, as perhaps limited irrigation from the Nile made possible.  Joseph has told his brothers that two years of the famine have passed (Gen 45:6), and so perhaps we can surmise that in the following years, these were the arrangements:

Year 3   Selling grain for money*, which was collected in totality for Pharaoh

Year 4   Selling grain for all the livestock

Year 5   Selling grain for the people’s family land

Year 6  Selling grain for their service as ‘servants’

Statue of two men and a boy that served as a domestic icon. ca. 1353–1336 B.C. New Kingdom, Amarna Period. MET Museum.

Year 7  Finally, Joseph gives out grain allowances, as Pharaoh now owns everything.

This model of a granary was discovered in a hidden chamber at the side of the passage leading into the rock cut tomb of the royal chief steward Meketre, who began his career under King Nebhepetre Mentuhotep II of Dynasty 11 and continued to serve successive kings into the early years of Dynasty 12. MET MUSEUM.

Thus the seven years of famine are completed.

Only the land of the priests and their supply is not taken into the ownership of Pharaoh, and perhaps this is a foreshadowing of the special rules that will later apply to the Levites in the Mosaic law to follow in the Torah account.

But in sum, we see that all human life is brought under the close ownership and control of the national ruler, which, it seems to me, is a figure for God, even though Pharaoh is a foreigner to the covenant God has made with Abraham. At the same time, in the way that the account shows the Egyptians speaking with Joseph, it is he who is being addressed almost as a divine figure, who sees all and has the life of all in his hands. Which is, of course, the way Pharaoh said it would be.  The principle of being a blessing to the nations has been put into effect even through the servant ministry of one man as a faithful manager of God’s House, in this case, demonstrated to our surprise in the ‘secular’, ‘foreign’, ‘alien’ context of another land, ruler and nation. Yet the true covenant God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is revealed there, and the story-journey of building the nation of God which will bless the whole world in all history will be continued.

Overworked, under-rested? Working and resting in the Kingdom of God.

In our present state of global upheaval and shutdown- an astonishing change to the usual way of things- social distancing, only some of us going to ‘essential’ work, travel suspension, reorganisation for business survival, layoffs and furlough and only partly adequate financial benefits; the vulnerable in self-isolation, queues at two meter spacing outside the supermarket, various signs of undiagnosed illness and a growing number of clear cases of Covid 19, some of which have led to  deaths in our own local circles, with the collective dread of more to come, I wonder what we can learn from the Joseph account in Genesis 36-50?

Well, I think it is plain that there are no easy answers in the Bible.   As believers we do now have peace with God, but there is so much more to that ‘peace’ than we may perceive in the common usage of the word.

Jesus says, (Jn 16:33) ‘I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.’

We recall;

Isaiah 48:22 There is no peace, said the LORD, to the wicked.  {but…}

Isaiah 26:3 You keep him in perfect peace whose mind is stayed on you, because he trusts in you.

Phil 4:7 And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

If we are expecting to open our bibles and find a simplistic workshop in mindfulness and personal coping strategies, however, I think we will be sorely disappointed!

Let’s rehearse then the key points in Joseph’s life story, and this time, reflect on what sort of experience that was for him.

How wonderful would it be to awaken with the certain conviction that you have had a dream promising great spiritual significance? Well its just fine, right up to the point that, unable to hide your excitement in youthful enthusiasm, your brothers slap you down over the breakfast table, and your parents sit in silence. Then you have a second confirmatory dream, and the response is just the same as the first time, except that your father no longer holds his tongue and rebukes you as well.

How awkward are the following months and years, as your own suspect maturity is hardly enhanced by your own fathers favouritism in the face of your own brothers. Do I really want to wear this fancy coat? How nervous are we readers as we journey with Joseph on his ‘take care and report back’ mission, dispatched by his father to look out for his dear elder siblings.

So they throw the dreamer into the dry well- we don’t know if he is injured in body as well as mind by this, and he is left to call up for mercy from his brothers, who leave him in the night while they argue about his fate. It seems he is aware of their threats and pangs of conscience, but there is no sign of anyone bowing down to him any time soon.

Relieved of this father’s gift and sold for a prophetic bag of coins to nomadic traders, Joseph is forcibly removed from both his family and also the land of divine promise. Tied in line and led who knows where by harsh strangers who see only a commodity, or at best an object of pity. We are given no clue as to Joseph’s internal state of mind outside of his later actions; how quickly does he manage to regain his poise, and what is the part that prayer plays in his recovery? We could maintain that young Joseph was the model of piety and spiritual devotion, looking back from the heights of his later elevation, but such an attitude demeans both us and him. We should know that life is not like that.

What prayers do you pray in a slave market? What expectations do you have when the captain of Pharaoh’s guard commands your purchase? Perhaps you draw some small comfort from the status of your new master. But the way the Genesis puts it is, ‘The Lord was with Joseph.’ It is not Joseph’s character that is credited with the maintenance of his integrity- though he had that- but rather the weight of anointing on his simple and uncomplicated service. Yet it has an uncommon impact on Potiphar, and Joseph is promoted to an unexpectedly creative level of service in the household. Things are beginning to look less miserable as Joseph is completely trusted in his master’s absence.

The is nothing more attractive than innocent virtue, and now Joseph is tested by the wayward Mrs Potiphar. Joseph’s principled moral lecture falls on lustful ears, and he is presumably captured running from an impossible situation. Where is God’s blessing now? As is so often the case for the weak who are caught in the legal processes directed by the powerful and influential in society, Joseph is consigned to jail and left to wonder what his master believes, and whether his God will rescue him this time. Is it easier to live or die in these circumstances? It can have been no picnic in jail in Egypt, under such suspicion. What would be the content of your morning devotions? This time, surely, Joseph’s dreams must die along with the dreamer. How can there be escape from this predicament?

Through service, it would seem. Joseph discovers that being busy being useful has the effect of taking one’s mind off the desperateness of the situation. Take one day at a time. And he discovers that God’s favour does follow him into the jail cells.

Once again Joseph is tested by the dreams of the cupbearer and baker. What hope and dread must be stirred in his own heart and mind as he pronounces doom over one and salvation to the other; and in the cupbearer he puts his own tiny hopes: ‘Remember me!’

But after the removal of these two prisoners- who knows if Joseph hears news of their fortunes at the time- all Joseph hears is silence. Nothing. Abandonment. Not even cellmates with dreams of their own destiny to interpret. And what would be the point anyway? What on earth is my God doing? Is it worth calling Him ‘my God’ any more? How many of us would pass this test for two whole years- and after all that he has been through? How long does my integrity stand the test of isolation and invisibility- an hour, a day, half a week- a week or perhaps two. Months or even years? Truly?

Pharaoh wants to see me- to ask MY advice? At least by this time we would imagine that Joseph is past caring.  Is he confident in the gift of His real Master’s anointing? Is he certain that his life really is as safe and blessed as it required because God truly knows his conscience and tested integrity? What is the worst that can happen to me now? Joseph has walked through the valley of shadow so many times now- he’s got a season ticket with no option of a refund.

So Joseph speaks directly to the Pharaoh who has summoned him with respect, and yet as an equal, for Joseph is a man who knows that his life hangs in the balance of God’s scales, a much more serious prospect than the chief guard’s revengeful sword or even Pharaoh’s disdain for a dirty foreign upstart slave.

Only at this point does Joseph finally receive vindication before God and men- his true stature is at last recognised. And with the ring and chain of gold comes the most pressing responsibility. God has revealed what is going to happen in the fullness of time, but is going to do absolutely nothing about it. The great famine is certainly going to come, and will stay, on and on, mercilessly. Only the human designed and implemented plan will now stand guard between life and death for however many thousands or millions of people. There is no explicit blessing by God of this phase of the story, which declines into desperation as Egypt is brought through the full test. Yet Joseph sustains his efforts; who can say how much of a burden this was? The emotional charge in the relationships with the people toward the conclusion suggest this was no walk in the park. God has placed His very own reputation on the line in entrusting Joseph with this task of management. Who is to know how long the patience and confidence of the Egyptians will last?

I add that in July 2020 it is now becoming more plain to all that just as for Joseph, having a plan- even a good plan- for dealing with the initial phase of our pandemic, the longer term consequences are progressively more and more serious. It is not simply single aspects of our society and economy that are challenged, but the whole complex of interrelated elements. Will we be able to maintain a mindset that thinks holistically and at the global scale, or will we fall back into petty self interest and national independence? Joseph nurtured the dreams of God that set a standard for us.

Only at the very end do we hear the simple judgement – not from Pharaoh’s lips, who is sidelined at this conclusion- but from the people, who quietly pronounce their collective gratitude: ‘You have saved our lives.’

We are not to worry about tomorrow- what we will eat or wear. Our daily bread is a proper concern. Yet God uses Joseph to provide peaceful navigation into a good future for the most prosperous nation to which others came in their collective distress.

So let us consider in the test we face, where the health of millions is now at stake, what manner of integrity and faithfulness, what quality of attitude and prayer will actually be required of us. By all means let us open our Bibles for inspiration and example, and expect that God wants to anoint and empower the collective actions of His people in the interest of all, whether our neighbours understand the language of our faith or not. But let’s not be glib about the profound challenge we will face in spirit in every respect if we expect to truly speak God’s word into being on His behalf. If we lean steadfastly into God, He may bestow onto us the same blessing that Joseph enjoyed:

The LORD lift up his countenance on you, and give you peace.

Numbers 6:26

Stephen Thompson 3rd April and 29th July 2020 ©

POSTSCRIPT 05 07 21. There is nothing new under the sun. Or, perhaps better, God has been looking for co-creators for as long as God has been creating, and the LORD God does nothing without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets. (Amos 3:7ESV) I discover today that the thesis of this article is not at all new. But who has been listening to God’s invitation to partnership?

The Genesis Strategy: Climate and global Survival, by Schneider Stephen H..  Plenum Press, New York,  1976, 419 p., illus., $14.95 (75-40321).John E. Oliver BioScience, Volume 27, Issue 2, February 1977, Page 128, https://doi.org/10.2307/1297611Published: 01 February 1977

Published by Stephen Thompson

Thinking inside the box is to be recommended for many reasons. I am creating this blog in May 2020 as we are encouraged to stay inside our boxes as far as possible, though we are allowed out- encouraged out, indeed- for exercise. By blogging, our thinking can also be allowed out for public exercise. Right now we need new thinking, new exercising of our mental faculties, and collective application of our thinking to the big idea of a healthy collective future. I am trialling my thinking in constructive theology, science and leadership in the light of my experience as a science teacher, theological student and as a representative of the Christian community in the county of Kent, in the UK. I welcome your partnership!

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