I love the story of Joseph. I just think too often in the past I idolized him. I think I did that with a lot of the Bible figures, especially if at some point they shone forth as heroes of the faith.
I now see Joseph differently. After all, he was an ordinary human like the rest of us. And he was his daddy’s favorite.
All the brothers knew he was, to the point that they became so jealous they could hardly speak to him.
His brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers; and so they hated him and could not speak to him on friendly terms. (Gen. 37:4)
Funny thing, Joseph seemed clueless toward their attitude because he had a dream that could only be interpreted as Joseph ruling over his brothers, and he didn’t hesitate to tell them about it.
Their response was exactly what you’d imagine:
Then his brothers said to him, “Are you actually going to reign over us? Or are you really going to rule over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words.
But clueless Joseph wasn’t done. He had another dream, this one showing that not only his brothers would worship him but his parents would also. You’d think he would have seen his brothers’ response the last time he told them his dream, and maybe keep this one to himself. But no. He couldn’t resist, which earned him a derogatory nickname with his brothers: That Dreamer.
I have to wonder, actually, if Joseph was so clueless. Perhaps pride would better explain for his actions.
After all, Joseph was young and handsome, the favorite of his father, blessed with spiritual insight that allowed him to have prophetic dreams, which, by the way, showed him ruling over all his older brothers and his parents.
So maybe Joseph wasn’t so much unaware of his brothers’ reaction to him and to his dreams as he was proud to “share.” Scripture doesn’t tell us Joseph was proud, but his actions suggest either a cluelessness or a prideful heart.
Is it possible to know which? Perhaps. I think we can see something true about Joseph later in life that contradicts the idea that he was clueless. Of course, he might simply have changed. Who wouldn’t after his brothers sold him into slavery, after his master’s wife accused him of attempted rape, and after getting thrown in prison unjustly? But Joseph’s change is not what many would expect.
People in western society today would be clamoring for justice and perhaps revenge. Joseph simply went about his business doing the best he knew how to do. As a result, God blessed him, first as a servant, then as a prisoner.
There came a day, however, when two of his fellow prisoners woke up troubled. The important thing here is that Joseph noticed.
When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (Gen. 40:6-7)
Mr. Clueless didn’t need someone to jab an elbow in his ribs and point to the two miserable servants of the king. He didn’t need someone spelling out that these two were upset about something. Rather, Joseph had changed—one way or the other.
Either he’d grown some sensitivity in Egypt, or he’d never been clueless in the first place. In fact, he might have been a discerning guy all along. In which case, his telling the brothers who couldn’t even speak in a friendly manner to him, all about the “I’ll one day rule over you” dream just might have been little brother Joseph rubbing their noses in his favored standing and future greatness.
I tend to think the latter was true because God still had a lesson to teach Joseph. After he accurately interpreted the dreams of Pharaoh’s two servants, Joseph asked the one returning to the palace to remember him. In other words, he’d done this guy a favor and was asking for a little back-scratching in return.
But God didn’t want Joseph depending on his own ways, his own manipulations. Consequently, he sat in that prison for another three years.
When at last Pharaoh’s servant did remember Joseph, it was because his master needed someone who could interpret dreams. Notice the difference in Joseph’s two responses. First to the two servants three years earlier when they were in prison:
Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”
In his response was Joseph claiming to be God? I’ve not thought so, but I also know how the story ends. And I know how Joseph honored God by refusing to commit adultery with his master’s wife. Still, reading his answer to these men in the best light, I believe he took a further step forward because three years later, his response to Pharaoh was completely unambiguous.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” (Gen. 41:15-16)
Joseph the clueless became Joseph the humble who could later say to his brothers with no animosity in his heart,
And as for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive. (Gen. 50:20)
Joseph was in a position of power and could have brought the wrath of Pharaoh down on his brothers. He could have said, Told ya so! Instead, he wept when his brothers, fearful of Joseph’s revenge once their father died, asked for forgiveness. Then he assured them that they had no reason to fear him: “But Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place?” (Gen. 50:19).
He certainly wasn’t clueless now, if he’d ever been. But more importantly, hefa was walking humbly with his God.