I’ve been thinking a lot lately about Joseph. His story goes something like this:
First born to his father (Jacob’s) beloved (Rachel), he is the favorite of the family and his other brothers hate him. They decide to kill him, but a group of slave traders come up (hated nemesis: Ishmaelites) just in time and they instead sell him into slavery in Egypt. The brothers take his multi-colored patch-work coat, dip it in animal’s blood and go home to tell Jacob that Joseph is dead. Joseph is traded into the house of Potiphar (the captain of the guard for Pharaoh). Joseph rises from the ashes and quickly moves up in the ranks from slave to personal assistant to Potiphar, “in charge of Potiphar’s entire household and everything he owned” (Gen 39:4). God’s favor is so obvious on Joseph that even a pagan army guy notices it and acts accordingly. How does Potiphar’s wife react? She attempts to seduce him “day after day” but to no avail–Joseph cites that it is a sin against Potipahr and against God. She attacks Joseph, he runs, but she keeps his cloak, insisting that he had, in fact, tried to rape her. Joseph is slandered, falsely accused of rape, and thrown into prison–this is Pharaoh’s prison, more like a federal penitentiary than a jail. “But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his unfailing love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden” (Gen 39:21). Joseph rises from the ashes yet again, and the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners. Then two once-powerful men are thrown into prison: the Baker and the Cup Bearer. Joseph interprets their dreams in prison and asks the men to remember him to Pharaoh; one dies as prophesied in the dream and the other “[forgets] all about Joseph, never giving him another thought” (Gen 40:23). But God is faithful and finds favor with Joseph. Two years later Pharaoh has a dream and the Cup Bearer remembers Joseph, who interprets the dream correctly and truthfully. Pharaoh notes that Joseph is “so filled with the spirit of God” and that “no one is as intelligent or wise as” Joseph (Gen 41:38-39). Pharaoh puts Joseph as VP under him, so that “only I [Pharaoh], sitting on a throne, will have a rank higher than yours” (Gen 41:40). That’s not where the story ends–Joseph saves his family from famine, is gracious and merciful with his brothers when they come begging for help, and is reconciled to his father who eventually moves the whole klan to the Egyptian region of Rameses in an area called Goshen (Gen 47:11;27)–but that’s where my study ends because I want to have a better understanding of favor.
Joseph is “favored” by his father, and it results in jealousy and hatred.
Joseph is “favored” by Potiphar, and it results in the lusty come-ons of his wife.
Joseph is “favored” by the warden, and it results in a contentedness in the warden that keeps Joseph in prison unjustly.
Joseph is “favored” by the two dreamers, and it results in forgetfullness that keeps him in prison 2 more years.
Joseph is “favored” by Pharaoh, and it finally works out over the next several decades.
Obviously, “favoritism” by man is not always a good thing, and our idea of instant gratification grossly skews Biblical principles of waiting and patience and hope in the Lord.
But being “favored” by God is completely different. God does not sit in heaven with lightening bolts and decide–“favor!” “blessing!” “failure!” “humiliation!” “favor, favor, fail!”–like a primitive form of Zeus. He is much better and kinder and just. Favor in God’s eyes is brought on by obedience and given with love.
Favor is what happens when you are doing exactly what God has given you to do, working towards a purpose to fulfill, or placing at His feet a thing (good or bad, person, or other thing) He has given simply for the purpose of you surrendering it back to Him. When you are doing what God has specifically purposed for your life in obedience to Him and out of fear and love of the Lord, then He favors you. This means that you are 1) so in tuned with the Holy Spirit within you that you are able to listen to what He wants for you in your prayer life, 2) looking, listening, and waiting as you expectantly search God’s word for His heart and His truth, and 3) are willing to be obedient and say yes to whatever He’s asking you to do. This may seem overwhelming–how do I even begin to figure out what God wants me to do? am I listening? Is He listening? How do I pray? How do I pray in accordance with the Holy Spirit? What is the Holy Spirit, again? What if I’m not willing to go and do? What if I don’t like what God has for me? What if it’s uncomfortable? etc–but it’s not. The more time you spend in the word, especially the Psalms, Proverbs, and Acts, the more you KNOW who God is and what desires He’s put in your heart–and the more you connect to what He’s done in the past, which fuels your hope for what He’ll do in the future. God never changes. Ever.
The reason I began this study was because people like to say, “Well, I think God wants us to all be missionaries, sell everything, and move to the desert somewhere; but I don’t want to do that, so I’m just continuing on in whatever I’m doing, not particularly listening for what God has to say about my day-to-day life and work.”
The answer to that is: God does not want us to all be missionaries. He does, however, have a calling on our lives–be it teaching, writing, film production, media, market place, government, social justice, etc–and when we are doing what He’s asked us to do from the beginning (in our field, where we are, with the desires He’s given us in the first place) we find favor. It’s so different from the idea of God “playing favorites”–that’s not it at all. He’s pleased with our obedience and honors it; that’s all. No game. No special treatment. Nothing like what it is here on earth, and certainly not like any human-given favoritism that results in negative consequences (like those listed above).
Another matter of importance in all this, is what we can learn from Joseph:
At times his circumstances were horrible! But He looked at God and who he knew Him to be, not at people and surroundings of this world.
At times, God ordained it that His beloved and favored Joseph would be almost killed, traded, slandered, wrongly-accused, thrown into prison, disregarded, and forgotten… for YEARS! and yet still God loved him and yet still he knew it. what faith. All of these things HAD to happen for Joseph’s story to be the extraordinary example that it is; all of it prepared him to face his brothers with love and mercy; all of it prepared him to save a nation from starvation; all of it prepared him to lead his people into Egypt, to fulfill an even earlier prophesy. It’s all part of the process, and if we’re wise enough, we’ll see it in exactly that light.
I think people today would see a modern-day “Joseph” in those circumstances and would say “No way is he “favored” by God! People who are favored live in big mansions and fund non-profits. They don’t spend time rotting in jail. God wouldn’t allow such discomfort! He’s been separated from his family for how many years?? God’s hand is not in that! God wants reconciliation and love, God is merciful and just, God wants us to be dressed like lilies of the field!”–To which I would say: sure! But God also prepares us in many ways and we must find joy in the journey, not simply in the destination. We assume that God doesn’t want us to be unhappy or poor or jailed or uncomfortable or pained or sick or anything unpleasant. But sometimes that is the only way to reach the destination God has for us. And what a destination it can be!
People also love to say: “Joseph did nothing wrong, made no decisions to bring this on himself, an doesn’t deserve this!” which is true, but Joseph never made excuses or placed blame (if he had, the Bible would not describe him as “favored by God” but “complaining and blaming”). And in the end, as VP of Egypt, rich, fed, happy, and reconciled with all of his family, I think he got more than he deserved. He’d probably tell you that, in the end, he got the better end of the deal anyway.
That’s the faith I yearn for:
the one that says, “Yes, Lord!” before I know the question
the one that says, “I’m listening and waiting for You!”
the one that says, “I’m ready for You to have Your way!”
the one that says, “Write my story–all of it–for Your glory alone, Lord.”
the one that says, “Let it be so, Lord, when hardships come.”
the one that says, “You give and take away, but blessed be Your Name, for you are good and faithful and true.”
the one that says, “I KNOW who You are, Lord, and I am not consumed with circumstances, but instead with a love of my Savior–I seek only to know You better, come what may.”
the one that says, “I seek the favor of the Lord, through my fear and obedience here on earth–right here, right now.