More Than a Tale for Children
I was raised in a family where singing was an important part of life. My mother was the adult-choir director for our church when I was growing up, and she also directed the “Son’s Singers” (the children’s choir). Sacred music was well-known in our house. In addition, my parents were also well-acquainted with the popular music of their youth, and it’s possible that no one knows obscure songs from the sixties better than they do.
Needless to say, I have inherited this love of song and generally appreciate all different kinds of music. I am particularly fond of musicals and often listen to their soundtracks while I am driving.
A couple of years ago I obtained a recording of Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat by the original Broadway cast. Whatever you might say about the entertainment industry’s adaptation of biblical stories, I have to admit, the music is generally faithful to the account of Joseph’s life in Genesis, even if a bit of artistic license is taken here and there. In many ways, it is a testimony to the enduring appeal of the stories we find in Scripture.
Perhaps some will find the musical a bit irreverent, and such feelings are not entirely without cause. But as I have reflected on Joseph’s story in order to write this article, I have thought that we might all have to fight the tendency to read the history of Joseph’s life irreverently. That is, it is quite possible to read Genesis 37–50, if not all the patriarchal narratives, as “cute” or “quaint” little stories. Just think, for example, of all those illustrated Bible story books for children with their pictures of Joseph parading about in his multicolored coat. Unconsciously, it is all too easy to pass over these last chapters of Genesis as “just those stories we learned as kids” or as narratives only to be contemplated within the world of games, crafts, and kool-aid we find at vacation Bible school.
This would be a great mistake indeed, since the story of Joseph contains some of the most profound theological lessons in all of Scripture. In the first place, Genesis 37–50 records actual, historical events. We cannot stress this enough. Our Creator does not work outside of history, He accomplishes His plan in and through the real choices and real deeds of His people. Since creation, God has chosen to fulfill His redemptive ends with flesh-and-blood individuals. Though our role and place in history is different than Joseph’s, all of us have an important purpose that the Lord gives to no one else. If ever we feel that our lives are insignificant, let us remember that our Father uses real people to achieve His real ends. Parents and grandparents, children and adults, preachers and janitors, presidents and servants, we all bring about God’s purposes as we obey Him in both the big things and the little things.
Speaking of real people, consider just how authentically human Joseph and those around him were. Who among us has not been jealous of a brother, sister, or friend that is more favored than we are (Gen. 37:11)? Which person has not succumbed to the lusts of the flesh like Judah did (chap. 38), even if the particular sin was not sexual in nature? As with the chief cupbearer, have not all of us forgotten to repay a favor (40:9–15, 23)? Most of us have probably doubted whether the forgiveness offered to us by others is genuine (50:15–21). Still, the Lord used these transgressions, and many more, to put Joseph exactly where He wanted him. Our mistakes and transgressions cannot derail God’s purposes. We do not take this truth for granted and use it to excuse our sin (Rom. 6:1–2), but we also must never come to the place where we believe we have fallen to the point where our Father cannot use us. Through faith and repentance we can be blessed as our sovereign Creator works out His will in history (Deut. 30:1–10).
Joseph’s life is also one of the clearest examples of divine providence we find in Scripture. To paraphrase Dr. R.C. Sproul’s analysis: Without the coat, no hatred. Without the hatred, Joseph does not get sold into Egypt. Without Joseph in Egypt, the nation of Israel does not become enslaved. Without slavery, there is no Moses and no exodus. Without the exodus there are no prophets and no Christ! Could Joseph see all this while he was living out his part in it? Of course not. In fact, the trials he endured probably made him doubt God’s presence more often than not. In retrospect, Joseph understood the Almighty was with him even when He seemed most absent (Gen. 50:20). The same is true of our lives as well.
These lessons prove that we must see Joseph’s life as more than just a “nice story.” However, the greatest thing we take from the story of Joseph and his brothers is God’s faithfulness. This fidelity is the ground of all these other lessons, but it bears special and separate mention. The Lord told Jacob that He would not leave the patriarch until He had done all that was promised to Him (Gen. 28:15). This promise was not only for Jacob, but also for His children, as God’s presence with Joseph is plain. Yet the Lord’s pledge to be with Jacob until His plan is fulfilled is also a promise to all of His people. All of Jacob’s offspring by faith must inherit the earth (v. 14) and this can only occur if God is with us. He has proven His faithfulness to us most clearly by coming to us in the person of a new Joseph — the Lord Jesus Christ — who now sits at God’s right hand and dwells among us by His Spirit. His faithfulness assures us that God’s good purposes for us will never fail.