by Dr. Wade Paschal
Most Christians know the story of Joseph. Joseph, the favored and rather arrogant son of Jacob, had visions that told him he would one day rule all. His brothers already resented his father’s favoritism and these visions seemed to be the last straw—one day away from their father they sold him to Bedouins as a slave.
Joseph was taken to Egypt where he was first a slave in a wealthy household and then put in prison through a false accusation. But even in prison Joseph did well.
Prison gave him the chance to interpret the dream of a member of Pharaoh’s court—and later that person brought Joseph in to interpret a dream that Pharaoh had. In that dream God warned Pharaoh that seven good years were coming followed by seven terrible years of famine. Joseph not only interpreted the dream but suggested a plan that Pharaoh could use to take advantage of the good years and prepare for the famine.
Pharaoh not only put the plan in action—but he put Joseph in charge of the plan. Joseph became the virtual ruler of Egypt, and when his family showed up in the middle of the famine, Joseph was able to invite them to come into Egypt and took care of them.
In all this Joseph saw God’s guiding hand—and he did not hold his brothers’ jealousy against them, but forgave.
So far so good—but there is a second part of the story.
In Genesis 47 we see how Joseph carried out his role as Pharaoh’s crisis manager. In the midst of the famine, hungry people came to Joseph and he sold them the grain they needed for all the money they had. The next year they came again—and he took their cattle and livestock in payment for food. The next year they came again—still hungry. This time they gave Joseph and Pharaoh not only their land but their freedom. By the end of the famine Joseph had enslaved the entire population (Genesis 47:20-21) with the exception of the priests.
Genesis tells us all this without comment. Was this a good idea? Joseph comes off as a rather ruthless administrator who serves his master well—but takes full advantage of a hungry, needy people. The day will come when Joseph is dead, and the Pharaoh no longer feels obligated to his clever agent. Then, Joseph’s people will, in turn, be enslaved—perhaps the long-range, unintended result of Joseph’s sharp management?
God put Joseph in a place of power for the sake of God’s people. What Joseph did with his power for Israel was good. But it is not clear that what Joseph did with his power to Egypt was good.
Over and over again we see in the Bible that being faithful today is not a guarantee that we will be faithful tomorrow.
Elijah could stand up to the 400 prophets of Baal one day and run in terror from Jezebel, the queen, the next. David could be generous one day to Saul’s surviving family and ruthlessly arrange for the death of his lover’s husband the next.
It is a very good thing to listen to God today and to be faithful.
But tomorrow we have to start again. We have to continue to listen to God and to seek God’s guidance in all we do.
We often picture Christian faith as a decision—we give our lives to Christ and we decide to follow Jesus. These are very good and absolutely necessary.
But, Christianity is not simply a decision. The Christian life is a life—lived every day.
Every day needs faithfulness and trust in God.
Dr. R. Wade Paschal, Jr. is the Senior Pastor of First United Methodist Church. Educated at Princeton University, Asbury Theological Seminary, and Cambridge University, Dr. Paschal has written two books and a number of articles on the Bible and on ministry. He is married to Sandi and they have three children and two grandchildren. His other works for the918 include Jesus is Lord, Suffering and Faith I, and Suffering and Faith II.