November 19, 2013

Heart and Soul: Biblical Studies

My dear Father,

When you hold this letter in your hands, you will have already greeted my brothers and will have heard that I am still alive. I know it must be hard to believe. You saw my coat, ripped and splattered with blood. You thought I was dead—torn to pieces by a wild animal. But the blood on my coat was not mine. A little lamb died, and I am alive. My heart bursts with joy over the thought of seeing you again. I have longed to see you for many years. I wish you would come to me with the whole family. I have already prepared everything for you: houses, herds, stables, and apartments for the shepherds. Everything is ready, and your new home will be in the best part of the country, in Goshen.

If you still doubt the news, please step outside your tent. You will see a carriage with Pharaoh’s coat of arms. It’s my carriage I have sent to you, so you may travel comfortably to Egypt. Lose no time in departing, because the famine will last another five years, and I do not want my family to suffer any longer. Come to me in Egypt, and I will take care of you, because I am at the source of food. Father, you must be shaking your head right now. Let me explain to you what has happened in the past years.


But first things first: please forgive my brothers. I forgave them long ago for what they did to me. Forgive them as well. We were all young and foolish then. They allowed anger to take control of them. They saw your great love for me and were jealous. I was immature and boasted with your love, as if I were better than they were. Remember, you made me that special coat with long sleeves. It was truly fit for a prince, and I wore it with pride. But I didn’t realize the pain it caused my brothers. They felt second-best.

Do you remember the two dreams? I dreamed that my brothers’ sheaves would bow down before my sheaf, and that the sun and moon and 11 stars showed me reverence. I didn’t know then what those dreams meant, but I felt good about them. You know me: I was never satisfied with being mediocre. I wanted to reach the very top, and you mostly supported me in this. The second dream went too far, you said, but I did not make it up. It came to me, unbidden, but not undesired (sigh). Yes, I admit that I was arrogant and vain. But, thank God, life has taken care of that.


How long has it been? Twenty-two years? You also have probably never forgotten that day. You sent me to look for my brothers. They had roamed far, seeking fresh pasture for our sheep. After not hearing from them for a long time, you got worried. I got lost on the way, so it took me a few days to find my brothers and our herds.

The very sight of me made them angry. Maybe they thought I was spying on them. I had done it often enough, and now I am sad about it, because it created a wall between us.14 1 5 9

But now this wall has been torn down, because we are reconciled to one another and have forgiven one another. So I plead with you: forgive them also. Forgive them for lying to you. They broke your heart when they told you I was dead. In reality they dumped me into a dry cistern. I thought that would be my end; the walls were so steep—I never would have been able to get out on my own again. That night in the cistern was terrible! My only consolation was in seeing the stars. They shone unwaveringly upon me, and I felt as if they were calling to me: Do not be afraid. Above the starry sky is a living God. Do not be downcast. God sees you. God cares for you. Initially, however, it didn’t seem as though God cared.

The next morning my brothers pulled me out of the cistern. They were still angry. They wanted to get rid of me. Fortunately, they did not kill me, but sold me to traders. Father, please do not punish my brothers. They did not know what they were doing. They wanted to hurt me, but God used it to shape and bless me. After all, that’s what really counts, isn’t it, Father?

The slave traders treated me like livestock. They tied my hands and dragged me along—no use weeping and wailing. They made camp for the night quite close to our tents. I was so hoping that one of our shepherds would come along and see me. He would have set me free, and I would have returned to you immediately. But no! None of our people were to be seen.

Then our path led through the mountains of Seir. Your brother, Esau, lives there and requires a toll from all the traveling caravans. But his soldiers did not recognize me. At first I was bitterly disappointed and thought God had forgotten me. But now I know: I needed to come to Egypt. And you will also understand why I had to come here.


In Egypt one of Pharaoh’s officers bought me. Potiphar was the captain of the royal bodyguard. He had a big house and many slaves. At first I was given humble jobs to do. I took great pains in doing them well. Father, I thank you that I learned to work at home. You taught me to do tasks thoroughly and conscientiously. And I have felt every day, every hour, that God is close to me. I did all my work with God watching over me, and I was successful. Gradually, I gained the trust of my master. Potiphar promoted me to his personal assistant and left me to manage his entire household.

It was an exciting time! In Potiphar’s palace I met famous Egyptians, military commanders, and officials, because everyone with name and rank was Potiphar’s guest. I stood quietly in the background at these feasts, but my ears and eyes were wide open. I learned about politics and what’s important in ruling a country.

All looked well. Unfortunately Potiphar’s wife had her own plans. She thought she was in love with me. She constantly tried to flirt with me—a slight touch of my hand, a coy look in my direction. But I did not give in to her advances. Could I disappoint God or deceive my master, who trusted me? One day she laid a trap for me, and when I refused, she screamed for help and accused me hysterically of wanting to rape her. She put on a great act, but I am not sure that Potiphar believed her. However, he had to watch his reputation, so he had me arrested and put into prison. Not the prison for common criminals, but the prison for political prisoners.


The first few months were hard, but before long the prison master figured out how he could make life easier for himself. He began giving me more and more responsibility. I had free access to the political prisoners. At that time I learned even more about politics, diplomacy, and the intrigues at court.

I spent more than two years in prison, when suddenly I was taken before Pharaoh. He needed me to interpret his dreams. Word had gotten out that I had correctly interpreted the dreams of the palace baker and cupbearer. Pharaoh was greatly disturbed by two dreams that God had sent him. And God showed me what He wanted to tell Pharaoh. God warned the king about a devastating seven-year-long famine. However, the harvests in the seven years preceding the famine would be abundant.

I suggested to Pharaoh that grain should be stored up in these plentiful years. Then we would have enough for the years of hardship that would lie ahead.

Surprisingly, he liked my suggestion. Not only that, he appointed me as his second in command. Pharaoh realized that God sometimes speaks through me. He even gave me a new name: Zaphenath-paneah, which in Egyptian means “God speaks, he is alive.” Would you have ever believed it possible that the most powerful ruler of the world would recognize the Creator-God? I still
marvel at it.

The people in Egypt have been very diligent. In the seven years that the harvests were plentiful, they brought so many sacks of grain to the storehouses that we stopped counting them. Today
everyone is glad that we have these provisions. Not only Egyptians buy the grain; many people come to us from Canaan, and I am glad that I provide so many people with food, even our family.


Maybe you are asking yourself: “Joseph, you could have contacted me long ago. Why didn’t you send me a message? Why do I only hear today that you are alive and have become a powerful man in Egypt?”

Father, I have traveled to you so many times in my thoughts. I have dreamed so often of putting my arms around your neck and crying on your chest! But what would have happened if I had just come and stood outside your tent?

I have written many papyrus sheets—only to discard them immediately. I felt that it was still too soon for us to be reunited. If I had been in a hurry to come to you, I would have ruined God’s plan.

Imagine if, 22 years ago, I would have managed to escape from the slave traders and come back home. What would you have done to my brothers? What would you have said to them? You wouldn’t have changed them. They would have hardened their hearts even more against you and me—and God.

And later on, if I had run away from Potiphar and returned to Canaan, we would all be dead by now—starved to death. I sensed that I had to wait longer. I wanted God’s go-ahead, the right time for our family to be reunited.


When my brothers came, I recognized them immediately. They bowed down before me, showed their respect, and suddenly I saw my two dreams again. Yes, they were being fulfilled before my eyes. I knew that God had led me to Egypt so that I could keep you all alive!

At first my brothers were afraid of me. I was very strict with them. I had to find out if they had changed. I cannot have a gang of robbers and violent men in the country. As the second in command of the country of Egypt, I cannot allow my family to cause scandals. You must understand that.

I put them to the test, and I know now that they too have grown. They are no longer jealous or spiteful; quite the opposite. They look out for one another and stick together. Would you believe that your fourth son, Judah, even offered his life in exchange for Benjamin’s? But I will tell you that story another time.

Now get ready, Father, and come in the carriage that I sent you. Don’t pack anything; you will get the best of everything that Egypt has to offer. Just come quickly, for I cannot wait any longer, my dear Father! I want to finally hold you in my arms.

Your Joseph