Interpret That

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Now Israel loved Joseph more than any other of his children, because he was the son of his old age; and he made him a long robe with sleeves. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably to him.

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers, and with the flock; and bring me word again.” So he sent him from the valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields; and the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said, “tell me, I pray you, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers, and found them at Dothan. They saw him afar off, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him.
Gen. 37:3-4, 12-18

It’s a familiar story.

Israel, also known in the Bible as Jacob, loved Joseph the best of his twelve sons. Jacob decked Joseph in new threads and promoted him over his mostly older brothers, putting him in charge. Early in Genesis 37, Joseph caught his brothers goofing off in the fields and gave his father a negative report that was logged immediately into their personnel files.

Needless to say, Joe’s brothers were not thrilled with their ratty brother. At the first opportunity for revenge, they sold him off to traveling Ishmaelites (like gypsies), first relieving him of his designer coat. Adding insult to injury, they sold him cheap: about ten silver pieces below a strapping slave’s going price. Joe got lucky, though, and bypassed the work crews building the ambitious capital campaign projects of narcissistic Pharaohs. He landed a household servant gig in the home of a military captain named Potiphar, a guy successful at chariot racing and handy with a javelin—but his wife felt ignored. She approached Joe for extracurricular activity, which he promptly shunned. Shakespeare reflected hundreds of years later that “hell hath no fury like a woman scorned,” and the rejected socialite accused Joe of attempted rape. Captain Potiphar was unmoved by Joe’s protestations, and now the soft-skinned boy from the ‘burbs got a second and more intense dose of reality: state prison for a crime he didn’t commit. (I know, they’re all innocent; but Joe really was.)

Now, Joe had a marketable skill set, particularly in dream interpretation. After helping numerous prisoners decipher dreams of delivering speeches in their underwear, he nailed Pharaoh’s troubling night visions and was appointed vice pharaoh of Egypt and chief of grain storage management. In a twist of fate, the Lord used Joseph in that position to save the lives of thousands, including his own brothers.

Nice story with a typically Spielbergian ending: which is to say, good. But there’s more.

Hidden in this narrative is a truth easy to overlook. Joseph believes his brothers are in Shechem, but can’t find them. A man found Joseph wandering in the fields; and the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” This unidentified man makes a quick appearance on the stage of biblical history and then is gone. Just a guy probably out in the fields with a hoe. And his one claim to fame is that he gives Joe directions so Joe can find his brothers, be sold, enslaved, falsely accused, and thrown into the darkest dungeon only to become Pharaoh’s No. 2 guy.

And all this unknown fellow did was give directions.

We think God can only use us when we launch a grandiose program or embark on some mission project to Outer Mongolia. But this field hand was used by the Lord of the Universe for directions. “Go two blocks south to Alice’s Restaurant, turn east, and take the interstate to Dothan.”

Without him, the whole redemptive Christ-prefiguring narrative and the life-saving dream-interpreting story of Joseph would not have happened.

Interpret that.