Not all intentions are equal


Constantly maligned, often verbally abused, bashed, beaten, left for dead, sold into forced slavery, framed and falsely accused by an employer, forgotten and taken advantage of by peers, … but then … in what would today make a regular (and predictable) plot line of a book or movie about the rise of the underdog, he arises, proves himself, gets promoted to prime minister and quite literally saves several nations. At the height of his success and newly received power he has the chance to face his childhood abusers and tormentors. Justice, as most would understand it, is at hand. But Joseph decides to turn away from the expectations of others. He does not allow his past to define and control him now or dictate his future. He will not be restricted by the expectations of others, especially the bullies.

The Joseph story has a strong emotional appeal. Those facing physical abuse, psychological manipulation, trauma, financial loss, unwarranted ill-deserved threats and intimidation find an alternate and uplifting perspective in Joseph’s words when he has the opportunity to confront his bullies.

“You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done” Genesis 50.20

The trap that snares modern applications of Joseph’s words is when God’s intentions are superficially equated with an abuser and tormentor. To say God “intends” someone to be abused to carry out his purpose maligns his character while simultaneously elevating the character of the bully.

A full parallel to Joseph, (as the saviour & redeemer of nations) is arrogant. The underlying principle is to respond in kind. The nature of torment and harassment is to dominate, manipulate and control through a façade of power (physical, financial, social). Those without self-respect, (like substance addicts who seek gratification in getting a fix by any means available), derive their own value through the debasement of others. Any, they can find.

Joseph’s brothers attacked and left him for dead (and later sold into slavery) to elevate themselves in the esteem of their father. They saw Joseph as a threat to their financial security and their control over their father’s wealth. The motivation is one of the oldest and most common: Bullying to gain/keep power for pleasure. Bullies, whether they profess to be Christian, Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, Atheist, Secularist, Communist, all have the same thing in common: a deviance that derives pleasure from inflicting suffering on those they can (try!) to dominate and control.

Joseph’s conclusion is not a trite escapist cliché. The mistreatment of those with depraved motives does not define him. It clearly took incredible strength of will, but Joseph chose not to surrender to his brother’s agenda. He suffered. It cost him immensely: emotionally, psychologically, spiritually, socially, financially and geographically. But whether he was to live or die, it would not be on their terms.

Many who defy the agenda of abuse, torment, harassment, bullying and intimidation don’t experience the same subsequent prosperity as Joseph. Their resilience will erode the bully’s agenda, pleasure and power. But Joseph is not defining himself by their downfall anymore than he is allowing their torment to control his outlook and purpose. He decides not to play by their rules. He doesn’t play their game at all. The pay off in Joseph’s case was a reward from Pharaoh – a temporal King of kings. A pay off today comes when I realise that the bully isn’t my King and doesn’t have the last say in my value, purpose and destiny.

I realise, all too painfully, after having relocated, 6 months ago, away from a source of deviance and loss, that this is too easy to say and much harder to live out. It takes courage and, well, old-fashioned intestinal fortitude (i.e. guts!). Maybe things will “turn out for the better”. Regardless, the flaccid façade of the bully will be deflated and another King reigns, upright and more properly, in their place.

The first Christmas gift

Merry Christmas to all my readers!

The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD lift up his countenance upon you and give you peace.
(Numbers 6:24-26)

And the saviour of the world is … Joseph of course!

As you read through the book of Genesis, none of the patriarchs deserved God’s blessing apart from his mercy and grace. Abraham, Jacob and Joseph succeeded in their faith in God’s promise as evidenced by their (at times inconsistent and flawed) obedience to God.

They were first hand participants in the conflict between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. The serpent’s seed are tyrants of death and destruction, whereas the woman’s seed are faithful warrior priest-kings who lead their families to worship Yahweh.

When Joseph arrives he seemingly fulfils the Genesis 3:15 prophecy of the seed of woman who will bring salvation and undo Adam’s failure. As a prophet, he speaks God’s word to his brothers and suffers affliction and (a fake) death at their hands (Gen 37:26, 31-33, Acts 7:9). As a priest he serves Potiphar and resists the allure of the “daughters of men” (c.f. Gen 6:1-4 w/ 39:6-12). As a king, he brings God’s Word to the nation through diligent stewardship, marries a Gentile bride and gives an inheritance to his brothers (c.f. Gen 41:16 w/ Heb 2:10-18). [NB: The pattern of Word, Sacrament and Government.]

Following the pattern established during Creation week of Genesis 1, on Day 1 God spoke and kick started the universe, the story of Genesis is the kick-start of Israel – how it came to be and through whom. As the sun sets on this “Day 1” of the Bible story,  God has spoken, initiated his covenant and created his nation of priests, who are led by Joseph. He is a light and saviour to the nations as he manages the food distribution during a wide-spread famine.

The separation of light from dark is illustrated in the conflict, between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman, which reaches a climax as Joseph, seed of Abraham (c.f. Gal 3:16) defeats the serpent and effects a salvation of the known world. Not altogether like his anti-type, another bloke with a name starting with “J” (Heb 2:14, 1 John 3:8, Rev 12:4-5, 20:10).

Social Network Christmas

If the very first Christmas had taken place in 2010…

Was Joseph an Adoptive Dad AND Adoptee

When reading the genealogy accounts of Jesus in Matthew and Luke of the New Testament, an apparent contradiction surfaces. Each list uses a different perspective, one starts with Joseph and goes back to Abraham and then to Adam and the other starts with Abraham and then goes down to Joseph. There are also differences in the list of names in-between David and Joseph. The name of Joseph’s most immediate forbear is of particular interest. Matthew says Joseph is the son of Jacob (Matthew 1:16). In Luke’s account he is the son of Heli (Luke 3:23).

Robert L. Redmond provides the following explanation in the ‘Baker Encyclopedia of the Bible‘:

A widely held explanation is that Matthew gives Jesus’ ancestry through Joseph and that Luke gives his ancestry through Mary.

… many scholars prefer to regard Luke’s genealogy as that of Joseph rather than Mary, since it is to Joseph’s ancestry that Luke calls the reader’s attention (1:27; 2:4). Furthermore, nowhere in Scripture is Mary said to be of Davidic descent. …

A major difficulty for the view that regards both genealogies as Joseph’s is related to Joseph’s two fathers. One solution is that Matthew gives the legal descendants of David, but Luke gives the actual descendants of David in the line to which Joseph belonged. This would mean that Heli was Joseph’s [biological] father and that Jacob was his legal foster father.

… One other major objection to the view that regards both genealogies as Joseph’s is that, because of the virgin birth of Jesus, one may in no sense speak of Jesus as being literally the seed of David, a proposition that Scripture seems to insist upon. This objection has been adequately countered:

  1. because of the realistic manner in which the Jews looked upon adoptive fatherhood; and
  2. because the relationship in which Jesus stood to Joseph was much closer than a case of ordinary adoption, there being no earthly father to dispute Joseph’s paternal relation to Jesus.

Jesus could and would have been regarded as Joseph’s son and heir with complete propriety, satisfying every scriptural demand that he be the “seed of David.” ~ (Elwell, W. A., & Beitzel, B. J. 1988. Baker encyclopedia of the Bible (850–851). Baker Book House: Grand Rapids, Mich.)

This understanding of Joseph as an adoptee was also advocated by Augustine in his Reply to Faustus and The Harmony of the Gospels.

Any one can see as well as you that Joseph has one father in Matthew and another in Luke, and so with the grandfather and with all the rest up to David. … the practice of adoption is common among our fathers, and in Scripture, … frequently in human life one man may have two fathers, one of whose flesh he is born, and another of whose will he is afterwards made a son by adoption … Careful students of sacred Scripture easily saw, from a little consideration, how, in the different genealogies of the two evangelists, Joseph had two fathers, and consequently two lists of ancestors.~ (Augustine Reply to Faustus 3.3 in Schaff, P. 1997. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. IV (159-160). Logos Research Systems: Oak Harbor)

Joseph may have had two fathers,—namely, one by whom he was begotten, and a second by whom he may have been adopted. For it was an ancient custom also among that people to adopt children with the view of making sons for themselves of those whom they had not begotten.

… here is nothing absurd in saying that a person has begotten, not after the flesh, it may be, but in love, one whom he has adopted as a son. … It would be no departure from the truth, therefore, even had Luke said that Joseph was begotten by the person by whom he was really adopted. Even in that way he did in fact beget him, not indeed to be a man, but certainly to be a son ~ (Augustine De Consens Ev. 2.3.5-7 in Schaff, P. 1997. The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers Vol. VI (103-104). Logos Research Systems: Oak Harbor)

We can’t be too dogmatic about this. However it does reconcile the differences between Matthew and Luke and provides some insight into the character of Joseph. Perhaps this is why he was willing and ready to accept and adopt the unborn Jesus as his son and give them protection and care when Jesus’ life was threatened by Herod. It would also explain the power and significance of his influence on his other son, James, who would later describe authentic faith and Christianity as caring for widows and orphans. The formation of Joseph as a man came from first hand experience with adoption and care of children, both as an adoptee and an adoptive father. He passed this legacy to his sons and continues to give us a challenge and example to champion the cause of the defenseless.