Joseph was Jacob’s favorite son. He was the first born son of his favorite wife, and Jacob couldn’t help but lavish his favor on Joseph. Joseph got the fancy coat that set him apart from the others. And, while the other brothers were off tending the herds, Joseph stayed at home with his father. It certainly seemed that the Lord was with Joseph.
That phrase, “The Lord was with Joseph,” appears several times throughout this week’s reading. In particular, when Joseph was sold into the service of Potiphar in Egypt, we are told that
The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. … Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.
A very similar story takes place after Joseph is placed in prison, being falsely accused of attempting to rape Potiphar’s wife. So what does it mean that “the Lord was with Joseph?” Other times I’ve read this story, I’ve always read “the Lord was with Joseph” to mean that good things would happen to Joseph. But that is clearly only a part of the story. After all, if that were it, then Joseph should never have been sold into slavery in the first place. Nor should he have been thrown in prison while in Potiphar’s service.
As I think about this now, I’m getting the sense that “the Lord was with Joseph” doesn’t mean good things would happen. Rather, I’m getting a sense of “the Lord was with Joseph” meaning that Joseph was able to be in touch with strengths and abilities beyond himself. Like the interpretation of dreams. So, when it reads that “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered,” it may be that Joseph prospered as a result of the actions he was able to take as a result of the Lord being with him, rather that the prosperity being the direct result of the Lord being with him.
Somewhat counter to that interpretation is the last portion of the above quote: “the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph.” However, “because” can be a somewhat nebulous word, and I wonder if perhaps “through” would be another possible translation of the original Hebrew text. I have no idea if that’s a possibility or not. Just something I’m wondering about.
Does this sort of analysis resonate with anybody else? Or is this the sort of thing that only interests me? I’d love to hear other thoughts on this, or anything else in this week’s reading that jumped out at you.
I must disagree. Of course Jacob could have helped lavishing favor on Joseph. Jacob spoiled Joseph in every sense. Joseph grew up so insufferable that his own brothers couldn’t stand him and plotted to kill him. But what do we expect from Jacob who stole the birthright from his own brother and then ran away to escape what he had coming to him. He did not treat his own sons (or his wives and handmaids) fairly. Joseph is not a nice guy and he gets knocked down a peg more than once on his way to power in Egypt.
I do, however, agree with your reading that the Lord being with someone is not an indication that God has selected them for special or excessive riches or privileges, but that they are in touch with the power of God that works through them. This is really good news because obviously God can and does work through and do great things through people like Jacob and Joseph who are far less than perfect, more like us maybe.
The “couldn’t help” phrasing was perhaps not the best choice. Thanks for helping me to be more precise in my thinking and wording. As far as Joseph being a spoiled brat goes – I’m not sure I’d go that strongly. I’ve always seen him as more clueless about how is words were impacting others, rather an rubbing their noses in it.
Though, I do like your point about Joseph basically following in jacob’s rather fallible footsteps. I’ve certainly seen the foibles of many of the “heros” of the Bible before, but I hadn’t connected the generational aspect of it before.
Thanks for the comment!