“A Diamond in the Rough: Joseph’s Transforming Story!” (Part 1 of 2)
Hebrews 11:21-22 (ESV)
Pastor Jerry Ingalls
Other than the sun, can anyone here gaze upon the stars in the light of day? When is the time we can see the stars? When it is dark out…only in darkness can we see the beauty of God’s creative design of the cosmos! Let’s pray…
“By faith Jacob, when dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, bowing in worship over the head of his staff. By faith Joseph, at the end of his life, made mention of the exodus of the Israelites and gave directions concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:21-22).
When I read through the Heroes of Faith in Hebrews 11, I ask myself two questions: (1) Who is this person? and (2) Why are they considered a hero of faith? In asking these questions, I go on a hunt. Hebrews 11 launches me throughout the Old Testament to read, research, and reflect upon the person of faith.
This week, I have been exploring the life of Joseph. This is one of the most famous Old Testament stories. It is the inspiration behind the long enduring Andrew Lloyd Weber musical, “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Jacket.” This is a story that has found a bridge into our culture and has inspired generations of Jewish and Christian people to live with integrity and to put their trust in a sovereign God during injustice and suffering. The problem is that it has been made into a “feel good” story without the true depth of the story. We need to look at this story in all its gore and glory for it to be more than a moralistic platitude.
Joseph makes me think of a diamond. Formed under years of pressure and showcased behind a black velvet backdrop to bring out its brilliance and beauty. Neither the years of pressure nor the darkness of the backstory are beautiful, but the diamond…oh, the diamond is priceless. Jesus once taught, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field” (Matthew 13:44, 45). You see that the finished product is beautiful and worth selling everything for, but how many of us want to go through the process of being formed into a diamond.
A diamond has to start somewhere…one expert says, “Natural diamonds are formed deep within the earth, using heat and pressure found around 87 to 118 miles beneath the surface. Carbon compressed tightly together forms a crystal lattice, the purity of which determines colors in the diamond.”
Let’s take a walk in Joseph’s shoes; will you join me? WARNING: this is Jerry Springer territory!
Joseph’s story begins and ends in the dynamics of family: a very dysfunctional family. Joseph was born as the first son to Jacob’s favored wife Rachel (Genesis 30:22-24), but the eleventh son of his father’s four wives. You want to talk about the original blended family; this is even more complex; this was polygamy. One father (Jacob whose is also called Israel) and four competing wives (Leah and her handmaiden Zilpah; Rachel and her handmaiden Bilhah) who mothered twelve sons (Reuben, Simeon, Levi, Judah, Dan, Naphtali, Gad, Asher, Isaachar, Zebulun, Joseph, Benjamin) and one beautiful daughter named Dinah.
When Joseph was young child, Jacob fled from Laban (Joseph’s maternal grandfather who wanted to either rob or kill Joseph’s dad) and encountered his twin brother Esau (who also had threatened to kill Joseph’s dad the last time he saw him). This was also the time when Jacob had an all-night wrestling match with God and had his name changed to Israel. Joseph’s childhood was during a time of great transition and turmoil in his father’s life (Genesis 30:25—33:22).
Then, as a young preteen, Joseph would remember his sister Dinah being tragically raped, followed by two of his older brothers (Simeon and Levi) exacting a horrible revenge on not only the man who did this, but they “killed all the males” and “plundered the city” where that man had lived and whose people had hidden him from the family (Genesis 34:25, 27).
Because of this, Jacob’s family relocated to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-15) and shortly afterwards, Joseph’ mother died giving birth to the 12th son and Joseph’s only full brother, Benjamin (Genesis 34:16-21). Then, to complicate matters more, Joseph’s oldest brother Reuben slept with his mother’s handmaiden Zilpah, and everyone heard about it (Genesis 35:26).
Why do I share all this about Joseph’s early years? Because we need to learn a big lesson: There is no perfect family; there is no perfect childhood; there are no perfect families! Even the patriarchs of our faith were all messed up and so were their families.
We don’t need perfect people or perfect families in the church (there will never be any!). What we need is a whole lot of love and grace for one another as we imperfectly live with one another trying to tell a better story of God’s work in our lives. We are never going to be it so stop trying to act like it or expect others to meet impossible standards. The Bible is filled with flawed people and flawed families on purpose; so that we realize it is God’s grace moving through faith that matters; not our perfection or performance.
You don’t have to be perfect to be in God’s family. You don’t have to have it all together to join God’s family, or our family at FBC. We are all diamonds in the rough, being made into something new. It may be obvious with some and less obvious with others, but trust us, we are all under construction. Maybe you are here today just for this reason.
Do you need permission to get off the treadmill of performance or to give up the anxiety of imperfection? Grace is the answer, for you and your family, for us and our church, for our community! God is for you… The problem is not God; it is the pressure we put on one another and the expectations we put on ourselves.
And now, coming out of that broken backdrop we enter the next chapters of Joseph’s story of transformation: in the crucible of character formation started in the legacy event of Genesis 37.
Remember those brothers, the ones that destroyed a whole village to revenge the rape of their sister, well they were brutally jealous of their father’s rampant and unchecked favoritism to Joseph.
The story picks up when Joseph was a 17-year-old spoiled brat, his father’s favored child to his favored and deceased wife. But that all changed in a blink of an eye. Insanely jealous, the older brothers plotted to kill Joseph; to throw him into a pit to be left for dead, but at the last minute they sold him into slavery for a little cash to a providentially passing caravan of Ishmaelites headed to Egypt (Genesis 37:1-35). As the brothers go back and lie to their father about their little braggart of a brother, Joseph is sold “in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36).
Joseph’s life is forever changed in what is called a “legacy event.” In that one decision of his older brothers, Joseph becomes a powerless victim of vicious circumstances! But, it is what happens next that has caused his story to be told for nearly 4,000 years. Joseph’s legacy was shaped not by the horror of his brothers’ bad choices, but by his own choice of how he would respond. When life throws you harsh circumstances, what do you do?
What can you see in the darkness of night that you can’t see in the light of day?
What can you find within yourself when your circumstances are hard that you can’t discover when life is going your way?
Every one, every single one of us, has a choice in life: you either become bitter or you get better! Your choice… bitter or better, there is no middle ground!
Your circumstances don’t shape you. Your decisions in your circumstances do…