Wednesday, December 10, 2014
Insight comes at a price
A grim start for a great man of God – Joseph is sold by his brothers into slavery, but he is careful to stay right with God and receives extraordinary favour in the ups and downs of life at Pharaoh’s beck and call.
The story of Joseph is well-known and it is a rags-to-riches favourite. At 17 years old he was sold into slavery by his jealous brothers and taken off to Egypt, where he survived accusation and imprisonment, and rose to become Pharaoh’s chief minister.
Later he was reunited with his brothers who, made desperate by failed harvests and famine, came to Egypt to beg necessities. Reconciliation is grand theme of the Bible; so is grace, where we see people treated (ultimately by God) better than they could possibly deserve.
Joseph, as we know, heard God and received guidance especially through dreams and similar insights. So, you may think, that made him special. In reality it made him a target, and it made his brothers furious – although we can see that the 17-year-old had plenty of attitude when he started out, so he probably brought some of it on himself.
Hearing from God is never a badge of superiority. It doesn’t prove that we are righteous, or even right. To say “The Lord told me” or “The Lord led me” comes across as pretty arrogant even if it turns out to be true. This kind of prophetic gift is difficult to handle well, and requires a lot of humility, and willingness to just be wrong. Even so, it will result in being misunderstood and a target for the resentments of others.
So was Joseph a one-off, a remarkably gifted and also resilient character, and therefore not someone we easily relate to? Many of us also have dreams, or just insights – colloquially we sometimes call them pictures. An impression of something flashes across your mind, and you are tempted to dismiss it. Noah was “ready for action” and Abram was a worshipper of God and a listener. Joseph was a dreamer, and an interpreter of dreams, and he grew up quickly to hold this all very lightly.
However, this kind of prophetic insight is one of the ways that God speaks and leads, particularly if you are a visual and imaginative kind of person. So how do you check it out? That’s where a bit of knowledge of the Bible helps. God will never guide or speak against Himself.
Having that kind of prophetic gift seems like such a great thing – but it comes at a cost. Eventually, Pharaoh recognised God’s wisdom working through Joseph and gave him favour. But it was a rocky road for Joseph at first – being thrown in a well, sold by your own kith and kin and framed for a crime he had been careful not to commit with Potiphar’s wife.
The bottom line is this: we hear from God more than we think, and there’s more guidance available to us than we know. When we’re proud, we routinely miss most or all of it, but when we are humble, like Joseph, we may just get it – if we’re not too quick to “be right”.