Betrayed. Stabbed in the back. Sold out by the ones who were supposed to protect us. Used. Maybe those words conjure up personal feelings and images from your life. I think we all experience forms of betrayal. In those moments though, it’s easy to feel like we’re the only ones. However, Joseph knew these concepts in a way that I can’t begin to understand. (In case you missed my last couple posts, he was sold into slavery by his older brothers.) I can’t imagine the sense of loss that he felt. He was just a teenage boy, and probably had no idea that their feelings ran so deep. As he walked to Egypt, tied to the caravan, he must have felt the weight upon his shoulders. He had no way to contact his father, no ability to fight for himself, and most likely, no hope of freedom.
Joseph didn’t do anything to cause his circumstances. Well, maybe he was a little cocky or arrogant. The Bible doesn’t say, but I can only imagine that a teenage boy, who knew he was the favorite, wasn’t humble or gracious with his older brothers. We read in Genesis 37 that his father often sent him out to check up on his brothers, and, as usual, he brought back a bad report. He was a tattle-tail. I think we can imagine how well that went. I can picture them sitting around the dinner table, the brothers are happy to be home and ready to enjoy a delicious meal. They are tired and hungry. Sleeping under the stars with the sheep isn’t glamorous or comfortable, and cooking over an open fire doesn’t offer much variety day in and day out.
Jacob (Joseph’s father) looks around at the boys, who are waiting for an encouraging word from their dad. Every child (no matter what age) wants to hear that they made their father proud. But instead of affirmations, discouragement follows. For the millionth time in a row. “Joseph, tell me, did your brothers do a good job tending the sheep this week?” Joseph remembers the way they treated him. He hasn’t forgotten their taunts and jabs. This is his moment to tell his father the truth. “No father, they slept all night without assigning anyone to watch the sheep. I know you’ve told them that it is dangerous and wrong, but they did it again.” The brothers’ faces turn bright red, Joseph embellished the story, and before they knew it, they were all in trouble. After dinner, their conversation, out of earshot of their father and Joseph went something like this: “Why can’t he love us just a fraction of the way he loves Joseph? It wouldn’t matter what we did, it still wouldn’t be good enough. Life would be so much easier without the tattle-tail. Our father would finally appreciate us, and we wouldn’t get in trouble because of the words of that little brat.”
When I read Joseph’s story, it’s easy to put myself in his shoes, to think about the times I’ve been betrayed. I don’t want to identify with the actions of the brothers. However, at that moment, when I’m thinking through ALL of it, I understand the circumstances a little better. I see their brokenness. It doesn’t justify their actions, but I see their pain. And that enables me to understand the brokenness in my world a little better too. It’s natural to want healing for myself and punishment for the ones who broke me, but it doesn’t make it right. While we are all accountable for our actions, we all need healing. As I allow the scene in Joseph’s home to settle in my heart, I feel compassion for the wounds inside his brothers’ hearts. This helps me to see those who have broken me differently. Yes, they are still accountable for their betrayal, and yes, they have forever destroyed the bonds of trust we once had, but they need healing too.