If you are just joining us, welcome! This is Part II of a series on the life of Joseph, especially the “in-between years”… the time between the dream and the destiny. I am also sharing my own story as it so closely parallels Joseph’s. He was betrayed, cut off from family, wrongly accused, and suffered hardship for years at a time, yet God’s favor was upon him. You can read Part 1 HERE.
Miriam-Webster defines betrayal as: 1) to deliver to an enemy 2) to fail or desert especially in time of need 3) to deceive
I believe betrayal is one of the enemy’s most lethal weapons, second only to fear. Because we’re not looking for it or expecting it, breach of trust (or even the perception of it) can do more than send us reeling, trip us up, or knock the wind out of our sails. It can throw us into a spiritual tailspin, taking years to recover.
At seventeen, Joseph was far from “ruler” material. He was spoiled, prideful, relied heavily on his father’s approval and was an aimless wanderer. One day, Jacob gave him the task of checking up on his brothers and the flock and reporting back. Yet he was seen by a stranger in a field more than 20 miles from where his brothers were working and needed directions in order to find them.
Sometimes, God is the only one who sees our potential.
When reading this portion of scripture, keep Joseph’s dream in mind. By the time he was thirty, he would be a ruler, one who watched over and was responsible for millions of people. He would become a successful leader; focused, organized, and more importantly, a servant.
God grants us success for service, not status.
Joseph’s brothers had committed murder before (Gen.34:26-27), but I’m sure he never imagined that they would hate him to the point where they would actually devise a plan to kill him. After all, they were family ~ all but one were Joseph’s half-brothers, but none-the-less family. They ate together, worked together, traveled and lived together as Jacob’s (Israel’s) kin. Surely sharing one parent’s DNA was enough to ward off that kind of evil? Except it wasn’t.
When his brothers saw Joseph coming toward them from a distance, they conspired to kill him, cast him into a pit and lie to their father, telling him that Joseph had been attacked and killed by a wild animal.
After putting up with years of frustration, why do you think the brothers chose this day to kill Joseph? Why now? What was the final straw for them? I believe it was the dream. The brothers were already divided by favoritism, but Joseph’s dream was an “in your face” separation that threatened their place within the family.
We don’t know which one of the brothers verbalized it first, but we know that all but Rueben (who was the eldest) chimed in, revealing what was in their hearts.
“A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart, his mouth speaks.” Luke 6:45
Although Rueben can be credited with saving his brother’s life, he is still guilty of compromise by suggesting they don’t actually kill him, but just throw him into a pit. The brothers agree to the new “plan”. They attack Joseph, strip him of his coat, then throw him into a dry cistern. Cisterns were most commonly used to store water, lined on the bottom floor with rocks, and were anywhere from 10-40 feet deep. There would have been no way for Joseph to get out of it by himself. The callousness amongst the brothers is never more evident than when they sit down to eat after leaving Joseph to die, as if nothing had happened.
It would seem that God wasn’t watching. Like He was out to lunch, or otherwise previously engaged. It looked like the enemy had the upper hand and that evil would prevail over God’s plan for Joseph’s life. When grievous things “happen” to us or those we love, the Father of Lies is never more active, whispering in our ear the lie that it is God who has betrayed us by being silent, or by not intervening when circumstances or people bring us harm. And we are never more vulnerable to those lies than when we find ourselves in the bottom of a pit.
My foster parents told me I could choose whether or not to go to the family reunion where my natural mother would be in attendance . When I decided to go, instead of telling me they weren’t in favor of it, they showed subtle nuances of their disapproval in their behavior. I hoped that my parents would understand that besides seeing my brother again, meeting my natural mother was important to me. It had been a dream of mine ever since I could remember. Like Joseph, I had no idea how much that dream would separate us in the weeks to come.
One day prior to leaving on my trip, my foster sister approached me and expressed to me that Mom and Dad didn’t think I would return home after the reunion.
“What in the world would make them think that?” I asked, taken aback.
“I don’t know,” she replied tensely, “but they do.”
There had been a couple of instances over the years where I had been expected to “prove my allegiance” to them, and I wondered if whether or not I went to the reunion was another test of my loyalty. Because I adored my parents and because they were better to me than any adults I’d ever lived with, I didn’t question what I now know was an unhealthy and dysfunctional parenting “technique”. At the time, I believed I was responsible for how they felt, so I was all too happy to “prove” my love for them by coming back. Besides, in the back of my mind, their fears were completely unfounded.
Hearing their apprehension from my sister surprised me because their behavior seemed so different than when they had taken me in. I was a really broken and messed up 14 year old who had been abused my entire life when they confidently offered to become my forever family. I was sure I’d ruin their family, but they assured me I’d fit right in. We endured some rough patches (as do all families), but within a couple of years, there was talk of adopting me. Over time, I learned to trust them ~ something no other adult had ever earned from me.
So when I returned from the family reunion, I was sure that the fears of my parents would be allayed and things would return to “normal”. But they didn’t. Trusting that they would understand, I openly shared that my natural mother had suggested that I come out to where she lived after graduation and possibly check out the colleges there. My foster mom in particular, was stressed and became increasingly angry whenever I talked about the reunion. I tried to make it very clear that I had no intention of leaving my family. One afternoon, it became very evident that they didn’t believe me.
A couple of days before school was to resume from Christmas break, I was in my room and heard one of my siblings call up to me. “ Mom and Dad want you to come down. They want to talk to you.” It sounded ominous and as I descended down the steps, I quickly tried to remember if I’d done anything that warranted a “talk” .
As I entered the family room, I knew immediately something was very wrong. All five family members were present and seated throughout the small room, but it was eerily quiet.
“Sit down,” my dad said firmly, pointing to the empty couch.
I crossed the room and obediently sat down. My heart began to race. I couldn’t imagine what this was all about.
My dad looked at me, his steel blue eyes narrowing. He took a long puff on his cigarette before speaking, elongating the suspense that hung in the room like a thick, suffocating blanket.
“I understand you’re not happy living here anymore,” he said, more as a statement than a question.
I was stunned. “What? Of course I am!” I said defensively. “Why would you say that I’m not happy here?”
“Well, all you’ve done since you’ve been home is talk about going to live with your “mom” in California.” It was a gross over-statement. In fact, I had been extra careful not to refer to her as “my mom”, but by her first name, in deference to my foster mom, whom I really did consider my mom in every sense of the word. I realized at that moment that they really hadn’t understood my innate desire to get to know her and that I wasn’t even considering a visit until after graduation. They had misinterpreted and twisted everything I’d said into an indictment against them.
I began to feel light-headed and suddenly became aware that I was so over-wrought that I had been holding my breath. I was scrambling to formulate words of apology in my mind that might somehow undo the harm I had obviously, inadvertently caused them. But I couldn’t think clearly. Just as I opened my mouth to reply, my dad went on.
“I hear that you’ve been spreading rumors about us in school,” he continued.
I could hear the pain in his voice, but I shook my head in disbelief. “No! I haven’t! I would never do that! Who told you that?” I asked imploringly. I wanted to point out to him that there couldn’t possibly be any “rumors” because school wasn’t even back in session. I wanted to tell him that this was all some kind of terrible misunderstanding. But I didn’t. My mouth had become like cotton and I felt helplessly swept up in the rapidly deteriorating situation.
My foster sister spoke up, trying to come to my aid, but completely against his character, Dad pointed his finger at her, then said firmly, “You, be quiet.” I could see the frustration in her face of not being able to defend what she thought was an unfair accusation.
My eldest foster brother let out a “hmmph” of disapproval. He glared at me over the top of his glasses the way he always did when he was disgusted with me. He was the one sibling who had never been on board with adding a new member to the family, so I wasn’t surprised when he proceeded to let me know in no uncertain terms how I had betrayed and shamed his family. But it hurt just the same because every allegation was a lie. My foster mother, usually the most verbal member of the family, said absolutely nothing.
Incredibly, my dad wasn’t finished.
“Well, since you’re so unhappy here, maybe you should find another place to live.”
I sat in stunned silence as the room began to close in around me, the periphery turning black. I tried desperately to make sense of what was being said and why, but my brain wouldn’t cooperate. I could feel the blood draining from my face as my upper body started to shake violently.
“We’ve done everything we know to do to make you happy here, and help you to fit in, but obviously, it wasn’t enough. I guess you never were a part of this family after all.”
And with that, he stood up and walked out of the room.
I had been thrown into a pit and I had no idea how I was ever going to get out of it.