“We saw how distressed he [Joseph] was when he cried to us for mercy…” Genesis xlii.21
The height of human cruelty! Ten men who lacked even the faintest touch of human kindness hated one of their youngest brothers to such a degree that they could not endure the very sight of him. They were sons of a father but of different mothers. Yet, sibling rivalry got the better of them. They ganged up against the young lad, Joseph, when he came a long way from home to enquire about their welfare. Little did he know that his older brothers were bloodthirsty wolves. They plotted to kill Joseph when they saw him walking towards them. Due to God’s providential intervention, the oldest among them convinced his brothers to desist from bloodshed. So they tied up Joseph and threw him into an empty well. And they sat down to eat a meal! How could they?
Yes, how could they have a meal in peace while their younger brother kept crying out for mercy? They felt compelled to get rid of the nuisance. Of course, they came up with humane excuses to justify their decision to sell him off instead of killing him — “after all, he is our brother, our own flesh.” They sold him for twenty pieces of silver to traders on their way to Egypt. Indeed, the kindness of these brothers was crueler than the cruelest deeds of others.
How could any good come of out of these acts of crime? A boy who hardly got to know his mother’s love became a victim of jealousy and sibling rivalry, of human trafficking and slave trade. He was plucked from the comforts of his father’s household and thrown into the lowest strata of a cosmopolitan city. A bruised orphan, handsome as he was, was on a slave trader’s block, up for sale to the highest bidder. If we were to go through half of what Joseph endured, we would cry out in protest, “God, where are you? Do you even care about me?”
We should note that, as Joseph went through this torturous route to Egypt, God was in complete control of his life. God was working out His plan to keep Jacob’s family alive. God can achieve His purposes even through the darkest deeds of wicked people. Jacob’s cruel sons never knew that they were sending Joseph off to Egypt as a forerunner who would keep them alive during famine. In no way do we condone torture, illegal confinement, human trafficking or slave trade. Even as we fight against these evils, let us be assured that God is on His throne. He is capable of turning the tables on the wicked so that they are brought to the book just as Joseph’s brothers were made to confront their sin.
Many centuries later, a psalmist wrote thus, in Psalm cv.16-17,
And He called for a famine upon the land; He broke the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, Joseph, who was sold as a slave.
This matter-of-fact reporting – He sent a man before them – does not mention anything about the travails Joseph went through. This should put our day-to-day struggles and suffering in perspective. God sees the big picture. In His scheme of things, on a canvas as big as the universe, our lives are nothing more than a stroke of His brush. This is not to say that our lives aren’t significant. We play a significant part in God’s design. But our significance should be seen in the light of the greater things God is doing in history. This will not only give us a sober judgment about our importance but will also help us see how momentary and fleeting our sorrows and troubles are.