Joseph, Son of Jacob: Vindicated or Justified
"Civil law is one thing, which varies everywhere according to customs. However, justice is another thing—which God has set forth uniformly and simply to all" (Lactantius c. 304-313).
Constant, uninterrupted conflicts and upheavals can possibly affect people's mental and physical health. The impact of dissensions might lead to emotionally serious outcomes and violent consequences upon the individuals concerned. In the case of the teenager Joseph, the conflicts were unidirectional and of potential grave consequences. Joseph's older brothers could have rendered the younger, weaker brother to humiliated incapacitation, made his life one of constant anxiety and embitterment, or violently led to bloodshed.
"Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father had sojourned, in the land of Canaan. This is the genealogy of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was shepherding the sheep with his brothers. Now the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father's wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his sons, because he was the son of his old age. He also made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak civilly to him" (Genesis 37:1-4, OSB).
Joseph, Rachel's son and Jacob's eleventh offspring, was loved by Jacob more than his many older brothers "because he was the son of his old age". Although we have no detailed explanation of this biblical verse, we do have several Holy Bible passages that address the sons of Jacob's younger age. We know Joseph's older brothers repaid evil for evil. Without consulting their father's learned wisdom, they retaliated disproportionately to the crime committed against their sister Dinah. In fact, recklessly and ruthlessly, they incurred fear of death upon their father and his entire house through their actions. Jacob, caught unaware of his sons' life endangering actions, had to flee from Canaan and move to Bethel.
Dinah, Jacob's daughter by Leah, was violated by a ruler, Shechem, in the land of Canaan in his younger age. The ruler asked for Jacob's forgiveness and Dinah's hand in marriage which was conditionally granted. The brothers, Simeon and Levi, called for the ruler and his men to be circumcised prior to Shechem's marriage to their sister. The ruler willingly complied with the physically altering and painful stipulation.
"Now it came to pass on the third day, when they were in pain, two sons of Jacob, Simeon and Levi, Dinah's brothers, each took his sword and came boldly upon the city and killed all the males. They also killed Hamor and Shechem his son with the edge of the sword, and took Dinah from Shechem's house and went out. Then the sons of Jacob came upon the slain, and plundered the city in which Dinah their sister had been defiled. They took their sheep, their oxen, and their donkeys, what was in the city and what was in the field; and took captive all their wives, their children, and their servants and plundered whatever was in the city and in the houses. Then Jacob said to Simeon and Levi, ‘You made me an object of hatred, so as to be evil to all the inhabitants of the land, both among the Canaanites and the Perizzites; and since I am few in number, they will gather themselves together against me and kill me. I shall be destroyed, my household and I.'" (Genesis 34:25-30, OSB).
It is important to notice that Simeon, Jacob's eldest son, was the one leading the preconceived vindication of Dinah which ultimately incited a massacre in the city. Not only did he murder Shechem, but all the males as well. The murderous plot the brothers had executed was weakened through a covenant with God, a covenant they could neither comprehend nor justify. Thus the brothers mandated a marriage condition to their sister. Then the eldest led the other brothers to steal everything in the city including women and children who could not protect themselves. Recklessly, Simeon could have caused the annihilation of his father's genealogy.
The brothers repaid evil for evil. Their sins were fateful against their father, did not adhere to their faith, nor was it recorded that they repented to obtain forgiveness by "God the true God." We are not told of any altars they built from the example of their father before them. Joseph's brothers were blinded by their hatred and love of possessions.
In addition, most scholars believe that the sons of Bilhah (Dan and Naphtali) and Zilpah (Gad and Asher) were not absolute believers of the True God as the four brothers were not taught the faith of their father by their mothers who were not of Jewish descent.
It seems that none of Joseph's brothers could understand God's teachings nor demonstrate them. They intentionally and unremorsefully brought fear and shame upon the household of Jacob.
While one can theorize that Joseph's older brothers were impulsive, with an urge to dominate over the weakness of others, constantly focusing on the perceived differences of "Joseph and them". They were probably more prone to tantalize Joseph in the fields or the "workplace" rather than in the presence their father. Perhaps the sons' mothers encouraged this demeanor as a birthright because inheritance were paramount in the Old Testament days.
While on the surface of mere facts, it appears that the plot to murder Joseph but redirected to sell him to merchants was because of Jacob's great love of the first born of his chosen wife Rachel and Joseph's dreams and coat portraying the brothers without reserve.
It must also be taken into account that after Joseph's older brothers had sold him to merchants travelling to Egypt. Firstly, they made a profit out of him. Secondly, they recklessly and disrespectfully concocted a lie to tell to their father regarding their missing brother. Thirdly, they ate after they had sold their younger helpless brother, displaying no regret or remorse in their actions.
Joseph enslaved at the hands of those whose bloodline he was carrying would in time be falsely accused of fornication with Potiphar's wife. In time destined to die in prison, he put his life in the hands of the Lord and prospered where ever his fate took him. Ultimately he would interpret the dreams of the pharaoh and save a vast country from famine. Joseph would become a ruler in the land of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh.
Yes, Jacob's partial love for his son Joseph provided the ultimate division of his vicarious family. Was it Joseph's willingness to follow his father's faith that caused Jacob to love Joseph more? Or, was it Jacob's conviction of Joseph's candidness regardless of kinship, his simplicity related to his brother's jealousy, or his affinity for counting and record keeping that endeared Joseph to his father?
Jacob was not perfected but Joseph honored his father greatly by honoring God while the other sons did not. Jacob placed his faith in the Lord and so did Joseph. Allowing the Lord to rule their lives lead to the ultimate restoration of a guilt ridden family forlorn with overwhelming burden of sinfulness.
As a leader and continually successful where ever his life events placed him, his goodness and wisdom found Joseph favor with God and men. One cannot doubt a father's pride in such a son. One cannot question the need for these scruples among a group of unrestrained brothers. Whether the younger or the elder, Joseph's spiritual strength maneuvered successfully throughout his life and among those whom he encountered. It was to assure the continuance of a bloodline of twelve tribes from which we all are derived.
Joseph would eventually restore his brothers and reunite with his father through the God-given goodness within him. We can be assured that Joseph gave all the glory of the reunited family to God. St. Paul would much later teach...
"By the grace of God, I am what I am..." (I Corinthians 15:10).
Through the example of Joseph, the son of Jacob, we are taught endurance in times of conflict and controversy. We learn vindication is for God only and justification is the end result from following His teachings. When we think that justification is not achievable, we are giving way to evil and disbelief in the authority and the power of God. Joseph feared God.
"The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom, and there is good understanding in all who practice it" (Proverbs 1:7, OSB).
Joseph's love of God and faith from his father allowed him to continue in love towards his brothers and to forgive their bullying and abuse. It ultimately led to a reunited family in faith, worship, and love of God.
Jacob loved all his sons, we are not told the contrary and Joseph loved his brothers. God was gracious to them and their pervading love would in time permeate the brothers instilling a guilty consciousness related to their wrong doing. Brought about by the goodness of a father and a younger brother, the ten older brothers would come to imitate it.
Through placing his fate in God's hands, Joseph rose up against the injustices of his life and was an inspiration in the lives of his brothers, older and worldlier than he. Joseph served his father well. Joseph served Potiphar well. Joseph served the Pharaoh well. Despite the jealousies, the untruths, and the wicked deeds, Joseph continued to persevere it all by doing the will of God.
Just as Joseph arose above the tumults and travails of his life; let us all pray to our Lord Jesus Christ who overcame all injustices for man's salvation, that we may learn to place all strife in the Almighty Hands of our Father in Heaven and rely on His Wisdom. Joseph was the victim of his brothers. It is not written in the Holy Book of Genesis that Joseph harmfully provoked his brothers, cursed them, or incited his father against them. Joseph did not retaliate against his brothers when it was in his power to do so.
Vindication is the Lord's. God has historically provided what is just and right in His own time. He will do so today and tomorrow.
"Christians are not allowed to use violence to correct the delinquencies of sin and wrong doing. For God crowns those who abstain from wickedness by choice, not those who abstain by compulsion" (St. Clement of Alexandria, c.195).
May we all pray to God for His peaceful, just and right actions and His abundant goodness to abide in us, our families, our churches, and our communities. May we all follow the example of the justified Joseph and the good will of the eleventh younger son of Jacob.
Bishop, Coptic Orthodox Diocese of the Southern United States