Do you ever read Scripture and wonder about all the things it leaves out? Maybe it’s a lifetime of familiarity with Bible stories, maybe it’s the storyteller part of me, but sometimes I wish the Bible was written in a more narrative style, with lots of description of emotions and facial expressions and tones of voice. I sometimes find my imagination running away with me, filling in the blanks between the simple words on the page.
I have noticed this especially as I transcribe the stories in the book of Genesis. How could Moses simply write down that Jacob woke up the day after his wedding and discovered Leah in his tent instead of Rachel? How could he not explain how that whole household managed to survive as Rachel and Leah engaged in power struggles, even to the point of bringing their own maids into the bed of their husband to bear children on their behalves? This is the stuff that fascinates me– the drama and the emotions and the relationships– and instead Moses goes and gives me a long list of names of the sons of Esau and their families and where they lived and who were their chiefs.
Clearly my ideas about what God’s Word should include are different than the ideas of the men who wrote it down, and yes, different from the ideas of the God who inspired it. I suppose that should not come as a surprise. My human brain, my love of drama and story and emotion and detail, my curiosity– all fall far short of the infinite wisdom and understanding of the God of the universe.
My mind was traveling these roads this morning as I read the stories of two different Josephs– Joseph the son of Israel, sold into slavery in the household of Potiphar, and Joseph the betrothed husband of Mary, discovering that his fiance was pregnant with someone else’s child.
Both Josephs were placed in extreme situations where their faith was tested. OT Joseph was sold into slavery by his own brothers because of their jealousy. He rose to power in his master’s house because God blessed him. And then Potiphar’s wife set her eyes on him, and day after day tempted him, until one day he found himself alone in Potiphar’s home with the would-be seductress. Joseph knew what was right. He had to know that this woman was not one to take rejection lightly. Even as he was fleeing from her, leaving his garment behind in her grasping hands, Joseph had to be wondering why God had allowed this to happen– why he had been placed in this impossible situation. When Potiphar believed his wife’s lies, and Joseph found himself thrown into prison, he had to wonder why he was being punished for his godly choice to do the right thing.
But the language in Genesis 39, where we find this story, is fascinating to me. In the early part of the chapter, it says that God blessed Potiphar because of Joseph. But once Joseph is in prison, the way God is relating to Joseph changes:
. . . He was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love . . .
God was with Joseph in prison. In what appears to be a new and different way than He had been with Joseph before. If Joseph asked why, God?– which surely he must have, being human– God answered. God’s best awaited Joseph, but he would not find it until he found himself abandoned and rejected again, locked in a prison cell.
Surely Joseph would have loved to know more of the story– just like I do every time I read my Bible. But God didn’t give him the whole story. God gave Joseph just what he needed to step forward, one step at a time in obedience.
The Joseph of the New Testament was also called upon to obey in a life-changing, too-big-to-really-comprehend decision. Mary was pregnant. She would have been called guilty of adultery, and Joseph had the right to see her stoned for it. I wish Matthew told us the emotions that Joseph experienced as he wrestled with the news that Mary was expecting, that she had apparently been unfaithful. I imagine that when the angel appeared to Joseph in his dreams, that Joseph wished for more of the story as well. The angel didn’t really go on for a long time with a lengthy explanation and a carefully detailed list of instructions for each day of the following years. The angel gave him three truths: Mary was pregnant by the Holy Spirit and she was going to have a Son who would save His people from their sins. And the angel gave him two commands: Do not fear to marry her, and name the boy Jesus.
Did you ever think of all the things the angel didn’t tell Joseph? I think I would have wanted a lot of answers to questions like, “Wait, what?” and “What am I going to tell my mother?” and “What about my reputation?” and “Hold on, you mean we’re going to have to travel to Bethlehem when she’s nine months pregnant?” and “What am I supposed to do if the king goes on a baby-murdering spree?” and “A MANGER?”
But Joseph apparently didn’t ask for those answers. He just obeyed. He opened his hands to the unsightly, awkward, life-changing, painful gift. He trusted God with the story and took the next step. And as a result, Joseph had a front-row seat to the childhood of the Savior of mankind.
Faith says “Your will be done,” and faith steps out and does the next thing in front of it. Faith doesn’t wait for the whole picture to be clear. Faith trusts a faithful God to have the answers when they are needed, to hold the future, to give enough light and enough grace for every new step.
And faith discovers, as Joseph did, that even in the depths of the king’s prison, God is present.
Let me trust when I can’t see
Your gift is the best for me;
Through hidden places, all is well–
I’m not alone. Emmanuel.