December 19, 2007
I woke up this morning with three heroes on my mind – thinking about cities – and how we are going to overcome the overwhelming problems most of our cities are facing today. No these heroes will not be found on NBC’s hit show “Heroes”. Each of them lived thousands of years ago in cities and nations that faced all kinds of enemies within and without. Their names are: Joseph, Esther and Daniel. And while they were all Jewish, none of them served and made their amazing contributions to society in Jewish communities. In fact they lived and served in cities and empires where the Jewish God and faith were not known or respected.
Joseph was the youngest of 12 brothers, and was known and despised by his brothers as a dreamer. Not the kind of dreamer that day dreamed in class while the teacher was instructing. But Joseph received dreams from God, and later on was able to interpret dreams from God that others received. He landed in Egypt at an early age because his older brothers out of envy and spite sold him to a group of Midianite traders, who later sold him to Potiphar – Pharoah’s officer and the captain of the bodyguard. Joseph was not only ripped away from his family, but also after a time of faithful service, falsely accused of attempted rape of Pharoah’s officer’s wife, and unjustly imprisoned for two years. His divine ability to interpret dreams (a gift that I believe is still given and needed today) eventually was his ticket to get out of prison since no one else could interpret the dream God gave to Pharoah but Joseph. In the dream God communicated that seven good fruitful years were coming, but after that seven years of famine. It was a warning dream sent by a merciful God of the need to prepare for the coming hard times. Joseph by this time was marked by his wisdom and discernment. Pharoah saw it and promoted him to be his right hand man – next in command only to him. Joseph then led Egypt – a pagan nation- to prepare for this seven year famine. And because of his favor with Pharoah, he was able to eventually bring his family there so they (and their descendants) might be preserved through this famine as well.
In my last blog, I talked about how God, (who is infinite in wisdom by the way), invites cities to look to Him for that wisdom to solve the myriad problems they are facing. One of the ways He avails that wisdom to cities is through individuals like Joseph. I would submit today that one of the great needs of our cities is wise men and women. There is no challenge or obstacle or crisis that wisdom cannot help us overcome or get through. So what can we learn from Joseph’s example? Well let me suggest four things.
First, by the time Joseph was exalted to his position with Pharoah – he was a humble man. Prov. 11:12 says, “When pride comes, then comes dishonor, but with the humble is wisdom.” Joseph had a pride problem in the beginning with his brothers that led to their ridding themselves of him. But by the time he had been thrown in a pit by them, sold as a slave by them, and unjustly been thrown in prison by the Egyptians, he had a much more humble view of himself. Life was no longer about him. He realized now that the gifts he had were just that – gifts (e.g. receiving and interpreting dreams from God).
Second, Joseph was a forgiving man. Here is a man who had been thrown in a pit and sold to Midianite (non Jewish) slave traders by his own brothers. Then he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife of attempting to rape her. Then he was unjustly thrown in prison because of that. And while in prison, he helped two fellow prisoners understand their dreams and destiny, who once out of prison failed to keep their commitment to speak a good word of him to Pharoah. Prov. 9:10 says “the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” Part of fearing the Lord is obeying what he says. And one of the things he is adamant about is that we forgive every one of every offense against us. One cannot effectively lead in today’s society who hasn’t learned to forgive. It is almost a daily necessity for those who work with people.
Third, Joseph was a focused and disciplined man. He knew that if he pursued wisdom he would be able to walk in it. But if he was sloppy and gave into his passions and the pleasures of the world, he would possibly lose everything precious to him. We are told in the account of his life and service in Egypt in the book of Genesis (39:1-18) that he had free access and reign over Potiphar’s house. Potiphar’s wife quickly began to lust after him and entice him, and this went on for quite some time. Because Joseph had developed a lifestyle of pursuing wisdom and seeking God’s favor and blessing, he had the inner strength to resist her advances. Prov. 7:4,5 says, “Say to wisdom, You are my sister,” And call understanding your intimate friend; That they may keep you from an adulteress, from the foreigner who flatters with her words.” How many public servants (and priests and pastors) initially brought a great gift to their cities, but then lost it all because they could not control their passions. Cities need men and women who can stay focused on the task at hand, and not be side-railed because their passions are out of control.
Fourth, Joseph though a young man, had the favor and blessing of God on him. (see Gen. 39:2 & 23). We often tend to think that wisdom lies only in older men or women. But Job 32:9 says, “the abundant in years may not be wise, Nor may elders understand justice.” Age should be an advantage in our service in our cities, but it is not necessarily so. A young man (or woman) with the favor and blessing of God on him because of the qualities mentioned above is of far more value to a city or a leadership team, than a man or woman with years under their belt, but little to no wisdom.
Parents, school teachers and administrators, therapists, coaches, priests and pastors – – if we are going to overcome the daunting challenges our cities are facing, we are going to have to devote more of our energies to developing this kind of character in our young people, and when they step forward we need to get out of the way and let them lead. I don’t know about your city, but mine is in dire need of some heroes right now like Joseph.