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In good times and in bad

What Joseph's life can teach us about Thanksgiving

Issue: "Obama," Nov. 15, 2008

Joseph is Daddy's favorite. Daddy has given him a multicolored tunic, and God has given him a dream. The future looks rosy. Let us thank the Lord for His amazing gift!

Not so fast. The multicolored coat makes the brothers see red. They have stripped Rachel's son of his tunic, thrown him in a pit, and are cold-bloodedly eating their boxed lunch near the hole. After dessert they will kill him and be done with his dreams. Take back that thanksgiving prayer; nothing to be thankful for here.

But wait. In the nick of time, big brother Judah (whether from compassion or cold feet) pitches an alternative plan: Sell Joseph's prideful hide to the company of Ishmaelite traders that, coincidentally, is trundling down the king's highway from Gilead to Egypt. The day is saved! Praise God for His impeccable timing! Thanksgiving is in order.

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But "his feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron" (Psalm 105:18). Joseph's heart hurts worse than his feet. How has he been so dense? Now he will never see Dad again, and little Ben. And the dream is over. "To speak plainly, . . . your wallet's empty, your eggs addled, your fish uncaught, your promises broken" (C.S. Lewis, Prince Caspian). Thanksgiving for what?

It so happens, though, that Joseph has been bought by a certain Potiphar, a high muck-a-muck in Pharaoh's entourage. A new gift (besides bragging about better sheaths) begins to emerge, and the Jewish kid is eventually in charge of everything in the estate. He sees important people coming and going and is a quick study in politics. "The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man." Let us recommence to thank God, who sees around corners, and who is already waiting there for us.

Whoa, what is this? Potiphar has not been minding the store or his honeycakes. And she is now minding Joseph. What a revolting development, just when things were finally looking up. Joseph does the right thing, and what does he get for it? Thrown into the hole again. I thought you said a few verses back that "the Lord was with Joseph"? Now I say, "It is vain to serve God. What is the profit of our keeping His charge?" (Malachi 3:14). Joseph is in prison, and that's bad.

No, that's good. Because God, undaunted by bars and walls and concertina wire, is present everywhere men lift up holy hands to seek Him. "Where shall I go from Your Spirit? . . . If I make my bed in Sheol, You are there" (Psalm 139:7-8). It's the king's prison, besides. So maybe something interesting will come of this (if I am starting to learn anything from this topsy-turvy tale). Lo and behold, God has given our boy favor with the COs and other inmates. Before long, he's practically running the joint. Let us thank the Lord for His wisdom and unfailing love.

The perfect scenario has arisen to spring Joseph from this bit. He has interpreted a dream for the king's baker, and the grateful cookie-maker promises to put in a good word for Joseph. But you know how it is when you're back on the outside. The baker forgets for "two whole years" (Genesis 41:1). Joseph does not collect his get-out-of-jail-free card. What shall we call this-betrayal No. 3? Disappointment No. 33? Call this "count me out of thanksgiving dinner."

But the king has had a nightmare (wouldn't you know). The baker is saying "oops." And Joseph is the only man in town who can give old Pharaoh the skinny on skinny cows. Things are looking up. The reason it has taken all this time is because, while you thought Joe was suffering to no purpose, "the word of the Lord tested him" (Psalm 105:19) and was developing his character.

Who knows where all this will lead? It's so messy in the middle. But a pattern begins to emerge, and it is getting to the point that I am embarrassed to be thanking God only when appearances are auspicious. The bad things in my life keep turning for my good. May as well be pro-active and thank God for everything, good and bad. Set me a place at the table this year. Bring on the pumpkin pie.

If you have a question or comment for Andrée Seu, send it to

Andrée Seu
Andrée Seu

Andrée is the author of three books: Won't Let You Go Unless You Bless Me, Normal Kingdom Business, and We Shall Have Spring Again.


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