If you have played and finished a video game, you know the feeling… yes, THAT feeling. That glorious mixture of exhilaration, accomplishment, and relief that comes from finally setting the controller down and watching the final cinematics unfold. We came, we saw, and we conquered… and now it is time to enjoy the fruits of our labor and see how the narrative wraps up. Enemies have been vanquished, beloved characters say their final goodbyes, kingdoms are restored, and typically we have left that particular game world a little bit better than how we found it. Well… MOSTLY better. I DID smash a lot of boxes, barrels and crates… pretty much every single one I could find. So I guess somebody is going to need to clean up that mess. Also… there are a LOT of vehicles that I kind of, well… I abandoned them because they didn’t work anymore. You will be able to tell which ones they are… they are probably still on fire. Sorry about that. But other than THAT I left the world a better place. Oh, you are looking for the life savings you had hidden in the tall grass? Funny thing about that money… I… ummmm… I gotta be going now. You’re welcome!
As I watch all the names of those who created this adventure slowly crawl across the screen during the end credits, it dawns on me that this entire journey was scripted from start to finish to get me to this EXACT place… hundreds of people who I will never meet worked together to build this experience, all for me to reach THIS specific endgame. Now if I am being honest, I did not agree with all of the decisions they made during my gaming experience at the time I was playing it. Some of them I STILL don’t understand, even now that the game is over. But those seemingly disconnected elements that made very little sense out of context tend to make the entire story come together in ways I would not have anticipated… and that is what makes the ending of a video game such a powerful and poignant experience.
We all like a nice clean ending to the stories we play, watch, and read… there is a sense of satisfaction in seeing everything tied up with a bow at the end with all of our questions answered and each piece of the plot finally clicking together in a way that makes sense. But the path to get to that ending is often incredibly convoluted, and if we take any random vertical slice out of the adventure and attempt to judge it outside of the context of the greater story, there are times when it would have seemed completely impossible for us to get to the finale we received. And in the Bible, there are few stories that demonstrate this point as clearly and effectively as the story of Joseph, the eleventh son of Jacob.
Many of us have at least a moderate familiarity with the Hebrew boy who would one day become Pharaoh’s right hand man… but if we take random snapshots out of his life it would appear that his destiny had been completely misunderstood. I am going to ask you to put aside all of the things you already know about his life, especially the ending. Let’s take his journey in steps the same way he did… WITHOUT knowing how he would actually get to the endgame. Joseph’s story started out with a great deal of promise… he was the favorite son of his father, and he had received these MASSIVE dreams from God that seemed to imply a bright future awaiting him…
Genesis 37:3-9 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he 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 peaceably to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, “Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf.” And his brothers said to him, “Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?” So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
You may already know what comes next, so here is the quick synopsis… Joseph’s big dreams did NOT endear him to his brothers, who originally planned to kill him (Gen 37:20) before settling on the slightly gentler response of throwing him into a pit to die (Gen 37:22). That is going to be one AWKWARD Thanksgiving dinner conversation. But when opportunity struck in the form of a caravan of traders passing by, instead of leaving him in the pit to be eaten by wild animals or starve to death, they sold him as a slave. Stay classy, guys…
Genesis 37:28 Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brothers pulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.
I am pretty sure Joseph had been praying for a way out of this pit… but being pulled up and sold as a slave to a caravan heading for Egypt was probably NOT what he had been specifically praying for. He received the answer to his prayers, but in a DRAMATICALLY different format than he would have expected (or certainly preferred). Joseph’s journey to his destiny only got weirder from here… for a brief moment things started to look up when he was sold to a man named Potiphar who treated him well and made him a steward over his entire estate. But faster than you can say “PLOT TWIST”, drama found it’s way to Joseph yet AGAIN… this time in the form of a false accusation that landed Joseph in PRISON (Gen 39:1-20). This was a prison that Joseph did nothing to deserve, and most importantly one that he had no realistic means of escaping. However, the same Author who used some pretty creative storytelling to get Joseph out of the pit he was previously in was ALSO in charge of THIS part of the story…
Genesis 40:1-4 It came to pass after these things that the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief butler and the chief baker. So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them; so they were in custody for a while.
Joseph’s incarceration gave him the opportunity to cross paths with some fairly powerful people… people who had previously served under the Pharaoh himself. And while these individuals were currently on the outs with the leader of Egypt, this exposure would eventually be the key to not only freeing Joseph from his current predicament, but place him in a position to finally embrace the destiny he had been promised many years before. From privilege to pit to prison, each part of Joseph’s story looks like some bizarre side mission that has almost NOTHING to do with the main plotline. And these are NOT missions Joseph would have chosen to participate in if he had any say in the matter. I mean, think about it…
- This was NOT the caravan to Egypt that Joseph would have chosen to participate in. (Pretty sure he would have rather WALKED… uphill… the whole way)
- This was NOT the internship Joseph would have applied for. (VERY sure this wasn’t the career path he discussed with his guidance counselor in school)
- This was NOT the meeting Joseph would have tried to get an invitation to so he could shake hands and meet with some of Pharaoh’s most influential advisors. (DEFINITELY sure adding a prison record to his resume was low on his list of great places to make new connections)
Joseph would go on to be freed from prison, placed in a position of power and responsibility alongside Pharaoh, and he even ended up reconciling with his family… warm up the hot chocolate and cue the Hallmark Christmas movie ending here. But MOST importantly, these separate and bizarre stories ended up coming together in a way that placed Joseph in a position to fulfill his TRUE destiny… to preserve the line of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and insure that their descendants survived the calamitous famine that was coming. Joseph didn’t know that was his “endgame” at the time… he just had his little collection of dreams that he was carrying throughout all these crazy adventures. He probably wouldn’t have believed it if someone had told him. His ACTUAL mission was to protect the lineage that would eventually lead to the birth of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the world… he just took a very strange path to get there and had to grab on to some very surprising hands along the way.
The hands that the Lord uses to pull us out of the pits we find ourselves in are not typically the ones we would have anticipated. The people who He uses to set us on the path to our destiny may not always have the best of intentions, or at a minimum they may not have any awareness of the part they are playing in the larger story that is unfolding. If I was in charge of writing my own story, this is probably not how I would have written it… actually, not at ALL. I’m sure you may feel the same way about yours. And taken separately, many of the components of our stories don’t seem to make a whole lot of sense… but that is because we don’t truly know where this story is going, and we certainly don’t know how it is supposed to end. The Lord uses some very unexpected hands to pull us up out of the miry clay we find ourselves in (Psalm 40:2)… but He DOES choose those specific hands for a reason.
Maybe you feel stuck in a pit or trapped in your circumstances right now… and perhaps when taken in the present context of your life, the mission you are currently on seems to have NOTHING to do with the path you were promised or the dreams that you have been carrying. But just like all of these characters and events in our games are part of a much larger story that is being told, these challenges we are facing in our real lives are part of an exponentially greater story than we are aware of… a story that won’t fully make sense until the final credits roll. The Lord will use some surprising hands, bring us to some very strange places, and setup unexpected meetings to insure we are leaning fully on HIS strength and placing our trust in HIS wisdom at all times. Wherever we are, He has not forgotten us or the promises He has given us… and while the hands He uses to pull us out of our predicament may not be the ones we asked for or expected, they are the ONLY ones that will lead us to the next checkpoint and onwards towards our endgame. He has more than simply good intentions for you… He has a PLAN.
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