Joseph was outnumbered eleven to one. Their plan was formulated the moment they spotted his solitary figure on the horizon. “Here comes that dreamer . . . let’s kill him” (Genesis 37:19). Rueben used his influence to spare his younger brother’s life. The cistern was substituted for homicide.
It doesn’t take much for our imaginations to supply detail to the biblical narrative. We can sense Joseph’s fear when they sieze him, the shock, the resistance, the violence, the curses. It didn’t take eleven men long to subdue their younger brother.
And the first thing they did was take the coat.
Here we have one of the earliest known instances of identity theft. The coat distinguished Joseph as the favored one. The coat gave him rank among his brothers. The coat spoke to the special nature of his relationship with their father. The coat told Joseph who he was.
“They stripped him of his robe.”
And though we cannot see it yet, something very significant begins to take place. What seems to us like abuse of Joseph and the subsequent deception of Jacob is much more than that. Transformation is beginning. Stripped of the robe, the boy we dislike begins to fade to the background and the man we will admire begins to emerge.
When we are stripped of all the external props that give us our identity, the person we were truly made to be is all we have left. And that’s the person God seems to use to best to impact the world.
Far too easily and often we allow external things to define us. We all wear a robe of some kind that tells us and others who we are. But like Joseph’s bright garment, these robes can be stripped, taken away as easily as they were given.
We get our identity from a job or career. But a job can be lost, eliminated. We get our identity from a marriage or relationship that proves fragile. We get our identity from the things we own, from the clothes on our back to the expansive and expensive architectural tiles over our heads.
And when these things are taken from us, what we have is simply the person that God created and loves. To our surprise, this is the person that God wants to use.
Something may be happening in your life that makes you feel like you’re being robbed and cheated, stripped of something that’s rightly yours. Maybe God is chiseling away all the layers of falsehood, the illusory self, to get to the real you. God is preparing you for something he wants to do through you.
How have you been stripped of the external props that define your life?
O Lord, you give and take away. We will bless your name in all things. Help us to know who we are in you – not by what we own or what we do to earn our paychecks. Do what you must to dismantle the false self, then use us as you see fit, we pray. Amen.