Monday, May 04, 2009

A Bought Man

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. Potiphar . . . bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him there (Genesis 39:1)

It’s a small detail, easily missed, but enormously important for understanding the kind of man Joseph was becoming. The words read like a throw-away introduction to a more important story. Indeed, more significant events will later unfold, but everything that comes later is made so much more interesting by a fact that we take for granted.

And here it is: Joseph was bought, not hired.

Give that just a few moments to settle into that place in your brain that manages to hold on to things for more than thirty seconds. It won’t take long to realize that the difference is huge. Bought, not hired.

Many of you know what’s like to be hired or to be hiring. Some of you used to hire but have stopped, and some of you can’t seem to get hired to save your life. Regardless, the entire hiring transaction is predicated on some kind of mutually acceptable agreement; you might even call it a relationship.

When you’re seeking to be hired, you try to make a good impression. You want someone to know that you are capable and experienced. You want that person to connect with you in such a way that they might enjoy having you around the business on a daily basis. You work at being charming, appropriately funny, and confidently no-nonsense about the work. And all the while you’re hoping that the person you’re working so hard to impress will also be someone who truly impresses you as well.

None of that happens when you’re being bought. Buying help is one sided, much like buying bananas. When I buy bananas I’m calling the shots. I know what I like and what I want: not to green and yet not likely to be brown and gushy the next day. The banana has no say in this. I assess. I evaluate. I decide. I make the purchase. And all of this happens without forming a relationship with the banana

Potiphar bought Joseph. Much like you buy a refrigerator or a weed whacker or bananas. There was no relationship.

And yet, Joseph excelled. As a slave in the household of Potiphar, Joseph demonstrated exceptional skill in his work. This is surprising. He had no reason to do so. He’s there against his will, far from home, betrayed by his brothers, purchased in the same way a rug is purchased. Joseph had every reason to be resentful and bitter and despise his master. But he didn’t do it. He earned his master’s trust and admiration and moved up in the ranks.

And we are given only the briefest word of explanation: “The Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2).

The implication of this is something that might change how you live this day. When God is with you and working through you, you will give the best of who you are in the place where you are right now. You will not sulk about how and why you’re there. You will not voice complaints, whether silently to God or spoken to others, about why you can’t seem to get out of there. You may have every reason to be bitter. But you will give your best.

That’s what Joseph did – and as best we can tell he did so for no other reason than that God was with him.

How might God’s presence with you change you today? How might it change how you see where God has placed you?

O Lord, you have given me a place and a task for this day. Be with me – and grant me grace to give the best of myself in all that I do, to the glory of your name. Amen.

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