Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Detour by Design

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt . . . and the Lord gave him success in everything he did (Genesis 39:1, 3).

Something had happened to Joseph.

Sure, we know the basic course of events and how they unfolded: Joseph sent to find his brothers, the brothers plotting Joseph’s murder, opting instead for leaving him in a well, seizing the chance to make a profit by selling him to Ishmaelite merchants. In this sense we know exactly what happened to Joseph.

But something else happened, happened within him and not simply to him. When Joseph arrives in Egypt and takes his place in the service of Potiphar he seems like a different person, less like a boy and more like a man. More winsome than whiny. More doer than dreamer.

Something had happened to Joseph, quietly and out of sight. And, as best we can tell, it happened on the road to Egypt. Somewhere between the deal struck at the well and the household of Potiphar, a new self began to take shape.

We’re not given a story about how this happened or how long it took. We don’t know whether Joseph himself had any awareness of what was happening to him, whether he sensed courage and competence taking shape in his soul. We’d like to know these things, but on these matters scripture is silent.

This much seems clear: God works in significant ways on the road to Egypt.

The road to Egypt will usually feel like a detour. It’s not a road we intentionally take. The road to Egypt is where you find yourself when your life has been hijacked. Joseph on the road to Egypt was probably bound in some way, confined, depersonalized. We’ll do just about anything to avoid the road to Egypt. It is a long and barren route. We travel it much as Joseph did, not knowing where it will take us or what we’ll find once the journey stops.

The road to Egypt shows up over and over again in the pages of the Bible. Of course, it isn’t always a road, and often it has nothing to do with Egypt – but it is God’s way of shaping those whom he will use by forcing them to difficult places. God likes detours.

Moses will flee Pharaoh’s courts and tend to livestock in the wilderness terrain of Midian for a while. Elijah will launch his prophetic career only to be told by God to hide himself in the Kerith Ravine where he will be fed by ravens. And eventually Jesus will emerge from the waters of baptism to be re-immersed in the desert temptations.

And then there’s you. Perhaps you’re on the road to Egypt right now. Let this truth sustain you until you reach the place where the road ends and a new life begins: On the road to Egypt God chisels out the form of who you were made to be. God readies you for what you were made to do.

When have you traveled the road to Egypt?

“Let the morning bring me word of your unfailing love, for I have put my trust in you. Show me the way I should go, for to you I lift up my soul . . . Teach me to do your will, for you are my God; may your good Spirit lead me on level ground” (Psalm 143: 8, 10).

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