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end, are marked by the same mysteriousness that characterizes all the works and ways of the unsearchable God. Joseph, the principal agent in the whole transaction, already bereft of his mother, must, at the tender and impressible age of seventeen years, be torn from the embraces of a fond father--bartered away, through envy, by his brethren--dragged to the court of Pharaoh, sold as a slave to the captain of the king's guard, and under pretext of a false and foul accusation, thrust into prison, where he languished for several years. Then, when he had been sufficiently drilled in the school of affliction, to bear, without serious detriment to his religious character, the sunny and soothing smiles of prosperity, this same Joseph is elevated, by a series of extraordinary providential events, from a dungeon to the office of prime minister of state, “ a father to Pharaoh, a lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.” In all this wonderful process, Joseph seems to have recognised, with unshaken faith and filial confidence, the hand of Jehovah; and, therefore, a feeling of revenge towards those who had been instrumental in procuring his degradation and sufferings, had no place in his pious and magnanimous soul. He did, indeed, use great reserve and something like harshness and severity towards his brethren at their first visit, as we shall see in the sequel. But these measures were obviously employed to bring them to salutary compunction, for the wicked and unnatural part which they had acted, not only in selling him to the company of merchants, but in trifling with the feelings and disregarding the honour and happiness of an aged and venerable father. This end secured—their sorrow for their misdeeds being apparent, he is all forgiveness; and, instead of upbraiding them, he mingles his tears with theirs, and endeavours to make them feel that they are in the presence of a brother, and in the hand of a merciful and sin-pardoning God: “Now, therefore, be not grieved nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life.”
The brethren of Joseph were certainly blameworthy in this affair, and that in a very high degree; for, although God in accomplishing his purposes, often uses the agency of the wicked, yet neither his purposes, nor the methods which he takes to carry them into effect, afford the shadow of excuse for human guilt. In the case now under consideration, it was the duty of these cruel brethren of Joseph to love him and treat him with fraternal kindness. The law on this point was plain, and plainly revealed. They knew not the decrees of God; those unrevealed determinations of the Creator were no rule of duty to them. In doing as they did, they acted freely, voluntarily, and without any other constraint than that which the strong bias of their own evil hearts exerted in producing their wicked deeds. They were, therefore, accountable, and punishable, for the wrong which they did, although God overruled their conduct and made it subserve, extensively, his own glory and the good of his kingdom. This principle is true and applicable, universally. The divine decrees coerce no man in an evil course. Their fulfilment may be counted upon as absolutely certain; yet the movements of Providence, in accomplishing the good pleasure of his will, where intelligent creatures are concerned, are so wisely and justly adapted to their intellectual and responsible character, as to leave the sinner inexcusable and consciously answerable for all his evil thoughts, purposes and acts.
In following Joseph, rapidly, to the consummation of his wretchedness, in prison, where this lecture will terminate, it may be proper to notice some things that served as provocatives to the unkind and cruel treatment which he received from his brethren.
The father's partiality is the first that occurs, in the sacred narrative. Joseph was his favourite ; as was indicated by the fine coat of many colours. The reason assigned for this preference, viz. " that he was the son of his old age,” one feels inclined, at first glance, to admit as natural and of some weight. But it is not valid ; though quite common, in similar cases. The children of a family, like citizens of the state, have equal rights, so long as they are dutiful and obedient. Even after they have gone out from under the parental wing, they have still equal claims upon the parent's tender regards, though they may not be precisely alike deserving. A profligate child should be pursued by the advice, the entreaties, and the prayers of his parents, while life lasts; for who knows but regenerating grace may be granted in answer to the prayer of faith? If it be said, and it may be said with some truth, that, owing to our frailty, we cannot always regulate and control our affections according to our judgment of equity and fitness, we would only remark here, that parents certainly may and ought to do justly towards their children, if they cannot bestow on each one an equal share of affection. They may avoid giving tokens of their partial fondness, which never fail to produce envy on the one hand, and self complacency on the other. The larger the family, the greater need there is of care in this matter. Here Jacob erred; and his error, no doubt, contributed to his own sorrow, as well as to the depression, for a time, of his favourite son: “ When his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him."
Joseph's own conduct, though in general remarkably correct and amiable, may, in one or two instances, have given some occasion against him. He reported to his father the ill conduct of the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, while engaged with them in feeding the flock. For this he has been stigmatized as a “busy body and talebearer.” It is possible he may have been indiscreet and too officious in this way, for he was young and open-hearted; yet we can discover nothing really censurable in his conduct in this respect. Children should not conceal one another's faults from their parents. Talebearing is wrong; it is mean, it is malevolent. But the purest benevolence, the most perfect kindness may prompt one to give information concerning the faults of a brother or sister, with a view to bring parental authority and influence into exercise for the correction and benefit of the offender. Were this principle allowed to operate in families, schools and colleges, the maintenance of good order and comfort in those little communities would be comparatively easy. It is next to impossible to support wholesome discipline in any society, where the members, substituting the whim of honour instead of the law of duty, hold themselves bound to conceal each other's faults.
Joseph's dreams tended also, in no small degree, to stir up the envy and malice that lurked in the hearts of his degenerate brothers. “They hated him yet the more, for his dreams and for his words." These dreams being prophetical, as the event demonstrated, the only error that Joseph seems to have been fairly chargeable with, in relation to them, was his telling them to his brethren. The interpretation of them was so easy, so much in his favour, and against their haughtiness, he might have been sure, on a little reflection, that the less he said about them, the better. There may have been something, too, in his manner of narrating them, which indicated a vain-glorious, self-exalting spirit; yet it were more charitable, and quite as natural, to impute his conduct on the occasion to juvenile ardour and unsuspecting simplicity. Dreams, it is well known, was one of the modes in which God revealed his will to his servants, on some special occasions. The design, in this instance, seems to have been to support Joseph under the sore tribulation which awaited him, anterior to his promised eminence. Now-a-days, the Bible being given to us, as a perfect rule of faith and practice, dreams, visions, and strong impressions are not generally to be relied on; yet we would not altogether despise or neglect them. Useful hints may be taken from them. In so far as they tend to make us careful to regulate our tempers and conduct, agreeably to the written word, they are beneficial; but to be greatly depressed or elated by them,-especially to pay more regard to these vague and dubious prognostications than to the precepts, promises and threatenings of holy scripture, is ridiculous, fanatical, wicked.
The conspiracy of Joseph's brethren not only against his ho
nour and happiness, but his life, was defeated by Providence in a very remarkable manner. Visiting them at Dothan (whither they had removed with their flocks for sake of good pasturage,) with the kindest intentions, and in obedience to his father's command, instead of greeting him as a brother, “they say one to another, behold, this dreamer cometh: come, let us slay him, and we shall see what will become of his dreams; let us cast him into some pit, and we will say, some evil beast hath devoured him!” This nefarious project needs no comment. It tells, in the simple language of inspiration, a tale of human depravity, at which the benevolent heart sickens and is humbled. But the Divine purpose was, that Joseph should yet live, and go down into Egypt. Reuben is, therefore, moved, by what motive it is difficult to say, for he was by no means amiable, to propose casting him, alive, into the pit, intending to release him, privately, and restore him to his father. The proposition was agreed to: and they, accordingly, strip the unoffending youth of his many-coloured coat--place him in the pit, and sit down to eat bread—when a company of Midianitish traders appear, and Judah, probably from a principle of avarice, suggests the idea of selling him; which being readily assented to, they draw the victim of their shameful hatred out of the pit, and sell him for the paltry consideration of twenty pieces of silver ; the same sum, though nominally different, as is supposed by able critics, for which Judas Iscariot betrayed his Lord and Master.
How vain are the devices of men, when opposed to the counsels of Jehovah! These crafty conspirators fancied that they had ruined Joseph's hopes of distinction and falsified his prophetical dreams, while they were, in fact, executing the designs of Providence, by sending him into Egypt to save life. Thus the Lord makes the wrath of man to praise him. The wicked do not aim at the fulfilment of the Divine purposes; they are actuated by selfish, sinister and impure motives; their agency, therefore, entitles them to no praise: nay—acting voluntarily, in pursuit of their own unwarranted ends, they are always blameworthy and justly punishable. God never required, nor inclined, by a direct influence, Joseph's brethren to sell him into Egypt. Their assistance was neither demanded nor needed; but being volunteered, it was used and made subservient to a great and good end, while, on their own souls, it brought an awful weight of guilt and wretchedness.
We shall not stay to animadvert on the shameful deception, which these monsters of wickedness practised on their venerable father, except to remark, that crimes have a strong and almost irresistible affinity for one another. One sin leads to another, and that other to a third, and so on, with augmented force, till, without the interposition of redeeming grace, the sinner becomes the bondman of Satan, and is led captive by him at his will. O youth, ye who are beginning to forget the covenant of your God, and entering on the paths of the destroyer, “Turn ye, turn ye; for why will ye die!" Joseph's brethren began with envy and the use of reproachful language, and finished their shocking climax of evil deeds by intentional fratricide and deliberate falsehood, which, but for the kind providence and grace of God, would have broken the heart of their father.
The Midianitish merchants conveyed Joseph to Egypt, with their other articles of traffic, and there sold him to Potiphar, a principal officer in the king's army. How mysterious are the ways of Providence! Here is a lovely youth, of undoubted piety and high promise, the stay and hope of an aged father, not only, but of a large family, betrayed into the hands of mertenary strangers—dragged away to a foreign land, and there doomed to servitude! But let us judge nothing before the time. The Lord's way is often in the deep; but justice and judgment are the habitation of his throne. Joseph is cast down, but not forsaken. He who had been a faithful son, was enabled, by Divine grace, to acquit himself in the humble capacity of a servant, with so much integrity and diligence, as soon to secure the entire confidence of his master. Potiphar, finding his account in the humble services of one so faithful to his interests, raised him to the office of steward of his house and superintendant of all his domestics and domestic affairs.
See here the happy influence of religious principle. God was with Joseph, and made all that he did to prosper. An approving conscience, a good character, and a divine blessing, will make one useful and contented in any situation. Let servants and others, who occupy the lowly stations in society, remember this, and they will find little occasion to envy those of their fellow mortals, who move in the higher and more showy walks of human life. An honest, industrious, and trustworthy servant will not go long unnoticed or unrewarded. “Let every man,” says Paul, “abide in the same calling wherein he was called. Art thou called, being a servant ? care not for it; but if thou mayest be made free, use it rather : for he that is called in the Lord, being a servant, is the Lord's free man: likewise, also, he that is called, being free, is Christ's servant.” And let masters learn from this part of Joseph's history, to prefer pious servants. “ The Lord blessed the house of the Egyptian for Joseph's sake.” Godly servants are a blessing in any family; and such should always be treated with kindness and generosity. The more of genuine religion they possess, the more faithful they will be in the performance of their duty, and the more assiduously will they endeavour to promote the interests and happiness of their employers. Let such never be oppressed with