Finding Rest in Family Ties
The young man carefully scanned the horizon. Then, finally, he saw them. He had been looking for his brothers for days. As he approached, waving and calling to the grim-faced group, he got anything but a warm welcome. His own brothers actually wanted to kill him. If it hadn’t been for Reuben, there may have been no story to tell. Reuben convinced the rest just to rough him up a bit and throw him into a dry well. Later, Judah came up with the grand scheme to get rid of him and make a bit of money, too, by selling him to some passing slave traders.
What an example of family dysfunction! We get to choose many things in life—but not our family. No one is perfect, and none of us have perfect families and perfect family relationships. Some of us are blessed by parents, siblings, and other family members that reflect God’s love, but many have to settle for less than the ideal. Family relationships often are complicated and painful, leaving us restless, hurt, and carrying loads of emotional baggage that we, in turn, off-load on others.
How can we find God’s rest in this area of our lives? This week we turn to the story of Joseph and his family ties in order to watch God at work bringing healing and emotional rest despite dysfunctional family relationships. * Study this week’s lesson to prepare for Sabbath, August 7.
Joseph knew about dysfunctional families. It had started with his great-grandparents, Abraham and Sarah. When Sarah realized that she was barren, she had convinced Abraham to go in to her servant Hagar. As soon as Hagar was pregnant, the rivalry began. Growing up in this atmosphere, Ishmael and Isaac took the tension into their own families. Isaac made a point of favoring Esau, and Jacob spent his life trying to earn his father’s love and respect. Later on, Jacob was tricked into marrying two sisters who did not get along and competed with each other through a childbearing race, even enlisting their maids to bear Jacob’s children.
The rivalry between the mothers obviously spilled over to the children, who grew up ready to pick a fight. As young adults, Joseph’s older brothers already had massacred all the males in the town of Shechem. The oldest brother, Reuben, displayed dominance and defiance to his aging father by sleeping with Bilhah, Rachel’s maid and the mother of several of Jacob’s children (Gen. 35:22). Meanwhile, Joseph’s brother Judah mistook his widowed daughter-in-law for a prostitute and ended up having twins with her (Genesis 38).
Jacob added fuel to the fire of all this family tension by his obvious favoritism toward Joseph in giving him an expensive colorful coat (Gen. 37:3). If ever there was a dysfunctional family, the patriarch’s family could have competed with it.
God’s faith champions often fall short of their own and God’s expectations. These men are listed in Hebrews 11 not because of their messy family relationships but in spite of them. They learned—often the hard way—about faith, love, and trust in God as they wrestled with these family issues.
Joseph takes pain, complicated relationships, and anxiety with him as he travels to Egypt, where he is to be sold as a slave. This was not a restful trip as he fought back the tears.
“Meanwhile, Joseph with his captors was on the way to Egypt. As the caravan journeyed southward toward the borders of Canaan, the boy could discern in the distance the hills among which lay his father’s tents. Bitterly he wept at the thought of that loving father in his loneliness and affliction. Again the scene at Dothan came up before him.
He saw his angry brothers and felt their fierce glances bent upon him.
The stinging, insulting words that had met his agonized entreaties were ringing in his ears. With a trembling heart he looked forward to the future. What a change in situation—from the tenderly cherished son to the despised and helpless slave! Alone and friendless, what would be his lot in the strange land to which he was going? For a time Joseph gave himself up to uncontrolled grief and terror. . . .
“Then his thoughts turned to his father’s God. In his childhood he had been taught to love and fear Him. Often in his father’s tent he had listened to the story of the vision that Jacob saw as he fled from his home an exile and a fugitive. . . . Now all these precious lessons came vividly before him. Joseph believed that the God of his fathers would be his God. He then and there gave himself fully to the Lord, and he prayed that the Keeper of Israel would be with him in the land of his exile.”—Ellen G. White, Patriarchs and Prophets, pp. 213, 214; italics supplied.
Some cultures emphasize the role of the community over the individual while other cultures are inclined to emphasize the role of the individual over the community. While we find a balance between these two in Scripture, there is clearly a call to personal as well as corporate commitment to God. Joseph begins to find rest in his relationships by making a personal decision to follow God.
To find rest, we each must make a personal decision to follow God. Even if our ancestors were spiritual giants, this faith and spirituality aren’t transmitted genetically. Remember, God has only children, no grandchildren.
If Joseph had entertained any hopes of escaping and finding his way back home, they were dashed on reaching Egypt, where Joseph was resold into a prominent household. Genesis 39:1 tells us that “Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites” (NKJV). Suddenly the young man was thrust into a strange, new language and culture.
Our families and close relationships are pivotal in the development of our self-esteem. Joseph had grown up believing that he was something special—the oldest son of the most beloved wife (Gen. 29:18). He was definitely his father’s favorite—and the only one with a beautiful coat of many colors (Gen. 37:3, 4).
But who was he now? A slave, someone who could be bought or sold at will. Look at how quickly his whole situation changed. Look at how quickly life seemed to have turned on him.
Indeed, Joseph learns the lesson that we all have to learn. If we are dependent on others to tell us what we are worth, then we will be in for a rough ride and be horribly confused, because not everyone is going to appreciate who we are or what we are like. Instead, we need to find our self-worth in what God thinks of us—how God sees us—and not in the roles that we currently have.
God looks at each of us with glasses tinted with grace. He sees a potential, beauty, and talent that we can’t even imagine. Ultimately, He was prepared to die for us so that we could have the opportunity to become all we were created to be. Though showing us our sinfulness and the great price it cost to redeem us from it, the Cross also shows us our great worth and value to God. Regardless of what others think of us or even what we think about ourselves, God loves us and seeks to redeem us from not only the power of sins now but also from the eternal death that they bring.
The key question, then, is always the same: How do we respond to the reality of God’s love, as revealed in Jesus Christ?
Initially Joseph’s story in Egypt takes a positive turn. Joseph has entrusted himself to God, and God blesses Joseph, who rises to heights he would not have imagined in Potiphar’s household.
Although Joseph seems to be getting along very well with Potiphar, and his relationships with the staff in the house and the field seem to be smooth—trouble is brewing. Someone at home is restless.
Joseph has a problem with Potiphar’s wife. Perhaps we should reformulate that: Potiphar’s wife has a problem. She looks at others as “things” that can be manipulated and used. She wants to “use” Joseph. Joseph is described as “handsome in form and appearance” (Gen. 39:6, NKJV). The Bible seldom mentions people’s physical traits, because God “ ‘does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ ” (1 Sam. 16:7, NKJV). In this case, Joseph’s good looks seem to be more of a hindrance than a help in his pursuit of purity and faithfulness to God’s principles.
Despite this wicked woman’s insistence, Joseph did something seemingly counterproductive. He applied biblical principles to all relationships—in this case Potiphar’s wife. Biblical principles for relationships are not oldfashioned, as anyone (which is everyone) who has suffered the consequences of sin can attest.
The biblical narrative points out that this was not a one-off temptation. Potiphar’s wife pursued him again and again (Gen. 39:10). Joseph tried explaining his motivation for his decision (Gen. 39:8, 9), but this did not seem to work.
Joseph realized that he could not control the choices of others. He decided, however, to live, love, and treat those around him in a way that would honor God. Joseph had learned to live in God’s presence. This knowledge helped him resist temptation.
As we know from reading the story (Gen. 39:11–20), Joseph suffered because of his principled decision. Joseph was thrown into prison. As Potiphar’s property, Joseph could have been killed on the spot, no questions asked. Potiphar obviously didn’t believe his wife but had to guard his reputation by taking action. And yet, despite the horrific circumstances, Scripture says, “The Lord was with Joseph” (Gen. 39:21).
Life on planet Earth isn’t fair. Good is not always rewarded, and evil is not always immediately punished. There is some good news, though: Joseph could find rest, even in prison, because God was with him. In prison he could have meditated on the unfairness of his situation, withdrawn, and even given up on God.
In prison, Joseph worked with the real, not the ideal. He networked; he helped others, even though relationships in prison were far from the ideal that he must have wished for. And Joseph was not above asking for help and making himself vulnerable. He asked for help from the cupbearer when he interpreted his dream.
Our relationships are miniature reflections of the great controversy between God and Satan that is raging through the ages. This means, then, that there are no perfect relationships. Every relationship must have growth dynamics, and Satan has a vested interest in using all our relationships—especially those closest to us—to his advantage in order to hurt and frustrate God’s will for our lives. We can be thankful that we are not left to fight these battles on our own. God’s Word sets out principles for our relationships. His promise to give us wisdom (James 1:5) also extends to our relationships. And as He was with Joseph, He promises to be with us when our relationships prove complex.
Further Thought: In the context of what happened to Joseph with Potiphar’s wife, Ellen White wrote: “Here is an example to all generations who should live upon the earth. . . . God will be a present help, and his Spirit a shield. Although surrounded with the severest temptations, there is a source of strength to which they can apply and resist them. How fierce was the assault upon Joseph’s morals. It came from one of influence, the most likely to lead astray. Yet how promptly and firmly was it resisted. . . . He had placed his reputation and interest in the hands of God. And although he was suffered to be afflicted for a time, to prepare him to fill an important position, yet God safely guarded that reputation that was blackened by a wicked accuser, and afterward, in his own good time, caused it to shine. God made even the prison the way to his elevation. Virtue will in time bring its own reward. The shield which covered Joseph’s heart, was the fear of God, which caused him to be faithful and just to his master, and true to God. He despised that ingratitude which would lead him to abuse his master’s confidence, although his master might never learn the fact.”—Ellen G. White, The Spirit of Prophecy, vol. 1, p. 132.