I first met him in prison. Well, it was more of a holding tank for servants who had fallen out of favor with their masters; at least, that was my story.
I knew Potiphar and his wife, and Joseph’s story did not surprise me. Potiphar was a lazy fool! Sons of the rich, who do not know the rigors in which their fathers made the family fortune, often are. And his wife–the temple prostitutes had a better reputation than that woman!
Make no mistake, we were in prison, and I had no hope of ever leaving. My story is inconsequential before I met Joseph. I had learned early in life that fairness usually does not exist within the confines of slavery, at least not in Egypt. Of course, there were scoundrels, who deserved prison and worse, that ate and slept among us. I stayed away from them; but from the moment they thrust him into the cell, I knew there was something different about Joseph.
He was reluctant to share his story, but after time had softened the injustice of his situation, he began to speak. Often at night, we would talk of the past because we had no future. I was not surprised that he was promoted to leadership even in the prison. Joseph was a born leader, but that still did not paint a complete picture of this amazing young man.
When he left the prison and was promoted to second-in-command, he did not forget me. It wasn’t long until I too was summoned, and I became his steward. I would die for my lord, and will gladly serve him until I see his God.
Joseph’s plan was well under way, and all of Egypt bowed before my master. I often stood in awe and watched as he graciously saved our nation, indeed the world, from total ruin! He never showed anger or frustration. He was always patient and kind…with one exception: the day ten men arrived from Canaan.
Although he had told me of his life in Egypt, the details surrounding his family remained hidden from me. Whenever I questioned him, he became evasive; however, one topic always brought a wistful smile to his face: his God. Anyone who was around Joseph for very long would soon know that he was a man of deep faith. His God is the Invisible God unlike the many gods of the Egyptians, and I never tired of hearing him speak of the God Who created all things.
I still remember the day his brothers arrived. I was in the kitchen making sure preparations for the noon meal were under way when the door-boy came rushing in, a look of concern on his face.
“The master is home,” he said, however the look on his face said much more.
“And,” I asked impatiently.
“Something is wrong,” he added.
“Ahmose, what are you saying.” Before he could answer, I heard my master call, a mixture of anger and urgency in his voice. Without a word, I hurried to the foyer.
“I have placed ten men in the ward. I want you to make certain that they are treated well and have all they need.”
He gave me a quick glance and then hurried back out the door. Had I not known him well, I would have missed the vulnerability in his eyes.
Three days later, he summoned me to follow him to the ward. Joseph had spent our time in prison teaching me his native tongue. Languages had always been a fascination to me and I learned them quickly. Through our studies, he also taught me about his God. When he asked me interpret the words of these prisoners, I was not surprised. I often translated for him the many foreign dialects of those who came for food; however, when they began to speak Hebrew, I looked at him in surprise. He never acknowledged my look. As they talked among themselves, their words seemed strange to me.
“We are truly guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul when he begged us, and we would not hear. Therefore this distress has come upon us.”
Although there words made no sense, the anguish was plainly visible on their faces. Another one spoke with reprimand in his voice.
“Did I not speak to you saying, ‘Do not sin against the youth?’ And you would not hear. Therefore, behold, also his blood is required of us.”
As I tried to comprehend the meaning, my master quickly walked away. When I found him down the corridor, I was surprised to find him weeping. Although we had been as close as brothers in prison, I was now his steward. I could only watch and await his command. He quickly wiped his eyes before staring at me with a look that would break the hardest heart.
“Fill their sacks with provision and then place their money on top,” he instructed and turned to go. I watched as he talked with them, chose one, and bound the man’s hands, seeming to make an elaborate display of it before he was led away.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Time passed and nothing more was said. He never went to see the prisoner and never talked about the others. I could not help but wonder about the situation, but it made no sense to me. As the famine worsened, I was surprised that the others did not come sooner. Bring your younger brother with you… The words echoed in my mind. Why? It made no sense.
I was with him when they came and saw them before he did, watching Joseph as they approached. His breathing grew rapid and his hands shook. He breathed deeply and spoke to me, never taking his eyes off of them.
“Bring these men home, and slay, and make ready; for these men shall dine with me at noon.”
I looked at him questioningly, but he refused to make any other comment, but instead, busied himself with the business at hand.
I could see the fear in their eyes as I approached, and for the first and only time in my service to my master, I resented his actions. They followed me to the house, but stopped as we crossed the threshold. One grabbed my arm and pleading with me.
“O sir, we came indeed down at the first time to buy food: And it came to pass, when we came to the inn, that we opened our sacks, and, behold, every man’s money was in the mouth of his sack, our money in full weight: and we have brought it again in our hand. And other money have we brought down in our hands to buy food: we cannot tell who put our money in our sacks.”
These were honest men, or so I thought, and my heart ached for the injustice that was being pressed upon them by one who knew the feel of its heel on his neck all too well.
“Peace be to you, fear not: Your God, and the God of your father, has given you treasure in your sacks. I had your money.” My words gave them some comfort, and I left them to bring Simeon to them. Oh, what a wonderful reunion they had, albeit tainted with fear and doubts.
When we told them that they would dine with the master at noon, they scurried about, preparing their meager gifts of fruits from their homeland, obviously precious because of the famine and drought. Their act of kindness only fueled my anger towards Joseph, the man I thought I knew.
When he entered his house, the air was thick with tension. He was obviously staying himself. He walked stiffly to me and we began the ruse of interpretation, as I translated his Egyptian tongue into Hebrew.
“Is your father well, the old man of whom ye spoke? Is he yet alive?”
They answered cautiously, wanting to please but retaining their pride. “Thy servant our father is in good health, he is yet alive.” They bowed down their heads, and made obeisance. Once again, Joseph’s face was unreadable to most, but I saw…I saw.
When he saw the younger brother, he once again had me ask his questions. “Is this your younger brother, of whom ye spoke unto me?”
They only nodded.
“God be gracious unto thee, my son,” he said, his voice barely above a whisper. As the young man nodded, his dark curls fell slightly over his face, and Joseph hurried from the room. They all looked at me questioningly, but I had no answers for them. In a moment, he returned and commanded that the meal begin.
As he directed them to the set table, he searched each face before directing each one to his place. Something was happening, but I did not understand until later that he had seated them according to their birth order. Who were these men? Obviously, he knew the family…and knew them well! He seemed to take a particular notice to the youngest one, instructing the servants to fill his plate five times the amount that the others received.
As the unusual guests ate, the banter of a close family floated across the room to the table where the master sat alone. The ruse continued, for only his closest acquaintances would speak of Joseph’s heritage, and it was obvious that he did not want these Hebrews to know he was one of them!
Once again, I was commanded to fill their sacks and return their money as well. “And take this,” he said, pulling his personal silver cup from his cloak. “Put this in the young man’s sack.”
Never had I protested any actions that I had been asked to perform, but never had I been asked to take part in such deception until these strangers had come to Egypt! He saw my defiant hesitation and began to say something but just stood straighter and commanded, “Just do it.”
I was never so glad to be about my business and out of my master’s presence as I was that day. They were gone. Perhaps he just wanted to encourage them and we would never see them again. Somehow, I doubted it, and it wasn’t long until my doubts were confirmed.
“Go and follow them. They will be heading east on the high road. Overtake them and say, ‘Wherefore have you rewarded evil for good? Is not this it in which my lord drinks, and whereby indeed he divines? You have done evil in so doing.”
“But master,” I began, my face hot with anguish. He saw my reserve and for the first time during this sordid event, his face softened.
“I cannot explain my friend. Please, you must trust me. All will be made clear soon.” He placed his hand upon my shoulder, and my confidence in him returned. How could I have ever doubted!
By midafternoon I had overtaken them, and tried to speak his message with sternness.
“God forbid that thy servants should do according to this thing! Behold, the money, which we found in our sacks’ mouths, we brought again unto thee out of the land of Canaan. How then should we steal out of thy lord’s house silver or gold? With whomsoever of thy servants it be found, both let him die, and we also will be my lord’s bondmen.”
Oh how I wished they had not said that, for I knew where the cup lie, but for my master’s sake, I once again spoke roughly to them. “Now also let it be according unto your words: He with whom it is found shall be my servant; and you shall be blameless.”
They hurriedly took down their sacks, as certain of their innocence as I was of their guilt. I started with the oldest, remembering the birth order from the afternoon’s meal, which only increased the drama. Their confidence grew as did their anger, and my heart ached for them. When the youngest opened his sack, their reaction was overwhelming: tearing their clothes and lamenting at first, and then returning with me to the city in silent resignation.
Without ceremony, they entered the house and fell before Joseph. He only returned their sorrow with wrath.
“What deed is this that you have done? Don’t you think that such a man as I can certainly divine?”
I just watched in silence as they groveled at his feet.
“What shall we say unto my lord? What shall we speak, or how shall we clear ourselves? God hath found out the iniquity of thy servants. Behold, we are my lord’s servants, both we, and he also with whom the cup is found.”
“God forbid that I should do so: but the man in whose hand the cup is found, he shall be my servant; and as for you, get you up in peace unto your father.”
Then one of them explained their situation: a father whose life was so wrapped up in his youngest son that he would die without him; a dead brother; a promise to return him.
Never will I forget the anguish in my master’s face as he commanded us all to leave, standing by helplessly and hearing his tormented cries.
It is a story beyond imagination! “I am Joseph; does my father yet live?” I can only imagine the astonishment on their faces!
“I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. Don’t be grieved, or angry with yourselves, that you sold me: for God did send me before you to preserve life.”
The servants all stared at me as if I knew. I did not know! How could they have done such a thing? How could he forgive them? As the pieces all fell into place, I marveled at his plan to confront them, perhaps testing their love for his full brother, and his tenderness to forgive them. As he outlined God’s future plan to them according to his dream and his future for them and his father, I once again stood amazed that His God would allow me to know this wonderful man, that He allowed our paths to cross, and that I too could know the God of all that exists!