Underdogs of the Old Testament: Joseph


Underdogs were often chosen by God to lead God’s people.  Why does God often choose implausible leaders to rescue God’s people in the Old Testament?  It is all about trust and covenant.  God wants us to need God.  “…because God is on the side of the little people, the people who have no worldly power, “(Cahill,  The Gifts of the Jews, 117).  By having weakness, we as humans may turn to our God of strength to deliver us.  God will shine through the rescuer and God will be the reason for victory.  God will never disappoint.  We have “…a God who time and time again manifests his promise – and thus offers an invitation to live in trust – in the most unlikely circumstances and with the most unlikely people, “(Galli, Chaos and Grace:  Discovering the Liberating Work of the Holy Spirit  62).  The more the underdog seems to trust, the more powerful God makes him (or her!)


A trait of the underdog:  humble beginnings.  Joseph was the second-to-last son born to Rachel and Jacob.  Rachel had been barren and God heard her prayer for fertility.  She named him Joseph, meaning, “May the Lord add another son to this one for me! “(Genesis 30:24).  As Joseph grew, he became a shepherd and was favored by Jacob.  This made his other brothers angry and jealous, to the point of wanting to kill him.  They end up selling him as a slave, and he is taken to Egypt.  Once in Egypt, Joseph gets into more trouble when his master’s wife wants to sleep with him and he refuses.  In a rage, she blames the ordeal on him and he ends up in prison.  So the scene is dismal for Joseph in the beginning.  “But even while he was in prison, the Lord remained with Joseph, “ (Genesis 40:20).  The chief jailer learns how Joseph can interpret dreams.  This becomes Joseph’s “in” with the Pharaoh once the Pharaoh has need for an interpreter.  Yet even when Joseph can interpret the Pharaoh’s dream, he says, “It is not I but God who will give Pharaoh the right answer, “(Genesis 41:16).


Joseph continues to trust in the Lord despite his lowly circumstances at the time.  Because of this, he slowly rises in power.  Eventually, the Pharaoh makes him the grand vizier, an authorized representative of the king, and the director of the palace.  He marries the daughter of the highest priest in the land and has two sons from this marriage.  He is the most powerful man in the kingdom (Von Rad, Genesis, 377).  When famine comes and Joseph’s brothers need food, it is Joseph they must go to see, though they do not know it is him.  After several tests and delays, Joseph eventually reveals himself to them.  Rather than seek revenge, Joseph forgives his brothers in great emotion and reaches out to them.  He goes as far to say that they should not feel guilty because, “It was really for the sake of saving lives that God sent me here ahead of you, “(Genesis 45:5).  Von Rad reads this moment as, “God’s hand directs all the confusion of human guilt ultimately toward a gracious goal, “(398).  Joseph rescues his brothers and asks them to move nearby so they would be closer to him.  The little brother they hated becomes their hero.


Another underdog trait:  perseverance.  Joseph showed perseverance in building back the relationship between himself and his brothers.  Joseph does forgive his brothers for abandoning him, but he was not passively tolerant.  He dealt with them severely and boldly by keeping Simeon in prison and sending the rest of the brothers back home for their little brother Benjamin (Von Rad, 437).  He persisted because he wanted to be sure they were being true and honest, yet there was love there.  Before the brothers departed, Joseph put the money they brought back in their sacks without them knowing it.  This was a sign of his deeply veiled love for them (Von Rad, 384).  Love, truth and honesty make the underdog persevere, even when the desired outcome is uncertain.


How does Joseph speak to you today?

2 responses

  1. Thanks for this great simple telling of the story of Joseph and with your wonderful “underdog” slant. I think I”m going to be more grateful for the underdog within as well as honoring it in the world around me. In all of folk lit underdogs do win out….. you’d think we’d learn something about arrogance from that too. Can’t wait to see who else you bring to awaken us.

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