On the contrary – What is the connection between Joseph in Egypt and Purim?
The central principle in the story of Purim, the story of the Book of Esther, is that of opposites. This is reflected in the custom of dressing up on Purim: we dress up, to transform our identity into something else – to disguise ourselves from something different than what we are.
This also appears as a main theme throughout the book of Esther. In Esther 9:1, the phrase “on the contrary” appears in the Hebrew. The enemies of the Jews hoped to control the Jews and even destroy them, but on the day they planned to overpower them, the opposite happened and the Jews overcame them.
This also happened with the gallows, the evil Haman, built hoping to hang Mordechai the Jew on, only to find that he himself was the one hanged and killed on those same gallows. You see this all throughout the book of Esther and it reminds me of something very similar, we see in the life of Joseph.
Joseph’s life contains contrary things happening. He finds himself in very difficult situations that seem lost, but he turns them into victories. How does he do it?
Joseph goes on a mission for his father, Israel, to look for his brothers and see how they are doing. When they see him approaching them from a distance, they plot to kill him. Joseph came to his brothers, with good intentions, on a mission from his father, and they wanted to hurt him. Reuben saves him from death, but his brothers throw him into a pit.
What did he feel in that pit? What was he thinking while in that pit? His brothers had hurt him. This could not be changed. Did he sit in a pit and pray for the death of the others, or for revenge?
I believe Joseph chose another way. What would you feel? What thoughts would be going through your mind? Fear, anger, frustration, despair, bitterness. Maybe even angry at God. “God, what did I do wrong? Why did you allow this to happen to me?”
In normal human thought, Joseph has a right to be angry. He is allowed to want revenge. Human justice says that if I have been hurt and I suffer, my way of finding comfort and peace is by returning the hurt. The greater the punishment I manage to punish those who hurt me, the better off I will be, the more I will stop suffering from the harm they have done to me. God’s justice is completely different, in fact, God’s justice is just the opposite.
The biblical text does not tell us what Joseph thought and felt. In our story up to this point, Joseph does not speak at all and does not reply to his brothers. Joseph does not defend himself either. He is silent.
Joseph’s story becomes even more complicated. He is sold into slavery. A slave’s life usually means a bitter fate, a hard and sad life. No one would wish for themselves or their loved ones to live the life of a slave.
But Joseph changes everything for the better, Joseph turns his situation around. He becomes the head of the house (Gen. 39), he eats well, dresses well, sleeps well. He turned his slavery into a blessing, for himself and for those around him.
“…the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; and the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in the house and in the field.” Genesis 39:5
Here is the first reversal in the story – instead of Joseph ending his life as a slave, he changes everything for the better. From the pit into which he was thrown, Joseph becomes manager of the house he serves.
But, just as everything is going good in Joseph’s life, they hurt him again. The master’s wife woos Joseph, and tries to get him to come to her and sleep with her. Joseph refuses. He respects his master, so much to the point he doesn’t even tell him about his wife’s actions. He doesn’t want to hurt him. After all, Joseph could have easily used the situation to his advantage, revealed to his master what his wife was doing and improved his situation even more. It is possible that the husband would have killed his adulterous wife. Yet, here Joseph chooses not to hurt the people around him. Again, he is silent.
The woman continues to try to seduce Joseph and he continues to refuse. She is offended and angry and decides to hurt him by stealing his clothes and accusing him of rape. Joseph is convicted and thrown again into a pit, the pit of prison.
“Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison…” v.20
Again! How would you feel in his place? Here too Joseph could have drowned in black bile, in depression with anger and negative thoughts. But he chose otherwise. Joseph once again changes his situation for the better. He also becomes an administrator in the prison and once again turns the worst situation into a blessing. A blessing for him, and for the others around him. Another reversal of situation, as in the scroll of Esther.
Later, Joseph becomes second-in-command in Egypt, and thanks to his correct management, he saves all the inhabitants of Egypt from dying of hunger. He not only saves the people of Egypt, but also his own brothers and father. Again, from a terrible situation, without any hope, Joseph becomes an overcomer. From a completely unfortunate situation he experiences victory.
How did he do it? The key lies in Joseph’s choice. Joseph chose life, not death.
“I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life.” Deuteronomy 30:19
Joseph chose life, he chose love, he chose faith. He chose to believe that God loves him, even in the midst of the difficult situations he found himself in. He gave up his right to be angry. He gave up thoughts of revenge and thus he allowed the power of God to work in his life. By choosing to subdue his negative thoughts and instead of insult, anger, despair and revenge, he chose faith. Faith in God’s love, he moved himself aside and invited God to act and turn his suffering, grief and pain into victory and blessing.
“…the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” v. 23
When we choose to believe the promises that God makes to us in His Word, we allow God to take control and thus we cause our reality to change. Our lives change and so do the lives of those around us. Suffering and injustice become a blessing.
In the pit, in the midst of danger of death, hurt and offended, sitting in prison convicted of rape when he was innocent – Jospeh chose to love God, and believe in God’s promises for his life. Joseph did not have the Scriptures, the Word of God that we have today. He did not know that one day God would send his Son to show us the way to the Kingdom of God. Joseph had only simple faith. With the help of his simple faith he turned his life from disaster to victory. All the more, we today can turn the difficult and painful situations in our lives, through faith in God’s love, into a blessing and a victory.
I pray that during this Purim season, we will see God working in our lives, even through the difficult situations, and like Joseph, we will allow him by his grace to turn our prison into freedom, our mourning into an oil of gladness, our depression and sadness into glory.
“A crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair.” Isaiah 61:3