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Garment of Death
"So Joseph died at the age of one hundred and ten years; and he was
embalmed and placed in a coffin in Egypt."
Over the past few weeks, we've walked beside Joseph through the ups
and downs of his life. Out of jealousy over Joseph's favored relationship
with their Dad, Joseph's brothers ripped his robe off of him, soiled it
with the blood of a goat and threw him into a pit. With his garment of
favoritism, they deceived his father, telling him that Joseph was dead.
But Joseph wasn't dead. His brothers sold him as a slave to an Egyptian
In the beginning, Egypt wasn't all that bad for Joseph. Sure, he missed
his father and longed for home, but he had a good assignment-watching after
Potiphar's household. He'd done well for himself and became head over the
entire household. Potiphar didn't keep anything from him, except of course,
Potiphar's wife had another idea. She found Joseph attractive and made
a pass at him. "But Joseph refused. 'Look,' he told her, 'my master trusts
me with everything in his entire household.  No one here has more authority
than I do! He has held back nothing from me except you, because you are
his wife. How could I ever do such a wicked thing? It would be a great
sin against God.'" (Genesis 39:8-9 NLT)
Later, Potiphar's wife wouldn't take "no" for an answer. She clutched
onto Joseph and demanded he sleep with her. Joseph didn't. Instead he turned
and ran. As he ran from the seductresses' grasp, his clothes tore. Once
again, Joseph sat in a "pit"-a prison cell--with his clothes in someone
else's hand. This time his brothers did not tear off his clothes. It was
his boss's wife. She used the garment of accusation to deceive her husband
into thinking that Joseph made a pass at her and he threw Joseph into prison.
Joseph may have thought that he'd lost it all. How could he know that
soon God would use him to preserve Egypt and his family through a time
of famine? At the time, he probably thought he had nothing. Nothing except
his integrity and his faith. But then again, whether you live in Pharaoh's
palace or in a prison, what else is there? But Joseph had more than his
integrity, he had God's favor. God gave him the ability to interpret the
dreams of the baker and the cupbearer when they were in prison. Two years
later, the cupbearer advised Pharaoh to send for Joseph to interpret two
of Pharaoh's troubling dreams. Joseph interpreted the dreams and suggested
that Pharaoh appoint a wise man to administer a savings plan during the
seven years of plenty to provide for the nation during the seven years
of drought to follow.
Pharaoh followed his advice and appointed Joseph-the man he'd just called
out of his prison-to prepare the country for their future. He put his signet
ring on Joseph's hand and the garment of exultation on his back. Life progressed
just as Joseph predicted. There were seven years of plenty in the land
until drought swallowed the prosperity that the Egyptians were enjoying.
But because of Joseph, there was still bread in Egypt. He'd stored a portion
of the grain, preparing for the difficult days.
It was nine years after Joseph ascended to his position of power that
our story took a fateful twist. Ten of Joseph's brothers-the brothers that
threw him into the pit and sold him into slavery-showed up to ask for grain.
Joseph recognized them, but they didn't recognize him. Joseph immediately
accused them of spying and threw them in prison for three days. Was he
getting even? Not exactly. Three days later, he released all but one of
them, gave them the grain they requested, and even returned their money
to them. He kept one of the brothers in jail to insure they would return
with Benjamin, the brother they told Joseph was still at home with their
aged father. When they returned home, Israel refused to let Benjamin go
to Egypt to secure the release of his other son. But when they ran out
of food-and options-Israel agreed to send Benjamin. This time, Joseph threw
a banquet feast for his brothers and instructed his stewards to give them
the grain they needed, and to insert his special cup into Benjamin's bag.
Soon after they left for home, Joseph sent his men to intercept them, search
through their bags for his cup and when they found it to accuse them of
stealing and bring them back to him.
Joseph had them right where he wanted them. His plan was to throw Benjamin
in jail so that his father would come to Egypt to get him. Then Joseph
could be reunited with his father before he dies. What Joseph didn't count
on was an impassioned plea by Judah to put him in jail instead of Benjamin
so that the sorrow wouldn't kill his father. For the third time Joseph
broke down, but this time it was in front of his brothers. The first time,
Joseph overheard the brothers lamenting what they'd done to him. Joseph
was overcome with emotion to hear their contrition so he went into a private
chamber and wept. The second time, Joseph wept when he saw his younger
brother Benjamin. Again, he went into a private chamber and wept. This
time, he didn't hide his passion from his brothers. He sent his attendants
from the room, but he wept so loud that they heard him. He revealed himself
to his brothers and told them that God had turned their evil into His good.
He gave them wagons to carry their food and fresh garments for their back-garments
of reconciliation, and sent them back to get their father so they could
live in Egypt and avoid the five years of famine to come.
The brothers did as Joseph said and Joseph and his father were reunited
in Genesis 46:29: "And Joseph prepared his chariot and went up to Goshen
to meet his father Israel; as soon as he appeared before him, he fell on
his neck and wept on his neck a long time." Israel and his family settled
in the Land of Goshen where God provided for the children of Israel through
the famine and beyond. Israel lived out his life near his favorite son
Joseph-the young dreamer that became a ruler. Joseph grew old and died,
near his family. And that's where our story ends-with Joseph in a death
shroud-a garment of death.
As you look back over Joseph's life, what are the life lessons you've
learned? I've learned something about passion. We've told the story using
Joseph's garments to divide the episodes of his life. The garment of favoritism
symbolized his early years as a spoiled favorite son of a wealthy man.
The garment of accusation symbolized how Joseph got a raw deal, once again
when Potiphar's wife ripped off his robe and used it to frame Joseph for
a crime he didn't commit. When Pharaoh recalled him from prison, he put
the garment of exultation on his back, representing God's favor and Joseph's
authority. Then when Joseph dealt kindly with his brothers, he gave them
the garments of reconciliation, showing God's grace that flowed through
Joseph to those that wronged him. And now, Joseph is wearing the garment
of death, showing that every person-great and small-all share a common
ending to their lives-Joseph died. But we could have told his story with
the tears he shed throughout his life. The tears of terror in the pit,
the tears of anger in the prison, the tears of joy before Pharaoh, the
tears of grace before his brothers and the tears of completion before his
father. Joseph was a passionate man who lived his life to the fullest.
Joseph was also a godly man. He didn't take credit for God's good work
in his life and did not get bitter when others treated him wrong. Joseph
served the Lord during good times and bad. He lived his life, devoted to
God, willing to do whatever it took to accomplish his life mission.
Joseph was a persistent man. And here's the big lesson. Joseph didn't
give up, no matter what-he remained faithful and he persevered. How did
he do it? How did he hold on?
I don't know how deep Joseph's pit was or how dark his prison cell was,
but it couldn't have been any deeper, bleaker or darker than the mine that
imprisoned nine Pennsylvania miners last week. As I've read the reports
of their rescue, two things emerge as reasons why they survived. One, they
didn't go it alone. According to Mayhugh, one of the miners, they tied
themselves together so they would "live or die as a group." "Everybody
had strong moments," he said. "At any certain time maybe one guy got down,
and then the rest pulled together and then that guy would get back up and
maybe somebody else would feel a little weaker. But it was a team effort.
That's the only way it could've been."
The other reason they survived was their determination. Dr. Russell
Dumire, a trauma surgeon at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center that treated
the survivors said, "These people had the inner will to go on and I think
that's what pulled them through," Randy Popernack, a cousin of Mark Popernack,
one of the survivors had this to say about the spirit of miners. "I am
mining people," he said. "Never give up. Never give up."
That's a good summary of lessons I learned from Joseph's life. "Never
give up. Never give up."