Many of us can probably relate to Joseph. Although our circumstances may not be as severe they are just as emotionally charged. However difficult his life may have been, the outcome of Joseph’s life is reflected in the blessing spoken to him by Jacob in Gen. 49: 22-26. In poetic fashion Jacob depicts Joseph as a “fruitful bough” (literally a son) who is planted by a flowing and constant water source and whose “branches” (literally daughters) stretch over the garden wall. Joseph’s vine has had its share of struggles. It has been attacked and harassed by enemies (archers) who have tried to shoot the life out of it. Reflecting on Joseph’s story shows the reality of this image. He was “attacked” by his brothers and sold into slavery (Gen. 37:18-28). He was “harassed” by Potipher’s wife and landed in prison (Gen. 39:6-20). But the pivotal passage in Jacob’s blessing tells us why and how Joseph was able to endure these seemingly insurmountable obstacles. Verse 24 tells us that Joseph stood firm and remained agile because of “The Mighty One of Jacob” who is a “Shepherd”.
You may be familiar with the life of a shepherd in Biblical times. Their primary responsibility was to feed, tend, care for, protect and graze the flock under their watch (Gen. 30:31; Ex. 3:1; 1 Sam. 17:15). When the word shepherd is applied to the Lord it is in reference to His relationship with Jacob and his descendants (Gen. 48:15; Is. 40:11; Hos. 4:16). God as the Shepherd of Israel “helps” His people (v.25). This verb means to help or to aid, support, or to give material or non-material encouragement to a person and is usually used in contrast to pagan idols who could not respond to any kind of need (Dt. 32:38). I’m sure when Joseph heard the Lord referred to in this way, he was reminded both of his former occupation while growing up in a shepherding family but also of the times when God had encouraged him in spite of his dire circumstances.
This passage also indicates that the Lord is the kind of Shepherd who has the strength to come through in providing for every need. That is because He is “Almighty” (v. 25). This title continues with the agricultural theme of Joseph’s blessing. When “Shaddai” is used of God it generally refers to the promises He has given concerning fertility, land and the abundant ways in which God is able to fulfill them (Gen. 17:1; 28:3; 35:11). All three patriarchs knew God by this name (Gen. 28:1-2; 35:11) and it was Joseph’s experience as well (Gen. 48:3; Ex. 6:3). When it looked like his life was to be spent as a nomad, the Midianites sold him to Potipher where there was stability (Gen. 37:36; 39:1-6). When it looked like he would never be trusted again and would waste away in prison, he was elevated to a position of authority within the prison itself (Gen. 39:21-22). When it looked like his life would always be lived behind prison walls (Gen. 40:1-20), his ability to interpret dreams was remembered (Gen. 41:1-45) and he was moved into Pharaoh’s court. When it looked like he would never see his beloved family again, a famine brought them to his door (Gen. 42:1-8; 43:1-2). There is no human strength that could do that. Only a powerful Shepherd could provide in that way.
Do you believe, like Joseph, that your circumstances (good or bad) are in God’s Hands (Gen. 45:4-8)? Do you believe He has the power to use either negative or positive situations in your life for His good (Rom. 8:28, 37-39; Phil. 2:12-13; 4:11-13)? Be encouraged! God can and will do that because He is the Almighty Shepherd (Ps. 23)!
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of 5/29/2016