Joseph and Osama Bin Laden

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Most missions messages come from the New Testament, but this one is from the first book of the Bible. Joseph is an unparalleled example of a man with a true missionary heart.

The story of Joseph was the theme of our training course for youth workers in Slovakia in the summer of 2001. I had ample opportunity to study this interesting personality and found the story of Joseph to be even more fascinating and timely two months later - after September 11th.

Heredity, Experience and Training determine a persons fate – say the experts!

HEREDITY: Joseph was the spoiled brat of both parents and his grandparents on both sides were little different. Isaac and Rebekah played favorites with Jacob and Esau. Jacob tricked his brother out of his birthright and Esau sought to murder him. Rebekah got wind of the plot and talked her husband into sending Jacob to her brother Laban, under the pretense of fetching a wife. Laban tricked Jakob into marrying Lea before he got Rachel, but not to be outdone, Jacob became a master of deceit. He tricked his father-in-law out of much of his wealth. Jacob's relationship with his two wives left much to be desired and Joseph's mother, Rachel, was certainly no angel of light. She was jealous of her sister Leah and blamed Jacob that she had no children even though she was his favorite wife. Similar to what Jacob did to Esau, she sold her sister a romantic night with Jacob for a bowl of garlic soup. Joseph's mother was not very godly even though she must have asked God for a child. Genesis 30:22 reports, "And God heard her prayer, opening her womb." God's answer to her prayer had little meaning to Rachel, however. When Jacob decided to flee from Laban and return to his homeland, she stole her father's favorite idol even though she knew  that the idol hadn't helped him. Her father would have killed her if she had not been such a clever deceiver. So much for heredity!

EXPERIENCE: As a teenager, Joseph became the hapless victim of his hate-filled brothers. He escaped with his life only because of their greed for money, but life in a strange land, culture and language was not much better than death. He became a slave of the meanest man in Egypt,  Pharaoh's chief executioner, Potipher, who was not even respected by his wife! Getting thrown into jail for refusing to commit adultery was no fun either. After interpreting the dreams of his fellow prisoners, Joseph hoped they would put in a good word for him when they appeared before Pharao, but that ray of hope was also soon dashed. So much for experience!

TRAINING: Moses received the best education Egypt had to offer, but the Bible doesn’t say much about Joseph’s education. Training generally took place in the home and centered around the family business. In Joseph’s case, this would have been farming. It is reasonable to assume, that he and his 11 brothers received the same training, but just look at the difference! So much for training!

Genesis 37:12-28

The 11th of September has become known as the day that changed the world. There was such a day in the life of Joseph. From one minute to the next, he was catapulted from being the spoiled teenage son of his parents to the hapless victim of his hate-filled brothers. He escaped with his life only because of his brother's greed for money, but his fate in a strange land, culture and language as a slave to the chief executioner of Pharaoh, was little better than death. According to all the experts, Joseph didn't have a fighting chance to turn out well.

Parallels in the Life of Osama Bin Ladin

I discovered that there are many similarities in the lives of Joseph and Osama Bin Laden.

• Joseph's father moved to a strange country where he raised his family and became wealthy. Osama's father was born in Jordan but moved to Saudi Arabia, where he raised his family and became wealthy.

• Like Joseph, Osama Bin Laden was the youngest son and had many brothers who disliked him.

• Like Rachel, Osama's mother was a beautiful woman and the favorite wife of father Bin Laden. She was not very religious however, and didn't wear the traditional Muslim Burka in public.

• Like Joseph, the youth Osama was separated from his father through a tragedy. Osama's father was killed in a helicopter crash -- the pilot was an American!

• Joseph was betrayed by his brothers and sold into a far country, but he later became renowned throughout the entire world. Osama was betrayed by his siblings and sent into exile. His Saudi citizenship was revoked. In his new environment Osama Bin Laden became a hero to millions in Afghanistan and in other Muslim nations. His influence was felt by both friend and foe around the world.

We can perhaps understand why Osama became a terrorist, but how can we explain Joseph?

Why didn't Joseph turn into a Terrorist instead of the Savior of Nations?

• Joseph was repeatedly betrayed, falsely accused, hated and disappointed at every turn. He had every human reason to retreat into his shell, become despondent, bitter, angry and vengeful. But we find none of this in the life of Joseph. Instead, he is a faithful and humble servant, showing great love and concern for those who mistreat him.

• Joseph was just as persistent in resisting evil as Potipher's wife was in insisting that he sin with her.

• Joseph must have prayed often for his family, but who prayed for Joseph? There was no First Baptist Church in Egypt where Joseph could fellowship. There were no fellow believers who prayed for him. His father believed Joseph to be dead. Pharaoh re-named Joseph after an Egyptian god.

• Joseph seems to have let himself go on only one occasion. When Pharaoh sent someone to the prison and ordered him to appear in his presence, Joseph was untypically shabby in appearance. He had to go shave and get washed up.

• What is most amazing about Joseph is the fact that he remained faithful and upright even after rising to power, wealth and authority. It is easier to be true to God in times of need and oppression than in times of affluence and freedom. Many Americans who seldom darkened the door of a church suddenly became religious after 9-11!

What can explain why Joseph was Different?

While it is true that "God was with Joseph in all that he did”, this was also said of Isaac and Jacob.

Joseph had a personal faith in God, but throughout scripture, Jacob and Isaac are also commended for their faith.

God revealed himself to Joseph in dreams, but Isaac and Jacob received God's promises firsthand (Genesis 28:11-16 and 31:3). God fulfilled a number of promises to Jacob and blessed him greatly but look at poor Joseph! No matter how much he tried to please God and man, his successes were short-lived.

Joseph obeyed God. There are people who obey God’s commandments even though they don’t believe in God. They don’t kill or commit adultery or lie or covet because they think nice people don’t do such. Some go to church on Sunday and pray, “Our Father, who art in Heaven…” and on Monday they live like orphans, serving the devil. This aptly describes Joseph’s brothers, but not Joseph. Certainly obedience is important, but this does not explain the difference between Joseph, Isaac and Jacob, for these also obeyed God.

Some might contend that Jacob was a pessimist and Joseph an optimist, but we must ask the question why?

As is often the case, we can find the reason for Joseph's strong faith, his obedience and optimism in the context of scripture.

Michaela, a girl in our youth group in Austria worked in a leather specialty shop. Once, she found a large sum of money in a purse that was to be repaired even though the owner insisted that the purse was empty. She returned the money and was mocked by her colleagues and even her boss ridiculed her. On another occasion, the shop owner instructed Michaela to tell anyone asking for her that she was not in. Michaela refused, saying that she could not lie as a Christian. Her boss became angry and threatened to fire her, but didn’t. Soon after that, the shop supervisor was caught stealing and was fired on the spot. Michaela was made the new supervisor. She was not obedient for rewards, but because she believed and obeyed God, He honored her commitment. Michaela displayed a characteristic which Joseph also possessed.

Joseph Trusted God

Joseph not only believed and obeyed; Joseph trusted God. Isaac and Jacob believed and obeyed God, but they didn't always trust Him. They trusted in their own abilities, wisdom, cunning and strength.

Isaac went to the Phillistines when there was a famine in the land instead of trusting God to supply. He lied to the king, saying Rebekah was his sister because he didn’t trust God to protect him.

Jacob lied to his father Isaac in order to gain a blessing that God had already promised him. He wrestled with an angel and received a lifelong limp along with that blessing.

Jacob used cunning and tricks to get what he wanted from his father in law and attempted to appease his brother Esau. Neither Laban nor Esau killed him or his family, but Jacob continued to live in fear and failed to trust God.

Obedience to God and His Word often leads to negative consequences. Joseph not only believed and obeyed God, but he trusted Him, leaving the results and consequences up to Him. Rewards and blessings were left to God's discretion. His words to Potipher, the jailor, his cellmates and Pharaoh show where he placed his faith: “God can do it!“ These men recognized that God was with him in all that he did, but if they didn't know God, how could they have known this? The answer is very simple: JOSEPH TOLD THEM! And how do we know all this? JOSEPH TELLS US!

That is what set Joseph apart from all the rest. That is why Potipher, the Jailor and Pharaoh elevated him to positions of authority. Because Joseph trusted God, they knew that they could trust him. If you don’t trust God to answer prayer or keep His promises, it is more difficult to obey. Example: Tell a child to jump off a table into your arms. If he doesn't trust you, he probably won't jump. Joseph was faithful and obedient and accepted whatever came his way. Joseph trusted God!

Christians have many earthly reasons to fear. Jesus sends us to be His witnesses and Paul wrote Timothy that all who will live godly, shall suffer persecution. We may not feel that America is at war against Islam, but fundamental Muslims view us as their enemy. Jesus sent us as lambs among the wolves! Witnessing Christians live dangerously no matter where they are. We have more human reason to fear than those without God. Christians are not safe anywhere in this world. A few years ago, we had to examine our mail carefully before opening it because someone was sending letter bombs to foreigners and those who worked with refugees. We fit both criteria.

On the morning of September 11, every household in our town received an invitation in the mail to attend our multimedia presentation on America. I prepared a 24-page brochure to distribute to those who came which had a photo of the World Trade Center on the cover along with a photo of the ruins of ancient Delphi in Greece. The title read, „Where is Civilization Headed?“

We didn't own a TV for over 20 years, but the Lord saw to it that we could view the tragic incident live on our neighbor's television set. Godless men would say it was only by chance but we know better. The angels worked overtime to arrange that. Several days earlier, our neighbor's TV simply quit working and he called a repairman to pick it up. At exactly 2:45 in the afternoon on September 11th, the serviceman brought their TV back and our neighbor turned it on to make certain that it worked. He was a farmer who never looked at TV during the day and certainly not CNN because he doesn't understand English. But there isn't much on TV during the day in Austria, so he turned on the satellite program of CNN. It was 9:00 AM in New York. Our neighbor saw a report of a plane crashing into a skyscraper and called us over. For the next three hours we watched in horror just like many in America.

When we thought of our multimedia show which included photos of the WTC and others taken from the top of the towers, our first reaction was to cancel the show. We returned to our home shaking in fear, but when Verna went into our bathroom, she called me to look at the verse posted on the back of our bathroom door. I have said these things so that you can have peace. You have trouble in the world, but need not fear because I have overcome the world. John 16:33

No Christian has any Biblical reason to be pessimistic or fearful!

An Austrian church leader told me once that he was purposely a pessimist. I asked him why and he said that a pessimist never gets disappointed and can only be pleasantly surprised. Noone who believes on Jesus Christ and the promises of God's Word has reason to be pessimistic. We have every reason to be optimistic. Jesus said, Fear not, for I am with you! He gave us the great commission and followed it up with the assurance of his presence until the end of the world. God was with Joseph and He is with us. He will never leave us nor forsake us.

We should share the gospel, believing that God will honor His Word. God's Word accomplishes what He intends it to accomplish. We can be optimistic Christians -- like Joseph, if we trust God.

I have a confession to make

I am often fearful. My knees knock every time I stand behind a pulpit speaking to Christians and when I witness or even think about witnessing, I panic. There are apparently some Christians who boldly share the gospel, convinced that God will honor their efforts. I wish I was like that but I’m not. When I knock on a door, I secretly hope that no one is home.

A well-known hymn tells us, “Just trust and obey, for there is no other way to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.” There are times when even great heroes of the faith are fearful. But even when we doubt God’s Word, He still honors our obedience. He did it for Isaac and Jacob and He has done it for me. When Jesus commanded Peter to cast out his net on the other side of the boat, Peter doubted that it would make a difference but he obeyed. We only need to trust and obey!

It is not fearlessness, but obedience which God honors. Many don't witness because they doubt that it would do any good. That is not only faithlessness but also disobedience, which God will punish. Others doubt and tremble in fear of a negative reaction from others when they witness, but because God says we are to be His witnesses, they obey anyway. And God blesses! (Psalm 126:5-6)

Some Christians feared that after 9-11, missions to Muslims would be next to impossible. So, what should we do? Will we be obedient or disobedient?

We were in Albania to help build a church shortly before 9-11. Albania had been 90% Muslim before the Communist takeover and Communists outlawed all religion for 40 years! The small church in Kukes, Albania reported that at least one Muslim had been converted every month for two years after September 11th. The church is completely indigenous today and  still growing! In April of 2002, we visited Turkey and became convinced that this Muslim country is also ripe for the gospel. Since the emergence of ISIS, many Muslims are defecting from Islam. Most become atheists but a large number are converting to Christianity. The apologetic website, gets many thousands of Muslim visitors daily!

Those who claim that Joseph was an incurable optimist should read the story of Joseph again and ask the question, "Was Joseph really fearless?" In Genesis 42:21, Joseph's brothers said to each other, "We saw the anguish of his soul, when he begged for mercy and we wouldn’t listen." 

Joseph was obedient, but nowhere do I find evidence that he was fearless or that he optimistically expected God to honor his faith. He refused to sin with Potipher's wife because it would be wrong in God's eyes and because he did not wish to betray the trust of his master. He didn’t serve the jailor to win his favor, but because it was right in God’s eyes. After interpreting the dreams of the imprisoned butler and baker, he asked them to put in a good word for him when they appeared before Pharaoh, but that was probably an afterthought. When Joseph was called to appear before Pharaoh to interpret a dream that no one else could decipher, Joseph must have sensed fear. He displayed absolutely no confidence in his ability to interpret dreams, but said that only God could do this. And he added that he was confident, God WOULD REVEAL HIS PLAN OF SALVATION to Pharaoh (Gen. 41:16 the KJV says “word of peace“).

How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation? That great salvation is not of works, but it certainly deserves our greatest effort to “work out.” Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure (Philippians 2:12-13).

Some readers may be the optimistic types who witness, expecting God to convict and save souls. God bless you! Most of us are the fearful variety, who only expect to be mocked or persecuted for trying to share Christ. Joseph's experiences could have given him reason to be fearful or bitter, but he trusted God and obeyed. The person in the parable of the talents who feared and buried his talent was cast into outer darkness. Christians who don't witness are disobedient, and God will punish disobedience.

In his lifetime, Joseph was at best the #2 person, but he always gave his best to please God. He tried to be the best son, the best slave, the best prisoner, the best interpreter, the best administrator and the best mediator. Joseph was content with being #2 because he knew that God was #1.

Psalm 40:9-10; Psalm 105:16-24; Psalm 126:5-6 (Also read: Exodus from Canaan)

Ralph V Harvey, 2015