A certain man had two wives, which means that under our present law he could be classed as a Bigamist. His first wife was the older of the two, whose weak eyes spoilt her facial beauty. However, his second wife, who turned out to be the first wife's younger sister, was strikingly beautiful, and it was of no surprise that she became her husband's true love, at the cost of his older wife's misery. However, the older spouse successfully gave birth the six of his sons in her desperate but unsuccessful attempt to win her husband's heart, whilst the ravaging beauty remained childless. Even two additional concubines each became mothers of two more of his sons, making a further four in all, totalling ten sons altogether.
At last, his younger wife gave birth to his son when his firstborn had already grown up. Not long after this, his older wife died prematurely, most likely from a broken heart, and was buried in the family tomb. The man referred to here was Jacob, who was renamed Israel, and to anyone even faintly acquainted with the Bible through Sunday school classes, Jacob's wives were Leah and Rachel. Poor Leah! Enduring a loveless marriage, yet able to give birth to six of his sons, including Judah the fourth-born, who carried the Messianic Line. Rachel at last had given birth to Joseph whilst at middle age. As a result, Joseph became daddy's favourite, much to the jealousy of his older brothers. And this feeling of jealousy towards their youngest brother was not only universally shared, but it also morphed into hatred - especially after cockily revealing to them that he will one day rule over his brothers.
Joseph was around sixteen or seventeen years when he was rewarded with a sibling from his own mother. But this was a bittersweet experience for both Joseph and his father. His favourite wife died at childbirth, and she was buried at a separate location, away from the family tomb. Unfortunately, we are not told when Leah died, but when she did, it must have been close to Hebron where the family tomb, also known as the Cave of Machpelah, is located. However, it was most likely that Jacob was already a double-widower by the time the ten older brothers had sold their teenage sibling to the Midianites, who were heading to Egypt.
What a crush this must have been to poor Joseph! Some time after being sold as a slave to an Egyptian governor Potiphar, the handsome slave was falsely accused of attempted rape by Potiphar's wife, after having her advances and her attempts to seduce him snubbed by him during his master's absence. He was then thrown into prison, what looks to be for an indefinite term.
Whilst in prison for a crime he didn't commit, such a circumstance could have been a just cause for self-pity, bitterness, or even rage. There was a high likelihood that he was still grieving for his late mother, he misses watching his younger brother Benjamin, whose birth he might well have witnessed, grow up into adulthood, and pondering what his father may be thinking and feeling. Does his father believe that he is still alive somewhere? Or does he believe that he is dead, and therefore grieving for his favourite son? There is no way he can glean such information. But at least he may be comforted by the fact that none of his older brothers would have been aware of his imprisonment. Such thoughts of them gloating over his fate might have been enough to send him over the cliff. Instead, by walking in the Holy Spirit, he knew how to build a good relationship with both the wardens and fellow prisoners alike.
And so a steward reveals to a troubled Pharaoh about how a dream he had was interpreted by Joseph, and his prediction came true. The former slave was released from prison, and after interpreting Pharaoh's two dreams, he was promoted to Prime Minister, the second in rank after the King himself and therefore just about equal in authority. It was some years later, when a severe famine had struck, when all his ten older brothers arrived to buy grain to take home to their father.
Although Joseph acted stoically during their first encounter, having recognised his brothers, he had emotions which he had to hide from them. This we know, for the narrator slips in the little incident of turning to weep during a brief interval (Genesis 42:24). It could be the thought of his missing brother and his deceased mother which caused his emotions to rise. Or it could be just the presence of his own family in a strange and foreign land. Whatever it might have been, it was some time later, when his younger brother, who was also the son of Jacob and Rachel, turned up with the others. Here, the narrator does not hold back when he writes, "And Joseph made haste; for his bowels did yearn upon his brother: and he sought where to weep; and he entered into his chamber, and wept there."
Genesis 43:30, AV.
Soon after, the narrator adds, "Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren.
And he wept aloud: and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard."
Genesis 45:1-2, AV.
It goes on, "And he fell upon his brother Benjamin's neck, and wept; and Benjamin wept upon his neck.
Moreover he kissed all his brethren, and wept upon them: and after that his brethren talked with him."
Genesis 45:14-15, AV.
Here is one of the most powerful rulers of Egypt, next to Pharaoh himself, yet he had no qualms about weeping in company. If God has ever been wise on how to bring out love, pity and affection from others, it is in the form of shedding tears, especially in the company of loved ones. I have always admired this particular Bible character because of this alone. Two more characters I can think of who also had no qualms weeping in company. One of these is the apostle Paul. He was the apostle to the Gentiles, used mightily by God to spread the Gospel to non-Jews across the Roman Empire and founded churches in his known world. With leanings towards a work-loving Choleric temperament, Paul had the natural ability of a strong leader, determined, courageous, and tend to persevere undaunted in his task, regardless on how difficult it might be or what obstacles he may face in his determination to finish his project. But of what he naturally lacks was compassion for the more timid, as well as being prone to anger. A striking example of this was when he came to blows with his best mate and partner Barnabas, recorded in Acts 15:36-41. The disagreement was over John Mark quitting from his role in their mission and returned to Jerusalem, which is recorded in Acts 13:13. Unlike Barnabas, with his gentle nature and willing to give John Mark another chance, Paul couldn't stand quitters, so he refused to have John Mark accompany them for the next mission.
Another example of Paul's short fuse is recorded in Acts 23:3 where he stands before an accusing Sanhedrin. A priest strikes him on the cheek, to whom he responds: May God strike you, you whitewashed wall! Then not to leave out Paul's contention with Peter for his hypocrisy shown before Gentile believers eating at table, recorded in Galatians 2:1-14, when Peter, Barnabas, among other Jews, suddenly withdrew from the table when news arrived that devout Jewish believers sent by James were due to arrive at any moment.
Then comes this verse, even if it's the only one of its kind coming from Paul's pen. It is 2 Corinthians 2:4 where he writes that, "For out of much affliction and anguish of heart I wrote unto you with many tears; not that ye should be grieved, but that ye might know the love which I have more abundantly unto you." There is one other verse which testify of Paul's tears, and it's recorded by Luke in Acts 20:31, which reads, "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn any one night and day with tears."
The public showing of emotion by someone like Paul is very much out of his natural character! His dominant emotion was chiefly anger, with a general lack of natural love, affection and compassion. And so to read of his post-conversion life as one shedding tears in public for the benefit of fellow-believers must be miraculous indeed - someone who had allowed the Holy Spirit to work within him by softening his character for the benefit of those he was to minister to. It is the power of the Holy Spirit to minimise his anger by adding tenderness, along with love and gentleness to his character. As a result, I would not be surprised to see Paul embracing another man as he cries tears on his neck - very much the same way Joseph did over his brother Benjamin.
Then who can forget the shortest verse in the entire Bible? It is John 11:35, which simply says, "Jesus wept." Here is the Jewish Messiah, the Christ, Son of God, Son of Man - weeping in public. An incident noted by all twelve disciples, along with the Pharisees, for they commented on how much Jesus loved Lazarus, who had just died recently and was buried in rock tomb. Of course, Jesus walked in the power of the Holy Spirit without a single fail. He was indeed God manifest in the flesh, and there he was, with the Cross well within his sight, crying like a child over the death of a loved one.
Which brings me to ask: Was Joseph, with his abundance of tears, a cissy? He cried out so loudly over his brother Benjamin that it was heard as far away as Pharaoh's house. Then there was Paul, the determined, hard working, persevering, opinionated, and often angry religious Jew who formerly persecuted Christian believers, rounding them up to bring them into Jerusalem to face prosecution, quite likely execution. He set off on that task with determination. He wouldn't let anything stand in his way while he was on that road to Damascus. So intense was his determination, that the Lord had to literally blind him just to make him see the error of his ways. Then, after that, he testifies of his weeping in public as part of his ministry to edify fellow believers. Had God really changed Paul from a strong, masculine and determined man into a weak, quivering wreck of a weeping Nancy-boy?
Or did God transform Paul into a proper masculine man?
Because Jesus himself was a proper masculine man, yet he had no qualms to cry in public.
And these are the three Biblical characters who had no qualms about showing emotion in public, or even to give a hug. And one of the three happens to be God incarnate. And so I write this blog a week after visiting my former church, which is now the Kerith Centre in my hometown of Bracknell.
I became a regular member of Bracknell Baptist Church as it was then, in the Spring of 1975, just over two years after conversion. Over the years I have watched people come and go, including witnessing the deaths of many of its older members. And the arrival of new members, especially from 1978 onward, from universities across the country. This was due to several high-tech companies setting up business in our town and began trading here. These companies attracted young graduates as employees, who also began to fill our churches. Some of these graduates are still here with us to this day. And so I have seen when I paid a visit to the Kerith Centre last Sunday, when our own fellowship at Ascot had closed due to many attending West Point Bible Festival near Exeter. And so I was recognised by at least two of them, but not a single greeting, not a question asked how my walk with God is progressing, nor how my wife or family are keeping, or even if I'm enjoying retirement and what I do to occupy my spare time. Instead, just a stone-cold expression on their faces as they went about church business. Not that I was invisible. I wasn't invisible. I was seen. And I was ignored. Thankfully, I did spend some time enjoying a conversation with a couple of other members who had a genuine interest in my welfare. To them I will always be grateful. And having had a rather lengthy chat with one of them, I left the building feeling edified and with a general feeling of acceptance. But had those two had not been there, then I would have been ignored entirely by those who knew me for the past 35-40 years.
I guess it's a very different environment from Biblical times, when men lived in tents and tended sheep. Our society of today is vastly different from Joseph's day. I realise that. Today we are far, far better educated, far more aware of class, profession, wealth, and status, and quite likely awareness of physical good looks too. And the end result being the cliquey culture, an in-group/out-group basis for acceptance depending on like attracting like. In other words, if you are different, then you're out, ignored, rejected. The trouble with this kind of set up is, if I have a genuine concern for their welfare, their walk with God, health, jobs, etc, then this makes it difficult to break the ice, because of a fear of rejection. This could mean the person whom I approaching turning and walking away, as if I'm chasing him - and believe me, that has happened before now in church! More likely it would mean delivering just one answer - "fine" - and then turning to speak to someone else or engage in a task.
It is deplorable, coming to think of it. Then I wonder why, in a so-called "Christian Country" maybe up to 98% of the English population are heading towards a lost eternity? Do you realise that this grieves my spirit? Here I'm talking about the influence of Christian believers living in a cliquey, in-group/out-group culture. Say, for example, they arrive here in September 1980. That is 37 years to this day. Such a duration would cover 1,924 sermons preached, one every Sunday. Of course, no one would attend all 1,924 sermons. We have to allow for absences, including holidays, sabbaticals, work rota, illness, family issues, or simply the desire to stay in bed. But with the approaching of two thousand sermons, many of these sermons carrying weighty power, can lives really remain unchanged after all that time? After all, would I be able to distinguish a Christian graduate who is an established church member from another graduate, unchurched and an atheist?
Other than Jesus Christ, I think one of the Bible characters whom I lift my hat in respect has to be Joseph. Despite suffering ill-treatment throughout much of his youth by older brothers consumed by jealousy, he loved them to the end. And he embraced each one of them, and wept over each one of them unashamedly. If I had been there myself, I probably would have wept simply by watching.
There is something about Jesus instructions for every believer to love each other. He taught that this was the only way the world would know that we are his disciples. That we love one another (John 13:35) and to love one another is proof that we are born of God. And sorry to they this, but this godly love does not mean cliques! Neither does it mean listening to sermons every week then forgetting them, either. For that matter, it does not mean being good at the church electronic monitoring consoles either, or to be a good steward with a collection basket. Or to be good at the guitar, keyboard or drums. It means embracing with genuine love and acceptance all with different backgrounds and of all kinds of characteristics and personalities.
In recent years I was told off by our church elders at Ascot for hugging too much. The main reason given was that hugging is not part of our culture. Hugging is not British. Between men, it's not masculine. It is a crying shame that because we are not physical brothers, we are culture-bound not to show affection. A limp shaking of the hands together with talk about business are acceptable, but not showing affection.
Indeed, it's a crying shame.