G.I. Joe and Other Josephs

Posted on May 26, 2019


G.I. Joe and Other Josephs

G.I. Joe was the nickname of soldiers in World War II. It came from “government issue” associated with all the uniforms and stuff issued to guys in service. And “Joe” of course is short for Joseph, one of the most popular names in American life. I’m sorry girls, but while there is a “Rosie the Riveter,” it just doesn’t ring the same bells as G.I. Joe

A few weeks ago, our pastor started a series of sermons on heroes in the Bible—he called it “running with the giants—” and it got me started to thinking again of heroes we all have.

Heroes, by the way, are important. We often in life measure ourselves against our heroes, as close to us as a parent or grandparent, as removed from us in time and space, but not in meaning, as a Joseph in the Bible. If we don’t have real heroes—not virtual, fantasy or invented heroes like in the game of thrones today—we have problems in creating our good selves.

And here let me express a prejudice. Real heroes always carry greater meaning than invented heroes, with due apologies to all of the great heroes invented in literature, from the Odyssey to To Kill a Mockingbird. They can and do deliver a powerful message of everything from destiny to true justice.

The name Joseph in the history of Christianity is most often remembered as Joseph, the father of Jesus. But there was another Joseph, in the Old Testament, whose experience we can relate to a little easier than being the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus. The husband of the mother of God is a tough act to follow.

Joseph appears in the Book of Genesis so we can safely assume at least 3000, perhaps 4000 years ago. Joseph was one of twelve sons of Jacob.

Joseph, like some of us out there, was the youngest son with at least ten older brothers. The youngest tend to be favored by their older parents and so it was with Joseph. He mouthed off to his brothers about dreams which obviously favored him and so they decided to get rid of him and packed him off on some slave traders headed to Egypt. Good riddance Joseph.

As any good story, the plot thickens. He’s sold by the slave traders in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guard. Things get complicated and there’s a woman involved of course. Potiphar’s wife takes a lusty liking to Joseph who has risen to become Potiphar’s personal servant. Zuleika tries to seduce Joseph and, lo and behold, he refuses to betray his master and pulls away from the woman. Point one in Joseph as hero: he has scruples in spite of his manly vitality and youth and a lustful woman who so very obviously wants him. She snatches a bit of his robe as he runs away and accuses him of rape.

And so Joseph goes from the head of the household servants into prison. There he meets Pharaoh’s chief cup bearer and chief baker who each have some dreams that they can’t figure out. God is with Joseph and he tells them what the dreams mean, and the word gets back to Pharaoh that this Hebrew can interpret dreams correctly. So, Pharaoh calls Joseph out of prison and Joseph explains Pharaoh’s dream to him and lo and behold, seven years of feast and seven years of famine ensure, just as Joseph predicted. Joseph rises in Pharaoh’s estimation and becomes, effectively, chief of staff, the man closest to Pharaoh, his go-to man.

The full story of what happens next is too long and too fascinating to try and capture in a column. The short version is that he is eventually reunited with his brothers who had sold him into slavery, and Joseph saves his father Jacob, his brothers and their families from starvation during the seven years of famine.

When Joseph finally reveals his identity to his brothers, who had failed to recognize the Egyptian (they thought) counselor to Pharaoh after so many years since they sold him into slavery, his brothers were both astonished and afraid. But Joseph told them, “And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life. … So, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45:5, 8)

For Joseph, our hero, all glory went to God. In the New Testament, Paul writes the Christian church at Rome that “for those who love God all things work together for good.” (Romans 8:28)

Our national motto—look at your dollar bill—is “In God We Trust.” Joseph did. 90% of Americans still did as of a poll taken in 2003. There are always some who don’t. We suggest they read the accounts of the great Biblical heroes, like Joseph, and put their trust in God.

And as we approach a big election year, ask those running for office who are their heroes, and why? I’m still working on my list.

Published as “Heroes are important, especially real ones,” May 19, 2019 in The Tuscaloosa News.

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