Joseph’s Glory

Our Lord says to every living soul, “I became [human] for you. If you do not become God for me, you do me wrong.” Meister Eckhart

The brothers could not escape the conclusion that their brother Joseph was a type of God here. Overarching their whole story was a God who knows all things in advance and who only reveals His intentions slowly in time. Likewise, Joseph was in the know and all those around him were in the dark, beginning with his dreams as a boy. Joseph, like God, revealed himself and his intentions slowly over a long period of time until all were in the know (W. Lee Humphries, Joseph and His Family). Joseph orders events like God orders events; he is most God-like.

Perhaps “God-like” is too weak at term to describe this man. Joseph, of course, is not God, for he himself is conscious of the creator/creature distinction when he reassures his fearful brothers after their father’s death, “Do not be afraid, am I in the place of God?” It is not his place to judge and punish them. However, he is portrayed as a “deified man,” if you will. It is likely that the Egyptians, who had not the theological advantages as the sons of Abraham, simply considered him a god. They understood this wonderful man to be the “Father of Pharaoh,” as even Joseph styles himself (Genesis 45:8). Pharaoh, of course, was their god, and to be his “father” surely had theological significance for them. The connection in their mind between Joseph and Osirus, their grain god, was suggested in the June 3rd blog 2014. We do not agree with these pagans theologically, but we do take note of their perception of Joseph’s persona.

The numinous nature of Joseph’s persona, which prompts us to use the word “deified” in describing this man, is further enhanced by the Hebrew word “glory.” When Joseph persuades his brothers to go back and bring their father Jacob, he charges them to tell him of all his “glory” (45:13). The surface meaning of this word “glory” in this context means Joseph’s honor and power, but on a deeper level this word has theological implications. Glory essentially belongs to God only but can be shared with those who partake in God’s image. Moses is an example of this par excellence. Because he “saw” God’s glory, he himself shared in that glory. Indeed, his glory was so evident that he had to cover his head before the people (Ex. 33:18ff. and 34:29-35). Likewise, we might say that Joseph shone what he saw and experienced of God. These men were actual partakers of the Divine; we are, therefore, bold to call them “deified.”

The Hebrews had a special term for this rare state of spirituality; it is called tāmîm, often translated as “perfect.” Noah was said to be tāmîm, walking with God, and we assume Enoch his ancestor was as well, although he is not explicitly called “tāmîm,” for he “walked with God” with the mysterious result that “he was no more, for God took him” (Gen. 5:21-24 and 6:9). Abraham’s spiritual responsibility is summed up by God as “walk before me and be perfect,” or tāmîm (Gen. 17:1). Now tāmîm must not be confused with moral perfection. This is obvious from King David’s application of the term to himself when in fact we know that he was morally imperfect (II Sam. 22:24). Morality, of course, is an aspect of tāmîm, like it is of the Hebrew concept of holiness, but it is not foundational. The phrase “walking before God” that accompanies tāmîm in these passages emphasize the relational core of tāmîm. tāmîm denotes the quality of a person who has walked so closely in deep relationship with God that they begin to look and act alike. Evidently, Enoch achieved such a deep state of perfection that he was “raptured” into the realm of God’s pure presence. For more on the idea of perfection, see the posts from December 10, 2012 to February 5 2013).

Joseph, therefore, was tāmîm. He reached the highest state which theologians of the Spirit call “union,” a term we will discuss in a following post. Here we must repeat what we emphasized in an earlier post when discussing encounters with the Divine. When God blesses someone in an extraordinary way, He does so to bless the world (December 17, 2013). True spirituality is never a private matter. Sure, there have always been those who retreat selfishly within themselves, never to come out. This is a false mysticism and is fruitless. The fact is, however, that true spirituality will always benefit humanity. So we see Joseph here at the summit of his life; he is the savior of the world! The whole earth, or at least that part which could come to Egypt for grain, comes to him for food. He lives in the holy sphere where action and rest are fully integrated. He rules a nation, provides for the poor, and preserves life, yet not to the loss of his inward life of the spirit. This is the supreme summit of spirituality.

2 Responses to “Joseph’s Glory”

  1. Father John,

    In your narrative, you indicate that “Joseph orders events like God orders events.” Could you elaborate on this in that I have always been of the belief that it is the sole prerogative of God to truly order events.

    In Faith and Friendship,

  2. Joe, I am sorry for the late response; actually I responded last week but for some reason, the answer did not get posted. Be this as it may, my point here is that Joseph was given power by God over the lives of his brothers. He uses this power in a hidden way behind the scenes, ordering his servants to hid things, go out and fetch his brothers, etc. He does not use his power to force his will on them, but is behind the scenes listening in on their conversations so as to know the secrets of their hearts. It is in the way he uses power that is most Godlike. Does this help?

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