That Of Which We Are Capable
Did Israel (a.k.a. Jacob) know how much his older sons hated their younger brother, Joseph? Had the older boys walked around camp with smiles pasted on their faces but harbouring a deep-seated resentment in their hearts? Joseph was not only preferred by their father, but had shared some pretentious ambitions with them—he would rule over them. Did Israel choose not to believe that his boys were capable of doing harm to the one he openly favoured? In any case, Israel sent Joseph out alone to find his older brothers. It became the right time and the right place to act upon their anger, jealousy and hatred.
When Joseph arrived at Dothan to find his brothers, the Scriptures say: “…they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him” (37:16).
Reuben convinced them to simply throw Joseph into a nearby cistern. His plan was to return and rescue his younger brother (37:22). At the risk of being too cynical, I don’t attribute this altruism to Reuben’s concern for Joseph as much as it was a means to get back into his father’s good books. Genesis 35:22 tells us that Reuben had slept with his father’s concubine—mother to some of his own brothers. That probably wasn’t well received! I suspect Reuben was thinking, “I’ll save the little snot’s life and my father will overlook my indiscretion!”
Recent events in my own country and in that of our neighbours to the south remind me that it only takes the right time, the right place, the right voice that shouts what has been buried deep within us, to bring out what we would most like to deny—our hatred, our prejudice, and the fear that fuels them.
We don’t believe we are capable of such evil. Israel wouldn’t have believed his flesh and blood to be capable of premeditated murder—but they were! He would not have sent his favourite into the jaws of the lions if he had had the slightest idea of what was in their hearts.
Jeremiah says that, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (17:9). He goes on to say that, “I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve” (17:10).
The brothers may have hidden their feelings from their father, but God knew. We may smile on the outside and say all the right things that make us look like we are accepting and generous. But God knows what is buried within, waiting for the right moment to pop out, foul our mouths and misdirect our actions.
David reminds us of an important step that we need to continually take in order to eliminate and avoid the evil we are all capable of. In Psalm 139:23, 24, he writes: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.”
If God doesn’t root out the evil of which we are capable, eventually something or someone will trigger it within us.
Paul acknowledged the problem in his own life and came to this conclusion: “What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:24, 25).
Only the One who was without sin can save those who have more than enough to spare.