Joseph: The Modern Anti-Hero
“Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Hebrews 13:7
Modern heroes are those who sell magazines with their faces on covers, make millions in sports, sing or act their way into the hearts of swooning fans, become more popular after their infidelities, live the decadent life before a jealous world, and tell with panache bold lies received as truth. Traveling in Europe some years ago we found that the American President who repeatedly cheated on his wife was far more popular than the President who was faithful, and whose word meant something. Anti-heroes in the modern age are those who seek not popularity with the masses, but faithfulness to the One who made them and who is worthy of his creatures’ obedience.
The patriarch Joseph comes to mind as a penetrating example of a modern anti-hero because we come to know him as a teenager who was remarkable for his NOT following the crowd as teenagers are prone to do. Modern commentators, even evangelicals, call him a spoiled brat, as they misread the account of his early life in Genesis 37. Seemingly they would prefer that he dishonor his father and defend his scandalous brothers with their evil behavior (remember, snitches get stitches). It is apparent in the Biblical account that Jacob loved Joseph more than the rest of his sons because he displayed a maturity of character, a godliness, while still young in years (17) in contrast to his older brothers (in their 20s and 30s). It was not so much that Jacob loved Joseph more because he was born to him in his old age. If that were the case he would have loved Benjamin even more than Joseph, for Benjamin was truly the youngest son. But Jacob loved Joseph simply because he was mature beyond his years and he could trust him; a better reading of the text. Considering the outcome of Joseph’s life in Egypt, God prospered him because of his godly character, which was continually tested from the time he was a teenager.
Joseph brought his father a bad report of his brothers because it was an honest report. He would not lie or slight the truth to his father, even if such behavior would make him popular with his brothers. Jacob, who was not the best of fathers, seen already in the character of these sons who preceded Joseph, put Joseph in a position where he had to choose to lie for popularity’s sake or honor his father, which he knew to be God’s command. Nor was it merely popularity with his father which Joseph sought, which is something quite different than honoring his father. We see this in Joseph’s report of his dreams, which he clearly believed to be a word from God. The dreams which Joseph faithfully declared, though he knew their substance would not be pleasing to even his parents, much less his brothers, were told not for popularity, nor in arrogance, but because they were the Word of God. As it is they came to pass just as God had revealed them to Joseph for the ultimate blessing of his family and the glory of God.
The character of Joseph is revealed not only in his own family life in Palestine, but immediately upon his entrance into Egypt, after his harrowing escape from death at the hands of his own brothers and being sold as a slave, when he enters the household of a senior administrator in the land of Egypt. He refuses sexual seduction not because he fears his master, or his master’s wife, but because he fears God above all. He will not be ruled by his appetites; but rather by his love for his supreme Master. Such character and fidelity to His Father God marked Joseph’s life in Egypt as it had in Palestine. His behavior flies in the face of modern heroes. If such is the nature of modern heroes as we so obviously witness in this generation, these “heroes that most of this generation seek so brazenly to emulate, we need a whole lot more anti-heroes in the Joseph mold; because the Joseph mold is the Jesus mold; and the outcome of their way of life is not only far superior, it is the only life that leads to glory.
“Faith of our fathers! living still in spite of dungeon, fire, and sword; O how our hearts beat high with joy when-e’er we hear God’s glorious Word: Faith of our fathers, holy faith! We will be true to thee till death.
(1st verse of Frederick Faber’s hymn, “Faith of our Fathers, 1849)
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