When I first heard about human trafficking, I tended to think of it as a woman’s issue, but over the years, I’ve come to understand that human trafficking is not isolated to a specific gender, age, or race. Certainly women and children are targeted, but men have also been sold as slaves for thousands of years; one of them was a seventeen-year-old named Joseph.
A Chaotic Home Sets the Stage for Slavery
Joseph (whose story takes off in Genesis 37) was born to Jacob, a man who married sisters Leah and Rachel. When they struggled with infertility, the ladies held an informal baby competition, using their maids as surrogates to bear children on their behalf. Using people as pawns was not just a world problem; this kind of behavior was happening on the home front.
In time, Joseph became his father’s favorite son. Taking first place in Jacob’s heart, Joseph was a source of contempt for his brothers. They wanted him gone, and in the end, they sold him to a caravan of traders.
After selling Joseph, the brothers cover it up by making their father think a wild animal has killed him. The trouble is that selling Joseph doesn’t fix their problems. Rather than heal their pain, they carry the regret of their actions throughout their lives.
What do we learn about Author God?
Why does God include this family as part of His story? Tracing the course of history, every family has problems. Behind the doors of our homes, hidden secrets of guilt and shame threaten our well-being. If the only characters included in the Bible were the ones who always did what they were supposed to do, that wouldn’t resonate with many of us. By including complex people in His Book, God offers hope within our own family struggles.
Through the story of Joseph, God reveals negative patterns of relating within the family unit. Seeing the interactions of the adults in this blended, I’m sure this affected the decision-making process of their children. As readers, we are challenged to discard competition and hatred in our relationships, exchanging them for love and unity. We can respond by asking, “What is the atmosphere like in our homes? In our neighborhoods?”
I also see that God cares about the plight of the abused. I don’t know why Joseph had to spend so much time in captivity, and I’m sure he wondered the same thing. But in the end, God raised up the slave boy and made him a ruler over Egypt. Joseph’s life reveals God’s invitation for faith, even in situations that seem hopeless.
What do I learn about myself?
In the past, I would read about Joseph’s brothers and think, “I would never do anything like that.” And while I don’t ever plan on selling anyone to slave traders, my previous attitude was one of pride and judgment. Now, I ask myself, “Is there any area of betrayal or hatred in my own heart?”
Joseph’s brothers also teach me that it’s not too late to for people to change. Throughout the progression of this story, we see a dramatic shift in their behavior. When a famine hits the country, they show care for Rachel’s younger son Benjamin. We also see concern for their father’s emotional condition; the incident with Joseph has taught them to love. While we might think that traffickers are beyond redemption, Joseph’s story suggests that we are to watch for opportunities where hearts are open to change. I have to ask myself, “Am I praying for the traffickers in our world?”
Finally, I learn from this story that I need to accept forgiveness when it is extended to me. This is hard for me, and it was hard for Joseph’s brothers. After their father dies, they struggle to trust that Joseph had truly forgiven them. It’s as if Joseph’s message to us is: Accept the forgiveness that has been granted. Forgive yourselves.
How can we respond?
Thousands of years have passed and the problems in our world today aren’t unlike those in Egypt. When I first began learning about the pervasiveness of human trafficking, I felt overwhelmed with grief, confusion, and helplessness. Where does one begin to address such a colossal situation? Thankfully, there are organizations that actively work to combat slavery, and they are always looking for more partners. Visit International Justice Mission to learn what you can do to stop human trafficking right now.
…you may choose to look away but you can never say again that you did not know. – William Wilberforce
Read last week’s Friday Focus – Human Trafficking: Hope in the Wilderness. Next Friday we’ll look at the story of a girl named Hagar.
Written by Heidi Sadler, © 2016 Heidi Sadler, All Rights Reserved.