Our church is studying the life of Joseph. All ages, from toddlers to seniors, we’re all putting our noses in the book of Genesis for a new, fresh, bold look at the life of this otherwise ordinary young man. And while I was listening to the message last Sunday (ably delivered by Dave Wright), something caught my eye that never had before. It was in Genesis 37:24. Take a look:
“And they took him and threw him into the cistern. Now the cistern was empty; there was no water in it.”
Joseph’s brothers seethed with hatred toward him. Joseph was the favored son by their father, Israel. Evidenced by an ornate coat given to him by Israel, Joseph enjoyed a special relationship with dad that the others didn’t. And they hated him for it. Not to mention Joseph had shared some hair-brained dreams he had about them all; essentially saying that they’d all bow down to him. Joseph wasn’t winning any popularity contests, that was for sure.
So 10 of his 11 brothers came up with a plan to kill him. But the 11th brother, Reuben suggested that they throw him in a cistern instead of killing him.
My small group and I re-created these events in a video I posted on this blog. Check it out.
What caught my eye as I read this familiar story again was the deliberate pointing out that the cistern Joseph’s brothers put him in was empty. Dry. Nothing in it.
Now, we can consider this reality in a couple of different ways. The first thought I had was,
“Wait a minute–there was grass enough for the sheep to graze, which probably meant there was enough moisture in the ground to sustain plant life. And yet, the cistern was dry. Weird.”
So, I came to the conclusion that the dry cistern was essentially a miraculous occurance. Why would the grass be lush enough for sheep, and yet the cistern be dry?
But I had to stop short of that conclusion. Why? Because saying definitively that God kept the grass thick and the well dry would be a stretch. After all, there are too many variables. Like what about desert grass? It doesn’t need as much water to survive. You see, I don’t want to say or think anything that God’s Word isn’t saying. Doing so would necessitate me taking “creative license” with Scripture. I’d rather stick to saying what the Bible says.
But in the book of Jeremiah, the prophet talks to the people and likens them to cracked cisterns which were common in that day; no longer useful since they weren’t effective in holding the rain they collect. So, back to Joseph; we can say that while the grass was sufficient to sustain sheep grazing, the cistern was dry for a reason.
I serve a sovereign God. And that truth eradicates coincidence. While some might say that the cistern was coincidentally dry, I say that the cistern was dry because God wanted it dry. So, why the cistern was dry becomes a secondary issue. The primary issue (evidenced by its inclusion in the story) is that there was a dry cistern nearby. Clearly, the dry cistern was an indelible part of God’s ultimate plan for Joseph.