We’re back with the second installment of our six-part video series, where we delve into the topic of children at risk from a biblical standpoint. Today’s episode is an eye-opener as we take a closer look at Joseph’s life, one of the earliest recorded cases of human trafficking in the Bible. Let’s witness the transformative power of God’s redemption at work as we explore Joseph’s story and the lessons we can learn from it.
Human trafficking is a huge and expanding issue today all over the world, but we’ll better understand the reality of human trafficking by exploring some biblical history of it within the context of children at risk.
One of the first human trafficking stories we come across in the Bible is actually a very well-known one, the story of Joseph.
He was a human trafficking victim at 17 years old. His brothers sold him for 20 shekels. Joseph worked as a slave in Potiphar’s house and then later in Potiphar’s prison for a total of 13 years before he actually ascended into power. So where do we see God’s advocacy for Joseph in this ancient story of human trafficking?
Well, Joseph has much favor even in the midst of truly evil circumstances. This was because of a generational blessing. Joseph’s grandfather Isaac had blessed Joseph’s dad Jacob decades earlier. He declared in Genesis 27, “Many peoples will serve you and nations will bow down to be master of your brothers, and may your mother’s sons bow down to you.”
So Joseph’s dreams and visions are synonymous with this generational blessing, which the family would have understood. The family would have immediately seen that Joseph’s dreams said that he was taking place as the firstborn. We also see in this God’s invitation to authority for Joseph through these dreams. So Joseph’s dreams reflect this dual sovereignty over the earth and the heavens.
In the first dream, we’ve got the sheaves and the harvest bowing down. In the second dream, we’ve got the sun, the moon, and the expanse of the stars all bending to Joseph.
We know that Joseph later assumes the role of chief administrator of Egypt. But before he does this, God shows him that he has authority as a spiritual man both in heaven and on Earth. And he needed to see that, that being a slave didn’t mean that his access to inheritance as a son was removed.
So issues of human rights are often overrated and inconsequential, as long as our freedom in Christ remains unclear and muddy. What freedom is more important, a free heart or a free land? So let’s keep our parties as reformers clear.
When Joseph shares these dreams with his brothers, they took really strong offense at him, thinking that he viewed himself as the chosen for the family’s spiritual blessing. And it comes as no surprise then that these tensions immediately heated up for young Joseph and his brothers, and this type of conflict of her favor and blessing within a family isn’t unusual. We actually see it all throughout scripture. We first see it with Cain and Abel, who brought different sacrifices and received different blessings from the Lord, which led to a murder.
And then we see this in Noah’s sons, who felt the tension of honor and shame after the flood, and the way they treated their father, and then Abraham’s sons, who lived semi-strange because they had different mothers. Or we can see Isaac’s twins who disputed over their familial blessing. And then we move on to Joseph and his brothers, who disputed over that same blessing because of its generational root.
We can even see this in Jesus’ life when his own brothers question his spiritual calling and authority in John chapter 7. It’s important that we prepare for this kind of conflict with those that are close to us over our own authority.
I personally faced a lot of resistance as a young man seeking after that generational blessing in my family. See, I come from a line of three previous generations of missionary pioneers on the fourth, but often I was told you aren’t smart enough to be a leader or you’re not theologically educated enough to hear God’s voice.
I actually joined the Vineyard Movement at 18 years old, which led to me being disowned by my family for a season and then accused of being part of a demon-worshiping cult and being called a disobedient son.
These were tough things for me, and I even lost all my financial help to attend college, and I was told I was gonna die in a few years. But what’s important in all this is the question of what I did with that rejection. So I prayed and I asked God to give me that generational promise that my great-granddad had walked in. And I prayed into this until my soul, until my spirit was packed full of God’s peace.
It was this process of many months of seeking prayer. And it was something redemptive that I got from this, and there’s something redemptive in every family line once it is aligned with the gospel. And by the way, I have a really great relationship with my family now.
So God was very redemptive in that whole process, but having that seeking prayer helped me to really step into the family blessing. So even if you currently can’t find something redemptive about your family tree, you should receive God’s proclamation over your own life and put some roots down and start an updraft of God’s promises in the family tree.
So let’s return to Joseph and his brothers. This conflict over birthright and blessing has boiled to the surface when Joseph goes to visit his brothers in the field while they’re shepherding.
The harsh treatment of his brothers was destined to grow Joseph’s own grace in God. His robe, that many-colored robe he had of favors, gets stripped away and he’s thrown into a pit and shortly after he is sold to his distant cousins, the Midianites.
It’s in the depths of this pit. Now that we should consider how Joseph was feeling. What were his emotions like down in this pit? Did he think he was gonna die? How do his brothers feel? Were they feeling guilt? What brought them to this place that they could justify these actions? Were they just in a such rage they couldn’t even think clearly?
How do you think you, as a parent, would feel in this moment when you’re told that your son is dead? If your 17-year-old son was thrown into a manhole by their siblings and then sold to a cartel or mafia, how would that impact you emotionally?
Now I’d like to share a story that a friend in Thailand shared with me about her co-worker’s family. Her great-grandfather grew up in an Akka village. Akka is one of the ethnic groups of the region.
Her great-grandfather grew up with his two younger sisters and one day there was a set of twins that were born into this family. Now in this particular culture having twins was considered really bad luck from the spirits. So the community actually killed these children by putting something in their mouths so that they couldn’t eat.
They starved him to death.
But unfortunately, this wasn’t enough. Still feeling unsettled, the whole village burns down the family’s house too. And so dad and mom flee off into the forest, but due to their opium addiction, they didn’t survive very long out there, and that left the three children living hand to mouth, foraging in the forest until a neighboring Shan village found them, another ethnic group in the area.
And then they sold these kids to a foreigner. Now my friend asked the woman, who was this foreigner that bought them? And she told them, or she told her, it was William Marcus Young who was my great grandfather!
So as the story goes, they learn about Jesus from this missionary and they become the first followers of Jesus in their tribe and eventually, this young man finds a wife who’s an Akka.
And as a way to enter into Akka villages, God gave him wisdom on how to midwife, especially to help people who had twins. And this husband-wife team helped deliver my friend who told me this story.
That was at a time when her mother went into labor. And she grew up and wrote her bachelor’s degree thesis on this family line and she said there were many Bible translators, pastors, and missionaries that came from this one act of buying a slave and leading to Jesus.
It’s pretty amazing, eh?
So back to our story on Joseph. These distant cousins and traveling merchants bought Joseph and then they traded him to Potiphar. Potiphar was captain of Pharaoh’s Guard. The question for me as a social justice worker is, how did Joseph emerge as a leader from such a compromised situation?
Now we know that Joseph’s eldest brother, Reuben, was an advocate who tried to protect Joseph and later he also looked out for Joseph’s younger brother, Benjamin. Judah was also marginally protecting Joseph by encouraging his brothers to sell him instead of murdering him.
There was also the friendly prison mate who some years later remembered to help Joseph but had forgotten him upon gaining his freedom. Other than that, we have little indication of encouraging people in Joseph’s life.
Joseph’s ancestors are his greatest advocates for passing down this spiritual blessing and the promise from God. Most of us know how Joseph interpreted dreams of prison mates.
Joseph used this gift of dream interpretation to serve other people’s destinies and not his own. And that may have been his path out of the dungeon.
When Joseph is called to interpret Pharaoh’s dream, he’s both able to give meaning and practical application that elevates him to a high status. So we can see here how the path for Joseph was not rescue, but influence.
Every slave has incredible potential as God’s light and salt. We need to first see people as powerful and potential before we look at them as slaves needing rescue.
As the chief administrator of Egypt, many of Joseph’s policy choices were impacted by his own experience. God had promised Abraham a time period of 400 some years where his generations would be in slavery, and we can assume Joseph was aware of this prophecy.
Now, in his role of leadership, Joseph practically enslaved, or at least arranged serfdom for all of Egypt’s citizens. And this actually set up the system of slavery that Israel would one day be trapped under itself.
Think about that.
Joseph shifts Egypt from what appears to be a free market economy with local land and livestock ownership to this highly centralized economic system where all the money is supplied, lands and the herds and everything were owned by Pharaoh.
He even shifts the entire populace from the countryside into the urban centers. This is kind of interesting because most of the church says that Joseph was this amazing guy, but if our own government did this to us, we would be pretty upset.
So Joseph was an incredible man, but he did some things that show some cracks in his armor. So he marries this Egyptian lady. She was part of the priesthood family. It was culturally fitting for him because he was a seer before the most high God, but it really doesn’t reflect his trust that God would give him a wife from among his own people.
For us, as followers of Jesus, the issue of choosing a good mate is no longer about physical race or DNA but alignment with our call and obedience to God’s voice. So, how do we apply these choices of Joseph to our modern-day social justice work?
At the very least, it should make anyone going into a global context cautious to judge quickly, especially when we encounter forms of government and economic policy in cultures that are different from our own.
God works through broken systems and broken people for much greater purposes than we can ever imagine. This doesn’t mean that we should ignore injustice, but that we should seek God’s heart for justice in his bigger picture rather than our own ideal flavor of government.
At InFire, the organization I work with, we’ve seen higher rates of human trafficking in many of the indigenous ethnic groups of Southeast Asia. Looking at the bigger picture, this appears to be a global pattern within indigenous and First Nations peoples.
Often these patterns are rooted in a failure that began far back in the history of a people group and that sets a generational cycle into place.
The kingdom justice worker must address this deep-seated root of evil.
So what is so incredible about the story of Joseph? It’s not his economic policies or his leadership roles. Not saying those aren’t important, it’s not even his ability to overcome adverse circumstances, though that’s admirable.
The truly remarkable thing about Joseph is his forgiveness for his brothers. His brothers came to him in need of grain during this great famine at a time when he was the administrator of the largest economic superpower.
And he responds to them in this incredibly positive way.
Joseph views life from a bigger picture. He chose to preserve his family’s call under God’s promise to multiply them into a nation of blessing for the entire world.
We tend to see our places of influence in the number of people touched. But often the big purpose of God is attached to a few specific individuals we’re supposed to help like Joseph did with his family.
It was Joseph’s forgiveness of his brothers that are so striking and what allowed him to fulfill the purposes of God in his generation. If you have the heart to be a reformer and bring God’s justice into our world.
There are two things that you want to focus on. Consider who in your circle God wants you to serve or influence.
And then secondly, like Joseph, make sure you have forgiven those who betrayed you or hurt you so that you’re not hindering the purpose of God in your life and the things that he wants to do through you.
So God bless you guys and help you be powerful reformers in His kingdom. As you seek His face, may you call out for those generational blessings and persistent prayer as you run into these human trafficking victims around the world. May the story of Joseph be a meditation that makes you powerful and how you apply biblical ideas to your work.