Judah said to his brothers, “What is to be gained by killing our brother and concealing his blood? Rather, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, instead of doing away with him ourselves. After all, he is our brother and our own flesh. His brothers agreed. They sold Joseph to the Ishamaelites for twenty pieces of sliver.
Abba John (the Dwarf) said, “Who sold Joseph?” A brother replied, “It was his brethren.” The old man said to him, “No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said, ‘I am their brother’ and have objected, but because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt.”
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We know that Ruben’s plan to go back and rescue Joseph is foiled by Judah’s suggestion. What we cannot see at this point is how God’s purpose is brought to fulfillment in Joseph by this very action; Israel is saved (again) by a bit of treachery. The question might also be asked (therefore), “How was Israel preserved through the great drought?” By Joseph’s humility, perhaps.
Joseph’s “humility,” as Abba John calls it, flies in the face of contemporary attitudes about the self. We are not taught to allow such things to happen to us. Rather, we tend to learn to stand up for ourselves and, hopefully, for others; we are trained to advocate and agitate, to protest. Protesting is precisely what Joseph did not do. We don’t hear his thought, either. We know about his dreams; we know how dearly his father loved him. We know what Joseph’s brothers thought about him; we know nothing (at this point) of what Joesph thought about them. Did he expect foul play? Why didn’t he protest? Was he worried they would kill him? The author of Genesis does not let us into Joseph’s inner life at all during these events.
Turns out it is a good thing Joseph didn’t protest. The whole history of Israel would have unfolded differently if he had. Joseph’s story (so far) sets us a question: how willing are we to let go of our plans and even our freedom when that’s what God calls us to do?