by Lim Chong Teck
We are going through an unprecedented time of facing a pandemic. It‘s the first time we are facing such a challenging time affecting us globally, economically, physically, socially and emotionally. However if we look back in time, we would realise that we have faced somewhat similar situations in the last 200 years. Wikipedia gives us a long list of epidemics and pandemics such as SARS, small pox, measles, Manchurian plague Ebola, Spanish flu and many others. But I think the nearest form to our current Covid-19 situation is the Spanish flu in terms of the coverage and intensity.
In a sense there is nothing new under the sun that mankind has not gone through but the question is what are some lessons we can learn from the current situation and how do we equip ourselves to face the next challenge. Perhaps this “pause” button will help us consider the direction we have set earlier. There is a time for every season, perhaps now is a time to consider the work of God and what this challenge of adversity means to each of us.
Ecc 7:13-14 “Consider the work of God: for who can make that straight, which he hath made crooked? In the day of prosperity be joyful, but in the day of adversity consider: God also hath set the one over against the other, to the end that man should find nothing after him.”
The days of prosperity and adversity are not predictable through man’s own wisdom. However God does advise us on how we are to face them. The account of Joseph has many lessons for us to learn from. This account can be read from the book of Genesis chapters 37, 39-50.
It tells us about how one may face a personal adversity and a global challenge. The natural disaster of drought was the challenge that they faced but there are some lessons we can learn from the recorded incident. It started with Joseph facing such a situation that almost cost him his life. His freedom was taken away as he was sold as a slave. He was later accused of something he did not do and was thrown into prison. While we do not face the exact predicaments and challenges that he faced, we can learn from him in facing our own “giants.” We have been aptly reminded by sis. Shirley Lee’s article on how to face our own “giants” as David faced off with Goliath.
Joseph’s account tells us there are some situations or circumstances that take us without warning, in suddenness. But through the wisdom that God gives us, this helps us to be better prepared in facing them. The seven years of good times and seven years of evil tell us that there is a fair share of good and bad situations. But if we are able to make some preparation during times of prosperity, we would be better prepared to face times of adversity. It also comforts us that God through His providence takes care of His people in challenging times.
What seekest thou? (Gen. 37: 15 KJV)
This question was asked to Joseph when a man saw him looking for something. And he answered that he was looking for his brothers. Do we look like people looking for something or someone or some answers? We are always seeking something whether there is a pandemic or not. It could be a job, a wife, a cure, riches and all that is in this world. Some may be looking for answers about afterlife, God and other spiritual matters. On a lighter note hopefully what we find doesn’t sell us away as Joseph’s brothers did. One thing people will be looking for regardless of whether we are in a difficult situation or not can be likened to what Baruch, Jeremiah’s assistant sought for – great things for ourselves.
Jeremiah 45:2-5 “Thus saith the LORD, the God of Israel, unto thee, O Baruch; Thou didst say, Woe is me now! for the LORD hath added grief to my sorrow; I fainted in my sighing, and I find no rest. Thus shalt thou say unto him, The LORD saith thus; Behold, that which I have built will I break down, and that which I have planted I will pluck up, even this whole land. And seekest thou great things for thyself? seek them not: for, behold, I will bring evil upon all flesh, saith the LORD: but thy life will I give unto thee for a prey in all places whither thou goest.”
Baruch was a scribe who had written on behalf of the prophet Jeremiah. He had worked very hard to fulfill the work given to him. Yet he was looking for riches and recognition and fame. The situation in the land at that time was in dire straits as God was sending Nebuchadnezzar to destroy the land. Yet strangely despite this, Baruch was looking for earthly glories. He was seeking great things for himself.
Whether there’s a pandemic or not, the question to God’s people is “are we seeking great things for ourselves or are we seeking the things of God”? Solomon was asked by God to make his request and it would be granted to him. Solomon asked for wisdom so that he may know how to rule over God’s people. God was pleased with that and granted him riches and glories together with knowledge and wisdom. He asked for wisdom so that he may serve God in ruling over his people wisely.
Are we seeking the right things for the right reasons? In Jer.45:5 God told Baruch that preserving his life was greater than having the things of life in a time when many lives would be taken away. Yet even in moments of peace, life itself is greater than the things of life. Living is greater than possessions. Matt 6:25b “Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?” Sometimes in the pursuit of the things of life we forget the values of life. This pandemic could be a time for us to consider and reset our values and priorities.
The bible has warned us not to just focus on our own interest in the things we seek to attain. The parable of the rich fool tells us he was focused on himself only, he was rich towards himself (Luke 12:16-21). If we seek things for our own pleasure or gain only, we may be drawn into envious and bitter relationships (James 4). If we are seeking our own interest all the time, we will not understand why Jesus said it is more blessed to give than to receive. The Macedonians even in their time of deep poverty were able to share and give. Jesus also said “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” Matt 6:33.
When we seek God’s kingdom first, it would not be surprising that not only are the basic necessities of life provided to us, but sometimes great things can be an added bonus. If we are in Joseph’s shoes of authority and are able to help, we should do our part in helping others. If we are in need of help, we should not be too proud or shy to ask. All of us go through lives at different intervals or stages in life from others. There is a time to give and there is a time to receive. May the giver and recipient both be thankful to God in all things.
2Co 8:14-15 “But by an equality, that now at this time your abundance may be a supply for their want, that their abundance also may be a supply for your want: that there may be equality: As it is written, He that had gathered much had nothing over; and he that had gathered little had no lack.”
Joseph was a man who looked towards God as he faced the challenges in his life. He took it in good spirit, doing his best in every situation, always aware of the watchful eyes of God. If the Lord says he is with you, then you are under His care. Throughout his life he was aware of the presence of God and God can change an evil assumption and difficult situation to a good ending.
Gen 39:2-3 “And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him, and that the LORD made all that he did to prosper in his hand.”
Gen 39:8-9 “But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not what is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back any thing from me but thee, because thou art his wife: how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”
Gen 41:16 “And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
Gen 42:18 “And Joseph said unto them the third day, This do, and live; for I fear God:”
Gen 45:5 “Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither: for God did send me before you to preserve life.”
Gen 45:7 “And God sent me before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.”
Gen 50:19-20 “And Joseph said unto them, Fear not: for am I in the place of God? But as for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.”
Gen 50:24-25 “And Joseph said unto his brethren, I die: and God will surely visit you, and bring you out of this land unto the land which he sware to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob. And Joseph took an oath of the children of Israel, saying, God will surely visit you, and ye shall carry up my bones from hence.”
Even on Joseph’s dying bed, God was ever present with him and having faith that God will keep his promise and take care of his people when he was not around.
Joseph must have listened to his father, Jacob speak of God many times and here again Jacob echoes God’s grace in his life.
Gen 48:15 And he blessed Joseph, and said, God, before whom my fathers Abraham and Isaac did walk, the God which fed me all my life long unto this day,”
Their pilgrimage was likened to a walk with God, with God caring for them all their lives.
There will always be good times and bad times- have we prepared for it? Are we prepared to walk through it with God or will we walk on our own? Abraham was a very rich man but his grandson Jacob had to send his sons to Egypt to find food. It shows the uncertainty of riches. As the Chinese proverb says, “inheritance rarely is preserved after the third generation. But we know the one in whom we should place our trust for He continues to watch over His people in challenging times. God used Joseph to save lives. God used Joseph together with government of Egypt to save lives. Joseph by himself would not have been able to do such a feat. It would be good for us to work and obey the government that God has set up to overcome the present situation.
Just like the time of Joseph, the time of scarcity caused by the draught passed. Covid-19 too will pass.
What seekest thou?