I hope I used that word correctly, but thought it sounded like I was intellectual, so I used it. From a dictionary, it means: A sudden realization about the nature or meaning of something. An epiphany can often come about due to some experience that may trigger the sudden realization.
I believe Joseph had just such an experience that triggered a sudden realization about what all had happened to him since he was sold into slavery in Egypt. It is found in Genesis 45:1-15. You probably know the story well. Joseph is Jacob’s favorite son (along with Benjamin, his 2 favorites sons by his favorite wife Rachel who died in childbirth with Benjamin). His jealous brothers sell him into slavery in Egypt to Potiphar. Joseph is a man of integrity (i.e. honest with strong moral principles), however, and is a faithful master over Potiphar’s house. He was probably bitter, but he made the best of his situation. He might have wondered why his father did not come rescue him, but, of course, he did not know that his father thought he was dead. But when Poliphar’s wife tried to seduce him (he was “handsome in form and appearance” Gen 39:6), he fled, refusing to sin against God and his master. Potiphar sent him to prison.
He could have been filled with self pity, but instead became such a model prisoner that he was put in charge of all the prisoners. He is a man of integrity. He interpreted the dreams of Pharoah’s cupbearer and baker, which led to the restoration of the cupbearer, which led (2 years later) to Joseph interpreting Pharoah’s dreams and being made 2nd in command of all Egypt. He had asked the cupbearer to mention him to Pharoah and help get him out of prison because he was innocent (a prisoner who really was innocent!), but 2 years had passed and the cupbearer forgot Joseph until Pharoah had his dreams. At least he remembered him then.
God sent the famine and Jacob sent 10 of his sons (except Benjamin) to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognizes them but they do not recognize him. This begins a series of things that Joseph did to his brothers. He accused them of being spies on their first trip to Egypt, knowing they were not. To prove they were not spies, he kept Simeon in prison until they would bring Benjamin to Egypt. He also put their money they paid for grain with into the sacks of grain, making them look like thieves.
As the famine continued, Jacob was forced to allow the 9 brothers to take Benjamin on a 2nd trip to Egypt for food. They expected to die, but were instead treated to a meal at Joseph’s house. They were astonished that they were seated in order, from the youngest to the oldest. He released Simeon and allowed them to head back to Egypt with grain, but also planted his diviner’s cup in the sack of Benjamin. He sent his steward to stop them, and found the cup in Benjamin’s sack. He perfectly content to send the 10 back to Jacob, keeping Benjamin in Egypt; probably content to never see the 10 again. He would of course later tell Benjamin who he was and take care of him.
But then Judah tried to explain to Joseph that Jacob would die of grief if Benjamin did not return. Joseph hears for the first time that his father Jacob thought he was dead all this time. Judah offers to stay as a prisoner if Joseph would allow Benjamin to return to Jacob. At this point, Joseph had his epiphany. He broke down crying loudly. He apparently saw remorse in his brothers for selling him into slavery. He revealed himself to his brothers and then he said: 7 God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant in the earth, and to keep you alive by a great [f]deliverance. 8 Now, therefore, it was not you who sent me here, but God (Genesis 45:7-8). He kissed them all and wept on them. He told them to go bring Jacob’s whole family (about 75 in all) to Egypt where he could take care of them during the last 5 years of the 7 years of famine.
So what was his epiphany? He realized that God had been working in all the past events to get Jacob’s family to Egypt to survive the famine, “to preserve a remnant of God’s people”. Perhaps he knew and remembered God’s promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 that Abraham’s descendants would be slaves in a foreign land for 400 years before they would be freed and allowed to possess the promised land. Perhaps he finally put 2 and 2 together and saw that all the past events were part of God’s plan to get that remnant to Egypt to make a great nation of Abraham as promised in Genesis 12. He also was able to forgive his brothers, whereas he had obviously been bitter with them up to that point. He could even say that it was not them who sent him to Egypt, but God, even though he knew it really was them. He realized God could use the bad deeds of men to accomplish his will. Yes, they should be held accountable, but don’t be bitter about how someone treated you in the past. Try to see the good that God can do using even the bad deeds of men.
The lessons from this story are many. Have you had some bad experience in the past, maybe from being mistreated by someone? You are still bitter towards that person? Or maybe just some tragic events in your past that, like Naomi, have left you full of bitterness, anger, and self pity? But then later, something happened, some experience, that made you realize that God was working out something in your life or the life of others that would eventually be good, not bad? Like Joseph, do you find yourself “playing god” with people who have wronged you, testing them, instead of just forgiving them? How do you handle false accusations made against you? How do you handle punishment that you don’t think you deserve? What about your integrity, your moral conviction, your honesty? Could you have resisted Potiphar’s wife’s advance if you were Joseph? How do you handle it when you help someone out but they forget you when you need help?
Maybe you can look back and see how God was working through tough times in your past. Or maybe you are right in the middle of tough times and can’t see anything good that God might be working out. Can you simply relax and leave the outcome to God? Can you have faith that something good can come of the bad? Has this study of Joseph helped you? Would you pray for your own epiphany to help you? Can you use the story of Joseph to help others who might be struggling to understand how God might be working in tough times in their lives? Where does prayer fit in all this?