Do our biblical heroes lie?
After Joseph forgives his brothers for conspiring to kill him and sell him into slavery, the entire family of Israel, who is also known as Jacob, moves from the Promised Land to Egypt. (You know how this story is going to end, but I still hope you stay tuned.) Joseph has achieved great power and renown in Egypt. He is now number two to Pharaoh.
He describes his position, however, as follows: “[God] has made me a father to Pharaoh, lord of all his household, and ruler over the whole land of Egypt.” (Genesis 45) Does Joseph exaggerate? Does he lie?
Later when instructing his brothers about their impending introduction to Pharaoh he tells them not to describe themselves as shepherds.
“When Pharaoh summons you and asks, ‘What is your occupation?’ you shall answer, ‘Your servants have been breeders of livestock from the start until now, both we and our fathers.’ For all shepherds are abhorrent to Egyptians.” (Genesis 46) Joseph has lived among the Egyptians for many years. He knows their ways. He understands what they find repugnant.
But why would his family’s occupation be so problematic? Shepherding is his inheritance. All of our biblical heroes are shepherds. Abraham is a shepherd. Moses is a shepherd. King David is a shepherd. Only Joseph appears embarrassed by the menial task of tending to a flock. Does he see it as beneath his station?
Is he so worried about his status in Egypt that he is willing to lie in order to protect his hard earned position? Perhaps he is afraid. He has spent years in jail. He understands that the whim of a ruler can send him back to the dungeon. Recall that it was the false accusations of Potiphar’s wife that sent him to an Egyptian jail. And it was the bad reports that he told his father about his brothers shepherding that perhaps caused them to sell him into slavery.
Despite his power and station he is a scarred man. His dishonesty stems from inner weakness. No wealth can assuage his insecurities. His self-esteem needs constant affirmation.
I wonder. Do heroes still lie?