Monday, March 4, 2013

The Garments of Joseph and Moses

The Garments of Joseph and Moses
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr

As I was reading through the life of Joseph and recalling the obvious allusions to that of Yeshua our Messiah I was struck by a different facet of the narrative. Specifically the different garments Joseph wore. How he was clothed, and then stripped, only to take on another garment and be stripped again. What could this mean? Is there something deeper to the story that what we read on the surface?

Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours.  And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. – Gen. 37:3-4

The first garment was a gift from his father that caused quite a stir in the household. It was a gift of love that flaunted favoritism and was a symbolic precursor to his eminence among his elder brothers.

Garments today have labels and tags identifying the designer and manufacturer and say something about the one who wears them. It often gives one clues to one’s personality and worldview as well as socio-economic status.  Oft times when people wear certain garments they take on a certain attitude or persona. One acts much differently when one wears a tuxedo then when one wears a mechanics jumpsuit. The Garment whether intentionally or unintentionally labels the wearer of the garment and at times even influences their behaviour. You have heard the saying, “Clothes don’t make the man.” Well, it’s true, clothes may not make the man, but it can sure influence him.

Similarly, Joseph was the youngest of the clan as well as daddies favorite, and he knew it. Despite being one of the Patriarchs, Rabbis say young Joseph was a spoiled arrogant brat and got what was coming to him in order to take him down a few notches so God could effectively use him.  

The coat of many colors represented a label or a title put upon Joseph by another that he wasn’t ready to bear, and so it was removed from him. This is to teach us not to let compliments and back-pats go to your head. Not to flaunt a special status or domain of authority. It reminds us to be humble.  As the Proverbs remind us, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall (16:18).” This episode in Joseph’s life reminds me of an event in the like of Moshe Rabbinu (Moses our Teacher). He wore the garments of, and the label of a Prince of Egypt, but was not ready for such a mantle and as a result he ended up killing and Egyptian task master and was found out only to be stripped of his title and lived a life on the run until the Pharaoh died. But Moses took upon that princely mantle of leadership years later when he learned valuable life lessons and was ready to take on the leadership role over the Children of Israel. In like manner Joseph also picked up that Lordly coat of eldership and leadership after going through the Egyptian school of hard knocks we call the dungeon!

If you have a label or mantle, don’t flaunt it. Even if a duck does not quack, it is known by its waddle, feathers, bill and webbed feet, so will you be known if you truly have the label and carry the mantle that was bestowed upon you; you will not have to verbalize it.

“And she caught him by his garment, saying, Lie with me: and he left his garment in her hand, and fled, and got him out.  And it came to pass, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand, and was fled forth.” – Gen. 39:12-13

The second garment we see Joseph wear and be stripped of is the garment of a slave.  This is the garment of submission and humility after a fall.  But it is a dangerous garment that we tend to wear longer than the Holy One intends us to wear it. Even when we learnt our lesson, we tend to continue punishing ourselves long after His grace forgives and covers us. When we wallow in our own self-pity, the LORD will shake us to wake us. And this is exactly how Joseph was rid of his slave clothes. Moses too had a secondary garment; that of a shepherd, which is a slave-servant like garment until the water shed moment of the burning bush, shook him up and caused him to shed the servantile mantle of a shepherd.

In both situations the corrective and humbling garment of a slave was forcefully and dramatically taken from them in order to don the garment of intimacy.

And Joseph's master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king's prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. But the Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy, and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph's hand all the prisoners that were in the prison; and whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. The keeper of the prison looked not to anything that was under his hand; because the Lord was with him, and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper. – Gen.39:20-23

Joseph found seclusion in the dungeons of Egypt and Moses found seclusion in the desert. It was in these places of silence and seclusion where accelerated spiritual and personal growth, deep trust and intimacy were forged between the LORD Almighty and our Biblical Heroes.  After the initial shock and the ability to forgive one’s self, despite the tumult of their current situations, they were able to forge a place a true intimacy with the Creator. Calm in the midst of the storm.

It was in the secret, intimate place of the dungeon and desert which served also as a refining crucible, that the future leaders we praise were forged. It was here Joseph the Egyptian ruler and Moses the leader of the Exodus was made.

In His time and not theirs were Joseph and Moses shed and don but another garment.

And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck. – Gen. 41:42

And it came to pass, when Moses came down from mount Sinai with the two tables of testimony in Moses' hand, when he came down from the mount, that Moses wist not that the skin of his face shone while he talked with him. And when Aaron and all the children of Israel saw Moses, behold, the skin of his face shone; and they were afraid to come nigh him. And Moses called unto them; and Aaron and all the rulers of the congregation returned unto him: and Moses talked with them. And afterward all the children of Israel came nigh: and he gave them in commandment all that the Lord had spoken with him in mount Sinai. And till Moses had done speaking with them, he put a vail on his face. But when Moses went in before the Lord to speak with him, he took the vail off, until he came out. And he came out, and spake unto the children of Israel that which he was commanded. And the children of Israel saw the face of Moses, that the skin of Moses' face shone: and Moses put the vail upon his face again, until he went in to speak with him. – Exd. 34:29-35

The Princely coat of colors and mantle of Egyptian rulership was donned prematurely upon them by others and had to be forcefully and divinely removed until the time was right for them to wear them again and bear their weight. They had to be purified and worthy to wear such garments.

Now notice that in both these instances that the robe of rule and the vail of authority was divinely put upon them, but voluntarily removed to show that they were real, down to earth and on the level; to show that they were still mishpocha (family). It is not Yeshua’s divinity that draws us to Him and makes him personal, but his humanity (John 1:14).

Then Joseph could not refrain himself before all them that stood by him; and he cried, Cause every man to go out from me. And there stood no man with him, while Joseph made himself known unto his brethren. –Gen. 45:1

They finally realized it was not the clothes that made them who they were in Him.  It was an inner transformation that was needed, and not an outward one.

There is that maketh himself rich, yet [hath] nothing: [there is] that maketh himself poor, yet [hath] great riches. – Prov. 13:7

 He that is despised, and hath a servant, is better than he that honoureth himself, and lacketh bread. – Prov. 12:9

In high school, how many of us knew of others who wore designer clothes to give the impression they were popular and rich, but everyone knew they weren’t? It is an age old problem, one the Galatians had.

Do we not have the same problem within Messianic and Natsari Judaism? Maybe it is the type of kippah or tallit we wear, or the style of beard we grow. Or maybe it is the position within a synagogue or ministry we hold.  Have these outward things changed us or have we changed sufficiently inside to be able to rightly wear such items in the power of bold humility?

Do you put on the inner garments of mantle of humility, the garments of praise, and the cloak of zeal, before you done the outward garb that symbolize and signifies authority?

Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr