19 Sep Bonus Episode – Joseph: A Man of Wisdom, with Dr. Ken Boa
Dr. Ken Boa joins us today to talk about Joseph: a man of great wisdom who thrived in exile, and what we can learn from Joseph’s example.
I hope you enjoy this challenging and thought-provoking conversation.
Kenneth (Ken) Boa is engaged in a ministry of relational evangelism and discipleship, teaching, writing, and speaking. He is president of Reflections Ministries and Trinity House Publishers, and holds a BS from Case Institute of Technology, a ThM from Dallas Theological Seminary, a PhD from New York University, and a DPhil from the University of Oxford in England. Ken is the author of more than 50 books, including Life in the Presence of God, Conformed to His Image, An Unchanging Faith in a Changing World, and Faith Has Its Reasons. Ken and his wife, Karen, live in Atlanta, Georgia.
Thank you to Dr. Ken Boa for his time and insights! You can learn more about Dr. Boa and his ministry, books, and resources mentioned in the episode here: https://kenboa.org/
Dr. E: When did you get the idea to write the Talk Through the Bible series?
Dr. Boa: I was with Walk Through The Bible for a number of years and wrote two books during that time: Talk Thru the Old Testament, and Talk Thru the New Testament. Overtime they were embellished upon and added to and became a co-authorship with Bruce Wilkinson.
My whole idea was: is there a way I could synthesize each book of the Bible in such a way that people could use this book to get the big picture of the theme, purpose, history, and background –– a bird’s eye view of the whole of Scripture. And I’ve turned that into a visual series, there’s an array of materials that have come out of this.
[Readers & Listeners – You can find those materials here!]
Dr. E: Let’s talk about Joseph – you’ve taken on some new interests in the life of Joseph.
Dr. Boa: In walking through the book of Genesis, you pull out various motifs and one of the themes you see is the increasingly narrowed focus as we move down through the generations and go from Abraham to Isaac to Jacob and then to Joseph.
As we know, as those generations proceed, they get further and further from the intimacy with God that apart from Joseph, if they’d remained in the land of Canaan, they [God’s people] would’ve been intermarried with the Canaanites and ultimately lost their national identity.
Effectively, God’s preparing a way to bring them out of that compromised context and into a place where they’d actually be in kind of a “womb”, where 70 people would go into the nation of Egypt, and after 430 years there would be 2-2.5 million of them to leave.
Egypt was like a womb that gave birth to the nation of Israel. Because the Egyptians would have nothing to do with the Hebrews, they would maintain their purity and focus.
God put them in that context, even though it involved affliction and oppression, to forge and prepare a people for His purpose.
The effective dynamic of their being birthed, as it were, through water–through exodus–and through blood–because of the passover–there’s a huge build up.
So before this, we get to Joseph, the fourth generation.
Dr. E: We often appeal to these passages we know really well – you meant it for evil, God meant it for good – I’m curious, in your study, how long do you think it was before Joseph could really embrace and articulate that?
Dr. Boa: Best estimate, he was about 17 when he went into captivity in Potiphar’s house and then thrown into prison and eventually entrusted with stewardship. Everywhere he went, something amazing took place. My suspicion is that Potiphar’s wife didn’t take long after she was rejected to pull this stunt, to accuse him of assault.
My suspicion is it was probably within a year, maybe 2-3 before he was in prison. If that’s true, and we know he was 30 years old before he appeared before Pharaoh, then we’re talking about an awful long time. Maybe about a dozen years in prison.
This is a huge amount of time and he was given these dreams and narratives that ultimately his family would bow down and serve him.
I’m confident that Joseph constantly pondered the meaning of those profound dreams, and when his brothers do eventually appear, I think there’s no measure of resentment or revenge, but that his desire is to bring them to the point of repentance, and then to redemption and restoration.
I detect nothing of the kind of bitterness that might prevail when a person, because of the adversities of life, fails to embrace the purposes of God in a context in which he cannot grasp why its taking so long.
Dr. E: We see that at the end, this is a happily ever after – but conservatively, 12 years of prison and mistreatment from his brothers and mocking…let’s say he was a remarkable teen who understood those dreams in ways we cant measure. Even at that, there would be periods of doubt, fear, and wonder (not recorded, this is an argument from silence). I wonder, as we get to the end of Moses’ life and we read Psalm 90 – to me, there’s an ache in the Patriarch’s voice: Does my life have meaning?
You’re the expert on this more than me but it seems, it’s not recorded, but intriguingly at the end Joseph wants his bones back in Israel.
Dr. Boa: That’s the thing he’s mainly included in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 for. His father also wants his bones out, his identification with the promises and purposes of God that were entailed in the Abrahamic covenant stated the land was key, and there was blessing inherent in this. He understood this as everywhere he went flourished (Potiphar’s house, Pharaoh’s, deliverance from the famine).
Ultimately, Joseph leverages the famine itself. The people first selling their land and then selling their livestock and then themselves, so that at the end of the day, when there is great oppression and difficulty, people will either turn to God or government.
I believe Joseph was clearly a man of wisdom, and this distinguishes him from other patriarchs: he’s more similar to Daniel.
- Both flourished in a context where they weren’t in Jerusalem anymore, they were in adversity in exile.
- Both were men of wisdom who could interpret dreams, but also apply wisdom and instruction out of the dreams.
- Both Pharaoh and Nebuchadnezzar saw this wisdom, these parallels are intriguing.
Wisdom invites us to have a long-term, rather than short-term, perspective.
I think that Joseph clearly would have had his doubts, clearly wrestled with God, clearly wondered about the timing of the whole process – but by the time he saw his brothers, it’s evident he had matured enough to where he wasn’t hoping in something God hadn’t promised, but was hoping in the promises of God even though he had no clue as to how they would actually be fulfilled.
Dr. E: When you look at the overview of the Bible that you’ve done so masterfully in many ways, when you look at Egypt’s role and Joseph as God’s part of leading this movement, what’s your take on Egypt versus Israel.
I often say the story of Exodus is: Redemption from slavery, Consecration for worship. We’ve got to get you out of literal and metaphorical slavery and consecrate you in order to worship. To do that, we’re going to strip away all the props: you’re going to have water, manna, and Me.
But why Egypt?
Dr. Boa: Egypt is intriguing. There’s a unique relationship with Egypt in that it ultimately is the womb that gave birth to Israel. As a consequence, there is a special provision and acknowledgement of Egypt in the purposes and plans of God.
The whole dynamic of the nation, not because it chooses to do so but because God chooses to raise up a nation for His purposes ––and you recall, Abraham was told centuries before this that his people would be captives for 400 years, so it was not a surprise. This was not something of which the [the Israelites] were ignorant.
This whole motif of wisdom is so critical because Joseph’s wisdom, then, enabled him to get that longterm perspective.
Three points in a sermon from Jonathan Edwards that he delivered when he was 18 years old relate precisely to some of the questions you’re raising:
First: Our bad things will turn out for good [what we construe to be bad, God has plans for good]
Second: Our good things will never be taken away from us [there is no condemnation in Christ]
Third: The best is yet to come [eye has not seen nor ear heard has it even entered into the heart of man all that God has prepared for those who love Him]
If you embraced that, it would cause you to have a more eternal perspective on the temporal arena, and that’s really what’s involved in suffering affliction and adversity.
The qualities and characteristics of Joseph and of Daniel are never achieved in times of ease, but always in adversity.
We learn more from our setbacks than our successes.
It’s through these adversities that they are shaped and forge the characteristics of humility, patience, courage, perseverance, and integrity that we admire in people.
This is the mindset of an overcomer. Not a person who is unrealistic, but one who overcomes adversity.
Many of the dumbest things we do are at funerals or when people are going through times of adversity and we offer platitudes to try to make it easier for them. No. We are to commiserate and sympathize with others.
Dr. E: Yes, it’s infuriating to hear these well-intentioned but unhelpful things.
Dr. Boa: I remember when my wife was in a horrible accident and all the bromides and platitudes that she endured, mostly Romans 8:28. All well-intentioned, but after a while it became wearisome. I just lost a dear friend of mine and, in talking with his widow, I’m not going to tell her that all things work together. I’m going to be there for her and empathize with her.
Dr. E: Yes. In these tragic times we need to be more like Job’s friends who sat for seven days––and then just stop there. They were great until they opened their mouths.
It’s interesting because, as you and I get older, we view life much differently. We’re able to view Genesis 50:20 differently, and yet there is no shortcut for that.
Dr. Boa: There is no shortcut, it’s hard learned. I see it as a combination of two things:
- The wisdom of the proverb: let’s “sit on the shoulders of giants” and learn from the past. We learn wisdom from others. Learn, and live.
- There is also inevitably that school of hard knocks: live and learn; and there is no bypassing that second school.
This wisdom requires a great length of years and perspective.
When we make good decisions, they’re based on experience, and most of that is based on bad decisions.
“Good judgment comes from experience, and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.” -Will Rogers
If you learn from your decisions, that’s where wisdom and perspective come from.
Dr. E: I know it’s different around the culture, but we were talking in the studio about what I call “I, Me, My” Christianity that is horizontal now and all about “me.”
My oldest daughter who is our Executive Director of the ministry often reminds me, “Dad, you can’t just complain about it, you’ve got to help people!”
It’s a unique challenge because we live in a different culture than we did 30 years ago, and what’s of value today is “I, Me, My” – Suffering is not of value, avoidance of suffering, pleasure, instant gratification, and the church meeting “my” needs is of value.
Dr. Boa: And God becomes sort of a cosmic vending machine in that value system. If you put the right coins in and push the right buttons, this will be the outcome. But that doesn’t work.
Dr. E: The If-Then theology: If I do this, then God will do that.
Dr. Boa: It’s amazing to me that people avoid the whole issue of suffering. That’s what sparked the trilogy of books I’ve written recently:
Rewriting Your Broken Story : Embed your story in a greater story to gain eternal perspective.
Then, if there’s power in an eternal perspective, how do you cultivate it? That’s what the second is about:
Life in the Presence of God: practices for living in light of eternity.
The third, which releases early next year, is Shaped By Suffering: How temporal hardships are preparing us for our eternal home.
Dr. E: I finished teaching through 1 Peter a couple of years ago and during that I started using this line: Where did we ever get the idea life was going to turn out a certain way?
Dr. Boa: Indeed! And these books I’ve just mentioned are inspired by a teaching series I did on 1 Peter, so that’s exactly right. I like to put it this way: God redeems what He allows.
Dr. E: It’s hard for us to embrace that. We have a mutual friend, Joni Earikson Tada. I feel like I just have a hangnail when I’m complaining to her, it’s so ridiculous.
I also tell people who come to me, because I live with chronic pain and people will come to me and say, “I don’t know how you do it” and I tell them, “there’s no contest or comparison when it comes to pain. Your pain is your reality and if it’s a constant distraction, it needs to be addressed.”
It’s not like, because Joni is in such worse shape than Michael that her pain should ease my pain. I think the Christian community is loathe to embrace the idea that we’re going to suffer.
Dr. Boa: I think that’s the reason we can’t embrace the real messages in these biblical stories; because all these stories contain a great deal of adversity and a great deal of waiting. Consider the 430 years in Egypt, and the 400 years of silence after Malachi – all these motifs: waiting, waiting, waiting–
Dr. E: And, to interrupt, all those expectation that those elders were teaching their children and grandchildren these very stories, that they did not know because all those people died!
Dr. Boa: And we know they died how? In faith, without receiving those promises.
Dr. E: You rattle off 430 years – America, is what, 233 this year? We know nothing.
Dr. Boa: And we have the supposition that we’ll be immune to what happened to every other generation in all other times. Frankly, we have enjoyed unprecedented dimensions of privilege and we are a greater level of whiners in our country than there has ever been before.
But the point is that we need to stop confusing, as Bob Dylan put it, “don’t go mistaking paradise for that home across the road.”
The more we have of this world that’s good, the more we’re going to be putting our hope in the things of this world.
Joseph understood this and he grasped this hard-earned wisdom that is often achieved through the severe mercies of God.
Dr. E: My axiom is, this life, at best, is a clean bus station. No matter how nice or new the bus station is, it still stinks. There’s just no such thing as a nice bus station so we’re trying to make earth heaven, and we can quite get there.
Dr. Boa: We can’t do it. I realize the brevity of the earth-bound sojourn. We’re in a hotel room. We don’t need to change the decor of the hotel room, it’s temporary. We don’t have memories of heaven, but we have hints of Home – moments of beauty, intimacy, and adventure – that point to something C.S. Lewis described as, “patches of God-light on the woodlands of our experience.”
You can’t see the sun, but the rays are there through the canopy.
It’s a greater-good we cannot yet name.
Dr. E: and that’s why: Confidence assurance of things hoped for with the conviction of things not yet seen. It’s a hard one.
Dr. Boa: Consider how radical it is, the profound risk, of pursuing the unseen over the seen and the not-yet over the now.
Dr. E: To me, there’s no finer explanation for any of us in suffering – it’s a strange antinomy to live by faith, “do our part,” be faithful and live faithfully, knowing the outcome is His.
Dr. Boa: No matter how good we have it, we’re not home yet. We’re impoverished. Our mission, really, is to transmute the lead of that which is passing away into the gold of that which will endure.
The things that are passing away, then, are things that can be leveraged for gain: Luke 16:9 Live in light of Home:
The more I crave eternity, the less I will crave the temporal.
Dr. E: Help the doctor, lawyer, single mom or dad, disillusioned teenager — help them with some thoughts on why this Big Book is worth their time.
Dr. Boa: As I see it, this great book, is a love letter from the one who made the cosmos.
I was an astronomer, and as a scientist I still love what I see in the midicosm, the microcosm, and the macrocosm–and I’m astonished at the beauty and diversity.
But what I could not know from the heavens and the earth and all that I see, is that the Maker who made this, the one who holds the galaxies together, is the lover of our souls.
More than that, He would actually underwrite the cost of our redemption in His own blood. The concept of taking on our sins and giving us His righteousness is completely unique in the Christian faith.
At the end of the day the question is going to be: What are you putting your hope in? Because if you’re putting your hope in anything other than the promises of God, then you’re setting yourself up for despair, bitterness, and disappointment in the end.
Our thanks to Dr. Boa for his insights on these difficult and important matters!