Joseph The Just

HEROES OF COMPASSION (EMPATHY) are known for their unbending commitment to humankind. There is a faithfulness and trustworthiness that goes with people of this kind. Of all virtues though, perhaps it is the virtue of Justice (or Righteousness) that supersedes all others in champions of compassion.

Joseph was the epitome of a Tzaddik[1]. No matter the circumstances, Joseph never let them get the better of him; he never exacted revenge on his wicked brothers-instead “transforming all of Jacob’s children, particularly Judah, to make them his worthy covenant partners.”[2]

He is serendipitously caught up in webs of intrigue, and found in awful situations, and somehow not only does he survive, but he thrives. Given to dreams and their interpretation, his knack of blessing the right people at the right time puts him in the enviable position of prime minister of Egypt.

Throughout the story, he maintains his integrity, even though to do this he has to manipulate his family. With his brothers he effectively “refines them to love one another”-an act in cooperation with Providence[3]. The whole story is summarised: “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”[4]

The fate of Israel forever turned on the faithfulness of Joseph. It is said of Joseph that he was “indebted to no one, and that made him a free man; who owed his success only to his natural gifts; and, who through his use of his natural gifts transformed exile into a kingdom, misery into splendour, and even humiliation into mercy.”[5]

His ethical brilliance is striking when knocking back Potiphar’s wife-given that “sexual promiscuity was a perennial feature of all slave societies.”[6] He is often punished twice, yet knows his Lord is by his side.

Andrews sees Joseph as a sort of example of Christ’s compassion; a just brother and leader, and someone who transcended and sacrificed himself, beyond what anyone would have, or could have, hoped. Indeed, a hero of empathy and compassion, with a vision far beyond his own person.


[1] Dave Andrews, Christi-Anarchy: Discovering a radical spirituality of compassion (Tafina Press, NSW, Australia, 1999), p. 83. A Tzaddik is a righteous man based on the Hebrew word “Tzedek,” or Justice. The Jewish hero is not the swashbuckling warrior, but rather conquers evil inclinations, towards pride, power and oppression, and practices righteousness and humility, and who is, like God, always on the side of the oppressed. A Just Person; an Example of Righteousness.

[2] Bruce K. Waltke, Genesis: A Commentary (with Cathi J. Fredricks, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, Michigan, 2001), p. 491.

[3] Waltke, Ibid., p. 494.

[4] Genesis 50:20 NIV.

[5] Elie Wiesel, Messengers of God (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1977), p. 155. Cited in Andrews, p. 84.

[6] N. Sarna, Genesis. (Jewish Publication Society, Torah Commentary: Philadelphia, 1989), p. 273. Cited in Waltke, p. 520.