Joseph, Part 1
The single lamp would flicker in
The late-night draft, and kiss the thin
Unconscious face of Dinah on
Her fevered cheek until the dawn,
While Joseph watched and prayed that she
Would live. She was eighteen, and he,
Less than a year behind her in
The line of Jacob's seed. He'd been
Mistaken for her twin, and worse,
Accused of bringing down this curse
On his half-sister's head because,
His brothers said, he broke the laws
Of God and loved her as no boy
Should love a sister, nor enjoy
The bed of his own father's child.
But Leah, Dinah's mother, smiled
At Joseph, lovingly, across
The bed, and said, “Joseph, the loss
Of my own daughter would not make
Me doubt your chastity or take
My daughter for a wench. I know
Why she lies here like this, and so
Do they. It was the filthy rape
Of Shechem. Simeon may drape
His guilty conscience with some slur
Against my daughter's character
And your uprightness, but it will
Not stand. When angry brothers kill
In vengeance, troubles come. Tonight
My daughter lies with some Hittite
Disease, and Levi schemes to blame,
With Simeon, the boy whose name
They most despise because you are
Your father's favorite son by far.
Oh, they made boast to Jacob, sure,
That no Hittite would ever lure
A Hebrew girl into his bed
Without the price of his own head.
And they made good their word with plot
And trickery. (Deceit is not
So quickly crushed, but deeply runs
Between a father and his sons.)
Yet they will blame my daughter's death
On you, and use her final breath
To justify their jealousy,
And, if by any means, to see
Your father lose the apple of
His eye, and steal an old man's love.”
The lad looked up from Dinah's face
And stared at Leah's piercing grace:
“I thank you, madam, for your trust.
Not once did I so much as lust
At your fair daughter; though I do
Confess to love my sister. True,
She is a fair and winning maid,
But I have fixed my heart and stayed
My mind to die, or go to pit
Or dungeon first, before I sit
On scented sheets with any maid
Unmarried to my soul. I've prayed
Now every night that she would wake,
And I am much perplexed, and quake
With baffled fear that she will die.
Oh, Leah, why? Why, Leah, why?”
“Perhaps,” she said, “the answer lies
Not so much in the minds of wise
And learned men, as in the long
Obedience that fights the wrong
And does the right, no matter what,
And waits to see the answer cut
In living stone, and really wrought
In flesh and blood before it's taught.
Perhaps the answer is the same
As why your brothers hate your name.
Is not this hate a hundred times
More evil than your sister's “crimes”
Of burning fever and distress,
And slowly breathing less and less?
And is our God less able to
Remove the heat of rage t'ward you,
Than to defeat the raging flame
Of Dinah's raped and burning frame?
I think not, Joseph. Rather both
Are easy for our God. One oath
From heaven's throne, and she would rise.
One more, and all your brothers' eyes
That hate you now would weep. And so
The answer why they hate, will show
The answer why your sister lies
Unwaking through your prayers and dies.
There is a meaning, Joseph, in
The hatred of your brothers. Sin
Does not have power to nullify
The deity of God. Ask why
Your sister lies unconscious there,
And why they hate in spite of prayer.
But do not be in haste, or chide
Your God, that he should wait and hide
His purposes for now. He knows
When we should understand, and goes
About his work with perfect pace.
And putting every piece in place,
He leads a faithful man at last,
By night, to stand where he can cast
His eyes in light across the ways
That made no sense for years, and praise
The hand that led him all his days,
And brought him through the baffling maze.”
She stopped and looked in Joseph's eyes
And prayed that God would make him wise.
“I marvel, Leah, that you do
Not hate me like the rest. You knew
The dreams I had as soon as they
Were told – that all of you some day
Would bow to me: the sun, the moon,
Eleven stars, like cedars hewn,
Will fall before the hated boy.
And now my brothers would destroy
A son of Israel before
They put their faces on the floor
At his conceited feet. But you
Are different, Leah. Why?”
I know the dreams. And I believe
That they have come from God. I grieve
That all my sons are blind, and can
Not see the first fruits of a plan
To humble them and save their souls.”
Then Joseph said, “But, Leah, Why?
You see. You have another kind of eye.
Where did you get this sight?” She gazed
A long time at her daughter's glazed
And half-shut eyes, then said, “I watched
Your mother die because a botched
Delivery of Benjamin
Left her to hemorrhage within.
And as I watched, God turned my life
Around. I was the other wife,
The second choice, the undesired.
He slept with me, it was required.
I've known the favored place, first in
My husbands arms, and then I've been
Rejected just like you. And I
Have tasted hate and wondered why.
But as I watched my sister and
Your mother die, I saw the hand
Of God. Rachel was beautiful,
And I was plain, and worse, as full
Of envy as an evil heart
Could be. And when she died, my part
Might well have been to revel in
Her woe, except that all my sin
Swept over me and crushed my vain
Desires, and gave me more disdain
For my own enmity than all
Her favored charm. It was a call
To wait, before I judge the ways
Of God. Who would have thought my days
Would be the more and better ones,
And I, not she, would bear six sons
Of Israel? And yet, dear son
Of Rachel, it is you, not one
Of my six sons, that God exalts
In dreams, while all the ugly faults
Of mine are on display.” She paused.
And Joseph said, “Has not this caused
You to resent the ways of God?”
“O Joseph, learn to kiss the rod,
My son. You will be tested soon,
And in the midst of sunny June,
Your winter will arrive. And though
I sit here in my winter's woe,
I know that spring will come, and God
Will smile, and lay aside his rod.
Be sure the wheel will turn again,
And one of my own sons will then
Be lifted up with scepter in
His hand, perhaps, and conquer sin.”
At daybreak Jacob came to get
His son. The old man touched the wet
And fevered skin of Dinah's face,
Then said to Joseph, “Go and trace
The path your brothers took last week
With all our flocks beyond the creek
Of Hebron. You will find them t'ward
The plains of Shechem. They've ignored
My word to send me news again,
And I am worried that the men
There might have made a raid against
The boys.” So Joseph stood, and sensed
A chapter in his life was done.
He stooped to kiss his sister one
More time, and then before he went,
He turned to Leah for consent,
Who smiling, said, “She'll be all right.
Remember what we've seen tonight.”
As Joseph meets the rising sun
And we light advent candle one,
Remember that the question, Why?,
Is answered not with skill, but by
A long obedience and fight
That hates the wrong and loves the right.