What is a man?
Many continue to ask, and many offer new answers. Confusion blows across our land, exposing the feeble bridge between technological advancement and self-understanding. Mysteries of far-off galaxies unravel before high-powered telescopes while the face gazing back from the mirror lingers more distant than ever. With a world lying in his palm, modern man remains, to himself, a stranger.
Some imagine that two men can marry. Some see no problem with males acting like women or telling us that they are, in fact, women. Too few mourn the sink into egalitarianism distorting womanhood and attempting to dress man’s abdication in virtue’s garb. Some say that God is dead; others, man. Low standards in the family, and low visions even in some churches, let honor, righteousness, and holy dominion seep from our ideal like heat through old window panes.
We have ground to reclaim. The church, the world’s lighthouse, must not dim as the spirits of confusion wash over her shores. God calls his people to speak clearly, repeatedly, and without apology, for, as the men go, so goes the world.
Dwell with Giants
The confusion indicates that we have forgotten our roots. Too many men live isolated — not only from each other but from our ancestors. We need not reinvent what a man is, but only rediscover him. How? By forsaking the uncertain sounds of society and hearkening to the war drum of Scripture. God calls us to fellowship with giants — or those who slayed them — great men who have run the race before us and offer their strengths, weaknesses, and sins to instruct us on how to walk before God this side of heaven.
“God calls us to fellowship with giants, men who have run the race before us.”
Only recently have I realized how we (myself included) have been sawing at the branch we sit on. In an effort to avoid clichés and moralizing, we abandon men of old. Disavowing “Dare to Be a Daniel” sermons have effectively stolen Daniel from us. This is a mistake, not only because God preserved their lives with great detail in the Old Testament — which “was written for our instruction” (Romans 15:4) — but because the New Testament calls us to imitate those such as Abraham, Abel, Isaac, Moses, Noah, Enoch, Elijah, Job, Gideon, David, Samuel, Isaiah, and more.
In the absence of such men of old filling our minds and fueling our faith, we find different men to esteem — athletes, celebrities, intellectuals, musicians. Mel Gibson with a sword. Russell Crowe in a coliseum. But shrubs cannot replace the family tree. As Abraham’s offspring, we need to know our roots and wake the ancient giants that we might see clearer, and farther, standing upon their shoulders.
Most recently, Joseph has captured my gaze as one I want to emulate. His story has as many layers as his coat had colors, but let me highlight three ingredients, among others, that make up a godly man. Like Joseph, the men of God we need in every generation will learn to rule themselves, lead others, and bow before a mighty God.
He Rules Himself
The godly man achieves mastery over his most unruly subject: himself. Paul saw it too: “urge the younger men to be self-controlled” (Titus 2:6). While Joseph displays rule over anger, greed, and vengeance, he displays mastery over self where many today do not: his lust.
Rising from the slavery sparked by his brothers’ betrayal, Joseph now rules at Potiphar’s right hand. Joseph, we learn, was “well-built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6 HCSB). His physical prowess did not go unnoticed, especially by the most powerful (and presumably beautiful) woman in the household, Potiphar’s wife. She looked longingly at him (Genesis 39:7). Blushing glances soon became fixed gazes; thoughts grew to fantasies. One day she purred seductively to the young Hebrew, “Sleep with me” (Genesis 39:7 HCSB).
He faced temptation many of us don’t experience. He did not go after her; she came after him. He did not flex; she enticed. She beckoned through a door on which he never knocked. Her whispered kisses threatened to caress his lust and his pride — a potent combination. In response to her invitation, God summarizes his response in three glorious words: “But he refused” (Genesis 39:8).
And he did not merely triumph once.
“The godly man achieves mastery over his most unruly subject: himself.”
We read, “Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her” (Genesis 39:10 HCSB). Resisting such temptation once is admirable. To hear the Siren sing and plainly reject her promises of pleasure is commendable. But to withstand day after day, season after season, whisper after whisper, smile after smile, seduction after seduction is behemoth. Every day, with each passing hour, he faced a decision. And every day he halted her advances.
Man of God, have you resisted Potiphar’s wife? Are you, like Joseph, continuing to resist?
How many of us can learn from Joseph, not just in that he refused, but why he refused?
Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (Genesis 39:8–9)
He knew others trusted him, relied upon him, conferred good to him — and none more than God. How could he repay Potiphar with such cruelty — and his God with such treason? How can we repay our wives with pornography, our brothers with adultery, our God with homosexuality? We who have troubles with gusts and breezes have much to learn from him who withstood a whirlwind.
He Leads Others
Eventually, the ruler of self became the ruler of Egypt. He who proved faithful with ten talents was entrusted with one hundred more.
Yet his promotion would take a horrible detour. Alone in the palace with Potiphar’s wife, the lusty mare burned with desire and harassed the young man, groping at his outer garment which he had to abandon to escape (Genesis 39:11–12). Evil she, in a similar ilk as Shakespeare’s Iago, took the forgotten garment and accused the innocent of treachery (Genesis 39:13–18). Incensed, Potiphar threw Joseph in jail (Genesis 39:19–20). Joseph sat in another pit unjustly.
“As the men go, so goes the world.”
But the theme continued: God showed him steadfast love, and he again ruled as the second in charge of the prison (Genesis 39:21–22). As with Potiphar, the warden had no anxiety concerning all that Joseph presided over, because God was with him (Genesis 39:23). Even from a cell, Joseph exercised dominion, blessing all in his trust.
After two additional years in prison, the cupbearer finally kept his word and told Pharaoh of Joseph. Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dream and proposes a fifteen-year plan for Egypt’s flourishing amidst famine, to which the pagan ruler proclaimed, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” (Genesis 41:38). Pharaoh then set Joseph over Egypt, to answer only to Pharaoh himself. By the time he turned thirty, the beautiful coat he received in Jacob’s house changed to the garment he left behind in Potiphar’s, which now was replaced with fine linens in Pharaoh’s.
Manhood that leads from the front has fallen on hard times. Our modern beatitude reads, “It is far more blessed for men to be led than to lead.” But Joseph stands in contrast. He exercised benevolent dominion in all the spheres God placed him. From Potiphar’s house, to the prison, to the right hand of Pharaoh, to his own household in Egypt, Joseph stewarded what God put in his charge. He administered. He made decisions. All were blessed under his care — including his long-lost brothers when they eventually came calling.
Like Joseph, God calls men to manage their affairs with equity and acumen. We need men like Joseph, filled with the Spirit and recipients of God’s steadfast love, to regulate their spheres for the benefit of others. Both elements are crucial: the willingness to rule, aimed at others’ good. We do not volunteer to be heads of our households and have our spheres of influence; we are heads that either bless or tear down, uplift or destroy, ignore or empower.
Few of us will rule an Egypt like Joseph did. Yet how many are prepared — being manifestly a man of God — to govern a household, a church, a community, a nation?
He Bows Before a Mighty God
Joseph served a powerful Master. So do men who have truly “turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6).
“The men of God we need in every generation will learn to rule themselves, lead others, and bow before a mighty God.”
Joseph explains his journey to his brothers this way: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Genesis 45:5). Twice he says this (see also Genesis 45:7), and then a third time, “It was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8).
Beaten and betrayed by his brothers: God was sending me. Resisted Potiphar’s wife and subsequently jailed: God was sending me. Received an unfulfilled promise, leaving him in prison for two more years: God was sending me. Standing before the men who sold him as a slave and stole from him years with his father and younger brother: God sent me here, not you.
This God exalted him as a “father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt” (Genesis 45:8). This God saved the nation by his hand. This God foretold all that was to come and moved an entire empire to make it happen. This God controls all things.
And this God fulfills his promises. In his last act of faith, Joseph instructs his bones to be buried in the land God has promised his people — centuries before they possess it (Hebrews 11:22). We have much to learn from this man who foreshadowed the greater Joseph to come. Here is one of the giants who can help a confused generation regain what it means to be a man.