By Michael E. Brooks
“And Israel said to Joseph, ‘Are not your brothers in Shechem? Come, I will send you to
them.’ So he said to him, ‘Here I am.’ Then he said to him, ‘Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.’ So he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem. Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, ‘What are you seeking?’ So he said, ‘I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks’ ” (Genesis 37:13-17 NKJV).
I had made several international campaigns in South America, Africa and Asia before I ever began going out on my own on a regular basis. I am still not comfortable traveling in many places without local companionship.
There are pitfalls and dangers that go far beyond the helpless feeling of being lost, and not knowing the way back to familiar places.
Imagine being a teenager, sent on an errand to a distant pastureland in ancient times with all the dangers of wild animals, harsh terrain, and foreign enemies. We don’t know how old Joseph was when his family lived in Shechem (Genesis 34).
We do know that they had trouble there, and Jacob left in fear of the inhabitants and neighbors. Perhaps, Joseph remembered that episode, and knew the way, but we cannot be certain of that.
We also do not know if he was familiar with Dothan, where he followed his brothers, since they had already left Shechem.
The fact is that Joseph did get into trouble in Dothan, but not because of the inhabitants, wildlife or geographic dangers of the region. It was the familiar, his own brothers, who threatened his life and robbed him of his freedom.
Christians are described as “sojourners and pilgrims” in this world (1 Peter 2:11). We are in an alien, often hostile, environment. Many dangers threaten us, of which persecution is the most often recognized.
We are assured both that persecution will come and that God will comfort and help us to endure it. We are encouraged to rejoice at such trials because of the potential for glorifying God that it provides (Acts 5:41-42). and because of the wonderful company in which we are placed (Matthew 5:10-12; 1 Peter 4:12-13).
Not all dangers are from the unknown or unfamiliar, however. Paul warned the elders from Ephesus that “. . . Savage wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock. Also from among yourselves men will rise up, speaking perverse things, to draw away the disciples after themselves” (Acts 20:29-30).
Whenever I have been threatened with physical violence in the mission field, or have had authorities ask to investigate or hinder my work (and both have occurred, though rarely), the threats have come from disgruntled Christians, those whom I considered brothers.
Like Joseph, it was those nearest to me, but harboring ill feelings, who were the greatest danger. It is this danger also to which we are most susceptible and by which we are most likely to be taken off guard. Such increases the danger.
I am not suggesting that we be suspicious, cynical, or distrustful of fellow Christians, or of others with whom we have personal relationships. Rather I am reminding us all that we must be watchful and prepared always, wherever we may be, placing our trust in God. As Jesus commented regarding his closest friends and disciples, “The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Matthew 26:41).
We walk in dangerous terrain. Let us rely upon divine help, and be prepared for all difficulties.
By Michael E. Brooks