In the soft, flickering candlelight of evensong at Kings College, the words jumped off the ancient pages. How many generations had heard the words of Psalm 105 sung exquisitely by highly trained voices, in this house of God? Verse 18 drew my eye and heart with particular force.
“They have afflicted with fetters his feet, Iron hath entered his soul” Writing of Joseph, the psalmist speaks of his unjust accusation and imprisonment at the hands of his master Potiphar’s wife. The psalm continues:
“Until the time came that his cause was known: the word of the Lord tried him. The king sent and delivered him” I had often heard the phrase used in my title in common parlance, but had never realised where it came from. Joseph was imprisoned, his life interrupted, by an accusation that had no truth in it, yet the painful experience put “iron in his soul”. It strengthened and trained him for the weight of responsibility that lay ahead for him as overseer of Egypt.
He was to say to his brothers later, when they were fearfully repentant of selling him into slavery “Don’t be afraid. Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good..” (Genesis 50:20 The Message) I know the deep truth of those words from my own experience, where God has taken the dark shards of someone else’s brokenness, that had been aimed at me, into His own nail pierced palms, and fashioned them into something else entirely. Something good. Something that strengthened and trained me. For that, like Joseph and the psalmist, I am profoundly thankful.
A fellow ordinand made a telling comment in a story- telling intensive course, I attended this week. Speaking of the firebird in the ancient, Russian folk tale, she described seeing in her mind’s eye, the imprisoned bird, dulling from it’s former glory and radiance, to resemble the rusty bars that restrained it. A different translation of the verse from Psalm 105 as “They afflicted his feet with fetters; his soul came into irons” A subtle difference of interpretation, but an entirely different meaning. My learned friends can probably tell me what the Hebrew actually says – but I know which meaning I prefer. When ‘imprisoned’ unjustly by whatever circumstances, we have the choice. To let the darkness rob us of our God given radiance, and cause us to resemble our prison bars, or allow the grace of God to turn mess into His glory and put iron or steel into our souls.