Last week we read a portion of the account of Jacob’s life. We read how Jacob had fallen in love with Rachael, but he was tricked into marrying Rachael’s sister Leah first. We looked at the children of Jacob, and who they were. And we looked at what would become the twelve tribes of Israel. So now let’s look at the life of Joseph. At the start of Genesis chapter 37, we read that Joseph was out in the field with his brothers. He came back home and gave Jacob a bad report. Jacob loved Joseph more than any of the others. His father had given him a brightly colored outer coat that he wore to stand out among the rest of his brothers, and they were tired of it. Actually they were sick of it, and quite frankly they were filled with hate and never wanted to see him again. Joseph, only a young man in his mid-teens had the gift of dream interpretation, certainly important during those days. His first dreams had to do with his brothers bowing down to him and his second included the sun, moon and eleven stars - a young man, perhaps slightly prideful in his youth as the favored one. Yet as we read on, Joseph never once abandoned his relationship with God.
Joseph’s eleven brothers are out in the field working and Jacob sends him out to find them to make sure everything’s OK. He asked that Joseph return with an update. So he puts on his multi-colored coat and heads off into the fields in the heat of the day. And he would walk four or five hours until he would find them, but they saw him approach first. (I wonder how they recognized him from afar.) They said to one another, “Look, this dreamer is coming! Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say; ‘Some wild beast has devoured him. We shall see what will become of his dreams!” But the first-born brother Reuben (son of Jacob and Leah) spoke up and said, “let’s not kill him.” Instead put him in a pit (in the middle of nowhere, but on the main trade route on the way to Egypt.) Reuben wanted to spare his life, but remove him from the picture, thinking at some point he may return and bring Joseph back home. But that wouldn’t happen. Reuben and his brother’s stripped Joseph of his coat, threw him in a deep pit without water. After doing so, scripture tells us they brushed the dust off their hands and sat down together for a meal. They hear a noise, look up and see a company of Ishmaelites (also known as Midianites) coming from Gilead with their camels bearing spices, balm and myrrh on their way to Egypt to sell their wares. The brothers took advantage of the situation, pulled Joseph from the pit and sold him for twenty shekels of silver (the price of a disabled slave.) After all, no blood would be on their hands. So the Ishmaelites took Joseph to Egypt, an unfamiliar land with an unfamiliar language. Then the brothers took Joseph’s multi-colored coat, killed a goat and dipped the coat in the blood. What an amazing scheme. They took it to their Father (probably scheming and laughing all the way home – although Reuben was deeply troubled) and asked Jacob if he recognized it. Of course Jacob did believing a wild beast had devoured his son and scripture says he mourned and wept for many, many days. His eleven sons and his daughters tried to give him comfort, but Jacob told them he would go to his grave grieving for Joseph. And then we learn that the Ishmaelites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and captain of the guard. Other translations refer to Potiphar as the captain of the bodyguard. This group was an elite, courageous band of rugged men. Potiphar was actually the “chief of the executioners.” No matter what title you give him, Potiphar was nobody to fool around with; he was a man of seasoned military experience with power over life and death. Yet Joseph not only adjusted to his new situation, he flourished in it – and for one major reason. Joseph was better than all of the rest, and he knew it? In difficult situations, Joseph could tune himself out and just dream? Dream, dream, dream? No, the reason emerges in a beautiful phrase that appears a number of times in Joseph’s story. “And the Lord was with Joseph.”
Genesis 39:2-6: “The Lord was with Joseph, so he became a successful man. And he was in the house of his master, the Egyptian. Now his master saw that the Lord was with him and how the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight and became his personal servant; and he made him overseer over his house, and all that he owned he put in his charge. It came about that from the time he made him overseer in his house and over all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house on account of Joseph; thus the Lord’s blessing was upon all that he owned, in the house and in the field. So he left everything he owned in Joseph's charge; and with him there he did not concern himself with anything except the food which he ate. Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.”
God was a part of Joseph’s life. He guided him, gave him an understanding of his new environment as well as an understanding of a new language. On top of all of that, He gave him favor in the eyes of the chief executioner, Potiphar. Clearly, God was the secret of Joseph’s success. Luck had nothing to do with it. And Joseph didn’t have to tell Potiphar that the Lord was with him, Potiphar could see it for himself. Joseph didn’t use his faith and spirituality as a tool to get benefits from his superior. Simply, because the Lord caused all that Joseph did to prosper, Joseph found favor in his sight. Scripture doesn’t say that Joseph asked favors from Potiphar, he found favor from Potiphar. God ordained, God’s timing, God’s plan for his life.
And as we follow the account of Genesis chapter 39, we find Joseph in a precarious position. Joseph has been placed in charge of everything, except of course, Potiphar’s wife. She sets her sight on him for whatever reason, and Joseph refuses her advances. Out of complete respect for Potiphar and a love for God, he says, “How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Yet, Potiphar’s wife continued day after day and Joseph never succumbed to this temptation. Finally, in a final effort, she approached Joseph when no one was around, and this time he fled. He ran into the street scripture says. In his haste to get away, he left his outer garment in her hand (you’d think he’d learn by now that coats would get him into trouble.) And then Potiphar’s wife sets him up, accusing him of approaching her, this ‘Hebrew servant’ Potiphar brought into their house. Chuck Swindoll says, “I read the Biblical account, and my heart goes out to Joseph. I think, ‘Oh, if there’s ever a time to reward this man Joseph, reward him now God. Reward him for saying no, day after day after day. Reward him for running instead of yielding.” But God is not through with him in God’s providence. God is not like us. He patiently and faithfully works in ways we would never understand or even choose at times. God sees beyond our situations and knows what needs to be done to accomplish His will for our lives. Certainly true with Joseph. This is but a blip on the radar in the long run. Therefore, God appears to be silent when Potiphar returns home.
More lies and accusations and Joseph ends up in prison, right where God wants him. We need to be careful how we interpret scripture, but I wonder about Potiphar’s decision to put Joseph in jail. According to Potiphar’s wife, Joseph has committed the ultimate break in trust between them, yet Potiphar sends him to prison. Remember, he is the chief executioner. Why wouldn’t he have Joseph put to death. That had to be a daily occurrence in Potiphar’s life. I believe he knew Joseph was not entirely guilty and there was more going on behind the scenes. Besides, God was just beginning to work in the life of Joseph.
Having been unfairly treated, unexpectedly restricted by circumstances, and falsely accused, he is in prison. In fact scripture says he is in a dungeon, back in a pit again, the very bottom of an Egyptian pit. He’s starting all over again. How old was Joseph? No one knows for sure, probably now in his late twenties. A bigger question is “Where was God?” We can see God in the good things. We can even see Him in questionable things. But where is God when all is unfair? Where is God when the dungeon experience occurs? Does His silence mean He’s absent? We read in Genesis 39:21 where God was. “The Lord was with Joseph.” That’s where God was. He was right there, He never left. He was with Joseph and He did for Joseph what He had done before. He gave him favor in the eyes of others. “The Lord was with him and whatever he did, the Lord made it prosper.” It would only be a matter of time before he would be in another position of authority. Scripture tells us that the Pharaoh of Egypt became angry (for whatever reason) with his chief butler and baker, and put them in custody where Joseph was serving. Some translations say butler, others more accurately refer to the butler as Pharaoh’s cup-bearer. The cup-bearer held a very important position. A cup-bearer was the person who tasted the wine and food of the king before he ate or drank. That way, if it was poisoned, he would lose his life, rather than the king. He also watched over the king’s diet. This led to a very close relationship, a relationship of ultimate trust between two men. Often the king of the land would confide in the cup-bearer. You may remember such a person in scripture. Nehemiah was the cup-bearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes who ultimately would allow Nehemiah to return to Jerusalem to rebuild the Jerusalem, the walls and restore Temple worship.
So for whatever reason, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker are in prison asking for interpretations of their dreams. In chapter 40, we read that they approach Joseph asking if anyone has that gift, and Joseph tells it like it is. In three days, the baker would be executed, yet the cup-bearer’s life would be spared. This trusted man would be returned to the palace, back to his position of authority. And all Joseph asked of the cup-bearer was to “remember him when it is well with you, to please show kindness to him, make mention of him to the Pharaoh and help get me out of here!” And at the close of chapter 40 we read, “Yet the chief butler, the cup-bearer, did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. Where was God? You know. The days turned into weeks, the week’s months and two years later, two long hard monotonous years later, the cup-bearer remembered Joseph in speaking with the Pharaoh.
So how do we feel when we are alone and discouraged? When we are beat up by the world wondering where God is in our lives? When it appears all we have worked for may be gone, or slipping away. It is in this kind of pain where God gives His best messages. It’s what C.S. Lewis calls “God’s megaphone.” He writes, “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pains.” The prophet Isaiah writes, “For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways” declares the Lord. “For as the Heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.”
We can certainly relate to the life of Joseph. We may not have encountered exactly what Joseph encountered, yet we have dealt with trials in our own lives. We can see God in the good things. We can even see Him in questionable things. But where is God when all is unfair? Where is God when trials seem to overtake us? God is right there with us. It is the promise of Scripture. God promised this to Jacob in Genesis 28:15 and God promises the same for us in Hebrews 13:5; “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we say with confidence “The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid.”