Summary: Joseph remained loyal in spite of unanswered questions
"From Potiphar’s Place to Pharoah’s Prison" Genesis 40 Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
We’d all agree that God was with Joseph in
Potiphar’s house…was God still with Joseph in
The most significant feature of Joseph’s life was his steadfast loyalty to God in the midst of trying circumstances. Joseph remained faithful in spite of unanswered questions, in spite of the fact that God’s timing didn’t agree with his. Joseph’s life really had its ups & downs—yet Joseph carried his convictions with him and lived them out. He never compromised his values and was never bitter when things went wrong. He could have complained, “I resisted temptation, and this is what I get?!” Joseph accepted without a grudge his changes in status. Joseph didn’t believe in “bad luck” and he never regarded his plight as hopeless. Joseph remembered his dream from when he was a teenager, and knew he was in the middle of the story—a story whose Author was God.
A popular saying today is “Get over it.” Christians are able to recover from adversity because we trust in a sovereign God. Providence isn’t just a city in Rhode Island; it is a concept that proclaims God is in control. Those who see God’s hand in everything leave everything in God’s hand. Joseph was able to accept what happened because he trusted God’s power and promise.
In spite of all that had befallen him, Joseph was recognized as a man of God—the warden and his fellow prisoners saw this clearly. They sensed the presence of God was with Joseph. Some might automatically assume Joseph’s dilemma was due to some sin. Job’s friends were convinced (and tried to convince him) that all adversity is divine punishment. But for Joseph prison was a pathway to blessing. We know this, because we know “the rest of the story.” If you were unfairly sent to prison, innocent of any crime, would you feel that God was with you, even working through you?
An amazing thing we learn about Joseph is that wherever he went, he prospered. As a slave, he was elevated as his Egyptian master’s most trusted administrator. And in prison, the warden put Joseph in charge as an overseer. Potiphar was the captain of the guard and superintendent of the prison (39:1 cf 40:4); he likely provided a referral. When we walk with God we can prosper under any conditions, regardless of our circumstance.
Imprisonment may have also been God’s way of protecting Joseph from further temptation by Potiphar’s wife. God delivered Joseph, though not the way he’d have preferred. Yet the ultimate outcome shows how God’s ways are above ours.
I’m not glibly suggesting “Don’t worry—be happy.” Positive thinking and optimism alone—without an authoritative basis—won’t get us through trials. A self-help writer stated, “I’m such an optimist I’d go after Moby Dick in a rowboat and take Tartar sauce with me.” Unless God has instructed us to “pursue Moby Dick in a rowboat”, the mere fact of our optimism won’t guarantee us success. The confidence which Joseph had was a faith assurance based on divine revelation. -Not faith in faith itself, but in the facts of God’s word. Our confidence rests in our basis of authority. When we trust in providence--God’s sovereignty, His control over the circumstances of life--this is not fatalism. Someone said, “I’m not a fatalist. And even if I were, what could I do about it?" Fate and luck are inventions of unbelievers. Philosophers and astrologers thought that people were helpless due to blind fate. This is a far cry from understanding how a loving God has a personal interest in us, loves us, and has a plan for our lives. God even has a purpose for our trials. We accept what we cannot change because we know God has a plan for us. Do you want to be a witness for Christ? Perseverance under trials is the strongest defense of faith.
Pharaoh’s prisoners may have received better treatment than ordinary inmates. Remember—Potiphar likely suspected that Joseph was innocent but was coerced into punishing him. He could have refused, but he had no proof of Joseph’s innocence, while his wife had the condemning garment, the “smoking gun” as we say today.
I’ve been a Confinement Facility chaplain and have seen how prisoners can either become hardened by incarceration or develop character and grow spiritually in spite of their surroundings. Some people think the Army is a kind of prison—yet it is an institution where people can develop character--if they’re willing to grow. The same is true of wherever God has placed you. The goal of believers who are suffering is not escape, but endurance.
Joseph was responsible for the care of prisoners with elevated political status. He was assigned to serve the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. Although prisoners, as high officials of Pharoah’s court, they warranted special attention. The cupbearer was the official taster, to insure that Pharaoh’s cup was not poisoned. We’re not told of their specific offense; in some way they displeased their ruler and were assigned to Joseph. This tasking was no accident.