“When Life is The Pits”
A Study of the Life of Joseph
Sermon # 4
“Dealing With Disappointment”
Genesis 39:20-23 – 40:1-8, 14, 21-23
For the last several weeks we have been engaged in the study of a man by the name of Joseph. Joseph was from a classic dysfunctional family. Joseph had three step- mothers and six step brothers all living in the house at the same time. Joseph is his father’s favorite child and Jacob, his father, is unwise enough to openly display his favoritism. The result is that Joseph’s brothers are jealous and they grow to hate him. His brothers scheme until given the opportunity, they devise a way to sell Joseph into slavery in Egypt and convince their father that he has been killed by wild animals. One minute he is a seventeen- year-old boy with all of his life ahead of him and in the next a slave who’s only prospect is a life of drudgery.
In Egypt Joseph is bought by a man named Potiphar. Years have passed since Joseph has been sold into slavery and he has worked his way into a position of responsibility as head of Potiphar’s household. In the course of time, Potiphar’s wife decides that she wants a sexual relationship with Joseph and begin to pursue him. Ultimately the matter comes to a head one day when she grabbed Joseph and demanded that he sleep with her. When Joseph refuses her and flees from her presence leaving his cloak in her hand she became angry. She decided to protect herself should this get to her husband and at the same time get revenge on Joseph. She began to scream, she screamed that Joseph had assaulted her, after all she had his cloak in her hand. When her husband learned of this, he became angry and had Joseph thrown into prison.
It would have been easy at this point to give in to despair. Joseph was unjustly imprisoned, in fact imprisoned for doing the right thing. The disciples of Jesus must have felt a similar kind of despair when he was crucified. They had given three and half years to following this man whom they believed to be the Messiah. They had watched him heal the sick and heard him preach marvelous things about the kingdom of God. And just when it seemed that the world might recognize him as the King, everything had seemed to go wrong. He was arrested, convicted in a mock trial and crucified. Yet Easter is a celebration that the grave could not hold him and that on the third day he arose. Easter is all about hope and this morning I want us to look at the story of Joseph to see the principles of why we should not give into disappointment.
You may be saying, but I am not in prison. Are you so sure? Prison comes in different forms for different people. We can be imprisoned by our circumstances, trapped in situations that we are powerless to change. You can be imprisoned by the expectations of others. You may be imprisoned by guilt. Many of us are walking around with a load of guilt, from things that may have happened years before. Others may have forgiven us but we have not forgiven ourselves. Regardless of what “prison experience” we may find ourselves facing, Joseph can provide us with insights for coping.
One of the things that we must keep in mind as we examine Joseph’s life is that God is not as much interested in our circumstances as he is of our response to our circumstances. This morning we want to see how Joseph handles the “pits” of his life, his ability to live in undeserved and unpleasant circumstances with faith, hope and love. And what enabled him to live through these circumstances proved to be the means by which God brought about his release and rise in power to the second highest office in the land.
First, Joseph Knew that God Had Not and Would Not Forsake Him. (Genesis 39:20-23)
“Then Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were confined. And he was there in the prison. (21) But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. (22) And the keeper of the prison committed to Joseph’s hand all the prisoners who were in the prison; whatever they did there, it was his doing. (23) The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.” (NKJV) Now that Joseph is in prison we learn that although Joseph did not deserve to be in prison he responded to it beautifully. What is important was the way in which his character grew during his imprisonment. In similar circumstances another man might have become harsh, bitter or withdrawn. Not Joseph. Prison actually strengthened Joseph’s character.
Psalm 105: 18 refers to Joseph’s imprisonment,
“They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons.” (NKJV) The iron collar around his neck and chain around his ankles scrapped his skin and must have made it difficult to even sleep. An interesting alternate translation of this verse says, “His soul entered into iron.” Turning that around rendering it reads, “Iron entered into his soul.”
This would seem to indicate that this was more than a physical impairment this was a time of maturing spiritually.
C.S. Lewis in his book “The Problem of Pain” says, “God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain.” We have two choices, we can be come bitter and disillusioned or we can use our difficulties as a means of displaying our hope and trust in God.
Earlier in Genesis 39 we read that “the Lord was with Joseph” and “gave him success in everything he did” (vv. 2-3, 5). In the verses that we just read although the circumstances have changed this truth remains the same. Where is God when Joseph is thrown in the dungeon? Does His silence mean He’s absence? We’re not left to wonder. According to verse 23, “The keeper of the prison did not look into anything that was under Joseph’s authority, because the LORD was with him; and whatever he did, the LORD made it prosper.” The Lord was with Joseph in the palace of Potiphar and when Joseph went to prison, the Lord went there too. The only thing that severs us from God is sin.
False accusations put Joseph in prison, but it was the Lord who stayed near him and nurtured his soul while he was there. When a dungeon experience comes, the quickest and easiest response is to feel that God has forgot you. When fear threatens to overwhelm us we need to stop and remember that the Lord is still with us. No promise of scripture is more comforting than “I will never leave you nor will I ever forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6, Joshua 1:6, Hebrews 13:5). In spite of our feeling to the contrary God uses painful experiences to mature us. And spiritual maturity is learning to walk by faith regardless of present circumstances.
The tragedy of our day is that some Christians are teaching that if a Christian merely has enough faith, they will never suffer, for they say that the death of Christ provides deliverance from all adversity and affliction. Had Joseph believed that if he only had enough faith he could instantly be deliver from his trouble his faith would have been devastated by the fact that his troubles did not go away. The truth is that God is not obligated to make us wealthy, or well liked or free of trouble. God has promised to be with those who belong to him wherever they find themselves and to bring them to maturity, but he does not promise to pamper us or to jump through our hoops.
Secondly, Joseph Saw Every Situation in Life As a New Avenue for Service (Genesis 40:1-8)
“It came to pass after these things that the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. (2) And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief butler and the chief baker. (3) So he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison, the place where Joseph was confined. (4) And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them; so they were in custody for a while. (5) Then the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison, had a dream, both of them, each man’s dream in one night and each man’s dream with its own interpretation. (6) And Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that they were sad. (7) So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, saying, “Why do you look so sad today?” (8) And they said to him, “We each have had a dream, and there is no interpreter of it.” So Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell them to me, please.” (NKJV)
Eventually, Joseph was rewarded with a degree of freedom and unusual responsibility in the prison itself.
Because he was free of bitterness, he became useful as an instrument of God.
The king’s cupbearer and the king’s baker landed in prison. The specifics of what had happened to bring about this falling out with the king, we are never told. These are trusted officials of Pharaoh’s court. The chief cupbearer was not only responsible for tasting the king’s food and drink to make sure that he was not poisoned but he was also a trusted political advisor. The baker had the responsibility of cooking the food that Pharaoh would eat.
The text says “And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them; [literally he ministered to them].” (v.4). The term “served them” is normally not an expression used for menial service but of ministerial service. It is remarkable the deep interest that Joseph took in these two men, even to noticing the expression on their faces, inquiring after their welfare and taking the time to listen to their stories.
Both the cupbearer and the baker had dreams and were distressed as to their meaning. Joseph volunteered to interpret their dreams as God gave him the insight. It really is amazing that Joseph would want to have anything to do with dreams, after all it was his own dreams that had started all of this.
Even in the midst of his own adversity he reached out to help others. Ministering to the needs of others had two beneficial effects in the life of Joseph. First, it kept him from wallowing in self-pity. The truth is that there is no relief for sorrow like that of ministry to others. If you can do nothing else you can listen well and comfort others with the comfort wherewith you yourself have been comforted by God (2 Cor. 1:4).
The second important thing about Joseph’s service for others was that it was the very means the led to his ultimate deliverance. It may be the act that seems so insignificant at the time, is a turning point in life. His faithful ministry in the prison opened the door for greater ministry in the palace.
The cupbearer shared first (40:9-11). He said that he saw a vine with three branches that very quickly produced grapes. He then saw himself squeezing the juice into Pharaoh’s cup and serving him.
Interpreting the dream (40:12-13) Joseph told the cupbearer that in three days he would be restored to his position. But then Joseph added a personal request. Genesis 40:14, “But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house.” (NKJV)
Joseph requested to be remembered if his prediction was true. He in effect said that his ability to interpret the dream would prove that he was telling the truth. He asked only to be remembered after his words were proven to be true. It is obviously one thing to venture an opinion on the meaning of a dream, and quite another to make a request continuant upon the outcome of your interpretation.
At this point the chief baker was encouraged to tell his dream (40:16-17). He had dreamed that he was carrying three baskets on his head and that the top-most basket contained baked goods for Pharaoh. But the birds were eating them from the basket.
Joseph explained this dream (40:18-19) by saying that within three days Pharaoh would remove the baker from the prison, behead him and hang his body on a tree, where the birds would eat away his flesh.
It is important to remember that this passage is less about dreams than it is about God’s timing. Exactly what Joseph predicted happens. Now lets see how all of this affects Joseph.
Third, Joseph Chose to Trust God Regardless of the Circumstances (Genesis 40:21-23)
“Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. (22) But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. (23) Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” (NKJV)
Talk about disappointment! Instead of being remembered, rewarded and freed, he was forgotten. The next two years must have been the darkest days of Joseph’s life. The book of Proverbs says, (13:12) “Hope deferred makes the heart sick…”
We are not told the reason that the baker did not keep his promise, we simply read, “he did not remember Joseph but forgot him.” (40:23). After waiting patiently for a number of years for just this kind of opportunity, Joseph’s hopes are once again crushed by cruel reality.
The fact is that everyone in the world will let you down at sometime or another. No matter how good that person is or how hard that person tries, they will eventually let you down. A vast number of our troubles in this world come from placing our trust in something or someone other than God.
As disappointing as was to be forgotten, unknown to Joseph, another even better opportunity is coming. It will be another two years but it was coming and it would be worth the wait. That is why the Christian should not fret at the loss of a job, a flat tire, a bout of unexpected illness or whatever. God is God and the promise of Romans 8:28 is that He is working all things together for the good of those who love him.
“Billy Graham tells of a friend who went through the Great Depression, losing a job, a fortune, a wife, and a home. He was a believer in Jesus Christ and tenaciously held to his faith even though he was naturally depressed and cast down by circumstances. One day in the midst of his depression he stopped to watch some men doing stonework on a huge church in the city. One was busy chiseling a triangular piece of stone. ‘What are you going to do with that?’ he asked. The workman stopped and pointed to a little opening near the top of the spire. ‘See that little opening up there near the top?’ he said. ‘Well, I’m shaping down this down here so that it will fit up there.’ The friend said that tears filled his eyes as he walked away from the workman. For it seemed that God had spoken to him personally to say that he was shaping him for heaven by the ordeal through which he was passing.” [as quoted by James Montgomery Boice. Genesis : An Expositional Commentary. Vol. 3 p. 76]
Perhaps for you today it has been more than two years of waiting. Though you are not in a literal prison you are trapped by the unpleasant realities of life, such as circumstances over which we have no control and from which you cannot remove yourselves. But you need to remember that your circumstances are never only what they appear on the surface. We do not know what miraculous events God might be orchestrating through our situation. Our responsibility is to trust Him in spite of appearances. How did Joseph manage to maintain his trust and not be come embittered? What was his secret? The truth is that there is no secret. There is no magic formula, no twelve-step program to trusting in God. It is something you must simply do.
As we have already stated God works out in the lives of His children for their greatest good as he promised in Romans 8:28. But the necessary qualifier is that you must be one of His children. If you are going to anticipate his blessings you must have first accepted his salvation.
God made it easy for you to become his child. He did all the work. We must first come the place that we acknowledge that we are sinners. Romans 3:10 reminds us “As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one;” (NKJV). Later in this same chapter of Romans (3:23) Paul tells us, “…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Romans 6:23 further tells us, “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (NKJV). We must not only be willing to admit that we are sinners we must admit that Jesus is the only one who can set us straight. In John 3:16, we are told “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” Later in Romans (10:9) Paul tells us, “that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”(NKJV) Once you have accepted Jesus as your Savior you are officially one of His children, but not until you make that decision. Will you make that decision today? You might be tempted to say, “I’ll do that later.” Please don’t put it off, you have no guarantee of another chance.