Posted On April 21, 2010
Most of us have heard of Joseph before. You know, the dude with the coat of many colors. They even made a broadway show about him starring Donny Osmond, remember? A few days ago, God spoke to me about Joseph’s story through some circumstances in my life, and I wanted to share some of what He put on my heart.
Scripture tells us in Genesis 37 that Joseph was 17 when God revealed part of his future to him through two dreams – specifically, that at some point in the future, his dad and brothers would all bow down before him. Joseph’s brothers already didn’t like him because he was the favorite son, but when he told them about his dream, they hated him and plotted to kill him. Long story short, rather than being killed, he gets sold as a slave in Egypt to Potiphar, the captain of the guard of Pharaoh.
While a slave, God blessed Joseph in everything that he does because of his faithfulness to God, so Potiphar places him in charge of his whole household. However, since Joseph was a very attractive young man, Potiphar’s wife continually made passes at Joseph. When Joseph continued to refuse her advances, she accused him of attempted rape, which landed him in prison.
While in prison, God continued to bless Joseph’s work, so the warden placed him in charge of all of the prisoners. One evening, two of Pharaoh’s officials had dreams, and Joseph interpreted those dreams successfully. However, they forgot about him, and he stayed in prison for two more years.
One night, Pharaoh had two similar dreams that bothered him very much, because he didn’t know what they meant. However, no one could tell him what their meaning was either. It was at that point that the chief cupbearer of Pharaoh remembered what Joseph had done for him, so he told Pharaoh, who had him brought from prison.
Joseph successfully interpreted Pharaoh’s dream, and as a result was made second-in-command over all Egypt. Genesis 41:36 tells us that Joseph was 30 years old at this point; it had been about 13 years since God had given him the dreams about his future.
Several years later, a terrible famine hit the region – such a bad famine that there wasn’t any food. Jacob sent his sons to Egypt to purchase food. Since Joseph was in charge of all the land, they had to purchase it from him, even though they didn’t recognize him, and as a result, they did end up bowing down before him. (There’s much more to the story, so I encourage you to read it, which you can do here: Genesis 37, 39-50 )
There are a couple of things that God brought to my mind through this passage:
First, Joseph was the second youngest son. In those days, notoriety and prestige flowed from the oldest to the youngest, so Joseph would have been the last person would have thought of when you thought about chances for being “someone.” However, “The Lord doesn’t see things the way you see them. People judge by outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” (1 Samuel 16:7b) God had much bigger plans for this young son of a shepherd than anyone could imagine.
Second, God’s plan is much bigger than anything we could ever begin to imagine. “For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts,” we’re told in Isaiah 55:9. I don’t know what Joseph thought that those dreams meant, whether he thought maybe he might get to be a leader in the area, or what exactly. I bet that he never figured that he’d be second in command of Egypt, especially “…because Egyptians despise Hebrews…” (Genesis 43:32b) Whatever he thought about that matter though, Jeremiah 29:11 reminds us that God has specific plans for our lives – plans that will give us a future and a hope.
Third, from a human perspective looking forward, the path that God had Joseph take made no sense at all. First his brothers sell him into slavery. Then he gets sent to prison. I mean, how does that make any sense? But if we look at it a bit closer, we can see God preparing Joseph for the role that He had in store for him. In each place that he is taken, he is given specific responsibilities. Remember, there was a 13-year gap from when Joseph had his dreams to when he was brought before Pharaoh. There’s a lot of time in there to learn how to run a household, to be in charge of all the finances of someone as important as the captain of the palace guard. And then there was a lot of time being in charge of all of the prisoners. Even though it might have seemed totally disconnected, in reality, God was using those years and experiences to prepare Joseph for the responsibilities that Joseph would soon face. As Proverbs 16:9b tells us, “the Lord determines our steps.”
Fourth, God worked out His plan in Joseph’s life so that he was in exactly the right place at the right time. While I’m sure that there are other ways that Joseph could have ended up connected to Pharaoh, looking at things from the perspective we can see them – looking back on them – the path made perfect sense.
I wonder if Joseph was frustrated with Potiphar’s reaction – I mean, Joseph hadn’t ever done anything questionable, and God was obviously totally with him. However, Potiphar totally freaked out. I wonder if Joseph ever got discouraged. I wonder if he ever asked God about the dreams, reminding Him what He’d revealed to him back years ago. I wonder if he ever regretted telling his brothers about the dreams. I wonder if Jacob ever thought about what Joseph had said as well. While scripture does not directly answer these questions, we do know that God was with Joseph. In fact, “the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love.” (39:21a) “The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.” (39:23b) Even through all of the junk going on in Joseph’s life, God was with him, and let him know it.
My friend John let me borrow a book called “Talking with God” which is a compilation of letters from Francois Fenelon, an archbishop from the late 17th century. Chapter 11 is entitled “When we feel abandoned by God,” and in it Fenelon comments,
“Let us enjoy light and consolation when it is His pleasure to give them to us, but let us not attach ourselves to His gifts, but to Him. When He plunges us into the night of pure faith, let us still press on through agonizing darkness.
Moments are worth days in this tribulation. The soul is troubled, and yet at peace. Not only is God hidden from it, but the soul is hidden from itself, so that everything may be of faith. The soul is discouraged but feels nevertheless an immovable will to bear everything that God may choose to inflict. It wills everything and accepts everything, even the troubles that test its faith, and so in the very height of the tempest, the waters beneath are secretly calm and at peace, because its will is one with God’s will.”
Have you ever had that happen? It seems like the world around you is falling apart, and you know that you should be totally freaking out, but instead, beneath all the turmoil and struggle, there is peace. I’ve experienced that before; a couple of times this year actually. It is a very surreal experience – you know that the only thing holding you together is God Himself – that He is in control.
There will be times when life doesn’t make sense. There will be times when the path that our lives are on seems totally different from what we think it should be. There will be times in this life when everything seems to be going wrong, when all seems to be falling apart. However, Philippians 1:6 reminds us that “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Romans 8:28 encourages us that “God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.” Or as Joseph commented to his brothers, “don’t be upset, and don’t be angry with yourselves for selling me to this place. It was God who sent me here ahead of you to preserve your lives. This famine that has ravaged the land for two years will last five more years, and there will be neither plowing nor harvesting. God has sent me ahead of you to keep you and your families alive and to preserve many survivors. So it was God who sent me here, not you! And he is the one who made me an adviser to Pharaoh—the manager of his entire palace and the governor of all Egypt. … You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good. He brought me to this position so I could save the lives of many people.” (45:5-8, 50:20)
So, as God has encouraged me through the life of Joseph, let me also encourage you: God has amazing plans for our lives, and He is faithful to see them to completion, and by doing so, He will be glorified. Even when it seems like we’re being led in the exact opposite direction from where we should be going, or when it seems like we’re just going in circles, God is working in our lives, and in the lives of those around us. While sometimes His plans don’t make sense from a human perspective, remember that He sees things from a totally different perspective. As we seek Him, and dedicate our lives and our work to Him, He will not only bless us and our work, but those we interact with. And when the time is right, it will be just as it was with Joseph: “Pharaoh sent for Joseph at once, and he was quickly brought from the prison.” (41:14) One moment, he was working in the prison, as he had been doing for the last several years, the next moment, the King summoned him to the position that had been prepared for him, and that he had been prepared for. And just like Joseph, we never know when that moment may be. We can be sure, however, that it will be at the exact right moment.