I love a good story. One full of ups and downs, twists and turns. A story of “rags to riches,” usually with a hero, some bad guys, a bit of romance, and definitely a happy ending!
I love the story of Joseph. A huge chunk—twenty chapters—of the first book in our Bibles is given to the life of Joseph, more than to any of the other characters we read about there. More than Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. We have much to learn about Joseph and, more importantly, we have much to learn about God at work in, through, and for Joseph.
At the beginning of chapter 41, we find Joseph in a dungeon. He didn’t do anything wrong to end up there, quite the opposite! He ran from temptation and continued to honor God, but he was wrongly accused and had even been forgotten by the cupbearer whom he helped. At this point in our story, Joseph has ended up in prison for at least the past two years, yet we don’t read of how he was wallowing in despair, feeling sorry for himself, blaming his family for abandoning him thirteen years previously, or accusing God of forgetting him. So, how was Joseph able not just to survive, but thrive, even in the midst of these difficult times? What made all the difference?
The Lord was with him.
When Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, we are told the Lord was with him (Genesis 39:2), and again (39:21) when Joseph was unfairly sent to prison, we read that the Lord was with him and showed him kindness and favor. Joseph’s circumstances did not diminish the reality of the presence and providence of his Sovereign God, sustaining and enabling him to live a God-centered life, no matter how hard things were.
Be encouraged, dear friend. Joseph’s God is our God. And whatever difficulties we have to face, or whatever dungeon of despair or disappointment we find ourselves in, we, too, can know the assurance of the promise of Jesus who will never leave nor abandon us (Hebrews 13:5). It is more often in times of trial, sorrow, pain, grief, and suffering that we learn of the deeper things of God than in our mountain top experiences. Wherever you find yourself today, the Lord is with you.
As we continue with Joseph at this stage of his story, we read of Pharaoh’s troubling dreams and how Joseph was the only one able to interpret them. As a result, Joseph ended up going from the prison to the palace! God continued to work out His purposes in Joseph’s life and, at the age of 30, Joseph became second-in-command in all of Egypt, using godly wisdom to lead the country in preparation for the seven years of abundance and the seven years of famine, as revealed by God through Pharaoh’s dreams.
Joseph continued to honor God, even when he was promoted to a place of significance in Egypt. He did not seek satisfaction in prosperity, or security in the provision of Pharaoh, but worked wholeheartedly for the good of the people and the glory of God. When Joseph’s two sons were born, through the names he gave them, we see how he declared that he had known God’s hand was upon him through everything he had had to bear.
Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, saying, “Certainly God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s house.” He named the second child Ephraim, saying, “Certainly God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.” – Genesis 41:51–52
Let’s observe some things here from the names Joseph chose. Can I suggest that maybe he was not saying he had forgotten, because life was good now, but that he no longer remembered all the trouble and suffering he had gone through? We know that it’s really hard to forget the awful things that happen to us, so perhaps it was not that Joseph had forgotten the terrible events and challenges he suffered but, rather, God had enabled him to no longer feel the pain and hurt caused when he remembered the past.
“And we know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.” –Romans 8:28
Joseph also tells us, in naming Ephraim, that his time of suffering had not left him broken or barren, but it was a fruitful time! Trials and troubles can send us running to the Lord for refuge, and there we find treasures in the darkness. In close intimacy with Jesus we find His all-sufficient grace, His tender loving-kindness and mercy, and His everlasting arms carrying us. Our faith is refined in the fire of hardship so our lives reflect more of our Savior.
Before I sat down to study this passage today, I was at a prayer meeting hosted by a Christian ministry that supports our persecuted brothers and sisters throughout the world. I have no doubt there are countless stories we could hear from our fellow believers in a labor camp in North Korea, or a prison container in Eritrea, of what it means to endure through suffering. To know what it means to experience God’s sustaining grace, to shine the light of Jesus amid the most awful darkness, and, by His Spirit, to be able to stand strong in the face of evil and opposition. We have much to learn from their deep trust in our heavenly Father who is good, even when life is not. As He was with Joseph, so, right now, the Lord is with each of our persecuted families, through it all.
And He is with us too, in the good times and the bad, in the pain and sorrow, in weakness, in loss and failure, the joys and disappointments, He is there, working in it all.
“And, after you have suffered for a little while, the God of all grace who called you to his eternal glory in Christ will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. – 1 Peter 5:10
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