Joseph a man of patience
In James 5:10-11 we read:
Patience is something that we need, especially in difficulties. “[Be] patient in tribulation” (Romans 12:12), says the Word of God. Today I would like to have a look at the subject of patience, using for this purpose the example of Joseph, the son of Jacob.
1. Joseph: in the land of Canaan
In Genesis 37:3-11 we read:
Jacob loved Joseph more than all his other children. This in turn, caused the envy of his brothers. As if this was not enough, he also saw two dreams in which he appeared as reigning over his family, and this fuelled their envy even more. As we will see later, their envy caused much trouble to Joseph.
Concerning the originator of those dreams, the fact that, as we will see, God fulfilled them –though much later - (Genesis 42:9), shows that He also was the one that gave them in the first place. Probably then, and having seen the trouble these dreams brought to Joseph, the next question is why? Why God gave to Joseph prophetic dreams that would be fulfilled only after many years? Did He not know that they would only fuel the hate of his brothers, in fact even to the point they would sell him as a slave to Egypt? Of course He knew it. There is nothing unknown to God. Nothing can take God by surprise. He knows everything. He sees much further than what we can see. The things that Joseph suffered had their purpose, even though it was very difficult to see any purpose at the time they happened. The fact that we may be going through tribulation and discomfort does not necessarily mean that we are walking out of the will and the plan of God. As with Joseph so also with us, the difficulties have their purpose and this I believe is also true with everything the Lord brings to our way. “ALL things work together for good to those that love God” (Romans 8:28), says the Word. If you love God, ALL, everything, work together for good. Even the difficulties and yes even the sufferings. You don’t always need to have the “whys” answered to move ahead - as we will see Joseph’s questions took many year to be answered and in the meantime more questions were added. What we always need however is faith – trust in the plans of God, even if we still have not seen them in their fullness. As I Peter 4:19 tells us “THEREFORE LET THOSE WHO SUFFER ACCORDING TO THE WILL OF GOD COMMIT THEIR SOULS TO HIM IN DOING GOOD, AS TO A FAITHFUL CREATOR”. There will be times where we may suffer and this “according to the will of God”. Let us trust our souls to Him as to a faithful creator. He knows vey well what He is doing.
2.From Canaan to Egypt
Returning to Joseph, if he didn’t immediately wonder about the reasons God gave him those dreams, he probably did this after what followed. His father had sent him to find his brothers at the place whether they were feeding their flock. But they….
The envy of Joseph’s brothers made them to finally sell him as a slave to Egypt. Let’s stop for a moment and let’s bring ourselves in Joseph’s position: imagine the questions he probably had. Within few moments his life had changed dramatically. Few hours before he was in his house with his father who loved him dearly, while now he was going as slave to Egypt, sold by his own brothers! Do you think that he understood why all this happened? I don’t think so.
As Joseph so also we may not understand the reasons behind some things. We may feel confused and as Job sorrowful. But let me repeat again that “ALL things work together for good to those that love God.” We have a view – and this very limited – of only the present and the past. God on the other hand has a full view of everything: the past, the present and the future. Our view is limited and imperfect. His view is full and complete. The link between our view and His perfect view is faith. The faith submits our imperfect vision to His perfect one, and denies to follow and to act only according to what our imperfect view says. Instead, it trusts the view of the one it believes: God. When our faith is tried, then we are tried to move our trust from the eyes of God and put it in our own eyes. Let’s not try to answer unanswered questions we may have, based only on what our eyes see. Our conclusions may not be right. In contrast, let’s trust our souls “to Him as to a faithful creator”. He ALWAYS KNOWS what He is doing, even though there may be things that we don’t fully comprehend at the moment.
3. Joseph: In the house of Potiphar and then into prison
Returning to Joseph, verses 1-6 of chapter 39 tells us what happened next:
“THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH.” It does not say that the Lord left Joseph during his tribulation at home and now He returned. The Lord was with Joseph, and He was with Him from the beginning. “I will not leave you nor forsake you” (Hebrews 13:5), says the Scripture. Joseph, as you probably, had access only to the past and the present. If he looked at his situation with his physical eyes, he should have been in great misery. He might even want to resign from life. However he didn’t do this, even though the life he was living was much different than the one he was expecting. In contrast, he worked for the Egyptian who in fact put him in charge of all that he had. Joseph, though he didn’t have all his questions answered, he lived his life, putting his heart to the hands of the One that knew all the answers.
Concerning Joseph’s life in Potiphar’s house, one could even say that life had started smiling to him again. He had a good job: he was in charge of the property of one of Pharaoh’s officers. This I guess was a privileged position for many Egyptians, let alone for a stranger like Joseph. However, the things changed again very suddenly. Genesis 39:6-20 tells us.
Genesis 39:6-15, 19-20
Though Joseph was very typical with his job, he was suddenly targeted by Potiphar’s wife and ended up in Pharaoh’s prison. He wouldn’t step back of what he knew it was the will of God. As he said to her: “How can I do this great wickedness, AND SIN AGAINST GOD?” It was God that Joseph feared, not man. Though the result was to be put into prison, the presence of the Lord followed him there as well. Verses 20-23 tells us:
“But the Lord was with Joseph…” and the same I believe happens with you: the Lord is with you. Even though you may be in a difficult situation, the Lord is there. You may, as Joseph, have questions that have not been answered. You may wonder “where is God in all this?” but the answer I believe is simple, short and straight: with you.
Returning to Joseph, from being in charge of Potiphar’s house he was now in charge of the whole prison. After some time, among his “guests” were also two officials of Pharaoh: the chief butler and the chief baker. Genesis 40:5-8 tells us:
“Do not interpretations belong to God?” and yes to Him belongs every interpretation, explanation or answer. With this encouragement the prisoners started telling their dreams to Joseph:
The dreams of the two officials (we skipped the dream of the chief baker) were from God. That’s why He also gave the interpretation. The chief butler would be restored to his position. Joseph knowing that, asked him to remember him and mention his case to Pharaoh. Then verses 20-23 tell us:
The things happened exactly as God had said through Joseph. However, despite this fact and the petitions of Joseph to the contrary, the chief butler forgot him. Who knows what Joseph was thinking. He might, with great expectation, have waited for the three days to pass, and for the dreams to be fulfilled, hoping that the chief butler would remember him. But he forgot him. One may call this carelessness, another may call it ingratitude. However, “who is he who speaks and it comes to pass when the Lord had not commanded it?” (Lamentations 3:37) says the Word of God. For the man that follows God there is nothing accidental. In contrast, “ALL things work together for good to those that love God”. ALL. Even this carelessness? Yes. Even the fact that they put him to prison without any fault from his side? Sure. Even the situation that I’m in? If you love God, yes. All things work TOGETHER for good to the one that love God, and I honestly don’t believe that my or your situation are exceptions to this “ALL”.
4. Joseph: in Pharaoh’s palace
Some time passed and now it was Pharaoh’s turn to have a dream from God for which he sought interpretation. It was then that the chief butler remembered the young Hebrew that had explained to him the dreams that he and the chief baker had seen some years earlier. Immediately, Pharaoh sent for Joseph and God gave through him the interpretation of the dream: Egypt would have 7 years of abundance that would be followed by 7 years of hunger. Pharaoh therefore had to act wisely and appoint a man that would make sure that the country would use the abundant resources of the first seven years to cover the shortages that would follow. Then Pharaoh said to Joseph:
As suddenly Joseph was sent to exile and then thrown into prison so suddenly he was put second in command in the whole Egypt! Only Pharaoh was higher than him! Under Joseph’s leadership, Egypt was able to save in the first seven years of abundance enough to face the last seven years of hunger. Moreover, Jacob, Joseph’s father, once he heard that there was food in Egypt, sent his sons there to buy some. Chapters 52-56 of Genesis show how beautifully God arranged the re-union of all the family in Egypt.
5. Joseph: the reasons
The things we have read about Joseph, especially the tribulation period, was not something that lasted one or two months. In fact it took about 13 years from the time Joseph was sold to Egypt to the time he stood before Pharaoh (see Genesis 37:2 and Genesis 41:46). Psalms 105:17-22 give us a summary of what happened to Joseph as well as its meaning.
It was GOD that sent Joseph to Egypt. “HE SEND HIM”. As Joseph also said to his brothers after their re-union:
and againGenesis 50:19-20
Returning to Psalms, God had appointed a time for “His word [concerning Joseph] to come to pass”. Up to then “the word of the Lord tested him.” The things therefore that Joseph suffered were not the result of “bad lack” or bad circumstances but the steps that God had arranged in His plan for him. These were trials that God had planned in order to built in him what was necessary for the next step. As Romans 5:3-5 says concerning tribulations:
and James 1:2-4
also Hebrews 10:36
We need patience to do the will of God and, though we may not like it, patience is built through trials. No short ways here. Joseph could not go to step 3 [second in command in Egypt and a mean of salvation for Israel] without first passing through steps 1 [hated by his brothers and sold as a slave to Egypt to Potiphar’s house] and 2 [unrightfully thrown into prison]. As Psalms 105 tells us: “He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass” God’s appointment for Joseph was step 3 from the very beginning. However He wouldn’t make this to happen BEFORE STEPS 1 AND 2 i.e. BEFORE THE TRIALS. Many of us want to go to step 3 but without steps 1 and 2. We want the resurrection without the crucifixion. We want to be disciples but without carrying the cross. It is simply not possible. If the Son of God, the Lord Jesus Christ, “learned the obedience BY THE THINGS WHICH HE SUFFERED” (Hebrews 5:8) do we think that we can learn it another way? If yes, then we deceive ourselves.
Trials are steps, only to take us higher and they are planned by God for our benefit. As for Joseph so also for us they are tools that God has planned to build in us what is necessary for the next step He desires us to get. God has a plan and a purpose for our lives and He wants us to fulfil this purpose. Will we submit to Him? Nobody will ever go to step 3, without first passing through steps 1-2. Nobody will ever learn obedience without sufferings. Nobody will ever produce patience without tribulations. Nobody will ever reach the purpose that God has for him without permitting God to build (and remove) –through trials – what He thinks as necessary.
I hope the above made clear that trials are not necessarily things planned for our bad. In contrast, for the man that loves God “ALL things work together for good” and this certainly also includes the trials and the tribulation.
If therefore it is a time where the questions seem too many and the answers too few, don’t loose courage. Trust your heart to the Lord. He knows what He is doing and what He is doing is certainly for good and for His glory.