Joseph a man of patience
In James 5:10-11 we read:
“My brethren, take the prophets, who spoke in the name of the Lord, as an example of suffering and patience. Indeed we count them blessed who endure. You have heard of the perseverance of Job and seen the end intended by the Lord -that the Lord is very compassionate and merciful.”
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:
"Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also he made him a tunic of many colors. But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him. Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more. So he said to them, "Please hear this dream which I have dreamed: "There we were, binding sheaves in the field. Then behold, my sheaf arose and also stood upright; and indeed your sheaves stood all around and bowed down to my sheaf." And his brothers said to him, "Shall you indeed reign over us? Or shall you indeed have dominion over us?" So they hated him even more for his dreams and for his words. Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, "Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me." So he told itto his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, "What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?" And his brothers envied him, but his father kept the matter in mind."
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 who 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….
“when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him. Then they said to one another, "Look, this dreamer is coming! "Come therefore, let us now kill him and cast him into some pit; and we shall say, `Some wild beast has devoured him.' We shall see what will become of his dreams!" But Reuben heard it, and he delivered him out of their hands, and said, "Let us not kill him." And Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood, but cast him into this pit which is in the wilderness, and do not lay a hand on him" - that he might deliver him out of their hands, and bring him back to his father. So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit wasempty; there was no water in it. And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt. So Judah said to his brothers, "What profit is there if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? "Come and let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother and our flesh." And his brothers listened. Then Midianite traders passed by; so the brotherspulled Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.”
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 who 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:
“Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt. And Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had taken him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he was a successful man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian. And his master saw that the LORD was with him and that the Lord made all he did to prosper in his hand. So Joseph found favor in his sight, and served him. Then he made him overseer of his house, and all that he had he put under his authority. So it was, from the time that he had made him overseer of his house and all that he had, that the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; and the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had in the house and in the field. Thus he left all that he had in Joseph's hand, and he did not know what he had except for the bread which he ate.”
“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
“Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And it came to pass after these things that his master's wife cast longing eyes on Joseph, and she said, "Lie with me." But he refused and said to his master's wife, "Look, my master does not know what is with me in the house, and he has committed all that he has to my hand.. "There is no one greater in this house than I, nor has he kept back anything from me but you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" So it was, as she spoke to Joseph day by day, that he did not heed her, to lie with her or to be with her. But it happened about this time, when Joseph went into the house to do his work, and none of the men of the house was inside, that she caught him by his garment, saying, "Lie with me." But he left his garment in her hand, and fled and ran outside. And so it was, when she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and fled outside, that she called to the men of her house and spoke to them, saying, "See, he has brought in to us a Hebrew to mock us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. "And it happened, when he heard that I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me, and fled and went outside." So she kept his garment with her until his master came home. Then she spoke to him with words like these, saying, "The Hebrew servant whom you brought to us came in to me to mock me; "so it happened, as I lifted my voice and cried out, that he left his garment with me and fled outside." So it was, when his master heard the words which his wife spoke to him, saying, "Your servant did to me after this manner," that his anger was aroused. 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.”
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:
"And he was there in the prison. But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him mercy, and He gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 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. 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."
“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:
“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. And Joseph came in to them in the morning and looked at them, and saw that theywere sad. 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?" 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.”
“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:
“Then the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, "Behold, in my dream a vine was before me, "and in the vine were three branches; it was as though it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and its clusters brought forth ripe grapes. "Then Pharaoh's cup was in my hand; and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand." And Joseph said to him, "This isthe interpretation of it: The three branches are three days. "Now within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your place, and you will put Pharaoh's cup in his hand according to the former manner, when you were his butler. "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. "For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews; and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon."
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:
“Now it came to pass on the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. Then he restored the chief butler to his butlership again, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.”
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 who 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:
“So the advice was good in the eyes of Pharaoh and in the eyes of all his servants. And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom is the Spirit of God? Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Inasmuch as God has shown you all this, there is no one as discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall be ruled according to your word; only in regard to the throne will I be greater than you. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh took off his ring from his hand, and put it upon Joseph's hand, and arrayed him in vestures of fine linen, and put a gold chain about his neck; And he made him to ride in the second chariot which he had; and they cried before him, Bow the knee: and he made him ruler over all the land of Egypt. And Pharaoh said unto Joseph, I am Pharaoh, and without you shall no man lift up his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.”
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.
“HE [GOD] sent a man before them [the people of Israel] -Joseph-who was sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters, He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, The word of the LORD tested him. “The king sent and released him, the ruler of the people let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all his possessions, To bind his princes at his pleasure, and teach his elders wisdom.”
It was GOD that sent Joseph to Egypt. “HE SEND HIM”. As Joseph also said to his brothers after their re-union:
“AND GOD SEND ME BEFORE YOU TO PRESERVE YOU A POSTERITY IN THE EARTH, AND TO SAVE YOUR LIVES BY A GREAT DELIVERANCE. SO NOW IT WAS NOT YOU THAT SENT ME HITHER, BUT GOD”
and againGenesis 50:19-20
“Joseph said to them, “Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? BUT AS FOR YOU, YOU MEANT EVIL AGAINST ME; BUT GOD MEANT IT FOR GOOD, IN ORDER TO BRING IT ABOUT AS IT IS THIS DAY, TO SAVE MANY PEOPLE ALIVE”
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 not only that, but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces patience, and patience approvedness and approvedness hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the holy spirit who was given to us ”
and James 1:2-4
“My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces patience. But let patience have its perfect work, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking nothing.”
also Hebrews 10:36
“For you have need of patience, so that after you have done the will of God you may receive the promise” [or “For you have need of endurance so that you may do the will of God and received what is promised” (RSV)]
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.