|Topical Bible Study||March 1950|
GOD’S PLAN IN THE BOOK OF GENESIS
Joseph Honored and Imprisoned
“And the Lord was with Joseph”—this is the explanation of how it was possible for one who was brought into a country as a slave, ultimately to become its ruler, second only in authority to the powerful Pharaoh, who ruled as a dictator. Not for Joseph’s sake alone did the Lord bless him, but also, and principally, because of his family, the nucleus of the Hebrew nation—the natural seed of Abraham, the chosen people of God.
Arriving in Egypt, Joseph was sold as a slave to Potiphar, “captain of the guard,” or, as we would say today, the “chief of police.” This officer of Pharaoh was evidently a wealthy man, and had many servants, probably all of them slaves. Three times in this brief account it is emphasized that Potiphar was an Egyptian. Why should this be, since the whole scene is set in Egypt? Within recent years discoveries in Egypt indicate that at the time of Potiphar, Egypt had come under the rulership of a new dynasty which apparently had ousted many of the former Egyptian officers, hence emphasis is laid on the fact that here was one who had gained favor with the new rulers and was permitted to retain his position. Thus is the authenticity of the Bible further verified.
Joseph found favor in the sight of Potiphar, and the Lord blessed him and blessed the household of Potiphar because of him. Joseph’s humility in giving all the credit for his success to the Lord was one of the chief reasons the Lord could use him so wonderfully in the outworking of his purposes. He undoubtedly also possessed ability as a manager and organizer—ability which was quickly recognized by Potiphar. But regardless of his talents, God could not have used him had he lacked the quality of humility.
Nor did the honor which came to Joseph “go to his head” and cause him to forget the Lord. This sometimes occurs with those who are suddenly honored with weightier responsibilities in the Lord’s service. While youth might be more subject to temptation along the lines of pride than those who are older, those long in the service of God have been known to stumble and fall when they found themselves occupying more prominent positions in the Lord’s vineyard. All who serve the Lord can with profit observe the example of Joseph.
“Joseph was a goodly person, and well favored.” There is much meaning in the expression, “goodly person.” It implies that Joseph was polite and kind, sympathetic, and just. We take it that he was the sort of person who got along well with everybody, that he did not stir up animosity among those with whom he associated, but created good feelings among all. He was also trustworthy. These qualities made him the sort of person Potiphar could use as a supervisor over his household, but Joseph gave the credit to the Lord. He was also “well favored,” which suggests that he was good looking, perhaps even a handsome man.
His being “well favored” led to a great trial for Joseph through the indiscretion and anger of Potiphar’s wife. But in this trial Joseph’s goodness and chastity were victorious. In this experience, no doubt, as in all his ways, Joseph looked to the Lord for guidance and strength, and the Lord did not fail him.
God permits evil, but always for a wise purpose. He permitted Joseph to be misrepresented by Potiphar’s wife, and as a result to be put into prison. Here again Joseph’s humility before the Lord is manifested. He did not complain nor charge the Lord with being unjust.
It is so easy to praise the Lord when everything is going pleasantly with us, yet we so often wonder why he permits this trial, or that calamity. We should learn to realize, as Joseph did, that all our ways are being directed by the Lord and that he sees the ultimate purpose he is accomplishing in us, therefore knows what is best to permit in our day-by-day experiences, while we can see but one day at a time, hence are often unable to understand what possible benefit could be derived from the trials of today.
Joseph was unjustly put into prison, but the Lord was with him. This is one of the blessed aspects of being a servant of God. Whether in prison or palace, the Lord is with his people for their good, giving them strength to endure every hardship which his wisdom permits to come upon them, delivering them from trial when the needed lessons have been learned.
God does not deal with all of his people in the same way. He was with Jesus and blessed him during his trial and crucifixion, yet permitted him to die the cruel death of the cross. This was because the divine purpose for Jesus was that he should be the Redeemer of the world. God could have prevented Joseph from being imprisoned. Indeed, he could have intervened and prevented him from being sold into Egypt, but he did not. God blessed Joseph in these experiences because he was working out a larger purpose through him.
The marginal rendering states that God showed kindness unto Joseph so that he found favor in the sight of the prison keeper. In that ancient time, doubtless the life of a prisoner who did not find favor in the sight of the prison keeper was far from pleasant. We can surmise, though, that when Joseph was made an overseer in the jail, his fellow prisoners were treated with a great deal more consideration than was usually the case in those days. Joseph’s inherent goodness would cause him to be gentle and understanding even with prisoners, especially when they were his companions in trouble.
TWO PRISONERS DREAM
Two others were added to the list of those over whom Joseph was made guardian—two officers from the household of the king; the chief butler and the chief baker. They had offended the king, and, justly or unjustly, were thrown into prison. The account says that they were placed in “ward” in the house of the “captain of the guard,” where Joseph was bound. The captain of the guard gave Joseph charge of these two new prisoners.
By this time apparently Joseph had been in prison a number of years, and it seems reasonable that a new captain of the guards, or chief of police, had been installed; for it is hardly likely that Potiphar would have recognized Joseph to this extent, in view of the circumstances under which he had been imprisoned. The fact that Potiphar’s name is not mentioned in this connection also indicates that he had been replaced by another.
When Pharaoh’s chief butler and chief baker now prisoners and under the supervision of Joseph, both had dreams, Joseph again honored God by assuring these two that He was able to interpret dreams. How easy it would have been, under the circumstances, for Joseph to have taken the honor to himself of being able to interpret dreams, but he did not. His long imprisonment had not lessened his confidence in God nor his desire to glorify him at every possible opportunity.
In Joseph’s interpretation of both dreams, he sees objects as representing days—three branches of a vine, three days; and three baskets, three days. His interpretation of the other details of these two dreams indicated good fortune for the butler and death for the baker; but Joseph revealed the truth, nevertheless. His prophecies came true in both instances, and thus his reputation as an interpreter of dreams became well established.
Joseph saw in the case of the butler what seemed to him a good opportunity to bring his own case before the king in a favorable manner, so he asked the butler to speak a good word for him. Apparently the butler promised to do this, but straightway forgot his promise, and Joseph languished in prison for another two years.
But the Lord had not forgotten Joseph. He knew that these additional two years of hardship would further prepare him for the position of honor he was yet to occupy. He knew also that a time would come in the experience of Pharaoh which would be much more favorable for Joseph’s name to be brought before him.
We often think that we know how to accomplish certain ends, and we try to do so without taking the Lord into consideration. Time and again, however, all of his people have learned that not until the Lord’s due time, and only in his way, can worthwhile ends be attained.