It is a lesson in having unwavering faith in what God has said.
There are times when something that God has promised us will come to pass relatively quickly. At other times, like in the story of Joseph, what God has promised takes a bit longer. It is in these times, that we need to follow the example of Joseph and through faith and patience, inherit the promises (Hebrew 6:12). Let’s take a look at the account of how what God had promised to Joseph was eventually fulfilled. It is a lesson for us all, in holding firmly to what God has promised and refusing to let go, no matter what. It is a lesson in having unwavering faith in what God has said.
When God speaks something to us, we do not need to tell everyone about it.
At the age of seventeen, Joseph had two dreams. Both of these dreams involved his family bowing down to him. Considering the resentment that had been growing in his ten older brothers towards Joseph because of the preferential treatment he received, Joseph really should have kept his dreams to himself. Jesus said in Matthew 7:6, “Do not give dogs what is holy; and do not throw your pearls before swine, lest they trample them under foot and turn to attack you” (Revised Standard Version). This is something that we need to learn – when God speaks something to us, we do not need to tell everyone about it. Not everyone will understand, and whilst they might object to be referred to as swine, we should be selective in how much we say and to whom. Who knows how the story of Joseph would played out had he kept quiet, but we can see that stirring up his brothers’ envy, even unintentionally, was not a good move.
Reuben’s plan didn’t exactly ‘come together’!
Joseph’s brothers were ready to kill Joseph, “….and we shall see what will become of his dreams…… “. But when God gives someone a promise, if that person will hold on to it, nothing can stop it from coming to pass. In Joseph’s case, salvation came in the form of his oldest brother Reuben, who convinced his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit, rather than killing him by shedding blood. Reuben’s plan was to return later and rescue Joseph. Of course things didn’t exactly work out as Reuben had thought, Reuben’s plan didn’t exactly ‘come together’! When Reuben returned, the brothers were still there, but Joseph wasn’t – they had sold him in Reuben’s absence.
The circumstantial evidence did not dissuade Joseph.
If, in the natural, what God had promised Joseph through his dreams, seemed highly unlikely to ever be fulfilled, even before Joseph was sold. But now that Joseph had been sold into slavery and taken to another country, ‘unlikely’ had drifted into the realms of ‘practically impossible’. “But with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26) – unlike Reuben’s plan, God’s plan was coming together nicely and Joseph made the decision to maintain his faith in God’s promise. The circumstantial evidence was weighted heavily against what God had said. But the circumstantial evidence did not dissuade Joseph. Joseph acted out the words that the apostle Paul would write centuries later in 2 Corinthian 4:16-18, “So we’re not giving up. How could we! Even though on the outside it often looks like things are falling apart on us, on the inside, where God is making new life, not a day goes by without his unfolding grace. These hard times are small potatoes compared to the coming good times, the lavish celebration prepared for us. There’s far more here than meets the eye” (The Message). If we want to see the promises of God come to pass in our own lives – whether they be specific promises from God, or promises we find in His Word – we need to make the decision to believe God and maintain a positive attitude, regardless of any circumstantial evidence to the contrary. This is one of the reasons not to ‘cast our pearls before swine’. Many people will be quick to speak unbelief into our lives, and that is something we could do without.
Things were looking up for Joseph.
For Joseph in Egypt, things did begin to improve slightly. Although his situation of being stuck in slavery did not change; Joseph did find favour with his new owner, Potiphar, and was promoted to be in charge of Potiphar’s household. This was an important position, which was certainly significantly higher than the position Joseph had when he had arrived in Egypt. What God had promised didn’t seem any closer to being fulfilled though (as far the natural eye could tell), but things were looking up for Joseph. Then temptation came knocking on Joseph’s door. Potiphar’s wife began making advances towards Joseph. How many Christians have required far less compelling evidence than that which Joseph had, to persuade them that God had let them down and that they were perfectly justified in succumbing to whatever temptation Satan presented them with? “I thought that God was going to do (fill in the blank) for me. But I guess I was wrong, or I misunderstood or whatever. It seems obvious that it’s just not going to happen for me. So what does it matter if I sin or not? It’s not like things could get much worse.” Discouragement is all too easy to use a justification for sin, that was not Joseph’s attitude however. Joseph could easily have become discouraged and thereby justify any wrong actions in his mind, but he didn’t. Instead Joseph continued to believe that God would bring his dreams to pass and he was not about be disloyal to God, or to Potiphar, by giving in to the advances of his master’s wife.
Joseph was not moved by what he saw.
The outcome of Joseph remaining loyal to God, and to Potiphar, was that Joseph was thrown into jail – not exactly the blessing you might except for doing the right thing. The reaction of many Christians would likely have been, “I try to do the right thing and look what happens – things get even worse! I shouldn’t have bothered, I should have just enjoyed what Potiphar’s wife was offering“. However, even the fact that Potiphar did not have Joseph killed, was an indication that God was with Joseph, even though circumstances would seem to say otherwise. The Chumash says, “Potiphar’s daughter Asenath swore to him that Joseph was innocent and told him what really happened“. The Chumash goes on to state that the very fact that Potiphar personally escorted Joseph to prison, as Genesis 39:20 says, was “a display of his high esteem for the young Hebrew, and an indication that he did not believe his wife’s charge“. But believe her or not, Potiphar’s wife had put him in an extremely difficult situation and Joseph was in jail. If Joseph’s dreams coming true seemed ‘practically impossible’ when he had been a slave, then the circumstantial evidence had now become even more compelling. But Joseph was not moved by what he saw, Joseph had such a firm grip on what God had promised him and nothing could make him let go – surely an extremely important lesson for us to learn.
Just let God work, he doesn’t need your help.
Joseph was in the prison for the next ten years – a long time to hold onto a promise of God, the fulfillment of which seems to be completely impossible. But Joseph’s faith in God was absolute. After ten years, during which Joseph had been put in charge of the prison, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were also sent to the prison. Both of these people had a dream whilst they were in the prison, and God gave Joseph the interpretation of their dreams. Finally Joseph had some physical evidence that God was at work, not that he didn’t trust God, but it was nice to see something happening in the natural. However, it was now that Joseph made a mistake that we must be diligent to avoid – Joseph tried to help things along. Joseph asked the cupbearer to mention him to Pharaoh, but God did not need any help and the cupbearer forgot to mention Joseph. The lesson here is this: If God tells you to do something, do it. If not, just back off and let God work, he doesn’t need your help. (For further study on this, check out my post, ‘Back Off & Let God Work!‘.) After the dreams had been interpreted and the cupbearer had been released and the baker executed, another two years went by with apparently nothing happening. It would have been easy for Joseph to wonder what was going on, and he probably did have feelings of doubt, but Joseph did not allow those feelings to take root in his mind. He knew that God’s promises would come to pass, his part was to continue to exercise both faith and patience.
Very suddenly things changed.
Joseph had now been in prison for a total of twelve years and it had been thirteen years since his brothers had sold him into slavery as a seventeen year old. Many people would have long since given up – but not Joseph, and finally Joseph’s faith and patience caused him to inherit the promise (or at least to move into the position of authority where the promise would be completely fulfilled). For thirteen years, there had seemingly been no progress made towards Joseph’s dreams being fulfilled, but Joseph had not given up. Now, at the age of thirty, very suddenly things changed. Genesis 41:14 records the speed that things turned around for Joseph, “Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him hastily out of the dungeon“. The Chumash comments, “Each case of Divine salvation comes hastily and unexpectedly“. There may be no evidence that anything is changing in your situation, but if you are holding onto a promise of God, it will come to pass and it will happen suddenly. Every day, you should be expecting the unexpected. You should be expecting one of God’s suddenlies. As Joseph spend yet another day in prison, he was suddenly rushed out of the prison and into the position that God had planned for him. Not only that, but Joseph was also given Potiphar’s daughter, Asenath as wife. Genesis 41:45 refers to her as, “the daughter of Potipherah“, but The Chumash points out that “Potipherah is identical with Potiphar, Joseph’s former master. That he allowed his daughter to marry Joseph vindicated Joseph in the eyes of the Egyptians“. Not only did God exalt Joseph to being second only to Pharaoh (in spite of the fact that Egyptian law stated that a slave could not be appointed to a high position), God also removed the stigma associated with the crime that Joseph had been accused of committing.
Never give up on a promise of God. When you do that, it will come to pass.
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