Traveling down a road he never wanted to explore, led by Ishmaelites who now owned him, Joseph was suddenly forced to cope with circumstances he never could have imagined. For all intents and purposes, the favored child of Jacob was now a slave with no rights, no freedoms and no hope. On reaching Egypt, the Ishmaelites turned their ‘investment’ quickly into cash for their own pockets. They sold Joseph to a man called Potiphar, a prominent officer in Pharaoh’s army, a wealthy man of some prestige in the city.
Joseph never expected this and certainly never asked for such traumatic events to intrude on his privileged life. I doubt that many people have experienced the level of shock that Joseph did at this radical and sudden change. He had to start a new life when he had no desire to do so. Has that ever happened to you?
The day my late husband passed away is the closest I’ve ever come to what Joseph experienced. I was faced with having to start a new life I didn’t want, even as I coped with the grief and emptiness that followed his departure. Any of you who have likewise gone through the loss of a loved one know what I’m talking about. You’ve been there. You’ve grappled with the emptiness, the confusion, the uncertainty and the ever present question: What do I do now? There’s no turning back when your spouse departs this life. You can’t daydream, like the wife of a soldier gone to war, about the longed for day of his return from the battlefield. Neither could Joseph. God had so ordained the events he had just endured in such a way that there was no going back.
Whenever God generates a sudden break with our past, He will always bring something new for which we will eventually thank Him. And the new thing He ordains makes the transition bearable, and in time, even pleasant.
I notice three things about Joseph’s new situation.
First of all, Joseph had a respite from the hostility of his brothers. He was free of the hateful and bitter words and behaviors prompted by their jealousy. Though a slave, he no doubt had a pleasant room to live in for Potiphar’s home would have been luxurious. History tells us that in ancient times those who were slaves in the homes of the wealthy and powerful were generally well treated in every way.
Secondly he had the presence of the Lord with him. We read: And the LORD was with Joseph. Gen. 39:2 Surely the Lord was with Joseph in his earlier life but he also had his doting father to whom he could turn for anything he wanted or needed. When his brothers annoyed him, he knew his father loved him and he could depend on Jacob to stand by him. For the first time in his life, all he had was God.
Perhaps you’ve never been to the place when all you needed was God and God alone. If you have, and the proverbial rug has been pulled out from underneath you, then you understand what this means. God doesn’t do that to you because He’s upset with you or displeased with you. Rather, when God turns your life upside down there’s only one fundamental reason in His heart: He wants you to depend totally and unequivocally on Him. He wants you to know that He is enough; that He will NEVER leave you nor forsake you.
The third thing that strikes me is that in his new position, Joseph quickly finds favor with his ‘owner’, Potiphar. Joseph is highly successful! He prospers in his new ‘career’ as a slave and is entrusted with increasing authority until he is in a short time in charge of all of Potiphar’s household! Potiphar was apparently an insightful man. He recognized Joseph’s abilities and his integrity and therefore trusted him with his estate. And even more importantly, he did so because His master saw that the LORD was with him. Gen. 39:3 The evidence of the presence of the LORD with Joseph was powerful enough that a pagan idolater acknowledged it. Now there’s something to think about!
God didn’t have to give Joseph such impressive success but I see the immense love and grace of God at work. The LORD knew that another betrayal was brewing and that Joseph’s success in Potiphar’s house would be short-lived. Perhaps the Lord blessed him so in this first stage of his slavery to encourage him.
God is not in the business of demoralizing us. He knows, as the psalmist wrote, that ‘we are but dust.’ Psalm 103:14 He is generous with His love and kindness; and amazingly sensitive towards our needs. Yes, the day was coming when Joseph would be thrown into prison, but not yet. First, God have him comfort and encouragement – a breather, so to speak. Only later, would the next trial of his faith come upon him as suddenly as the last one.
God, I believe, was up to something else as well. Joseph knew he was gifted in dreams and their interpretation. What he didn’t know was that in a few years he would be prime minister of Egypt, required to administer an empire, deal with a staff and render just decisions for a nation. At this point in his life, he may have thought that his gifting in dreams was all that he was created for. But God…knowing how He would use Joseph in more ways than interpreting dreams in the future, provided the experience he never would have had in his father’s tent. In the routine of his duties in Potiphar’s house, Joseph discovered – perhaps as a surprise to himself – that he had administrative talent and he had the opportunity to develop that talent. He did so with excellence as is confirmed by Potiphar’s complete trust in the Hebrew slave.
There’s a popular saying: ‘Life happens.’ I prefer to say, ‘God happens.’ For the Bible believing person nothing is a coincidence. Everything that comes our way is another opportunity to draw closer to God or to turn away from him because of our own self-centered inclinations. You and I are most likely not destined to be Prime Ministers of any country, but the LORD does have a purpose for your life – He’s not through with you yet, for if He was, you’d be gone already! Therefore, what we take away from this week’s lesson is the exhortation to seek God with all our heart and soul for His wisdom and guidance in whatever life throws at us, that not one trauma, not one pain, not one sudden change and not one apparent disaster would ever rob us of the spiritual growth that is hiding within the situation you experience.
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