Joseph is in prison, not for any wrong he had done, but by appointment of God though I doubt he realized it at the time. How often does God allow things to happen in our lives that are painful, difficult, puzzling? We can’t see at the time why this is happening. Sometimes we later recognize how God was working in the past but sometimes it remains a mystery and that’s where our faith holds us steady, trusting Him. If only He would tell us that this difficulty we are facing is part of our preparation, but you have no doubt already recognized that God doesn’t do that because our Faith is precious to Him.
Two new prisoners join Joseph at some point after his incarceration, the palace butler and the palace baker. I’m quite sure Joseph had no earthly idea that their presence in the prison had anything to do with his future destiny. Yet, one night – who knows how long after they’d arrived – both of them had dreams which troubled them so much that they wanted an interpretation. Ancient Egyptians understood that often – not always – our dreams contain messages and there were many interpreters of dreams in that society. What the butler and the baker didn’t realize was that an interpreter was among them for anything involving dreams was deeply interesting to Joseph. God had gifted him with the ability to interpret dreams though he’d not used that gift since arriving in Egypt. His preparation required that he learn other skills he would need for a future he could not imagine.
So one morning, the butler and the baker look depressed. Joseph notices and asks why. They answer, We each had a dream and there is nobody to interpret it. (Gen. 40:8) Joseph replied that interpretations are from God. Notice that he did not put the spotlight on himself. First he acknowledged his God and turned their attention to Him before he said, Tell me the dreams.
What’s also interesting here is that if anybody had a right to be sad and depressed it was Joseph! Yet he noticed their sadness and sought to alleviate it. Years ago I heard someone say that when we are depressed, discouraged or disheartened, our greatest need at that moment is to lift somebody else up; to give away what we so desperately need ourselves. Perhaps it was precisely because Joseph was not all wrapped up in his own misfortune that the Spirit of God so quickly gave him the interpretations for each of the dreams. They were clear and to the point.
To the butler he said, Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position. (Gen. 40:13) That’s about as clear and precise as one can get! Joseph had full confidence that he had heard from God and gave the interpretation exactly as he heard it.
Imagine if you were the butler. What relief this word gave him!
But now, what if you were the baker, standing there listening to the good news your co-worker had received. Surely the baker’s anticipation increased – surely there would be a good word for him as well.
It was not to be. Joseph was as truthful with the baker as he was with the butler, though the message to the baker was devastating. Within three more days, Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you. (Gen. 40: 19) It could not have been easy for Joseph to look his fellow prisoner in the eye and tell him that he had three days to live. And imagine what those next three days would have been like. Did the baker get angry with Joseph? Did he plunge into a deep depression? Did Joseph try to minister to the baker in those final three days of his life? We don’t know, but what we do know is that on the third day what Joseph declared happened exactly as he had spoken it. His integrity was intact. He had spoken the truth he heard when it was pleasant and when it was not pleasant. He did not pander to his audience; he did not succumb to the fear of the face of man. He obeyed the Spirit of God. An important message to all of us!
One would think that surely now Joseph is ready but in an unguarded moment, Joseph let a bit of self-righteousness slip out. Think of me when it will be well with you, he said to the butler, and show kindness to me. Make mention of me to Pharaoh and bring me out of this place. (Genesis 40:14) That self-righteousness had to die in Joseph before he would be ready for exaltation. So the butler forgot all about Joseph…for two whole years!
To face his brothers later with true forgiveness in his heart Joseph would have to be utterly free from the need to manipulate anyone or any circumstance to his own advantage. Joseph needed to know to the depth of his being that when God wants you in a place, He is well able to bring it about. No manipulation on your part is required or acceptable.
As I’m writing these words I get the sense that someone out there really needs this word right now – perhaps more than one of you. Or maybe you know someone who does not subscribe to this blog who is presently struggling with this very issue. Please – share this message with them and encourage them to wait on God, to trust Him and to believe that God’s timing is perfect.