Throughout this week’s devotionals, I want to look at some Bible Characters who suffered and see what we can learn from them for ourselves. To get started we’re going to look at Joseph. His story can be found in Genesis 37-50. There is an animated movie by Dreamworks that does a good job telling the story.

But, let’s review the highlights: 

Joseph is a little too big for his britches (I’ve used that expression my whole life, but I think this is the first time I’ve ever written out the word britches.)  He talks about his dreams and how his brothers are going to bow down to him someday. No one likes being around the guy that’s saying, eventually you’re going to bow down to me. If you’re that guy, feel free to stop at any time. 

Eventually, His brothers get fed up with his narcissism and come up with a plan to kill him. They throw him into a cistern but their resolve deteriorates just enough that Judah suggests selling him to some Ishmaelites instead of killing him. (Isn’t it interesting that it was Judah who had the idea to sell Joseph?) I mean, if they sell him then he’s still gone and they can make some money in the process. 

The Ishmaelites take him down to Egypt where he gets bought by Potiphar. And Joseph starts to prosper. Not only does Joseph work his way up through the ranks, but in Gen 39 we see that Potiphar also prospered because of Joseph. 

But, of course, things don’t just go smooth for ‘full of himself’ Joe. The Potiphar’s wife decided she wants to consume Joseph as a treat, to which Joseph replies: “With me in charge, my master does not concern himself with anything in the house; everything he owns he has entrusted to my care…my master has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” 
She screams, makes up a lie about Joseph and he ends up in prison. Which just goes to show you men, the woman always wins. The end of Genesis 39 says, “while Joseph was there in the prison, the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” 

There are two phrases used to tell how long Joseph was in prison. “Some time later” in Genesis 40 and “Two full years” in Genesis 41. In other words, Joseph was in prison a long time. Roughly about the amount of time between two blue moons. Also about as long as it takes to design and build a Halo Spaceship out of Legos. While he was there, he interpreted some dreams, which would eventually be the thing that gets him out of prison. He asks the cupbearer to remember him and help him get out. 

Two years later, Pharaoh has a nightmare and he needs someone to make him some warm milk, tell him what the dream meant and that everything is going to be okay. But, no one can interpret the dream. That is until the cupbearer remembers Joseph. How do you forget someone for two years? 

Well, because of God’s help, Joseph did such a tremendous job interpreting the dream that the Pharaoh makes him the second most powerful man in the nation. (If anyone knows of any powerful people needing a dream interpreted, I’m interested.) So Joseph gets to work preparing for the famine while Pharaoh flies around Egypt with Jasmine on his magic carpet. 

For 7 years they stockpile goods to get them through the coming 7 years of famine. Joseph makes the Pharaoh a VERY wealthy man during this time. It’s like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook buying up any kind of competition that comes along, Egypt ends up consuming pretty much all the private property in the region. 

Eventually the famine hits Joseph’s brothers and they come begging for food. Joseph has a little fun with them, sending the back and forth, making it seem like they were stealing silver and whatnot. As far as practical jokes go, Joseph isn’t the greatest. He didn’t even use a clown, a whoopee cushion or even an airhorn. The brothers come and Joseph sends them back. They come again and Joseph sends them back to get their Father, their wives, children, cattle and crockpots (I needed another word that started with C) and whatnot to come live in Goshen, which is in Egypt. 

Eventually, Jacob dies and the brothers worry that Joseph is going to get his revenge on them, so they lie and say that Daddy said not to hurt them to which Joseph responds by saying: 

“Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? 20 You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 21 So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.”

Genesis 50:20-21. 

So, what can we learn about suffering from the story of Joseph? First, don’t be a narcissist, nobody likes having a narcissist around. But, perhaps more importantly we can learn three things. 

1.) Your potential is not determined by your circumstances. 

In Genesis 39:2 we see that “The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered.” And when Potiphar observed that God was with Joseph, he entrusted his household to Joseph. 

Let’s not forget, Potiphar has just PURCHASED JOSEPH. Whether he was a slave or servant, I don’t know. Regardless, Joseph was not in a dream situation. He could have chosen to be miserable, but instead he worked hard. Not only was Joseph blessed by God in this situation, Potiphar was too. Potiphar, the guy who had purchased Joseph was being blessed because of Joseph’s presence. 

What if we did the same? What if, even though we may be in ridiculously unpleasant circumstances, we worked hard and didn’t let our circumstances control us? After all, God has a plan for us all in it all. 

2.) Even being wrongfully imprisoned can be a stepping stone in the right direction.  

So, after Potiphar’s wife stole Joseph’s shirt which gets Joe thrown into prison, he ends up in “the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.” (Gen. 39:20) 

I’m sure there were other prisons, other places that Joseph could have been put. But, he was put here, in the King’s prison. Yes, he’s still in prison. That sucks. But if he had been put somewhere else, he wouldn’t have been able to interpret the dream for the cupbearer. That’s what ends up getting Joseph before the Pharaoh himself. 

Where we are at this present moment may feel like prison. Who knows, someone might actually be reading this in prison. Regardless of the where, there may be some incredibly important dots getting connected by God right now in your life. I know that has happened in my life. 

3.) What the brothers intended for Evil, God intended for good. 

At the end of the story, it sure seems like Joseph has been cured of his Narcissism. After his brother make up their lie to cover themselves in the absence of their father, there is this one little line that stands out to me: “When their message came to him, Joseph wept.” 

Why would he weep? In the context of the story it seems that it would be because they still don’t seem to trust him, that they still don’t feel forgiven for what they had done to him. Joseph’s response was this: “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. 

Even if there are people in your life right now intentionally trying to cause you harm, that doesn’t mean harm will be the end result. That might be their intention towards you, but after they hurl that in your direction, God can grab that intention out of thin air and turn it into something beautiful. 

Philip Yancey has said: “Faith is believing in advance what will only make sense in reverse.” Now that Joseph is looking back on his life, it all makes sense to him. He can see how God used it all to save millions of people, including his chosen people – Joseph’s very brothers. 

Right now might not make much sense to you, but that doesn’t affect God at all. He knows. He sees. He is the way-maker, even when there seems to be no way. I’m sure Joseph felt that way many times along his journey. But, God was always with him, just like He’s with you right now. 

And who knows, you might end up second in command to a king. But there probably won’t be a flying carpet. 

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