Have you ever felt utterly alone and abandoned by your family, friends, and even by God? If so, you’re not alone. Maybe people hurt you. Maybe you made a bad choice. Maybe life turned out different from your hopes and dreams. There are many ways we can find ourselves in despair. Keep reading as our character for this week had a very similar situation in his life. There might be something helpful to you as you read his story.
In the previous post, we met 17 year old Joseph, and we learned that his family had a lot of drama, some of which seems to be his own doing. This is a blog series on Characters, people who lived in ancient Israel, people who were flawed and troubled, but people who God still used. At the conclusion of the previous post, Joseph had angered everyone in his family, including his father, who loved Joseph more than any of his other sons. The drama is about to get worse. Way worse.
As we continue the account in Genesis 37, verses 12-36, we read that Jacob sends Joseph to check on his brothers, and the brothers see this as an opportunity to vent their jealousy and hatred of Joseph, as he is far from home, from the watchful care of their father Jacob. They debate what to do, including killing Joseph, believe it or not, but the oldest, Reuben, intercedes, and they agree to kidnap Joseph and sell him into slavery. In the process they take Joseph’s special coat, put blood from an animal on it, and give it back to their father Jacob, telling him Joseph had died.
Imagine this experience from Joseph’s perspective. 17 years old. Kidnapped by your brothers. Sold into slavery. That had to be horrible. This is human trafficking, perpetrated by his own brothers. Imagine the darkness in Joseph’s soul.
How would this crisis have impacted Joseph? Have you been through a crisis, a life-changing event? It doesn’t have to be as dramatic as Joseph’s, where he was kidnapped, and sold into slavery, betrayed by his own family. But perhaps you can think of a difficult situation that happened in your life.
Crisis can (and should) turn us to God.
Crisis doesn’t always turn us to God. Crisis sometimes makes us bitter. Angry. Harsh.
How has crisis affected you?
It seems important at this point to note that something is missing in chapter 37. Scan through the chapter. It is a glaring omission. What, or rather who, is missing? God. Not a single mention of God. Not when Joseph is dreaming. No mention when he is with his brothers. And nothing about God when Joseph is sold into slavery.
I find it striking that God is nowhere to be found in this part of the story.
Hold that thought, as we see how crisis affected Joseph.
We’re going to skip over chapter 38, as that is a separate story. Go to chapter 39 where the story of Joseph picks up.
We learn right away in Chapter 39 that a significant change has occurred in Joseph’s life. Slave traders take him to Egypt where we meet Potiphar, one of the Egyptian King Pharoah’s officials, and Potiphar buys Joseph. So a physical change has taken place as Joseph is far from home in a new land. But there is a spiritual change as well. Look who is mentioned in verse 2. God is with Joseph, and Joseph prospered. The Lord gives Joseph success in all he does.
Back up with me a moment. Think about all that Joseph has gone through. I wish I could know if something changed in Joseph while he was in the hands of the slave traders. The text doesn’t tell us. But the presence and blessing of God in chapter 39 is quite striking when you consider the total absence of God in chapter 37. Could it be that Joseph went through a dark inner struggle while he was betrayed by his brothers and sold into slavery?
Did he wrestle with God like his father Jacob did, as we saw last week? The text doesn’t tell us, but to me that is a possible explanation for the absence of God in chapter 37 and the presence of God in 39. Also, God is faithful in our trials. He is there. He was always there, even when it didn’t seem like it. Even when the circumstances don’t change, he is there.
We don’t know how long Joseph was in the caravan of slave traders. Weeks probably. Maybe months. But imagine being a 17 year old boy in that circumstance. Can you imagine all the emotions he’s got going on! He was in a home where he knows he is the favorite and he is beloved, but he also knows and feels the hatred of his brothers on a regular basis. Then he is sold into slavery! I suspect he cried his heart out to God. I suspect a change took place in Joseph’s relationship with God. And God changed Joseph. His identity became about who he was to God and not who he was to his father and to his brothers. When we realize our identity in God, he is sufficient for us, even when the trials of life continue.
We read that Joseph rises in favor in Potiphar’s estimation, as Joseph was very capable and blessed by God in all he did, so Potiphar puts Joseph in charge of his whole estate. Because of this, God blessed Potiphar too.
Then more trouble comes. It’s like Joseph is a magnet for drama. We read that Joseph is very handsome. And Potiphar’s wife tries to seduce him. Joseph’s response is amazing, showing the change that God has worked in him. Look at Genesis chapter 39, verses 8-12.
Joseph refuses Potiphar’s wife’s advances saying, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God?” Here he shows his concern for purity, for following God’s ways. Especially note verse 12 where he flees temptation. Joseph is an amazing example for us in this.
But Potiphar’s wife is jilted and angry, and she lies to Potiphar, saying that Joseph initiated the advances on her. Potiphar, angry, imprisons Joseph. And yet what do we read in Genesis 39:21? The Lord was with Joseph! Basically the same thing happens in the prison as what happened in Potiphar’s house. Joseph is put in charge, and God is with Joseph and blesses all he does. But Joseph is still in jail. So his circumstances are still difficult. Just because Joseph is close to God and being obedient, he is still in prison. Righteous living does not always mean that immediate results and rewards will come. When we find our identity in God, though, we find that we have all we need, even if our circumstances don’t change.