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Joseph, A Life of Providence, Injustice and Forgiveness

The following is from my newest book just released 3/1/15:  



Joseph, A Life of Providence, Injustice and Forgiveness


Two years

Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile,” (Genesis 40:23- 41:1)

For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen. (Romans 11:36)

For us sitting where we do from the vantage point of four millennia after the fact, waiting two additional years as Joseph did for release can seem a small matter. God forgive us if we think so. Joseph after languishing in prison now for an already indeterminate period of time now waits… again. There no evidence to show that Joseph thought he would ever be free.

There is so much about Joseph that we simply do not know; the curtain has not been pulled back. We do not know for example what the heart of Joseph was in this time. Certainly we know it was a time of further testing, this 24 month. As we have said, Joseph had no clue as to whether he would ever get out of jail and see the light of day as a free man again. We simply do not know how he dealt with this on a spiritual and emotional level. He was human and doubtless he struggled with his emotions. Was Joseph ever depressed? Did he, in the midst of the realization that he simply had been forgotten and marginalized, did Joseph question God? He had seen God’s favor and mercy in dark hours, even in what is commonly called a reversal of fortune.

We do not have the same advantage of self expression with Joseph that we have with King David. In contrast, King David seems to have told us virtually everything that was on his heart and mind. Through the blessing of the Psalms the heart the emotions of David, it is all an open book. But not so with Joseph; he is at least at this point a cipher. The curtain into the emotions and heart of Joseph are fully in place and why that is we simply don’t know. It would not be surprising; indeed we would think him all the more real and believable if Joseph had his dark night of the soul.

We do know that God had His purposes in Joseph’s continued incarceration and that, most likely, those purposes were for Joseph’s good. God’s economy does not waste time. We can surmise that God yet had spiritual work to do in Joseph, that there was a needed additional period of seasoning.

Many of God’s people over the centuries have spent time in jail. The world does not approve of counter-cultural movements and tends to jail its’ members. Christians, historically, are counter-cultural. Although for recent centuries in Europe and the United States the culture was somewhat Judeo-Christian that has changed. We Christians (at least the more orthodox socially/ theologically based) are increasingly considered counter-cultural, on the out-side looking in.

Jail is not wasted for Christians. Paul’s letters, roughly half of them, were prison letters. John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress, a book second only to the Bible in readership and printing while imprisoned for preaching. Confinement can be a tool to sharpen our focus and deepen our thoughts; Dr. Martin Luther King’s Letters from the Birmingham Jail shows this clearly. Joseph’s additional confinement was not a cruel mistake from God; spiritual and maturational fruit grew in Pharaoh’s prison.

Is there an answer as to why Joseph languished in prison for two more years? Ostensibly, it seems to come down to a scatter-brained cupbearer, so excited by his restored good fortune that he forgot to extend good fortune to another. Even though the cupbearer failed to act kindly and proactively in the short-term, his knowledge of Joseph and Joseph’s gift is crucial to our story and history. The cupbearer will make this right. The failure to remember, the failure to act was God’s purpose at work. God is involved in all things, and was involved even this omission. “For from him…are all things.”

But, we ask, why wait? The concept of Occam’s razor is the best, non conjecture solution for the why. What is Occam’s razor?

The dictionary defines it (or the law of parsimony) as…
The principle in philosophy and science that assumptions introduced to explain a thing must not be multiplied beyond necessity, and hence the simplest of several hypotheses is always the best in accounting for unexplained facts.” 1

The concept of Occam’s razor is the most observable solution for why Joseph sat in prison two years after the cupbearer was restored. The obvious truth is that Pharaoh had not yet dreamed his two inscrutable dreams. Two dreams that needed divine interpretation from a God- illuminated diviner.

Timing, everything comes down to timing. That is not to say, as we have supposed that God did not also have other purposes. We do know there was a time component and Pharaoh had to dream. For us, our frustration so often, on the timing of God, stems from the simple fact that we cannot see in our humanness, what He sees in His divinity.

What Joseph could not see was that it would not be for another two years that Pharaoh would have his dreams, the interpretation of these dreams, opening the door for opportunity. The crucial timing worked to take this displaced young Hebrew, a prisoner even, to a position as the second most powerful man in the known world at that time.

If Joseph had come to the attention of Pharaoh two years prior he would’ve merely been if anything, a miniscule footnote in history. There is every reason to suppose that Joseph would have then, had he been released and there was no guarantee of that, fled the country, if he could or been turned back into slavery. It was because of the divine timing of God that Joseph was able to come to Pharaoh and utilize the divine gift to interpret Pharaoh’s dream and initiate the process that would save many people. The glory belongs to God.

David Kingdon writes, “Though Joseph did not know it then [in prison], the way to his place at Pharaoh’s side lay from Potiphar’s house through Pharaoh’s prison,” 2



On Joseph’s heritage….

We are, in many ways, the sum of our ancestors, often a mixture of their noble and ignoble traits and character.  None of us escape the imprimatur of these past lives. The issue is not often addressed today because we claim individuality almost to the exclusion of all else, but our family that has proceeded us wields a unique power to bless or curse our lives.


Joseph came from an incredible immediate spiritual lineage: his great-grandfather Abraham, his grandfather Isaac and Jacob his father.  Joseph was imprinted with their great faith and sense of responsibility to Yahweh.  This young man found his faith, not in a moment of crisis chained to another going to Egypt but rather at the side of his father at a campfire.  Doubtless Jacob had followed previously the injunction that Moses would pass down.


Israel, listen!  Our God is the LORD!  Only the LORD!  Love the LORD your God with all your heart, all your being, and all your strength.  These words that I am commanding you today must always be on your minds.  Recite them to your children. Talk about them when you are sitting around your house and when you are out and about, when you are lying down and when you are getting up.  Tie them on your hand as a sign. They should be on your forehead as a symbol.  Write them on your house’s doorframes and on your city’s gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)


The point is that the faith is transferred like a runner’s baton in a relay race.  Now the example is not perfect because we must keep our own faith but the point is that there must be both a consistent life example and active, intentional, instruction.  The common idea, “Let children decide for themselves when they are of age,” is the basest form of child abuse because it neglects their eternal soul.  If Jacob had taken this instructional track of some modern parents Joseph would have never had the basis in faith that kept him out of Potiphar’s wife’s bed.  Due to original sin, godliness is not our natural bent.


Jacob instructed Joseph; he gave him a strong foundation that cemented Joseph’s sense of identity as a follower of Yahweh.  Joseph knew he was accountable to this God of his father for every action he took.


Now to go back to a point, there is the issue of consistent walk-talk in the faith.  As we seek to walk consistent our sinful brokenness will still show.  Certainly, this truth is obvious if you survey the life of Jacob, before he was renamedIsrael.  Young Jacob was a cunning, oily, snake.  He feared his brother Esau for good reason as Jacob had connived Esau out of his birthright and stole his father’s deathbed blessing.  It is the grace of this eternal God we serve that He graciously blesses our weak, inadequate efforts.  Our sin, however, not only scars our life but the lives of those we love, even to future generations.  There is truly no victimless sin. Jacob was changed over time but his own sins impacted his children and wives.


The ‘good’ of Abraham was passed down to Joseph and became the fabric of this young man’s life.  However, Abraham’s situational dishonesty (What, Pharaoh, you mean you know Sarah is my wife, not my sister like I told you?) and Isaac’s and Rebecca’s bald-faced favoritism crashed into Joseph’s life with devastating force.


The family dynamic of the willingness to lie and choose favorites resulted in Jacob placing Joseph in an exalted position he, by birthright, should never have held. This favoritism and Joseph’s youthful pride opened the road to hatred for the other brothers. Joseph was such a thorn to the brothers that they could not even share a peaceful meal with Joseph.  That hatred resulted in a cruel betrayal and a heartless lie to cover up the treachery towards their younger half-brother.












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Copyright © 2013 Brian Bailey, Author