Joseph had a rarefied spiritual gift: God spoke to him through his dreams, and he could interpret the dreams of others.
In the night, which belongs to the Lord, he sees his sheaf stand upright while his brother’s sheaves bow to it. He sees the sun and moon and eleven stars bow to him.
He understands that he is destined for eminence.
* * *
And what should the career path of one destined for eminence look like?
Joseph is thrown into a cistern, sold into slavery. He faces humiliation and obscurity.
Was his dream delusory? Had God abandoned him?
* * *
“God was with Joseph,” (Gen 39:2) we are told, “and he prospered.” “The Lord was with him and gave him success in everything he did.”
The blessing on Joseph spreads outwards. “The Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field.”
And so the career of Joseph progressed from strength to strength?
* * *
He had proved his resilience. He had proved his integrity.
He now had to be moved upwards from a comfortable small position to a position of even greater influence.
* * *
Dick Woodward, pastor of the church I attended in Williamsburg Virginia, said that the way God moves you on is a kick from behind and a pull from in front. ( And I think it’s best to stay put where you are, whether at church or work or city or neighbourhood until you feel the kick and pull.)
Potiphar’s wife provided the kick with her false accusations.
And ironically, Joseph was kicked upstairs into the social circle of those who personally waited on Pharaoh.
If anyone had the right to indulge in self-pity, it was Joseph in the dungeon, cast there for his righteous choice.
But dungeon was his means of elevation, the pull upwards.
While Joseph was there in the prison, the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did. (Gen 39: 21-23).
He interprets dreams in prison, but with slight cockiness. Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams. (Gen. 40:8)
He asks the cupbearer to remember him, but with self-pity. For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.
He has yet to become the steady luminous man whose eyes are on the Lord, who sees everything in life as coming to him mediated through the Lord’s hands, because the Lord permitted it; who knows that the Lord could make him fruitful in the land of his suffering (Gen. 41:52), and turn what his enemies meant for evil into good (Gen. 50:20).
Another two years alone in the company of the Lord in the dungeons, and he will approach the interpretation of dreams with humility.
Pharaoh: ” I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.”
“I cannot do it,” Joseph replied to Pharaoh, “but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.”(Gen. 41)
His eyes now fixed on God, Joseph is able not only to use his administrative gifts wisely, but also able, remarkably, to forgive his brothers–thus helping to save many lives.
I would have expected the life of someone chose, blessed and anointed by God to be marked by happiness, success, prosperity and protection.
And Joseph’s life was ultimately marked by all of these things.
But not all the time.
His life teaches us:
Nothing can stop you doing the work which God has called you to do.
God may have a beautiful plan for your life, but other people may throw you into a well and sell you into slavery.
You will rise.
You may do your job brilliantly and be slandered and thrown into prison.
You will rise.
You may comfort and help people with your words, but in their season of power they may forget you until it’s convenient for them.
But still you will rise.
When will you rise?
In God’s time.
When you let go of bitterness, perhaps. When you forgive. When you realize that all things come from God, your gifts, your health, your wealth, your freedom, your intellect, your very life.
Then you will indeed have grown into your destiny. You will have become worthy of it.
You will have become one who can “save many lives,” (Gen 50:20).
I am grateful to Elizabeth Marshall who first hosted this reflection.