When I was a seminary student in the early 1980’s, I worked for a drafting firm in Dallas, TX. One of my coworkers was a Russian émigré named, Roman. He had a degree in computer engineering but was working as a draftsman. When Roman was in Russia, he could not get a job because he was Jewish. When he immigrated to the States, he could not get a job because he was Russian. (Remember the Cold War was still alive and well in the 80’s.)
What if you work hard and save the company money, but you get passed over for promotion? Perhaps you do the majority of work in a group, but someone else gets the credit. Maybe you take a stand on a moral issue, and you wind up being ostracized. What if you ask the coach of your child’s youth soccer team to not use profanity around the kids, and he retaliates by benching your son or daughter in the next game? Perhaps you declined to go bar hopping with your coworkers, and they start spreading rumors about you.
In Genesis 37, Joseph is upright in his character and shares his dreams, but his brothers hate him and sell him into slavery. In chapter 39, Joseph refuses to compromise, and he winds up falsely accused of rape and imprisoned. In chapter 40, Joseph serves compassionately, and ends up being forgotten. Life goes from bad to worse, and from worse to worser.
As Genesis 40 opens, Joseph is 28 years old. He has been in Egypt for 11 years. He will be in prison for two more years. It will be 11 more years before he sees his family.
Genesis 40:1-4 find Joseph in prison with Pharaoh’s political prisoners. Among them are the butler and the baker. Rather than becoming self-centered and self-focused, Joseph is compassionate and caring. He noticed the butler and the baker are downcast (6). Inquiring about their concerns, he learns they had dreams but don’t know what they mean (8).
Joseph could easily have become a self-promoter and announced, “I know a thing or two about dreams. In fact, let me tell you my dreams.” Instead, Joseph lives out his faith and points the men to God, “Do not interpretations belong to God?”
The butler shares his dreams about the grapes and the wine (9-11). Joseph declares, “That’s easy. In three days, you get your job back (12-13). When that happens, put in a good word to Pharaoh about me” (14-15).
Figuring his dreams also portend a happy ending, the baker shares his nighttime wanderings with Joseph (16-17). Joseph responds, “That is easy as well. In three days, you’re dead!” (18-19). Rather than telling the man what he wants to hear, Joseph demonstrates integrity and tells him the truth.
Three days later, Pharaoh celebrates his birthday by restoring the butler and killing the baker (20-22). But rather than keep his promise, the butler forgot Joseph (23). It is probably one of the saddest verses in all of Genesis.
Sometimes life just isn’t fair. We may receive unfair treatment from family members, perhaps even abusive treatment. Perhaps life treats us unfairly through an accident or disease, and we are trapped in a prison of pain. Possibility we are the victim of untrue accusations or rumors or lies. Maybe we were abandoned by a husband, wife, or parents.
Regardless of the reasons, how should a Christ follower respond when life just isn’t fair? Joseph gives us a great model, in addition to several other passages of Scripture. When life is unfair, we are to live our faith.
When life is unfair …
- Don’t wallow in self-pity. Instead, remember that God is with you. You are neither alone, nor abandoned.
- Don’t allow bitterness to capture your soul. Instead, practice kindness, compassion, and forgiveness (Ephesians 4:26-32).
- Don’t allow bitterness toward others to become bitterness toward God. Instead, trust in God’s sovereignty (Romans 8:28, 35, 37) and grow in faith (1 Peter 2:18-21).
- Don’t become vindictive towards those who have mistreated you, seeking to get even. Instead, patiently wait for God to vindicate you and to honor both your faith and your positive attitudes (Romans 12:10, 17, 21).
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church in Chicopee, MA, on July 27, 2014. It is part of a series on the life of Joseph. Click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.