If anyone had the right to play the victim card, it was Joseph. When we are first introduced to him, we notice that he is loved by his father (Genesis 37:3). He is Jacob’s favorite of all of his sons and receives a special coat that announces that fact to the world. Not only is he loved, but Joseph is also gifted. He can dream dreams and interpret them (37:5-11).
Unfortunately for Joseph, his favored status and dreams of the future create jealously among his brothers. They hate him and cannot stand to be near him (37:4, 8, 11). Rather than live in peace, his brothers want to kill Joseph. Coming to their senses, they sell him to a passing caravan of traders who take Joseph to Egypt (37:28). He becomes a stranger in a strange land.
As you read the story of Joseph’s life, you find yourself asking the question, “Could things get worse?” Sure enough, they do. Joseph is purchased by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard and he becomes a slave in his house (37:36; 39:1-19). Joseph’s life goes from bad to worse when Mrs. Potiphar frames him for rape and Joseph lands in prison (39:20-40:22). There, he interprets dreams for the royal butler and baker. His circumstances go from worse to worser when the butler doesn’t keep his promise and forgets Joseph for two years (40:23).
Joseph was 17 years old when his brothers sold him into slavery (37:2). He is 30 years old when he interprets the dreams of Pharaoh and becomes the Prime Minister of Egypt (41:46). It will be nine years later when his brothers come to Egypt during the famine and Joseph’s earlier dreams are fulfilled (45:6).
During the dark nights of the soul that Joseph experienced, one phrase is repeated over and over. “The Lord was with Joseph” (39:2-3, 21, 23). While he may have been alone, he was never abandoned.
As you read the account of his life and see that Joseph’s dreams are delayed, you ask yourself the question, “Had God changed his mind about Joseph? Had God changed his plans for Joseph?” The answer to both questions appears to be, “No.” The only remaining question is, “Then what was God changing?” God was changing Joseph.
As a have shared elsewhere, I was fired from my first church and entered into my own dark night of the soul. I was distraught, discouraged, and dejected. I was ready to quit and change careers. During that season, I met with Dr. Howard Hendricks at a conference. He later sent me a letter expressing great insights I still treasure to this day. Prof wrote, “Often the disappointments of life are a part of the Lord’s curriculum to prepare you for an even more determinative ministry. Nothing is ever wasted in the will of God. … Your future is as bright as the promises of God.”
Joseph’s life started out so promising. And yet, his story is seemingly filled with one detour after another. If you look closely, however, you discover that each detour is part of God’s sovereign plan to prepare Joseph for an even greater assignment.
God’s curriculum was designed to prepare Joseph in four areas—pride, perseverance, performance, and perspective.
Joseph was a prime candidate for pride. He had a special place in the family (37:3), even though he had brothers ten years old then himself. His two dreams verified his place in the family and God’s plan (37:5-11). He was well-built and handsome (39:6). His performance at home and in Egypt indicated intelligence.
While he had great potential, Joseph needed to be refined, like gold in fire (Job 23:10; 1 Peter 1:7).
Samuel Rutherford once stated that we should “praise God for the hammer, the file and the furnace.” He went on to explain that the “hammer molds us, the file shapes us and the fire tempers us.” All three experiences of course are painful, but we can praise God for them because we know and love the God who wields them.
A. W. Tozer, commenting on Rutherford’s statement, wrote, “The devil, things and people being what they are, it is necessary to use the hammer, the file and the furnace in the holy work of preparing the saint for the sainthood. It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until he has hurt him deeply.”
(Gene Getz, Joseph: Overcoming Obstacles Through Faithfulness. Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 1996, p. 109.)
In the end, Joseph had no bitterness, a forgiving spirit, a servant’s heart, self-confidence balanced with God-confidence, and a strong memory of the grace of God sustaining him through the trying years.
High-level leadership brings with it people who are jealous, rumors, false accusations, misunderstandings, breakdowns in communication, responsibility for the mistakes of others, and unsolved problems. Unless prepared for these pressures, no man or woman will persevere. As much as we desire easy lives, we have to recognize that trials help develop perseverance (James 1:2-4). Joseph’s years of slavery and prison helped prepare him to endure a famine.
With advancement comes greater responsibility, pressure, and the need for greater skills. With greater pressure comes greater personal growth and more meaningful and lasting fruit. Joseph starts out taking care of his father’s sheep. He then is charged with running a house. Later, he is placed in charge of a prison. He eventually oversees the agricultural program of a nation. Taking a big picture look at Joseph’s life experience, you discover that God took him through a 13-year MBA program with graduated responsibility to prepare him for greater effectiveness. His performance increased at every level.
Rather than see himself as a victim, Joseph recognized that God was sovereignly in control of the details of his life (45:7-8; 50:20). Joseph gained the perspective that God was with him every step of the way and he orchestrated all of the events to accomplish his plan and purpose.
Just like Joseph, we can see God’s fingerprints on the detours of our lives. We can have the confidence that God can be trusted even when it appears we are off course.
When you find yourself on one of life’s detours, remember that God is with you, and let him transform your character while you wait for him,
This is the synopsis of a message preached at First Central Baptist Church on August 24, 2014. It is part of a series on the life of Joseph. Please click on the link to download a copy of the sermon notes.