Pit, Potiphar, Prison, Palace – working your way out of adversity for God’s sake

By August 21, 2015 Blog No Comments

I had the great privilege to teach a grade 2 Religious Instruction class this week on the story of Joseph (Gen 37-47).

  • How Joseph, as the favourite of his father, and the despised of his brothers, was thrown into a dried up well while his brothers decided whether to kill or sell him.
  • How following his sale to traders, Joseph was taken to Egypt (37:1-28) where he became the slave of a man named Potiphar.How in Potiphar’s service he worked so diligently that he was promoted to master of the house, before malicious lies (cue question from super intelligent grade 2: “What lies were they Mr Paul?” Reply: “Adult lies”. Question “What type of adult lies?” Reply: “Google it when you get home kids!”) resulted in his return to prison (39:1-21).
  • How despite these circumstances, Joseph took the decision to continue to serve and as the result of his heart, attitude and God’s favour, ended up in charge of the prison (39:22).
  • How in this context, he came into contact with Pharaoh’s former baker and cup bearer who were imprisoned and both had dreams which they couldn’t understand.
  • How, because of Joseph’s connectedness to God and his willingness to serve, he was able to interpret their dreams and ask them to remember him if they got out of prison. While this didn’t happen immediately, another 2 years passed with Joseph in jail, he was eventually remembered when the Pharaoh had an uninterpretable dream (41:1-36) and the cup bearer remembered Joseph.
  • How Joseph was able to explain, through God’s provision, what the dream meant to Pharaoh and outline a potential plan to deal with it’s consequences.
  • How at Joseph’s proposed plan, the Pharaoh recognised Joseph’s continued willingness to seek the common good and appointed him to this position.
  • How this enabled him to reconnect with and ultimately save his family as they came to Egypt in search of food in the midst of a famine.

As I recounted this story to the kids and then played a game to help them think about how God was with Joseph in all of the different contexts he found himself, pit, Potiphar’s, prison and the palace, I was struck by Joseph’s attitude in each of these instances.

Confronted by the opportunity to be bitter, resentful and disengaged, Joseph responded through what seems to be greater diligence and commitment to working, as well as he could for those in whose charge he had been placed. With this, the story recounts that “God’s favour was with Joseph”. While it served to his advantage, it ultimately served to benefit those for whom he worked too. Potiphar’s household prospered, the Prison Guard’s life presumably would have been greatly improved, and ultimately all of Egypt and the surrounding nations were rescued from the extremes of an otherwise unexpected famine. God’s favour was not only with Joseph but with all those he encountered.

I have recently being doing a lot of thinking and reading around the place that our work holds in God’s plan for life and salvation. This story has struck me as a fascinating picture of how this might all be worked out. Surely it was through Joseph’s faithfulness to God and commitment to serving those around him that resulted in his redemption and that of his family as well as those who surrounded them. Could this be our commission too? Could it be that a significant part of our salvation is actually about responding to God’s creative and redemptive intent for the world? Could it be that God is asking us to work where we are, as diligently as we can, seeking the betterment of our workplaces, homes, prisons and ultimately our nations? Could this be what allows the favour of God to be manifest in the world?

As Joseph responds to his brothers, when he reveals his identity to them in Egypt and forgives them, “don’t feel badly, don’t blame yourselves for selling me. God was behind it. God sent me here ahead of you to save lives… God sent me on ahead to pave the way and make sure there was a remnant in the land, to save your lives in an amazing act of deliverance.”

Can this be our call and challenge to follow God? To live this way regardless of whether we find ourselves in the pit, Potiphar’s, prison or the palace?