THE STORY CHAPTER 3 FROM THE PIT TO THE PALACE
If you are like me, you’ve have had moments of great pain, struggles, and just life “stuff” that has been really difficult. Yet, for me, I’ve learned that the times of our greatest struggle, the points of our greatest pain, can be the places and moments through which God accomplishes His greatest work through our lives. All of us know what it feels like to have a bitter disappointment in our life. In the next chapter of The Story we meet Joseph. Joseph truly understands bitter disappointment.
1. The Plot
Joseph was born the eleventh of twelve children into a totally dysfunctional family. He had 11 brothers, a father named Jacob, a mom named Rachel, and three step-moms all living under one roof. You’ve heard it said, when Mama’s not happy nobody’s happy; so… imagine when four Mamas aren’t happy! He had 10 older brothers who were jealous of him and hated him. Jacob was only in love with Rachel-Joseph’s mother. His first wife was Rachel’s older sister Leah, whom Jacob was tricked into marrying—not the best start for a marriage. Then, he married Rachel, however, it wasn’t “happily ever after”. The other two wives were “given” to Jacob as wives (in a repeat mistake of Sarah’s logic) to bear surrogate children. One was Bilhah, Rachel’s handmaiden, and the fourth Zilpah, Leah’s handmaiden, in a “one up you move” to Rachel (Read Genesis 29:16 to 30:24 for the whole soap opera version). Keep in mind, Jacob does not seem to be stepping up to the family leader role any better than Adam, Abraham…
Enter Joseph; the first son Rachel, the love of Jacob’s life, finally arrives. Jacob cannot hide his affection for Joseph and he quickly becomes his father’s designated favorite. Jacob gives Joseph a coat of many colors—a distinctive honor—because he was the son of Jacob’s favorite wife. And you may have thought your family was messed up? God can’t use you because you come from such a dysfunctional family? Stick around, just watch what God does! What made things stickier is that Joseph had a dream of all of his brothers bowing down to him, and like any bratty younger brother, couldn’t help repeating it to them over and over…this was a really bad idea.
The older brothers had responsibilities working with the herds. Joseph is not with them—yet another “sore spot” with the bros, I’m sure. One day, Joseph’s dad sent him to find his brothers because they hadn’t come home with the herds on time. Joseph found them hanging out in Dothan, not where they were supposed to be. The “kid” showed up all set to tattle tale on them and that was all it took. Their hate boiled over; so, they ingeniously decided they were going to kill him. One brother, Reuben, who liked Joseph and cared about their father, suggested they throw him in a pit—intending to rescue him later and take him back to Jacob. While they were eating, and Joseph was in the pit, a caravan of Ishmaelite slave traders (as in descendants of Ishmael—Abraham’s “other” son…) came by. The other brothers came up with the idea to sell him into slavery and make extra money off Joseph. So…they sold him to slave traders who took Joseph to Egypt. Reuben went to the pit, found him gone and freaked out with, “what will we tell dad!” Then all the brother’s conspired to pretend they found Joseph’s coat of many colors covered in blood and let Jacob think he was killed by wild animals. Life went on for the brothers who thought they’d gotten away with it. Their dad was upset, but, oh well, he’d get over it. Joseph was out of their lives for good…or so they thought…
Once in Egypt, the trader’s sold Joseph to a man named Potiphar, who was the Pharaoh’s chief executioner. If there is something worse than being sold into slavery, I imagine it might being sold to the guy with the black hood and big ax! Nevertheless, Joseph was doing a great job when trouble started—again. Apparently, Joseph had the looks of a Ryan Gosling or some other movie star. Joseph’s situation goes from bad to worse when Potiphar’s wife gets the hots for him and tries to seduce him. Joseph refuses; and, he says, “how could I do something so wicked and sin against God?” Wrong answer. Instead of backing off, she falsely accuses of him of rape. Naturally, Potiphar believes his wife and Joseph is thrown into prison— where he ends up staying for 13 years.
2. The Presence
During this time Joseph makes some incredible life changing choices in the most difficult of circumstances. Joseph decides to be with God; that is, consciously aware of God’s presence. Several times the Bible mentions “…the Lord was with Joseph and made him successful in whatever he did.” The idea isn’t that Joseph just passively reminded himself, “I know, I know God is with me”; Joseph passionately pursued the presence of God and stayed in vital fellowship with the Lord. This was where he found the strength to resist temptation and stand firm. Joseph dared to believe that God was with him equally in the garden and in the dungeon. In other words, God isn’t just with me when I feel like a million bucks; He is with me when I’m starting my third round of chemotherapy, or just got a call my son is in jail, or my teenage daughter is pregnant. This active choice to be aware of God’s presence is THE game changer.
3. The Persistence
Additionally, Joseph refused to allow his disappointment to become an excuse for disobedience. It is significant to notice that the enemy attacked him with a sexual temptation. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve known of people to fall into sexual sin on the heels of a disappointment. A person is single and hopes for a relationship that doesn’t work out; of course, Satan is right there to tempt them. A married person whose spouse doesn’t pay attention or treats intimacy as a chore; then, immediately there is a thought that you have a “right” to go online and look at porn or flirt with that person at the office. Joseph, however, is a classic example that we don’t have to “give in” or are “helpless” against our “feelings”. He refuses to let disappointment be an excuse for sexual sin, revenge, self-pity or becoming a passively disengaged victim.
In fact, Joseph has quite the opposite reaction. Joseph chooses to keep growing, using his gift, blooming where he is planted. He becomes promoted to chief servant and chief prisoner. He keeps developing his gift to interpret dreams, using it to help fellow prisoners. Perhaps most importantly, Joseph chooses persistent faith. As we saw with Abraham, this is the key to the promise. He refused to give up on his dream. People of faith persistently believe that God’s story never ends with disappointment. God finishes what He started; consequently, if I’m not in the place of victory, healing, and deliverance then God isn’t finished! He has a next move; and, if I stay the course, I will see the goodness of God in the land of the living!
Finally, and amazingly, Joseph refuses to hold a grudge against his brothers. If you have been betrayed by a family member, you know how horrible the pain and how easy it is to pack the suitcase of unforgiveness and bitterness to make it into a permanent backpack in your life. Can I take a moment to remind you of something? There has never been a palace story in the kingdom of God where someone fulfills their destiny and sees God’s victory without walking through their own dungeon story; and, consequently, their own forgiveness story. We all have this in common: we don’t get to the top of the mountain without forgiveness. In fact, how we forgive and how completely we do it will ultimately determine how far up the mountain we get.
The story doesn’t stop there! Pharaoh has a dream with two strange plot themes that no one, not even one of his magicians around him could interpret. One of Joseph’s former jail mates suddenly remembered how great Joseph was at interpreting dreams and tells a frustrated Pharaoh. Pharaoh sends for Joseph. Joseph, totally prepared for his destiny, is at the right place at God’s right time. Pharaoh tells Joseph, “I hear you can interpret dreams.” Joseph tells Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (Gen. 41:16 NASB). Joseph knows it is God working through him, not his gifts that interpret dreams. Joseph tells Pharaoh there will be seven years of plenty, followed by seven years of extreme famine throughout the land. Joseph also proposes a plan to for Egypt’s survival. Pharaoh likes what he hears, doesn’t think he can find anyone better for the job; consequently, Joseph is promoted to the deputy chief, the second in command of all of Egypt, to prepare through the years of plenty and famine. Because of Joseph, Egypt is the only nation prepared with food during the famine.
4. The Pardon
Famine hits throughout the land. Eventually, Joseph’s brothers come to Egypt to get food. As the brother’s come Joseph has disguised himself, and there is lots of drama before Joseph finally reveals himself to them. I am actually comforted by the fact that, in spite of his decision to forgive, it wasn’t without a process, a lot of grieving, and really kind of messy. This is true of all of us in our forgiveness journey.
5. The Profound
At the end of the story in Genesis 50, a profound scene occurs. Jacob is now dies, Joseph returns him back home to bury him and then goes back to Egypt. The brothers are expecting Joseph to now let them have it, so they make up a lie to try and get off the hook. Joseph, however, is touched and has grace and mercy in his heart. Joseph saw what they hadn’t seen; God’s hand in all of this. Joseph told his brothers, “Do not be afraid, for am I in God’s place? As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good in order to bring about this present result, to preserve many people alive.” (Gen.50:20, NASB).
The end result of all this drama is that Jacob and all of the tribes are saved, and, Joseph’s original dream about the family bowing down does come to pass—although it takes 22 years. The family survives and thrives in the land of Goshen; ultimately becoming a mighty nation.
What is so profound in this story is that it reveals two huge keys: 1. the ability to forgive and 2. the ability to align yourself with God’s purpose and obey God during difficult experiences. Joseph was able to forgive and obey in the lower story because he fully believed and trusted what was true in the upper story. Imagine a stage with a curtain. On one side all we can see the tragedy; the lower story being played out in front of us. Nevertheless, behind the curtain the upper story is being prepared; getting ready to reveal the true purpose behind the tragedy.
Can you believe that that most difficult thing you’ve been through is part of God’s perfect plan? Charles Colson was the special counselor to President Nixon. Colson was sentenced to prison and lost his position, reputation, law license. Colson truly believed that the most devastating thing every to happen to him really proved to be the greatest thing that ever happened to him. In prison and through this devastating time he met Jesus and found his bigger story. He started Prison Fellowship designed to minister to prisoners. No matter how dark your past, in God’s hands it can be hope. Can you believe that through your most devastating time, God will mean it for good? If you can believe, if you will align your heart and actions to this truth, you will see the darkest things redeemed to become the greatest victories.
Joseph absolutely believed that those places of greatest pain [that we hate] are places that God has already predetermined to use to accomplish His greatest purposes. If we align ourselves with God, Romans 8:28 says that He causes all things to work together for good, to accomplish His perfect will. The sad story that may be unfolding in our lives today is not the end of the story but the staging point of a greater story. If you truly believe this, then you can truly forgive anything. It may be messy and hard, and you may need help processing; nevertheless, you can do it.