Unabandoned, God With Us
As we refocus on the Joseph narrative, we move from Judah’s shocking sin, to Joseph’s slogging slavery. When we last left Joseph, his jealous brothers had sold their bratty brother to Midianite traders, who took him to Egypt. For Joseph, this spelled the inauspicious beginning of his life’s journey which the Lord had for him. Moses, our narrator, bookends the account with statements that sharply and clearly hammer home the main point: God was with Joseph. In a chapter of mostly downs (but some promising ups), we are to be faced with the inescapable truth that God is there. None of this is outside His control.
As believers, sometimes it makes sense that God is with us. When good news comes or the stock market climbs, we say, “Thank you, Lord!” Clearly He is providing. However, as the Joseph narrative makes clear, we live in a sin-sick world. A world where suffering characterizes the journey of every believer. In difficult times, particularly when, like Joseph, the cause of our suffering is completely unjust, we question whether God is with us.
We must remember, though, that God is preparing Joseph for a high place. This journey down begins his ascent to the highest place in Egypt. So for believers, to think that God is somehow uninvolved or uncaring in our suffering is to underestimate God’s goodness, and his power. Truly, God’s permanent presence with Hs people is working every aspect of their lives to a glorious end.
A Promised Presence
If we are familiar with this story, we know that Joseph is the “good guy.” He is chaste in the midst of temptation, and he is God’s chosen vessel of salvation in future years. Thus, we can easily determine that God’s presence with Joseph is earned by Joseph’s steadfastness and good character.
Something in that equation is right. Joseph is set up as a paragon of Godly virtue in this chapter, and we should follow his example. However, we to believe that he has compelled God to be with him is to get the car before the horse. God is with Joseph because God keeps His promises. In Gen. 17, God promised Abraham, “I will be your God.” So, God’s presence with Joseph is not a result of works, but of grace. Remember, up to this point, Joseph has not been a model believer. He has been pompous and spoiled. Nevertheless, God is with Him.
A Blessed Presence
It makes sense, at first, that God is with Joseph. For, as soon as Joseph enters into Potiphar’s service, an immediate rise begins. Moses makes it clear that God is blessing Joseph with success, and that success leads to greater responsibility and more success! Joseph moves quickly from a common slave, who would have worked in the field; to a worker in Potiphar’s home, (it’s nice to be working indoors in Egypt!); to an attendant of Potiphar; all the way to the steward of Potiphar’s home. Extra-Biblical texts from Egypt have multiple examples of stewards like this, and Joseph was a great one! All he did was blessed by God. These blessings on Joseph and Potiphar are yet another example of God keeping His promises. Remember, he told Abraham that in his family, all nations of the earth will be blessed. Potiphar and his family are a small example of that.
Pretty good story so far, eh? And, encouraging to Christians. We have God’s presence with us, too. Jesus Himself promised, “I will be with you always, to the very end of the earth…” Neither the highest heights, nor the lowest depths can separate us from the love of God in Christ. Further, it’s true that God pours out blessings on his people. Like Joseph, faithfulness and hard work often leave to great blessings in life.
Yet, in Joseph’s life, clouds quickly gather. And, for us; to reduce our lives to an equation of “God’s presence = material goods and comfort,” goes against all common sense and experience. Even our best efforts are often interrupted by intense difficulty. We think, “If God was really with me, this wouldn’t happen.” Yet, this account does not allow for that despair. For, we see God’s presence is…
A Persevering Presence
One commentator says that Joseph has received, “one blessing too many;” that of good looks. It quickly catches the eye of the ambitious wife of Potiphar. She decides that their household steward needs to submit himself to her power and authority not only with his efforts, but with his body. Her wickedness is outlined in great detail, and we should take a moment to see the depths of her sin. Her temptation of Joseph is systematic, manipulative, and, in the end, violent. So enraged is she by her lust, that she loses all sense of propriety, and quite literally throws herself at the handsome young slave. After Joseph denies her advances and runs, she manages to grasp hold of one of his garments. Her opportunity to blame him only casts her character into a deeper shadow. She passive-aggressively (and active-aggressively!) blames her husband for bringing this “Hebrew” (an overtly racist condemnation) among their household, even implying that he did so for the express purpose of subjecting her to an attempted rape.
Consider now, if God’s presence is always in the business of removing difficulties in our lives, we would be at a crisis point here. We might ask, “Is God here? Have His promises failed?” Yet, if God is in the business of working every aspect of our lives to a glorious end, perhaps God is up to something in the midst of suffering!
Indeed, we see that it is so. We should be captivated by Joseph’s righteousness in the midst of his temptation. Remember, Joseph was a slave. None of the prosperity God was bringing on Potiphar’s household through him really belonged to him. He had no rights. Thus, it was not in his best interest to make an enemy of his mistress! Further, and we may relate more to this temptation, there is the simple fact that Potiphar’s wife was offering a soft pleasure bed to a man who otherwise was a household slave. In the end, Joseph has every reason to give in.
But, you see what God’s persevering presence is doing? He has not abandoned Joseph in this temptation, but rather is working through it! Something is growing in Joseph better than advancement, better than prestige, and certainly better than cheap pleasure: faithfulness to God. In v. 8-9, Joseph argues an amazing case, he refuses Potiphar’s wife not just because it would dishonor his master (and perhaps endanger Joseph’s position), but because it would dishonor God!
We must understand that for those who trust in God, he is working even in our deepest temptations to forge eternal benefits. God is working in us to love Him more, to obey His commands, and to be more capable of responsibility, love, and grace. God doesn’t work in spite of temptation, but in and through it.
In the “long view” of Joseph’s life, this is a wonderful truth. God is preparing Joseph for the glorious role he will take in Egypt. However, consider Joseph in the moment. He is not exonerated, celebrated, or raised up. Instead, precisely because Joseph was righteous that greater suffering came upon him! Potiphar never for a moment considered Joseph’s flawless track record or his full bank account. Instead, he cast his faithful steward into prison.
Perhaps this is you. You look at your attempts at righteousness at work or in school, and all you have received in return is suffering and ridicule. Where is the blessedness of God? Has he abandoned us?
A Saving Presence
In times like that, we must remember that our God is so great, even great injustice does not escape His power to work a glorious end for His people. How do we know? Because there is One who has been brought lower even than Joseph; One whose life was not occasionally, or regularly righteous, but perfectly righteous; and, One whose righteousness was rewarded not with joy, but with death. And, this death was no ordinary death. For this Righteous One died with the holy, good presence of God ripped away from Him. Jesus Christ, God Himself, died alienated from His Father. He died cursed; with none of the hope of Joseph placed on Him. Like Moses in v. 21 says, “But God” was not thwarted even by this. God took what was supposed to be the ultimate victory of Satan and in Almighty Goodness, turned it into the gateway to life for all of His people.
Application and Discussion
- What is the evidence we use to gauge whether God is “with” someone? How do we determine whether God is with us? Do we look for material, visible blessings; or Spiritual fruits of righteousness, joy, peace, etc.?
- Because of sin, life can often seem unjust. For some believers, faithfulness and hard work leads to blessings in this life. For others, grave injustice falls upon their heads. How do we deal with such things as this? What words do we share with those who are in the depths of suffering? What lessons can we learn from them?
- When we think of the “blessings” of God, what are the blessings we really want? What blessings will last forever?
- We read the Joseph narrative with the knowledge that all Joseph’s earthly suffering will lead to a place of power, prestige, and blessing. In the New Heavens and the New Earth, believers will dwell forever without sin or pain. How does that perspective change our view of suffering? How can we apply that to our lives today?