Joseph suffered for his integrity, for his tempter revenged herself by accusing him of a foul crime, and causing him to be thrust into prison. Had Potiphar believed his wife’s charge against Joseph, the young Hebrew would have lost his life; but the modesty and uprightness that had uniformly characterized his conduct were proof of his innocence; and yet, to save the reputation of his master’s house, he was abandoned to disgrace and bondage. – Patriarchs and Prophets p. 218
I’ve been disappointed before in life. I’ve been relationally disappointed by friends turning on me. I’ve been scholastically disappointed with school programs when the degree program wasn’t what I expected. I’ve been disappointed at work, by my own job choices, and by certain bosses. I’ve been disappointed in myself.
The thing with disappointments in life is that the magnitude is measured within ourselves, or if we are perceptive, the people around us in the world. Comparatively, I have not experienced disappointments in the zip code of what Joseph experienced.
In a moment he was betrayed and sold by his brothers. He experienced another shockwave when accused by his master’s wife and was put into prison. Potiphar had become close to Joseph, and trusted him so much that he didn’t even care to know what he owned anymore. He just knew it was being taken care of. I imagine that type of trust is similar to what is experienced within a family, or close friends.
Potiphar didn’t believe his wife’s accusations. Think about it. He was captain of the guard. If he really believed his wife, Joseph would have been dead. So why did he put him in prison then? To Potiphar it must have been the middle ground. To save face for his wife, while keeping Joseph alive. It wasn’t the kindest thing, it wasn’t the worst thing, but it was surely an awful and unpleasant thing.
None of that made it sting less to Joseph, who for the second time had his life torn away from him.
However, Joseph did not let the situation ruin him through bitterness or despair.
At the first Joseph was treated with great severity by his jailers. The psalmist says, “His feet they hurt with fetters; he was laid in chains of iron: until the time that his word came to pass; the word of the Lord tried him.” Psalm 105:18, 19, R.V. But Joseph’s real character shines out, even in the darkness of the dungeon. He held fast his faith and patience; his years of faithful service had been most cruelly repaid, yet this did not render him morose or distrustful. He had the peace that comes from conscious innocence, and he trusted his case with God. He did not brood upon his own wrongs, but forgot his sorrow in trying to lighten the sorrows of others. – Patriarchs and Prophets, p 218.
You can see how he cared for people in the following verse:
Genesis 40:7 – So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in the custody of his lord’s house, saying, “Why do you look so sad today?
He had empathy for the prisoners. That care was probably why the prisoners opened up to him.
They were important people with positions of the highest responsibility. Being in charge of Pharaoh’s food, he had to trust them implicitly. The butler was his cupbearer. Nehemiah had a similar position, and was entrusted by his king to rebuild the capital city of a nation.
The baker saw Joseph interpret the butler’s dream, but it was really Joseph’s wholehearted plea for help that really sold the baker on whether Joseph was playing or for real. Joseph was unquestionably, totally serious about the interpretation he gave. This was Joseph’s chance for liberation and an opportunity to go home, and the flames of hope burned bright. (As a side point, I hope people can sense the reality of the words we speak when we talk about God, or things like the second coming of Christ.)
Imagine Joseph’s desire for freedom when the butler was released. It burned so strongly. Just this afternoon or tomorrow he would be free. Ok, not today, but surely the next day. Maybe the day after that? One day turned into two and three. Days turned into one week, then two. Hope is one of the strongest forces for us as humans, and it must have hurt powerfully to have such an urgent sense of hope disappointed.
Genesis 40:23 – Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
Forgotten for two entire years. Oh the ingratitude.
So where did this leave Joseph?
Disappointments are hard. There’s no sense in minimizing that. It hurt bad. Emotional distress and pain is as real a thing as physical pain. Crushed hope can so easily leave one bitter, but in reading the story, it’s incredible to me that Joseph never seems bitter, not even later when he finally confronts his brothers. This is as much a miracle to me as anything else in the story of Joseph, because it goes so against the grain of our normal humanity. It’s worth pointing out as much as any ‘typical miracle’ we see in the stories of the Bible, because it is as improbable. That is the power of God in the life.
Proverbs 13:12 – Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but when the desire comes, it is a tree of life.
Though living through these three crushing disappointments, Joseph still lived where he was and served where he was. I think the dreams that he had as a child were a gift from God to be a beacon of hope in those years. He still had the dreams that God had a purpose for his life. By faith he could know that his situation was temporary, even if he didn’t know when he would find freedom. At some point he would be free.
In our difficult times, when things happen that we don’t understand, or we are the victims of someone else’s bad choices, we can have hope. Hope that God will still use us in the rubble that is the aftermath of cruelty and poor choices. God doesn’t leave us. He stays with us, even in our own dungeon of despair and disappointment. He has given us a key of promise as a way out of our own crippling mindset.
Matthew 28:20 – “And, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world.”
I’m grateful for Joseph’s faithfulness in the midst of dreams and disappointments.
Nice blog, Tom! Really appreciate the reminder not to get mired in brooding on misfortune.