The story of Joseph in Gen. 37-50 is another example of a servant of God “waiting on the Lord” (see Twilight Musings 27). To sum up his experiences: as a boy of 17, Joseph had dreams of his brothers—and even his parents—bowing down to him, an allegorical prophecy of what actually occurred over 20 years later when Joseph was master of Egypt’s food resources in a time of famine. A lot of water had to run under the bridge before the time was ripe for these early prophetic dreams to be fulfilled. Although it wasn’t apparent to Joseph during the first part of this interim period, it was a time of constructive waiting. His youthful pride in his dreams and in the special favor shown to him by his father were tempered by the hardship of his years as a servant in Egypt. But God also blessed Joseph in the midst of his servitude by giving him favor with his masters. He rose quickly to be overseer of the household of his master Potiphar, and then, when he was unjustly thrown into prison, the prison master put him in charge of the rest of the inmates. Through these jobs he developed the managerial skills he would need to manage Egypt’s national economy through the seven years of plenty and the succeeding seven years of famine.
No doubt when his privileged position in Potiphar’s house was abruptly taken away, Joseph must have wondered why God had blessed him and then allowed him to be cast down again. I have tried to capture in the following poem Joseph’s thoughts and feelings at that time. The combination of questioning what God is doing and trying to be ready for what He is going to do next should be familiar to all of us.
JOSEPH IN PRISON
How far away the fields where grazed my father's sheep,
Where in my sleep the visions spoke,
Affirming that my special coat was well deserved;
And in my youth I knew that God had favored me.
A willing instrument I was, rebuking in my father's name
My brothers' worldly ways.
And then the pit, the chains, the foreign land--
No one then to listen to my dreams!
But God was gracious to me still,
As Potiphar repaid the works of God in me,
And I regained my virtuous pride.
In confidence I turned aside
The evil of my master's wife,
Rebuked in righteous words her monstrous lust.
And for my trouble once again
I lie imprisoned and disgraced.
Has God seduced me too, and cast me off
For basking in His favor?
It seems but scant reward
To be chief of those who languish in the dark.
How shall I deal with One who rips away
What He Himself bestowed?
My robe of innocence my brothers drenched in blood;
My robe of righteousness was snatched
To scandalize my name.
How shall I now be clothed, my Lord,
Lying naked to Your will?
(Elton D. Higgs,11/28/86)
Of course, we have the advantage of knowing what the final outcome of Joseph’s puzzled waiting is going to be. Not only will God’s servant be raised up out of prison, he will be launched out on the road that will lead to the final fulfillment of his youthful dreams. We also know the answer to the question in the poem, “How shall I now be clothed, / Lying naked to Your will?” In God’s good time, Joseph was pulled out of prison and given appropriate clothing for standing in the presence of Pharaoh; and quickly after that he was given fine linen garments and a robe and jewelry proper to his office as vice-Pharoah of Egypt.
Perhaps our seeing the whole picture of Joseph’s story is a good analogy to our status before God: In our limited understanding, we wait in patient expectation to see the rest of the story unfold, but from God’s point of view it’s already finished, and the ending is to our benefit and to His glory. Those who wait patiently on God will always be clothed (i.e., equipped) appropriately for what He calls them to do. And beyond that, we sometimes need, like Joseph, a lot of life experience and the wisdom that it brings to be able to experience in humility what was originally embraced in pride.
Image: Supper ate Emmaus by Lambert Jacobsz. (circa 1598–1636) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons