“Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.” (Gen 39:1-4)
This is speaking of a young man who was thrown into a pit by his own family, and that was simply to evade the more brutal act of killing him outright. Some time later his brothers pulled him out of that pit just to sell him as a slave to a band of Egyptian traders. That does not sound like a great start to a life of success for a young teenager. But (and this may be one of the “biggest buts of the Bible”) God was with him.
As we read the story, we see that Joseph becomes one of the most remarkable human beings, and going on to live one of the most remarkable lives ever recorded.
Now, I understand that all this was of deeply divine origin and engineering, and that not all of us are called to such an amazingly odd series of events that would lead us to become the ruler of a leading world power! Yet, at the same time, though our callings in life are unique and different, my Bible tells me that I too was known and formed in my Mother’s womb, and that all my days also were counted and known before even one of them came to be (Psalms 139) ; That I have also been called and predestined to know God and -like King David- called to “serve God’s purpose in [my] generation” (Acts 13:36). And in light of such truth, I have to wonder, should this beauty of the life of Joseph not be the heritage, the testimony, and in some ways the story of our lives too? Should it not be true in principle of all who know God and serve Jesus Christ? And is this not what’s at the heart of such admonitions as those of Peter and Paul who, in the New Testament, challenge Christians to serve and represent the Lord Jesus in an outstanding manner in any and all circumstances, even if they are still under the role of slavery?
And going further, is this not also a strong admonition to all of us that we have no excuses for not being good, productive, positive, helpful, steady, winsome and leaderly people in all we do? And precisely, or especially because we know the Lord, have a settled soul, a known destiny, and a heart of joy and peace?
To me this story is one that calls on us to understand that life is what you make of it, and a lot of what you make of it emanates from the condition and disposition of our heart and mind. It is a reminder that -as they say- you just can’t keep a good man down. It also is a call to understand that when we walk in the goodness of the Lord, maintaining such things as faith, joy, love, respect -and do not accept the temptation of wallowing in self-pity, complaining, envying, or questioning why our lot is not as good or easy as another’s- that we too can succeed through difficult and trying circumstances. And finally, it is also a call to remember that God does not and never has promised any of us a life of ease in a bed of flowers, and that rough circumstances are not an indication that He is not near or somehow “in this.” God is notorious for taking his most beloved through excruciating circumstances. Besides Josephs ordeal, consider the lives of Noah, Job, Abraham, Moses, King David, Jeremiah; and, if that’s not enough, the life of Jesus Christ himself, who was rejected and brutally crucified, and yet he did not once complain or open his mouth in bitterness.
My main thesis here is -I think- that God calls us to a life of faith, of joy, and of goodness, and that circumstances are not the determinate factor of whether I attain and enjoy those character and personality qualities and/or the results of them. Joseph found favor even in the dungeons of Egypt! And I would maintain that it was not because he sulked in bitterness of soul, wallowing in self-pity, and complaining about his innocence, or the injustice or unfairness of life.
May God help us all to see that we are expected to, and can live a successful life of joy and goodness even through and beyond difficult circumstances. And that the determining factors are internal, not external; primarily within us, not without.