Living in the middle of the story

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife / Bartolomé Esteban Perez Murillo (1660s)

When we come to the end of a novel or a movie, we know how it turns out. We get a lot of satisfaction knowing how it turns out, possibly because we can’t possibly get the same satisfaction in our own lives. After all, we’re living in the middle of the story.

Joseph had ten older brothers. Jacob, his father, essentially put him in charge of the family business. Jacob loved Joseph more than the others because he was the firstborn son of the only woman he had ever loved.

But he must have given Joseph all that authority because of his natural ability and character. He was diligent and trustworthy. His brothers weren’t. They despised him and one day saw a chance to kill him. Reuben, who was already in trouble with Jacob, talked them out of it. (Jacob had disinherited him for sleeping with one of his concubines.) They sold him into slavery instead.

Joseph and Potiphar’s wife

An Egyptian official named Potiphar bought him and quickly noticed Joseph’s obedience, honesty, and trustworthiness. Soon enough, he also noticed his administrative abilities and put Joseph in charge of running his household. Notice that Joseph had the same kinds of duties with Potiphar as he had had with his own father.

Potiphar’s wife noticed something else and lusted after the handsome young man. She repeatedly ordered him to come to her bed, and he repeatedly refused. Joseph surely would have known how Reuben had disgraced himself. In the natural, it’s easy to see how he would not want to incur Potiphar’s wrath the way Reuben had incurred Jacob’s.

And yet the woman’s persistence must have become a powerful temptation. In the end, there is only one way to resist that kind of temptation. At some point before Potiphar’s wife propositioned him in the first place, Joseph clearly decided that he would remain trustworthy and godly in any and every circumstance. Having decided that in advance, he had no need to consider giving in to her.

One day she got within easy reach of him and grabbed his clothes. She must have thought that she finally had him where he couldn’t refuse. To her surprise, he wiggled out of his tunic and ran out in his underwear. So she decided if she couldn’t possess him, she’d get rid of him. In the phoniest of outrage, she complained to Potiphar that Joseph had molested her.

Potiphar was furious. That doesn’t necessarily mean that he believed what his wife had told him. He could very well have known that Joseph was not guilty. But in making the accusation so publicly, she forced his hand. He had to get rid of Joseph whether he wanted to or not. If he had believed his wife, he probably would have had Joseph executed. Instead, he shut him up in Pharaoh’s own prison.

Joseph in the middle of the story

At this point in the story, Genesis 39:21, the Bible says that God was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love. Would Joseph have known that? If someone had asked him on the day of his imprisonment if God loved him, could he have wholeheartedly affirmed it?

It almost doesn’t matter. It didn’t take the jailer long to recognize Joseph’s abilities. Eventually, he wound up running the prison itself. He had at least managed to stay obedient, honest, and trustworthy. He may have even managed to remain reasonably cheerful.

But look what kind of life he had.

  • One day he had set out to perform a task for his father and recognized, perhaps for the first time, the intensity of his brothers’ hatred for him.
  • He was sold into slavery and managed to make a fairly pleasant life for himself until an immoral woman made it impossible for him to stay there.
  • Although completely innocent of the charges against him, he was tossed into prison.

Where is justice? God had given him some powerful dreams as a child, but how could he possibly hold on to them? Where was God? Surely thoughts like that must have beat up on his mind relentlessly. Yet he chose to remain faithful and true to the God who seemed to have forsaken him completely.

We can read on and see the rest of the story. He couldn’t.

  • In chapter 41, Joseph got taken out of prison and given the responsibility to run the whole Egyptian empire.
  • Ten years or so later, his brothers came to him for help.
  • He had a little fun at their expense, but he could finally see his childhood dreams come true.
  • Eventually he was even reunited with his father.

Did they all live happily ever after? We don’t know that, do we? Chances are that Joseph had to endure other painful times before he died, but he probably enjoyed a healthier family life with his brothers than he could have thought possible as a teenager.

As I said at the beginning, the point of the whole lesson is that we are always in the middle of our own stories. Sometimes it feels like God is very near to us. Sometimes it feels like he has forgotten us. Sometimes, we’re just drifting along, living day to day, not thinking much about God’s plans for us one way or the other.

Our feelings never, ever indicate what God is up to. God is always watching over us and has a plan for our welfare no matter what it feels like. Godly people base their lives on faith in God’s character and what he has done in history. Godly people believe what God has said simply because he said it.

As a result of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God has judged our sin, removed it from us, and taken up residence within us. Collectively and individually, we are God’s temple.

Joseph knew nothing about that, but he walked in whatever revelation he had. He lived a life of humble obedience to God, regardless of whatever he may have felt on a given day. And that just might be the main reason why he is worthy of our attention.

Illustration credit: Public domain, from Wikimedia Commons

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