Every single day when my children were little, I would make sure they had clothes, pick out what they would wear or give them a few choices and after a day of fun and muck, take everything to the washing machine and start over again.
If I was personal assistant to Kate Middleton, I might have the task of making sure she had something to wear, laying out her choices, and at the end of her royal engagements, take everything to the cleaners and start over again. But I can tell you the one would be much more fun than the other! I can easily see myself complaining in the one scenario and rejoicing in the other. Not so with Joseph. We find him in today’s reading in a very different position than highest in Potiphar’s household, but he is still serving the Lord.
13 When she saw that he had left his cloak in her hand and had run out of the house, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “this Hebrew has been brought to us to make sport of us! He came in here to sleep with me, but I screamed. 15 When he heard me scream for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
16 She kept his cloak beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him this story: “That Hebrew slave you brought us came to me to make sport of me. 18 But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran out of the house.”
19 When his master heard the story his wife told him, saying, “This is how your slave treated me,” he burned with anger.20 Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined.
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
Joseph finds himself in prison as a result of following the Lord and choosing the right path. Doesn’t seem fair, does it? It doesn’t seem like a fitting reward for one who went that extra mile and chose not to sin. But, nevertheless, this is where Joseph finds himself.
Joseph’s reaction and attitude is what we want to look at today. “…the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden.” I am pretty certain that I would not see ‘favor in the eyes of the prison warden’ as a blessing. I would certainly have the attitude that God was to ‘break me out of there’ and that would be the favor I would be looking for. Our first lesson is this: God’s plans are higher than our plans. You see, if God had provided the kind of favour I would expect, Joseph would never have met the cupbearer and baker in that dungeon of filth. He wouldn’t have had the opportunity to interpret their dreams, and therefore, years down the line, be remembered and brought in front of Pharaoh himself. God knew what he was doing and I believe Joseph trusted in this.
Our second lesson comes in Joseph’s attitude: “So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.” What is there to be in charge of in a prison? As a prisoner yourself what sets you apart as ‘head prisoner?’ A bible encyclopedia tells us ‘In Bible times, prisons were dirty, dark, and awful. Sometimes they were just big underground pits. Prisoners were dropped in through a hole at the top. Then something was put over the hole so the prisoners were in complete darkness.’ The context tells us that the prison in which Joseph lived was part of the house of the captain of the guard (Genesis 39:20, 40:3) probably the basement, and Joseph himself calls the place where he was kept a ‘dungeon.’ “For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.’” He would be in charge of making sure everyone got some of the food that is thrown in through the hole or otherwise. He is in charge of making sure the latrine buckets are emptied daily. He is in charge of seeing the dead bodies removed as prisoners succumb to their injuries and beatings. Not exactly looking after Kate Middleton’s wardrobe, is it?
And yet Joseph focuses on the Lord and faithfully serves. God gives him success in all he does, and the prison ward pays no attention to ANYTHING under Joseph’s care. Joseph truly does all that he does to the glory of God.
Wow. What a hard and challenging lesson. I don’t know what your dreams and aspirations are. I don’t know where you find yourself today, or where you thought you’d be by now. But I can ask myself this: Whether I am in a prison overseeing the emptying of latrine buckets (and that could include emptying them myself if my fellow prisoners refuse) or serving in the very household of the Pharaoh of the land, do I do it all to the glory of God? Another challenging lesson from the life of Joseph.