“Expressions of Hope” in Joseph’s Story

This series of devotions from the life of Joseph is featured in our Expressions of Hope newsletter. You can subscribe here, or view the full devotional series here

When Purity and Faith are Tested

Last we saw (Genesis 37), Joseph the Dreamer was taken from the pit and sold to slave traders headed for Egypt. They, in turn, sold Joseph to powerful Potiphar (39:1), a fortunate break that allowed Joseph to showcase his true character and stewardship skills. As he rose in rank to become an overseer in Potiphar’s palatial household, it became obvious “the Lord was with Joseph,” and “blessing him” with success (39:2–6).

But behind Joseph’s rise in stature and freedom lay grave danger (39:7–12). With increased responsibility and trust came exposure to the persistent, alluring Mrs. Potiphar. Yet a blessed Joseph resists her embrace and instead embraces righteousness.

You might think that once Joseph made it outdoors—outside the tempting grasp of Potiphar’s wife, keeping his social distance from her—that the coast would be clear, that he’d be home free without suffering any further ramifications. But you’d be wrong. Instead, Mrs. Potiphar alleges sexual assault. Falsely charged, Joseph is removed as overseer of Potiphar’s household and thrown into Potiphar’s prison (39:19–20).

From pit to palace to prison: Joseph now manages unkempt, ungrateful inmates—a comedown from Potiphar’s household of doting, dutiful servants. Yet God accompanies Joseph and prospers him in prison, much as before (39:21–23; compare 39:2–6).

While God granted Joseph success in whatever he did, this chapter of his life ends with yet another twist and valuable lesson. See for yourself as you scan Genesis 39. Then read Genesis 40 in context and imagine yourself in Joseph’s place—but without knowing the end from the beginning. Joseph didn’t know that the entrapment by a scorned Mrs. Potiphar and imprisonment by an angry Mr. Potiphar—evil actions meant as revenge—will yet turn out for good. All he knew at this point is that he had done right, and he still landed in jail, forgotten (40:15, 23).

Is that just? Shouldn’t doing the right thing when temptation hit get Joseph off the hook? How do we explain righteous Joseph being mistreated, losing privileges and freedom, isolated and utterly forgotten—even betrayed? Surely Joseph must have asked such questions.

So, what will Joseph do? What will God do?

While his physical liberties were restricted, Joseph refused to live under emotional or spiritual confinement. Joseph chose to trust God. Hence, God used him in ministry to others also confined as he was—notably, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker. We, too, can choose to trust God, even as we face the confinement of lockdown conditions that keep us from going to church or visiting relatives.

Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker both had troubling dreams, the interpretations of which God gave to Joseph (40:5–8). After interpreting the dreams of his fellow inmates, Joseph asked the cupbearer to put in a good word for him with the king (40:14). But the cupbearer forgot Joseph (40:23), whose confinement then lasted two more years.

Joseph’s problem—and ours: “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man” (Psalm 118:8). We intuitively know this to be true, that trusting man is fraught with more peril than promise, but it is hard to put this principle into practice. We often over-promise and under-deliver, and so do those we rely on for guidance or collaboration. Media outlets, Google searches, gut hunches, our wildest dreams, and advice from friends—all such ways of “trusting in man” can prove unreliable. Better to turn to God in prayer first, wait for confirming signs, and align all your findings and outcomes with Scripture.

When others fail us, sadly, disillusionment sets in. The reverse is also true: When we trust solely in God, then disillusionment is lifted.

God is with us, much as with Joseph. These words of hope are not a protective bubble that renders us immune to temptation or disillusionment or the effects of COVID-19. Rather, “God with us” means that we can trust that he intercedes in times of temptations and discouragement. Whether you find yourself in the pit of despair or caught up in palace intrigue, God may not deliver you from that right away, but he will be with you.

Joseph passed the purity test. Will he now pass the faith test?

Injustice is all too common in this fallen world, but we can choose faith—by which we can endure whatever happens to us today or tomorrow, whether fair or foul.

In God’s hands, the test becomes our testimony and the mess becomes our message. This is true in Joseph’s life, as we shall see—what about in yours?  Pray about that.

Dietrich Gruen

Dietrich Gruen writes staff spotlights and devotions for JAARS. He currently lives in Madison, WI, where he is a free-lance writer and benevolence fund coordinator for a church serving those displaced and impoverished by COVID-19.