Genesis 39-40, Matthew 20

A Ransom For Many.

Genesis 39-40, Matthew 20

 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit. – Genesis 40:15 ESV

Joseph had plenty to complain about. His life had not exactly been easy lately. He went from being thrown into a pit by his brothers and listening to them plot to kill him to being sold into slavery. Then just about when things were taking a turn for the better, he gets falsely accused of attempted rape and is thrown in prison. He had gone from favorite son, wearing fancy robes and enjoying the special favor of his father, to a prisoner in the land of Egypt. But God had a purpose behind it all. There is a divine plan being worked out in ways that even Joseph is not able to comprehend. .

What does this passage reveal about God?

It was not a coincidence that Joseph was sold to Potiphar and that his wife had a near-fatal attraction to him. Moses makes it clear that “The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master” (Genesis 39:2 ESV). Even Potiphar saw the hand of God on Joseph’s life and he made Joseph overseer of all that he had. Potiphar benefited from Joseph’s presence in his home. “…the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had in house and field” (Genesis 39:5 ESV). Joseph was a good-looking, successful young man, and Potiphar’s wife took notice. She also tried to take advantage of him, continually pressing him to commit adultery with her. But Joseph repeatedly refused her advances, saying, “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 ESV). God was blessing and protecting Joseph. God equipped this young man with a realistic understanding of sin and a healthy fear of Himself.

The next thing Joseph knows, he is in prison, falsely accused and suffering an undeserved punishment again. But God was there. Once again, Joseph prospers, even in less-than-ideal circumstances. God was with him. “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21 ESV). It wasn’t happenstance that Joseph ended up a slave to Potiphar, who just happened to work for Pharaoh. When Joseph was thrown in prison, he didn’t end up in just any Egyptian prison; he was placed “where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). That point was important to Moses because it was important to the story. It was in the king’s prison that Joseph would meet two men who worked directly for Pharaoh. God would give Joseph the ability to interpret their dreams, something he had apparently never been able to do before. And one of those men would prove vital to the next step in Joseph’s personal journey of faith and fate at the hands of God.

What does this passage reveal about man?

Potiphar was a powerful man. His wife was a passionate woman. The prison warden literally held the keys to men’s lives. The baker and the cupbearer were two men guilty of crimes against the state. And they were all instruments in the hands of God. Each was acting under their own influence, making decisions and creating circumstances by the choices they had made. But God was behind each moment, divinely orchestrating the outcome of even their most sinful choices. Potiphar’s wife would give in to her seemingly uncontrolled passions and pursue an immoral relationship with Joseph. When her pride was hurt by Joseph’s refusal, she would lash out in anger and revenge, having an innocent man thrown in prison. Her vanity would make her vengeful. Potiphar would exercise his power and have Joseph thrown in prison. He would sacrifice the obvious blessings of God in order to prove his power over man. The prison warden would take advantage of Joseph’s presence in order to make his own life easier, putting Joseph in charge of all the inmates in the prison. His apparent laziness would put Joseph right where God wanted him. The cupbearer, grateful for Joseph’s positive interpretation of his dream, promptly forgets about Joseph when he gains his freedom and his old job back. Each of these people exhibits the characteristics so common among men. They are self-centered and selfish. They are motivated by their own self-interest and self-preservation. Their lives constantly revolve around themselves and they tend to view the world in terms of what they can get out of it. But God would take these self-possessed people and use them to accomplish His divine will for the greater good of mankind. And Joseph would be a central figure in that plan.

How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?

Over in Matthew 20, we have the famous words of Jesus: “But whoever would be great among you must be your servant,and whoever would be first among you must be your slave,even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Matthew 20:26-27 ESV). It’s interesting that in the story of Joseph, we see a young man who went from favorite son to slave. He went from enjoying the favor of his father to household servant and then a common prisoner. It is not clear that Joseph fully understood all that was happening to him, but he did honor and fear God. He trusted God to help him interpret the dreams of the two men in prison. He knew that God was with him and could sense His hands on his life. But he probably had no idea just how all the events in his life were going to be used by God to accomplish a much greater story that would impact the lives of men for generations to come. Like the disciples, I can spend far too much time worrying about my own significance. I want to play a major part in the story of life. I have no desire to be a bit player. The disciples wanted power, position and prestige. They wanted to sit in the seats of prominence in Christ’s kingdom. They wanted to be important. But Jesus told them that first they would have to serve, that the key to being first was being willing to be last. Jesus Himself would tell them, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45 ESV). In the story of Joseph, everyone was looking out for themselves. But Joseph had no capacity to look over himself. He had no control. So he simply served, and he served well. He did what he had to do wherever he found himself. He took whatever role he was given and did it with excellence. He was an excellent household slave. He was an ideal prisoner. He served and God prospered him. He blessed others and God blessed him. The closest thing we get to a complaint from the lips of Joseph was his statement to the cupbearer: “For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit” (Genesis 40:15 ESV). Joseph didn’t deny the unjust nature of his situation. He was fully aware of his innocence. But he didn’t waste time dwelling on it all. He simply served. He did what he had to do and he did it well. God was going to use Joseph in a powerful way in the days to come. But Joseph was content to be used right where he found himself, whether it was in the household of Potiphar or the prison of Pharaoh. I must learn to be content with where I am and serve where God has placed me. He has a plan. I have a job to do. I must serve where I am sovereignly placed.

Father, I don’t always like where I find myself. I don’t always find my circumstances enjoyable or the way I would prefer them. But give me the attitude of Joseph. Give me the mind of Christ. I want to learn to serve where I am and not worry so much about where I think I would like to be. My preferred future has no value compared to Your divine present for my life. Help me see each moment as providential and part of Your plan for my life. Amen.

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men