As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:19-23 ESV
Have you ever felt alone? Has there ever been a time in your life when it seemed as if God had abandoned you ? Those dark moments of the soul can be difficult to handle. When your world feels like it is collapsing in on you and your God has turned His back on you, it is easy to give in to despair. It is even possible to allow what appears to be God’s rejection of you to lead to your resentment of Him.
The story of Joseph provides us with a glimpse into the painful reality of life on this planet. Even as the favorite son of his father and a descendant of Abraham himself, Joseph was not immune to the difficulties of life. He was sold by his own brothers into slavery. He was bought on the slave block by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. But while in Potiphar’s home, the Lord was with Joseph, and he succeeded in all that he did. The blessing of God was upon him and Potiphar senses it, eventually placing Joseph over all of his household. But things took a dramatic turn for the worse when Pharaoh’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph and he repeatedly turned her down. Finally, in revenge, she accused him of attempted rape. That is when Joseph’s young life took another dramatic turn.
Potiphar was furious and had Joseph thrown into prison. No trial. No due process. No innocent until proven guilty. It all happened so fast, it had to have left Joseph’s head spinning and his mind reeling with thoughts of “here we go again!” The first time, Joseph had been stripped of his cloak and thrown into a cistern. Now he finds himself stripped of his position and thrown into prison. And in both cases, he had been completely innocent. Where was God? Why had He let this happen? Joseph had done the right thing by rejecting the immoral overtures of Potiphar’s wife, and yet he was the one suffering in prison. Even as we read this story, it is easy for us to focus all our attention of Joseph’s circumstances and assume that something is wrong, that God has somehow abandoned Joseph. Evil appears to be getting the upper hand. And yet, Moses reminds us, “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).
Yes, even in the prison, God was with Joseph. God’s presence is never limited by our circumstances or surroundings. Yet we tend to think that the good times are the best indicator of God’s blessing. We seem to believe that any difficulties that come into our lives are either an indication of God’s displeasure with us or a sign that He has distanced Himself from us. And yet, King David provides us with these comforting words:
I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT
Even if we wanted to get away from God, we couldn’t. So why would we think that our circumstances are proof that God has given up on us? The only thing that had changed for Joseph was his location. He had gone from Potiphar’s house to prison. His accommodations had changed, but not his relationship with God. His employment status had changed, but not status as a child of God. The Lord was with Joseph – even in prison. Just as the Lord had been with Joseph in the cistern. He was never alone. His master had fallen out of love with him, but not his God. His brothers had abandoned him, but not his heavenly Father.
And God continued to bless Joseph, not by providing him with an immediate escape plan from prison, but by making him successful in prison. God used what appeared to be a less-than-ideal situation to accomplish produce a better-than-could-be-expected outcome. He had a plan for Joseph and his imprisonment was an important part of that plan. What is important for us to recognize is that Joseph seems to have spent no time having a personal pity party. He simply went to work. Just as he had in Potiphar’s house, Joseph showed himself to be a diligent and faithful worker. And before you know it, the warden elevated Joseph to a position of prominence and importance. The text tells us, “the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it” (Genesis 39:22 ESV). He saw something in Joseph’s character that impressed him. He found Joseph to be an ideal prisoner and an individual he could trust. Joseph’s character had not been changed by his circumstances. He was still faithful to his God and his God was faithful to him. “And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23 ESV).
Too often, we judge the presence and power of our God based on the comfort and convenience of our circumstances. If all is going well, God must love us and be with us. If anything goes wrong, we immediately assume He is angry with us or turned His back on us. But He is always with us. He never leaves us or forsakes us. Even Jesus told His disciples that their circumstances were going to get worse before they got better. Their lives, after His departure, were going to be marked by difficulty. But God would be with them. The trials they would soon face would not be a sign of God’s abandonment of them, but of His work being done through them.
“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.” – Luke 21:12-19 NLT
Betrayed by those closest to you. Unjustly thrown into prison. Hated and despised. But what does Jesus say? Stand firm. God would be in the midst of it all. In time, the circumstances would become proof of God’s presence, not His absence. Joseph was learning that God was with him, even in the worst of times.