After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. – Genesis 41:1-8 ESV
Even for those of us who believe that God is in control and sovereign over all things, we sometimes lose patience when it comes to His sense of timing. We tell ourselves that He is at work behind the scenes and has a plan in place, but then we wonder what is taking Him so long to put that plan into place. The story of the life of Joseph should be a great reminder to us that God’s will for us may not always match our own, and the manner in which He intervenes in our trials may be anything but timely.
Chapter 40 ended with the words, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23 ESV). Joseph had interpreted the cupbearer’s dream and all he asked in return was that the cupbearer remember him and share his plight with Pharaoh. But then, chapter 41 opens up with the words, “After two whole years…” (Genesis 41:1a ESV). The space between these two chapters represents two full years of Joseph’s life. We are given no details of what went on during that time. He more than likely remained in charge of the other prisoners because he had found favor in the eyes of the warden (Genesis 39:21-22). But we are given no glimpse into the state of Joseph’s emotional or spiritual health during this time. Was he depressed? Had he become defeated and disillusioned with God over his long incarceration. We would understand if he had, because he was innocent. He had done nothing wrong. Even as we read the opening words of chapter 41, we find ourselves asking the question, “Why two years?” Surely, God could have moved faster and done something sooner to change Joseph’s circumstances.
But the story of Joseph is really the story of God’s sovereignty and providence. It has less to do with the specifics going on in Joseph’s life than it does with what God is doing behind the scenes as He orchestrates His plan to fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham.
I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.– Genesis 12:2 NLT
It is the same promise He repeated to Isaac.
Do not go down to Egypt, but do as I tell you. Live here as a foreigner in this land, and I will be with you and bless you. I hereby confirm that I will give all these lands to you and your descendants, just as I solemnly promised Abraham, your father. I will cause your descendants to become as numerous as the stars of the sky, and I will give them all these lands. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed. – Genesis 26:2-4 NLT
Isaac would then pass on this promise in the form of a blessing to his son, Jacob.
May God Almighty bless you and give you many children. And may your descendants multiply and become many nations! May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings he promised to Abraham. May you own this land where you are now living as a foreigner, for God gave this land to Abraham. – Genesis 28:3-4 NLT
And Jacob’s son, Joseph, was going to be instrumental in God fulfilling that promise. When Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, his family had been living in the land of Canaan. But they did not yet possess the land. It belonged to the Canaanites and an assortment of other people groups. Like his grandfather and father before him, Jacob was more or less a nomad or wanderer in the land. The promise of God had yet to be fully realized. And one could ask the same question: “What is taking God so long?” The delay seems unnecessary. After all, He is God. He can do what He wants, whenever and however He wants. But who are we to question the wisdom of God? The prophet Isaiah gives us some much-needed advice:
“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT
And God provides us with His own thoughts regarding our audacity to question His wisdom, timing, or methods.
“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 56:8-9 NLT
Joseph had to remain in prison two full years. Why? God does not tell us. But His ways are beyond anything we could imagine. Even if He told us, we would not understand. What right do we have to question His motives or methodologies? How arrogant and prideful for us to suggest that God might somehow be doing things wrong.
Joseph was sold by his brothers. He was falsely accused and thrown in prison. He was all but forgotten for two years. Job suffered the loss of all of his children, his wealth and even his health. Stephen was stone to death for sharing the gospel. Paul spent the majority of his most productive ministry years in prison. Jesus was hung on a cross for a crime He didn’t commit. The Bible is full of injustices and what appear to be apparent lapses in God’s sovereignty and power. But the story of the Bible is one of God’s divine plan being played out over time in perfect detail and according to His infinite wisdom. We may not understand it or even like it, but we can trust that God knows what He is doing. Joseph’s two-year wait was purposeful, not regretable. God’s delay was intentional, not insensitive. There is always a reason behind God’s seeming madness. There is a purpose behind all that seems purposeless and meaningless.
“After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed…” The wait was over. The divine plan was being unveiled. At just the right time. No sooner. No later. This story is about far more than Joseph’s imprisonment. It is about the promises of God and His faithful, unwavering commitment to do what He says He will do.
God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
– Numbers 23:19 ESV