Pride Goes Before the Fall

1 In the eleventh year, in the third month, on the first day of the month, the word of the Lord came to me: “Son of man, say to Pharaoh king of Egypt and to his multitude:

“Whom are you like in your greatness?
    Behold, Assyria was a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade,
    and of towering height,
    its top among the clouds.
The waters nourished it;
    the deep made it grow tall,
making its rivers flow
    around the place of its planting,
sending forth its streams
    to all the trees of the field.
So it towered high
    above all the trees of the field;
its boughs grew large
    and its branches long
    from abundant water in its shoots.
All the birds of the heavens
    made their nests in its boughs;
under its branches all the beasts of the field
    gave birth to their young,
and under its shadow
    lived all great nations.
It was beautiful in its greatness,
    in the length of its branches;
for its roots went down
    to abundant waters.
The cedars in the garden of God could not rival it,
    nor the fir trees equal its boughs;
neither were the plane trees
    like its branches;
no tree in the garden of God
    was its equal in beauty.
I made it beautiful
    in the mass of its branches,
and all the trees of Eden envied it,
    that were in the garden of God.

10 “Therefore thus says the Lord God: Because it towered high and set its top among the clouds, and its heart was proud of its height, 11 I will give it into the hand of a mighty one of the nations. He shall surely deal with it as its wickedness deserves. I have cast it out. 12 Foreigners, the most ruthless of nations, have cut it down and left it. On the mountains and in all the valleys its branches have fallen, and its boughs have been broken in all the ravines of the land, and all the peoples of the earth have gone away from its shadow and left it. 13 On its fallen trunk dwell all the birds of the heavens, and on its branches are all the beasts of the field. 14 All this is in order that no trees by the waters may grow to towering height or set their tops among the clouds, and that no trees that drink water may reach up to them in height. For they are all given over to death, to the world below, among the children of man, with those who go down to the pit.

15 “Thus says the Lord God: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. 16 I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. 17 They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations.

18 “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword.

“This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.” Ezekiel 31:1-18 ESV

The Egyptians had a pride problem. They had enjoyed a long tenure as a world superpower and had grown accustomed to throwing their weight around. But their days of glory were about to come to an ignominious end. While they still considered themselves to be a major player on the global stage, God held a different opinion. He invites them to consider the Assyrians, whom He compares to “a cedar in Lebanon,
with beautiful branches and forest shade, and of towering height” (Ezekiel 31:3 ESV). This well-watered “tree” thrived and grew to unimaginable heights, towering  “high above all the trees of the field” (Ezekiel 31:5 ESV).

This horticultural metaphor portrays the Assyrian empire as a towering tree that overshadows every other tree in the forest. The upstart Assyrians had asserted their influence in a major way, having expanded their domain throughout that region of the world. At one point, they had no rival and faced no threat to their hegemony. Like the Egyptians, they reveled in their military superiority and took pride in their seeming invincibility. And God took full credit for their meteoric rise to power and prominence.

“Because I made this tree so beautiful,
    and gave it such magnificent foliage,
it was the envy of all the other trees of Eden,
    the garden of God.” – Ezekiel 31:9 NLT

They could not claim responsibility for the dominating nature of their expansion. It had all been God’s doing. He had sovereignty ordained their global expansion, even ordering their invasion of Egypt and the destruction of Thebes 45 years earlier in 633 B.C. The prophet, Nahum, describes the fall of Thebes in graphic detail.

Are you any better than the city of Thebes,
    situated on the Nile River, surrounded by water?
She was protected by the river on all sides,
    walled in by water.
Ethiopia and the land of Egypt
    gave unlimited assistance.
The nations of Put and Libya
    were among her allies.
Yet Thebes fell,
    and her people were led away as captives.
Her babies were dashed to death
    against the stones of the streets.
Soldiers threw dice to get Egyptian officers as servants.
    All their leaders were bound in chains. – Nahum 3:8-10 NLT

What right did the Egyptians have to boast of their great power when they had fallen to the Assyrians? And what hope did the Egyptians have of escaping the Babylonians, the very nation that had destroyed and supplanted the Assyrians? Nebuchadnezzar’s forces had thoroughly trounced the mighty Assyrian army at Haran in 609 B.C., effectively bringing an end to the Assyrian empire.

God hates pride in all its forms. And His hatred of pride is expressed throughout the Scriptures.

Pride goes before destruction, and haughtiness before a fall. – Proverbs 16:18 NLT

Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.  – Proverbs 11: 2 NLT

But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” – James 4:6 NIV

All throughout the Old Testament, God speaks of Israel’s arrogance and pride. He blasts them for their extreme self-importance and attitude of insufferable self-worth. God hates pride in His people, but He won’t tolerate it among the nations either. Pride is what caused Satan’s fall. Just before God cast him out of heaven, Satan’s attitude reflected his unparalleled pride and arrogance.

“For you said to yourself, ‘I will ascend to heaven and set my throne above God’s stars. I will preside on the mountain of the gods far away in the north. I will climb to the highest heavens and be like the Most High.'” – Isaiah 14:13-14 NLT

He wanted to be like God. It was the same temptation he used on Adam and Eve in the garden.

The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” – Genesis 3:4-5 NASB

Self-reliance and independence lay at the root of pride. We begin to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We begin to believe our own press and think that we are something special. Our seeming successes only act to feed our insatiable thirst for recognition, reward, and self-advancement. We even begin to take credit for what God has done and all those things He has made it possible for us to do. You see this reflected in the words of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as he stood gazing over his royal capital from his palace balcony.

“Look at this great city of Babylon! By my own mighty power, I have built this beautiful city as my royal residence to display my majestic splendor.” – Daniel 4:30 NLT

At that very moment, God took away Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom as well as his sanity. And it wasn’t until he looked up and acknowledged the rule and reign of God, that his sanity returned.

In today’s reading, we see God’s anger expressed toward Egypt for her pride and arrogance. Even nations can exhibit an over-inflated sense of self-worth. And Egypt suffered from the same case of bloated ego as the Assyrians. Assyria had once been beautiful, strong, self-reliant, and the envy of the nations. But they had fallen. And so would Egypt. Both failed to recognize that their beauty and greatness were God’s doing, not their own. God had given them their lofty position, and He could remove them from it. God had already used the Babylonians to defeat the Assyrians, and now he would use the very same nation to knock the props out from under Egypt.

Humility is a rare commodity these days. Even among believers. We tend to think more highly of ourselves than we ought to. We take credit for things that are the result of God’s handiwork and not our own. We compare and contrast ourselves with others, looking for those with whom we stack up positively. We want to come out on the winning side, so we look for those with more flaws and weaknesses than we possess. We celebrate their failures and revel in our own successes. But Paul warns us, “Don’t think you are better than you really are. Be honest in your evaluation of yourselves, measuring yourselves by the faith God has given us” (Romans 12:3 NLT).

Egypt’s pride was going to be its downfall. Its arrogance would bring about its demise. Because God hates pride. But He loves to extend His grace to the humble. When we refuse to lift up ourselves and, instead, give Him the credit, we receive His grace. He exalts us at the proper time and in the proper way. Peter put it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. – 1 Peter 5:6 NIV

It is far better to humble ourselves than to be humbled by God. It is far healthier to let God exalt us when and how He sees fit than to attempt to preemptively promote ourselves. Because God hates pride.

And God makes sure to clarify for Ezekiel that Egypt’s fate will be just like that of Assyria. There was no reason for the Jews living in Judah or in exile in Babylon to place any hope in receiving salvation from the Egyptians because their days were numbered and their fate was sealed.

“O Egypt, to which of the trees of Eden will you compare your strength and glory? You, too, will be brought down to the depths with all these other nations. You will lie there among the outcasts who have died by the sword. This will be the fate of Pharaoh and all his hordes. I, the Sovereign Lord, have spoken!” – Ezekiel 31:18 NLT

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Beginning, Not the End

1 Then Joseph fell on his father’s face and wept over him and kissed him. And Joseph commanded his servants the physicians to embalm his father. So the physicians embalmed Israel. Forty days were required for it, for that is how many are required for embalming. And the Egyptians wept for him seventy days.

And when the days of weeping for him were past, Joseph spoke to the household of Pharaoh, saying, “If now I have found favor in your eyes, please speak in the ears of Pharaoh, saying, ‘My father made me swear, saying, “I am about to die: in my tomb that I hewed out for myself in the land of Canaan, there shall you bury me.” Now therefore, let me please go up and bury my father. Then I will return.’” And Pharaoh answered, “Go up, and bury your father, as he made you swear.” So Joseph went up to bury his father. With him went up all the servants of Pharaoh, the elders of his household, and all the elders of the land of Egypt, as well as all the household of Joseph, his brothers, and his father’s household. Only their children, their flocks, and their herds were left in the land of Goshen. And there went up with him both chariots and horsemen. It was a very great company. 10 When they came to the threshing floor of Atad, which is beyond the Jordan, they lamented there with a very great and grievous lamentation, and he made a mourning for his father seven days. 11 When the inhabitants of the land, the Canaanites, saw the mourning on the threshing floor of Atad, they said, “This is a grievous mourning by the Egyptians.” Therefore the place was named Abel-mizraim; it is beyond the Jordan. 12 Thus his sons did for him as he had commanded them, 13 for his sons carried him to the land of Canaan and buried him in the cave of the field at Machpelah, to the east of Mamre, which Abraham bought with the field from Ephron the Hittite to possess as a burying place. – Genesis 50:1-13 ESV

Jacob’s last dying wish was for his body to be taken back to Canaan and placed in the Cave of Machpelah near Hebron, the land purchased by Abraham as a burial plot for his wife, Sarah (Genesis23:10-20). That land had remained in the possession of Abraham’s descendants and became the official family burial plot, containing the bones of Sarah, Abraham, Isaac, Rebecca, Jacob, and his second wife, Leah. His first wife, Rachel, had been buried near Bethlehem, not long after Jacob’s return from Mesopotamia.

Now, it was time for Jacob’s bones to be placed alongside those of his deceased family members. So, Joseph sent news to Pharaoh, informing him of his father’s passing and requesting a  leave of absence from his official administrative duties so that he might return to Canaan and bury his father. Pharaoh graciously agreed to Joseph’s request, but nearly two-and-a-half months would pass before Joseph was ready to make the long journey home.

Joseph ordered his personal physicians to prepare his father’s body for burial, using the traditional Egyptian method of embalmment, which most likely included mummification. The elaborate and laborious process of embalmment took 40 days to complete but would have properly preserved the body of Jacob for its long journey back to Canaan. And Jacob’s return trip back to the land of promise would be radically different than the one he had made 17 years earlier. On that occasion, his small entourage had consisted of only 70 family members, and he had come in fear and trembling, an insignificant Hebrew in hopes of saving his family from famine.

But this trip was marked by pomp and circumstance. In death, Jacob was treated like a king and given a royal funeral procession fitting for a Pharaoh. In fact, the people of Egypt showed their deep respect for Jacob by mourning his death for 70 days, one day less than they would have mourned the death of a Pharaoh. And when the time came to make the journey back to Canaan, Joseph and his brothers were accompanied by a host of Egyptian officials and dignitaries.

So Joseph went up to bury his father. He was accompanied by all of Pharaoh’s officials, all the senior members of Pharaoh’s household, and all the senior officers of Egypt. Joseph also took his entire household and his brothers and their households. But they left their little children and flocks and herds in the land of Goshen. A great number of chariots and charioteers accompanied Joseph. – Genesis 50:7-9 NLT

This strange scene seems to foreshadow a number of significant events in Israel’s future, and the original readers of Moses’ book would have made at least one of the connections. The audience to whom Moses addressed his historical narrative were the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And, at the time they read this chronology of their own history, they were preparing to enter the land of Canaan, having been delivered by God from their 400-year captivity in Egypt. And they would have seen the similarities between their exodus from Egypt and that of Jacob’s elaborate funeral procession. In the book of Exodus, Moses recorded the day when the people of Israel walked out of Egypt as free men.

When Pharaoh finally let the people go, God did not lead them along the main road that runs through Philistine territory, even though that was the shortest route to the Promised Land. God said, “If the people are faced with a battle, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.” So God led them in a roundabout way through the wilderness toward the Red Sea. Thus the Israelites left Egypt like an army ready for battle.

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him, for Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear to do this. He said, “God will certainly come to help you. When he does, you must take my bones with you from this place.” – Exodus 13:17-19 NLT

That too had been a funeral procession, but it had also been a celebratory occasion, as the people of Israel walked out a mighty army prepared for battle. Estimates are, that over the four centuries they had been in Egypt, they had multiplied greatly so that when they left, they were probably well over a million in number. Moses indicates that there were “six hundred thousand men on foot, besides women and children” (Exodus 12:13 ESV). And they didn’t go alone.

A rabble of non-Israelites went with them, along with great flocks and herds of livestock. – Exodus 12:38 NLT

Not only that, but the Israelites left Egypt loaded down with great wealth, provided to them by the Egyptians, but according to the sovereign will of God Almighty.

The Lord caused the Egyptians to look favorably on the Israelites, and they gave the Israelites whatever they asked for. So they stripped the Egyptians of their wealth! – Exodus 12:36 NLT

The funeral procession of Jacob foreshadowed the exodus of the people of Israel, an event that would take place more than four centuries later.

But there is a second event foreshadowed by Jacob’s funeral that Moses’ readers would not have recognized because it had not yet happened. And that will be the future exaltation and reverent treatment that an offspring of Jacob will one day receive. Jesus, as a descendant of Jacob, will also be shown great honor and respect. But it will not be because of His passing, but it will be due to His long-awaited second coming. According to the apostle Paul, even after Jesus ascended into heaven after His death and resurrection, He was afforded great honor and glory.

Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. – Philippians 2:9-11 ESV

But the day is coming when Jesus will return and be afforded even greater honor as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Paul discussed this reality in his letter to the believers in Rome.

For the Scriptures say,

“‘As surely as I live,’ says the Lord,
‘every knee will bend to me,
    and every tongue will declare allegiance to God.’” – Romans 14:11 NLT

Jacob was honored in death. But Jesus will be honored in life. As a descendant of Abraham, born through the tribe of Judah (one of the sons of Jacob), Jesus fulfilled God’s promise to produce a king from Jacob’s family tree.

“Your name is Jacob; no longer shall your name be called Jacob, but Israel shall be your name.” So he called his name Israel. And God said to him, “I am God Almighty: be fruitful and multiply. A nation and a company of nations shall come from you, and kings shall come from your own body. – Genesis 35:10-11 ESV

And that King will one day rule over the New Jerusalem, God’s eternal kingdom which will descend from heaven to earth, and all the nations of the earth will honor the one true King in his never-ending kingdom.

I saw no temple in the city, for the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb are its temple. And the city has no need of sun or moon, for the glory of God illuminates the city, and the Lamb is its light. The nations will walk in its light, and the kings of the world will enter the city in all their glory. Its gates will never be closed at the end of day because there is no night there. And all the nations will bring their glory and honor into the city. Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. – Revelation 21:22-27 NLT

So, there is far more to Jacob’s death and funeral than meets the eye. Like the rest of the story of his life, it is a representation of God’s sovereign will and providential provision for His people. Jacob’s death was not the end, but only the beginning of great things yet to come.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

God’s Man With the Plan

37 This proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. 38 And Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. 40 You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” 41 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh, and without your consent no one shall lift up hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” 45 And Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. So Joseph went out over the land of Egypt.

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. 47 During the seven plentiful years the earth produced abundantly, 48 and he gathered up all the food of these seven years, which occurred in the land of Egypt, and put the food in the cities. He put in every city the food from the fields around it. 49 And Joseph stored up grain in great abundance, like the sand of the sea, until he ceased to measure it, for it could not be measured.

50 Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph. Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh. “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” 52 The name of the second he called Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

53 The seven years of plenty that occurred in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began to come, as Joseph had said. There was famine in all lands, but in all the land of Egypt there was bread. 55 When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph. What he says to you, do.”

56 So when the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Moreover, all the earth came to Egypt to Joseph to buy grain, because the famine was severe over all the earth. – Genesis 41:37-57 ESV

With his successful interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph’s fortunes were about to take a dramatic turn for the better. There would be no return to the prison or his former life of slavery. Instead, he would find himself appointed to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt. Pharaoh had been greatly impressed by Joseph’s wisdom and insight and seemed to believe that this young man had a divine anointing.

“Can we find anyone else like this man so obviously filled with the spirit of God?” – Genesis 41:38 NLT

This statement was not a confession of belief in Yahweh, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is unlikely that Pharaoh knew anything about the God of the Israelites. He simply believed that Joseph had supernatural powers that were attributable to some divine source. It appears that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be possessed by and under the influence of some unknown deity. He acknowledged that Joseph’s superior intellect and wisdom had to be divinely inspired. There have been some scholars who suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph was actually a diety in human form. They use the name given to Joseph by Pharaoh as possible evidence.

Pharaoh called Joseph’s name Zaphenath-paneah. And he gave him in marriage Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On. – Genesis 41:45 ESVR

The exact meaning of Joseph’s Egyptian name has been hotly debated and remains unconfirmed. But one intriguing suggestion has been “the god speaks and lives.” The very fact that Pharaoh elevated Joseph so quickly and bestowed on him such high honors would seem to indicate that he viewed this young Hebrew as much more than just another wise man. He had plenty of those in his royal court and they had proved to be useless in solving the riddle of his dreams.

Joseph’s meteoric rise to power and prominence must have shocked Joseph. In a matter of minutes, his entire life had been turned upside down. This former household slave and prisoner now had power and possessions beyond belief. Pharaoh rewarded him with expensive gifts and arranged a marriage between Joseph and the daughter of a high-ranking priest.  This “religious” marriage seems to further suggest that Pharaoh believed Joseph to be some kind of deity. His Egyptian wife’s name lends further evidence to this idea. One interpretation for its meaning is “she belongs to the goddess Neit.” It may be that Asenath was also viewed as a child of the gods and that Pharaoh was arranging a special marriage between what he believed to be two deified human beings.

But regardless of what Pharaoh’s beliefs and motives might have been, his intentions are perfectly clear. He was placing this young foreigner in a position of great power and influence. In a sense, Joseph was one step away from the throne of Egypt. And as a symbol of his limitless authority, Joseph was given a signet ring that bore the royal seal and carried with it the full backing of Pharoah.

“You will be in charge of my court, and all my people will take orders from you. Only I, sitting on my throne, will have a rank higher than yours.” – Genesis 41:40 NLT

Joseph was placed in a royal chariot and paraded around the streets of the royal capital, with Egyptian soldiers commanding all the onlookers to kneel down before him. This forced display of honor and obeisance was meant to let the people know that Joseph was due all the respect of Pharaoh, whom they believed to be a god. Joseph was to be treated with the same level of reverence and awe, and anything he said was to be taken as divinely inspired and worthy of obedience. And Pharaoh clearly articulated the unparalleled nature of Joseph’s authority when he said, “I am Pharaoh, but no one will lift a hand or foot in the entire land of Egypt without your approval” (Genesis 41:44 NLT).

Joseph was 30-years old when he assumed this new position as Pharaoh’s right-hand man, and he wasted no time in implementing the advice he had given when he had interpreted the dreams. Joseph began a tour of the land of Egypt, assessing the status of the royal agricultural and livestock capacities. Based on the divinely inspired meaning of the dreams, Joseph knew he had seven years to increase production in order to prepare for the seven years of famine that were to come. And, just as God has said would happen, the first seven years were marked by remarkable bounty and blessing.

As predicted, for seven years the land produced bumper crops. During those years, Joseph gathered all the crops grown in Egypt and stored the grain from the surrounding fields in the cities. He piled up huge amounts of grain like sand on the seashore. Finally, he stopped keeping records because there was too much to measure. – Genesis 41:47-49 NLT

God was faithfully fulfilling the words He had spoken through Joseph. And, not only that, God was blessing Jacob, rewarding him with two sons. In naming his boys, Joseph attempted to convey his gratitude to God for all that He had done. The name Manasseh means “he who brings about forgetfulness.” This young child was a loving reminder from God that Joseph’s difficult past was to be forgotten. There was a much brighter and far more important future out ahead. The name Ephraim means “to bear fruit,” and reflects Joseph’s belief that God had not only bestowed fruitfulness to the land but on his life as well. Despite his immense wealth and potentially pride-producing power, Joseph never lost sight of God’s authority over his life. He was fully aware that his promotion had been God’s doing and that he was enjoying the undeserved blessings of God’s divine favor.

But just as God had warned, the seven years of plenty were quickly followed by seven years of intense and widely dispersed famine. This divinely ordained disaster spread throughout the land of Egypt and beyond, and its impact was devastating. Without grain, the people were unable to eat or feed their livestock, and soon, they were forced to turn to the government for assistance. But because Joseph had done his work, the royal warehouses were filled and he had more than enough supply to meet the growing demand.

And, as has been so readily apparent throughout the story of Joseph’s life, the sovereign hand of God was at work behind the scenes, preparing for the next phase of His divine plan. This famine was not localized, but “was severe over all the earth” (Genesis 41:57 ESV). People all throughout the surrounding regions were suffering the same fate as the Egyptians, but they had not been warned or been able to prepare for this unforeseen disaster. They didn’t have the luxury of a godly leader like Joseph who could have helped them take advantage of the seven years of bounty. So, when the famine hit, they were left with empty grains bins and nothing to feed their starving herds and flocks. And, before long, they heard the rumors about food in Egypt and made the long and arduous journey to find help in their time of need. And there in the land of the Pharaohs, they discovered Joseph, who “opened up the storehouses and distributed grain” (Genesis 41:57 NLT).

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

New English Translation (NET)NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2017 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://netbible.com All rights reserved.

 

The Lord Made It Succeed

19 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. 20 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. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 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. 23 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

Angered by Joseph’s repeated refusals to accommodate her sexual advances, Potiphar’s humiliated wife falsely and maliciously accused him of attempted rape. And her husband, shocked but also angered by this news, was forced to confine Joseph to prison. Had the master truly believed in Joseph’s guilt, it is likely he would have ordered his execution. After all, for a common slave to attempt to violate his master’s wife would have been a crime worthy of death. Considered to be little more than personal property, a slave had no rights and his life was in the hand of his master. But rather than having Joseph executed for this egregious crime, Potiphar chose to spare his life by confining him to prison.

This echoes the treatment Joseph had received at the hands of his brothers. When he had shown up in Dothan, their first response had been to put him to death.

“Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” – Genesis 37:19-20 ESV

But Reuben had intervened and spared Joseph’s life. Rather than committing murder, he suggested that they confine Joseph to an empty cistern, where he would be left to die of natural causes. Reuben had hoped to come back later and rescue Joseph. But before he could do so, Judah convinced his brothers to sell Joseph to Ishmaelite traders. And that sale had resulted in Joseph’s purchase by Potiphar, which eventually led to his imprisonment for a crime of which he was completely innocent. But, as before, Joseph was spared from death.

While preferable to capital punishment, Joseph’s imprisonment was still undeserved and would have been a far-from-pleasant experience. Yet, Moses points out that “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). This theme runs throughout the entire  narrative found in chapter 10. God had been the one to protect Joseph from the murderous intentions of his brothers. And God had been behind Joseph’s sale to the Ishmaelites and his eventual purchase by Potiphar. None of this was blind luck or a case of cosmic karma.

The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. – Genesis 39:2-3 ESV

God had orchestrated every facet of this story, including Joseph’s imprisonment in the facility reserved solely for the king’s prisoners. This factor will become more important and pertinent as chapter 40 unfolds. But suffice it to say that each and every sequence of this story took place according to the sovereign plan of God.

Just as God had shown Joseph favor in the eyes of Potiphar, He also elevated Joseph in the eyes of the prison’s warden.

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

This innocent young man displayed an uncanny knack for leadership that led the warden to place all the prisoners under Joseph’s supervision. And before long, Joseph found himself functioning more as a prison administrator than a prisoner. He wielded power, authority, and great influence. He had entered as a common criminal but, before he knew it, Joseph was functioning as the second most powerful man in the entire prison.

The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. – Genesis 39:23 NLT

Prison walls were an insufficient barrier against the sovereign hand of God. The vindictive plans of a bitter woman could not derail God’s plans for His child. God’s love for Joseph was far superior to anything Potiphar or his wife could try to do to him. As the psalmist wrote, “The LORD is for me, so I will have no fear. What can mere people do to me?” (Psalm 118:6 NLT). They could falsely accuse Joseph. They could imprison him. They could even threaten to take his life. But as the apostle Paul so aptly put it:

“If God is for us, who can ever be against us?” – Genesis 8:31 NLT

And Paul would go on to remind his readers that God’s love for His children was inseparable and unwavering.

I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 8:38-39 NLT

God, out of His marvelous love and mercy, was making Joseph a success – even in prison. He was protecting Joseph’s life, expanding his influence, and preparing him for the next phase of his God-ordained journey. The prison would prove to be a doorway to freedom, a portal to salvation, and a divine pathway to Israel’s promised future. No one would have seen this coming, including Joseph. Potiphar and his wife will disappear into the pages of ancient history, never to be heard from again. Joseph’s brothers will go on with their lives, oblivious of Joseph’s fate and ignorant of their own pre-ordained destiny with drought and famine.

Little did Joseph know that his unexpected and undeserved imprisonment would foreshadow another captivity to come. This son of Abraham would become a symbol for the descendants of Abraham who would one day find themselves also living as captives in the land of Egypt. And they too would discover that, despite their unpleasant circumstances, God was with them. The God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob would step into the darkness of their predicament and turn their seeming failure into success.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

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