A Providential Pit
When you’re in distressing circumstances, it’s hard to rest in God’s providence. Just ask the young married couple who recently buried their first child, or the mother who just learned her son has leukemia. Speak with the couple who is facing great financial loss after years of smart planning and saving. Talk to the woman who has just been served with divorce papers after finding out her husband is in love with another woman. Ask the man who is caring for his aging parents, watching them decline rapidly after serving God faithfully for a lifetime. Speak with the college student whose accident has impacted his or her life forever. Or talk to the young adult who is grieving over a broken engagement. In the midst of trials it is hard to remember that God is providentially bringing His purposes to pass through the very circumstances we are tempted to despise. But the story of Joseph’s life in Genesis 37 and 39-41 reminds us that we can trust God whether we’re in the pits or palaces of life.
From Pit to Potiphar
Joseph was the favored son of Jacob, so it’s no surprise that his brothers hated him. Their anger only intensified when Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father, and told his brothers about his dreams that revealed he would rule over them. One day, while on his way to check on his brothers for his father, Joseph’s brothers spotted him from afar and made a plan to kill him. But Reuben came up with a different plan to spare Joseph’s life. They would strip him and throw him into an empty pit with no food and no water.
While Reuben was away, likely tending the flocks, the other brothers saw a caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt, and Judah suggested they sell their brother. So they lifted Joseph out of the pit and sold him for a slave’s price. When Reuben returned he was greatly distressed (Gen. 37:30). Sadly, the brothers concealed their dirty deed with the blood of an animal. They dipped Joseph’s robe in the blood and showed it to their father, who concluded a fierce animal had devoured Joseph and deeply grieved the loss of his son. In the meantime, Joseph was sold in Egypt to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officers.
From Potiphar’s House to Prison
Although just a servant in Potiphar’s house, Joseph became very successful. It was no secret that the Lord was the reason for Joseph’s success. Even Potiphar knew this, which led him to entrust everything he had to Joseph’s charge. But one day that all changed. Potiphar’s wife, upset she could not attain Joseph to satisfy her sexual desires, lied to the men of her household, and then to her own husband, accusing Joseph of trying to rape her (Gen. 39:1-18). So Potiphar put Joseph in prison.
But the same Lord who was present with and prospered Joseph in Potiphar’s house was present with and prospered him in prison (Gen. 40:1-22). The keeper of the prison entrusted Joseph with all the prisoners. In God’s providence, two high officials (the king’s cupbearer and baker), came under Joseph’s charge. One night they both had a troubling dream, and God gave Joseph wisdom to interpret them. In three days the cupbearer would be restored to office and the baker would be hung. Joseph asked the cupbearer to bring his name before Pharaoh since he was suffering unjustly. But although Joseph’s interpretations came true, the cupbearer forgot about Joseph.
From Prison to Palace
By another act of God’s providence Joseph exited the prison and entered the palace (Gen. 41:1-57). God used two troubling dreams in Pharaoh’s life to prompt the cupbearer to remember Joseph and tell Pharaoh about him. Interested in his ability to correctly interpret dreams, Pharaoh immediately sent for him. Upon hearing Pharaoh’s dreams, Joseph replied, “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Gen. 41:25). Seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of famine in Egypt. Joseph also instructed Pharaoh in how to prepare for the feast and famine. Pharaoh, recognizing the Spirit of God in Joseph, promoted him above Potiphar to the second highest authority in Egypt. To confirm Joseph was second in command, Pharaoh changed his name and gave him a wife from a prominent family. The seven years of feast and seven years of famine revealed that God had indeed given Joseph the correct interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams. And Joseph was a good steward of the years he had been given to prepare, so that when the famine came Joseph was ready to care for the Egyptians, as well as for peoples from all over the earth, including his own family.
The story of Joseph doesn’t just teach us about God’s providence. It also points us to the person and work of Jesus Christ. Jesus was a far greater servant, who “humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:6-8). Jesus was, “highly exalted” and God “bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow” (Phil. 2:9-11).
Perhaps today it is difficult for you to remember that God’s hand of providence has ordered your circumstances. You may feel like you are in a pit or a prison when you long to be in a palace. Dear believer, be encouraged. God always puts us in the right place at the right time to accomplish His providential purposes. His presence is just as much with us in the pit as it is in the palace. Because of Jesus, we can remain faithful like Joseph. As God’s servants, we can worship Him, work for His glory and witness about His great name wherever He chooses to place us and in whatever circumstance we find ourselves.
Sarah Ivill (ThM, Dallas Theological Seminary) is a Reformed author, wife, homeschooling mom, Bible study teacher, and conference speaker who lives in Matthews, North Carolina, and is a member of Christ Covenant Church (PCA). To learn more, please visit www.sarahivill.com.