As I was praying this month, I was taken in the spirit to the story of Joseph. God began to show me something I had never seen. What happened to Joseph during those final two years in the prison? What is the Lord speaking to us through this?
The story begins in Genesis 37. Joseph is the beloved son of Jacob and highly favored. He has a prophetic dream about the sun, moon and stars bowing down before him. He is promptly rejected by his family for this dream. The dream stoked the jealousy of his brothers who eventually betrayed him, selling him into slavery in Egypt. Joseph goes to Potiphar’s house and excels until he is falsely accused and lands in a prison cell for doing no wrong. Even in the prison, they speak well of him and he rises. But Joseph had to have prayed and wondered many times, “When will I be delivered from this prison?”
It has been said that, “Between the promise and the palace is the process.”
“He sent a man before them. Joseph – sold as a slave. They hurt his feet with fetters. He was laid in irons. Until the time that his word came to pass, the Word of the Lord tested him.” Ps. 105:17-9
Have you ever been given a dream? A prophetic word from God? A promise that was so real you could taste and touch it? And yet… it seems like the opposite plan unfolds? What is God doing? Why does this happen?
I want to focus in particular beginning with chapter 40 of Genesis. A curious thing happens. After many years in the prison, a ray of hope begins to glisten. Two men are sent there from Pharaoh’s palace. They both have dreams and Joseph interprets both by God’s Spirit. The cup bearer will be restored to his previous position while the baker will face execution. It came to pass exactly as Joseph said. Before the cup bearer left the prison, Joseph gave him this charge.
“But remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me, make mention of me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house. For indeed I was stolen away from the land of the Hebrews, and also I have done nothing here that they should put me into the dungeon.” Genesis 40:14-5
At this point in the story, Joseph is twenty eight years old. He has spent eleven years away from his family with no friends and no one to comfort him in this foreign land. He was unjustly hated by his brothers. He was unjustly accused by Potiphar’s wife. He had spent almost half of his life as a slave when he had done no wrong. Imagine the feeling Joseph must have had after the encounter with the cup bearer. Finally, the Lord has seen my affliction and made a way of escape. My time of release is at hand!
“The chief cupbearer, however did not remember Joseph, he forgot him.” Gen. 40:23
As I was praying, I was taken in the spirit to Joseph’s prison after the cup bearer left. A week goes by and Joseph thinks, “Any day now, the guards will inform me that I’m being released.” Then two weeks go by… “Perhaps the cup bearer was overwhelmed with duty upon his return but he will no doubt send for me.” Then a month goes by… still nothing. Right about the fortieth day is when a mountain of despair seems to crash down on Joseph with this realization, “The cup bearer has forgotten me. He is not going to help me. I am staying in this prison.”
I believe this was Joseph’s greatest test. Will he be offended with God? Will he stop striving and learn to be content wherever the Lord has placed him? Will he let go of all his demands, his need for justice and simply wait upon the Lord without knowing what end may come?
Why would God give Joseph hope only to dash them? Is God cruel? Was he playing with Joseph? No. The work was not complete. Hope deferred is God’s hammer and chisel to remove every last jagged edge in our hearts. It is in these last two years in the prison that something was taking place.
When we have a goal, a dream or a promise, it is natural to do everything in our power to obtain it by rushing ahead of God according to man’s wisdom. Many men of faith have fallen into the trap of “helping God” fulfill his promises. Abraham had Ishmael because Sarah wasn’t bearing a son as quickly as Abraham expected. David counted the fighting men because God clearly needed a vast army to defend Israel. Peter wanted to help Jesus become king by human force. He didn’t understand the path of the cross. This is the main point. Joseph was there in the prison and everything he said to the cup bearer was true and correct. He had been unjustly accused. He had been given a promise that had not been fulfilled. But he was still trying to bring the word to pass in his own strength.
The deepest work of God took place in those final years of darkness in the prison where Joseph had no indication of when or if he would ever be released.
Joseph is eventually brought before Pharaoh. He interprets the dreams that no one else in all of Egypt were able to understand. Joseph does two things that impress me. First, he gives all the credit to God for the interpretation. Secondly, he does not self-promote, defend himself or even ask Pharaoh to let him out of the prison.
This is what happened in him during those last two years in the prison.
“Only God will get me out of this prison. Only God will fulfill his word to me in the dream. Only God is my portion, my strength and my delight. Only God knows the number of my days and his ways and timing are perfect. All my efforts to bring this to pass are vanity.”
A deeper trust, a deeper surrender were needed before Joseph was truly ready to rule Egypt.
Friend, wherever you find yourself, God wants to break us so that he can remake us into a vessel ready to do His will in His way, time and strength.