I was born on a Thursday morning, bundled up into my mother’s arms and taken to church that very Sunday. I was passed down the row to my grandmother, passed back to my aunt, and in every way I grew up in the hallowed halls and pews of our local church. I sat next to my grandmother on the bench of the organ, I helped my mother in the church kitchen, and I even went so far as to eventually marry our pastor’s son. But long before that, I was a little girl who (very often) sang along with her cassette tapes with a hairbrush into the mirror of her bedroom.
One summer, a choir group of university students came through our church to put on a musical. I was enraptured by this group as I thought that the girls were so pretty, and the boys were so handsome. I diligently studied their every dance move so as to recreate the scenes, and I can, in fact, still sing word-for-word a fair number of the songs they sang during their musical based on the story of Joseph. I know this because a quick Google search brought me to a YouTube post that includes every single song, and as I wrote this, l sang them all. And for the record, the singing is still best done with my hairbrush in my mirror despite the decades that have gone by.
It did not hurt at all that the young man playing Joseph was in every way divine to my nine year old heart, and from that day on, the story of Joseph has been a lifelong favorite. As my own children and I have now circled our many different children’s Bibles innumerable times as we have read each night for years, I am always full of anticipation when we get to the story of Joseph, and I am definitely going to push play on this YouTube collection and sing along to their horror the next time we do.
If you were to read the story of Joseph that begins in Genesis 37, I am sure that you would agree that Joseph sounds absolutely obnoxious. There he was, talking about in his famous multi-colored coat that his father had given him, going on and on about his lively dreams and the idea that his brothers would bow to him. As the mother of boys, I can easily imagine how this played out, and I can also easily imagine the irritation that likely reverberated around this group of brothers. In Genesis 37:10, we even see that his father Jacob rebuked him, and given that Joseph was known as his very favorite son, can you just imagine how bad it must have been?
As the plot moves on, it is not altogether surprising that his brothers opted to drop him into a cistern to leave for dead, though it does seem like a rather dramatic response. But thanks to a well-timed caravan that passed by, they ended up selling him instead, leaving an angst ridden and devastated father as they returned from the fields with Joseph’s fancy coat, torn and ruined, as if an animal attacked him.
But God was at work as Joseph moves over the years from being sold by his brothers to being a slave, to being in jail, to being the governor of the land of Egypt. Thanks to the dreams that God gave him while he slept as a heads-up, Joseph eventually ends up playing a pivotal role in saving the people of the land, including those very brothers that sold him and his much-loved father.
But as it often happens in our own lives, nothing about this transformation and resolution happened easily, nor quickly.
We know from history books that Joseph was in Potiphar’s house as a slave for 11 years, likely in prison for at least two. Surely, he felt lost and forgotten every single day for over a decade, his circumstances changing little, his escape in every way impossible. But remember his dreams from earlier in the story? Joseph finds himself wrongly imprisoned, but there he eventually provides dream interpretations to other members of Pharaoh’s staff who had found themselves in jail for crossing their respective masters. Can you imagine how this felt? The last time he interpreted dreams he landed in a cistern left for dead. But alas, this time his interpretations quickly came true, leading to a promotion for one jail mate, death for another.
But still, Joseph remained forgotten.
Genesis 39:2, however, tells us that God was with Joseph, with verse 3 confirms that the Lord gave him success in everything he did. While the narrative does not overtly tell us that God was at the center of Joseph’s inclinations, his actions and results well indicate that he sought to honor God, and God gave him favor. He wasn’t just a slave, he was the head of Potiphar’s house. He wasn’t just a prisoner, he had found favor with the guard and was the second-in-command.
Despite his circumstances remaining immoveable, God was with him.
Years passed, and then Pharaoh began have troubling dreams, grasping at what they meant and asking his magicians and sages for an explanation, but not a one could interpret. And then, at last, the cupbearer, for whom Joseph had interpreted his dream and had found himself promoted, remembered him.
Joseph was remembered!
In Genesis 41:16, Joseph is summoned and asked to interpret Pharaoh’s complicated dreams, and he says that while he cannot, it is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer. Despite his opportunity to take all of the credit and exalt himself, Joseph gives all glory to God for what he can do for Pharaoh.
Just verses later and in one crazy, unbelievable swoop of events, God makes it possible for Joseph to interpret the dreams of Pharaoh. In a whirlwind of events, Joseph finds himself with the royal signet ring on his hand, a new life as second-in-command to Pharaoh himself, and he is suited up in the best royal linens. To top it off, Scripture tells us that he is given a gold chain around his neck as he flies through the streets at top speed in his brand new chariot. The story sounds unbelievable; the twist of events impossible to imagine. After decades apart from his family, years spent imprisoned and enslaved, the life of Joseph finishes remarkably, unbelievably well in Genesis 50 with the people of a nation saved, a family reunited and God glorified.
This, my friends, is our God.
Where, in your life, do you feel lost and forgotten? Do you ever feel left behind, as if you’ve been tossed in a cistern and left for dead? Have you stopped believing that the God of the universe sees you, remembers you and loves you? Do you wonder if this is all there is, whatever “this” happens to be for you?
Of the many characters that we meet over the story of God’s people, I feel like the story of Joseph is given so much space in the book of Genesis as his experience rings true for all of us, in one way or another. While we may not have been the obnoxious brother terrorizing his siblings with dream interpretations, we might have been the young woman that destroyed others with her words, leaving a wake of broken relationships and pain behind us. While we might not have spent years trapped in prison, we may have suffered at the hands of others and endured consequences that were unbearable, with reverberations that continue to echo in our lives. While we might not have been the right-hand man and the head of a fancy house, we may be the center of our own home, racing kids to and fro, buried in piles of laundry and field trip permission slips and wondering if this is all there is?
While Joseph’s story reads a bit light and breezy, likely because we already know the end, the reality is that Joseph’s life was by no means that simple. In every way, he lost everything, and it was a LONG time before the hand of God became obvious in a tangible way. So, what do we do when we feel like Joseph did? How do we move forward in those times of feeling lost and alone?
We are not our beginnings
While Joseph began his life as a favored son, treasured above all others while wearing his fabulous coat, his relationships with his collection of brothers was obviously fraught with pain and strife. As the mother of boys, I cannot imagine a situation being so dire that either of them would toss their brother and leave him for dead. While surely Joseph contributed significantly to these broken relationships, he paid dearly with years in prison and a decade as a slave. There was no way for him to text Jacob and let him know that all was well; there was no group text where his brothers could apologize and make things right, so imagine the pain that this family history brought daily to Joseph’s mind and heart. It would have been easy for him to have grown into a man of bitterness, anger and disdain, but Joseph’s track record is that of looking to God, obeying His direction, and looking forward. While it is impossible to completely separate ourselves from what has happened in our past, through Jesus, all things can be made new and can be used for His purposes. We are not what happened to us, and we are not where we began.
Our decision to obey is honored by God
All over God’s Bible there is ample evidence that our decision to obey the principles laid out for us in Scripture will bring His glory and our benefit. We are not promised that anything will move on our own time frame, and as a person who absolutely loves controlling my own universe, I find this truth both troubling and freeing. When I am challenged personally to let go of my own expectations and opt for my own obedience in any given situation, I plant God’s word in my heart to take root, because relying on truth in challenging times is the only way to get through. Some favorites of mine of late include these, all of them in The Message paraphrase:
Now you’ve got my feet on the life path, all radiant from the shining of your face. Ever since you took my hand, I’m on the right way.
God proves to be good to the man who passionately waits, to the woman who diligently seeks. It’s a good thing to quietly hope, quietly hope for help from God.
People with their minds set on you, you keep completely whole, steady on their feet, because they keep at it and don’t quit. Depend on God and keep at it, because in the Lord God you have a sure thing.
Trouble will find us, but God is with us
I was recently at a conference with many of my Bible-teaching heroes on the platform. While the words they were preaching were powerful and wise, I found myself studying what had brought them to this place of strength from which they were teaching, and that root was trouble. Be it consequences from their own decisions, consequences from someone else’s, illness, broken relationships or whatever, trouble found them.
But in every instance, God did too.
Hebrews 11 brings us a list of those for whom this also rings true. Consider the stories of Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Sarah as they all lived lives mired in turmoil, confusion, broken promises and challenges. But they also lived lives overflowing with provision, blessing, surprises and promises kept. The text in Hebrews continues to point out Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets. All of these stories include sin, brokenness, redemption, and God’s glory. God is with us. History gives us plenty of proof, and if it was true for this cast of characters, whose failures and triumphs were recorded for us to know, then it is ABSOLUTELY true for us.
God can take the ordinary, and shift it to the extraordinary
We might never know how every story line in our life is going to end. I may not know if my children will grow up to live lives that glorify Him, I may never see the legacy of faithfulness paying off across generations. I might not see the resolution of every challenge, or the solution to every problem. But the truth of God is there for us to see throughout history, in every story and in every way that our God keeps His promises, sees every detail through, and can be trusted to take the ordinary into the extraordinary. When you feel like all is lost and nothing can change, remind yourself that Joseph went to sleep one night filthy, imprisoned, and with a bad haircut. But the next day, he went to sleep wrapped in rich linens, the owner of a fast moving chariot and with a gold chain and signet ring.
God has rich linens, a chariot, a signet ring and a gold chain for you too. His Word tells us He does! Psalm 16:11 has David praising God: You reveal the path of life to me, in your presence is abundant joy; at your right hand are eternal pleasures.
God is good, and He has good things for us!
In the perils and pains in my own life, I have seen God redeem and renew, redirect and change. While not every problem and challenge has been neatly solved, I have watched God bring unexpected solutions and surprising blessings. Like the Biblical heroes in Hebrews, we might not see the end of every story, but we can count on our faithful God to stay true to His plan. So, as my nine year old self often did, take out your hairbrush, turn on the music, and sing loud to our God that does not leave us where we are, gives us favor when we obey Him, is with us in our times of trouble, and takes our ordinary lives and makes them extraordinary.
About the Author: Marci-Beth Maple and her family recently moved to Fort Worth, Texas after 3 years spent living in England. After the season of travel and adventure, no one in her family wants to leave the house and they can now be found enjoying American television, queso and BBQ, only leaving the house for football or soccer, but only after dying on Fortnite. With one husband, two sons, two kittens and a new puppy, her floors are never clean, but the smiles and fun rarely end.