You recognize immediately the allusion to Joseph in the title—he who was signally gifted and blessed of God, who was used in a unique and powerful way, but who also endured severe trials at the hand of the Lord.
The Pit. Joseph, more than most, had reason to call his life “the pits.” The apple of his father Jacob’s eye, the darling of his mother, the beneficiary of special gifts from his father, and the recipient of unique revelations from God via two dreams, Joseph seemed to have it made. He appeared destined for a privileged life. But the advantages Joseph enjoyed provoked hatred in the hearts of his jealous brothers who, scheming together to kill him, relented slightly when they realized that they could rid themselves of him just as well by selling him as a slave to Midianite traders and turn a profit on the deal to boot. Two birds with one stone, so to speak. Could he smell the food his brothers ate as he lay in the bottom of the pit? Could he hear their cold, calculating voices as they discussed selling him as a slave and haggled over his price? Had he begun to imagine what it would be like never again to see his father and mother or his younger brother Benjamin? Or what it would be like to be thrust among a people of idol worshippers with a completely strange culture, odd food, and speaking an unintelligible language, and, finally, to be the helpless slave of who knows what kind of person?
The Prison. Joseph must have rejoiced when he was purchased by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s bodyguard rather than being sold to some ship owner as a galley slave. And he must have been pleased when Potiphar, seeing that the Lord was with him, promoted Joseph to be his personal servant, made him overseer of his household, and gave him responsibility over everything he owned. But the advantages Joseph enjoyed soon disappeared when Joseph, refusing the immoral advances of Potiphar’s wife, found himself falsely accused of attempted rape and cast into prison as a consequence. Though he languished there, the Lord was with Joseph so that the chief jailor promoted Joseph to trustee of the prison and Joseph found himself once again in charge and unsupervised, this time of all the prisoners. And when Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker were locked up in the same prison, and he was able to interpret their dreams correctly and assure the cupbearer that he would soon be returned to his former position with Pharaoh, Joseph must have felt that his release was imminent—especially when the cupbearer promised to put in a good word for Joseph before Pharaoh.
(Patience!). But the cupbearer forgot Joseph and his promise to him so that Joseph remained in prison for two more years. Hopes raised; hopes dashed. Opportunities come and vanish. His name forever sullied by an ugly accusation, his bountiful help thanklessly accepted, Joseph, more than most, had reason to call his life the pits. But there is not a hint of that. He trusted, he rested, he waited. If this was God’s work, as unjust as it might seem to the natural eye, God must have a good purpose for it. So Joseph remained faithful to God and to others, whether the jailer over him or the prisoners under him.
The Palace. And after two years, when Pharaoh dreamed two dreams, the cupbearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh about the man who had rightly interpreted his dream. Pharaoh called for Joseph, whose God-given wisdom to interpret the dream so impressed the Pharaoh that he appointed Joseph head over all the land of Egypt. And in his new-found position of “prime minister,” Joseph saved the Egyptian nation and his own family from famine.
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