By Aubry G. Smith
Years ago, my husband was stuck in a terrible job. The commute was long, the hours were high, the pay was low, and he was treated poorly by both customers and coworkers.
It was difficult to watch him come home late each night, defeated and unable to find another job that would meet the needs of our growing family. Further, we felt torn between the desire for more involvement in ministry and our depleted energy, time, and resources.
We found tremendous encouragement in the story of Joseph (Gen 37–50). Sold into slavery in a foreign country by his own brothers, and then falsely accused of improper behavior toward his boss’s wife, Joseph is a picture of a man in one terrible plight after another. As he sat in prison, forgotten by the cupbearer who was supposed to help him, Joseph must have felt defeated and stuck. What of the dreams God had given him promising a prominent position? And what of the promises made to Abraham’s descendants that God would make them into a great nation, bless them, and make them a blessing to the nations (Gen 12:1–3)?
Of course, we have the privilege of knowing Joseph’s entire story—how he came to be the second-in-command in Egypt and saved the lives of so many from the famine. We know that he and his brothers were fully reconciled. God not only fulfilled Joseph’s childhood prophetic dreams, but also the Abrahamic covenant: Joseph blessed the nations by saving them from starvation; his father, Jacob, blessed Pharaoh (Gen 47:7, 10); and the family of 70 that went down to Egypt grew into a great nation (Gen 46:3, 27). Joseph’s famous quote to his brothers at the end of Genesis is a Christian favorite: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20).
But what about Joseph’s experience before his happy ending? Where was God when Joseph sat in a well, bruised and bloodied and hearing his brothers’ evil scheming? Where was God when Joseph was falsely accused and imprisoned, or when he stayed forgotten in prison for years? These years make up a significant portion of Joseph’s life, and we cannot rush past them. God allowed a lot of suffering and discomfort for the fulfillment of all his promises. Can we trust him when it seems he has left us in terrible situations with no end in sight?
A major feature of the story is God’s quiet presence with Joseph. It causes Joseph to be successful in what he does, and it stirs the heart of the cupbearer to remember -Joseph to Pharaoh. It is God alone who gives Joseph the interpretation of -Pharaoh’s dream, and God who gives Joseph the wisdom for administration. Joseph is so confident in God’s faithful presence that he does not assign blame to his brothers or feel bitter with regret for all his wasted years.
Those years in that terrible job were hard on our family for many reasons. But my husband was able to share the gospel with men who might not otherwise hear it, and he found he was able to fulfill the Great Commission mandate right where he was. Those years often felt like prison—a terrible circumstance we could not escape. But through Joseph’s story, we became confident that God’s quiet presence was with us as we waited.
Years later, we can see the good God intended through the things he allowed to happen, and we know he is trustworthy.