From The Second Half of the Cross
“Good and upright is the Lord; therefore will he teach sinners in the way.” (Ps. 25:8)
When Joseph was sold into Egypt, from that moment forward he was no longer in complete control of his life. The mysterious blend of God’s sovereignty and mankind’s free-will choice finds full expression in this incredibly brilliant joint-venture narrative of the life of Joseph that has inspired millions of people for thousands of years.
As much as any person in the Bible, God took great liberties with Joseph’s life. Yet the outcome was and still is enormously positive and inspiring. We can then ask the question in hindsight, would Joseph be pleased with both the course and outcome of his life, or would he instead have chosen some other life for himself based upon his own ideas?
The account of Joseph’s life begins with two dreams as a young man. The first dream involves the sheaves of his brothers standing and doing obeisance to the sheaf of Joseph. The second dream has the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars making obeisance to Joseph. As a result of these dreams we can reasonably assume that Joseph had the intended foreglimpse into the future, that God would somehow be actively involved in the upcoming events of his life.
When Joseph was sold by his brothers into slavery in Egypt, the scripture says that God was with Joseph. This unexpected development must have seemed strange and deeply puzzling to Joseph, despite his two earlier dreams. How can he be the favored son of a wealthy herdsman one day, and then a few weeks later become a servant-slave in Potiphar’s house in Egypt, yet God be with him? This drastic intervention in his life would appear during this period to be entirely upside down to Joseph.
Yet here we see in hindsight the wisdom and imagination of God. In addition to the change of environment that is enabling Joseph to mature as a young man, Joseph is unintentionally attending God’s version of graduate management school. God has sent Joseph abroad, in the midst of the most unsettling of family circumstances, to be schooled in business and leadership in a way that could never have happened working for his father Jacob back in Canaan. Joseph is being prepared by God Himself to manage the future affairs of the entire nation of Egypt, second in command to Pharaoh no less.
Several observations can be made about Joseph. The scriptures say that at Potiphar’s house, as chief overseer, Joseph had complete control over everything. Joseph could have planned a risky late-night escape with two horses loaded with provisions, at a time when Potiphar was away. Joseph could have ridden west along North Africa into Libya or Morocco, or northeast past his homeland toward Lebanon, Turkey, or Greece. He could have avoided both his painful family situation and escaped his difficult circumstances in Egypt. The Bible says that Joseph was handsome and well favored, so he potentially would have been successful wherever he went.
The fact that Joseph did not escape from the situation, although it was within his means to attempt to do so, adds light to this concept of the second half of the cross. Joseph is intrigued and fascinated by his two earlier inspired dreams in Canaan and by the fact that God is blessing him and everything he does in Egypt. Part of Joseph’s willingness to stay grounded in Egypt, despite these odd circumstances, may result from a curiosity to see how this will all work out.
But beyond curiosity, Joseph is responding to the will of God in a way that is incomprehensible to the ways of the everyday world. It must be noted that this is not Joseph’s plan. Joseph is responding to God’s initiative. The hold that God’s Spirit has over the will of Joseph results in Joseph going along with only a partially revealed plan.
This quality of faith is always misunderstood, rejected, and ridiculed by conventional worldly thinking. But the love of God that is an integral part of the will of God draws Joseph into this unfolding scheme, and Joseph follows. The future purposes that are hidden within God’s plans for Joseph in Egypt have a powerful holding force with Joseph, more powerful than any alternate worldly sensible argument, to rebel against the negative present circumstances, to attempt escape, and to wrestle back control over the course of his life.
This sheds additional light on another observation that can be made about the story of the life of Joseph. A large portion of Joseph’s pride was nailed to the cross of Christ as a result of his reduced social status as a servant-slave in Egypt. Everyone who looked at Joseph assumed that either he or his family must have done something wrong for him to be in the position of a servant-slave as a Hebrew in Egypt. Even though Joseph enjoyed some measure of elevated status for a while as the head overseer in the house of Potiphar, he was still a slave.
Joseph could not respond to those who looked down their nose at him, that he was actually the son of a wealthy man in Canaan, or that he was in Egypt through no fault of his own. Joseph could not answer back that God was really in control of his life and that this was just a temporary setback that would soon be rectified. Joseph was in no position to defend his pride. In light of his two earlier dreams, Joseph himself did not know exactly why events in his life had taken this peculiar course.
Although Joseph, being human, naturally cared about his pride and the humiliation of being a slave in Egypt, apparently God saw it differently. This is the way of the cross. God’s character-building investment of situations and circumstances in Joseph’s life in Egypt did not start out with the outward moniker of respectability. For the period of his life from age 17 to 30, Joseph’s life is a study in contrasts. He occupies lowly positions as a servant and then as a prisoner, yet in each situation the blessing of God on him is so outwardly apparent that he is quickly elevated to positions of “upper management.” God alone knew that one day in the near future Joseph would be Governor in command of all of Egypt, because that was God’s creative plan.
God’s plan at no time was in jeopardy from or limited by the temporary outward appearance of failure, or by circumstances that seemed utterly hopeless. God Himself was the author of these character-building circumstances, and was in control all the time. Joseph’s part was to not lose faith in the character and competency of God, and to patiently await the working out of these events in his life towards the fulfillment of his two earlier prophetic dreams.
God is telling us through the example of Joseph that portions of God’s plan for our lives may take us down a lowly path that does not include the “pride of life”. The low and humble road sifts out and separates the genuinely committed from all other hypocrites and pretenders. Being a servant of God is often a thankless and unappreciated role, especially in the training-for-service orientation phase at the beginning of our calling.
The life of Joseph is a preview of the universal biblical experience of character-building that launches spiritual power, starting at a base level of humility devoid of self-sufficiency and self-reliance. This is what Paul is referring to in describing himself and the other apostles as “last” (1 Cor. 4:9), which in Paul’s case eventually leads to writing fourteen of the New Testament letters to the churches.
The false accusation of sexual assault against Joseph by Potiphar’s wife is instructive for Christians today. Even when things are going completely wrong according to outward appearances, when God is in control of our lives, utter failure and complete catastrophe can be divinely shaped into a positive outcome.
This devastating event in Joseph’s life God uses to extend the management training of Joseph into a new prison environment for several more years leading up the time of the upcoming famine, within a new context requiring more humility on Joseph’s part than previously as the chief overseer in Potiphar’s house.
At first glance this might appear to be over-coaching on God’s part. But in a profound way this seemingly negative experience with Potiphar’s wife actually demonstrates the uncompromising reality of the love of God in thoroughly preparing Joseph for his future elevation to the highest level of power in Egypt. It reveals the tightest of circumstances in a God-composed life-script that is beyond our human capacity to imagine, orchestrate, or resolve, which is common to all adventures of faith recorded in the Bible.
There was something unique to Pharaoh’s prison in the advance training of Joseph that was not at Potiphar’s house. We do not know what this difference might have been. Perhaps the trait of pride was again lifting up its ugly head within the character of Joseph as chief servant in Potiphar’s house. Probably looking back in hindsight as governor, Joseph recognized and appreciated the value of the unique lessons learned in the different and more humbling environment of Pharaoh’s prison.
Only God could craft a training regime for a Hebrew to become the governor of Egypt using the extremely unlikely, totally unconventional roles of servant/slave in the venues of a private Egyptian home and in the prison of a Pharaoh. When Joseph finally sees the whole picture in hindsight as his half-brothers stand before him as governor of Egypt, Joseph breaks into tears as he recognizes God’s hand in everything leading up to that time. Do we possess the patience and determination to persevere in difficult circumstances, when we know without a doubt that God has us there for some not yet fully revealed reason?