By Beverly Carradine
It would be hard, both in the Bible and in history, to find an individual who was as bitterly wronged and fearfully tried as Joseph. Envied and hated by his brethren, sold into slavery, persistently tempted to sin in high quarters, lied against and slandered, put into prison for a number of years on a false charge; surely nothing, could have been added in the way of suffering and sorrow to an already overflowing cup.
But out of all this calamity and affliction, he came at last, with the double victory of a spotless character and public deliverance and triumph. From poverty he leaped to affluence, from obscurity to fame and power, and from the prison to a position next to the throne. The explanation of the marvelous triumph and transformation is found in the words of the caption of this chapter, "God was with him."
Doubtless the whole history of wrong was permitted that the subsequent deliverance might teach a vast body of moral martyrs some important lessons. Meanwhile the simple statement that "God was with him" is alone full of most comfortable suggestions.
One is, that with the consciousness of the divine presence, reverses and wrongs of all kinds are easily borne.
We have only to look about us to observe that some people are quietly enduring burdens from year to year, for which others go into drunkenness and even commit suicide. Men are ready at once with explanations to account for the difference, and attribute to education and temperament that which really belongs to God.
It was the abiding Christ in the heart that lifted the man up and over the reefs and breakers which had wrecked the other lives. The four words, "God was with him," contained the true explanation of deliverance.
It is not difficult to step down and out of high positions in state and church with the presence of God as a constant conscious possession. And it is even pleasant to be overlooked and left in a corner when the soul knows the grace of unbroken divine communion, and the heart is warm with the loving presence of Christ. How sweet and cheerful and unretaliative one can be under the wagging tongues of criticism and slander, when the voice of the Saviour is heard continuously within, and His smile is never lifted from the soul.
And yet in the above paragraph three trials are mentioned that are perfectly unendurable to many of God's people. We have seen men go down into bitterness, gloom, sin and to a premature grave on account of them. They have not the grace which makes one gladly willing to be set aside, overlooked, discounted and abused. We have seen Christian people go into positive sulks because not invited to sit on a platform on some public occasion. We have known stewards and other church officials never recover from having been relieved from some ecclesiastical position. And a number of times we have heard preachers in a certain church speaking of the broken-heartedness, bitterness and untimely death of two prominent ministers who had been disappointed in the obtainment of high office in the denomination to which they belonged.
He who has the "God with him" experience can stand all this and much more besides. He has something so much better than men can give and possesses that which is so superior to anything that they can take away, that he can afford to be cheerful and even joyfully no matter what people may do or not do.
A second comforting reflection is, that with the divine presence in the heart and life, one can patiently wait while under severe trial and wrong for the slow-coming deliverance of God.
Think of being in prison a week. Now add to this a year. Three hundred and sixty-five times the lonely prisoner has seen the shadows steal through the grated niche high up on the wall and darkness fill his cell. Now lengthen this period to fourteen years. The infant that was born the day the prisoner entered his dungeon has now become the full-grown boy or girl, and people in the prime of life have become old and gray-headed. Let the reader conceive himself to be the prisoner, and that in addition to the long immurement he is in prison on a false charge. The world outside has forgotten him. Life, with youth, hope, strength and health, is fast slipping away. The pleasant sights and sounds of nature are shut out. Only prison bars and walls are to be seen, and only sighs and groans from fellow-captives to be heard, and all this for over a decade of years. What an opportunity for despair of self, hatred to man, and the casting off of all love for and loyalty to God.
And yet this was Joseph's condition. To earthly judgment it was simply unendurable. But he bore it, keeping sweet in spirit and faithful in life, till relief came. For fourteen years he lived before a closed prison door, waiting for its opening, and keeping true to God in spite of the wrongs of his life and the fact that his wrongers were free and apparently happy while he, the injured and innocent one, was being made to suffer.
The only reason he did not sink under the heavy combination was, that "God was with him."
It takes the same grace today to endure a similar trouble.
It is hard to endure unjust treatment. It is fearful to be persistently wronged for years. It is a bitter trial to have a door of iron as it were shut in the face by human hands, and have to wait for the divine Opener and opening. The human instinct is to take the matter in our own hands and knock down the gate or dig underneath and escape.
But this will never do. The outside world is not prepared for our coming. We have to wait awhile. The Lord is getting us ready for the deliverance and working with others for the same end. But as He has to labor with men and women who are free agents, He cannot deal with them as He would with matter, and so cannot work as fast as He does when He manipulates clay. So it takes time to open the door. Happy the man who will await God's time, and keep sweet until that hour comes.
Sinners are never able to do this. Many Christians cannot. The daily papers in their record of desperate deeds prove this statement. Such people fret over their imprisonment, strike at the jailer, afflict their fellow-prisoners, clank their chains, rail at everybody, blow up the gate and take their own lives.
We read of men in financial embarrassment using money not their own. They could not wait on the Lord. We hear of others who, through jealousy, incompatibility and domestic wrong rush into divorce courts, and even to suicide or murder. They could not wait on God to open the prison door.
But others can. They are not less keenly alive to the bitterness of their surroundings, to the facts of unappreciation and uncongeniality, the torture of morally opposite lives and the burden of a grievous wrong which has been done them; but still the heart is fixed, the picket remains on his lonely post of duty, the trumpet continues to sound, the divinely polarized life turns tremblingly but always truly to Christ. They who act thus are those who have "God with them" in the heart and life all the time.
One other reflection of comfort comes to the mind from the study of the words. If God is with a man the hour of complete and perfect deliverance is certain to come.
It matters not how great the wrong, or how deep the trouble, the relief will arrive. The door that is shut upon the child of God may be thick, and double locked by human power, and closed for a long time, and men and devils may be there to keep it shut, but it will open. It is bound to open.
It suddenly unclosed to Joseph, and it will suddenly do the same to the reader if he abides faithful.
When we were in the Holy Land some years ago we observed a large gate in the eastern wall of the Temple square, which has been shut and blocked up for centuries. The tradition out there is that it will never open until Christ comes, and at His approach its ponderous leaves will fly wide apart of themselves. This legend becomes a parable of consolation and instruction for the life-imprisoned Christian. There is a gate shut upon the reader which he cannot unlock. Do not try to do it. Let Christ do the unbarring. When He comes to your relief the heavy doors will roll open in such an easy way as to astonish and delight you.
Happy and wise is the man who waits on God to do this; who will not take certain matters that are above and beyond him in his own hands, but instead will trust to the God of Joseph. He it is who knows all about the door, who is behind it, who put his servant there, and He it is who is pledged to bring that servant out.
Wesley waited twenty years on God from the midst of a domestic hell, and kept at his work all the time. One day the prison door quietly opened, and he stepped forth into liberty.
We know of a merchant who, with the greatest marital and household infelicity, was repeatedly under violent temptation to take affairs in his own hand and blow up the door, climb the wall, or in some way escape from a providential surrounding which he could not understand and felt scarcely able to endure from day to day. But God was with him, and he waited; and the day came that his entire family was given to him, and the home became as delightful as it had formerly been unbearable.
It is remarkable with what a little thing God brought Joseph out of trouble. He employed no army, or mighty physical convulsion to cast down the prison walls, but used a dream, giving the interpretation of it to His servant.
The mistake of many of God's burdened children is that as they look at their peculiar life imprisonment or confinement, they do not see sufficient power in anything around them to bring deliverance. They beheld no siege guns, battleships and other adequate forces to affect the rescue, and failing to see them they cease to expect the relief. But it will come, and with methods as light as a dream. In all this God gets glory to Himself and increases the faith of His child. It is marvellous the power of little things when in the hands of God.
To destroy Haman and his far-reaching plans, and save the Jewish people from destruction, God was under no necessity to raise an army, but simply gave King Ahasuerus a restless night so that he could not sleep, and through that apparently trivial circumstance the tremendous prison of Circumstance was knocked down and Mordecai, Esther and the Jewish people were delivered from a general massacre.
It is also remarkable how God was preparing the country outside for Joseph's exaltation. The famine of seven years in Egypt, while doubtless a proper scourge sent on sinful people, was also in the providence of God intended to be the means of His servant's increasing honor and glory.
In a word, we can safely trust God at all times and in all circumstances. He has not forgotten his followers in the prison where men have placed him. He will in due time bring him forth, and even before the relief appears, is working to that end. When the delivered one comes forth he will be both astonished and gratified to behold a strange kind of outward preparation for his arrival. Work, elevations, dignities, honors will all be awaiting him, and all of which has been foreshadowed in the history of Joseph.
In a word, when God is with a man, he is also for that man, and if God be for him who can be against him? If God is with a man that means he can engrave on every human fetter the sentence, this shall fall off, can write on the prison door, this shall open, and cry to the lonely prisoner within, you shall yet come forth. Thank God for the comfort, instruction, present assurance and prophecy of coming good in the words, "God was with him."