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Practical Lessons from the Story of Joseph: Chapter 2 - From Prison to Palace

By J.R. Miller

      "Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they quickly brought him from the dungeon." Genesis 41:14

      The story reads like a romance novel! In the morning, Joseph lay in prison. He had been there probably three years. He knew of nothing that gave any hope of release. In the evening he was wearing the king's ring, was arrayed in vestures of fine linen, had a gold chain around his neck, and was honored as next to the king. It seems too strange to be true--yet it was true.

      We may think a moment of the man in the prison.

      He was not a criminal. He was in prison on false charges. Let us beware lest we do injustice to others--by believing false things about them. What is it in human nature, that inclines people to believe evil of others? Shall we not strive to have the love which thinks no evil? In the story of Joseph, we know the other side, and we see a man with a white soul, though under the shadow of a black charge. May it not be so, with some other person we know of, whom people allege dishonorable things--but who in God's sight is innocent, with clean soul? We should plead for justice, for charity, toward all. We should shut our ears to the insinuations and whisperings of the slanderer's tongue! It was a lie that put the felon's garb and chain upon Joseph, robbed him of his good name, and turned the dungeon key upon him! Be slow to believe an accusation against another! One false mouth can destroy the reputation won by a lifetime of worthy deeds!

      Joseph was in prison under a false charge. The very treachery against his master which his noble nature scorned to commit--his master was made to believe he had committed. Yet he sealed his lips and went to the dungeon without one word of self-exculpation. He could not exculpate himself without bringing scandal and ruin upon his master's home--and he was silent. This was a case when silence was hard--but when silence was noble.

      Any one of us may become the innocent victim of calumny. Blameless, we may have to endure false accusations. As Christians, what should we do in such a case? Of course, not all cases are alike. In some instances vindication may be possible, and it may be our duty to seek it. But there may be cases, like Joseph's, when we cannot free ourselves from false accusation, without bringing dishonor and suffering upon others. Then it may be our duty, like Joseph, too--to suffer in silence and in patience. He left all in God's hands, doing nothing himself to right the wrong. There is a verse in the thirty-seventh Psalm, which gives a lesson and a promise: "Commit your way to the Lord; trust in him and he will do this: He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun."

      Joseph committed his way into the Lord's hands that terrible day. He kept his own hands off. He was three years under the black cloud--but then he came forth into the light, and there was not a stain on his soul. We may safely leave our vindication to God!

      Those were hard years for Joseph indeed, all those thirteen years were--from the day the boy was sold to the passing caravan--until he was sent for by Pharaoh, and lifted to honor. But as hard as they were--they did not hurt him. There are little flowers that grow through all the coldest winter, under the snows, keeping sweet and beautiful beneath the deepest drifts, coming out in the spring days, when the snow melts away--unhurt, as lovely and fragrant as if they had been sheltered in a conservatory! So it was that the life of Joseph remained gentle, beautiful and sweet--under all the terrible trials of those years: wrong, cruelty, heartlessness, injustice, inhumanity from brothers, too; then slavery, degradation; then false accusation, fetters.

      Some of us can hardly keep sweet under little imaginary slights, and the common frictions and microscopical hurts and injustices of fairly easy conditions. Some of us grow morbid and cynical, if a friend omits some simple amenity!

      The noble bearing of Joseph, teaches us to be superior to all circumstances and conditions, to all unkind or unjust treatment. That is the great lesson of life. If you are going to be affected by every change of social temperature, by every variation of experience your spirits running up and down like the mercury in the thermometer with the fluctuations of the atmosphere, you will have a sorry life! That is not living. But as Christians, we have the secret of a divine life within us. We must live unaffected by circumstances. Morbidness is sickly living. Cynicism is unworthy of a being in whose heart human blood pulses, especially in a heart in which Christ's life throbs. Discouragement is undivine.

      We must be strong in the grace of God. We must be unconquerable through him who loved us. We must put misfortunes, adversities, personal injuries, sufferings, trials--under our feet, and tread ever upward over them. We must conquer ourselves also--the evil that is in us, we must subjugate. That is the way to grow.

      Remember, your task in living--is to keep sweet, to keep your heart gentle, brave, strong, loving, full of hope--under the worst that the years can bring you of injustice, hardship, suffering, and trial. That is what Joseph did. Then when he was suddenly needed for a great duty, he did not fail.

      Something went wrong one day, in the big world above Joseph's dungeon. There was trouble in Pharaoh's palace. Two high officials were careless and they were hurried off to prison. Why is this related in the Bible? Because it was one of the links in the wonderful chain of providence, by which Joseph was at last brought to his place of power.

      We do not know what circumstances or events of that vast complex network of things about us, will help change our destiny. "God is always coming down to us through unlikely paths, meeting us unexpectedly." We see how important to Joseph was the coming of Pharaoh's two officers to the prison. Let us walk reverently along all life's paths. We know not what trivial occurrence, any day--may affect all our after course unto the end. Who knows but the casual meeting with someone today--may have great good for us long years hence? The touching of Joseph's life by these prisoners from the palace, was a link in the chain by which Joseph was lifted out! Just so, the person you meet casually tomorrow, may have in his hand the key which some day will open a prison for you and lead you to liberty.

      Yet it seemed for a long time, as if nothing would come of the touching of Joseph's destiny by this hand from the outside. Joseph told the meaning of the men's dreams, and in three days what he had said came true. As the chief butler went out happy from the prison, to resume his old duties--he parted very affectionately from his friend. Joseph had said to him: "But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison." No doubt the butler promised to do so. Oh yes, certainly he would remember his prison friend! But here are the pathetic words with which the record closes: "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him."

      He was restored to his place in the palace. He again wore the insignia of office. He was again in the blaze and brilliance of the royal presence. Waiting in his prison, Joseph hoped each day to be released, through the strong influence of his friend at court. He waited and hoped--and yet the days went on without bringing any token that he was remembered. Two years passed, and still Joseph languished in the darkness, wearing his chains. The chief butler, who had been so profuse in his promises to remember him, forgot him!

      This "chief butler" has many successors in all ages. We are all quite ready to condemn his ingratitude; but do we never repeat his sin? In the time when help comes to us, or deliverance, or favor--our hearts are warm with grateful feeling. We will never forget this kindness, we say with sincere intention. But do we never forget it? We probably remember injuries done to us. It is hard for many people to forget a wrong. "I forgive him--but I can never forget his treatment," we hear people say. Slights, and cutting words, and unkindnesses, and neglects--how well we remember these! Some of us nurse them and cherish their memory. But have we as faithful recollection of favors, kind words, comforts given in trouble, help in need? "Men too often write the record of grudges in marble--and of favors in sand."Let us not fail to get the lesson. Let us write the record of hurts and wrongs done to us in sand--and of kindnesses shown to us in stone.

      Stop a moment right now, and think. Is there someone somewhere, suffering, shut in, perhaps enduring wrong, bearing a heavy load--to whom once you gave a promise of sympathy, of a visit, of an effort to help or relieve--a promise you have now forgotten? When we find people in distress or sorrow or adversity or crushed by some heavy blow--we are quite apt to promise them love and thought and friendly help. But do we always keep our promises? Our words cheer them, and they look for our coming again, and watch and hope for the help we so eagerly said we would give; but how often do we forget, just as the butler forgot Joseph? Is there not someone to whom you spoke in strong words of sympathy, in a time when your heart was warm? You meant to call again very soon. You meant to lend a hand to help the weary struggler. You meant to try to give or secure the relief the person needed. But out in the busy world, you forgot it. "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him." For two years he forgot him!

      There are forgotten Josephs everywhere, to whom promises have been made--but not kept. We should recall those to whom we once spoke so freely, so earnestly. Have we ever called since? Have we ever done anything to give the comfort we promised to give? Think of the disappointment we have caused, the long weary waiting, for kindness expected--but which we have forgotten to render.

      We do not know what power there is in our heart to bless others, to make the world a little brighter for them, the burden a little lighter, the path a little easier. All about us in life, are dungeons in which suffering Josephs lie in chains! It is dark about them. The air is not sweet. Bird songs do not break in upon the heavy silence. They are lonely. You and I, out in the free air, hear the bird songs, and quaff the nectar of human happiness, and have joy and love for our portion. Let us not forget the Josephs in their prisons. They look for tokens from us, to assure them that they are not forgotten. They expect our visits, some proofs at least of kindly thought, some effort to give relief or comfort. You have in your heart's full cup, that which will give strength and cheer. Do not think it a small thing--to put a little new hope or courage or gladness into a fainting human heart. It is helping God warm this world. It is helping Christ save a soul.

      But now a strange thing happened. As it so happened, it was better for Joseph, in the end, that the butler did not speak for him to the king for so long a time. Had he made intercession for him at once, and had Pharaoh listened to the plea and set Joseph free, what would have been the result? Joseph could not have gone back to Potiphar's house, and would probably have been sold away from the city, for he was still Potiphar's slave. Or possibly he might have been set free to return to Hebron. In any case, he would not likely have been within reach when he was sought for to interpret Pharaoh's dreams.

      Consider the consequences. His career would have been toward obscurity. Perhaps he would never have been heard of again, and then this charming story would never have been written. Then Pharaoh's dreams would have had no interpreter. The years of plenty would have come and passed, leaving no storehouses filled for the famine years which followed. In the terrible distress of those years--the family of Jacob, with its holy seed, might have perished from the earth.

      But the ingratitude of the butler, inexcusable as it was, left Joseph in the prison, suffering unjustly--but waiting close at hand, until the moment came when he would be needed for a work of stupendous importance. While God's purposes were slowly ripening in the world outside, Joseph's character also was ripening, into strength and self-discipline within the dungeon walls!

      So we see again the wonderful providence of God, how every link of the chain fits into its own place with most delicate precision. Nothing comes a moment too soon, nothing lags, coming a minute too late. God's providence is like God's nature. Among the stars there are no haphazard movements. The sun never rises late. No star sets too early. So in providence, everything comes in its set time. God's clock is never a second slow. Can this be mere chance? Can nature's perfect adjustments, be chance? Can the wonderful beauty and beneficence of providence, be chance, a mere endless succession of happy, blessed coincidences? Oh no, there is a God whose hand moves the machinery of the universe--and that God is our Father! There is a heart beating at the center of all things. He who has ears to hear, cannot but hear it.

      Thus in Joseph's life every smallest event, was wrought into the final result with perfect adaptation. The inhuman wickedness of his brothers in selling him, the foul lie of Potiphar's wife which sent him to a dungeon, the ingratitude of the butler which left him friendless and forgotten for two years in prison--all these wrongs from others, were by the divine touch, transmuted into blessings!

      As we read this story, we see all this in the life of Joseph. Shall we suppose that Joseph's life was in God's hand, in any exceptional sense? Is there any less of God's providence in our life--than there was in the life of that Hebrew lad? He did not see the providence at the time--not until afterwards did the dark clouds disclose their silver lining, or the rough iron fetters reveal themselves as gold. Not until afterwards, shall we see that our disappointments, hardships, trials, misfortunes, and the wrongs done to us by others--are all made parts of God's providence toward us! Not until afterwards--but the "afterwards" is sure if only we firmly and faithfully follow Christ and keep our own hands off. God works slowly--and is never in a hurry.

      The light which shines from this story of Joseph, ought to shine into a great many lives today with its beam of cheer and hope--for those who are waiting amid discouraging circumstances. The heart of God is beating in each life's experiences, and the hand of God is working; only the hour for full revealing has not yet come on the dial of the clock of God.

      At last came the time for Joseph's deliverance and exaltation. Pharaoh had a double dream. It was not an ordinary dream; it was God's way of revealing the future to the king, that he might be a true father to his people. Seven fat cows feeding in a meadow; and seven lean cows standing by the Nile. The seven fat cattle eaten up by the seven lean--which are lean as ever, afterwards. Seven fat, good ears of corn; and seven thin, blasted ears. The thin ears devour the fat ears--and are thin as ever.

      The dream troubled the king. He sent for Egypt's famed wise men, dream-interpreters; but they gave him no light. Now, at last, after two years of ungrateful forgetting, the butler remembered his fault and told Pharaoh the story of the Hebrew slave in the prison, who had interpreted his own dream. Swiftly runs the messenger to the prison, and Joseph is called into the presence of the king. He is thirty years old. He has been thirteen years in Egypt, as slave and prisoner. Now his time for honor and for service has come. This is the hour, and here is the duty for which all his former life has been a preparation.

      Pharaoh tells his dreams. Listen to Joseph's answer. A vain man would have had his head turned by such a sudden blaze of royal splendor about him, and would have spoken boastfully. But Joseph speaks with the humility of an unspoiled child. "It is beyond my power to do this--ut God will tell you what it means." We should not miss the lesson--we who teach others, we to whom perplexed ones come with their questions. We should not seek to show our own wisdom--but should hide ourselves away, and point to God as the One who is the source of whatever wisdom our lips may speak. "It is beyond my power to do this--but God will tell you what it means."

      Then Joseph told the king what the dream meant. It was God's message to Pharaoh--a glimpse into the future. There would be seven years of great plenty in Egypt, and after these, seven years of sore famine. And the famine would be so grievous, that it would eat up all the food of the abundant years. Joseph went on to advise the king what to do to find a wise man and let him gather the extra food of the seven years of plenty, and lay it up in great storehouses to meet the needs of the coming years of famine.

      At once the king appointed Joseph himself to this place of honor and trust. He took off his signet ring and put it on Joseph's hand, thus giving him almost royal authority. He arrayed him in vestures of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck--insignia of princely rank. He caused him to ride in a chariot next to the king's own, in a royal procession along the streets. He gave him a new name Zaphenath-paneah, which meant "bread of life" in allusion to Joseph's great service in saving the land from famine. He gave to him also in marriage a daughter of one of Egypt's priests, thus elevating him into the priestly caste.

      All this honor came suddenly to Joseph. Was it not worth waiting for? The way seemed long from the pit at Dothan to the steps of Egypt's throne. The dreams of the Hebrew boy were long in coming true. The experiences were hard and tended to crush and destroy the young life. Those thirteen years out of the golden prime of life seemed wasted. Yet, we should notice that all this time, and in all these experiences, God was training the man for his work. The butler's dream came true in three days--but there was not much of it when it was fulfilled. It took thirteen years for Joseph's dreams to be realized, because the dreams meant so much. If a man's work is of small importance, he can be prepared for it in a little while. But when he has a great mission to fulfill, it requires a long time to fit him for it. Let no one grow impatient in God's school, however slow the advancement may be. The longer time God takes with your training, and the harder the discipline is--the richer will be your life when the work is finished.

      No doubt Joseph recognized the providence of God in all those slow years of his life. He believed that he was being prepared for his life's mission. This was the secret of his unconquerable hope and courage and of all his sweet life--in the trying experiences of those years. He knew he was in God's school. Providence was a Bible to him. The same may become just as true in our life--as it was in his. We may accept our condition as God's appointment for us. Then we may read God's will for us as clearly in each day's unfoldings--as if the divine finger wrote it out for us on a sheet of paper under our eye! We shall cease then our restless struggling. We shall no longer fight so for our own way--but will take God's way.

      Thus and thus only, can anyone be what God made him to be, and do what God made him to do in this world. God has a plan for every life--but we can fulfill that plan only by daily reading the little page of God's Bible which he writes for us on the tablet of the day's providences. To be able to say always in disappointment, in sorrow, in loss, in the suffering of injuries at the hands of others, in the midst of pain and trial, "God is teaching me some new lesson, training me for some new duty, bringing out in me some new beauty of character," is to live as we should live. One incident left out in Joseph's strange career, would have broken the chain and spoiled all. So it is in every life; all the events are necessary to fit us for the place for which God is preparing us.

      We may learn a lesson from the system which Joseph adopted of providing in the years of plenty, for the years of famine. In everyone's life there are seasons of abundance, of rare plenty--and then there will come also, surely, seasons that are empty and full of need. It is wisdom's part to gather the bounties of the full years--and lay them up in store for the empty years.

      Youth is a time of plenty. It brings opportunities for education, for study, for reading, for self-discipline, for the formation of habits, for the culture of character, for the establishment of good principles and for careful training and preparation for life's work or business. If youth's plenty is allowed to run to waste--if the season of youth is not improved, after life can bring only misfortune and failure.

      In the years of health and prosperity, we should lay up a little of our plenty for the "rainy day" that will certainly come the day of sickness, when the hands cannot work and the doctor's bill must be paid. Through the years of joy, we should lay up in our heart the divine comfort for the years of sorrow which will come. Through youth and manhood or womanhood, we should be ever filling storehouses to draw from in old age. In the present life, we must lay up treasures in heaven for the life to come. In the days when the gospel's grace is falling like sunshine about us, we must receive it into our heart, or we shall perish in the eternal years of darkness.

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See Also:
   Chapter 1 - Joseph and His Dreams
   Chapter 2 - From Prison to Palace
   Chapter 3 - An Interpreter for God
   Chapter 4 - Joseph and His Brothers
   Chapter 5 - Joseph and His Father
   Chapter 6 - Joseph in Old Age and Death


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