Walk into the nearest prison, wait as the officer unlocks one of the cells, step in and ask the inmate, “Why are you looking so sadly today?”
How well do you think that will go with you? Not very well, yet this is Joseph’s expectation. Even in prison, while serving the prison warden, Joseph walks into the cell of the recently demoted baker and butler and inquires, “Why do you look so sad, today?”
Does that question not strike you as pleasantly unusual? At first, it would seem natural for them to look sad because, after all, they are in prison. However, the atmosphere Joseph created wherever he was naturally lifted spirits even in the darkest dungeons of disappointment. Joseph was clearly an eternal optimist. Whether serving in a palace or a prison, he was whistling a happy tune.
How could this young man rise to prominence in Potiphar’s house? How could he expect smiles upon the faces of his fellow prisoners? “For in thee, O Lord, do I hope: thou wilt hear, O Lord my God…Forsake me not, O Lord: O my God, be not far from me. Make haste to help me, O Lord my salvation” (Psalm 38:15, 21-22).
Hands are mentioned more times in Genesis 39 than any other chapter in Genesis, and in this I think you will find Joseph’s key to optimism. Joseph saw beyond the hands of his kindred exchanging silver for his life, beyond the hands of the traders bartering for him like an animal, beyond the hands of Potiphar’s wife grasping his garment in accusation, beyond the hands of the guard thrusting him in prison. Joseph saw beyond these hands and had the discernment to see the hand of God that was always with him. You will see this become evident in the final chapter when he says to his brothers, “Ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good” (Genesis 50:20).
How did Joseph have the perception to see through the hands of flesh to see the hands of his Father? I suspect those dreams early in his life were the greatest gift. Yes, greater than the coat of many colors was the hope of a greater plan that God was working in his life. D. L. Moody spoke of three faiths: a struggling faith, a clinging faith, and a resting faith. Joseph lived all three, but mostly he had the resting faith in the hands of God. The optimist drinks daily from the fountain of hope found in the promises of God. In order for you to expect smiles in prison, you must drink from that same faithful fountain of hope.
I have often wondered how two grown people who were brought up in the same home with the same parents, influences, and experiences can be so different. Sometimes, it seems, you could find more similarities between two strangers than between the two siblings. Judah and Joseph were very different.
Judah and Joseph were very different. Both had divine revelation—Joseph had dreams; Judah had sons killed by God for their wickedness; however, they appreciated those very differently. Another similarity is both brothers went away from the family. Joseph was sold into slavery; Judah willingly struck out on his own. The similarities end here.
Judah ended up in a business partnership with Hirah and married a Canaanite woman which was contrary to the family’s practice for generations. Judah’s children were so wicked and he so lenient the Lord had to punish them. Judah’s steps continue to spiral downward to the point he has to declare a harlot was more righteous than he! All his schemes and plots to get ahead in life had failed. Judah’s heart is revealed when he suggested to make a profit on Joseph instead of killing him. It appears Judah was elbowing his way in order to stand out from the rest of his brothers.
Joseph was given an opportunity to self-promote. He was immediately dropped into the home of Potiphar, a dignitary in Egypt. He could have chosen a similar path as his brother Judah, but he did not. Instead of sordid tales of self-promotion by sleeping with Potiphar’s wife, he preserves his way. His response to the wrong way was, “How can I sin against God?” Joseph was more interested in God’s approval than personal advancement.
Scanning through Psalm 37 provides many wonderful commentaries on Joseph’s life. “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord: And he delighteth in his way” (Psalm 37:23). “Depart from evil, and do good; And dwell for evermore” (Psalm 37:27). “Wait on the Lord, and keep his way, And he shall exalt thee to inherit the land” (Psalm 37:34).
Two brothers with two very different stories. If you were to follow one or the other, then follow the wisdom from Psalm 37:37, “Mark the perfect man, and behold the upright: For the end of that man is peace.”
“They must be going to our church, too,” pipes the little preschooler’s voice in the back seat. Both of my children have come to this conclusion as we are driving to church on a Sunday and they see other vehicles on the road. In a child’s mind, there is only one road in the entire world and that is the one we are on that is taking us to the place we want to go. Logically, this means that if others are on the road with us, then they must be traveling to the same destination. If only everyone else was going to our church, that would be a wonderful day!
There are two people in Scripture who did see fellow travelers on their paths, but their experiences were as different as life and death. There was a man who was on his way to curse the people of God. As Balaam rode his reliable donkey, there was an obvious disruption in his plans. Repeatedly, this donkey acted out of character and would try to turn out of the way which was clearly frustrating and embarrassing Balaam. The final time, Balaam wished he had a sword in his hand so he could kill the donkey. God opened the donkey’s mouth and Balaam’s eyes and he was terrified. He finally saw what his dumb donkey saw in the way. The angel of the Lord was blocking the path, sword drawn and gleaming, prepared to destroy this disobedient man.
Jacob also saw some fellow travelers on his path. God came to Jacob and told him to return to his homeland with the promise that God would be with him. Jacob packs up everything, but due to a lifetime of treachery and covert dealings, Jacob was noticeably uneasy. God knew what Jacob needed and encouraged him by sending the angels of God to meet him. Jacob recognizes the confirmation from God. He named the place Mahanaim much like he did when he was in Bethel twenty years earlier. This was a mile marker Jacob wanted to remember forever.
Are you going God’s way? If not, you may meet a fellow traveler more like Balaam’s than Jacob’s. God may have given you indicators that you are going the wrong way. Much like the reflective red rectangular signs that scream “Wrong Way” God may try to get your attention. If you are going God’s way, it does not mean that you will not have bumps in the road. Jacob was about to face his brother and four hundred armed men! He was not experiencing peace at this point in the trip. God knows. Look for the mile markers along the way where He evidently confirms the way you are going when you are desperately searching for his leading.
“I need that donut!”
I think quietly to myself as my mouth begins to salivate. The truth is (as my mom used to say): You need that like you need a hole in your head. We are prone to dupe ourselves into believing a lie. David knew all about self-deceit. He had been tortured by its grip long enough and there was plenty of damage which was evidence of how cut-throat deception can be.
The term David uses is “guile” (Psalm 32:2), and for the next few verses, he begins to peel back the mask of his self-deception to reveal the true person. He describes “when I kept silence, my bones waxed old, thy hand was heavy upon me, and my moisture was turned to drought.” He was one step away from death and his foot was on a banana peel! He realized he would either take this to the grave or let God take it to the cross. He came clean. He acknowledged his sin to God. The result was the transfusion of ice in his veins with the warmth of blessedness.
“Blessed is the man…in whose spirit there is no guile.”
This word guile is inextricably tied to another person in Scripture—Jacob. He came with subtilty (Genesis 27:35 uses the same root word) and swindled the birthright from Esau. Even when God came to Jacob in Bethel, he pretended everything was okay. He played his own version of “Let’s Make a Deal” with God refusing to come clean during God’s invitation. Only after Jacob was the victim of similar shenanigans when Laban switched the bride on him (Genesis 29:25 again uses the same root word here), was Jacob about ready to come clean. Finally, as he wrestled with God, he admitted, “I am Jacob.” In effect, I am the deceiver.
“Blessed is the man in whose spirit there is no guile.”
Jacob does receive a blessing from God. Pure in motive and honest in self-image, this was the noble identification of God’s people (John 1:47; Revelation 14:5). Decide to throw yourself upon the mercy of God without guile. Do not pretend any longer. Recognize that we are all sinners, and hopefully, you are a sinner saved by grace.
You didn’t go all the way, so you weren’t all the way wrong, right?
Isaac didn’t go all the way wrong, but it wasn’t until he went all the way right that God blessed him.
There was a serious famine in the land, and Isaac must have felt that God did not see what was going on because he left Lahairoi which meant “God sees me.” There’s no accident that much of this story is compared to Abraham. The first famine Abraham experienced drove him into Egypt. He picked up Hagar and you know the mess that resulted from that decision. Isaac seems to be one who hardly waive red from his father’s path. There are many parallels between the two stories, but God speaks to Isaac and halts his full descent into Egypt. God didn’t want him to repeat all of Father Abraham’s mistakes. Instead Isaac stops in Philistia. He does make the same mistake as his father by calling his wife, Rebekah, his sister. He is scolded by the king. Isaac plants crops and is incredibly successful. The world recognizes that God is blessing Isaac even in the midst of a regional famine, yet Isaac does not break away from the world. It’s almost seems that he can’t fully trust that God is his supply.
The king send Isaac away because the people envy his success, but Isaac tries to hang around. He resigns some of the wells his father had dug in the suburbs of Philistia. God allows strife to push him further and further away. The first well he digs is fought over, so he names it Esek (dispute). The second well is fought over, so he names it Sitnah (opposition). The third well actually is uncontested, so he lives in the illusion he is fine and names it Rehobeth (room). There is one thing missing, though: the presence of God.
While we focus on supplying our needs, we often forget to rely on the supplier. Finally, Isaac returns back to the land promised his father and begins digging a well there. All at once, true peace and comfort rests upon him in this place. God appears to Isaac and reaffirms his oath with him. Then the king of the Philistines comes and confirms an oath with him. Then the wonderful announcement, “We have found water!” Isaac named the well Beersheba which means “Well of the oath.” Which oath do you think he had in mind? Maybe the oath God expressed to him finally registered in Isaac’s heart.
God was not just the God of Abraham. Isaac did not need to pursue the right places where his father had been. He needed to purse the right Person his father had known. Once Isaac relied on God all the way on his own, he found rest.