On one occasion I was sitting in the church office of my previous church when a member of the church came in to see me. I made him coffee and we sat down to chat. He was a man with a ‘little bit of a past’ (read into that what you like) but was now fully committed to following Jesus. He was a good man and we had become good friends. The reason for his visit was that he had been overlooked for a promotion at work. Not only that, but the person who was given the promotion did not have too many scruples and yet was still given the job. His words went something like this “I don’t understand why, when I have made so many good changes to my life that they have given the job to the bad guy.”
We have moved to Genesis 39:19-23 Potiphar is gullible and accepts his wife’s story that Joseph had tried to rape her. Why wouldn’t he believe her? His reaction was to be incensed. However, if you look into the original meaning of the word it infers that Potiphar is not that convinced of his wife’s accusations so maybe not as gullible as we first thought.
Joseph is moved from one type of confinement (a cistern) to another (a prison) and, like the man who came to visit me at the church office, he must have wondered what he had to do in order to receive at least a small blessing from God, or even, what had he done wrong to be treated by God like this?
For those interested in a bit of technical stuff, looking at verses 21-23. Firstly, is the use of the word “natan” in three different contexts. It’s a word that suggests something deliberate and purposeful, meaning a plan is unfolding. Potiphar placed Joseph, then Yahweh disposed of the chief jailor and then the chief jailor placed the prisoners in Joseph’s hands.
Secondly, is how we reflect on difficult situations that are not seemingly of our own making. God is with us in difficulties and can grant us success in difficult situations however, it’s often our conclusion that because it has not turned out as we first thought or planned or even wanted, then that’s it. We won’t wait for the next page of the book to be turned, we apply a short term view of the situation.
Having said all of that when reading these verses, what kept coming to my mind was from the book of James.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-4
I just kept thinking, was Joseph counting his trials as all joy? Was Joseph thinking this trial was testing his faith and producing steadfastness? Then I kept thinking that I would not be viewing trials, personal or any other, like this. How much I have to learn Lord. There are times, when in trials, I have had to through tears just say “I trust you Lord.” At other times I know I have just felt like walking away, and yet God has always proved himself to be faithful.
I am sure Joseph did not know why these trials should be happening now. Nor did he know how long these trials would last, but he did know a simple promise, testing produces steadfastness. If these three words can sink their roots deep down into our hearts, then we might meet our trials with the most radical response of all, joy!
James begins his promise with a word lifted straight from the world of metalworking, “Testing . . . produces steadfastness”. Just as silver and gold are refined in the furnace (Psalm 12:6) Christians are refined, or tested, by their trials (1 Peter 1:7)
This image of testing, of metal being purified in the furnace both confirms and confronts what many of us feel in our suffering. It confirms the basic fact that suffering puts us into the fire. We need not pretend then, that the heat of our trials does not hurt us, nor that our hearts, even years afterward no longer bear the marks of the flames. Trials are a fire, and fire burns, even if our faith is as strong as silver.
However James’s word ‘testing’ also lovingly confronts how many of us feel in suffering. For, if our trials are a testing, then our trials are not random or pointless but rather they come from our Tester and not just any Tester, but the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. The good God, the kind God, the God who knows himself what flames feel like.
Even when trials overtake us we are still the apple of his eye. Even when the trial feels meaningless and wrong we are still wrapped in his good and perfect will. Even when the flames rise higher, we are still hidden safely in his hands as Joseph experienced.
Often in the heat we have eyes only for what our trials take away from us. We watch, speechless, as the fire swallows up much that gave us security, but underneath the ashes our trials are producing something, “testing . . . produces steadfastness.” If we will trust God and wait patiently, our trials will give us far more than they take away. Yes, but how do we know that our trials are producing something glorious? That’s the question that returns on sleepless nights and can break in during the day.
We know that pain is producing steadfastness not that we can always see the production in process. Normally, in the moment, all we can see is the pain, the trial has filled our view. Instead, we have to know that our trial is producing something because God is in it and is with us. The life of Joseph is not just an interesting story to make a film about, it’s revealing to us who God is, how he works and what he can do. It’s speaking to you and to me and leaping from the page saying “this is how it works”. There are times when Joseph is me and you. What happened to him, although centuries ago, has happened to me or you or is happening to me and you. However, the story is not just some sort of dramatic soap opera, rather it enables us to see behind the scenes into the workings of God, His compassion, His plans, His ability, it’s there so we can learn and turn to him and trust him. What do you imagine Joseph might say to you right now about your trial?
Before we think that the only way to experience joy is through trials or that the more it hurts the more good it must be doing you, remember our lives, whatever the circumstances, should be full of joy, meaning that the blessings of God outweigh the trials. Also our trials are momentary and there is, ahead of us, a perfect and complete joy.
For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison 2 Corinthians 4:17