The Bible is filled with amazing stories that seem to leap off the pages and lift our hearts and encourage our faith: David standing up in faith and defeating Goliath with a slingshot and stone; Moses lifting his rod to split the Sea in half so that Israel could walk across on dry ground; or Peter walking on the waters of the Galilee.
These stories, and many others we can think of, provide a clear message to the people of G-D that when we walk in faith and faithfulness, we will experience the blessings of G-D in our lives. While this statement is absolutely true, there are also events that take place in the Bible where it seems at first glance (and sometimes second, third, and fourth glance) as if the opposite is true.
One example is in the story of Joseph. Joseph is sold into slavery by his brothers unjustly. He then rises up as a slave to become overseer of Potiphar's house, only to be falsely accused of attempted rape and thrown into prison. While in prison, he interprets the dream of the cupbearer (and baker). The dream comes true and the cupbearer is released and promises that he would remember Joseph, only to forget about Joseph, and Joseph stays in prison for two more years.
It is easy to look at this story and wonder how G-D could allow Joseph to suffer in such terrible ways, when Joseph appears to be walking in faith and living faithfully the entire time. But, a closer look at the story provides for us an insight into the faithfulness of G-D in the story of Joseph that is just as powerful, if not more so than the stories of David, Moses, and Peter.
As we read the words of Joseph’s time in prison, slavery, and prison, we find that although Joseph was sold into slavery, he never became a slave, and although he was cast into prison, he never became a prisoner. Read the story again; Joseph never once allowed his physical location to change his spiritual location. He never allowed his circumstance to affect his faith. He didn’t let the injustice of his brothers cause him to waver in his faith or change who and what he truly was.
He could have become angry at his brothers and become violent; He could have become depressed when taken out of the Promised Land and given up; He could have said “why not?” when offered a sinful sexual relationship with Potiphar’s wife; He could have given up when the cupbearer failed to keep his promise of remembering him.
After all, every one of these things were done to Joseph by unrighteous people while Joseph was being righteous. It could seem to the reader as if G-D was punishing Joseph for being righteous. But, the truth is that while we see these events in Joseph’s life as unjust and unrighteous, it doesn't appear from the text that Joseph ever saw them that way. Joseph just sees them as life events. Joseph continues to walk in faith and faithfulness through each one and over and over we see the words “Adonai was with him.”
Joseph understood a spiritual concept that demonstrated the same faith that we see in David, Moses, and Peter, and G-D’s response was no less miraculous. The miracle exists in the fact that Joseph knew deep in his heart that while he may have been sold into slavery, he was never a slave, and while he was cast into prison, he was never a prisoner. Joseph understood a truth that we all need to not only learn in our mind, but also apply in our hearts. Joseph understood fully what Yeshua would later say in John 17:13-16:
13 “But now I am coming to You. I say these words while I am still in the world, so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. 14 I have given them Your word; and the world hated them, because they are not of the world just as I am not of the world. 15 I am not asking that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, just as I am not of the world.
Paul and Silas understood this Biblical reality, which is why they were able to sing and rejoice while they were in prison. It wasn’t that prison wasn’t horrible that allowed them to sing. It was that they understood just as Joseph did that even though they were in prison, they were not prisoners.
So, while we look at the events of Joseph’s life and often say “Poor guy,” I wonder if Joseph would look at our lives when we become overwhelmed by our circumstances, and when we begin to waiver in our faith and faithfulness, say “Poor Guy” or “Poor Girl,” because he sees us slipping into allowing our current circumstances to change who and what we believe we are.
We are not what our surroundings tell us we are; we are only what G-D tells us we are.