Distressed But Not Depressed

Step by step the divine plan is executed, and the events occur as divinely designed in inscrutable wisdom. Joseph is sold into Egypt by his brothers and bought by Potiphar the captain of the guard. He is sold because his brothers do not want his dreams to be fulfilled; and he is bought by the man whom God selected and raised up, just exactly in order that Joseph’s dreams might be fulfilled. Deceitfully he is charged with evil, and, because of it, cast into the king’s prison, so that he can be brought before the king to explain his dreams. The king’s butler and baker are cast into this same prison, so that Joseph can meet them and, through explaining their dreams, be brought in time before the king whom he must meet. 

In Genesis 39:1 Potiphar is called the captain of the king’s guard. We read, further, in Genesis 40:1-4, that the king put his butler and baker in the prison, and that the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them. We conclude therefore that Potiphar was the one who consigned these two servants of the king to Joseph. This is understandable. Potiphar did not have a change of mind about the crime of which Joseph was unjustly accused, and for which he had sent him into prison. He did not bring Joseph out of prison, did not commute his sentence. He considered it wise to keep him there, even though the keeper of the prison had found no fault in Joseph, and had exalted him to the position of full control of all the prisoners. We may be sure that Potiphar knew all this and was quite aware of Joseph’s faithfulness there in prison. The man he had trusted with all his goods before this, he still considered trustworthy in the prison. Here there were no women to tempt him. This besetting sin, as Potiphar viewed it, Joseph could not fall into in the prison—certainly not with his wife. And he agreed to this elevation of Joseph as long as he stays in prison. And, after all, Joseph must still be punished for his “crime.” Yet, behind it is God, Who has His purpose in having Joseph left in prison and elevated for what must follow in the divine plan. The little chick must remain in the egg-shell till a particular moment; and Joseph must remain incarcerated in the king’s prison until God’s moment has come. He is not forgotten of God. But his continued imprisonment is due to the fact that God has him in mind, and is working all things together for his good. 

Added now to the prisoners is one who, like Joseph, is unjustly accused of an evil which he did not perform. Even as Joseph was cast into the prison without a hearing, the butler was cast with the baker into the prison where Joseph was being held. Who offended the king was not yet determined, but in his fury the king cast both of them into the dungeon. It would seem that here too was circumstantial evidence that incriminated the butler with the baker. And what the two, Joseph and the butler, had in common was that God was using both of them for the good of His church. Both will be brought out of prison because of dreams, although God has a rather long period of time between the two releases. We would say that Joseph who had been there before the butler deserved to be out before he was. But we speak foolishly, for Joseph did not deserve to be there at all. He was there because of God’s mercy, and not because of Joseph’s guilt. And God’s clock and calendar have the right moments for every event in history. His grace and mercy upon His church set the day, the hour, as well as the year. 

The dreams of the butler and baker have one point of similarity in that both have the figure three in them. This does not have symbolic meaning as referring to the Trinity. The three branches of the butler’s dream, and the three baskets of the baker’s dream refer only to the three days when the king will “lift up” the heads of these two men, the one to his former position, and the other to the gallows. 

Joseph concluded his interpretation of the dream of the butler with a plea to be remembered beforePharaoh. He sought to appeal his case before the Supreme Court of the land. He knew that he must appeal to one above Potiphar who controlled the prison; and that one was the king who controlled Potiphar. 

Did we not know the outcome and only Joseph’s innocence, we could shed tears for him when he cried out, “Think on me when it shall be well with thee, and shew kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.” Step by step, we said, the divine plan is being executed. Event follows event in the divinely inscrutable wisdom that has planned Joseph’s future. But Joseph himself was human, and he could not see and know then what we know today. His cry reveals that he was sinking ever more deeply, and his soul was being overwhelmed more and more with distress. He had fallen from the position of being a beloved son at home with his father to a slave in a strange land, from friendship unto bondage. In his servitude he had been exalted; but he had remained a slave who could not return to his father’s home with its joys. Falsely accused he was debased further into life imprisonment. And though in the dungeon it went relatively well with him, to the point that he had freedom in the prison, experiencing exaltation amid debasement, having all the prisoners committed to him, he nevertheless was in deep distress. Though chief of the prisoners, he was a prisoner and not a free man. He could not get out of prison to return home. His plea shows how badly he wanted to get “out of this house.” 

And the days that passed by since the butler was given his freedom only added to Joseph’s woes. The human mind is an active organ that causes us untold grief because, grappling with the unknown, it often makes deductions and arrives at conclusions that distress the soul further. Well could Joseph have wondered whether the king, having been told by the butler what Joseph’s plight was, simply dismissed the whole matter so that now it had become a closed case, the Supreme Court having thrown the case out with no recourse left for Joseph. He did not know that the butler had forgotten completely. And even we, who know the outcome, and know that this ungrateful servant of the king did completely fail to think again of Joseph, are amazed at that fact. How could he have forgotten? Could a man forget an imprisonment that was so recent? Does one forget such an experience, when life hung in the balance for a time, and when such a happy ending was the outcome? Was there not a new baker in the king’s service? And would not the presence of this new personage remind the butler of his experiences with the other baker? 

Here, too, we must remember that the divine plan is being executed. Inscrutable wisdom is here at work. God’s hand is with Joseph. And that hand completely erased from the butler’s mind Joseph’s plea and request. He, the Divine Protector, Who neither slumbers nor sleeps, has His plan rooted in love and executed in tender mercy. Joseph must not go home! Joseph cannot go home! And do you not see the love, the mercy, and the inscrutable wisdom in it that gives this mental block in the mind of the butler? There is work for Joseph in Egypt, so that the covenant line in Canaan may survive the coming famine—of which neither Joseph, nor Pharaoh, nor Jacob and his family are aware. And that covenant family must survive because Christ is in its loins. If He is not born, because the covenant line dies in the famine, no one will ever know God’s love, mercy, and grace; and all will be in a fiery dungeon that in comparison makes Pharaoh’s and Potiphar’s house of torture as nothing. We would still be in our sins; and the holy wrath of God would burn upon us without end! The Christ must come and, being falsely accused, be nailed to a tree so that, before God, there will never be any accusations against us, and we may eat of the tree of life in the new Jerusalem. 

But, as we said, Joseph does not know this work which he must do in Egypt. He does not know the details of God’s plan. And he cannot see how the things of the moment will work together for his and our good. And note that we said, Joseph does not know the details of God’s plan. He did know the general lines of that plan; and that is what kept him, in his distress, from being depressed, and gave him hope instead of despair. The Supreme Court may have seemed to have thrown out his case, but he knew that God would bring him out in His own time. 

How did he know this? Those dreams that God gave him, and which filled his brothers with such envy and hatred were for Joseph a source, of comfort. They were God’s Word to him. And, holding on to God’s Word, walking by faith, the child of God is sustained in the midst of all the distress and trials of this life. When God shows the child of God who holds on to His Word that this is not His way, that child of God still believes that there is a way. And he waits for God to reveal the details of that way in his life. His soul sings,

“My soul in silence waits for God, 

My Saviour He has proved; 

He only is my rock and tower; 

I never shall be moved. 

My honour is secure with God, 

My Saviour He is known; 

My refuge and my rock of strength 

Are found in God alone.”

Psalm 62

Would it have been good for Joseph to know the details in God’s, way? Would his faith have been stronger? Was his plea to the butler a manifestation of weakening faith? Did it contradict those words, “My soul in silence waits for God”? Not at all! To all these questions there must be an emphatic NO! Had it been good for Joseph, God would have made him know the details. It would not have served the strengthening of his faith. God strengthens faith through His Word; but knowing too much detail of His counsel will easily cause one to walk by sight rather than by faith. And that holds true for us today, when we are curious to know just how the confusion and economic, political, international, social distresses of the day will serve the coming of the Antichrist. Faith needs to know. It is essential for faith that we know what God promises, and that it is He Who promises. We need to know the broad lines of the way that sent His Son and had Him crucified, raised, and exalted in heaven over all creation. But detailed knowledge of His counsel, because we are still in this sinful flesh, would tend to less exercise of faith, and a weakening of faith rather than a strengthening of it. Joseph’s cry for the butler to help him was no weakening of his faith. God uses means, and He insists that we use means. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread” He insists that we work for it. We are not to wait for Him to put it on the table, or even in our mouths! And He insists also that we use our minds. 

To wait in silence means to keep our lips from complaining when God works differently than we had planned. But it means also that we are very vocal in our words of praise to Him for His goodness. 

The butler forgot because God had not forgotten either His promise to Joseph in the dreams, or us in this day and age. Keep before you always the truth that He keeps His Word, and that His way is the best way, because it is the only way. Then when distressed you will not be depressed but hopeful and patient, leaving your future to divine inscrutable wisdom and unchanging love that have never failed and will never fail.