JOSEPH AND PRISON
Joseph had been the prince. Then he was thrown into the pit. Eventually, he was sold to Potiphar as a slave. Now we see him in prison. Joseph’s life looks like a roller coaster, up one minute and down the next. Perhaps as this young man experienced prosperity in Potiphar’s home he thought his dream he had when at home of one day ruling over his brothers was coming true. Instead, his dream was turning into a nightmare as he found himself in prison. Now it appears that the dream of ruling over his brothers has evaporated with this turn of events.
We all have “prisons,” those apparent obstacles and inescapable places God may have for us. Maybe our prison is a financial one that seems to never change. Perhaps it is a physical problem, for which there is no human answer. Maybe it is a relational prison, which never seems to change. The prison of Joseph pictures four truths that can apply to our “prisons” as well.
I. PRISONS = GOD’S PARADOX v.19-20
For Joseph prison could have appeared as a contradiction of sorts. Two apparent contradictions are raised in this consideration.
A. Opposite of Reward for Obedience
Our thinking is, “If I obey then God will bless me, and everything will fall into place.” Conversely, it is possible to view a “prison” as “punishment” for some sin. Joseph could have spent time initially wondering what he did wrong. “Maybe I was too friendly with Mrs. Potiphar,” he thought. Another thought could have been, “If only I had taken somebody with me every time I was around her.”
Another line of reasoning for Joseph could have been his thoughts of God. “Here I have obeyed and this is the thanks I get?” It appears that obedience to the Lord does not pay, if I am looking for what I can get out of it. So, a prison can be a paradox in our thinking of how God should treat us because of our faithfulness to Him. Have you ever had a thought that your sufferings should be less because of how you have served the Lord? The truth is that obedience can bring more suffering, because of the other truths we will consider.
B. Obstacle to Reigning in Obedience
How can I be a victorious Christian if all this bad stuff keeps happening to me? This could have been one of Joseph’s thoughts. Apparently, from a human viewpoint, prisons seem to be a hindrances to being fruitful as a Christian. Yet this is God’s way of true victory- not to remove the suffering, but to be our victory through and in it.
There is another aspect of this obstacle. This prison appears to be the end of Joseph’s dream coming true. How could he ever rule over his brothers in a foreign country as a prisoner? Again, this is a divine paradox, which to man seems impossible. Our obstacles are God’s opportunities. Our prisons are simply divine possibilities.
II. PRISONS = GOD’S PLAN v. 20-23
We know the end of the story, so it is easy for us to see God’s plan unfolding through this imprisonment. For Joseph, he had to live as we do, not seeing the future, but trusting the Lord that He could use this prison for His ultimate plan. From a human perspective this would not fit the typical rise to power. Yet because God is in control the worst of situations are still accomplishing what He has purposed.
A. The Placement v. 20
Notice it was the king’s jail where Joseph was placed. It just so happened that Potiphar imprisoned Joseph in Pharaoh’s jail. Little did Joseph know that this placement would result in his relationship with the king’s cupbearer. That relationship would be vital later on in Pharaoh’s life.
B. The Position v. 21-22
Joseph was given favor in the eyes of the chief jailer. The jailer gave to Joseph a position of authority over the other inmates. All of this was made possible because of God extending kindness to Joseph. It was the hand of God that brought this to pass. This position is significant later, because this allows Joseph contact with the other prisoners. That will open the door for him to minister to the cupbearer of Pharaoh.
C. The Prosperity v.23
God once again prospers Joseph in the midst of difficult circumstances. This was another piece of the puzzle to position Joseph to meet and relate to the cupbearer of Pharaoh. Every part of this prison experience fits into the giant puzzle of Joseph’s life.
III. PRISONS = GOD’S POWER v. 21-23
The Lord was with Joseph in power. Verse 21 states that the Lord gave him favor in the sight of the jailer. Verse 22 says, “… Whatever he did, the Lord made to prosper.” Prisons are hard places because there is no escape. The “sentence” is usually unknown to the prisoner, and many times it could be for life. Sometimes cruel people are in this prison with us and there is no relief from the pain, pressures, or persecution. This presents an opportunity for the power of God to be displayed in a life. Perhaps that is the main reason for your prison, to draw you to the Lord, so that His power is manifested through your difficulty. Tribulation can be a magnifying glass for God’s power to be seen in the life of a Christian.
It was Jeremiah Denton who said, “You do not know you need the Lord until He is all you have.” Sometimes it takes a prison for us to discover He is all we have. Would you rather miss prison and never know the power of God or experience a jail in order to know His power? His strength is made perfect in our weakness and God uses prisons to cause us to see our weakness and need for Him. What is your prison? Is anything too hard for the Lord? You can thank Him for it, knowing that this is His way of showcasing His ability.
IV. PRISONS = GOD’S PRIORITIES v.19-23
Why do we serve the Lord? Is it to garner blessings from Him, or is it just for who He is? Prisons can be a place to consider what motivates me. Prisons can reshape priorities, so that God purifies what our desires may be.
If Joseph had just been walking with the Lord because of convenience or personal comfort, then all of that was dealt with through the pit and now the prison. If his whole passion had been to see this dream fulfilled, it probably died in a jail cell. Whatever pride may have been in Joseph’s heart had to go if he was ever to be God’s leader. Prisons humble the heart. God’s priorities are dealing with our character, not just opening doors for our future. Prisons are the furnaces where God removes the dross and brings forth the pure gold. God does not make a leader in a classroom, through a seminar, or even through time alone. It is through the prisons that leaders are forged.
Is God trying to say something to me? Am I in a prison and is He wanting to change my priorities to His? Does He want me to be a leader in my home, church, work place, or community? Then I will have to go to prison. His prison ordained to fulfill His plan, demonstrate His power, and reveal His priorities.