Drinking Deeply

Sunday, June 11, 2006 at 3:30 PM

Justice and Joseph

Sometimes the doctrines of grace trap me. I’ll be facing a trial or something and wonder, “Hmm, God is sovereign, and I do trust Him to bring me out of this, but how do I act?” And I sit and think and think and sometimes I can’t come up with an answer. Or maybe I’ll have an answer but then I’ll forget it.

I’ve been reading through my Bible (Genesis) and I’ve come across the story of Joseph. I have always greatly enjoyed the story of Joseph (though Tim Challies has just read a commentary that discusses the story from Judah’s perspective ).

Genesis 39
1Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2The LORD was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3His master saw that the LORD was with him and that the LORD caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the LORD was on all that he had, in house and field. 6So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.
And one thing that drew me in particular was Joseph’s actions in the midst of the injustice. He is sold into slavery by his brothers, and turns around and becomes a faithful and trustworthy servant of his master, entrusted with all the household of his master except his master’s wife.
19As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, "This is the way your servant treated me," his anger was kindled. 20And Joseph's master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.
The wife lusts after Joseph and when he doesn’t respond appropriately (and that’s a great thing to think about as well, maybe my next post between the proverbs 1 posts), she frames him and he gets thrown into jail.

Yet in jail, he is faithful with all things and was put in charge of all prisoners because the keeper trusted him! How amazing!

But one thing that struck me was his response in the midst of this injustice. Not only does he faithfully fulfill God’s calling for him as a slave and later on as a prisoner, he also does not take advantage of the opportunities that probably abounded. If he were in charge of everything at his master’s house, he probably had more than ample opportunity to take a lot of food and money and run, but he didn’t. If he were in charge of the rest of the prisoners, he probably would have many opportunities to break out and flee into the night, and who could fault him? He was there unjustly, framed for something he didn’t do. The courts of law didn’t do God’s work. Weren’t they supposed to uphold God’s justice like Paul says they do in Romans 13?

But Joseph stayed. Not only did he stay, he stayed without resentment or bitterness. He stayed and was an example of that classic protestant work ethic, back before those words even existed.

But the other thing that struck me was that God hadn’t forgotten Joseph, and God does provide an appropriate way for Joseph to find his escape. No, it wasn’t glorifying to God for Joseph to escape out of prison, stealing money and food, because Joseph was called to submit to the authorities, but God would provide a way that was glorifying, and Joseph took it:

Genesis 40
9So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, "In my dream there was a vine before me, 10and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand." 12Then Joseph said to him, "This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit."
Dreams come, and Joseph hears them and interprets them for them. One is good, and the other is bad. But v. 13-15 jumped out at me:
13In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit."
“When you’re set free, remember me. I was put here wrongly and don’t deserve it.” Joseph isn’t fatalistic about things. He isn’t like “I guess God is punishing me, because God is sovereign and so I must deserve it.” He also isn’t seeking every way to escape, as opportunities would have been abundant for him. But he does seek an appropriate way to escape. He seeks escape through being released by the authorities themselves. Even in the midst of the injustice, he knows who to go to. He appeals to the authorities themselves, trusting that God will provide if it is indeed God’s will.

Wow. I thought that was pretty cool. And yet, that story doesn’t end that greatly then and there either.
23Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.
But we all know how it ends. Eventually the Pharaoh finds Joseph, elevates him up to the highest position in the land and God uses Joseph to save His people.

Joseph tells his brothers:

Genesis 45
7And God sent me before you to preserve for you a remnant on earth, and to keep alive for you many survivors. 8So it was not you who sent me here, but God. He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house and ruler over all the land of Egypt.
Genesis 50
20As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
And that just leads me back to echo Paul in Romans 11

33Oh, the depth of the riches and wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!

34"For who has known the mind of the Lord,
or who has been his counselor?"
35"Or who has given a gift to him
that he might be repaid?"

36For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be glory forever. Amen.

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