Thanksgiving Eve 2020
I think I just located the most amazing verse in the Bible. I am confident this conviction will last at least until I read a different verse, because there are quite a number of amazing verses in that Book.
For the time being I am settled on “And he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, ‘Why are your faces so sad today?’” (Genesis 40:7)
The scene is an Egyptian prison where Joseph had been incarcerated after being falsely charged and unfairly convicted.
I have never been imprisoned, but I am told the atmosphere is heavy with the sense of imagined innocence unjustly punished. It is not an easy thing for fallen sinners to admit that their suffering could be richly deserved. That is one of the things which made that penitent thief who died next to Jesus on another cross so exceptional.
There are many proofs which show the nobility of the imprisoned slave called Joseph. He was the one prisoner who actually was being punished unjustly.
In our age immorality is casual, acceptable, and even celebrated. But purity is celebrated in the eternal age of heaven. Purity meets with the approbation of God. For a few choice believers God’s pleasure is reason enough to forego their own pleasure. But what if by adhering to God’s highest standards we were to gain the public reputation of being criminally immoral? What if by resisting an aggressive seducer we were convicted of rape? In other words, what if we were punished for being pure?
The worst-case nightmare envisioned above became the actual reality of Joseph’s waking experience.
What could be worse than losing your homeland because of the betrayal of your brothers? Being a slave could possibly be worse. What could be worse than being an exiled slave? We are fairly confident that being a falsely imprisoned exiled slave would be worse. The fact that Joseph was imprisoned for immorality because he heroically resisted immorality must have been an irony which tortured his every thought.
But sorrow is nowhere evident in the astounding verse before us. Instead of dwelling on the woeful misfortunes which made his predicament so painful, Joseph had arrived at the place where he was able to focus on the misfortune of others. In other words, he had come to the place where he was qualified for ministry.
Genesis 40:7 is undeniably the first record we have of prison ministry. It may be the first record we have of pastoral ministry. It may also be the first instance of foreign missions. Joseph was a foreigner in a pagan land. In that pagan place he bore witness to the God of Israel. What is that, if not missions?
He read their faces and he saw their sadness. He made known his concern. He wished to understand and alleviate what he beheld. What was that, if not ministry? Who is this, if not a pastor?
Joseph’s nobility was all the more unlikely because he enjoyed none of the aids to the spiritual life which we deem most essential. He had no Bible, for it had not yet been written. He had no tabernacle or temple. He had no fellowship, for there were no other believers within hundreds of miles. How came he then by such a ministering heart? Whence came the buoyant confidence in God with which he assured his fellow prisoners?
Because he was nothing if not confident.
Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were troubled in this instance not so much by their imprisonment as by their dreams. Joseph comforted them with the assurance that God would clear up the mystery of those dreams. Before we try to answer the source of Joseph’s exceptional faith, we need first to consider the one great reality in Joseph’s life which made his faith so inexplicable.
That circumstance is merely this: None of the assurances God had given Joseph about his own dreams had yet come true. On the contrary, to that point, precisely the opposite had taken place. Joseph was assured that his brothers would one day look up to him from below. Thus far, subsequent to that revelation, his brothers had thrown him down into a pit and looked down upon him. He continued to sink further down−first into slavery, then into exile, and finally into prison.
Still he declares in Genesis 40:8, “Do not interpretations belong to God?”
Is this not remarkable?!
After establishing that Joseph had no Scripture, no temple or synagogue, no family or fellowship to fortify his confidence in God, we also have to admit that there was nothing in his experience to confirm that what God declared was true.
And yet he trusted!
Against all reversals, disappointments, sufferings, and tortures, he trusted.
The only possible explanation for Joseph’s endurance was that he somehow maintained an intimacy with God.
The ultimate reason, of course, was God’s enabling grace. Grace is always the core explanation for any excellence we discover in fallen creatures. But we humans who share Joseph’s fallenness are always on the lookout for clues.
In a word, we look for models.
We want to know what the contribution is from the human side. We look for patterns in the creature−something we can learn from, something we can aspire to.
In Joseph we see an indomitable resolve.
Against all countervailing pressure, Joseph resolved to trust God no matter what. We survey his story with the calm equanimity of those who know the end from the beginning. Except for God’s promise, Joseph did not know. But trust in the promise served for knowledge. Joseph stood fast against the successive calamities which broke over his life.
The words “Intimacy with God” fall easily from our lips, but that intimacy is an impossible thing to achieve apart from the power of super-abounding grace. That grace is what we must pray for because that intimacy is what we must have. Intimacy with God Himself, a prayerful gratitude for His work in our life, and a personal knowledge of His Word and ways lead to trust.
And trust will lead to intimacy.
Joseph knew that intimacy as few have known it before or since.
He possessed nothing but God Himself.
That divine possession was enough for Joseph. We have so much more than Joseph had. Best of all, we have the Greater Joseph, the Lord Jesus Christ.
That alone is reason for Thanksgiving.