IN THE SCHOOL OF ADVERSITY.
--GEN. 39:20-40:15.--OCT. 13.--
"For God was with Joseph, and showed him mercy."
AS THE FAVORED child of his beloved wife, Rachel, Joseph was no doubt esteemed by his father as the special inheritor of the Abrahamic promises. He remembered his own experiences, and how the divine favor had come to him, making him an heir of that promise; and doubtless he had, to a greater or less extent, communicated these hopes and promises to all of his sons, and especially to Joseph, his favored one. Joseph's dreams, which so angered his brethren, must have appealed to him and to his father as rather an intimation on God's part of his pre-eminence. It must therefore have caused great disappointment and chagrin to Joseph, first to find himself in the pit, and his strong cryings and tears unheard both by his brethren and the Lord. It must have been a source of bitter disappointment and chagrin when he found himself sold to the Ishmaelites, to be a slave. But however disappointing these circumstances we can see that they were profitable experiences, tending to develop in him a proper character, if rightly accepted--to develop patience, obedience, trust.
There are good lessons in Joseph's experiences for all who are hoping to be heirs of the spiritual features of this same Abrahamic covenant,--joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Lord. (Gal. 3:29.) The promise is sure, and the privilege of inheriting is ours; but in order that we may be prepared for that service and its responsibilities it is needful that we should learn lessons of humility, patience, faith, endurance. Our Lord, the head of this "Seed of Abraham," endured such contradiction of sinners, and trials and testings, and learned obedience to the Father's will even unto death,--although he was perfect, holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners. Much more does it seem necessary that we who are called to be "members of his body" should pass through severe testings and trials, to be fitted and prepared for the glory that shall follow.
Arrived in Egypt, the Lord's blessing was upon Joseph in a remarkable manner, in that he was sold [R2886 : page 313] as a slave to a wealthy master. We have little insight into Joseph's previous history, but apparently he was a remarkable boy when he entered Potiphar's house at seventeen years of age. His manliness and sedateness and faithfulness to duty and quick intelligence were a good inheritance from his father, who had earnestly desired his birth;--which was, indeed, in answer to prayer. He evidently inherited considerable of his father's faith, benevolence and executive ability, and as a result rose rapidly in Potiphar's house to a position of great responsibility, to have charge over all his master's affairs. We cannot doubt that the boy's mind frequently reverted to his father and brethren, and his dreams, and to the Abrahamic covenant. Unquestionably he believed in those promises, and doubtless often wondered how they would be fulfilled,--what would be the leadings of divine providence in his affairs. His faith in God, his trust in the promises, served to separate him from the evil influences connected with that sudden transfer of his life from the pasture fields of Canaan to the busy scenes and luxuries and pleasures and sins of one of the greatest cities in the world at that time, a capital of the most renowned nation in that day.
So it is with every life; there is need of an ideal, of a hope, of a good ambition, to act as a ballast and to keep the life steady in the midst of the divers winds [R2886 : page 314] and currents of the present evil world. The boy or the girl who has had a proper training by godly parents, especially in respect to the hopes set before us in the gospel, has much advantage every way over youthful companions who have no specific object and motive in life, who lack the ballast of the divine promises, and are driven hither and thither by the changing winds of time, generally into folly and often into sin, in search of satisfaction, which all crave. Christian parents who have been derelict of duty toward their children cannot too quickly correct the fault and help them to settle their minds upon the only things that can bring them true peace and joy and satisfaction, and balance, in the storms of life.
But if Joseph thought he had learned all the necessary lessons of experience, and that his course henceforth would be one of prosperity, he was mistaken. Divine providence had marked out for him a higher station than that of chief overseer of the household affairs and business of General Potiphar; and if his station was to be a higher one, likewise also he must receive further lessons in a still severer school, in order to be prepared for the still greater exaltation in due time. Suddenly, while evidently enjoying his master's confidence and his mistress' favor, calamity came upon him, and that through no fault of his own, but really because of his faithfulness to his master. He was falsely accused by Potiphar's spited wife. He was cast into prison; and this expression, "prison," meant and still means something entirely different in Egypt and all eastern countries from what it means in Europe and America. There prisons were dark, loathsome, terrible places; and prisoners were frequently horribly mistreated, bound in iron fetters, etc. That this was Joseph's treatment, at first, seems evident from a reference to the matter in Psalm 105:18: "Whose feet they hurt with fetters; he was laid in iron." This must have been a severe trial to Joseph, a doubly bitter experience by reason of the hopes he had been entertaining respecting divine favor and future exaltation.
And so it is with the spiritual heirs of the Abrahamic promises: sometimes, while in the discharge of duty to the best of our ability, and when apparently we have the Lord's blessing and favor upon us and our affairs in a most marked degree, suddenly trouble may arise, adversity come, the powers of darkness seem to triumph, and for the moment we may be apparently culprits in the judgment of our fellow-men, and apparently forsaken by divine providence. The only consolation in such conditions is that we have suffered wrongfully--"as deceivers, yet true." Such experiences, doubtless, are needful to us; for though we may sing:--
"I would rather walk in the dark with God,
Than go alone in the light,"
Joseph's faith evidently stood the test, and his nobility of character shone out even under those adverse conditions; and this became a sign to the master of the prison that the Lord was with Joseph, that he was a peculiarly exemplary and wise young man-- now twenty-seven years old. The warden of the prison was anxious to have such a faithful servant to assist him in his work. Indeed, there is always room in this world for efficient men and women, and the most efficient are those in whom is the spirit of the Lord, and who have "the wisdom which cometh from above--first pure, then peaceable, easy to be entreated, full of mercy and good fruits." (James 3:17.) The prison keeper doubtless was actuated by selfish motives to favor Joseph and put him in charge of the prisoners. But no matter for this; it was the operation of divine providence, nevertheless, and not merely Joseph's abilities that secured for him the position. However, we are to note that those whom God specially favors, and specially uses, must have character. A rough diamond may not look better than an ordinary pebble, but it has something of firmness and purity about it that ordinary pebbles do not have, that justifies the cutting and polishing and ultimate mounting as a gem. So we are to remember that while all our blessings are of the Lord and through Christ, nevertheless we have something to do in the matter of "making our calling and election sure"; we must have the love, the devotion, the zeal for God and for righteousness; and not only must we have this character, but we must have the submission which will enable us to accept and profit by the various trials of faith and patience which divine providence sees proper to permit us to experience for the trimming and polishing of the jewel.
Not only were Joseph's experiences as a slave and as a prisoner calculated to give him a sympathy for those in adversity, but additionally he was learning lessons of experience and wisdom, educational in their character, which would prepare him in time to stand before King Pharaoh and to be made his Prime Minister. Some of these experiences he gained in the prison, as related in this lesson. The prisoners at that time were not all culprits, but sometimes the subjects of the king's displeasure. Two such persons high in Pharaoh's household (the "butler" or cup-bearer to the king, being one of the highest officers in honor and trust, and the baker, the manager of the king's culinary department, and general steward of the household) were cast into the same prison with Joseph because of having in some manner offended the king; and as Joseph had by this time chief charge of the prisoners he must have come frequently and into intimate contact with these men, so well versed in the affairs of the kingdom. And under the circumstances they would undoubtedly be communicative to Joseph, as we may be sure he was receptive to all the information obtainable. They must have thought him a very different sort of prisoner from others of that time when he even noticed so small a matter as sadness upon their faces, and enquired considerately respecting the same. So all of the spiritual heirs of the Abrahamic promise, while passing through the trials and difficulties needful to their preparation and polishing for the future glory, must learn to be compassionate. "Blessed are the merciful; they shall obtain mercy." Their own experiences help to mollify [R2886 : page 315] their hearts, and make them tender-hearted toward all who are in trouble. All of the Lord's people should be peculiar in these respects--"full of mercy and good fruits."
Joseph's expression of sympathy soon brought from the prisoners an explanation of their sadness-- they had each dreamed on the previous night, and each was troubled, thinking that his dream foreboded evil. Joseph was blessed by the Lord with some intuitive understanding of dreams, and promptly gave their interpretation--one of the officers would in a short time be released, while the other would be executed; and having sympathized with the one who would suffer, and having congratulated the one who would be released, Joseph made request of the latter that in his coming days of prosperity he would remember him and his kindness, and if possible secure his release through the king's mercy.
Joseph's two dreams, and now these two dreams of the butler and baker, and two subsequent dreams by Pharaoh, all give evidence of having been in some manner divinely inspired, and intended to exercise certain influences and to bring about certain results. In our accepting these for all that they were, we are not to be understood as endorsing the thought that every dream is of the Lord, or is to have a special prophetic or providential fulfilment. Quite to the contrary, we believe that the majority of dreams are mental fictions, the result frequently of disordered stomachs and of the brain being partly asleep and partly awake, producing often unreasonable and absurd images, without special meaning except as warnings for better care in respect to our eating. We may even go further than this, and say that we feel sure that there is still a third kind of dreams,--dreams of a still [R2887 : page 315] different origin--neither inspired by the Lord nor by indigestion, but by evil spirits, for the purpose of misleading the dreamer. To make sure that our dreams are not the inspiration of evil we must make sure that we are not the children of the Evil One, but that having renounced sin and fled for refuge to the hope set before us in the Gospel, we have, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus our Lord, obtained adoption into the family of God, and thus obtained relationship to him and protection from the power of the Evil One, and his delusions as respects our affairs; and come under the gracious promise that "all things shall work together for good" to us because we love God and have been called according to his purpose. In the dreams mentioned in this connection we are to notice that those of the butler and baker and Pharaoh were not the dreams of God's people, but nevertheless were evidently inspired of him, and that the purposes of these dreams were not specially in the interest of the dreamers, but largely in the interest of Joseph.
As respects the Lord's people of to-day, there is much less necessity for dreams than in olden times. We have the Word of God--God's testimony bearing upon every subject needful to us. This message is so complete that the Apostle could say that by it the man of God might be thoroughly furnished unto every good word and work. (2 Tim. 3:16,17.) This should not hinder us from recognizing a dream as from the Lord, provided it would stand the tests of the written Word--provided the dream was not in any sense in conflict with God's revelation in the Scriptures. If the dream be in conflict with the Scriptures we are to reject the dream. If we find it in harmony with the Scriptures we are to accept it because of that harmony, and merely allow it to draw our attention more particularly to the Scriptures with which it accords. But whether by dreams or walking by faith entirely, and not by sight or dreams in any particular, the true child of God, the heir of the spiritual promises to Abraham, is to look for, to expect, to find, to realize, more fully even than our Golden Text says of Joseph, that "the Lord was with him, and showed him mercy." If the Lord be with us and show mercy toward us, no matter how he may do this, we are to take his favor with grateful hearts, and to show forth the praises of him who hath called us out of darkness into his marvelous light, and who eventually will bring us out of the prison-house of death into the glories of the everlasting Kingdom, to joint-heirship with his Son.