Whatever we may think of his awkward family situation, Joseph was favored by God with two extraordinary dreams. Even his jealous brothers saw clearly that these dreams heralded great things for this young man. "And they hated him yet the more for his dreams."
What a time this must have been for this dream. Highly favored by his father (if not by his father's house), and in possession of an infallible, "double-witness promise" of God that he should be the great one among his brethren. Perhaps he was lost in the contemplation of this future bliss as he approached his brethren in the fields of Dothan. At seventeen years he may hve been quite intolerable to those around him!
But then came the disillusioning and crushing blow--sold into slavery by his brothers, his bright future dashed in a few hours' time. Yet this should speak to us, for to all those going on in God this disillusioning and crushing blow must come. It is a spiritual maxim that everything, even the promises of God, must come to us by way of the Cross. How many of us have seen our dreams and visions and high callings seemingly smashed until we have nothing left. "We shall see what will become of his dreams!" [jeered Joseph's brothers]
Yes, Joseph was brought down--not only into Egypt, but into the ignominy of failure and defeat. We are such a simple and shallow people that when God brings us low or tests us, we believe it will be only for a short time. Yet Joseph was a slave for years, and a prisoner for years. It was through the years that God blessed him in the house of Potiphar that Joseph rose to be the head steward--this was a hard-earned success. But it took only a matter of hours for all of it to come crushing to nothing--a false accusation destroying the success of the man who had stood for divine morality. How the devil must have pummeled him as he was hauled to prison! Yet the Lord prospered him again even in prison, and he rose through the ranks once more. But let us not deceive ourselves--this too took years. Eleven years after being sold to the Midianites he had his remarkable encounter with Pharaoh's butler and baker. How he shines as he is used by God! By the Spirit of God he interprets two God-given dreams. Happy day! Surely this must be his ticket to freedom at last.
"Yet did not the chief butler remember Jospeh, but forgat him." (Gen. 40:23) After all, who remembers a failure? He was dashed by his brothers, dashed by Potiphar's unfaithful wife, and dashed by the king's ungrateful servant. (This last was the cruellest of all, for of a certainty those prison dreams must have all-too-painfully evoked his decades-old dreams.) A lesser man would have given up on God and His promises. What wrestlings there must have been with bitterness and depression! Everywhere he looks in his past there is blessing--blessing in which he has no part. How his miserable brothers must be prospering as cattle barons, watching their families grow, while he has neither life-mate nor shekel to his name! Luxury is still the lot of Potiphar's lustful, lying wife, while his accommodations are but a dark, stark cell. The ungrateful butler is in the place of honor in the king's service, while he is an unknown convict.
Yes, a lesser man would have given up on God and His promises; but strange to say, it is in part these very trials that make him something better than "a lesser man." Psalm 105:18 speaks of Joseph: "Whose feet they hurt with fetters; he was laid in iron." But the marginal note will speak far more deeply to those who walk in the Spirit: "...his soul came into iron;" or perhaps, as Edersheim translates it: "iron entered into his soul." Has this Jesus Whom you follow, Who promised "deliverance to the captives...to set at liberty...the opening of the prison to them that are bound..." has this same Jesus brought you down into this place of failure, where you can see neither the reason nor the end? Have there been times when it almost seemed that "now it will be over," only to be brought down even further? Has your soul ever come into iron? Have you despaired of God's calling on your life, or the vision he has set before you, or of the promises He made to you?
If you are being made to walk the path of failure and disillusionment, you have already discovered that few, if any, will understand your situation. How many thought of Jesus as the Great Failure as He hung upon the cross! If we follow this Great Failure (as men see Him), then it is inevitable that our paths will meet with His at the Cross. "Many are called but few are chosen" because they will not let God lead them this way.
But why did Joseph have to suffer so, and for so many years? Imagine, seventeen-year-old Joseph suddenly thrust into the rulership position he eventually received. A spoiled, pampered teenager who had known only success, wealth, prestige, good health, with dreams from God to add to his swagger--all in all, not a very good prospect to be one through whom the purposes of God could be accomplished. Such exaltation without the critical preparation would have led to his eventual destruction.
But we see an entirely different man in the thirty-year-old "failure." Here is a humble man with no confidence in the flesh. His trust is in Christ alone. Joseph puts his reliance in nothing--not his abilities, his experiences, not even the promises he has received, nothing except his Heavenly Father.
"Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning that we through patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." (Rom. 15:4) Why do we go through these things? What are we to learn and how are we to be comforted by Joseph's life? For our sakes God made Joseph to be an example of perseverance, a type of Christ, and a type of those who will reigh with Christ.
Joseph is an example of perseverance. He came through with a solid, proven character and hope that God would yet do what he had promised, and that all that transpired would vindicate God and His ways. Joseph came through with iron in his soul. I suppose we might say that he had some steel put in his backbone. God had proven Himself to Joseph. He showed his ability to keep him. In the end Joseph proved it to be so within himself. He was absolutely solid in God, meek, standing for God, and useful to Him. He was built upon a Rock, and not even the pleasures of Egypt nor his heady position under Pharaoh could ruin him. "...we also exult in tribulation, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint..." (Rom. 5:3-5)
Joseph was brought down by suffering, defeat, and the discipline of failure that he might be a type of Christ to us. Joseph was acquainted firsthand with slavery, injustice, heartbreak, hard work, and despair; like his Master, he was "a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief." For an Old Testament saint to have lived in such a way as to be a type of Christ is remarkable! What a life! How wonderfully close this is to the New Testament saint's goal: "always bearing about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus, that the life also of Jesus might be manifest in our body. For we who live are always delivered unto death for Jesus' sake, that the life also of Jesus might be made manifest in our mortal body." (2 Cor. 4:10-11) Believer, are you a "type of Christ" to others? Is this one of your most cherished desires? Yes? Then you must walk this way.
Joseph is a type of those who will rule with Christ. He represents another truth we neglect to our eternal loss: only if we suffer with Christ shall we reign with Him. How few of us believe this! This was God's path for Joseph. It was His path for His Christ, your Master. In this light we consider Paul's maxim to Timothy: "It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with Him, we shall also live with Him. If we suffer with Him, we shall also reign with Him: if we deny Him, He also will deny us; if we believe Him not, He abideth faithful; He cannot deny Himself." (2 Tim. 2:11-13) Reigning! Glory to God! After all, that lies at the end of this path. We see this end in Joseph's life. God fulfilled His promise to Joseph: His Word came, the word of the Lord tried him. The king sent and loosed him, even the ruler of the people, and let him go free. He made him lord of his house, and ruler of all substance. It happened suddenly to Joseph, and not by any works which he had done. Others began to perceive the deep work of God which had been hidden from human eyes and understanding. "Can we find such a man as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?" It is clear that he is God's man. Joseph begins to perceive the Lord's purpose in all his defeats and failures. He has become the man to whom secrets are revealed, for he has walked with God in the secret place of obscurity and sorrow, there communicating in the Spirit and learning of Him. He ascends to the fulfillment of God's promise--and in God's time he is ready.
The years of barrenness now begin to bear fruit. To Joseph is born Manasseh, which means "forgetting." Though he will never forget the things he learned while he is brought down, the pain is assuaged in seeing God's hand in it all. And he learns to bless God for Ephraim, which means "fruitful"; for God made him fruitful in the land of his affliction and because of his affliction. And (though it takes eight or nine years more) his brethren are restored to him. He recognizes the mercy and perfect love of God in his years of trial: "God meant it unto good." (Gen. 50:20)
Yes, Joseph was brought down--not only into Egypt, but into the ignominy of failure and defeat. He was mourned by some, forgotten by others; yet who saw the hand of God in it all? Do you see it? Have you ever walked there? Are you walking there now? Then you know how Joseph felt--alone, misunderstood, empty, numb, and forsaken. Here is a fiery trial of isolation, the discipline of defeat, the narrow gate for those who would be used of God.
Can you trust God for this as well--that He means for good the failures of your life and ministry? This is God's way, beloved, if you would be real with God and have His life and unction in you and your ministry. Let the dream die! Trying in your own strength to make it come to pass is frustrating the dealing of God in your life. If the dream is of God He will "resurrect" it and fulfill it in His perfect time. You will glorify Him for His faultless wisdom and timing.
Dark as the trader's caravan
And seemed to crush me down;
I had been sold
I had also been sent.
Shone with light Divine,
And though through the wrath of men
God put me in His own appointed place.
He set me up on high
And none could bow me down.
I had been sent.
--"Joseph," by M. Mannington Dexter