Are we truly prepared now to read one of the greatest and most beloved narrations in all of world, the story of Joseph in Egypt? How could we be ... :)
In our reading, we can't even go six verses without seeing God's visible blessing (39:1-6). In summing it up, our culture wants to say that God's blessing is equal to Joseph's competence, his becoming a successful or prosperous man (39:2). Within six verses, Joseph goes from the one who was kidnapped (40:15) to being in charge of the home and property (39:5) of the head of the Secret Service for Pharaoh. But are we allowed to read this as Joseph's competence?
There is a cause-and-effect relationship between Joseph's success and God. "The LORD was with Joseph" (39:2), using God's proper name here, where in the original language it certainly stands out.
OK, "with." Next verse: "the LORD caused ...." Next, "SO Joseph found favor," from what the Lord caused. Then "the LORD blessed the Egyptian's house," i.e., Potiphar's personal bottom line, "all that he owned," including land (39:5). There's a quick lesson in the meaning of trusting someone, courtesy of Potiphar directly to us. Potiphar trusted Joseph so fully about something, so as to fully leave off concern about it completely to Joseph (39:6).
Joseph's competence is of course implied (39:8). The text leaves no room for a fictitious idea that Joseph's "hand" (39:4, lit.) was idle. Overseers (39:5) make decisions and give orders.
However, "the LORD's blessing was upon" everything (39:5), and that is given as the primary cause, by so much repetition. Once in verse 2. Twice in verse 3. Twice in verse 5; all of them explicitly associated with God by proper name.
And what about the snake in the grass, Potiphar's wife? What is going on behind the scenes, "day after day" (39:10)? A huge fight upon which the whole setup could go down, and does, even though Joseph is successful in the fight.
The readers of this story, then and now, are deliberately led to consider God's blessing in the midst of a war over its very continuance. And the battle is not over what God is blessing, but of some seamy underbelly kind of thing, having nothing to do with the up-front failure of managing the fortune. This war is secret, and follows a different logic than what can be dealt with in public. It is the bottom of a rock, with slime all over it, while the top of the rock is beautiful.
Could Joseph have brought it all out into the open? Let's think it through. This issue, if Joseph brought it forward to the head of the Secret Service, would get him what? Scarcely much different than what happened. A Catch-22 situation, dxxxxx if you do or don't. Potiphar's interests were not at-home materials-management, or property management. He was the captain of Pharaoh's bodyguard.
This is very true-to-life, isn't it, regarding a person's strengths and weaknesses in general? Speaking of Potiphar, what he was good at was at work. The wife? Well, when Potiphar finally dealt with a domestic issue, how did he do (39:19-20)? As quickly as he trusted Joseph, his anger flared up. The quickness was dual. But don't count Potiphar out yet. His role in the story is not finished.
It pays to re-read a story. Potiphar doesn't send Joseph out to jail, but ... down to jail. He's the head of the Secret Service. He has a house jail (40:3)! It's for select prisoners, including Pharoah's (40:3). And as we read along, we're seeing little hints of providential guidance in the details, no? To Egypt, yes, but to one of the highest-ranking officials. A slave, yes, but blessed by God to the point of total overseeing of much wealth. Treated completely unfairly by a slimy debauched but untouchable snake, but put in with a select group of prisoners, and immediately noticed by those in charge there!
We're prepared to grant providence this kind of activity. What we're not prepared for in our culture is -- time (41:1). Two years of imprisonment! This is not a Hollywood movie, in which the hero successfully negotiates every turn in the road and goes unscathed for -- five whole minutes! -- then is out of trouble. Two years, with its toll on Joseph (41:14).
And what explanation does the text give us, for how the LORD has done this? The cupbearer says in passing: "I would make mention today of my own offenses" (41:9). The text explains "the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him" (40:23).
That's it! That one verse can be as telling about how we must look at God's guidance as anything. Did God bless? Yes, no other explanation is possible. Was Joseph "forgotten" for two years? Yes, no other explanation is possible .. until what transpires after makes sense of it!
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- Ex 10 for Jan 30
- Moo Commentary on Romans (p. 67)
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