Through this series we've seen Joseph in his dysfunctional family. We have seen Joseph in the pit of betrayal. And we have seen Joseph dealing with temptation which ended by seeing him thrown into a prison for a crime he did not commit. As Joseph spends time in that prison we learn through his example what we should do when we feel like we've been forgotten. What do you do in those times in your life when you feel like maybe even God has forgotten you?
My guess is that Joseph may have felt like he had been forgotten by everyone, even God. He finds himself in prison for a crime he never committed. By this time his brothers had completely forgotten him. To his beloved father, he was just a distant memory. Chances are very good that even as Joseph sat in this Egyptian dungeon that he must have faced the temptation of giving in to the feeling that maybe, just maybe, even God had forgotten him.
Most of us have had a time in our lives when we felt like even God forgot us. How do you respond during those times that you're in the prison? How do you respond during those times when it feels like even God has forgotten you? I want to give you three ways. We're going to call them laws because each one will begin with a letter that spells out the word "law."
L = LEAN ON GOD’S PRESENCE
The first law begins with the letter "L." When you feel like you've been forgotten, what do you do? Number one, you lean on God's presence. Notice two things. First of all there's a fact involved as seen in Genesis 39:20 which says,
“So Joseph's master (that's Potiphar) took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. And he was there in jail.”
Remember what has happened to Joseph. This journey for Joseph to the jail has been a journey of great hurt. His brothers took him, assaulted him, ripped off his coat of many colors and they threw him into a pit. He ends up sold into slavery into a land hundreds of miles away, a foreign country where he didn't know the culture, didn't know the language, and didn't know the people. His father has been convinced through the lies of his brother that he's dead. There in Egypt he becomes a slave in the house of Potiphar. He does very well as a slave but then he gets falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and now he lands in an Egyptian jail.
Don't think of Egyptian jails like modern-day prisons. Later on in chapter 40, when Joseph recounts what happened to him, he will call it a dungeon. It is dark, dreary, ugly, horrible place to exist and that's where Joseph finds himself. However, verse 21 presents a contrast to that. It begins with the word "but." In contrast to all of that history, in contrast to all of those misfortunes, in contrast to his mistreatment, in contrast to him being in jail for a crime he never committed,
“The Lord was with Joseph.”
I have to believe that Joseph's feelings were contrary to that. My guess is that as Joseph sat in jail day after day rehearsing the events of the last several years, rehearsing his brother's betrayal, the time in the pit, his time in Potiphar's house, his being falsely accused, my guess is that Joseph felt like God had forgotten him.
Folks, listen, when you go through the lowest times of your life and it feels like you've been forgotten, and it feels like even God has forgotten you, it is there that you reach a fork in the road where you have to make a decision. Are you going to lean on your feelings that tell you God has forgotten you or are you going to lean on the fact of the Word of God in which Jesus said,
“I will never leave you nor forsake you?”
If you lean on your feelings, you're going to be in trouble. If you lean on the fact of the Word of God in spite of what your feelings say, there's hope even in the prison of life. That's why Proverbs 3:5-6 says that we need to,
“Trust in the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding.”
Don't lean on your feelings. Your feelings are deceiving. When your feelings tell you that God has forgotten you, your feelings have deceived you. When your feelings tell you that God has forsaken you, your feelings have deceived you. One of the most critical things that you can do when you're in the prison of your life is to remember that you cannot lean on your feelings. They will deceive you. You must lean on the fact of the Word of God.
Yes, Joseph was mistreated. Yes, he was falsely accused. Yes, he was in a horrible situation. But no, God had not forgotten him. And verse 21 is very clear. The Lord was with Joseph even in prison. In fact, in verse 23 it repeats it. The Lord was with him even in prison. And when you as a follower of Jesus Christ face the lowest times of your life, the same is true for you. The Lord is with you. “I will never leave you,” Jesus said. “I will never forsake you.” Even in the worst and most unfair of circumstances, we must lean on the fact that God has not abandoned us.
And that's what Joseph has to do as he sits in prison day after day. As his feelings cry out to him, saying “God has forgotten you,” Joseph must lean on the fact of the truth of the Word of God and the character of God and know that God has not forgotten him. Not only is God with Joseph, but God is at work behind the scenes. He always is. And the end of verse 21 says this,
“But the Lord was with Joseph in prison and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer. And the chief jailer committed to Joseph's charge all the prisoners who were in the jail. So that whatever was done there he was responsible for it.”
Joseph found grace in the eyes of the chief jailer. Not only was God with Joseph in the lowest time of his life, but God was working in the situation. We learned earlier that even when you find yourself in the pit of betrayal God has a purpose. And He has a purpose for Joseph in prison as well. The chief jailer sees that the Lord is with Joseph, much like Potiphar had, and the chief jailer puts all of the prison under Joseph's control. He's now responsible for all of the prisoners in the dungeon. He is now the manager.
There was a purpose for Joseph being sold into slavery. There was a purpose for Joseph being in the prison. It was while he was serving Potiphar and those years in the prison that Joseph learned all of those management skills, those leadership skills that would be necessary for him to know when he became the second in command in all of Egypt and is able to save all of Egypt and the surrounding areas from starvation due to a famine. Even though Joseph feels forgotten, even though Joseph is in a horrible position, God has a purpose in Joseph's life. And God is working behind the scenes.
Folks, listen. You will never go through a trial, you will never go through a hurt, you will never go through a heartache, you will never go through pain in which God does not have a purpose and isn't at work in your life. You never go through hurt for no reason. God doesn’t waste anything. Joseph wasn't sold into slavery for nothing. He wasn't put in the prison for nothing. He is learning valuable lessons.
David, much like Joseph, often found himself in a place where he felt forgotten but in Psalm 119:11 David realizes something. He comes to a conclusion. It's an amazing verse. It goes in contrast to a lot of the teaching you will hear today that says God never wants you to hurt. God never wants affliction in your life. Just have enough faith and there will be no affliction. Psalm 119:11 says just the opposite:
“It is good for me that I was afflicted.”
Imagine that. It was good for David that he went through this time of affliction. It was good for Joseph that he found himself in the pit of betrayal. It was good for Joseph that he spent years in the prison. And notice the reason why. David said, it's good for me that I was afflicted. Why?
“That I may learn your statutes.”
Do you realize, my friend, that you learn more about God during the low times of your life than you ever learn during the high times? It's during the low times of your life, during the times in the pit and the times in the prison, that you really lean into the presence of God and you learn some of the greatest truths you'll ever learn about God.
My Grandpa Distler was a pastor for over 50 years. I remember just before he died of cancer being able to go out to California to spend some final time with him. I’ll never forget those final conversations I had with him while sitting by his bed. His body was riddled with cancer and he wanted me to have some sense of what he was experiencing. He took my hand and he placed it underneath his pajama top and he led my hand from tumor to tumor. I remember saying to him, “Grandpa, do they hurt?” He said, “Oh, they hurt.”
Then he said something I will never forget. He said, “Scott, for over 50 years I've preached Proverbs 3:5-6,” and then he quoted it, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.” He went on to say, “For over 50 years I have preached that passage but for the first time in my life I really understand what it means.”
It's when you go through the difficult times of life, it's when you go through the adversity, it's when you go through the affliction, it's when you go through the heart ache, it's when you go through the pain, that you learn more about God than you ever dreamed possible. David said, “It's good for me that I was afflicted.” Joseph would be able to ultimately say, “It was good for me that I was in the pit and in the prison.” At the end of the story he'll say, “Though man meant it for evil, God used it for good.”
What's the first thing you need to do when you feel like God has forgotten you? You need to refuse to follow your feelings and instead lean on the fact of the Word of God and lean on the presence of God in your life even when you find yourself in the pit or in the prison. That's law number one.
A = ASSIST OTHERS IN NEED
Law number two to remember when I feel like God's forgotten me is that I need to assist others in need. First, there is a need to be SELFLESS. As Joseph is in prison in charge of all the prisoners, two of Pharaoh's key staff members, the cupbearer and the baker, do something to make the king furious. The cupbearer's job was to taste all of the food and drink before it was given to Pharaoh. He would do this for two reasons. Number one, he would do this to make sure nothing was poisoned. If the cupbearer fell over dead, the king didn't eat. The second reason was to make sure that the food was quality. If the food didn't taste good, it wouldn't go to the king. That was the job of the cupbearer. As a result, the cupbearer was one of the closest servants to Pharaoh. He had the king’s ear because kings ate all the time. The cupbearer was always in his presence.
Then there's the baker. The baker's the one who prepares the food. He prepares the food and the cupbearer tastes the food. These two guys did something that makes Pharaoh furious. We don't know what it is but I think we can safely assume it had something to do with food because their jobs are connected in that way. The result is that Pharaoh throws them both in to jail. God is working behind the scenes seen in the fact that it is Joseph who is the one who cares for the cupbearer and the baker.
Think about that. Here's Joseph in prison for a crime he didn't commit. The last several years of his life have been nothing but mistreatment and misfortune. And what's he doing in the prison? He is serving other people. His focus is on the other prisoners. We usually do just the opposite. When we get in situations where we feel like we have been forgotten, when we feel like God's forgotten us, we put the focus right back on ourselves and we wallow in our own self-pity. Joseph, realizing that God's presence is with him and realizing that there's a purpose in his pain, puts all of his energies into serving the other prisoners and God brings two very particular people under Joseph's care.
If you grasp this principle it can really be exciting. When you go through the lowest times of your life, when you go through the hurt and the pain and the heartache that comes at times with life, when you get in those situations where you feel like God's forgotten you, God will cause you to rub shoulders with people who you would never have met had you not been in that situation. If Joseph not been in prison would he have met the cupbearer and the baker? Probably not. God was doing something big.
I remember when I went through one of the prison times of my life and for a six-month period found myself out of local church ministry. For those six months I worked in an insurance office. No offense to you insurance agents but that was like a death sentence for me. God's calling on my life was to preach but I found myself instead sitting in an insurance office. Looking back, I am so thankful for that time as it was while I was there that God allowed me rub shoulders with people I never would have met had I not gone through this hurtful time in my own life.
One person in particular that I met had a deep spiritual issue in their life and over the six months that I worked there I was able to work with this person and counsel them which resulted in an incredible victory to take place. When I left the insurance office to go back into ministry, I remember getting an e-mail from this person that basically said, “I know what you went through was very hurtful but I'm so thankful that you went through it. Had you not gone through that time of hurt you never would have ended up at the insurance office where you had a ministry in my life.”
I think we often miss some of the most incredible opportunities to minister in the lowest times of our life because we're wallowing in self-pity instead of realizing that in that situation God is allowing us the opportunity to rub shoulders with somebody who we never would have met otherwise. That's what happens in Joseph's life.
Along with the need to be selfless there is also the need to be SENSITIVE. The baker and the cupbearer have a dream and it troubles them. In the Old Testament God often spoke through dreams. The Bible wasn't completely written yet. I personally don't believe that God speaks much through dreams today. I'm not saying it's impossible but I don't think that's the way God speaks today. I think the way God speaks today is through his Word but back in that day the Word wasn't completed and dreams were often an avenue in which God spoke. The baker and the cupbearer have a dream and it troubles them. In Genesis 40:6 it says.
“When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold they were dejected. He asked Pharaoh's officials who were with him in confinement in his master's house why are your faces so sad today?”
Where's Joseph at? He's in prison. Why's he there? He’s been falsely accused. What's the last few years of his life been like? They’ve been horrible. And what does he notice in prison about these two other guys? He notices that their faces look sad. Most men don't even notice when their wife gets a haircut. He notices that their faces look sad. That's mind boggling to me. I have to think that in that Egyptian dungeon most prisoners' faces looked pretty sad. But on this day, the baker and the cupbearer's face look even sadder than normal and Joseph notices it. Even in the lowest time of his life, because he's leaning on the presence of God and realizes God has a purpose, he is sensitive to the needs of people around him. When you're in the lowest times of your life, one of the best ways to start every day is to say, “God, today, make me sensitive to the needs of people around me.”
Finally, there is also the need to be SERVING. In verse number 5, the cupbearer and baker have a dream that trouble them. In verse number 6 Joseph notices that their faces look sad. In verse 8 they say to Joseph,
“We have had a dream and there's no one to interpret it. And Joseph said to them, do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please.”
I'm amazed that Joseph is in any way open to the “dream thing.” Remember when he had a dream issue earlier in his life what happened? He ended up in a pit of betrayal. But he's open to how God's going to use him and he's willing to serve these guys in prison. Even in the situation he's in, even after all he's gone through he's willing to serve these guys. So he says, “Tell me the dream.”
WAIT ON GOD’S TIMING
Law number one says that we must lean on the presence of God, even if our feelings tell us that God has forgotten us. Law number two says that instead of wallowing in self-pity, we need to assist others in need. Law number three states that we must wait on God's timing.
The cupbearer dreams about a vine and the vine has three branches. The branches bud and then blossom. They then produce wonderful clusters of grapes and the cupbearer in the dream takes the grapes, squeezes them into Pharaoh's cup, and takes the cup to Pharaoh. Joseph interprets the dream. He says the three branches on the vine are three days. In three days, Pharaoh is going to restore the cupbearer to his position as cupbearer. Joseph interprets the dream of the cupbearer and in verse 14 he asks the cupbearer for just one favor:
“Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this place.”
Joseph is putting a plan together in his mind. He sees a way for God to get him out of the jail. The cupbearer has the ear of Pharaoh and Pharaoh is the only guy who can pardon Joseph. He has it all planned out what God should do. We're going to get the cupbearer back in place and the cupbearer's going to tell the king about me and my unfortunate story. Pharaoh's going to have pity on me. He's going to pardon me and I'm going to get out of this dungeon. You see, Joseph at this point sees a glimmer of hope. Joseph sees this as his opportunity. In his mind, this is God orchestrating the events to get him out of prison.
The baker also has a dream. The baker notices that the interpretation that was given to the cupbearer was very positive so he too tells Joseph his dream. In his dream he saw three baskets of bread on his head. If the three branches in the cupbearer's dream represented three days, what do you think the three baskets represent in the baker's dream? In the top basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh. And the birds were eating them out of the basket. He then asks Joseph to tell him the interpretation hoping for the same favorable outcome as the cupbearer’s dream produced.
Joseph gives the interpretation. The three baskets are three days. Just like in three days the cupbearer would be restored to his position, in three days Pharaoh would hang the baker and the birds would eat his flesh. I appreciate Joseph’s integrity. He was honest. If I had been Joseph, I may have said something like, “You know, I'm kind of tired right now. I'll tell you the interpretation later. It's just not coming through right now. We'll get to it later.” But Joseph speaks the truth to him even though the truth wasn't a fun thing to hear.
Three days later it's Pharaoh's birthday and he throws a great feast. Just like Joseph said, the cupbearer is restored to his position while the baker is hanged. When they restore him to his position, Joseph is elated. He's thrilled. He's excited because in his mind the cupbearer's going to go in to the king and say, “I need to tell you about a guy in prison. I need to tell you his story.” The result in Joseph’s mind would be that the king would respond by saying, “What an unfortunate person,” and then pardon Joseph. But Joseph’s elation turns to despair. Genesis 40:23 says,
“Yet, the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph but forgot him.”
Joseph has been in prison for a while. He finally sees a way out. He believes that God is orchestrating it through the cupbearer, but in the end, the cupbearer totally forgets about Joseph. In fact, Joseph will remain in prison for two more agonizing years. For the next two years, every single day Joseph will continue to wake up in his cell never ever seeing the light of day. I wonder how often in those two years Joseph questioned God. Joseph had it all planned out. The cupbearer would go in and tell the king who would release Joseph. It seemed so simple. Why didn't God allow it to happen? Why does Joseph have to spend two more years in prison? There's a law I want to share with you. I call it the law of timing. And here's what the law of timing says.
“God's timing may not always be our timing but it's always the best timing.”
If Joseph would have gotten his way, Joseph would have been pardoned. But what would have happened to Joseph? He was still Potiphar's property. He probably would have went right back into slavery. Let me ask you a question. What's better, to get out of prison two years earlier and go back into slavery or to be in prison two more years and end up second in command in Egypt and have the opportunity to save thousands upon thousands of people from death and become an example of the power of forgiveness? Which was better? Pretty obvious, isn't it?
When Joseph's forgotten in the prison, when the cupbearer doesn't say a word, Joseph's probably thinking, “God, where are you? Why didn't you come through?” But what Joseph didn't realize at that time is that God was still working. And if Joseph would wait on God for two more years, something far better would take place.
When Jesus walked on earth He had a very good friend that lived in Bethany named Lazarus. Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha. One day Lazarus got so sick that he was about to die and Mary and Martha had it all planned out. They would call for Jesus and He would come and heal Lazarus.
So they call for Jesus but He purposefully waits to come. Why does He wait? He does so because God's timing isn't always our timing but it's always the best timing. He doesn't show up until Lazarus has been dead and buried four days. When He shows up Lazarus' sister says to Him, “if You had been here our brother would not have died!” What was she saying? “You blew it. You're late. It was all planned out, Jesus. All you had to do was show up. You didn't come.” In the minds of Mary and Martha, God was late. But God's timing isn't always our timing but it's always the best timing. Jesus was about to do something far more incredible than healing Lazarus before he died. He raises the old boy from the dead.
Maybe you are wondering if God will ever show up in the hurt of your life. Based on the examples in the Word of God, I can assure you that God's timing may not always be your timing but it's always the best timing. I love the verse in Ecclesiastes 3 that says,
“He makes all things beautiful in His time.”
What do you do when you feel forgotten? Number one, you lean on God's presence. Number two, you assist others in need. Number three, you wait on God's timing. It may not always be your timing but will always be the best timing.