Delayed Deliverance (Genesis 40:1-23)

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“For those of you unfamiliar with the Mumbai airport let me inform you that the runway is very bumpy, and thus as we take off there is absolutely no reason for you to be alarmed.” These were the helpful words spoken by the captain on a recent return flight from India. The turbulence experienced as we accelerated down the tarmac came as no surprise, and the words of the captain—the one in charge of our journey—came as a great comfort to the passengers of that flight.

Similar honest words of comfort need to be spoken regarding the Christian life. Those who have had opportunity to mature in Christ ought to proclaim unabashedly to fellow saints, “Expect a lot of bumps as you accelerate toward heaven.” This is nothing less than an honest assessment of the life of the disciple of the Lord Jesus Christ. At times, these bumps can be rather frightening, especially if we have not been honestly forewarned. But God, who is in charge of our journey, has given us ample warning in His Word. We have been told, “In the world ye shall have tribulation” (John 16:33). We have similarly been exhorted “that we must through much tribulation enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). “All that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution,” we have been assured (2 Timothy 3:12). Indeed, we have been forewarned in no uncertain terms that the road ahead is bumpy. But we have similarly been assured by the Captain of our salvation that these bumps all work together for our good (Christlikeness) and for His glory. Thus, if we pay careful heed and place our trust in Him we will be comforted, even when all around us seems to be shaking to pieces.

Unfortunately, we sometimes labour under the delusion that these bumps must necessarily be short and sweet, and thus though we expect troubles we often also erroneously expect that deliverance must be just around the corner. Or, to keep with our analogy, we assume that we will soon be airborne and that nothing but turbulent-free coasting awaits us. Of course, this is seldom the case. The life of Joseph serves as Exhibit A when it comes to delayed deliverance from trials.

We have spent several studies examining the life of Joseph, and we return to that examination once again this morning. This time, we behold him in prison, hopeful of imminent release, only to have this dream seemingly dashed. Things are pretty bumpy for him in Genesis 40, yet he never loses his focus or his faith. As we shall see, though his promised deliverance is delayed, his dependence on God is not derailed.

Perhaps as we consider the scene before us you find yourself able to identify with Joseph as he faces, once again, a delayed deliverance. May you be encouraged to endure as he did for, by God’s grace, you can.

Joseph Was Unjustly Fettered

As we saw previously, Joseph ended up bound in the pits through no fault of his own. He did everything expected of him, yet he ended up unjustly imprisoned. Psalm 105 poetically relates Joseph’s imprisonment:

Moreover he called for a famine upon the land: he brake the whole staff of bread. He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him.

(Psalm 105:16-19)

Let’s consider the “evidence” against Joseph, which resulted in his imprisonment in the king’s prison.

He Was Faithful

Throughout the biblical record, Joseph is painted in a faithful light. Consider his faithfulness in light of the opening verses of chapter 37.

And Jacob dwelt in the land wherein his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brethren; and the lad was with the sons of Bilhah, and with the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives: and Joseph brought unto his father their evil report. Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age: and he made him a coat of many colours. And when his brethren saw that their father loved him more than all his brethren, they hated him, and could not speak peaceably unto him. And Joseph dreamed a dream, and he told it his brethren: and they hated him yet the more. And he said unto them, Hear, I pray you, this dream which I have dreamed: For, behold, we were binding sheaves in the field, and, lo, my sheaf arose, and also stood upright; and, behold, your sheaves stood round about, and made obeisance to my sheaf. And his brethren said to him, Shalt thou indeed reign over us? or shalt thou indeed have dominion over us? And they hated him yet the more for his dreams, and for his words. And he dreamed yet another dream, and told it his brethren, and said, Behold, I have dreamed a dream more; and, behold, the sun and the moon and the eleven stars made obeisance to me. And he told it to his father, and to his brethren: and his father rebuked him, and said unto him, What is this dream that thou hast dreamed? Shall I and thy mother and thy brethren indeed come to bow down ourselves to thee to the earth? And his brethren envied him; but his father observed the saying. And his brethren went to feed their father’s flock in Shechem. And Israel said unto Joseph, Do not thy brethren feed the flock in Shechem? come, and I will send thee unto them. And he said to him, Here am I. And he said to him, Go, I pray thee, see whether it be well with thy brethren, and well with the flocks; and bring me word again. So he sent him out of the vale of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a certain man found him, and, behold, he was wandering in the field: and the man asked him, saying, What seekest thou? And he said, I seek my brethren: tell me, I pray thee, where they feed their flocks. And the man said, They are departed hence; for I heard them say, Let us go to Dothan. And Joseph went after his brethren, and found them in Dothan.

(Genesis 37:1-17)

From this record, we see that he was faithful in his relationship with his father, faithful with his revelation of the future (from his Father), and faithful in his responsibilities to his father. Underlying all of this, of course, was his faithfulness in his relationship with and responsibility to the Father. All of this, however, did not have positive results for Joseph.

He Was Friendless

Instead of being heralded for his faithfulness Joseph was forsaken by his family and left a foreigner in a strange land (Genesis 37:18-36). He might well have declared, “No man cared for my soul,” as he was treated as nothing more than mere chattel.

He Was Framed

Things, however, began to look up after several years in Egypt. Joseph quickly gained the respect of his master in Egypt and rose to a place of unprecedented favour in his house. But before too long he was framed by Potiphar’s wife, and he once again found himself going from favoured and free to being forsaken (Genesis 39:1-18).

And yet, in the midst of yet another severe trial, Joseph remained faithful to the dream giver. Though his immediate circumstances were adverse, he had tasted the beauty of the Lord and he believed that God was faithful. He may not have understood why his circumstances had so struck him, but his faith in the Lord kept him focused.

He Was Fettered

Whilst Genesis 39:19-23 simply tells us that Joseph was imprisoned, Psalm 105 adds to the picture by telling us that his “feet” were “hurt with fetters” and that “he was laid in iron” (v. 18). This is a painful scene, and we can hardly imagine any pleasantness in it. The ESV translates v. 18 thus: “His feet were hurt with fetters; his neck was put in a collar of iron.” The Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Hebrew Old Testament, paraphrases that “his soul was laid in iron” and Miles Coverdale took the paraphrase even further in his translation: “Iron entered into his soul.” This phrase, though hardly a good translation of the Hebrew, became a rather common proverb to speak of trials and was later used in the Book of Common Prayer. In short, Joseph’s imprisonment was a difficult time, which served to strengthen (rather than obliterate) his faith in God. Though his troubles were rapidly multiplying, Yahweh was with him (Genesis 39:2, 3, 21, 23). The words of David could well have been his own:

I cried unto the LORD with my voice; with my voice unto the LORD did I make my supplication. I poured out my complaint before him; I showed before him my trouble. When my spirit was overwhelmed within me, then thou knewest my path. In the way wherein I walked have they privily laid a snare for me. I looked on my right hand, and beheld, but there was no man that would know me: refuge failed me; no man cared for my soul. I cried unto thee, O LORD: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living. Attend unto my cry; for I am brought very low: deliver me from my persecutors; for they are stronger than I. Bring my soul out of prison, that I may praise thy name: the righteous shall compass me about; for thou shalt deal bountifully with me.

(Psalm 142:1-7)

He Was Favoured

In spite of all the wrongs done to him, Joseph knew the Lord’s favour, fellowship and forgiveness. He stayed focused on the Father and thus remained faithful though fettered. He was doubtless the human epitome of the biblical patience and endurance expressed by the apostle James:

My brethren, count it all joy when ye fall into divers temptations; Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing … Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him.

(James 1:2-4, 12)

John Piper notes that “the strength of patience hangs on our capacity to believe that God is up to something good for us in all our delays and detours.” Again, “Patience is the capacity to wait and to endure without murmuring and disillusionment—to wait in the unplanned place, and to endure the unplanned pace.” This was true of Joseph as his trials did not end in chapter 39. We see his patience further tested in our text for this study.

Joseph Faced an Unhopeful Future

As the page opens to Genesis 40, we find Joseph once again at the bottom. Chapter 39 had ended on a somewhat hopeful note, but now we find another demotion in his life.

And it came to pass after these things, that the butler of the king of Egypt and his baker had offended their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was wroth against two of his officers, against the chief of the butlers, and against the chief of the bakers. And he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound. And the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in ward.

(Genesis 40:1-4)

We must read these verses very carefully in order to fully understand them. The “butler” (or “cupbearer”) and “baker”—“chief” butler and baker, no less—were both high-ranking royal officials. In ways unknown to us, these men “had offended their lord the king of Egypt.” They had sinned against Pharaoh, and so “he put them in ward in the house of the captain of the guard, into the prison, the place where Joseph was bound.” Observe closely that they were put “in ward in the house of the captain of the guard.” Who was “the captain of the guard”? We are not left to guess, for 39:1 specifically speaks of “Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard.”

Notice further that “the captain of the guard charged Joseph with them, and he served them: and they continued a season in the ward.” Chapter 39 had ended with Joseph in charge of all the prisoners (vv. 22-23), but now he “served” these two new inmates. This was a demotion. “Joseph became the servant of men accused of treason and regicide,” writes R. Kent Hughes. “As the slave of these prisoners, Joseph was at the bottom of the bottom—a servant of infamous felons. Poor Joseph. He seemed destined to rise so that his dreams could be dashed!”

Have you ever been there? Have you ever had a seemingly glorious future snatched from your grasp—perhaps in the workplace, or in a certain relationship? How would you respond in such a situation? Would you be vengeful, bitter, resentful or impatient? Or would you humbly realise that the obedient Christian life includes these painful bumps and, with Joseph, remained focused on the all-wise Pilot?

I recall hearing John MacArthur recount a story of what he terms “Black Tuesday.” He had been at Grace Community Church for only some five years, and had just experienced a particularly glorious Lord’s Day. The following Tuesday, he walked into the church staff meeting and, smiling, said to all present, “I just want to let you know how much I love you all.” The staff glanced at each other, and then one man spoke up, “Well if you think we love you, you have another thing coming!” The entire staff left the room and the church. Seven years later, 250 church members left the church, complaining that MacArthur’s preaching was too long, boring and irrelevant. He could have responded with bitterness and resentment. He did not. Recently, he celebrated his 40th anniversary as the pastor of Grace Community Church.

We all experience painful bumps along our journey to heaven. These bumps are many and varied—an unfair and unexpected retrenchment, the painful loss of a loved one, the confusing closed door to a seemingly glorious ministry opportunity—but we are called to respond at such times in the same way that our Lord Jesus, who experienced the most painful bumps of all, responded.

Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus: Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.

(Philippians 2:5-8)

Joseph did not give up, and he did not lose focus.  He maintained a focused faithfulness as he kept his eyes firmly fixed on the grace of God. Though present circumstances may have appeared to be overwhelming, yet he maintained his focus on the dream-giver.

Joseph Remained Uncompromisingly Faithful

Verses 5-19 reveal Joseph’s faithfulness in several areas.

He Was Compassionate

Ordinarily, being “in the ward of his lord’s house” would have left Joseph with an every-man-for-himself attitude. At least, that is how most people would have responded. Why should Joseph care about these two men? Though he was in prison, things had begun to look pretty positive again, until they had been incarcerated. They were the cause of his demotion and he was their slave. Seeing their sadness, he might well have callously declared, “Who cares if you are dejected? Welcome to the club!” But not Joseph!

And they dreamed a dream both of them, each man his dream in one night, each man according to the interpretation of his dream, the butler and the baker of the king of Egypt, which were bound in the prison. And Joseph came in unto them in the morning, and looked upon them, and, behold, they were sad. And he asked Pharaoh’s officers that were with him in the ward of his lord’s house, saying, Wherefore look ye so sadly to day?

(Genesis 40:5-7)

Again, Joseph is painted in a most positive light. In this record, he exemplified the words of the Lord:

Ye have heard that it hath been said, Thou shalt love thy neighbour, and hate thine enemy. But I say unto you, Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you; That ye may be the children of your Father which is in heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. For if ye love them which love you, what reward have ye? do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

(Matthew 5:43-48)

When, like Joseph, our delight is in God, we are free to love others. Delighting in the Lord frees us from focusing on our own navels. Paul and Silas were able to minister to the Philippian jailer despite their own adverse circumstances. Again, the Lord Jesus Christ epitomised this attitude when, suffering with the sins of the world on his shoulders, He assured the repentant thief, “To day shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43), and when He prayed, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Saving faith empowers us to a countercultural, radical response to the welfare of others. On the heels of addressing trials in the life of the believer, James wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world” (James 1:27).

He Was Confident

When the cupbearer and the baker each dreamed a dream they were entirely hopeless that their dreams would be interpreted. “And they said to him, We have dreamed a dream, and there is no interpreter of it” (v. 8). In ancient Egypt, there were designated dream interpreters, whose fulltime job was to interpret the dreams of others. Dream interpreters were not usually found in prison, and so there was little hope that these two high ranking officials would find such an interpreter in their midst. Each was (correctly) convinced that his dream was significant and thus it was disheartening to think that they might never discover the interpretation of their dreams.

Joseph, however, was confident, and unhesitating in his God-centred response. “And Joseph said to them, Do not interpretations belong to God? tell me them, I pray you” (v. 8). He was not confident in himself, but in the Lord his God. “Joseph’s split second response revealed a profoundly God-dependent man,” writes R. Kent Hughes. “His decades of ups and, mostly, downs had created an intimate dependence on God. Turning to God was the habit of his mind.” Hughes concludes, “What people do in reflex is very revealing of what is within. Consider the man who had hung close to his pastor while they nailed up some wallboard so he could see what the pastor would do when he hit his thumb!”

What is important for us to understand here is that Joseph still desired the glory of God even though his life circumstances had turned sour. He was confident that God was the dream-giver, and able to see those dreams through to fulfilment, even though his own dreams seemed to be dashed. Psalm 105:19 tells us that Joseph remained faithful “until the time that his word came” even though “the word of the LORD tried him.” That is, he was continually tried, yet remained faithful, until the full realisation of God’s revelation to him eventually came to pass (as we shall see in future studies).

Joseph’s confidence in the Lord never wavered, and neither must ours. The exhortations in Scripture to maintain steadfast focus on the Lord are numerous.

  • 2 Timothy 1:12—“For the which cause I also suffer these things: nevertheless I am not ashamed: for I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that he is able to keep that which I have committed unto him against that day.”
  • 2 Timothy 4:16-17—“At my first answer no man stood with me, but all men forsook me: I pray God that it may not be laid to their charge. Notwithstanding the Lord stood with me, and strengthened me; that by me the preaching might be fully known, and that all the Gentiles might hear: and I was delivered out of the mouth of the lion.”
  • Philippians 4:4—“Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”
  • Romans 8:28—“And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose.”
  • Proverbs 3:5-6—“Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
  • Psalm 146:3, 5-6—“Put not your trust in princes, nor in the son of man, in whom there is no help … Happy is he that hath the God of Jacob for his help, whose hope is in the LORD his God: Which made heaven, and earth, the sea, and all that therein is: which keepeth truth for ever.”

Of course, the ultimate example of such unwavering confidence is once again our Lord Jesus Christ. Condemned for all the sins of those He had come to save, He died with these words: “Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46). He was able to confidently trust His Father at the most trying time: death.

Joseph’s confidence was not circumstantial. He knew the character of God and thus knew that God was faithful to His Word. He was freed by a faith in future grace. He was not a slave to his circumstances. He proclaimed truth as though he had evidence for such claims, even though this was clearly not evident. He maintained, despite his life circumstances testifying otherwise, that God would fulfil His promises to him through the dreams he had received. That fulfilment would be delayed, but he did not allow that delay to rattle his confidence in the One who gave the dreams. And we, if we will be free in the midst of delayed deliverance, must know God. We must be confident in His character and thus trust His Word even though the circumstances of life are difficult to reconcile.

Joseph’s confidence made him powerful. “How powerful that man is who knows and knows that he knows,” writes James Motgomery Boice. He continues to state a fourfold proverb:

He who knows not, and knows not that he knows not is a fool; shun him. He who knows not and knows that he knows not is a child; teach him. He who knows and knows not that he knows is asleep; awaken him. He who knows and knows that he knows is a wise man; follow him.

Follow those statements carefully, and you will clearly see that Joseph was a wise man. He knew the truth of God and, because of his confidence in God’s character, knew that he knew. This made him a wise man, and one whom we would do well to follow. Boice summarises:

Joseph fit the last category. He knew that he knew. As a result he was not only wise but powerful, yes, powerful even while in prison.

“That is what made Jeremiah the most powerful man in Israel even while he was incarcerated. It is why King Zedekiah sought him out.

It is what gave Samson his power.

It was knowledge of God and of what was right that made John the Baptist strong. Herod was king; yet Herod feared John. He feared to let him live and yet feared to kill him.

Knowing that he knew the true gospel made Paul strong.

Knowing gave John the Evangelist his power.

Martin Luther was strong because he knew what the Word of God taught, regardless of the opinions of popes or councils to the contrary. He bestrode the Europe of his day like a colossus, declaring, “Here I stand; I can do no other; God help me.”

All Christians are to be like these men. Donald Grey Barnhouse wrote, “Today, God speaks through his written Word, and the Holy Spirit reveals truth to his own. This is why we are to speak as the oracles of God (1 Peter 4:11). Let every believer understand that he is responsible to set forth the truth which he has seen and heard (1 John 1:3). If you know the depths of truth, you are to speak with the finality of the truth revealed by the Holy Spirit through his Word.”

The person whose confidence is in the Lord is free, even in the most adverse of circumstances—even in prison. Let us know God and thus know this God-centred confidence.

He Was Courageous

One commentator referred to Joseph’s dream interpretation as an “in-your-face polemic to the idolatrous culture of Egypt.” It was common for so-called dream interpreters to offer favourable interpretations to those in high positions, but Joseph was not concerned with tickling ears. He had the courage to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

And the chief butler told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, In my dream, behold, a vine was before me; And in the vine were three branches: and it was as though it budded, and her blossoms shot forth; and the clusters thereof brought forth ripe grapes: And Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand: and I took the grapes, and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand. And Joseph said unto him, This is the interpretation of it: The three branches are three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thine head, and restore thee unto thy place: and thou shalt deliver Pharaoh’s cup into his hand, after the former manner when thou wast his butler. But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon. When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good, he said unto Joseph, I also was in my dream, and, behold, I had three white baskets on my head: And in the uppermost basket there was of all manner of bakemeats for Pharaoh; and the birds did eat them out of the basket upon my head. And Joseph answered and said, This is the interpretation thereof: The three baskets are three days: Yet within three days shall Pharaoh lift up thy head from off thee, and shall hang thee on a tree; and the birds shall eat thy flesh from off thee.

(Genesis 40:9-19)

The first dream was relatively simple to interpret, for it bore a positive message to its recipient. The cupbearer (“butler”) would be reinstated to his position within three days. Significant to note is Joseph’s request to the cupbearer: “But think on me when it shall be well with thee, and show kindness, I pray thee, unto me, and make mention of me unto Pharaoh, and bring me out of this house: For indeed I was stolen away out of the land of the Hebrews: and here also have I done nothing that they should put me into the dungeon.” He did not simply accept his circumstances fatalistically and assume there was nothing he could do about them. When he saw a possible opportunity for release, he made the request, all the while fully convinced that his release would come in God’s good timing.

The baker, hearing Joseph’s interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, seems to assume that Joseph is much like any other dream-interpreter in the land. It was “when the chief baker saw that the interpretation was good” that he told Joseph his own dream. Sadly, his interpretation was far less favourable. Like the cupbearer (v. 13), the baker’s head would be “lifted up” (v. 19), but in the case of the baker, his head would be lifted from his body! He would be hanged on a tree in a public display of humiliation. We are well aware with the ancient mummification procedure of the Egyptians. They believed that one’s flesh needed to remain on their body if they would go to the afterlife, and thus the embalming process was highly significant. For the butler to be hanged and to have his flesh eaten by the birds of the air would, in his mind, remove any chance of eternal life, and thus the picture was even more horrific for him than it is for us today.

Consider the courage that it would have taken for Joseph to interpret particularly this second dream. Bear in mind that the baker was a high-ranking royal official, and even though he was imprisoned, Joseph was nevertheless appointed to serve him. Joseph was committed to God’s truth and thus he gave his master a truthful, though unfavourable, interpretation to his dream. Do we have the same commitment?

Boice correctly observes, “How many there are who are willing to preach the cupbearer’s sermon but are unwilling to preach the baker’s sermon.” We live in a postmodern world in which it is assumed that there are no absolutes. There is no such thing as right or wrong. Each person must determine morality for himself. What is right for you is right for you, even though it may not necessarily be right for me. The Bible, however, leaves no room for such amoralism. The Bible is quite clear that there is absolute truth, and it is found in God’s Word and in His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Jesus faced a similar challenge in His day. Standing in opposition to the accepted religion of the Jews, He openly and boldly condemned their leaders for their corruption (Matthew 23). And if the church will be faithful to the Word of God and to the God of the Word she will need to be willing to stand for truth even when it is most difficult. People want to hear words of comfort and deliverance, but this is not always a message that the Word will allow us to preach. Judgement and wrath are often necessary elements in our preaching. We are required at times to call for sacrifice rather than surplus and for faithfulness instead of convenience. At times, we must point our finger at the wrongs of others instead of glibly overlooking sin. But we will only exhibit such courage to the degree that the Lord is our portion.

The encouraging fact is that the truth is freeing. “And ye shall know the truth,” said Jesus to His disciples, “and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32). The truth of God sets us free from the fear of man, and Joseph’s commitment to truth is stark testimony to this fact. May we be as committed to the truth as Joseph was, and may all the glory go to God alone.

Joseph Was Ungratefully Forgotten

Joseph’s words did not fall to the ground, for his words were the very Words of God. His interpretation came to pass precisely as he had said. Sadly, it did not have the effect that he desired.

And it came to pass the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast unto all his servants: and he lifted up the head of the chief butler and of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief butler unto his butlership again; and he gave the cup into Pharaoh’s hand: But he hanged the chief baker: as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.

(Genesis 40:20-23)

How sad are those words with which the chapter closes: “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him.” Surely it was not unreasonable to expect the cupbearer to fulfil Joseph’s wishes and make mention of him to Pharaoh? Yet, for whatever reason, the cupbearer completely forgot to do so. It would be a further two years before he would remember (41:1).

Once again, Joseph’s freedom was delayed. We have but to read the very next verse in the divine record to know how long it was delayed, but he had no idea. Was he disappointed? Surely! Despondent? Never! Convinced as he was of God’s sovereignty, he simply continued faithfully in his daily duties and awaited God’s perfect timing. Writes Hughes, “Joseph’s life teaches us that disappointments are essential for spiritual growth because they demand faith and resting all hope upon God. Delay never thwarts God’s purposes; it only polishes his instrument.” And John Currid notes, “It is interesting to note that Joseph was able to foresee the chief cupbearer’s day of deliverance, but he cannot predict his own time of release. He is called to be patient and to rest on Yahweh and his timing.”

It is probably safe to say that Joseph’s greatest victory was experienced in this very dungeon. What happened in this pit prepared him for the pinnacle that was to follow some two years later. Whilst it was certainly reasonable to expect the cupbearer to remember him, Joseph’s trust was not in man but in God. And so must ours be.

  • Jeremiah 17:5, 7—“Thus saith the LORD; Cursed be the man that trusteth in man, and maketh flesh his arm, and whose heart departeth from the LORD … Blessed is the man that trusteth in the LORD, and whose hope the LORD is.”
  • Psalm 118:8—“It is better to trust in the LORD than to put confidence in man.”
  • Psalm 56:3—“What time I am afraid, I will trust in thee.”
  • Psalm 115:11—“Ye that fear the LORD, trust in the LORD: he is their help and their shield.”

Joseph Had an Unshakeable Faith

Centuries later, the author of Hebrews would comment on Joseph’s life: “By faith Joseph, when he died, made mention of the departing of the children of Israel; and gave commandment concerning his bones” (Hebrews 11:22). Why was the “commandment concerning his bones” a matter of faith? Because it “made mention of the departing of the children of Israel.” In Genesis 15:13-16 God had told Abraham that, before his seed inherited the Promised Land, they would be in a land not their own for some 400 years. They would be afflicted in that land, but He would surely deliver them. Joseph believed the Word of God, and thus he trusted that, even though it would not be in his lifetime, a time would come when Israel would return to Canaan and they would be able to bury him with his forefathers. God had said it and that settled it. Joseph wanted to be part of God’s blessed promise. As throughout his life, he trusted that God would be faithful to His Word, even though the fulfilment might be delayed. His faith was indeed unshakeable.

Delayed deliverance is only delayed by divine design. If we understand this glorious truth, we will be able, like Joseph, to believe the promises of God and to commit ourselves, by God’s grace, to live lives of unshakeable faith.

Believer, be encouraged that, in God’s perfect time, you will experience the deliverance He promises. Are you in the pit of material need? Then take heart in the promises of Philippians 4:19 and Matthew 6:3-32. Are you in the pit of spiritual need (guilt, joylessness, etc.) and yet repentant? Then take heart in the promise of Micah 7:7-9. Are you in the pit of a particular sinful habit? Then take heart in the promise of Philippians 3:8-11. Are you in the pit of persecution, or some physical malady? Then take heart that death will be your deliverer. You can die well, knowing that you will be glorified in the presence of your Saviour for all eternity!

But let us understand something very clearly: Ultimately, Joseph was looking for a far greater deliverance. He was awaiting the promised Deliverer, the Lord Jesus Christ. The deliverance of Israel from Egypt was but one step toward the ultimate deliverance; that is, the deliverance from sin and its entire horrific curse. Joseph came to see that his pit was, in the kind providence of God, designed to further redemptive history. And so is yours! Ultimately, all our troubles as believers are designed for our redemption, or for the redemption of others.

Believer, be encouraged that delayed deliverance is designed to prepare you for greater usefulness. Just as Joseph would be used in a marvellous way to preserve a people, so too your trials are designed to so shape your character that you can be of more use in the kingdom of God. May God continue to shape our characters toward Christlikeness during our delayed deliverance. For, after all, that is the very reason for the delay.