“Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning.” Genesis 41:18-21 ESV
The Bible is filled with stories about people who endured seasons of not having enough, some of which lasted a long, long time. Many of us have favorite Bible stories about people who responded bravely during times of want, who hoped beyond hope as if they knew something everyone else did not, something that gave them more confidence than their circumstances justified.
Joseph was one of these people.
Joseph was a dreamer. He was a seventeen year old kid who was the apple of his Daddy’s eye. I picture him being utterly guileless when he told his already resentful older brothers about a particular dream he had. They were farmers, and in his dream Joseph saw the sheaves of grain his brothers had gathered bowing to his sheaf. Right. They didn’t like that much.
Then Joseph had another dream and told it to his brothers. In this one he saw the sun, the moon and eleven stars bowing down to him. Really? Now not only the brothers were to bow to him, but their father and mother as well? His father rebuked him over the dream, but he did give it some weight. The Bible says Joseph’s father kept the saying in his mind. I don’t believe Joseph was a blowhard, but certainly he was unwise. A more prudent young man might have seen the evil that was brewing and kept his mouth shut. Not Joseph.
His brothers had had enough of Joseph’s view of the world. At the first opportunity they threw him into a pit way out in the country. At the second opportunity they sold him to a traveling band of foreigners who were taking goods to Egypt to sell. “Good riddance,” they must have said among themselves.
One of Pharaoh’s officers bought Joseph from the traveling band, and he became a house slave. Though Joseph had lost his freedom, the Bible says God was with him. His master liked him and believed he was successful. He put Joseph in charge of everything he had. Joseph was a powerful guy, and the Bible says he was handsome in form and appearance. It was a winning combination as far as the lady of the house was concerned. She was one of Egypt’s bored and desperate housewives, and she found Joseph simply irresistible. Day after day she threw herself at him, eventually grabbing him by the clothes. Joseph ran out of the house, leaving his garment in her hands. This unnamed Egyptian housewife – his master’s wife – did not like being told no. She turned the facts around and said Joseph had attacked her.
Joseph’s master threw him into prison. Nevertheless, despite his bondage, Joseph prospered to the extent that one can in a North African slammer. But he still was not free. Time passed, and Pharaoh’s butler was imprisoned along with Joseph. More time passed, and eventually the butler had a dream. Joseph might have sworn off dreams and their interpretations given his experience, but he didn’t. The butler told Joseph his dream and Joseph supplied a favorable interpretation. “Remember me when things go well for you,” he told the butler, “Please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For I was stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and her also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” The butler was soon freed, but he forgot all about Joseph.
How Joseph’s heart must have leapt the day that butler was released. He must have thought, This is it! The nightmare that began years ago is finally over! I’m getting out! Finally I’ll be free again! Did Joseph imagine traveling back to Canaan to be with his parents? Did he daydream about the look on his brothers’ faces when he showed up? But day followed day, and no one came to let him out. He must have become heartsick. Anybody would have.
Joseph had endured a terribly long season of not enough by the time Pharaoh had the dream recorded in Genesis 41. It all started because Joseph did not have enough wisdom, and his brothers did not have enough love. As a slave, Joseph did not have enough protection from a woman who did not have enough to do. His friend, the butler, did not have enough gratitude. Bad stuff happened when Joseph was unwise, and more bad stuff happened when he tried to do the right thing. It seemed like things were destined to stack up against him despite anything he did. Isn’t it interesting that a dream got him into hot water and a dream got him out of it?
As twenty-first century Americans, we spend a lot of time trying to figure out why whatever is happening to us is happening to us. There is too much time and effort spent on that question, I think. Things turned out pretty well for Joseph in the end, and isn’t that what really matters? After all, the end of a matter is much better than its beginning, and patience is better than pride. Certainly it was for Abraham, for Sarah, for Jacob, for Moses, for David, for Rehab of Jericho, for Ruth, for Peter, and for Paul. In fact, just about everyone into whose lives God interjected Himself had, at times, a very hard row to hoe.
Tough times come and go, and so do easy times. Each shall pass eventually, so it’s best not to put much stock in either. We do well to adopt the attitude Paul had when he wrote, “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.”
All this we too can do, and oh so very much more.
© M K Simonds