Although he was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, Joseph [in Genesis 39–40] is now a slave. As Joseph starts his new life in Potiphar’s house, God begins molding Joseph into the wise leader he will become. Joseph never asked for that path or such preparation—and sometimes, neither do we.
Yet even on those dark days when we feel cut off from those we love, when the distraction of the familiar is removed, God’s grace illuminates the path before us, just as it did for Joseph.
Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. —Genesis 39:1–2
From Favorite to Slave
Joseph is taken to Egypt and sold by the Ishmaelites. Similar to the institution
in the American South, the economic, military, and political impact of slavery meant that slave trade flourished in Egypt. Slaves were assigned to one of a variety of levels of servitude depending on their ability, land of origin, and social rank. During the sales transaction, it is likely that slaves were probed, prodded, and classified by various standards depending on market needs and clientele. So, even though the transaction is not described in our text, Joseph was undoubtedly frightened, confused, and humiliated.
He could have landed in far worse circumstances, of course. But by God’s
preordained plan, he is bought by the prominent Egyptian who is in charge
of Pharaoh’s guard.
A Worker, Not a Whiner
The Lord was with Joseph and brought him success in Potiphar’s house. Did you notice what Joseph did not do? Whine. Mumble. Complain. Throw a fit. Take a stance. Joseph trusted God and diligently put his heart and mind to the tasks set before him.
Our culture could give out PhDs in whining, complaining, and taking a stance. Just think back to the pandemic. Or perhaps recall just last week. When we are more concerned about our comfort than glorifying God, our lips start flapping. But not Joseph. His diligent work and can-do attitude brought about a significant revelation.
Potiphar was Egyptian. There is no scriptural evidence that he followed Yahweh, the one true God. Yet through Joseph’s diligent work and the resulting success, Potiphar glimpsed the Almighty. Can you and I say our work ethic provides such a glimpse? There are many days that I cannot.
God's Hand and Faithful Witness
God never invited Joseph to His holy drafting table as He created the blueprint of Joseph’s life, yet God carefully conceived and carried out every inch of it. (This does not imply that God was responsible for Joseph being enslaved. That was purely the sin of his brothers, which God permitted, then turned to good.)
There is only one reason that anything we do prospers: God. His work in us through the Holy Spirit enables us to do good even when evil resides in our hearts.
God’s presence makes the unbearable bearable. Joseph prospered in his new career. God had given Joseph many gifts, which would have never surfaced outside of his new job. Like Joseph, you and I will never discover all that God can do with us as long as we concentrate on only those things we think we are good at. To fulfill God’s plan to govern a nation, Joseph needed to learn a whole new culture, country, people skills, management techniques, conflict resolution, and more.
Potiphar was a man of class, wealth, and prestige with qualities and skills Joseph would need. Sometimes we do not recognize the incubator of learning until God opens the door to release us when the process is complete.
Blog post excerpted from Meant for Good: A Study of Joseph copyright © 2023 Donna Snow. Published by Concordia Publishing House. All rights reserved.
Read more about Joseph and how His story reminds you that God is always on your side, waiting to use you for good in Meant for Good.