In our passage today, we see things get worse before they get better for Joseph. These chapters focus on Joseph’s time as a slave in Israel, and we will see how even in humbling circumstances, God exalts His people. Even in the worst worldly circumstances – where death even seems certain – God preserves and provides for His people. So this is not just history. Moses would have wanted Israel – themselves just slaves in Egypt, and now facing very poor circumstances in their wanderings – to understand that God is still God, and will take care of them and keep his promises. For us, it is a reminder of the same.
Right away, we see that “The Lord was with Joseph” and He prospered him (39:2). Like Laban with Jacob, Potiphar sees how the blessings of God overflow through Joseph, and God even gives Joseph favor with those of the world. But sin abounds. The wife of his master tries repeatedly to bed Joseph, but Joseph will not betray his master nor sin against God. And despite his efforts to do what’s right, the world comes against Joseph, and his situation gets far worse. This pictures our Lord, Who the world hated because of His righteousness. Yet, God takes worldly suffering, and turns it to good. God prospers Joseph even in prison.
In chapter 40, we see that Joseph has been gifted by God to interpret the dreams of others. We also see that God, once again, uses “bad” earthly circumstances to achieve His will. The imprisonment of these two servants provided Joseph the opportunity to use his God-given gifts, through which God worked His will. Yet, we are told that the cupbearer forgot Joseph. Here, Joseph’s faith and patience will be tested.
Chapter 41 begins two years after chapter 40. God gives Pharaoh a vision in a dream, providing another opportunity for Joseph to use his gift. And we see how earthly circumstances are used – and even established – by God for good. It was the cupbearer that was restored, who stands at Pharaoh’s side, who met Joseph in prison and heard the plight of his master. It is Joseph, languishing in prison for literally years, who was gifted in interpretation and was able to predict the coming seven-year famine.
Once again, the blessings that overflow through Joseph benefit those around him, and even gain him favor with those of the world (a pattern we will see again in the Old Testament). And Joseph’s faith remains strong, even after all he’s been through: he gives God the glory for his gifting (41:16). And we see how faith, patience, a willingness to use his gifting, and the circumstances God put Joseph in enabled him to literally bless all nations (41:57). This is a temporal fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, that through their offspring all the earth would be blessed.
We also have the record here of the birth of Joseph’s two sons. As we will see, they will share in the blessings and the inheritance of the sons of Jacob.
This is an important part of the history of the nation of Israel. There would be no Israel had circumstances – that is, God – not placed Joseph in Egypt and given him the opportunity to rise to power. But there’s another reason this account is here. Moses wanted the nation of Israel to be patient, have faith, use the gifts God gave them, and glorify Him through the circumstances in which they found themselves, no matter what those circumstances were. God wants the same from us.