Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Imprisoned Trust

Gen. 39

I absolutely HATE this chapter of the Bible.  It screams injustice. 

Joseph has been sold as a slave, but he puts his nose to the grindstone and works diligently for his master.  After 13 years, Joseph is now the head servant in a very important house.

Potipher is the captain of the guards.  This is no small position...something akin to our Secretary of Defense.  However, in Joseph's time, the running of the household involved much more than just keeping the house clean.  His position would include things like making sure the crops were planted, harvested and sold for the appropriate price; managing servants and their disputes; overseeing the livestock used for both personal and commercial reasons; balancing the household finances and spending money for repairs; organizing social events; etc.  Given the status of Potipher's position, his household would have been enormous with numerous servants.  Like the CEO  of a major corporation, he did not do the work himself but made sure the people responsible for each task performed satisfactorily.  Joseph's job was to make sure Potipher had nothing to worry about at home so he could concentrate all his energy on running the Egyptian military.

He proves himself so trustworthy, Potipher has no problem granting Joseph complete control over everything from hiring, disciplining, and dismissing servants to literally having full access to all Potipher's finances.  The only thing Potipher had to worry about was which food to choose from the buffet spread before him at meal time.

This also means Potipher's wife has nothing to do at home except make trouble.  She solicits him to sleep with her...over and over and over again.  With Joseph in such a position of power over the lives of the servants, no one would have dared speak a word against him.  And they most certainly weren't going to speak against the wife!  The two of them could have carried on an affair for as long as they wanted and Potipher would never have known.  However, Joseph will not succumb.  Even after she arranges to get all the servants out of the house so she and Joseph can be completely alone (because the problem can't be he's not attracted to her so it must be his fear that word will somehow get back to her husband), he still will not.  Her humiliation is complete and she is furious.  She has thrown herself at a slave and he has refused.  Notice that Joseph's refusal has nothing to do with her looks, her feminine wiles, her age, nothing at all personal.  He simply will not, on moral grounds, sleep with the wife of the man who has trusted him with everything, has withheld nothing from him except his wife.

But when Potipher hears his wife say Joseph has tried to rape her, all that trust built over years flies out the window in a jealous rage and he throws Joseph in prison.  I wonder how long it took before Potipher figured out the truth.  How many other servants did the wife seduce?  Did she also sleep with his colleagues?  Did he ever find another servant who ran his household with such efficiency?  With Joseph gone, did his crops and livestock fail along with his finances?  Or did he continue to believe his wife blindly and go forward with the same prosperity as before?  We don't know.  One thing is certain, after publicly denouncing Joseph, Potipher would never recant his story and expose himself as his wife's dupe no matter what he learned later.

So Joseph rots in prison because he upheld his mater's trust.  If ever a man had reason to scream, "That's not FAIR!" it was Joseph.  And God doesn't do a thing about it.  None of Potipher's servants bear witness to Joseph's innocence, there is no last minute reprieve, no happy ending to reward Joseph's faithfulness.  And I hate it!  I know, I know, Joseph has not been abandoned by God and, because of his skills and trustworthiness, he eventually runs the prison, but excuse me for pointing out that he is still in prison.  I want justice now.  My attention span lasts about two to three hours these days...just long enough for a good movie.  I don't want Joseph rotting away for years on end.

But perhaps Joseph still had lessons to learn.  He was cocky and immature a couple chapters ago, he has risen to a place of prominence relatively quickly in his captivity, and God still needed to teach him a bit of humility and trust through unfair, difficult and trying circumstances.  Maybe the diplomatic skills necessary to run a country were not to be learned as the CEO of an important household but in the dungeon.  Or maybe Joseph just got the bum end of a rotten deal and God made the most of it.

Whatever the cause and effect, it still goes against my grain for God to allow such a clear case of injustice to stand regardless of the final outcome.  Then again, when we see Joseph as a sort of archetype for Jesus, it is of such benefit for me that God allowed the ultimate injustice and false accusations against Jesus to stand because the final outcome has saved me for all eternity. 

In the end, I can do all the right, moral, and trustworthy things and experience unjust consequences as a result.  I must trust, even while my soul screams out at the unfairness of it all, that God can work even this together for good (Rom. 8:28).  Maybe it won't be MY good, but it will still be for good.

Until next time,

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