Text: Genesis 40:1-23, Genesis 41:1-57
As we read the end of chapter 41, let’s all breathe a deep sigh of relief. Joseph, after 13 years of slavery and imprisonment, was finally free. At age 17, he was thrown into a pit by his brothers, and now, at 30, he was Pharaoh’s right-hand man.
Thirteen years is a long time to be a prisoner. As we have read, Joseph found favor with God, allowing him to be elevated in his roles as slave and prisoner. But he was still a slave and a prisoner, and we see in these chapters that Joseph was growing desperate for freedom. “When all goes well for you,” he told the cupbearer, “remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison” (Genesis 40:14).
Get me out of this prison.
Though I’ve not been subjected to actual captivity, I have uttered that same phrase. Maybe you have too. The prison looks different for each of us: depression, doubt, fear, anxiety, complacency, grief. No matter the size or dimension, prisons are a time of struggle with no end in sight.
When we are sitting in a prison of any type, it is hard to believe that God is at work. The words “purpose” and “plan” begin to sound trite. But let’s look back at Joseph’s story.
After pleading for the cupbearer to remember him, Joseph explained his innocence. “For I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon” (Genesis 40:15). Joseph’s captivity didn’t make sense to him. Human reasoning and judgment would say he deserved to be released. But God kept him there in the dungeon, and sometimes He keeps us there too.
The point of prison is not always to see how God will release us from it, or to figure out how to get God to release us from it. God is not a formula. “If I do A, B, or C, then He will do this for me. Or if I don’t do A, B, or C, He won’t do this.” When we stop trying to fight or figure our way out of suffering, we see that in our suffering, God is with us and working in us.
I remember a recent time of my own suffering. I was in a prison of fear, afraid I would never be freed. Looking back, I can see God was teaching me to trust Him, to trust that He is good. He met me in the suffering, and it was on the floor of my prison that my relationship with my Father deepened—not once I was outside of it.
This is what the coming of Christ portrays: a God who comes near to us. In the midst of our pain and in our darkness, Jesus came. It was while we were still sinners that Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).
God delivers His people, yes. We see that in Scripture again and again. But He is also with His people before they are delivered, during their captivity, and in their darkest moments.
Could it be that what you and I need most right now is not to be out of our prisons, but to know the presence of God, even while we’re still inside them?
Here at the end of chapter 41, we see that Joseph glorified God—after 13 years of imprisonment and slavery. He even declared God’s goodness through the names he chose for his children: Manasseh, meaning, “God has made me forget all my hardship in my father’s house”, and Ephraim, meaning, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction” (41:51-52).