“After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed….” (Genesis 41:1)
Two. Whole. Years. In Genesis 41, it seems that Moses wants us to sense the extent of Joseph's suffering. Often, scripture will mark spans of time in general terms: “after that time” … “in a while” … or simply “then”. But Moses is quite specific here. “After two whole years….” Not a year and a half or a year and eleven months, after two whole years.
Having breathed oxygen now for almost 62 years, I can tell you that two whole years fly by in the blink of an eye. But for a 28-year-old man with his life ahead of him, two whole years can seem like an eternity, especially when it’s spent in a dungeon. And for all Joseph knows, he could be in that pit for the rest of his life.
He had hoped the king’s cupbearer would mention him to the boss. Instead, Genesis 40:23 says that “the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph.” And in case we might misunderstand, Moses adds, “but forgot him.”
Two years of forgottenness. Loneliness. Monotony. Darkness. Two whole years.
James, the half-brother of Jesus, encourages us to “be joyful in suffering.” Peter and John were beaten by the Sanhedrin for preaching Jesus. Luke says that “they left the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer dishonor for the name” (Acts 5:41). Paul tells us that we Christians should “rejoice in our sufferings” (Romans 5:3) because our suffering develops in us all manner of marvelous character traits.
This is a hard lesson for people to grasp, especially young people—that there is something beneficial to be gained only through struggle. While we are struggling, it is difficult to see anything good coming from it. Many times, it’s only years later that we can look back and see that, because of that trial, we are better people.
Kelly Clarkson sings, “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.” Scripture agrees. We are better people—better disciples of Jesus—after we’ve gone through some things. The suffering caused us to lean on the Lord instead of ourselves. Our faith grows. And we come out of the struggle better equipped to handle whatever might come next.
For 25 years, Abraham had to trust that God would give him a son. Only when it was absolutely impossible for it to happen did God allow Sarah to get pregnant. How much faith did it take for 100-year-old Abraham to even initiate an act of intimacy with his 90-year-old wife after a lifetime of barrenness? But he did. And nine months later… Isaac.
What a faith builder that must have been! Abraham would need every ounce of that faith to lead his only son to the altar of sacrifice a short time later.
Two. Whole. Years. Last week, we tried to imagine how Joseph might have spent his time in the pit. Did he curl up into a ball and whine? Did he spend it scheming about how to take vengeance on his enemies—the cupbearer, Potiphar’s wife, and the eleven brothers who sold him down the river? No, I’m convinced that Joseph “redeemed the time” by serving others in the dungeon. He had concern over the downcast faces of the butler and the baker. There is no reason to believe his concern for others ended just because the butler forgot about him.
Why two years? If God was with Joseph (and scripture says He was), then why two whole years? The answer is… God was not finished with him. During those two years, God was shaping, purifying, and refining Joseph into the man God wanted him to be—a man prepared to lead Egypt through fourteen years of feast and famine, a man prepared to receive his family back, not with resentment and disdain, but with love and forgiveness. God didn't need two years to accomplish this. But Joseph did.
God is unfolding His great plan for the redemption of humankind. He is using the two-year suffering of this young man to accomplish His divine purposes.
Today, all of us are suffering through a period of disease and bitter strife. Who could’ve predicted that 2020 would be such a year of upheaval? I’m still shocked that the government of a nation founded upon the idea of freedom of assembly and freedom to worship would mandate the shutting of church house doors while determining that abortion clinics and liquor stores are “essential businesses.”
How are we using this period of suffering? Have we assumed the fetal position in a dark closet hoping that maybe it will all just go away? Have we staked out a position on the porch with our locked and loaded AR-15 as we fly a “Come and take it” flag from the rafters?
Or have we determined that this time of trial is best spent looking for opportunities to serve others? There is much heartache in the world. And there has never been a time when the love of Jesus was more necessary than it is right now.
In His suffering, Jesus served. He washed the feet of his betrayer, healed the ear of his arresting officer, prayed for his executioners, and extended compassionate grace to a murderous thief. No whining. No vengeful retribution. He simply “considered others better than himself” as he “submitted himself unto death—even death on a cross.”
How can I be of service to others? Maybe it’s as simple as wearing a mask to make them more comfortable around me. Maybe it’s making a donation to the local food bank. Or maybe it’s just offering a kind word to someone who needs it.
Perhaps it sounds trite and overused, but I think the question is worth asking, WHAT WOULD JESUS DO?