Work hard! Go to Prison! Genesis 39
Having made our our departure for a chapter to see what is happening with Judah back in the land of Canaan, the focus of the story returns to Joseph. Genesis 39 (link) recounts how that turned out for him.
He arrives with the Ishmaelites and is sold to Potiphar. Potiphar is one of the captains of Pharaoh's bodyguard and a man of some wealth. Joseph works hard, God grans him favor in the eyes of Potiphar, and Joseph becomes the manager of all that Potiphar has. The text does not tell us how long this took, but I would say it took less than a lot of time but more than a little bit.
Then Joseph's hard work is rewarded: Potiphar's wife develops an attraction for Joseph. Throughout her persistence, Joseph continually refuses her advances and observes that it would wrong his master and sin against God to do such a thing. One day she catches him alone, attempts to pull him by his garment, and he flees.
Now she has physical evidence and traps him with a lie: he came and attempted to seduce her, perhaps even to assault her. She tells the household first, and then Potiphar hears the story. All that hard work and off to prison Joseph goes.
A brief word here: had the accusation been accurate, then Joseph deserved to be off to prison. Likewise today: it is beyond unfortunate, it is wrong that individuals think their "good service" should allow sexual crimes to be overlooked. Whether that's simple infidelity or something more heinous. And it is beyond incomprehensible that religious leaders like pastors and priests think such things should not apply to them. Competent investigation should always be brought to bear on those accusations. And no, pastor and deacons, you are not competent to investigate. Call DCFS, DHS, the police, or whomever is the state-mandated reporting agency.
For Joseph, however, this imprisonment is an injustice. He has done nothing to deserve it and everything he could to avoid it. It happens anyway.
The world has only gone downstream from Eden more since the time of Joseph and not less: bad things still happen. Innocent people still suffer at the hands of guilty people. There are still rich people who think they own other people.
What do we do?
The same thing we should always do: be faithful and work for the Lord, not man. (Colossians 3:23) Be faithful to the Gospel, to the Lord Jesus Christ, and to your commitment to Him.
Work for the Lord and not for man. When I worked for UPS, Pizza Hut, a funeral home, a Chick-fil-A, and even for churches, the worst days were the days when I thought of myself as working for people. Even with good bosses and great churches, when the goal is to please other people the stress will kill you. Why? Because people are fickle: what was good one day is not good enough the next, and so forth. Any one of you who has ever talked to the same person twice knows this.
Yet the standard of God never changes. His expectation remains the same no matter what: God has no mood shifts. Moreover, God provides the strength to fulfill His expectations.
When we work for God, we trust Him with the rewards. Joseph has no choice now but to view his life that way—he's in prison at the end of the chapter. Yet his actions are no different from the beginning to the end: work hard, do what is right and let God sort out the rest of it.
Isn't that the better plan for us all?
And…in my best Colombo voice: one more thing: I've heard sermons and read books that talk about how "wonderful" Joseph's attitude was in all of this. Just to note: there is nothing in the text that says Joseph was completely happy and cheery through all of these events. What we see are his actions and not his attitude.
You can change your attitude, but you must also, and perhaps even more, change your actions to reflect a godly viewpoint. You have not failed because it was hard to smile while doing the work. You only fail if you do not do the work.
But the smile will probably help.