(Writer’s note: The broad context for this study is Genesis 37-50. I’ve read it thoughtfully several times in several translations, and now feel I can draw some conclusions. . . and make some applications. This is important, remember. In serious study of Scripture, you must never consider yourself merely an “observer.” You become a participant. If you consider yourself simply an “innocent” bystander…you are NOT Innocent! Lessons being taught by God are meant to be LEARNED and APPLIED. ~dk)
Here are some thiings I’ve learned:
You don’t know the strength you have until you’ve been tested to the limits of your endurance. I can only imagine what Joseph (and someone like John McCain*) and others went through when caught in such a trap. One thing is certain: they emerged with a strength of character that commands our attention and respect. The grinding, grueling, daily regimen was designed to break the human will, crush the spirit, destroy you. Those who go through such fiery trials are going to be admirable examples of faith and courage for all who know their ordeal. Joseph is a great illustration of that truth.
You don’t really know yourself until you’ve been tested to the extent of your endurance. Alone? For endless hours, with no one around for conversation or diversion? No tee vee. No gameboy. No computer. Rodents and roaches running rampant through the tiny cell. The groans and moans of helpless prisoners and the stench of close confinement with no ventilation, no sanitation. Nothing but the darkness and your imagination and memories and hope. And precious little of that. But hope kept alive, kept them alive. If he’d given up any time he’d had reason, you’d know nothing of him today. *John McCain would be a MIA, KIA or POW with little to show he was here apart from some souvenirs, fading photographs. Under continuous, enormous, unbearable pressure, Joseph stood strong and unbowed.
You don’t know what you really need, until you find you don’t need any thing. That made me think of a sentence in Scripture which says: “Be content with such things as you have (or don’t have), for He hath said: ‘I will never leave thee nor forsake thee.’” It is as if He’s saying: “If you have Me in your life, you have the greatest resource you could possess.” Joseph probably had only limited, simple teaching of spiritual things, but he obviously grew to understand only that which is eternal is of supreme value.
You don’t understand what “suffering” means until you’ve suffered. In fact, no matter how hard you may try, you CAN NOT fully understand what you have not experienced. James Stewart of Edinburgh, in a series of sermons on the mystery of suffering, said eloquently: “You can’t sing Rock of Ages as it should be sung until you’ve felt the foundations quake and shake beneath your feet.” Without travelling the path he did, how would Joseph ever have come to the place of service he reached? How could he possibly have empathized with the poor and suffering if he hadn’t gotten a “taste” of what it was like?
Calamity can strike suddenly, unexpectedly, without warning and with sometimes disastrous results.
There is a difference between a painful wound and a fatal one.
Suffering can make or break you. And it is unavoidable. You won’t skate merrily through life unscathed. Regardless of what “Tiny Tim” sang, you cannot “tiptoe through the tulips” indefinitely. The really important, continuing question is not: “Why do bad things happen?” It is, instead: “How can I respond to suffering correctly?” The same sun which melts ice cream will harden clay. It is true, even if perhaps trite, that suffering will make you bitter or better. It will simply drive you further, and perhaps faster, along the path in the direction toward which you were already heading. The things which Joseph experienced made him “tough as nails” and as sympathetic, kind, and understanding as anyone we meet in the pages of the Bible.
If someone needs help, and you can provide it, you should do it. The last thing Joseph asked after he correctly interpreted the fellow prisoner’s dream was: “Remember me.” Free as a bird, the prisoner left the dungeon and promptly forgot Joseph for two years. Finally, he remembered a promise he’d made, and an obligation he’d accepted.
There’s also a lesson in this for parents. Partialty and favoritism become apparent pretty early. In spite of the fact that Jacob (Israel) was the Father of the great Jewish nation, he wasn’t always the wisest Dad. And the other siblings are ALWAYS resentful. And it appeared to me that Joseph (in spite of his later greatness) was on the route to becoming a “spoiled brat” and a continuous aggravation to his brothers. Parents cannot escape at least some of the responsibility for the family dynamics and the way our offspring turn out.
God can teach us invaluable lessons if we allow Him to do that. But He will always do it His way and not mine. And on his time schedule. He doesn’t wear a watch or consult a calendar.
His servant, your friend and fellow student ~donkimrey
“In the conflict with doubt, cast your thought wider and deeper. Do not let your thought be debased; let it transcend the conditions and limitations of this earth.” ~Maria Skobtsova (1891-1945) from the book God Seekers.
(* Note: I am not a political activist. I have never tried to tell anyone what to think, or how to vote. I do encourage them to do both thoughtfully and prayerfully, but do not ever tell anyone HOW they should do either. My admiration for Senator John McCain is not a blank endorsement of his presidential aspirations. He simply has shown to the world that he has the will and strength to “endure hardness as a good soldier.” And, in my judgment, has more than qualified as a “Comeback Kid!” ~dk)