Joseph in Prison!
Francis Bourdillon, 1864
"Joseph's master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king's prisoners were confined. But while Joseph was there in the prison — the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph's care, because the LORD was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did."
Joseph had done no wrong, and yet he was put into prison. Far from doing wrong, he had done right, quite right, in the face of great temptation — and yet we find him in prison. The wicked woman who had tempted him to sin, accused him falsely when she found that he would not do as she wished — and her husband, believing her tale, cast Joseph into prison.
So it is sometimes. God ordains it to be so. The wicked prosper — and the righteous suffer. We must not be surprised at this. The Lord Jesus Christ suffered death upon the cross to save us — though He had done no wrong. And sometimes He calls His followers to bear ill-treatment which they have not deserved. They must bear it meekly for His sake. "For it is commendable if a man bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because he is conscious of God. But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you — leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps." (1 Peter 2:19-21).
And if, when we suffer for doing right, we are even then to bear it patiently — then how much more when suffering comes in a common way, or when we can trace it to something wrong that we have done! Is it not sent by God? And can we say that it is more than our sins have deserved?
A prison is not in itself a happy place, and probably an ancient prison in such a country as Egypt was even more miserable than our prisons are. Yet Joseph was not unhappy in prison, because the Lord was with him. No place can be miserable in which the Lord is with us. God's presence can brighten a dungeon, a sick-room, a house of mourning. It is God's presence and favor, perfectly enjoyed, that will make the happiness of Heaven. God's presence can make happiness anywhere in this poor world of ours.
"The Lord was with Joseph, and showed him mercy." Doubtless Joseph felt and knew that the Lord was with him. Even there in the prison, in the worst of company, in the "place where the king's prisoners were bound," most of them probably not unjustly punished, like Joseph — but wicked men suffering for their crimes — even there Joseph enjoyed the presence of God in his heart. The Lord showed him mercy, extended kindness unto him, gave him a comforting sense of His goodness and love, and enabled him to feel that though He let him suffer — yet He was still gracious toward him.
Is not this enough to make any place, a place of comfort? Our happiness depends far more on inward peace, than on outward things. If our thoughts are happy — then outward things matter but little.
But little comparatively. They do make a difference to us. It would not be true to say they do not. No one would choose a prison — who might be free; none would be sick — who might be well. Yet happy thoughts, inward peace, and God's presence — can do wonders, even when all outward circumstances are against us.
When the disciples were most unhappy, this was the comfort which their Lord gave them — He told them that He would make His abode in their hearts by the Spirit; that is, that God's presence would be with them.
Ah! We must be happy wherever we are, if the light of God's countenance shines upon us — if we believe that we are pardoned and accepted in Christ — and that God loves us as His reconciled children in Him!
A prison? Why, Joseph's prison was no prison to him — while the Lord was with him. God's presence in the heart, makes every place a palace.
But God's favor was shown to Joseph in more ways than one. He not only gave him happy thoughts — He also gave him favor with others, and thus greatly improved his outward circumstances.
God is very gracious. Even when He is pleased to afflict us, we may always find some traces of the hand of love. It made a vast difference to Joseph's comfort, whether the keeper of the prison were kind to him or not. Humanly speaking, he was not very likely to be kind — a servant accused of such a crime against his master, and that master one of the king's great men, would in all likelihood be treated with great severity. Yet God "gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison." It was God's work. He inclined the heart of the jailer toward him, He made him kind.
God often shows mercy to the afflicted in this way — by inclining others to be kind to them. How often have the sick been quite surprised at the kindness shown to them! How often have those in sorrow been comforted beyond measure by the unlooked-for sympathy of others! This is of the Lord. He has compassion upon us in our trouble — and comforts us by means of the kindness of our fellow-creatures. Often He raises up friends for us where we least expected to find them — and leads even strangers to show us kindness. It is sweet to see the hand of God in this, and to trace all love and kindness shown to us by men — to the love of God Himself toward us. Every comfort is doubled, when we gratefully receive it as from the hand of God.
It was unlikely that Joseph should receive kindness from the jailer. But it was more unlikely that he should get any authority in the prison, or have any power of doing good. Yet so it turned out. God not only made the keeper of the prison kind to him — but even led him to commit all the other prisoners to Joseph's care. In fact, he trusted him so much that he gave over everything into his hands, and all that was done in the prison was done by Joseph.
Who can tell what good Joseph may have done there? He who had received such kindness himself, would certainly show kindness to others. There was no harshness or cruelty in that prison while Joseph was in charge. And perhaps so true a servant of God found means to speak of Him to the prisoners, and made use of his influence to lead those Egyptians to the knowledge of true religion. Certainly his conduct was such as to lead his fellow-prisoners to trust him, for in the next Chapter we find two of them putting confidence in him about their concerns. And, whether he spoke or not — his example was always before them. He lived in their sight.
The true servant of God is the servant of God everywhere; wherever he is — his influence is felt. Much good may be done within the walls of a prison. The prisoner Paul was made the means of converting the jailer at Philippi and his household. The same apostle, when again in bonds, preached the gospel to both Felix and Agrippa, in such a way as to cause the one to tremble and the other to declare, "You almost persuade me to become a Christian!" And afterwards at Rome, his preaching and his life, while still a prisoner, led to the conversion of numbers, both high and low, and were blessed to the strengthening and establishing of the brethren in the Lord.
Other instances are not lacking. It has often happened that a servant of Christ, imprisoned unjustly, has done great good among his fellow-prisoners; and sometimes even a real criminal, himself changed by grace while in prison for his offences, has been the means of leading others to God.
A sick-room is something like a prison. The sick person is confined there. He cannot get up and go about like other people. He must stay where he is. Yet he may do good there — his influence may be felt. Words spoken from a bed of sickness, perhaps of death, have more than usual weight. And even without many words, the sight of a Christian bearing patiently what God sends, submitting to His will, and able in the midst of suffering to be peaceful and cheerful through faith in his Savior — such a sight must impress those who behold it. Many a nurse of the sick has received a blessing to her soul in this way — and many a clergyman has come from the bedside of a suffering believer with the feeling that he has been a learner there rather than a teacher.
So we see that there may be true prosperity, even in the midst of outward trouble — and that God can both bless us and make us a blessing in any place and under any circumstances. "The Lord was with him; and that which he did, the Lord made it to prosper." God's presence and blessing make true prosperity — and no time or place can separate us from these!