From the Dungeon to the Palace
For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon (Bereshit / Genesis 40:15).
The Torah portion which corresponds to the Shabbat of Hanukkah week this year begins the story of Joseph. Joseph was chosen by God for a special purpose. Devastating famine would be coming to Canaan and the surrounding region. God spoke to Joseph through dreams, but no one could have imagined how things would work out - his brothers betrayed him and sold him into slavery in Egypt.
Joseph suffered greatly in Egypt. Torn away from his family because of spite, he was made a servant. Then after being falsely accused, he was put in a dungeon. While there his reputation as being one who could interpret dreams became known. This led to his being summoned by Pharaoh, King of Egypt, to interpret Pharaoh’s own dreams. Because of this Pharaoh elevated him to a high position, which resulted in the saving of Egypt as well as the other peoples of the surrounding region including Joseph’s own family.
Joseph’s life had been marked by misunderstanding, persecution and hardship. Yet through it all, God’s favor was upon him. In the end he was greatly used by God to be a blessing to many people.
This often happens to those who are set apart by God for his purposes. As he leads them, they find themselves at odds with those around them. They don’t always understand why things are going they way they are. We assume that if God has called us to a task, then everything should go extremely well. But this is not the case. Often we must descend into the dudgeon before being called to the palace.
We should therefore not be discouraged when circumstances are difficult. Circumstances are poor indicators as to whether or not we are following God.
We are not given much insight as to how Joseph was feeling through it all. We know he understood that his brothers had intended to harm him (50:20), and that he didn’t like the prison, (40:14,15). But did he wonder about his dreams while he was enslaved or in the dungeon? I wonder how he prayed, if at all, in those years. We are not told.
All we know is that Joseph was well prepared to take his God-given place when the time came. Somehow he learned all he needed to know to be second in command in Egypt. We see that through it all Joseph was faithful in his service to others and kept his faith in God.
Reading the story of Joseph at Hanukkah time is fitting. Hanukkah is the story of God’s people being at odds with the prevailing culture. Whenever we walk in God ways, this is what happens. As we obey God’s call, those opposed to him will be opposed to us.
Joseph is an inspiration. His life encourages us to not give up, but to trust that in the end God will work out things for our good - and not ours only – but for others as well.
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