“The Lord was with Joseph” – Genesis 39:1-23
Listen to the Sermon:
Hear now the word of the Lord in Genesis 39 starting in verse 1.
1 Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. 4 So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. 5 From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. 6 So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. 7 And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” 8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” 10 And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
11 But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, 12 she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. 13 And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, 14 she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. 15 And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” 16 Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, 17 and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. 18 But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.”
19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. 21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.
Genesis 39:1-23, ESV
With a critical moment in Joseph’s life, the moment that everything we are now reading is leading toward, is the moment when Joseph will lead Egypt through a time of intense suffering and distress. There will be seven years of famine and in that time thousands of lives are at stake, both in the land of Egypt and then in the wider area of the land of Canaan. What Joseph is going to do during that time is he is going to distribute food to the various people through that trial. Food that he organized to store up during the seven preceding years, years that came before of plenty. There were seven years of plenty before the seven years of famine.
Now in those times what Joseph was learning to do, like he is doing here, is to learn how to navigate through times of both plenty and times of lack. We still face this today. We have to navigate through seasons of plenty and we have to navigate through seasons of suffering. When those seasons of suffering come, well we act as though these are something that shouldn’t happen, that can’t happen, that won’t happen.
So, when they actually come they catch us completely off guard, they catch us by surprise. We want our lives to be entirely characterized by those times of plenty. We want happily ever after to start now and to be ever after, without any kind of failing or flagging or diminishment. In fact we have to go through both the times of plenty and the times of famine. The times of suffering, the times of lack are one of the things that happens.
When we enter into those times of suffering, it is not just that we are surprised by it, but sometimes we find in our hearts and our minds and our souls that we begin to gauge and evaluate whether we perceive God to be present depending upon our circumstances. If it’s time plenty, well hey the Lord is clearly with me. If at the time of suffering and lack I don’t know if the Lord is with me, in fact it feels like he has forsaken me in those times.
What this story does is to teach us to look beyond our circumstances, the outward appearance of our circumstances. The story teaches us to learn to see God’s presence with us, even in the midst of great suffering in our lives.
Our big idea as we study this morning is this that the Lord is with his people, even in their suffering.
So we see that the Lord is with us in three ways.
1. Flourishing in our Labors
2. Fighting Against our Temptations
3. Faithfulness in our Suffering
Flourishing in our Labors
So, let’s start with this first section, verses one through six, where we see Joseph flourishing in his labors. When we come to the first verse we are being reoriented to the story of Joseph and in the last chapter. If you were here when we studied chapter 38, Joseph was not the focal point of that story, but the story focused on Judah and Tamar and the children born to Judah and Tamar, in chapter 38.
Now in verse 1 we are reminded that Joseph has been taken down to Egypt by the Ishmaelites and that he has been sold to Potiphar, we read that at the end chapter 37. Now we’re being reoriented to it, and in particular we’re being reoriented to Joseph’s sufferings. He didn’t go down there on a vacation, he didn’t go there of his own free will. He was bought there brought there as a slave who was sold at the hands of his own brothers.
So, we’re reoriented to the suffering of Joseph. Nevertheless right away in verse 2, we read this phrase, “the Lord was with Joseph.” Now this phrase, “the Lord was with Joseph” is the theme of this chapter. Now we read it here at the beginning of this chapter and then we read it again at the end of the chapter in verse 21. “The Lord was with Joseph”, in the beginning and the end of this, is the theme that the narrator the Bible wants us to see throughout this whole story.
Now this seems a little strange a little ironic because this is a story about some of Joseph’s deepest sufferings. Yet what the Bible wants us to see here is that even in these sufferings, it’s not that the Lord has gone away. In fact the Lord is with Joseph as he suffered and in the midst of his sufferings. One of the ways that this passage underscores this, is that this is the only chapter in the entire story of Joseph where we read the covenant name of the Lord, Yahweh.
Now this is very strange. In all of Genesis, all the way up through chapter 36, the name Yahweh appears in every chapter except the first chapter, where we read about God who creates heaven and earth and then chapter 23, which is about Abraham’s negotiations to buy a burial plot for his wife Sarah. Everywhere else we see the covenant name of the Lord, Yahweh. That’s not just a title like you would call a person, a king, maybe Lord so and so. That’s not just the name of God, sort of a title for a divinity. We are talking about the covenant name of God Yahweh.
This is the only place in the story of Joseph where it appears. If you look this is wherever you see the LORD in all capital letters, that shows us this is the name of the LORD, Yahweh. It appears in the midst of his deep suffering, because what Yahweh signifies is his covenant faithfulness to be with his people, even in the midst of their deepest trials. That’s what’s going on here, Joseph is suffering when he is brought into Egypt.
Here we see that the Lord is with Joseph. For a time in the midst of his sufferings Joseph flourishes he, he prospers in all that he does even in the midst of his sufferings. So we see in verse 4 that Joseph gains favor in Potiphar’s eyes. This is the first of four visual evaluations we’re going to have of Joseph.
We read at the beginning here that in the eyes of Potiphar he has favor. Because of this favor we read that Potiphar gave everything into the hand of Joseph. In verses four and six, now if you’re reading from the ESV, this is translated charge he put everything in Joseph’s charge. It’s a good translation, but there’s a reason that we need to see that literally this is into Joseph’s hand. That phrase is going to become important a little bit later. Yet here we see that in all of this, everything Joseph touches prospers, and so everything is put into his hand.
We want to see this time continue for Joseph. We see how much he has suffered, and we want to see that well, maybe this is the beginning of his happily ever after. But we should recognize that this is not the end of the story. This is rather what John Calvin calls, time to breathe, that the Lord is giving to Joseph this is time to breathe.
John Calvin has this great point in his commentary, it really stuck out to me as I was studying this week. It is that the Lord, though he often plunges his own people into the waves of adversity, yet he does not deceive them. Seeing that by sometimes moderating or lessening their sufferings, he grants them time to breathe. Truly for this end God meets with us in our difficulties, that then with collected strength as men refreshed, we may be the better prepared for other conflict, for future conflict. By having time to breathe we will be prepared for the trials that are coming our way. Indeed more trials are coming Joseph’s ways.
One of my fondest memories of a vacation was a couple of years ago, at the beginning of January in 2019. I look back often on this vacation with particular fondness, in part the fondness had to do with some fun things that I was able to do over that vacation. However much of the fondness came because I knew that when I got back to work we were going to start the Building on a Firm Foundation campaign. That was two years ago, if you if you were here for that.
I knew that when I got back I would be preaching for 12 weeks straight and that I was going to have a tremendous number of various meetings. I knew that I was going to be with the congregation in different disciple groups. I knew that this time was going to be exciting, but that it was going to be a grind. So that vacation, because I knew something of the trials that were coming and the difficulty and the busyness that was coming, that vacation felt like a refuge for me. It was a time to breathe where I was able to prepare myself for the incredible workload that was coming my way.
The problem, of course, is that most of the time we don’t know what’s coming around the corner. We don’t know the trials that are headed our way. We don’t know the suffering that we are about to encounter. So sometimes when we are in times that we should be savoring as times to breathe, to prepare ourselves for what’s ahead, we get confused and we think well this is the way it’s got to be forever and ever. We think, I’ve entered the happily ever after and my life will continue like this. This has to be the default setting.
But for Joseph and for us, the Lord uses these times of flourishing not to sort of give us an uninterrupted time of happiness, but to remind us and to assure us that the Lord is with us in good times as well as bad. Also to give us tangible evidence for us to tuck away and store away for those times of lack, for those times of famine, for the trials ahead, to remember that the Lord is with his people throughout.
What we must always remember during these times of flourishing is that the Lord will not give us this happily ever after yet, but that in these times we should be not looking for that. Instead we should be preparing ourselves for the battle that we must face.
Fighting Against our Temptations
So as I say Joseph has a battle to face, and this is what we come to in the second section where we see the Lord is with us when we are fighting against our temptations. Joseph suffers deeply under the temptations that he faces at the hand of his of his master’s wife of Potiphar’s wife.
So starting in verse six we see the beginning of this second section where we read, at the end of verse six, a very interesting phrase. It says, “now Joseph was handsome in form and in appearance”, or literally this is, “Joseph was beautiful in form and beautiful in appearance.”
This phrase has come up in Genesis again and again, but there’s a sort of a flip to it. Usually this phrase is used of the wives of the patriarchs. It’s used to describe the physical beauty of women, the wives of Abraham and Isaac. When Abraham and Isaac are particularly concerned as they go into foreign countries that the beauty of their wives will attract the attention of foreign men. Yet here it is a patriarch whose physical beauty, whose physical attractiveness, is going to attract the attention of a foreign woman, the attention of Potiphar’s wife.
In verse 7 we read this is exactly what happens after a time. Joseph’s master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph. This is the second of the three visual evaluations of Joseph. She looked at Joseph and the results of her evaluation of Joseph are reflected clearly enough in her blunt demand found at the end of verse seven, “lie with me.” It’s just two blunt Hebrew words, lie with me.
Now remember when Pharaoh’s eyes saw the blessing of the Lord on Joseph, he wisely promoted Joseph to a position of authority. When Potiphar’s wife’s eyes see the beauty of Joseph, she sinfully demands that he commit adultery with her.
Now again there’s a contrast. We should look between what happens with Joseph and what happens in Judah’s life, which we looked at last week. Last week we said that in many ways the lives of Judah and the lives of Joseph are kind of parallel, but they are written in such a way where we see the clear contrast between the two.
Judah both sinfully married a Canaanite woman in 38:2, and then he sinfully initiated hiring the services of a prostitute in verse 15, because he saw them. It was his eyes, his seeing that initiated his sin in both of those cases. Now in Joseph’s case there’s going to be temptations to sin because of seeing, but Joseph is not the one initiating the sin. Joseph is not doing all of this because of what he sees, rather he is the one who is suffering under this temptation because he himself is seen.
So there’s some parallels to what happened with Judah, but we’re seeing a very clear contrast. Joseph is the innocent one, he is the one who is seen. So Potiphar’s wife not only comes and demands that he lie with her, but then when we read that Joseph turns her down. That doesn’t stop her, as we will see.
Look at what Joseph says in verses 8 and 9.
8 But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. 9 He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” Genesis 39:8-9, ESV
There are two really interesting things about Joseph’s response. First of all we should notice that this is not part of it, but how wordy Joseph’s response is in comparison to the blunt demand of Potiphar’s wife. The first thing that’s really interesting about this is that Joseph identifies the extraordinary blessings, the privilege, the influence that Potiphar has given him over everything in his house except for Potiphar’s wife, for obvious reasons.
The reason this is so remarkable is that we very often overlook our vast blessings, and we wrangle, and we become discontented at the few things that we do not have. We look at our lives and we sort of explain away the great blessings that we have, and we say but this thing I don’t have and so I’m mad about that and I want to get that thing.
This is actually as old as sin itself. You may remember that in the Garden of Eden our first parents were given lavish gifts by God. God said in Genesis 2:16-17,
16 And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, 17 but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Genesis 2:16-17, ESV
So God said you shall surely eat from every tree. You can eat it all, except for this one tree, one thing is off limits. When eve began to dialogue with the serpent, with Satan, when the serpent asked her whether she wasn’t allowed to eat anything she under emphasized God’s goodness. She said, “well we may eat of the trees of the garden.” She didn’t say, “we may surely eat of every tree”, she said “we may eat of the trees, I guess we can eat some things.” So she underemphasized God’s goodness, she downplayed God’s blessings, but she overemphasized the prohibition. She says, “but we may not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Neither shall we touch it lest we die.”
Well God hadn’t prohibited them from touching it, that was something she added. So she under emphasized God’s blessings and over emphasized what was withheld from her. That was a part in leading her toward justifying, reaching out and eating from the tree that God had forbidden her.
This is what still happens in our lives. We look at all the things that we have, and we downplay them and grumble at the things that we don’t have. When the extreme cold came last week, was your heart filled with unending gratitude that you had power and heat and food and shelter, or did you find your time grumbling about the weather when you talked with people?
Or this morning, my neighborhood had a power outage, and did I thank the Lord that that hadn’t happened during the time of extreme cold? Did I thank the Lord that providentially I woke up early and was able to get dressed and ready to go before the power kicked out? Or did I grumble that I couldn’t fix my normal breakfast and coffee at home? I’ll be honest it was a mix of both. I had to call my wife and apologize for being a grump this morning on my way out the door.
This is the way that we think. We think about all the things that we don’t have, and we become discontented at the things that we don’t have. Joseph shows us here a major key for fighting temptation is to keep our eyes fixed on our blessings, not on what we lack.
The second thing that Joseph does to show us on how to fight temptation is that he identifies the true nature of evil. He says, “how then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” What Joseph realizes is that at the end of the day, ultimately this sin is not against Potiphar’s wife, not against Potiphar not against himself. Although all of those things he would be sinning against, but ultimately sin is always committed against God.
Even when we think that sin will be victimless or that it will be justifiable in this world, we must remember that sin is fundamentally a direct personal rebellion against God himself. Even though God is not seen in this passage, God is unseen through most of this passage, Joseph knows that the Lord is with him and so he cannot he dare not sin against the God who sees all things.
Well again Potiphar’s wife doesn’t quit. She hears what Joseph says, but she continues to tempt him. We read in verse 10, day after day, and then in verse 11 we read that she initiates an ambush after trying day after day and failing.
Then one day when Joseph is alone in the house doing his work, and it happens that no other men of the house were there, she grabs him by his garment and she says in verse 12, “lie with me.” Joseph doesn’t wait a moment, he flees the situation, runs away. She was grabbing his garment and pulls the garment off of him, so that he is running out of the house and she he still has that garment in her hand.
Look at that phrase in verse 13, “as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand.” Now remember earlier that expression, in his hand, was used to describe Joseph’s authority that was given to him by Potiphar over everything in Potiphar’s house. Everything was put into the hand of Joseph. But now we see this expression “in her hand” as tangible proof that Joseph was worthy of that trust of Potiphar, but this also becomes the evidence that Potiphar’s wife will twist to accuse Joseph falsely. That’s exactly what she does.
She calls then the men of the house to come to her and she points to this garment and says,
And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Genesis 39:15, ESV
What we see here as readers of this story, although this wouldn’t have necessarily been apparent to those who were hearing this story, is that she has flipped the order. Originally Joseph left his garment behind when she grabbed it and then she called the men to come to her, but she’s flipping the order so that we can see just how blatant her lie is, how she is twisting the evidence of Joseph’s garment. When when Potiphar’s wife’s husband, when Potiphar comes home later she tells her husband the exact same story, in verses 17 and 18.
Now once again, and we’ve mentioned this a few times in our study of Joseph so far, clothing again appears as an item that’s used for deception. There’s a long history of this in Genesis, it comes up again and again. Back in Genesis 27 Jacob, who is Joseph’s father, Jacob deceived his own father Isaac, Isaac would be Joseph’s grandfather, Jacob deceived Isaac by dressing up in Esau’s garments. That is the same word that appears here for Joseph’s garments. He dressed up in Esau’s garments in order to steal from Isaac the blessing that Isaac intended to give to Jacob’s brother Esau.
Then in Genesis 37, Joseph’s brothers deceived Jacob their father by taking Joseph’s robe, his clothing. They dip it in goat’s blood to trick Jacob into believing that Joseph was dead. So just as Jacob used clothes to trick his father Isaac, so Jacob’s sons use clothing to trick Jacob.
Then in Genesis 38 we read about how Judah, one of Joseph’s brothers who had just tricked their father Jacob with clothing, was also himself tricked by Tamar. She took off the clothing, the garments of her widowhood, and dressed up as a prostitute to deceive Judah. Again, Judah had just tricked his own father this way and now he is deceived by garments, by clothing, in this way.
Now once again we see Joseph, who is falsely accused because of his garments that are twisted to use as evidence against him. Now what’s hard about this story is that in Jacob’s case, when he was deceived by his sons, well Jacob had done the same thing earlier so there’s something of a turnabout for Jacob. Then when Judah is deceived with Tamar, well he had just tricked his own father Jacob with this, so for Judah there’s some turnabout for him. This is twice that garments are used against Joseph and Joseph has been innocent. This is twice that he has been the victim. Twice that his own clothes have been used against him.
So this is a story that we have a very difficult time with. Hasn’t Joseph already suffered enough? Here Joseph even went to great efforts to retain his innocence. He used a lot of words to try to show why this would be an evil thing, to lie with Potiphar’s wife. When the ambush came, he fled from the room.
Yet here again he suffers all the more by this false accusation, and so we want to know as we read this or certainly we would want to know if we ourselves were in this situation, we want to know where is the Lord in all this? Where is God?
Now what this story doesn’t teach us is that the Lord will necessarily intervene to prevent such things from happening. That’s not what happens for Joseph and it sometimes doesn’t happen for us. What this story does teach us though is that even though the Lord doesn’t necessarily intervene to prevent suffering like this, that doesn’t mean that the Lord is absent or that he is blind or that he is powerless. Rather the story points us in a different direction, to understand where the Lord is when we suffer. Namely this teaches us to see the Lord’s presence in our suffering.
Faithfulness in our Suffering
So now we come to the third section where we see that the Lord is with us, by his faithfulness, in our suffering. In Joseph’s life we see the Lord’s faithfulness in two ways. First we see the Lord’s faithfulness in verses 19 through 20, where we read that when Potiphar hears this story, and his anger is kindled.
19 As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. 20 And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. Genesis 39:19-20, ESV
Now the Lord’s faithfulness appears here in the leniency, the lightness, of the punishment that Joseph receives. If Joseph has indeed attempted to rape Potiphar’s wife, then Joseph should have been put to death on the spot. Again there is a comparison and a contrast to what happened in the previous chapter when Judah learned that his daughter-in-law Tamar had become pregnant by sexual immorality. He demanded in verse 24 that she be brought out to be burned death, that was the punishment that he commanded for her.
Joseph here, he’s innocent, but he is not put to death as he should have been, but rather he is put in the king’s prison, the place for the king’s prisoners. Now we don’t know why this is, because Joseph doesn’t really qualify for being put in this particular prison. Why the leniency? Well some people speculate that Potiphar may not have believed what his wife has told him. Again, if he should have put Joseph to death, this may be been a way of not doing nothing, not ignoring the charge against Joseph, but nevertheless not putting him to death. He may not have believed his wife’s own testimony.
What is certainly true is that the Lord’s unseen hand is here protecting Joseph from further suffering. We see the Lord’s faithfulness in preventing Joseph’s suffering from going beyond a certain point.
The second way we see the Lord’s faithfulness is we see the explicit statement that was repeated from earlier back in verse 2, in verse 21. We read that the Lord was with Joseph and we get an expansion on that.
21 But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. Genesis 39:21, ESV
This is the third visual evaluation, Potiphar saw the favor of the Lord on Joseph and so Potiphar had favor on Joseph to put all things under Joseph’s charge. Potiphar’s wife saw Joseph and lusted after him. Now the jailer sees Joseph, and in the assessment of the jailer, Joseph is again worthy of having all things put under Joseph’s charge, into Joseph’s hand. Again the Lord is faithful in the suffering of Joseph, so that Joseph flourishes in the midst of his suffering.
Well, what should we do, how should we apply this text to our life?
1. Well the first thing that we must do is to know that the Lord is with his people the Lord is with his people. One of the great prophecies in the whole Bible comes in Isaiah 7:14,
14 Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.
Isaiah 7:14, ESV
That name Immanuel is the word that means God with us. The whole story, we read this a lot about at the Christmas time, to tell us that God would come to be with us. God the Son would come to be born as a human being, like us in every respect except without sin, in order to dwell with us, to be with us.
When Christ came into this world he indeed was with us. He endured the most bitter suffering. He had to deal with and endure the harshest temptations and to be victorious over all of those. Then he was condemned to the most horrifying death, death on a cross, in spite of the fact that he was perfectly innocent, even beyond innocence of the temptations that Joseph experienced.
Jesus was entirely innocent and nevertheless went to the cross. Indeed when our Lord Jesus went to the cross, he was forsaken at the cross. He cried out on the cross, “my God, my God why have you forsaken me?” “Why are you not with me?” Why did Jesus have to cry that out? So that we would know that God will never leave us or forsake us.
Jesus asked why God had forsaken him, so that you and I would never need to ask the same question. So that we would know that forever the Lord will be with his people. The Lord was with Joseph in Joseph’s suffering, the Lord was among us in the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, and now the Lord’s Holy Spirit indwells all those who trust in Jesus Christ.
So the question to ask is have you trusted Christ, or do you remain alone? The Bible promises that the Lord will be with his people and the Bible says that to all who have believed in Jesus he gave them the right to be called God’s own children. Trust in the Lord and the Lord will save you by his powerful, redeeming, saving, presence. The Lord is with his people.
2. Well, the second application is that we must learn how to see the Lord’s presence with us at all times. Potiphar and the jailer, and even Joseph himself, clearly saw the Lord’s presence with Joseph. Joseph saw that times of flourishing and plenty were gifts from God, but he also knew that the Lord would remain with him even when those times turned to suffering and lack.
As I mentioned earlier that lesson prepared him for the greatest challenge of his life, when he would have to navigate. When he would lead Egypt through in seven years of plenty, not just to enjoy them and to live for the moment, but to use those time to store away grain so that when the time of famine came, there would be enough food to feed the whole world.
Well we see that Joseph was doing this in the midst of his sufferings. Joseph knew that times of flourishing were but a time to breathe. So he was storing up for himself memory, storing up for himself evidence, as food that the Lord would be with him at all times. Then when the time of famine, of increased trials and suffering, would come he would be able to draw on what he had seen of God’s presence, as proof of God’s goodness in the past. If the Lord was faithful to me then, the Lord will be with me now.
We also see how clearly that is the case when Joseph had to fight his trials. He didn’t lament how difficult his situation was, he says look at the great blessings I have. How then can I sin against God’s unseen presence by doing this wicked thing? He didn’t say to himself, who will ever know, but he staked his refusal to sin on God’s unseen presence.
Suffering, especially the suffering of temptation, often catches us off guard. Why? Well most often it’s because we expect the good times of flourishing and plenty to be the normal, the default. We want a permanent happily ever after. We need to see those times to breathe. This time is to be storing up the evidence of God’s grace toward us, so that when these times of trial appear we’ll be ready for them, we’ll be prepared, we will have reserves of memories of God’s goodness stored up to get us through those difficult times.
Now this doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t enjoy the times of plenty in fear as we wait for the other shoe to drop on us. Rather it means that we must live our lives deliberately cultivating confidence in the Lord’s mercy. In good times this means we have to say to ourselves, the Lord is my shepherd there is nothing I want, I lack nothing. Then in bad times we say to ourselves, even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me.
The Lord is with his people even in their suffering, even when they walk through the valley of the shadow of death. We must say to ourselves, the Lord has been on our side in good times and in bad and blessed be the name of the Lord. For our help is in the name of the Lord ,who made heaven and earth.
I once heard a wise woman tell other believers, especially other younger women, to stop saying “what if” so often. They can stop saying, “what if this happens” or “what if that happens” or “what if this, that, or the other would happen in my life.” Rather change the language and it changes your whole perspective. Instead of saying “what if”, to say “even if”. “Even if those things happen”, “even if this, that, or the other happens”, the Lord will be with me. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I’ll fear no evil for the Lord will be with me.
Brothers and sisters, we cannot gauge God’s presence by whether we see times of plenty or times of lack. We cannot judge whether God is with us just by our outward circumstances, as though he’s here when our lives are good, and he has somehow forsaken us when our lives are bad. We must instead learn to see that times of comfort and times of suffering as different avenues through which God expresses the fullness of his covenantal faithfulness toward us, as the Lord, as Yahweh.
So wherever you are this morning, whether this is a time of plenty or whether this is a time of suffering, we must learn from this passage. If it’s a time of plenty store up these times, remember it for the future. If this is a time of suffering, draw from your reserves, remember the times in the past when the Lord has been faithful. Wherever you are today, do you see the Lord’s presence? That’s what this story challenges us to do.
Let’s pray. Heavenly Father, we pray that you would indeed help us to see Christ and that you would help us to see the goodness of Jesus Christ who was forsaken at the cross, so that we would not be forsaken, that you would never leave us or forsake us by the presence of your Joly Spirit. So we pray for that and we pray for faith, even if and even when times become difficult. We pray this in Christ’s name. Amen.