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40. How to Get Out of the Pits (Genesis 40:1-23)

Introduction

A couple I know had an experience which resembles events in the life of Joseph which we have studied up to this point. The husband went out to his car one morning only to discover that it wouldn’t turn over because the battery had been stolen. After lifting up the hood, he discovered a note which said something to this effect: “I’m sorry I had to take your battery, but it was an emergency and I had to get to the hospital. I will return your battery as soon as I can.” A little later the battery was returned with another note: “Thank you so much for the use of your battery. To express our appreciation and to make up for the inconvenience we have caused you, here are two tickets to the Dallas Cowboy game this Sunday.”

The couple was ecstatic. They were fans of the Cowboys and were thrilled at the opportunity to go to the game. What a wonderful turn of events this had been. But when they returned home from the game they discovered, to their dismay, that their apartment had been cleaned out. The football tickets had simply been a ruse to get them out of the house.

Joseph’s life, too, had several curious turns of events. Just at the time when things seemed to be going his way circumstances would rapidly change, and hope was seemingly lost. At 17 he was the leader of his brothers, but that only got him thrown into a pit. Due to the band of Ishmaelite traders who “happened by” and at the suggestion of Judah, they sold him instead of leaving him there to die. As Joseph’s abilities became evident to Potiphar, the Egyptian official who had purchased Joseph as his slave, he found himself rising to a position second only to that of his master. Joseph’s refusal to have an affair with Potiphar’s wife resulted in false charges and his incarceration in Potiphar’ prison. And once again in Genesis 40 when it looks as though the butler will be able to make an appeal to Pharaoh on Joseph’s behalf, Joseph’s hopes seem to be dashed on the rocks of reality.

How Joseph handles the “pits” of his life provides us with a key to his ability to live in undeserved and unpleasant circumstances with faith, hope, and love. And what enabled him to live a day at a time also proved to be the means by which God brought about his release and rise to the second highest office in the land of Egypt.

Many of us live “in the pits” too. They may not be the pits of a literal variety, but rather of the unpleasant realities of life, such as circumstances over which we have no control and from which we are not able to remove ourselves. Since those who will live godly lives will suffer persecution and hardship (cf. II Timothy 3:12; James 1:2-4, I Peter 4:12ff.), we must learn from Joseph the way to live life in the pits to the glory of God and for our own sanity and serenity. That lesson, while found not only in Genesis 40, is here to be seen for all those who desire to learn it.

A Divine Appointment
(40:1-8)

Then it came about after these things the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their lord, the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was furious with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. So he put them in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, in the jail, the some place where Joseph was imprisoned. And the captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them; and they were in confinement for some time. Then the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in jail, they both had a dream the same night, each man with his own dream and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold, they were dejected. And he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were with him in confinement in his master’s house, “Why are your faces so sad today?” Then they said to him, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please” (Genesis 40:1-8).

Two of Pharaoh’s officers had committed unknown offenses which greatly angered their master and resulted in their imprisonment (verses 1, 2). One was the king’s cupbearer, whom we shall call the butler; the other was the chief baker. These offenses were not mere indiscretions, but some clear-cut act of disobedience or misconduct, as the original term indicates.50 These two officers, now fallen from the favor of Pharaoh, were placed under Joseph’s authority in the prison where he, too, was held in bonds.

Because of the details given in chapter 40 it is certain that the prison was in the dungeon under the house of Potiphar. In verse 3 we are informed that the prison was the same one in which Joseph was held captive and that this confinement took place in the “house of the captain of the bodyguard,” the official who has already been identified as Potiphar (39:1). In verse 7 the butler and the baker are reported to be kept with Joseph “in his master’s house.” This can be none other than Potiphar. And finally, Joseph pleads, “Get me out of this house” (verse 14), and he also says, “Even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon” (verse 15). The “here” must refer to Potiphar’s estate, where he was brought as a slave and kept as such in the prison.

One must marvel at Joseph’s submissive spirit. He was still regarded as the slave of his master there in the prison. In fact, he was given greater and greater responsibilities there (39:22-23). Evidencing his continued confidence in Joseph’s abilities, Potiphar placed these two officials under Joseph’s authority (40:4). How would you feel toward Potiphar and the task of looking after these men after what Potiphar had done to you? Joseph not only obeyed his master in this, but he made it his business to minister to these men, even to the point of keeping them in good spirits.

After some time had passed, both the butler and the baker had a dream on the same night. The dream of each man was distinct and the meaning different (verse 5). We are told that Egyptians believed that dreams were indicative of future events,51 and so these two were most concerned by the fact that here, in the dungeon, there was no one qualified to interpret their dreams for them. Their futures had been revealed to them in their dreams, but they could not be interpreted, and the realization of this brought great distress to them. Their downcast faces reflected their great dismay.

Joseph was quick to observe that something was wrong. Body language alone told him that there was a need to be met. The confidence which he had gained over the days they had been together in confinement made it easy for Joseph to ask about this and for them to respond candidly. Each had a dream, they reported, but no one was there who was able to give them the meaning.

With a confidence too contagious to resist, Joseph reminded his companions that the interpretations of dreams belong to God. Since this was the case, they need only tell their dreams to Joseph. He, and they, expected an interpretation of the dreams of the previous night. Joseph’s absolute confidence informs us of his spiritual condition. A man in his circumstances might well question whether or not there even was a God. Many Christians, like the friends of Job, would wonder if his imprisonment were not the result of sin. Joseph was assured of God’s love and care. His eagerness to hear and interpret these dreams reveals his confidence of God’s love and care in his life. The eagerness of the butler to relate his dream to Joseph indicates that he, too, sensed God’s closeness to this Hebrew.

The Good News and the Bad News
(40:9-19)

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream, behold, there was a vine in front of me; and on the vine were three branches. And as it was budding, its blossoms came out, and its clusters produced ripe grapes. Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; so I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and I put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.” Then Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer. Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon” (Genesis 40:9-15).

The butler’s dream corresponded closely with his previous position under Pharaoh. The dream must therefore indicate what the future held for him, especially in regard to being the cupbearer of Pharaoh. The vine before him, having three branches, rapidly budded, blossomed, and produced grapes, which he squeezed into the cup of Pharaoh and then put into his hands, just as he had formerly done. The three branches signified three days, Joseph told the butler. The dream foretold the restoration of the butler to his former position. In three days things would return to the way they had been previously.

A man in Joseph’s position could easily have taken advantage of his circumstances. Frequently men in charge of prisoners would give preferential care to those who were willing and able to pay for it (cf. Acts 24:17,26). These two officers were eager to learn the meaning of their dreams, a service that Joseph could have rendered for payment. He did, however, request that he be remembered before Pharaoh (verse 14), for the circumstances which led to his arrival in Egypt, as well as those which brought him to prison, were a matter of injustice which Pharaoh could correct.

We all know that everyone is innocent in their own eyes (cf. Proverbs 16:2), and so Joseph’s claim would not be anything unexpected of one in his state. But his ability to interpret the dream of the butler would prove that he was telling the truth before the God Who had revealed the meaning of this dream. He really was innocent. Joseph asked for no favors before the fact, but only after his words were proven to be according to truth. It was a reasonable request, for it only asked for what was just and fair.

Joseph’s one request of the butler gave further testimony to the great faith of this Hebrew prisoner. He was so certain that his interpretation was true that he made a request of the butler which he never considered in the case of the baker. He asked to be remembered before Pharaoh when his words came to pass. It is one thing to venture an opinion on the meaning of a man’s dream, but quite another to make a request for your freedom based upon the outcome of your interpretation. Joseph was convinced that God had spoken through him. While content to remain in the dungeon so long as God willed, Joseph also made every effort to be removed from that place through the channels legitimately available to him.

The butler was encouraged to share his dream with Joseph on the basis of God’s ability to interpret dreams and because of his confidence in Joseph’s relationship with his God. The baker, however, was motivated only by the fact that Joseph’s interpretation was good news to the butler. He, too, is now eager to report his dream to Joseph and thus to have an optimistic forecast of his future.

When the chief baker saw that he had interpreted favorably, he said to Joseph, “I also saw in my dream, and behold, there were three baskets of white bread on my head; and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” Then Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree; and the birds will eat your flesh off you” (Genesis 40:16-19).

We have already been informed that the dreams of each official were different and distinct, each with its own meaning (40:5). The baker did not seem to realize this because he eagerly reported his dream, thinking the outcome would also be favorable (verse 16). In his dream he had three baskets filled with various kinds of white bread. The birds were coming to him and eating the bread out of the top basket.

There was a certain similarity between the dreams of the butler and the baker. The baker’s dream also corresponded with his previous position under Pharaoh. He was a baker, and so his dream centered about three baskets filled with bread, just as the butler saw a vine with three branches. In both cases the number “three” pertained to the number of days until the fulfillment of the dreams. But here the similarities end dramatically. The bad news for the baker was that in three days’ time he would have his head lifted off, not lifted up. He was to be hanged, and his body left for the birds to feast upon (and also, probably, for the eyes of the people to look upon). It was a horrible prophecy, and Joseph naturally did not ask this man for any favors in the future.

But why is such a gruesome prediction necessary anyway? Was Joseph not unduly candid in his interpretation? First, we should notice that the two dreams, when taken together, tended to strengthen the testimony of Joseph that God was with him and enabled him to interpret dreams. Joseph did not, as is often done, give nebulous and vague predictions. He gave two very specific prophecies to two persons, yet they were exactly opposite in their outcome. If both came true, it would be much harder to attribute Joseph’s accuracy to good luck.

We do not know with any assurance that Joseph’s words were deliberately graphic or intentionally cruel. They certainly are to us. But let us also remember that these dreams were from God. Interpretations were of God, as Joseph claimed (verse 8), because their dreams had come from Him. God gave these dreams to these men in order to prepare them for things to come. Joseph’s task as an interpreter was not to create God’s message, nor did he dare to change it. He spoke as God directed. The message of the baker’s dream was one from God, and it was true. Neither in its content nor in its tone did Joseph dare to edit this divine revelation.

While we are most inclined to appreciate the fact that the baker’s dream was gorey, let us not forget that it was also, at least in a sense, gracious. The three days were given both to the butler and to the baker not just to agonize, but to prepare for what the future held. Would it have been less cruel for Joseph to have lied to the baker about his future? If he had lied, then there would have been no incentive for him to consider his ways and turn in faith to the God from whom this warning had come. Far better to be warned of the “wrath to come” and to prepare for it than to be deceived and face it unprepared.52

These two dreams and their interpretations contain a striking parallel to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. Both the butler and the baker had “sinned” against their master and had rightfully incurred his wrath. Both awaited the condemnation they deserved. One was pardoned and granted a restoration of fellowship and function at the hand of his master. The other received the punishment that he was due and paid the penalty of death.

The Bible declares to us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). As guilty sinners we deserve the penalty of our sins, which is eternal death and separation from God, but there is for us the offer of forgiveness through the provision of Jesus Christ.

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 6:23).

When He comes for His own, some will spend eternity with Him, while others will live in eternal separation from His love and power:

And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day … (II Thessalonians 1:9-10).

The message of salvation, for all who would believe, is this:

Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your household (Acts 16:31).

Many Christians desire to share with the unsaved only the good news of salvation through faith in the work of Jesus Christ on their behalf. While this is both true and necessary, it is not the whole story. The warning must also be given that to reject Christ is to continue on the path to destruction.

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world; but that the world should be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the judgment, that the light is come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the light; for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the light, and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God (John 3:16-21).

I have a friend who shares the gospel something like this: “Well there’s the good news, and there’s the bad news. The good news is that Jesus Christ is coming again. The bad news is, boy is He mad!” The gospel is good news, but its rejection necessitates the bad news of eternal condemnation and separation.

And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given to them. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of the testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God, and those who had not worshipped the beast or his image, and had not received the mark upon their forehead and upon their hand; and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:4-6,12-15).

The gospel is not our message to men; it is God’s. We can no more alter it than Joseph could change the interpretation of these men’s dreams. We must tell it like it is.

Incidentally, this ability to “tell it like it is” is a vital quality in a leader. We are naturally inclined to gather about us men who will tell us what we want to hear rather than to confront us with what we need to hear. The news Joseph had to share with Pharaoh was not entirely good news, but it was the truth. On the basis of this message from God, provision could be made for the times of adversity which lay ahead. Pharaoh wanted a man under him who would tell him the truth, not give him reports designed only to make him feel good about his administration. This unpleasant task of telling the baker what his future held was not only for his good, but for Joseph’s, who would continue to “speak the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).

Prophecies Fulfilled, But Promises Forgotten
(40:20-23)

Joseph’s hopes must have soared when the three days passed and both the butler and baker experienced the fulfillment of his prophecies. Surely the butler would not fail to show his gratitude by speaking a word to Pharaoh, and hopefully this would be soon. But this was not to be the case.

Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him (Genesis 40:20-23)

The third day happened to be Pharaoh’s birthday. Such an occasion called for feasting and festivities. On such an occasion the services of both the butler and baker would have been required, and their absence would thus be conspicuous. The impression I get from verse 20 is that both the butler and the baker are brought to the banquet on an equal footing of status and prestige. Then, for some unexplained reason, the butler is given his former post, while the baker is taken out and hanged. Perhaps the butler had responded correctly to the king’s generosity while the baker had not. If this is so, the baker did not take heed to the interpretation to the dream which Joseph had given.

Impossible as it seems, the butler forgot all about Joseph for two years. Perhaps at first the butler intended to keep his promise to Joseph but never found the right moment to mention the injustice done to Joseph. As the days went by, thoughts of Joseph’s sufferings were suppressed, along with all the other painful memories triggered by any recollection of that prison. Finally, Joseph was completely forgotten until the king, too, had a dream which could not be interpreted.

Joseph’s rising hopes were dashed upon the rocks of reality for the last time. As he gained power and position in the house of Potiphar, Joseph must have hoped that he could appeal either to his master or perhaps through him to the Pharaoh so that he could be freed to return to his father and his homeland. His purity in the matter of Potiphar’s wife brought him to the dungeon again, just as his brothers had cast him into the pit. Then, when he had the opportunity to interpret the dream of the butler, it began to look as though Joseph could appeal to Pharaoh through this man once he was restored to his position of influence with the king. Two years of silence from the palace eroded away what little hope must have remained.

Conclusion

Those two years spent in Potiphar’s prison must have been the darkest days of Joseph’s life. These years are passed over by Moses in complete silence. We read in the book of Proverbs,

Hope deferred makes the heart sick, But desire fulfilled is a tree of life (Proverbs 13:12).

If Joseph were ever in the dumps, it must have been now. Yet we are never told that Joseph suffered from the normal emotional reactions to his circumstances that are common to every man. Instead, we find in chapter 40 a beautiful lesson in how to deal with despair and depression.

The first thing that enabled Joseph to endure his adverse circumstances was an absolute and unshakeable confidence in the fact that God was with him in his suffering. Twice in the previous chapter we have been told by Moses that God was with Joseph. In the first instance, we are not taken by surprise that God would be with Joseph on his way up in the organization of Potiphar (39:2-3) But we are told just as emphatically that God was with Joseph while he was in the pits (39:21-23). In chapter 40 no one could have had the confidence Joseph did that God was able to interpret dreams through him, apart from an intimate walk with God in that dungeon. And no one could have convinced the butler of this unless there were evidence of it to be seen.

The tragedy of our day is that some Christians are teaching that if a Christian merely has enough faith, he will never need to suffer, for (they say) that the death of Christ provides deliverance from all adversity and affliction.53 While this doctrine may be considered as encouraging to the saint, it produces just the opposite result.54 Had Joseph believed that if he only had the faith he could have been instantly delivered from his troubles, his faith would have been devastated by the fact that his troubles did not go away. If freedom from pain and problems is solely dependent upon my faith, then when pain and problems come my way, there must be something wrong with my faith. Joseph would then have been questioning his own relationship with God, perhaps even the existence of God, at the very time when he should have been ministering to others and giving testimony to his faith. If our faith does not endure the storms of life, what good is it?

Fortunately, Joseph believed in a God who is not only all-wise and all-loving, but all-powerful. The God he served did place his servants in circumstances that were difficult and unpleasant, but He also gave a sufficient measure of His grace to endure it. The testimony of Joseph in these dark days is a reminder to every Christian that even the righteous will suffer and that such suffering is in the will of God to accomplish His purposes. No promise is more comforting to the suffering saint than this:

I will never leave you, nor will I ever desert you (Deuteronomy 31:6; Joshua 1:5; Hebrews 13:5).

And lest we fear that such a promise is only for the pious, men like Joseph, we need only be reminded that a rascal like Jacob was assured,

And behold, I am with you, and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you (Genesis 28:15).

The second reason for Joseph’s serenity in suffering was his assurance that God could and would deliver him from his suffering in His good time and in His way. The dreams of the butler and the baker must have brought to Joseph’s mind the two dreams which he had had as a lad in the land of Canaan (Genesis 37:5-11). In both dreams God confirmed His purpose to elevate Joseph above his brethren and even his father. Nowhere did God indicate the timing or the means of this promotion. Joseph must have smiled to himself as he sat there in that prison, knowing that someday, somehow, God was going to deliver him.

Joseph’s confidence was no wild-eyed optimism. I know that many, even in Christian circles, are advocating a “positive mental attitude” methodology to bring us out of the pits of mediocrity and despair. I believe it is Zig Ziglar, author of See You at the Top, who has been quoted as saying, “I’m such an optimist, I’d go after Moby Dick in a rowboat and take the tartar sauce with me.”

Unless God has instructed us to “pursue Moby Dick in a rowboat,” the mere fact of our optimism will not give us success in such an endeavor. Positive thinking is only biblical insofar as it pursues biblical goals using biblical means and is motivated by biblical desires. The confidence which Joseph had was a confidence based upon divine revelation.

The watchword for Christians in the midst of suffering is not escape, but endurance:

Consider it all joy, my brethren, when you encounter various trials; knowing that the testing of your faith produces endurance. And let endurance have its perfect result, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing (James 1:2-4).

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness (Hebrews 12:11).

And after you have suffered for a little, the God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, will Himself perfect, confirm, strengthen, and establish you (I Peter 5:10).

The third reason for Joseph’s ability to cope with his captivity is found in his selfless ambition to serve others rather than to squander his energies in self-pity. One evidence of this is found in verse 4:

And the captain of the bodyguard put Joseph in charge of them, and he took care of them [literally, ‘he ministered to them,’ margin, NASV]; and they were in confinement for some time.

The term “took care of” is normally not an expression used for menial service but for ministerial service. It is employed in the Old Testament for the ministry of Aaron (Exodus 28:35,43) and of the Levites (Deuteronomy 10:8) and the priests (I Kings 8:11). I do not want you to think that this word is used solely of religious ministry (e.g., Genesis 39:4), but it does have decided religious connotations. Personally, I believe that Joseph saw his service wherever he was as an act of devotion toward God and thus as ministry in the highest sense of the word. This would be in accord with what the New Testament teaches servants:

Urge bondslaves to be subject to their own masters in everything, to be well pleasing, not argumentative, not pilfering, but showing all good faith that they may adorn the doctrine of God our Savior in every respect (Titus 2:9-10).

There is absolutely no place on earth where some kind of ministry to others is not possible, for even if we are in solitary confinement, we can intercede on behalf of others (cf. Philippians 1:1-11).

Ministering to the needs of others had two very beneficial effects on the life of Joseph. For one thing, it kept him from continually wallowing in self-pity. He did not have time to pity himself when he was busily meeting the needs of others about him. Had Joseph been feeling sorry for himself, he would never have observed the sad countenances of the butler and the baker, nor would he have done anything about it even if they had brought the matter up.

A teacher of mine in college shared a personal illustration of how we save our lives by giving them up in the service of others. He had spent several years of the second world war in a prisoner of war camp in Japan. (Incidentally, he was awarded a presidential citation for promoting peace and harmony among the prisoners by implementing and overseeing a program of careful measurement and distribution of the meager supplies provided for those in the camp.) He observed that those who thought only of themselves, hoarding up what little food they could beg, borrow, or steal, often crawled in a corner and died. Strangely, those who sought to care for others, even by giving generously of their own supplies, survived. Ministering to others has a most beneficial effect upon those who serve.

Beyond the immediate value of Joseph’s service to others was the fact that his service was the means to his final deliverance. Had Joseph not observed the needs of those under his care, he never would have ended up in Pharaoh’s palace. Had he not interpreted the dreams of the butler and the baker, the butler could not have told Pharaoh that he knew of a Hebrew who had the ability to interpret dreams. And so an act which, at the moment, seemed to have no great significance was the turning point of Joseph’s career. His faithful ministry in that dungeon opened the door for a far greater ministry in the palace of the Pharaoh.

What a striking parallel is to be found in the New Testament in the life of the apostle Paul. Paul had been falsely accused and thrown into prison because of these charges. While in confinement, the apostle penned an epistle to the saints at Philippi. His great concern was not for himself, but it was for those to whom he had earlier preached the gospel. The first eleven verses record the substance of his prayer life on their behalf.

Paul could have shared many unpleasant details of his imprisonment, but he did not. Even the preaching of some out of impure motives caused him to rejoice because the gospel was nonetheless being proclaimed (Philippians 1:15-18). Far from hindering the work of God, Paul’s imprisonment accelerated it. It gave other Christians the courage and confidence to boldly proclaim their faith (1:14). And it also enabled the gospel to be proclaimed throughout the entire praetorian guard (1:13). Is it any wonder, then, that in the concluding verses of this epistle Paul could write,

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household (Philippians 4:22).

At the time of his conversion, Saul was told of God’s purposes for his life:

But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16).

Caesar’s household was reached with the good news of the gospel, but in a way that Paul would never have expected and some Christians refuse to accept—through unjust suffering. The most humble circumstances are the occasion of some of God’s greatest works. Who, for example, would have thought that anything of significance could have come from a stable in Bethlehem?

Joseph was a great success, but in a vastly different way than what we are told to expect today. The biblical key to success is found nowhere else than in the epistle of St. Paul to the Philippians: “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

Here, we have the full assurance that we can do anything when empowered by the Lord, Who loved us and gave Himself for us. Nothing is impossible to those who receive their strength from our Lord. Christians should never be pessimistic concerning the possibilities which can be realized in Christ. Pessimism is not befitting the Christian.

In this sense the proponents of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) have a word which many Christians need to hear. Great men through the ages, such as D. L. Moody, have been motivated by the challenge, “The world has yet to see what God can do through a person who is fully committed to Him.” But we must also beware that in fleeing from unbelieving pessimism we do not venture too far to presumption, putting God to the test by overstepping ourselves and expecting God to bail us out—jumping off the pinnacle of the temple, as it were. God is not obliged to make us wealthy, well-liked, or free of woes. God has promised to be with those who belong to Him wherever they are and to bring us to maturity, but not to pamper us or to jump through our hoops.

Second, we need to remember that the “all things” which Paul has said he can do include such things as suffering and doing without. In the context of this verse we read,

Not that I speak from want; for I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need (Philippians 4:11-12).

Contentment, not comfort, is the key to successful living.

Third, those great things which I am able to do are not the result of my works, but through His power. “I can do all things through Him who strengthens me” (Philippians 4:13).

If by having a “positive mental attitude” we mean having self-confidence, then we have completely missed the point. Our confidence and our enablement is to be found only in Him working through us. When we begin to take some of the credit for ourselves, God has to remind us Who is accomplishing things for His glory. That is why our greatest strength comes at the point of our greatest weakness, so that we must rely upon Him and not on ourselves:

And such confidence we have through Christ toward God. Not that we are adequate in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our adequacy is from God (II Corinthians 3:4-5).

But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the surpassing greatness of the power may be of God and not of ourselves (II Corinthians 4:7).

And because of the surpassing greatness of the revelations, for this reason, to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to buffet me—to keep me from exalting myself! Concerning this I entreated the Lord three times that it might depart from me. And He has said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.” Most gladly, therefore, I will rather boast about my weaknesses, that the power of Christ may dwell in me. Therefore I am well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak, then I am strong (II Corinthians 12:7-10).

May God enable us to face our difficulties as from God. May we be assured that He is with us in our trials and that He will remove us in His time and in His way. And may we determine, by God’s grace, to minister to others in our affliction.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the God of all comfort; who comforts us in all our affliction so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God (II Corinthians 1:3-4).


50 “When it is said that they ‘offended’ their lord, the verb used, hate’u implies actual guilt on the part of each, for literally it means, ‘they sinned.”’ H. C. Leupold, Exposition of Genesis (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1942), II, p. 1005.

The point of the word is not that the butler and the baker were guilty of some indiscretion or inadvertently offended Pharaoh but that they committed some sin which rightly angered this potentate. The same Hebrew word is found in Genesis 20:6,9; 39:9; 42:22; Exodus 20:20, in this same sense. While Joseph was innocently imprisoned, these two officials were not.

51 “On the dreamers’ part, the conviction that the dreams had a meaning is equally in character: it was common belief in Egypt that they were predictive, and a body of writings grew up on the art of interpreting them.” Derek Kidner, Genesis: An Introduction and Commentary (Chicago: Inter-Varsity Press, 1967), p. 193.

52 The purpose of prophetic revelation which speaks of impending judgment is to turn men to God in repentance:

Then the word of the LORD came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the LORD. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel. At one moment I might speak concerning a nation or concerning a kingdom to uproot, to pull down, or to destroy it, if that nation against which I have spoken turns from its evil, I will relent concerning the calamity I planned to bring on it” (Jeremiah 18:5-8).

This is why Jonah dreaded preaching a message of condemnation to the people of Ninevah (cf. Jonah 3:5-4:3). He knew that God was gracious and not willing that men should perish. In the same way, I believe, the prediction of the death of the baker was intended to bring him to repentance.

53 In his classic work Knowing God, J. I. Packer devotes an entire chapter to the matter of suffering and the error of those who insist that the Christian need not experience it. I will cite several excerpts from this chapter, hoping you will read the entire book:

“A certain type of ministry of the gospel is cruel. It does not mean to be but it is. . . .

“What kind of ministry is this? The first thing to say is that, sad as it may seem, it is an evangelical ministry. Its basis is acceptance of the Bible as God’s Word and its promises as God’s assurances. Its regular themes are justification by faith through the cross, new birth through the Spirit, and new life in the power of Christ’s resurrection. . . .

“The type of ministry that is here in mind starts by stressing, in an evangelistic context, the difference that becoming a Christian will make. Not only will it bring a man forgiveness of sins, peace of conscience, and fellowship with God as his Father; it will also mean that, through the power of the indwelling Spirit, he will be able to overcome the sins that previously mastered him, and the light and leading that God will give him will enable him to find a way through problems of guidance, self-fulfillment, personal relations, heart’s desire, and such like, which had hitherto defeated him completely. How, put like that, in general terms, these great assurances are scriptural and true--praise God, they are! But it is possible so to stress them, and so to play down the rougher side of the Christian life--the daily chastening, the endless war with sin and Satan, the periodic walk in darkness--as to give the impression that normal Christian living is a perfect bed of roses, a state of affairs in which everything in the garden is lovely all the time, and problems no longer exist--or, if they come, they have only to be taken to the throne of grace, and they will melt away at once.” J. I. Packer, Knowing God (Downers Grove: Inter Varsity Press, 1973), pp. 221-222.

54 Joe Bayly has an excellent discussion on the detrimental effect of presumptuously praying the prayer of faith for healing in the case of the terminally ill in the chapter entitled “Prayer and Terminal Illness.” Joseph Bayly, The Last Thing We Talk About (Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Co., 1973), pp. 80-88.