When and How He Chooses
Joseph’s prayer leads to understanding the basis for faith and expectations when circumstances suggest a prayer may have gone “the wrong way.” He prayed for release from jail but the prayer appeared unanswered for two years. Thereafter, he was taken from jail and appointed to a high position in Egypt. If he believed that an appeal to Pharaoh was God’s answer to his prayer, then he likely was disappointed because the appeal did not bring him relief. However, if he understood God may have a plan for him that differed from his expectation, then he likely waited with faith for God’s time. Release from jail at the time he prayed would likely have led to great uncertainties for Joseph. However, more than two years after his prayer, he was released into a condition that gave him great control over future events. Joseph’s experience illustrates that God may grant a prayer with a promise to be fulfilled WHEN and HOW he chooses, to fit his overall plan for the recipient.
In the first installment of this two-part study on Joseph’s prayer (see Prayer of Joseph from the Dungeon Part 1 of 2), we observed that Joseph probably believed his encounter with Pharaoh’s cupbearer was God’s answer to his prayer.
Therefore, he used the opportunity to appeal to Pharaoh. However, although the encounter was indeed a key step in the implementation of God’s plan for Joseph, his expectation regarding the opportunity was different from God’s plan. Joseph prayed to be released from jail and expected his appeal to Pharaoh would result in his release. However, the cupbearer did not deliver the appeal and Joseph remained in jail for the next two years. Thereafter, Pharaoh had dreams that troubled him but could not be interpreted by any of his people [Genesis 41:8]: “In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.” Then, and only then, Pharaoh’s cupbearer remembered Joseph—as an expert dream interpreter—and informed his master [Genesis 41:12–13]: “Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.”
Expert Dream Interpreter
The cupbearer remembered Joseph because Pharaoh needed an expert dream interpreter. Therefore, Joseph’s earlier encounter with the cupbearer was not an opportunity to appeal to Pharaoh as he thought, but rather an opportunity to establish reputation as an expert dream interpreter. He responded positively to the opportunity because of his compassion for two prisoners under his care and faith of God to guide him to a correct interpretation of their dreams [Genesis 40:7–8]: “So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, ‘Why do you look so sad today?’ ‘We both had dreams,’ they answered, ‘but there is no one to interpret them.’ Then Joseph said to them, ‘Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.’” That is, an apparent random normal event that Joseph encountered was indeed an opportunity for him to establish reputation as an expert dream interpreter—a reputation that would become critical for him two years later. He responded positively to the opportunity because of his compassion and faith of God. Therefore, when Pharaoh needed an expert dream interpreter, the cupbearer remembered Joseph and informed his master.
Joseph Interprets Dreams for Pharaoh
Joseph was taken from jail to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. He understood the dreams clearly and explained them to Pharaoh. He explained the dreams were a message from God regarding an impending great famine in Egypt, the message was an opportunity for Pharaoh to prepare Egypt for the famine during a period of abundance that will precede the famine, and Pharaoh should appoint a competent person to lead the program: “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt” [Genesis 41:33]. Thus, Joseph’s interpretation conveyed competence in understanding the dream, the message of the dream, and the course of action that Pharaoh needed to prepare his people against an impending great famine revealed through the dream. Pharaoh recognized Joseph as best suited to lead Egypt during the period and appointed him to the highest administrative position in Egypt [Genesis 41:39–40]: “Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.’”
Summary of What We Learned
- Joseph’s prayer from Potiphar’s jail provides an example to illustrate that God may grant a prayer with a promise to be fulfilled when and how he chooses, to fit his overall plan for the recipient. Joseph prayed to be released from jail but remained in jail for at least two more years. Events after the period indicate that God granted Joseph’s prayer with a promise to be fulfilled at a time and in a way that fitted his plan for Joseph. He set a schedule for fulfillment of the promise but did not reveal the promise, schedule, or plan.
- Any event in a person’s life could be part of God’s schedule toward fulfillment of his promise. The person’s response in the event determines whether he/she follows or departs from the schedule. Joseph’s encounter with Pharaoh’s cupbearer was such an event. Joseph was to use the event to establish reputation as an expert dream interpreter. He did not know the event was important to God’s plan for his life. However, he responded positively because of his compassion and faith. His interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream established his reputation as an expert dream interpreter.
- Human understanding could play a key role in the fulfillment of God’s promise. For example, Joseph’s understanding of Pharaoh’s dreams and presentation of the understanding convinced Pharaoh to appoint him to the highest administrative position in Egypt. The position conferred on Joseph the authority and resources he needed to eventually relocate the young nation of Israel to a sanctuary in Egypt. As a result, Israel survived the great famine and prospered and multiplied through several generations.
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