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.”
Daniel invoked competence of God, verified to the satisfaction of king Nebuchadnezzar, interpreted his dream, and won the king’s acknowledgement of the power of God. The interactions confirm our understanding that competence is a gift from God, includes capability of verification to win human confidence, and is unbounded as God extends it as necessary to accomplish his purpose.
We discuss interactions between Daniel and King Nebuchadnezzar, regarding Daniel’s first dream interpretation for the king, to extend our understanding that competence is a gift from God. His gift of competence includes the capability of verification to satisfy human standards and win others’ confidence in one’s ability to apply the competence to their benefit. Human demand for verification of competence is well illustrated by King Nebuchadnezzar demanding the dream interpreter first tell him his dream so he can rely on the interpretation.
Also, we learn through the interactions that God’s gift of competence is unbounded. He extends competence as necessary to accomplish his purpose.
The example from Daniel illustrates that God extends human competence to accomplish an objective consistent with his purpose. Daniel’s recognition that he could rely on the unbounded competence of God defined a clear contrast between him and the Babylonian diviners. The diviners declared the king’s demand impossible to satisfy because they relied solely on human competence [Daniel 2: 11]: “What the king asks is too difficult. No one can reveal it to the king except the gods, and they do not live among humans.” In contrast, Daniel recognized that human competence derives from the unbounded competence of God and urged his friends “to plead for mercy from the God of heaven concerning this mystery, so that he and his friends might not be executed with the rest of the wise men of Babylon” [Daniel 2:18].
An opportunity to earn blessing often may be encountered first as a call to be compassionate. For example, when Joseph had compassion on two fellow inmates in Potiphar’s jail, he did not realize that the encounter was an opportunity for him to demonstrate competence that would later propel him from jail to the highest administrative position in Egypt. The two men were Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and chief baker and were held in the same jail with Joseph.
A tragic event in Joseph’s family that nearly claimed his life at a young age challenges us to think about the roles of parents and siblings in managing unequal opportunities among the children of one family; potential problems of polygamous relationships; and God’s willingness to direct our life events, including events that appear tragic, toward his purpose.