The Life of Joseph Week 2: Put in the Pit | Genesis 37:12-36
The following is a manuscript of the sermon presented by Senior Pastor Dr. Roger Patterson on Sunday, October 29, 2023 at our West U Baptist campus. To view the sermon in full, check out the link below.
Today, we are going to look at the providence of God even in the midst of trauma. We are studying the life of Joseph, with the subtitle being, “From Pit to Palace.”
Before Joseph gets to the Palace and becomes the hero, and instrument that God uses to save the budding nation of Israel, he is betrayed by his brothers, stripped of his identity, placed in a pit, abducted and sold into slavery.
Joseph, just like you and me experienced pain, suffering and trauma. And as you read his story, you see something unique take place – Joseph seems to grow, mature, and develop into all God plans for him to be instead of becoming the bitter man that most become when they experience deep betrayal by their family.
Before we dive into the second installment of the story, I want to take a few minutes to consider the problem of evil, suffering and trauma, to understand how it can push people away from God.
You see, there is a baseline cultural narrative that asks a question.
- Baseline Cultural Narrative
The baseline cultural narrative asks this question:
“How could a good, loving, all-powerful God allow suffering?”
To be fair, this is a question asked by both believers and skeptics alike. It is a challenging question. For many the problem of evil and suffering is the problem. There is both global suffering and personal suffering. Take for example natural disasters:
- floods, and more.
We could consider events like 9/11, Hamas’ slaughter of over 1400 Israelis, or the mass shooting this past week in Maine.
We probably all could name people who have struggled with cancer, debilitating disease, depression addiction, suicide, and more. These examples of pain, suffering, and trauma don’t seem to be diminishing. If anything, they seem to be intensifying. All this seems to suggest one of two things:
Either God is evil and vindictive, or he doesn’t exist altogether.
That is often the culture’s conclusion. But that’s not what we believe as Christians. So, what do we do?
- Affirmation of Cultural Narrative
First, we have to affirm the legitimacy of the question. One of the greatest dangers for Christians is to reject difficult questions.
If our faith cannot soundly answer hard questions, then we should doubt the truthfulness of our faith.
Second, we have to affirm the difficulty of life. It is full of pain, suffering, and trauma, and that’s what we can see and know. There are countless groups and individuals experiencing pain, suffering, and trauma all over the world that we have no idea about.
But, let’s also critique the cultural narrative for a moment. Let’s not simply take it as truth, just because it leads to what seems to be an easy answer.
- Critique of Cultural Narrative
Just because pain, suffering, and trauma exist does not mean God does not exist, nor that he isn’t good, loving, and all-powerful.
What if, instead, pain, suffering, and trauma isn’t evidence against God?
Tim Keller notes —
“Just because you can’t see or imagine a good reason why God might allow something to happen doesn’t mean there can’t be one.”
Keller goes on to say,
“In short, the problem of tragedy, suffering, and injustice is a problem for everyone. It is at least a big problem for nonbelief in God as for belief. It is therefore a mistake, though an understandable one, to think that if you abandon belief in God it somehow makes the problem of evil easier to handle.”
We have to ask ourselves how we have the ability in the first place to recognize that something is painful or traumatic. Why do we know something is evil or wrong when we see it?
- S. Lewis argues that…
“this Rule of Right and Wrong, or Law of Human Nature, or whatever you call it, must somehow or other be a real thing––a thing that is really there, not made up by ourselves.”
What Lewis argues for is what he called the Moral Law Giver argument.
The Moral Law Giver Argument
“My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I gotten this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” – C.S. Lewis
Therefore perhaps our pain, suffering, and trauma is in fact proof that a good, loving, and all-powerful God exists.
You see, there lies within the Christian Gospel, a Better Narrative when it comes to Pain, Suffering, and Trauma in our lives.
- Better Gospel Narrative
The better gospel narrative teaches us not only that God does exist but that he reached down into the pain, suffering, and trauma and experienced it himself.
“If God is no exception––if even he has suffered––then we cannot say he doesn’t understand, or that his sovereignty over suffering is being exercised in a cruel and unfeeling way, or that he is a cold king who lets things happen without caring about what we are going through. . . . Since even he has not kept himself immune from our pain, we can trust him.”
The life and crucifixion of Jesus demonstrates this. But even more, the gospel reminds us of how God uses our pain. Our suffering has a purpose.
“Jesus Christ suffered, not so that we would never suffer but so that when we suffer we would be like him.”
Keeping that in mind, let’s see what we can learn from Joseph as he experiences a great betrayal by his brothers and finds himself in the pit.
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” 16 “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” 17 And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.
18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits.[a] Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels[c] of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.
The first thing I want to note here is this…
When Life Puts You in the Pit…
- Trust God’s Sovereign Plan
I. Trust God’s Sovereign Plan
12 Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. 13 And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” 14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem.
Now, you may not see it, but the previous story in this chapter, Joseph is introduced to us as a 17-year-old who is out with a number of his brothers as a shepherd, and he brings a bad report about them. We aren’t sure what happened, but it probably wasn’t the first time. And maybe it contributed to a decline in the flock, Jacob’s prosperity, or some other problem.
Whatever the problem was, Jacob decided that it was to his best interest to bring Joseph out of labor and into management. So, he gives him a coat and promotes him to the number 2 in the family business.
Now, that didn’t sit well with his brothers. And neither did Joseph’s dreams. Remember, he had received two distinct dreams or visions that his brothers and his father would bow down to him.
So, at this part of the story, we see that Joseph isn’t in the fields.
And his brothers are about 50 miles away in Shechem, pastoring their flocks.
Jacob says to his son Joseph, “I need you to go and get me a report about your brothers.”
And Joseph says, “No problem dad. I’ll do that and be back soon.”
And so, he sets out on what will be about a four-day journey to see his brothers and bring a report.
Now, here is a point of application that I want to bring to you. Remember the principle, “When life puts you into the pit, trust God’s sovereign plan.” Clearly, Joseph is right in the middle of the will of God when he steps out of his father’s tent and takes his first step toward Schechem.
Now, how do we know that?
I think we know that in two ways:
- Joseph is obeying the authority in his life, and this honors God.
Did you know that?
When we obey the authority in our lives, it honors our God!
By obeying his father, Joseph is walking toward God’s predestined plan for his life.
- The second reason we know that he is right in the middle of the will of God is because we can read the end of the story.
Really quickly…Joseph will be sold in to slavery…will serve Potiphar…will then be put in prison…will then interpret dreams for Pharoah and be placed as number 2 in the entire land of Egypt…he will devise a plan to survive a famine, and when his brothers come seeking food in the famine, they will bow down to him…the dream will be fulfilled!
But look at Joseph’s words in Genesis 45.
4 So Joseph said to his brothers, “Come near to me, please.” And they came near. And he said, “I am your brother, Joseph, whom you sold into Egypt. 5 And now do not be distressed or angry with yourselves because you sold me here, for God sent me before you to preserve life.
You may not buy Joseph’s explanation. You might more easily say, “He’s just being nice. What did God really have to do with this? These guys betrayed him and he suffered great injustices as a result.”
Tim Keller in his book, Walking with God through Pain and Suffering says…
The Bible teaches that God is completely in control of what happens in history and yet he exercises that control in such a way that human beings are responsible for their freely chosen actions and the results of those actions. Human freedom and God’s direction of historical events are therefore completely compatible. To put it more practically and vividly––if a man robs a bank, that moral evil is fully his responsibility, though it also is a part of God’s plan…God’s plan works through our choices, not around or despite them. Our choices have consequences, and we are never forced by God to do anything––we always do what we most want to do. God works out his will perfectly through our willing actions.
Therefore, while all suffering and trauma are a result of sin in our world, as John Walton says,
“…suffering then is not outside God’s plan but a part of it.”
C. S. Lewis famously wrote,
“Pain insists upon being attended to. God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our consciences, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.”
I find this to be true. It is in pain that movement toward or away from God often happens.
If you find yourself in the pit…or on a journey to it, trust that God can and will be at work to accomplish His plan for your life.
The second thing I want you to see as we examine trauma, pain, and suffering is this…
When Life Puts You in the Pit…
- Trust God’s Sovereign Plan
- It’s an Opportunity to Grow
II. It’s an Opportunity to Grow
Look at verses 14-17.
14 So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. 15 And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?”
Notice two words here:
- Wandering – to be confused; to err; to go astray.
Joseph’s brothers weren’t where they were supposed to be…this confused him.
- Seeking – trying to discover; diligent search; strive
So, the sense here is that he is confused and is aggressively looking for his brother. It’s clear that things aren’t as expected.
When things aren’t going as expected, how do you respond? Do you try to fix and control? Do you over manage? Or do you trust that God is going to lead you?
If God is Sovereign…ruling and reigning over our lives…then we can trust him and thus approach the moment with a desire to see him work.
We might say a prayer and say something like, “God would you send me clarity? Father, your timing is perfect. Can you lead me to the answer…the solution…the wisdom or knowledge I need?
When things aren’t like they are supposed to be, this is an opportunity to grow…to look up and to trust.
Notice what God has done…God brings a person into Joseph’s life who asks him who he is looking for…and what’s wrong.
John Walton, in the NIV Commentary says,
“In our worldview it may be considered serendipitous that roaming about in the unsettled areas, Joseph just happened to encounter a man who has overheard the conversation of his brothers and can direct him to them. . . . But the Bible knows only of providence, not serendipity. As a result, the author expects the reader to infer from this incident that behind-the-scenes God is at work.”
The third thing I want you to see is this…
When Life Puts You in the Pit…
- Trust God’s Sovereign Plan
- It’s an Opportunity to Grow
- God’s Favor Can Still Reach You
III. God’s Favor Can Still Reach You
18 They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. 20 Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” 21 But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” 22 And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him”—that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. 23 So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. 24 And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it.
25 Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. 26 Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood?” 27 Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. 28 Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.
Let me run through this really quickly.
Let’s remember the context…Joseph’s brothers hated him…every time they spoke, there was conflict. There was no peace.
As he goes the 14 miles from Shechem to Dothan, his brothers see him from a ways off and they begin to do some group think…they conspire to kill him.
But notice what happens. Reuben, Jacob’s firstborn redirects their thinking.
Their plan – kill him…and throw him in the pit.
Reuben’s plan…don’t kill him… just throw him in the pit…let’s teach him a lesson.
Now, these pits were cisterns…they were natural or dug limestone cisterns that were for holding water. The rainy season was only 3 to 4 months a year, so the good shepherds would make provision in the wilderness areas to dig these pits so that they could hold the water when it wasn’t the rainy season.
It also says that Reuben was going to come back and rescue him and restore him to his father.
Now, remember the principle…when life puts you in the pit, God’s favor can still reach you.
When we experience favor, we experience a grace from others placed in their hearts by God – they work for our good. God’s favor is on nearly every page of Scripture. And God favors his children.
Now, when we have an issue with a store where we bought something, my wife says, “Can you go and return this? I think they are going to give you the refund versus me?”
So, I say, “Sure…I got it.”
I go in and nearly every single time I get the refund.
Julee will say, “What did you do to charm them?”
That’s not really the key here…though being nice will go a long way!!!!
What I do is pray for favor!
“Father, would you put favor in their heart toward me?”
Now look at what happens here…even when Joseph was in the pit, God surrounded him with favor so that another was working for his good.
This is our Father’s way! Notice this Psalmist’s prayer in Psalm 5.
But let all who take refuge in you be glad;
let them ever sing for joy.
Spread your protection over them,
that those who love your name may rejoice in you.
12 Surely, Lord, you bless the righteous;
you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Don’t you love that?
Father…protect those who love you…that they might rejoice in you!
Father, surely you bless the righteous…you surround them with your favor as with a shield.
God, your Father, even when you are in the pit surrounds you with His favor. And he will bring people into your life who favor you…not because you are gifted, good looking, or charming…but because you fear and trust God.
When you kid is in the pit…listen…God will put people in their path that they would only meet because they are in that pit…and these are his servants.
When your marriage is in the pit…ask God for favor… “Lord put your favor in their heart toward me…I can’t change them…only you can.”
When you pray for your children…pray Psalm 5:11-12…
- pray for protection…spread your protection over them…
- pray for favor…surround them with your favor as with a shield.
Trust God in the process…trust His sovereign plan…trust him in the details…Trust Him because He is Trustworthy!
Friends, when we go through pain, suffering, or trauma…it marks us. And we don’t always process it well.
- Sometimes we blame God…Can I encourage you? God is not done…And He wants to bring healing to your heart. Take another step with Him.
- Sometimes we act like it never happened…can I tell you something…that’s a formula to get you stuck in your emotional pain…God wants to free you up from that by getting the help you need…seek a counselor and do the work you need to do.
- Sometimes it’s just a part of life…but though it mark us, it doesn’t have to keep up from progressing.
In the app, I have included a special prayer journey on navigating pain, suffering, and trauma through what is called Lament.
It is self-guided…and it is just you and the Lord. It’s at the bottom, but I would encourage you to take a step of trust and sit with our Lord in that in the near future.