We know the story of Joseph and his brothers. Genesis 37 to 47 recounts Joseph’s two dreams of superiority over his elder brothers, his coat of many colors, the murderous plot to kill Joseph (Genesis 38:18) and his sale into slavery in Egypt. (Genesis 38:28)
We know that Joseph’s faith was great, and that despite arriving in Egypt as a slave, God was with him. Joseph rose to a place of prominence in Potiphar’s house, (Genesis 39:2), was then unjustly accused of rape and thrown into jail. Even in jail, Joseph’s faith was great and he rose to a place of authority within the jail, (Genesis 39:23) then to a place of prominence in all of Egypt. (Genesis 41:40). Twenty-four years or thereabouts pass before Joseph’s brothers return to Egypt a second time.
Initially the brothers had plotted to kill Joseph. But Judah said “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites…” (Genesis 37:26a).
Indulge your sin of jealousy, conspiracy, fratricide, anger, AND profit from it.
So they did, they waffled on killing their brother, they ended up stuffing Joseph in a pit but then dragged him out when the caravan passed by so they could sell him into slavery. And that seemed to be the end of Joseph for the brothers, for all they knew.
Decades later, the famine had become very severe in all the surrounding region. Unbeknownst to the brothers, Joseph had foreseen the famine coming, thanks to a dream the LORD had sent to Pharaoh, and which Joseph and interpreted by His grace. Facing starvation, the brothers decided to travel to Egypt to buy grain, and they were of course faced with Joseph who had become vizier to Pharaoh, second most powerful man in all of Egypt. The brothers did not recognize Joseph, but Joseph recognized the brothers. Joseph accused the brothers of being spies and held them in custody. He told them to return to Canaan and bring back Benjamin, the youngest, to him. The brothers huddled and said to one another,
“In truth we are guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the distress of his soul, when he begged us and we did not listen. That is why this distress has come upon us.” And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” (Genesis 42:21-22).
Reuben was referring to the death penalty for taking a life, but there is also a spiritual aspect to this.
Joseph had been in actual prison, and no doubt had some dark days. But the LORD was with Joseph, it says so during the recounting of Joseph’s life, many times. (Genesis 39:2, Genesis 39:21, Genesis 39:23…). When the LORD is with you, no matter the circumstance, one can dwell in joy and peace. (Philippians 4:4). Being “in the Lord” brings with it a sphere of peace that is unrelated to the circumstances of this worldly life. Being in the Lord means you possess an unchanging, invincible bubble of joy that none can penetrate. (Philippians 4:7).
Contrast Joseph’s spiritual success with his brothers’. When accused, they crumbled at once under the weight of their collective guilt. They’d been carrying this tremendous burden of guilt since the day they rode off, deaf to the pleas of the teenager they conspired to sell. It was their prison.
The scriptures declare we are all prisoners of sin, release only comes in faith in the Lord Jesus. (Galatians 3:22, John 8:34, Romans 7:14).
That is why Joseph, though imprisoned, was free; and the brothers, though free, were imprisoned. The burden of sin is heavy, but a clean conscience is light.
Wretched man that I am! Who will set me free from the body of this death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord! So then, on the one hand I myself with my mind am serving the law of God, but on the other, with my flesh the law of sin.” (Romans 7:24–25).
Are you like Christian, the man in the allegory Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan? Christian was weighted by a burden on his back of which he could not rid himself and was causing much distress.
Christian: I cannot go as fast as I would, by reason of this burden that is on my back.
Now I saw in my dream, that just as they had ended this talk, they drew nigh to a very miry slough that was in the midst of the plain: and they being heedless, did both fall suddenly into the bog. The name of the slough was Despond. Here, therefore, they wallowed for a time, being grievously bedaubed with the dirt; and Christian, because of the burden that was on his back, began to sink in the mire.
|Slough of Despond, Dyer Library, Saco, Maine|
Evangelist explained to Christian why the ground was so bad at the Slough of Despond:
‘This miry Slough is such a place as cannot be mended; it is the descent whither the scum and filth that attends conviction for sin doth continually run, and therefore is it called the Slough of Despond: for still as the sinner is awakened about his lost condition, there ariseth in his soul many fears, and doubts, and discouraging apprehensions, which all of them get together, and settle in this place; and this is the reason of the badness of this ground.
Are you sinking deep into guilt and shame, as were Joseph’s brothers, weighted in guilt by their heinous acts? Do you long for freedom from sin and a cleansed heart, forgiven of the sins which are burdening you? Only Jesus can provide that, and He has.
Jesus answered him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3)
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).