By: Mark Tabata (Evangelist)
In my years of ministry and preaching the Gospel, I have been blessed to work and walk with people who have come through some of the most heart-wrenching situations. One thing that I have learned is that many individuals go through trials and traumas which most of the world has no idea about. A person may go through a firestorm of a horrific event, even over months and years of time, and the world may not have any idea about it.
Sometimes we go through things which others cannot fully understand. We know this, of course. There is a very real sense in which our pain is uniquely our own.
Proverbs 14:10-The heart knows its own bitterness, And a stranger does not share its joy.
Proverbs 14:10 (CEV)-No one else can really know how sad or happy you are.
Proverbs 14:10 (ERV)-When you are sad, no one else feels the pain; and when you are happy, no one else can really feel the joy.
However, that does not mean that people cannot sympathize with us; nor that we cannot learn from others who have been through similar circumstances.
When I think of people who go through these terrible times, there is a man in the Bible who immediately comes to my mind.
His name is “Joseph.”
The Story Of Joseph…Summarized
Joseph was a great grandson of Abraham. God promised him some great things!
Genesis 37:9-10-9 Then he dreamed still another dream and told it to his brothers, and said, “Look, I have dreamed another dream. And this time, the sun, the moon, and the eleven stars bowed down to me.”
10 So he told it to his father and his brothers; and his father rebuked him and said to him, “What is this dream that you have dreamed? Shall your mother and I and your brothers indeed come to bow down to the earth before you?”
Well that didn’t go over to well with his brothers. They kidnapped him, and sold him into slavery in the land of Egypt!
Genesis 37:23-28 (CEV)-23 When Joseph came to his brothers, they pulled off his fancy coat
24 and threw him into a dry well.
25 As Joseph’s brothers sat down to eat, they looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were loaded with all kinds of spices that they were taking to Egypt.
26 So Judah said, “What will we gain if we kill our brother and hide his body?
27 Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not harm him. After all, he is our brother.” And the others agreed.
28 When the Midianite merchants came by, Joseph’s brothers took him out of the well, and for twenty pieces of silver they sold him to the Ishmaelites who took him to Egypt.
The brothers then convinced their father Jacob that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal:
Genesis 37:31-33 (CEV)-31 Joseph’s brothers killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s fancy coat in its blood.
32 After this, they took the coat to their father and said, “We found this! Look at it carefully and see if it belongs to your son.”
33 Jacob knew it was Joseph’s coat and said, “It’s my son’s coat! Joseph has been torn to pieces and eaten by some wild animal.”
Meanwhile, Joseph was thrown in prison after being falsely accused of rape:
Genesis 39:7-20 (ISV)-7 That’s why, some time later, Joseph’s master’s wife looked straight at Joseph and propositioned him: “Come on! Let’s have a little sex!”
8 But he refused, telling his master’s wife, “Look! My master doesn’t have to worry about anything in the house with me in charge, and he has entrusted everything into my care.
9 No one has more authority in this house than I do. He has withheld nothing from me, except you, and that’s because you’re his wife. So how can I commit such a horrible evil? How can I sin against God?
10 She kept on talking to him like this day after day, but he wouldn’t listen to her. Not only would he refuse to have sex with her, he refused even to stay around her.
11 One day, though, he went into the house to do his work. None of the household servants were inside,
12 so she grabbed Joseph by his outer garment and demanded “Let’s have some sex!” Instead, Joseph ran outside, leaving his outer garment still in her hand.
13 When she realized that he had left his outer garment right there in her hand, she ran outside
14 and yelled for her household servants. “Look!” she cried out. “My husband brought in a Hebrew man to humiliate us. He came in here to have sex with me, but I screamed out loud!
15 When he heard me starting to scream, he left his outer garment with me and fled outside.”
16 She kept his outer garment by her side until Joseph’s master came home,
17 and then this is what she told him: “That Hebrew slave whom you brought to us came in here to rape me.
18 But when I started to scream, he left his outer garment with me and ran outside.”
19 When Joseph’s master heard his wife’s claim to the effect that “This is how your servant treated me,” he flew into a rage,
20 arrested Joseph, and locked him up in the same prison where the king’s prisoners were confined. So Joseph remained there in prison.
Then, about two years later (Genesis 41:1), the Lord God warned Pharaoh (through his dreams) that there would be seven years of great abundance in the crops and fields of Egypt, followed by seven years of great famine that would sweep through the entire Earth.
However, Pharaoh could not understand the meaning of the dreams! It was then that he was told about Joseph. When Joseph explained the meaning of the dreams, Pharaoh set him in charge to build and prepare great storehouses to stock with grain and flour so that when the seven years of famine finally hit, people would be able to come to Egypt for food. Indeed, Joseph was made the second most powerful man in Egypt at this time (Genesis 41-42).
Yet the story gets deeper and more tangled. When the seven years of famine finally hit, guess who ends up coming to Egypt looking for food? Joseph’s brothers! They don’t recognize him, and the Book of Genesis tells us of the incredible and beautiful reconciliation that took place when Joseph finally forgave them of their horrible wickedness. So great is his mercy that Joseph allows his brothers to bring all of their families to the land of Egypt, to settle in the land of Goshen (Genesis 45:10).
Joseph is a powerful example of how one may become fruitful in a land of affliction. Let me share six lessons with you from Joseph that have helped me through the years.
One: Joseph “Forgot” What Needed To Be Forgotten
Genesis 41:51-Joseph called the name of the firstborn Manasseh: “For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.”
Now, if you are like me, you are wondering: How could Joseph forget everything that happened to him?!
When I think of forgetting, my first response is to interpret this as, “he stopped remembering what had been done to him.”
However, that cannot be the meaning; for later, when Joseph was reunited with his brothers, he reminded them of their past sins against him (Genesis 45). What then, does it mean, that God had made him “forget” all of his toil and his father’s house?
The answer lies in studying what the word “forget” meant to the Hebrews. Speaking of the common root word translated as “forget,” and the way it is used in Isaiah 49:15-16, one scholar tells us:
“This is an awesome promise of the love of God. It is very unlikely that a mother would forget her child, but it could happen. Yet with God, it would never happen. The Hebrew word for “forget” is shakach (חכשׁ), which has the idea of leaving or neglecting . If you peer into the heart of God, you will see a mother’s heart— a heart that feels only compassion for her children.” (Chaim Bentorah, Hebrew Word Study: Revealing The Heart Of God, 3366-3369 (Kindle Edition); New Kinsington, PA; Whitaker House)
Speaking later in greater detail about this root-word, Bentorah further explained:
“forget: shakach (חכשׁ): to forget; to neglect; to leave behind (Study 60)” (Chaim Bentorah, Hebrew Word Study: Revealing The Heart Of God, 5789-5796 (Kindle Edition); New Kinsington, PA; Whitaker House)
So, God had helped Joseph to “leave behind” all of the things which had happened to him, and what had been done to him.
This tells me that for a long time, even though Joseph had PHYSICALLY left the prison of Egypt long before, he had yet stayed there, EMOTIONALLY and SPIRITUALLY for a time. I believe this describes a lot of people: we often stay in what has caused us pain. Those memories become our prison. How many people who have been mistreated and abused by others live there?
I know this might sound a bit nerdy, but I am reminded here of an episode of a television I used to watch (and okay, maybe still do). The show was called Deep Space Nine. In it, one of the lead characters (known on the show as Captain Benjamin Sisko) has been given command of a space station. While on a routine mission, he encounters a group of aliens who trapped him in a “mind-loop” (my word). The “loop” was of a scene where his wife had been killed, a few years earlier. He just kept going back there, time after time, in his mind. Always back to the scene where his wife died.
When Sisko asked why the aliens kept bringing him to that “loop,” they responded (paraphrase): “This is where you live.”
Think about that for a moment: “This Is Where You Live.”
For some time, Joseph had “lived” in that abuse and that pain which he suffered. Yet God, in His grace, had helped him to “leave it behind.” I like the way Erwin Lutzer elaborates on this :
“Joseph refused to allow his past to be the prism through which he would view his life. His past would not be allowed to color and destroy any hope of being fruitful in his present or in his future. God caused him to forget and His grace was sufficient. Do you live with more memories than you do dreams? Is it possible that because of what happened to you everything is colored and blurred, without focus? Does that root of bitterness spring up, and you refuse to forget and you refuse to trust God for your future?…Joseph escaped such bondage. He let God help him to forget. Joseph chose to live in the future and not in the past.” (Erwin Lutzer, When You’ve Been Wrong: Moving From Bitterness To Forgiveness, 122-123 (Kindle Edition); Chicago; Moody Publishers)
Two: Joseph Was Thankful To God For HIS Blessings
The next thing to notice about Joseph, and how he survived in his world of suffering, is seen in what Joseph named his second son: Ephraim.
Genesis 41:52-And the name of the second he called Ephraim: “For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Joseph had been able to see that God had brought good to him and for him, even in his land of suffering.
One of the things which is so amazing about God is the fact that He can bring incredible good through the bad things which we suffer. Indeed, one of the reasons why He allows us to go through difficult times is in order to make us stronger and better.
The Book of Isaiah really describes this in detail. Look at how God brings transformation:
Isaiah 32:15 (Easy To Read Version)-This will continue until God gives us his Spirit from above. Then the desert will become rich farmland and the farmland will be like thick forests.
Isaiah 35:1-7-1 The wilderness and the wasteland shall be glad for them, And the desert shall rejoice and blossom as the rose; 2 It shall blossom abundantly and rejoice, Even with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, The excellence of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the LORD, The excellency of our God. 3 Strengthen the weak hands, And make firm the feeble knees. 4 Say to those who are fearful-hearted, “Be strong, do not fear! Behold, your God will come with vengeance, With the recompense of God; He will come and save you.” 5 Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, And the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. 6 Then the lame shall leap like a deer, And the tongue of the dumb sing. For waters shall burst forth in the wilderness, And streams in the desert. 7 The parched ground shall become a pool, And the thirsty land springs of water; In the habitation of jackals, where each lay, There shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
Isaiah 41:19-I will plant in the wilderness the cedar and the acacia tree, The myrtle and the oil tree; I will set in the desert the cypress tree and the pine And the box tree together,
Isaiah 51:3-For the LORD will comfort Zion, He will comfort all her waste places; He will make her wilderness like Eden, And her desert like the garden of the LORD; Joy and gladness will be found in it, Thanksgiving and the voice of melody.
Isaiah 55:13-Instead of the thorn shall come up the cypress tree, And instead of the brier shall come up the myrtle tree; And it shall be to the LORD for a name, For an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”
One of the great blessings we see from Joseph is that God CAN make us fruitful in our land of affliction.
God CAN restore the brokenhearted.
God CAN bring comfort to the grieving.
God CAN give hope to the hopeless.
Yes, God can make us fruitful in our land of affliction.
Three: Joseph Wept When He Needed To
Notice something else with me. This is something which is so important, but I believe we can just read over it without stopping and considering.
Genesis 45:1-2-1 Then Joseph could not restrain himself before all those who stood by him, and he cried out, “Make everyone go out from me!” So no one stood with him while Joseph made himself known to his brothers.
2 And he wept aloud, and the Egyptians and the house of Pharaoh heard it.
There are those who believe that God’s healing means that we will never feel pain again. I have even heard some say that they believe if they continue to hurt over their abuse, then they cannot truly heal.
Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, I believe that a lot of people need a “good cry.” The Bible certainly encourages people to grieve at times:
John 11:35-Jesus wept.
Romans 12:15-Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.
1 Thessalonians 4:13-But I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope.
Four: Joseph Had Faith In God And In His Providential Plan
The Word of God “tested” Joseph when he was in prison (Psalm 105:19). Through his life and his ordeals, Joseph had learned to trust in God. This is made evident in two powerful passages:
Genesis 45:6-8-6 For these two years the famine has been in the land, and there are still five years in which there will be neither plowing nor harvesting.
7 And God sent me before you to preserve a posterity for you in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance.
8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
Genesis 50:20-But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
Throughout time, God’s people struggled with the question “why.” They learned that-even when they could not understand “why” God would allow certain things, they could trust in Him and His good plan. One of my favorite examples of this is seen in the questions that God asked Job (Job 38-42). Discussing these questions, one fellow sufferer wrote:
“But these questions also point to God’s wisdom and care. These are not simply questions about power. Their function is not simply to remind Job of God’s power, but also to remind him of God’s wisdom and care. The questions are not arbitrary; they move from God’s creative work when he laid the foundations of the world (38:4-7) and controlled the chaotic waters (38:8-11) to his transcendence over the chaos of the wicked and death (38:12-21), control over the waters (snow, rain, rivers) of the earth (38:22-30, 34-38), and his regulation of the stars and seasons (38:31-33). The questions then move to the animal kingdom and God’s management of his living creatures. The questions are not just about knowledge but about care. God asks if Job “knows” (e.g., 39:1), but he also asks whether Job can manage this creation and care for it the way God does. Does Job hunt for the lion (38:39), feed the young ravens (38:41), give the wild donkey his home (39:6), use the wild ox in his service (39:9-12), care for the ostrich even though she has no sense (39:12-18), and give the horse his strength (39:19)? God asks, “Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom (39:26), or “does the eagle soar at your command? (39:27). Through his power God manages his creation with wisdom and care. God’s creation is not the playground of his power but the nursery of his care. The world is not out of control; God is managing it quite nicely.” (John Mark Hicks, Yet Will I Trust Him: Understanding God In A Suffering World, 173-174 (emphasis added, M.T.); Joplin, MO; College Press Publishing Company)
Joseph had come to learn that God had a good purpose for allowing His pain and suffering.
Five: Joseph Redeemed The Time
Please notice something else with me from the story of Joseph: he had learned in his land of affliction to redeem the time.
The Apostle Paul wrote:
Ephesians 5:16-redeeming the time, because the days are evil.
Now what does that mean?
Ephesians 5:16 (Amplified)-Making the very most of the time [buying up each opportunity], because the days are evil.
Ephesians 5:16 (CEV)-These are evil times, so make every minute count.
Ephesians 5:16 (NLT)-Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days.
““Making the most of the time” (see also Col 4: 5) can equally be translated “buying [or, redeeming] the time.” The simple form of the verb was commonly used in the literal sense of buying a field (Matt 13: 44) or purchasing food (Mark 6: 36). Yet there is nothing in this context suggestive of a transaction with another party. Because of the presence of the preposition (; “out of”), some interpreters have thought this was the case, however, and contended for a more literal idea of purchasing time from someone else who possesses it (such as the devil, as Calvin thought). 3 Although the metaphorical idea of purchasing time is not common, it does appear one other time in biblical literature (Dan 2: 8 LXX). In his use of the metaphorical expression, Paul is advocating that his readers utilize every hour in a productive way. The participial form of the verb renders it dependent on the verb “walk” and thereby expresses the manner of how believers should conduct their lives. The middle voice is not deponent and should be interpreted as reflexive, “purchase for yourselves.” (Clinton E. Arnold, Ephesians: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary On The New Testament, 9549-9560 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)
Notice how Joseph “redeemed the time.”
Genesis 45:8-13-8 So now it was not you who sent me here, but God; and He has made me a father to Pharaoh, and lord of all his house, and a ruler throughout all the land of Egypt.
9 “Hurry and go up to my father, and say to him, ‘Thus says your son Joseph: “God has made me lord of all Egypt; come down to me, do not tarry.
10 You shall dwell in the land of Goshen, and you shall be near to me, you and your children, your children’s children, your flocks and your herds, and all that you have.
11 There I will provide for you, lest you and your household, and all that you have, come to poverty; for there are still five years of famine.” ‘
12 “And behold, your eyes and the eyes of my brother Benjamin see that it is my mouth that speaks to you.
13 So you shall tell my father of all my glory in Egypt, and of all that you have seen; and you shall hurry and bring my father down here.”
Oh, Joseph could have spent all of his time being angry and resentful and seeking justice or retribution; but he instead decided to wisely use his time. Some things are more important that vengeance. Healing is more important that personal retribution.
Six: Joseph Forgave The Unforgivable
Finally, please notice that in his land of affliction, Joseph was fruitful because he forgave his brothers.
Genesis 45:5-5 But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.
Genesis 45:15-15 Moreover he kissed all his brothers and wept over them, and after that his brothers talked with him.
There are so many who do not understand what “forgiveness” is. Let’s notice what forgiveness ISN’T, and then notice what it IS.
Forgiveness IS NOT saying that you were not hurt!
Forgiveness IS NOT saying that the person who hurt you had the right to do so!
Forgiveness IS NOT saying that a person DOES NOT DESERVE TO BE PUNISHED!!
Forgiveness IS NOT the same as trust!
Forgiveness IS NOT the same as restoring a relationship (although forgiveness CAN lead to reconciliation)!
Many believe that forgiveness amounts to these concepts, and so they are confused over what the Lord teaches about these matters.
Well what IS forgiveness?
To answer that, I want to share with you the words of one of my favorite authors, June Hunt. After explaining the most common misconceptions about forgiveness, she notes the following:
“The New Testament Greek word for forgiveness, aphesis, means a “pardon, cancellation of an obligation, punishment or guilt.” Forgiveness is one person canceling the debt of another person. In life, an unforgiven offense is an unpaid debt—a psychological, emotional, and even spiritual debt between two people. Therefore, unforgiveness is a link that binds the two together. Neither are free from it. When we forgive, we not only dismiss the debt we are owed, but we also trust God to handle the offender in His time and in His way as He sees fit. He assures us, “It is mine to avenge; I will repay.” 7 God forgives our debt of sin and rebellion against Him. The apostle Paul says, “Blessed are they whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord will never count against him.” 8 No doubt we were guilty as charged and in no way could we ever pay the penalty on our own. God had every right to hold us to the letter of the law and demand that we pay with our lives. Instead, Jesus cancelled the debt by paying it Himself, shedding His own blood in place of ours. In doing so, He set us totally free from the consequences of falling short of His standards. Jesus took our place. His body was pelted by the stones of our offenses, the stones that should have been thrown at us. All the stones others have collected to throw at us and we have collected to throw at them have already been thrown at Jesus. That is why He rightfully asks us all to not throw stones at one another but to give the stones to Him…Learning to forgive someone who has wronged us is nothing short of learning to think and act like God. Unforgiveness hardens our hearts and weighs us down. When we repeatedly refuse to forgive, more and more offenses accumulate, which become like layers of hardened cement. As we forgive, one offense at a time, the cement cracks and falls away, and more and more, our hearts begin to resemble the heart of God….To forgive means to release your resentment toward your offender. In the New Testament, the Greek verb aphiemi primarily means “to send away”—in other words, “to forgive, send away or release the penalty when someone wrongs you.” 12 This implies that you need to release your right to hear “I’m sorry,” to release your right to be bitter, to release your right to get even. The Bible says, “Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody.” 13 To forgive is to release your rights regarding the offense. This means to release your right to dwell on the offense, to release your right to hold on to the offense, to release your right to keep bringing up the offense. The book of Proverbs says it well: “He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” 14.”. (June Hunt, How To Forgive…When You Don’t Feel Like It, 644-690 (Kindle Edition); Eugene, Oregon; Harvest House Publishers)
Joseph could have legally and morally punished his brothers. Instead, he “cancelled the debt.” He left that to God.
When we allow ourselves to hold on to the anger and the rage of the pain we have felt, we are opening the door for that anger to grow and fester. What good comes from such? What do bitterness and resentment actually accomplish in our lives?
“The moment I begin to hate a man, I become his slave. He controls my thoughts. He controls my feelings. He even controls my dreams. Stress hormones constantly surge through my bloodstream and wear down my body. My work becomes drudgery. I tire easily. My windowed office seems like a cell in Alcatraz. Even while sailing the Chesapeake Bay, resentment ruins my relaxation. The spinnaker may be billowing in the breeze, but I might as well be a seasick galley slave. The one I hate hounds me wherever I go. I can’t escape his mental tyranny. The waiter at the seaside restaurant may be serving up a blackened swordfish or a chocolate mousse, but I feel like a dungeon prisoner eating stale bread and musty water. My teeth chew the food, but the one I hate has stolen my pleasure. King Solomon must have had a similar experience, for he wrote: “Better a simple salad with love, than a sumptuous feast with hostility” (Prov. 15:17). The man I hate may be soundly snoring many miles from my bedroom; but more cruel than any slave driver, he whips my thoughts into a frenzy. My Perfect Sleeper mattress becomes a rack of torture. I am, indeed, a slave to everyone I hate.” (A.I. McMillen, M.D., & David E. Stern, M.D., None Of These Diseases: The Bible’s Health Secrets For The 21st Century, 3003-3013 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Published by Revell a division of Baker Publishing Group)
To be fruitful in your land of affliction:
• Forget (Leave Behind) What Needs To Be Forgotten
• Be Thankful For Your Blessings
• Mourn When You Need
• Trust In God And His Providential Plan
• Redeem The Time
• Forgive The Unforgivable
Jesus Christ is the greatest example we can learn from about fruitfulness in a land of affliction. Leaving behind the glories of Heaven to save mankind (2 Corinthians 8:9), He went to the Cross of Calvary to pay the price for the sins of mankind.
John 12:24-Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.
He died for us, was buried, and He arose from the dead on the third day (1 Corinthians 15:1-8). He calls all people to Him to be saved (Matthew 11:28-30). He promises that those who hear His Word (Romans 10:17), believe in Him (John 8:24), repent of their sins (Luke 13:3), confess Jesus Christ as the Son of God (Acts 8:37), and are baptized into Him (Acts 22:16) will be forgiven and given the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38). Why not turn to Him today? When we sin and fall short as Christians (1 John 1:8), He promises forgiveness if we will repent and confess those sins to Him in prayer (1 John 1:9).
The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.