Joseph and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days

It’s easy, especially when it comes to well known stories we’ve heard since Sunday School, to read them again with the end in mind. To skim over details until we get to “the lesson.” To rush through the “back story” in anticipation of the “main event.” Thinking this might be true when we encounter Joseph’s story for the umpteenth time. But what if we tried to read it again as if for the first time?

As I pause this morning at the end of Genesis 40, it occurs to me that, while God’s been with Joseph, and though I know how things eventually turn out — what others meant for evil God uses for good (Gen. 50:20) — at this point in the story things haven’t been going all that well for Joseph. While we are often quick to pull out the flannel graph to recount the story of Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors, or the story of Joseph the Ruler in Egypt, I don’t know that very often we’ve seen the felt put on the board to convey the tale of Joseph and His Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days. (Thanx Judith Voist for almost 50 years of “Alexander”, one the best kids books ever).

Think about it, one day Joseph gets up and is told by his dad to go see how his brothers are doing tending the flocks. And this guy in his late teens, favored by his father though despised by his older brothers, heads out thinking that’s what the day(s) hold for him. (Cue the theme from Gilligan’s Island). And what begins as a “three hour tour” turns into a shipwreck.

Threatened with murder. Stripped of his daddy’s coat. Thrown in a pit. Sold as slave. Taken to Egypt. Bought as a housekeeper.

Even when things take a turn for the better and he’s promoted to house manager, he then gets hit on by the boss’s wife and, though he refuses her, still gets thrown in jail. Sure, he’s promoted again, this time to top of the food chain as the jail keeper, but he’s still incarcerated. And when his hopes are raised after connecting with some influencers in Pharaoh’s house who say they’ll plead his case, they get out of jail and forget about him for the next two years.

So stop there and noodle on that. How’s it going for Joseph? Tell me that, despite some encouraging bright spots along the way, this hasn’t been some terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days. Tell me Joseph wasn’t confused by the why of it all. Tell me he wasn’t overwhelmed with weariness at times.

So why is Moses (the author of Genesis) spending so much time detailing the events of this favored son of the patriarch, Jacob, to a people who have been delivered from bondage but have a ways to go before seeing the promised land? I think it’s so they might remember in the midst of their inevitable terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days, that God would be with them, just as He was with Joseph.

But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love . . .

(Genesis 39:21a ESV)

That’s the echo which reverberates through Genesis 39. The Spirit moving Moses to remind a sojourning people that just as “the LORD was with Joseph”, so He would be with them. That’s the take away for these favored people of God when they encounter their terrible, horrible, no good, very bad days — and they’d have a few. It’s the take away for me as a favored son of the Father — by grace alone — when my “days” don’t go as I would like. The take away for the people of God as we try and make sense of unanticipated, unwanted, less than stellar circumstances.

“Be strong and courageous. Do not fear or be in dread of them, for it is the LORD your God who goes with you. He will not leave you or forsake you.”

(Deuteronomy 31:6 ESV)

Looking forward to the “happy ending” of Genesis 50. But right now, I’m encouraged by the “terrible days” of Genesis 39 and 40.

. . . the LORD was with him . . .

By God’s grace. For God’s glory.

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