Joseph in Jail: Choosing Life When You Have a Life Sentence

by Tad Lindley

Dear Reader, even though the holidays can be a joyous time, for many they are a very tough time. Consider the story of Joseph below. He spent numerous Christmases in jail (or whatever holidays they had in the ancient world). He had every reason to give up, but he survived, and watch what happened…

We all know people who have chosen to take their own lives. Sometimes a note is left, other times only unanswered mysteries. Their reasons are many: rejection by a girlfriend, rejection by a boyfriend, abandonment by family, an AIDS diagnosis, the pain of molestation, the checkmate of shame, felony indictments, depression. Others have been misled into believing they will spend eternity with departed loved ones if they commit suicide. The list could go on for the rest of the page. What follows is the story of a man who had a number of crushing reasons to give up on life, but he held on for at least thirteen years until he finally understood the meaning of all of his pain.

Joseph’s family tree

In case you are not familiar with Joseph, let me bring you up to speed. Roughly 2,000 years before Christ, God spoke to a man named Abraham. God promised Abraham that through him all nations would be blessed (Genesis 18:18). This is God’s prophecy that through Abraham’s descendants would come the Messiah, the one that would take away the sins of the world: Jesus Christ.

Abraham had a son named Isaac. Isaac had twin sons. The younger twin was named Jacob. God would later change Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel had twelve sons. These twelve sons became the fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. One of these sons was Joseph. Although Joseph was the eleventh of twelve sons, he was Israel’s favorite.

The older brothers hated Joseph. They were jealous of him. To make matters worse, he brought his dad an evil report concerning his brothers.

Rejected by his family

When he was seventeen years old Israel sent Joseph on an errand to his older brothers who were out in the country grazing their animals. The brothers who were supposed to love him threw him into a pit and ate their lunch while they plotted Joseph’s murder. One of the brothers, Judah, decided instead that they should sell him as a slave. Completely abandoned by his family, Joseph found himself on his way to Egypt, sold for twenty pieces of silver. It was a time that, in spite of hopelessness, Joseph did not kill himself.

A life sentence without parole

As a slave Joseph became the target of his master’s wife. She falsely accused Joseph of sexually assaulting her. Here he was a foreigner and a slave. He had no public defender, no right to a trial of any sort, and seemingly no chance of escape from his horrible situation. Joseph was sent to prison for the remainder of his life. It was a desperate and deplorable situation, but Joseph did not kill himself.

A broken promise

Then Joseph befriended a man who was in prison. He was the cupbearer for Pharaoh, king of Egypt. (Cupbearers were the ones who drank from the king’s cup before he did to make sure that nobody was trying to poison the king.) When the cup bearer was paroled, he knew that he would that same day be in the presence of Pharaoh. He promised Joseph that he would explain Joseph’s situation to Pharaoh, but he forgot. For two more years Joseph would wake up in jail without hope of ever being paroled. By this time he was thirty years old. He should have been home with his people, enjoying a wife, children, and the outdoor life, but instead, he had not seen his family in thirteen years. They had absolutely no idea he was even still alive. There was not a thing that he could do. But instead of choosing death, Joseph chose life. It was not much of a life, but he chose it anyway.

Because he chose not to kill himself

At thirty years old, Joseph went from the scum of Egyptian society to becoming the prime minister of Egypt literally overnight (it is an awesome picture of the power of God, see Genesis 41). Because Joseph had not killed himself even in the face of impossibly depressing circumstances his entire family was saved. You see, the Lord allowed Joseph to be thrown into the pit, sold into slavery, be falsely accused, and serve a life sentence, because that was the only way that he could get Joseph into the position of prime minister. If Joseph was not prime minister, Israel and his eleven remaining sons would have died of starvation. Instead of starvation, Joseph’s suffering brought them salvation.

Without Joseph, would there have been Jesus?

If Joseph had given up, he would have died childless, and the descendants of Israel would have starved to death. There would have been no tribe of Judah to give rise to King David, and no King David to give rise to a teenage girl named Mary. Joseph’s suicide would have forced God to go across the earth searching for another Abraham and another chosen people. He would have had to start over again.

In Genesis 50:20, Joseph summed up all the loneliness and desolation in his life as he spoke to the family that betrayed him: 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 (NKJV). The Lord has a plan for each one of us. Reader, regardless of your background, Jesus can do miraculous things with it. If you are reading this, take it as a sign from God, that he knows exactly where you are, and that if you serve him, he will bring great things out of your sorrows.

Reverend Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, AK.

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