She might well have been the originator of “social distancing.” She did not call it that; but when she plotted against Joseph and he was consigned to the prison house, it was intended to be the end of him. This was no cushy federal prison. There were no jailhouse lawyers to work on appeals or the overthrow of sentences on technicalities. There was no prison yard for camaraderie and small talk. Joseph was as good as forgotten when he entered the prison. In normal circumstances, he would have been thrown into something which served as a cell and lived out his days in true distance from society of any kind. We know that God overruled, even in the prison. In God’s providence, he was elevated to responsibility and oversight even within the prison, and ultimately to the house of the Pharaoh. But there were long days before that occurred.
The story of the dreams of the butler and baker are well known. The butler left the prison house with the request of Joseph fresh in his mind: “Think on me when it shall be well with thee” (Gen 40:14). The sad commentary of the inspired writer, however, jolts us back to reality. “Yet did not the chief butler remember Joseph, but forgat him” (v 22).
Two full years of days passed with only silence, fading hopes, and “social distancing.” We are not given any insight into Joseph’s reaction during those years. It is only normal that he would have expected to hear footsteps running down the corridor, a key turning the door, and a welcoming smile to greet him with the prospect of liberty. But each day passed as the one before. Monotony ensued; hopes faded; the reality of his isolation enveloped him as a heavy fog descends on the city. Did he forget the day of the week? The month? If there was no sunlight into the prison house, he may not have even known day from night. We are told in the Psalms that, they hurt his feet “with fetters: he was laid in iron” or, more literally, “the iron entered into his soul” (Ps 105:18) He knew suffering and sorrow.
Yet, we never read of
As day after day lengthened and morphed into weeks and months, we could well expect groans of frustration and impatience to have filled the prison cell housing Joseph. We hear nothing of that. They were days of formation and not of frustration. In isolation, God was forming the vessel which was to be a blessing, not only to his family, not even just to Egypt, but to the entire region. Genesis began with a man, Adam, who was to be a blessing to the world; he failed. Genesis will conclude with a man who is a blessing to “all the countries (that) came into Egypt to Joseph to buy corn” (Gen 41:57). God was using the isolation to form the man who would fulfill His purpose and be a small glimpse of a Greater One to come.
Even though the psalm refers to the iron entering into his soul, it had a remarkable effect. Rather than hardening, it softened. Here was a man, who would display nothing of vengeance or spite when the opportunity came. He was marked by a gentleness and grace, a majesty blended and balanced by mercy. His time of isolation produced a man who valued time and the opportunity to do good and to be a blessing to others. Will our period of isolation have a similar influence upon us?
There is nothing in Joseph’s composure or behavior when he stood before Pharaoh to suggest that he was a man desperate to enjoy freedom, to burst loose from the chains which he had worn. There is a holy calm and peace which seems to emanate from him as he stands before the mighty monarch. He is the man in control of the moment, in touch with the God of heaven. He has been kept in “perfect peace,” dependent on his God for the fulfillment of His promise.
If I am fretting under the imposed restrictions, the social distance demanded, the limitations imposed, I am falling short of confidence in God and contentment with God amidst my circumstances.
There is no stain attached to Joseph in any of the houses which he inhabited: his father’s house, Potiphar’s, the prison, or Pharaoh’s. It appears that there were two things which sustained and preserved him: the remembrance of God’s promise in his dreams, and the reframing of all his circumstances. God had promised eventual blessing and honor. In the dignity of that promise, Joseph endured his isolation. But he, in turn, as a result of that Word from God, was able to reframe his circumstances and to refocus on his God: “Ye thought evil, against me, but God meant it for good” (Gen 50:20.
We have the assurance from God’s Word that all will be well. Can we, in turn, use it to reframe our isolation, social distancing, and inconveniences, and to refocus on how we can be a blessing to others both now, and in the future?