Genesis 39:20-23 - Prospering In Prison

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A middle-aged business executive approached the front entrance of the office building in which he worked. A young woman came up at the same moment, so he stepped back and held the door open for her to pass on through. She looked at him and said with annoyance, “Don’t hold the door for me just because I’m a lady.”

To her surprise, he looked right back and replied, “I’m not. I’m holding it open because I’m a gentleman.”

Likewise, we as Christians must always act toward others on the basis of what we are in Christ Jesus, and not on the basis of what others may or may not be.


Along those lines, we can’t allow what others think about us or even our circumstances to allow us not to be committed to the Lord and His work.  We are in life as Christians for the Long Hall.  God prospers the work of one who is committed for the long haul.  We read in Genesis 39 we read that “the Lord was with Joseph” and “gave him success in everything he did” (vv. 2–3, 5).  In these verses, although the circumstances have changed, the story nevertheless remains the same. 

If we sow a thought, we reap an act;

If we sow an act, we reap a habit;

If we sow a habit, we reap character;

If we sow character, we reap a destiny.

Joseph definitely was a man of character and we can learn a lot from this mans life. 

!! A.           The Character Before Career (Genesis 39:20-23).

1.            “So Joseph’s master took him and put him into the jail…”  (v.20).

a)            Potiphar imprisoned Joseph.

(1)           When we read these verses in terms of God’s blessing and Joseph’s success, we think naturally of the fact that Joseph rose to a position of authority in the prison.

(2)           In this, his course was parallel to his earlier rise from being a menial slave to being a personal attendant and manager for Potiphar.

(3)           However, I believe this is where Joseph grew in his integrity. 

(a)           Parents, would you agree with me that it is far more important to develop integrity, morality, and godliness in our kids than merely to equip them for outstanding careers?

(b)           We have a Bible Ministry School to equip the saints for the work of the ministry.  To help them find their calling from God and come alongside to see that calling come to pass.

(c)           But, I think what is even more important than that is to develop integrity, morality, and godliness in students than simply equip them service.

(4)           It is along these lines that we are to note Joseph’s achievement.  What was important was the way in which his character grew during his imprisonment.

(5)           In similar circumstances another man might have become quite harsh, bitter, or withdrawn. Not Joseph!  Joseph continued to develop those good traits that already characterized him.

b)            Being put in situations we do not like.

(1)           Mark 6:45-52   

(2)           Daniel 3:13-25

(3)           John Bunyan wrote his most famous work, Pilgrim’s Progress, while jailed in Bedford, England, for preaching the gospel.

(a)           Yet for several centuries that book was second in sales only to the Bible. Bunyan’s cell window faced a high stone wall that surrounded the prison, making it impossible to see into or out of his cell.

(b)           On many days, however, he would preach loudly enough for his voice to be heard on the outside of the wall, where hundreds of listeners, believers and unbelievers, eagerly awaited his proclamation of God’s Word, which was unconfined by stone walls or iron bars.

(4)           Acts 12:24 

(5)           1 Peter 3:18-19

!!!! c)            Faithfulness to God under all circumstances (Genesis 39).

(1)           I notice two things particularly. 
(a)           (1) is Joseph continued to think about God and to adjust his entire life around the reality of God’s character.
(b)           (2) is “The greatest single characteristic of Joseph was his faithfulness to God under all circumstances, and it is through this that God worked to exalt him so highly.
(c)           In Egypt Joseph might have been tempted to do things he never would have done in his homeland.

(i)             He was far from home with little chance of ever seeing his father or other family members again.

(ii)            He had been deprived of family pleasures.

(iii)           If he had been like many professing Christians today, he might have said, ‘I am far from home and nobody is ever going to see what I do.

(iv)          I will take my pleasure where I can, and I will do whatever it takes to advance my position.’ Joseph never said that.

(v)           He knew that he was God’s child and that his responsibility was to live for and be faithful to God, regardless of what should come into his life.

(2)           “Joseph never complained - “Joseph never compromised and as a result, Joseph never lost his power before God.  God was always the chief and determining reality in Joseph’s life.
(a)           Think about this: Throughout his life God continued to reveal the future to him through dreams, and God continued to guide him no less when he was in Potiphar’s prison than when he was beside the Pharaoh’s  throne.
(b)           None of us would ever willingly choose to go to prison, and I am sure that Joseph did not relish his imprisonment either.   
(c)           Prison strengthened character in Joseph, and he was to show that character when he was later exalted to the first place beside the pharaoh’s throne.
(3)           Note: I want to show you in the next chapter, Joseph’s character was growing (Gen.40:6-7):
(a)           These words tell us that Joseph continued to be strengthened in his interest in and concern for other people, when he could have been sulking and exclusively concerned about himself.
(b)           Character before Carrier!

d)            The Lord was with Joseph (v.21).

(1)           The fact that the Lord was with Joseph is mentioned four times (Genesis 39:2-3, 21, 23).  This was all Joseph needed: to know that the Lord was with him. 

When Stephen was giving his defense in Acts 7, speaking about Joseph he said "And the patriarchs, becoming envious, sold Joseph into Egypt. But God was with him and delivered him out of all his troubles, and gave him favor and wisdom in the presence of Pharaoh, king of Egypt; and he made him governor over Egypt and all his house." (Acts 7:9-10, NKJV)

This reminds me of Psalm 1:3 that says about the man who delights in the law of the Lord "He shall be like a tree Planted by the rivers of water, That brings forth its fruit in its season, Whose leaf also shall not wither; And whatever he does shall prosper." (Psalm 1:3, NKJV)

When Jacob had his dream in Genesis 28, the Lord Himself said to Jacob "Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have spoken to you.”" (Genesis 28:15, NKJV)

Speaking about Samuel the prophet when he was a boy, 1 Samuel 3 says "So Samuel grew, and the Lord was with him and let none of his words fall to the ground." (1 Samuel 3:19, NKJV)

(2)           This is all any believer needs.  We just need the Lord: to know that the Lord is with us—with us through all circumstances, no matter how severe.

(a)           It might be cancer, an illness
(b)           death of a loved one, loss of a job, no food, etc

When things like this happen we tend to think that God is against us, remember what Paul said "What then shall we say to these things?  If God is for us, who can be against us?" (Romans 8:31, NKJV)

(3)           There are two suggestions in the fact that the Lord is with us.

(a)           There is devotion, a precious consciousness of the Lord’s presence.  To be with each other is what both the Lord and the true believer want.

John says in 1 John chapter 1 "Again I say, we are telling you about what we ourselves have actually seen and heard, so that you may share the fellowship and the joys we have with the Father and with Jesus Christ his son.”  (1 John 1:3, The Living Bible)

(b)           There is also the truth of God’s care and of His looking after us.  The believer, no matter his circumstances, can rest assured of God’s presence.

Peter mentions this by saying that we are to "cast all your care upon Him, for He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7, NKJV)

And Paul says "But may the God of all grace, who called us to His eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after you have suffered a while, perfect, establish, strengthen, and settle you."  (1Pet. 5:10)

e)            God was preparing Joseph.

(1)           Joseph faced some tough times through these trying and terrible experiences.  God was preparing Joseph to rule Egypt.  God had to make sure that Joseph was successful.

(2)           Then and only then would the Egyptians allow the chosen family of Jacob to migrate and settle in Goshen.  God could thereby fulfill His promises to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

(3)           Every tough experience enriched Joseph’s character.  He was taught some trait that strengthened him for future decisions.

(a)           He was to carry the nation through seven terrible years of famine.  Thus he needed the administrative ability to challenge and mobilize the people to put enough food in storage to carry them through the years of famine.

(b)           He would confront obstinate and hard opposition from some during the years of plenty, especially the greedy and covetous of the land.

(c)           And he would see the hunger and suffering of many in the years of nothing.  He needed to be both hard and soft, yet fair and just.

f)             The value of preparation for us.

(1)           In acts 13 we read about the first missionary journey and in the middle of this story Paul is called “Paul” for the first time (v. 9). Before this he has been called “Saul,” which was his Hebrew name. Now he is called “Paul,” which is a Roman name.
(2)           Paul had been in the background for a long time.  Paul had spent three obscure years in Arabia, had been perhaps seven years in Asia Minor at Tarsus.
(3)           And now had spent two more years at Antioch. Twelve years!  Paul was getting on into middle age at this point, and he had not been used much
(4)           Moses spent 40 years in preparation before the Lord used him as the deliverer for Israel. 
(5)           Myself: I spent 5 years emptying trash, vacuuming floors and picking up chairs, and then 6 years of study with just me and the Lord every morning from 1:30-5:30am.
(6)           You may be in a time of preparation too, even though you are thirty, forty, fifty, or more years of age. If you are, don’t cut your years for preparation short.
(a)           If you have been given such years, cherish them and use them wisely.  Don’t give up on preparation; you don’t know what God has for the future.
(b)           The important thing is to keep close accounts with God, study the Bible, learn about others, and serve everyone as widely and as well as you can.
(c)           It may be that in the years to come, you will look back on this very time and say, “God was working,” and others will note that God was indeed preparing you for even more useful service.

B.           The Weeping Prophet (Jeremiah 37:16).

1.            “When Jeremiah entered the dungeon, he remained there many days…” (v.11-17).

a)            Prison did not weaken Jeremiah.

(1)           Another biblical character who prospered in prison was, “the Weeping Prophet.”
(2)           Jeremiah prophesied in Jerusalem at the end of the history of the southern kingdom, and his message was always the same: Jerusalem will be destroyed for its sin by the Babylonians.
(3)           This was unpopular, of course.  But it was not until the end of his ministry, shortly before the city was overthrown, that Jeremiah was imprisoned.
(4)           We might think that an experience like this, especially after so long and fruitless a ministry, might have modified the prophet’s message.
(a)           He might have told himself, “Jeremiah, you are not getting anywhere except prison by this useless warning of the people.  Why not stop it?  Why not change your tune?”
(b)           Actually, the opposite occurred.  After this long imprisonment, when King Zedekiah finally sent for him and inquired privately, “Is there any word from the Lord?”
(c)           Jeremiah replied, “Yes, you will be handed over to the king of Babylon” (v. 17).
(5)           Prison did not weaken Jeremiah.  Prison strengthened his witness, and he continued to express it to the very end, when the city fell.

C.           The Man Samson and Delilah (Judges 16:28-30).

1.            “Then Samson called to the Lord…” (v.28).

a)            Prison strengthened Samson.

(1)           Samson regained his physical strength while in prison.  Samson had a weakness for women and was finally betrayed by Delilah of the Philistines.

(2)           After many entreaties he told her that the secret of his strength was in his hair.  She had it cut off while he slept.  Then, when the Philistine soldiers fell upon him, they overpowered him, put out his eyes, and took him to Gaza, where they bound him in bronze shackles and set him to work grinding grain.

(3)           In prison Samson’s hair grew long again and his strength returned.  His sense of the Lord’s presence and his desire to serve him also returned.

(a)           When a party was given for the Philistine god Dagon, Samson was brought out and mocked.  He asked God to strengthen him once more to allow him to take a justified revenge on the Philistines (v.28).

(b)           Leaning on the great pillars that supported Dagon’s temple, Samson brought the roof of the temple down so that, as the text says, “He killed many more when he died than while he lived” (Judg. 16:30).

(4)           Prison strengthened Samson physically and probably also strengthened his resolve to serve God.

(5)           You may have some weakness that God sees and you obviously know about, and the Lord may put you in Prison, sort of speak, to strengthen your character.

D.           The Lord’s Day (Revelation 1:9).

1.            “I your brother and companion in tribulation, was on the island of Patmos…” (v.9).

a)            The Apostle John on Patmos.

(1)           We are not told much about the reason for John’s imprisonment, but it is hard to doubt that it was for the sake of his faithful witness to Christ’s gospel.

When he introduces himself about midway through the first chapter of Revelation, it is as “your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus.” 

He adds that he “was [imprisoned] on the island of Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus” (v. 9).

(2)           What happened to John on Patmos?
(a)           Well, think about it: John was alone and being alone strengthened his perception of Jesus and enabled him to write the magnificent, climactic book of the Bible

He tells us that he heard a loud voice, saying, “Write on a scroll what you see and send it to the seven churches: to Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea” (Rev. 1:11).

(b)           When John turned around to see who was speaking to him, he saw a vision of the glorified Jesus standing among seven golden lampstands.
(c)           Imprisonment did not destroy John. Imprisonment strengthened him and enabled him to see Jesus in a clearer way.

E.           The Strengthened Ministry (2 Corinthians 6:1-10).

1.            “We give no offense in anything that our ministry may not be blamed…” (v.3).

a)            The Apostle Paul.

(1)           Prison strengthened Joseph’s character, Jeremiah’s witness, Samson’s physical strength, and John the evangelist’s perception.  However, lets conclude by noting that in the case of the apostle Paul, being in prison strengthened his ministry.

(2)           In 2 Corinthians 6:5 he speaks of more than one imprisonment, and we know of several ourselves through reading the Book of Acts.

(a)           He was imprisoned at Philippi, where God used Paul and Silas’s witness to save the Philippian jailer.

(b)           He was imprisoned at Jerusalem and was incarcerated for two years at Caesarea.  But it is chiefly Paul’s imprisonment in Rome that concerns us here.

(c)           For God richly blessed that time of imprisonment and gave Paul success in writing his great prison epistles (Philippians, Colossians, 2 Timothy, and Philemon).

He spoke about them in Philippians: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of good will.  The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defense of the gospel.  The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains” (Phil. 1:15–17).

(3)           How did the things that happened to the apostle result in the spread of the gospel?

(a)           The first answer is that through them Paul was able to bear a remarkable witness to the Praetorian Guard.

In Philippians 1:13 Paul writes, “It has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ.”

(4)           There is another way in which Paul’s suffering for Christ served to advance the gospel.  It had an effect on other Christians.

Paul says, “Because of my chains, most of the brothers in the Lord have been encouraged to speak the word of God more courageously and fearlessly” (Phil. 1:14).

(5)           Christians moved from fear to boldness through Paul’s example.

b)            The Word of God is not Imprisoned (2 Timothy 2:9).

(1)           Even though Paul was a man under the authority of Jesus Christ, he was subject to imprisonment by ungodly men, just as Jesus Himself had been subject to evil treatment by ungodly men during His incarnation.

He had already admonished Timothy not to “be ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, or of me His prisoner; but join with me in suffering for the gospel according to the power of God” (2 Tim. 1:8).

Whether or not he was familiar with Peter’s first letter (Written several years before 2 Timothy), he certainly would have agreed with the attitude of his fellow apostle, who wrote, “If when you do what is right and suffer for it you patiently endure it, this finds favor with God.  For you have been called for this purpose, since Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example for you to follow in His steps” (1 Pet2:20–21).

Paul was “well content with weaknesses, with insults, with distresses, with persecutions, with difficulties, for Christ’s sake; for when I am weak,” he testified, “then I am strong” (2 Cor. 12:10).

It was the writer of Hebrews, who declared, “The word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

As Paul had written the Ephesian church, “The sword of the Spirit… is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17), and this divine “sword” cannot be taken out of the Spirit’s hand—by men, by demons, or even by Satan himself.

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