Joseph: An Example of Suffering and Patience

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After repeatedly commanding his readers to be patient in suffering (Jas 5:8–9), James points to the prophets and Job as examples for us today: “As an example of suffering and patience, brothers, take the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful” (Jas 5:10–11).

Joseph received and interpreted dreams from God, marking him as a prophet. So, surveying his life in Genesis 37–50, let’s consider his suffering and patience, being steadfast in the Lord’s purpose, and experiencing the Lord’s compassion, mercy, and blessing in time.

Suffering and Patience

When Joseph was “seventeen years old” (Gen 37:2), he was taken captive by his brothers and sold to some Midianites who sold him to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, in Egypt as a slave (Gen 37:24, 28, 36). This suffering began thirteen years of hardship and affliction that would end at age thirty when Pharaoh appointed him over the land (cf. Gen 41:46).

“After a time” in Potiphar’s house, Potiphar’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph (Gen 39:7). When he ran from her advances, she falsely accused him of the same, unfairly landing him in prison (Gen 39:17–20). Nonetheless, as the Lord had blessed him with favor in Potiphar’s house (Gen 39:1–6), the Lord gave him favor in the prison as well (Gen 39:21–23).

“Some time after this,” Joseph interpreted the dreams of his fellow prisoners, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker (Gen 40:1; cf. 40:5–22). The baker was hanged, and the cupbearer lived. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” for “two whole years” (Gen 40:23–41:1). Joseph’s thirteen years of suffering and patience would soon come to an end.

Compassion, Mercy, and Blessing

We have already seen God’s compassion, mercy, and blessing in the midst of Joseph’s suffering (cf. Gen 39:1–6, 21–23). Now we see again as his suffering and patience end.

Now “thirty years old” (Gen 41:46), Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams of a coming abundance and famine, resulting in his promotion over Egypt with only Pharaoh over him (Gen 41:14, 44). Joseph was given a wife and had two sons, their names indicating that he had forgotten hardship and saw his life as fruitful instead (Gen 41:50–42).

He blessed Egypt by gathering stores in “seven years of plenty” and dispersing it in famine (Gen 41:53, 57). Over the next “two years” (Gen 45:6), Joseph provided for his family as well, revealing his identity in the end (Gen 42–44). Though sent to Egypt by sinful brothers and Midianite traders, Joseph looked back and saw God’s providence instead: “God sent me before you to preserve life” (Gen 45:5).

Joseph was reunited with his father Jacob that he had not seen for twenty-two years, and they lived together in Egypt for seventeen years (Gen 46:29; 47:28). He received his father’s blessing (Gen 49:22–26), and he forgave his brothers in full (Gen 50:15–21). Joseph echoed to them his life’s refrain: “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today” (Gen 50:20). Joseph lived for another fifty-four years and died at age 110 (Gen 50:26). His years of compassion, mercy, and blessing were many more than those of suffering and patience.

Lessons for Us Today

God puts us through suffering as we encounter various trials from time to time. When He does, we must be patient to let Him accomplish whatever His purposes may be, whether we know these purposes in time, in full, or neither. As we are patient, God will show compassion, mercy, and blessing—in this life, perhaps, and certainly forever in time to come. May God help us to persevere like Joseph whenever suffering comes our way.

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David Huffstutler

Pastor First Baptist Church, Rockford, IL

David pastors First Baptist Church in Rockford, IL, and teaches as adjunct faculty at Bob Jones University. David holds a PhD in Applied Theology from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. His concentration in Christian Leadership focuses his contributions to pastoral and practical theology.