The Faithful Endurance of Suffering
Pharaoh begins having disturbing dreams, and not one of his magicians or wise men is able to interpret them. The chief cupbearer suddenly remembers the accuracy of Joseph’s interpretation of his dream, and Joseph is brought before the pharaoh. Joseph gives all of the glory to God for the ability to interpret dreams and proceeds to explain the meaning of Pharaoh’s dream. He reveals that after seven years of plenty there will be seven years of severe famine. Because of the wisdom and ability that Joseph demonstrates he is exalted by Pharaoh to a position of authority in Egypt second only to the pharaoh himself. Joseph’s administrative wisdom enables him to save food during the years of plenty in order that food will remain available during the years of famine. He thereby saves the lives of many who would have otherwise died of starvation.
This story of Joseph is not only important for its place within Old Testament redemptive history, it is also important for what it reveals to us about Jesus, for Joseph is a type of our Lord. Like Joseph, Jesus suffered humiliation and unjust suffering. Like Joseph, Jesus endured suffering patiently and remained faithful. Like Joseph, Jesus was also exalted to a place of authority after His suffering. Furthermore, just as the evil intentions of men were meant by God for good in the case of Joseph, so too were the evil intentions of men meant by God for good in the case of Jesus. In his sermon at Pentecost, Peter declared to the Jews that were gathered, “this Jesus, delivered up according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of lawless men” (Acts 2:23). The jealousy and treachery of Joseph’s brothers was providentially used by God to save many from starvation. The wicked rejection and crucifixion of Jesus by his “brothers” was providentially used by God to save many from eternal wrath.
While the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus is absolutely unique, it does serve as a model for His followers. Paul tells the followers of Jesus, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore, God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:5–11). Peter, likewise, tells Christians, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you” (1 Peter 5:6).
None of us is called to endure the suffering and humiliation that Jesus suffered, but throughout the centuries most Christians have been called to endure various levels of suffering. In many parts of the world today, Christians languish in prisons because of their witness to Jesus. In other places, believers are outcasts from family and society, suffering ostracism and discrimination for their faith. In the contemporary West, most Christians are not (yet) faced with the prospect of death or prison for their faithfulness to Jesus. At the present time, their suffering is of a different kind. Christians who live within Western civilization suffer from being immersed in a culture that proclaims every minute of every waking hour the meaninglessness of human life, the relative nature of all truth claims, and the insignificance of faith.
Regardless of what our specific situation is, Joseph provides a model for us. Whatever situation Providence has placed us in, whatever type of suffering we are called to endure, we must remain faithful to God. We may not all receive public exaltation and vindication in this life, as Joseph did. But we all will be exalted on the last day when our perishable body is raised in glory, finally free from all sin and sickness and death, free to sing forever with all of the redeemed, “Worthy are you, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power.”