How would you respond if your family despised you so much they arranged for you to be sold to a slave trader? How would you feel if your boss, whom you had faithfully served with impeccable integrity, was quick to believe a lie about you and subsequently have you thrown into jail? How would you react if a comrade broke a promise to you and, as a result, you spent several more years incarcerated?
Joseph experienced each of these circumstances. You can read the full account of his sufferings in Genesis 37–50.
God Had a Purpose for Allowing Joseph to Suffer
By Joseph’s own testimony, his sufferings—physical, mental, and emotional agonies—had been allowed by God so that he could fulfill God’s plan: to save many lives. “But as for you [Joseph’s brothers who had sold him into slavery many years previously], ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive” (Genesis 50:20).
Joseph Rejected Bitterness and Chose to Forgive
As Joseph responded to suffering with faith, meekness, and humility, God molded and shaped a leader. And that leader would not only end up saving his betrayers’ lives, but he also would fully forgive them and provide abundantly for their needs. Such is the potential when a man chooses to reject the empty revenge of bitterness and instead to embrace the benefits of suffering.
Why Did God Allow Bad Things to Happen to Joseph?
If Joseph asked you why God allowed him to be sold into slavery by his own brothers; to be torn from his family and home; to be falsely accused by the wife of his Egyptian master, to whom he had been loyal and devoted; and to be unjustly imprisoned and ignored, how might you answer?
There are many possible answers. The following are some Biblical reasons why God allowed what we would deem as “bad” situations to be turned into “good” purposes in Joseph’s life:
- To enable him to overcome a prideful attitude and learn humility (See Proverbs 15:33.)
- To teach him how to serve (See Genesis 39:4, Genesis 39:22–23, Genesis 40:4; Matthew 20:26–28; and Mark 9:33–35.)
- To train him to be faithful (See Genesis 39:2–6 and Matthew 25:21.)
- To test him in moral purity (See Genesis 39:7–12 and II Timothy 2:22.)
- To develop endurance in the face of false accusations (See Genesis 39:13–20 and Matthew 5:11–12.)
- To prepare him to comfort others (See Genesis 50:21 and II Corinthians 1:3–5.)
- To prepare him to lead his brothers to repentance (See Proverbs 16:6.)
- To teach him patience (See Genesis 40:1–14, Genesis 40:23; and I Peter 5:10.)
- To enable him to see God accomplish His purposes and fulfill His promises (See Genesis 37:5–11, Genesis 41:32, Genesis 42:1–5, Genesis 45:4–7, and Genesis 50:20.)
- To teach him how jealousy can cause suffering (See Genesis 37:3–4 and Genesis 37:17–36.)
- To save many lives (See Genesis 50:20.)
- To let him experience the blessing of God’s favor (See Genesis 39:2–6, Genesis 39:21–23.)
- To place him in a position to tell Pharaoh of God’s power (See Genesis 41:15–16, Genesis 41:25, Genesis 41:28, Genesis 41:32–33, and Genesis 41:38–44.)
We Can Choose to Trust God, Even as Joseph Did
We are not to regard suffering as a strange occurrence, but rather as a sign of God’s work in our lives. (See I Peter 4:12–19 and Romans 9:14–24.) “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths. Be not wise in thine own eyes: fear the LORD, and depart from evil” (Proverbs 3:5–7).