To their credit, his jealous brothers didn’t kill him outright. To his horror, they did strip his clothes off of him and throw him down into that slimy, waterless pit, leaving him for dead. It’s a chilling scene. A voice from the bottom of an empty well; screaming, crying, begging his brothers not to let him starve there. He’s cold and it’s growing dark. A sizable group of men, perhaps gathered around a warm fire with the smell of roasting game causing their stomachs to growl, closing their ears and hardening their hearts as the flesh-of-their-flesh pleaded for his life, his voice echoing up to them. These young men he had grown up with, who he had slept next to and broken bread with and shared all the intimacies of a large family living in close quarters, callously ate their dinner above and not a single merciful and repentant heart among the ten of those jealous brothers took a stand and said, “Ok enough is enough, brothers! The joke is over. He’s learned his lesson. Let’s bring him back up.”
Instead, one of them looks up to see a caravan of spice merchants coming their way and adds greed to the list of their sins. “Well, it doesn’t profit us at all if he dies in that well. Let’s sell him as a slave instead.” But maybe it wasn’t really greed that made him do it because they degradingly sold him for a sum which was less than that for which a slave was usually sold. Motivations aside, I can’t help but think that Joseph reached an even deeper level of despair when he realized that all hope had been lost that his brothers or anyone else might rescue him. Instead he found himself ripped up from the well, probably shackled or tied so he wouldn’t escape, walking mile after mile as that caravan took him further from home and deeper into slavery.
I can imagine too well the thoughts and feelings he had at the bottom of that well and then crossing that wilderness. Betrayed, abandoned, rejected, forsaken, exposed, vulnerable, insignificant, impotent, helpless, hopeless. How could my own brothers do this to me? How could God let them?
I wrote yesterday’s post months ago, not knowing exactly what would come next when I wrote down the rest of my own story. I left myself staring down into that abyss and feeling forced to jump into it with no protection or safety plan in place. And then today in our Bible study we talked about Joseph. And we were asked to imagine what he would have felt like at the bottom of that pit. The list of emotions rattled off of my tongue almost too easily and with yesterday’s entry fresh in my mind, I knew why. Joseph’s pit and my abyss. Finding myself abandoned, betrayed and rejected by the ones I loved and trusted the most. Powerless and with no escape from the deep and dark consequences of someone else’s decisions looming heavily over my own life, pressing me relentlessly towards that hole. No one and nothing offering to rescue me. All that I knew and all that I was behind me. Stripped bare of the covering and cloak of my family, my previous identity. Staring into an unknown future that seemed unlikely to bear any resemblance to the bright one that my young mind had conceived would be mine.
And yet as we contemplated this story this morning, I could not help but think of a verse in Psalms:
He lifted me out of the pit of despair, out of the mud and the mire. He set my feet on solid ground and steadied me as I walked along.
Of course, if you know the story of Joseph you know this scene at the well is not the ending of his trials but it is also not the death of his triumphs. After he endures many more difficulties he eventually and miraculously ascends from slave to become established as ruler. He ends up being able to save his people from death by starvation and reconciles graciously with his family. God literally lifted Joseph out of that pit and then steadied his footsteps as he walked out his very difficult circumstances. God didn’t spare him from suffering in his life, but that doesn’t mean that God had abandoned him or forgotten him. We know that because God also did not spare his own son from suffering. Isaiah the prophet tells us this of Jesus:
Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; when his soul makes an offering for guilt, he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days; the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand. Isaiah 53:10
And Joseph’s life in some ways is a foreshadow of Jesus’. Joseph was crushed and grieved beyond what seems bearable but God used his suffering to bring about redemption and a fruitful future for his people. Every hardship was turned around for the good.
But it took a very, very long time. For now, I am somewhere in the middle of that very, very long time. And 20 years ago, after I walked into my mom’s living room and saw that baby on that couch I was just starting that very, very long time.
Have you ever found yourself in a pit? Did someone rescue you? Did the place you found yourself “rescued” to look like a rescue at the time?