“So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe—the ornate robe he was wearing— and they took him and threw him into the cistern. The cistern was empty; there was no water in it.” Genesis 37:23-24 NIV
Joseph was used to being the favourite, with his father Jacob especially. The seed of favouritism had been planted with Rachel his mother, who had been Jacob’s favourite wife. His half brothers hated him and plotted against him, partly out of envy, partly because the young Joseph hadn’t mastered the art of tact. He knew he was special, and he didn’t see much point in hiding it. He had the gift of prophecy through dreams and shared his future greatness with all and sundry.
What a shock it must have been to this confident, cheerful and naïve seventeen year-old boy, to be thrown into the pit by his nearest and dearest! To be suddenly left alone in the cold pit with no way out, ridiculed and relieved of the mantle of his father’s love. This was only the beginning of his suffering, and the suffering of his brothers by their guilt, and the pain and heartbreak for Jacob, who mourned him greatly, fooled into thinking him dead (Rachel had already died by this time).
For those of us who are blessed to grow up with loving parents, secure in all we say and do, looking forward to the future we’ve been led to believe will be marvellous, there is a deep sting in being suddenly left very much alone and helpless. When every prop and favour is taken away from us, when we find ourselves flung into a pit by the very people we were sure loved us, what is left to sustain us?
This is a journey I see a lot in those whose hearts are for God. The Church is good at nurturing the first seeds of faith, great at proclaiming things over us, repeating the prophecy from Jeremiah for the whole of Israel over us as individuals: “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11) and generally making us hope to be history makers and world changers, with lives full of health, blessing and prosperity, because all the bad stuff has been paid for on the cross, right? So we don’t have to suffer any more! But without negating the power of the cross, this is a childish message on its own.
We are not so good at preparing Christ’s young disciples for the prospect of hurting, brokenness or plans going awry. We don’t explain that sometimes life is crushing, and so many times I see Christians who are bewildered, angry and even side-lined because their lives have become hard. The mantle got taken away and no-one climbed into the pit with them, and no-one preached to them on Romans 8:17 “Now if we are children, then we are heirs–heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.” (NIV)
We can feel, at such times, that we have been left to rot. And yet, it is right at these times, when he is all we have left, that we have the choice before us of whether to trust God or not. It may take a while, years maybe, before help finally comes. We may, like Joseph, then find we’ve been sold to slavers, seemingly out of the frying pan and into the fire, the first part in a twisting tale of epic proportions. Or we may, like Jeremiah, find an Ebed-Melech, servant of the King, willing to come and gently lift us out of our cistern. Either way, God’s purposes and plans will win out in the end. But there may be a hard road yet to tread.
If we have been there, perhaps we should train ourselves and our brothers and sisters to be on the lookout for any dark dungeons, and to peer into the murk as we pass them, calling out, and remembering to carry sturdy rope with us at all times.
Photo from Morguefile.com