THE SUFFERING SAVIOUR— THE SAVED AND LOST.
This child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Luke 2:34, 35.
Then were there two thieves crucified with him; one on the right hand and another on the left. — Matthew 27:38.
The successive steps or stages of Joseph's humiliation may be briefly recapitulated.
1. He is sent by his father on an errand of kindness to his brethren — and with his whole heart he goes on that errand, determined to seek and find them, however far they may have wandered from home.
2. He comes to his own, and his own do not receive him. A plot is formed against him the moment he appears in sight. The dreamer must be got rid of. "This is the heir; come let us kill him."
3. They will kill him, if needful, themselves. But they think it better to deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles. It is a shrewd device — like that of the Jews long after — to make Pilate do their work — to get him who came to visit them in love disposed of, not by them, but by the men of another nation.
4. Joseph is valued and sold — cheaply valued, treacherously sold.
5. As a servant he is found in Egypt, dwelling among Pharaoh's servants — and yet so dwelling among them as to give evidence of his being a child of heaven, gracious, true, and fair ; and to give promise, also of some high destiny in store for him.
6. He is led into solitary temptation, assailed with solicitations appealing to three of the strongest principles in our human nature — appetite, ostentation, ambition; — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eye, and the pride of life. He is virtually offered all that can gratify his utmost wishes for pleasure, pomp, and power — if he will only worship a devil.
7. His tempter, foiled in flattery, tries persecution. A liar, like him who is "a liar from the beginning, and the father of it," Joseph's assailant prevails against him by false testimony, and so succeeds in having him condemned.
8. Brought under condemnation, having guilt imputed to him, laden with obloquy, doomed to a servile punishment, Joseph is still so marked as God's own child, that amid all the darkness of his unmerited suffering, he is recognized, by the very officer appointed to carry out his sentence, as a righteous man.
Thus, with mingled evidences of grace and degradation — of a high character and a lowly state — Joseph comes to sound the depths of his appointed humiliation. And now we find him, even in the lowest of these depths — as it were, on the cross itself — still owned and honoured by God; appointed to be an arbiter of destiny, if I may so speak, to those between whom his cross stands; and that in such a manner as evidently to prepare the way for his own approaching exaltation.
It is the close of his humiliation, therefore, that is now to be considered.
Joseph in prison, at the extreme point of his humiliation, appears as the dispenser of life and death among his fellow-prisoners. He is the instrument or occasion of a decisive separation between the two whom he finds involved in the same condemnation with himself. He fixes authoritatively and conclusively their opposite destinations.
From the first, he is not altogether under a cloud; what he really is in himself, shines out from beneath his prison-garb, in spite of the drawbacks of his prison-state (ver. 1-4). Not only does he find favour, — the Lord being with him and showing him mercy, — in the sight of the keeper of the prison, — but even the captain of the guard, Potiphar himself, seems to have relented.
For it must be Potiphar who, receiving from the king the two officers with whom he is wroth, puts them where Joseph is confined, and charges Joseph with the care of them. As commanding the king's body-guard, he had charge of the state-prison, — which was indeed part of his own house, — with a subordinate keeper under him; — a common arrangement in old eastern despotisms. That being his position, it was easy for him to consign Joseph to imprisonment without trial, or with such trial as he might choose to count sufficient. And it was equally easy for him to have other state prisoners associated with Joseph, and placed under his superintendence, if he so chose. That he should have so chosen in this instance, need not appear strange or surprising. Perhaps he doubted all along the truth of the accusation against Joseph, and suspected its unworthy motive, although he felt himself constrained to yield to influence and importunity that he dared not withstand, and sacrifice to the malice of disappointed desire, one in whom he had no fault to find. Or if at first credulous, and naturally inflamed with sudden wrath, he may have begun, on cooler reflection and better information, to change his mind. Or he may have received such reports of Joseph's demeanour in prison, from his subordinate officer, as to cause a revulsion of feeling, — and his old confidence may thus be beginning to return. At all events, it is by his order and with his consent that Joseph is placed, — as it was by
Pilate's order that Jesus was placed, — between the two malefactors.