“Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23)
It might occur to us as we read about Joseph in the Book of Genesis that the incident mentioned in today’s Scripture was probably the lowest point in the life of this son of Jacob. Have you felt – low? Have you been forgotten? Do you feel that way right now?
Joseph, who is a central person in the concluding chapters of Genesis, was the favorite son of his father. His Dad, who would have done anything for him, gave him special hand-made gifts such as a multi-colored coat and trusted this next-to-youngest son in ways that caused him to be envied by his brothers. As we read the story of his life, we are informed that, on top of everything else, Joseph was “handsome in form and appearance” as described in Genesis 39:6. Everything positive about him was extremely annoying to his ten older brothers.
He was one of those who “had it all,” and many have noticed that the more we have in life, the harder it is to lose it. Here’s a sketch of Joseph’s life up to the moment of today’s verse: As stated, he was the favorite of his father. Even though Joseph was younger he was placed into a senior position over his brothers. They wanted to literally kill him, but were prevented from doing so by God Himself, who caused an older sibling to intervene. Have you been hated by one or more family members or friends for reasons you don’t fully understand?
Instead of killing Joseph, they sent him into abject slavery by selling him to uncaring traffickers in human flesh. He was resold at least once more and would have been stripped of all remaining clothing and possessions as he was inspected by potential buyers. His new owner liked and promoted him, but the owner’s wife falsely accused him of attempted rape when he rejected her advances and he was thrown into the darkest maximum security prison in the country of Egypt. But just like it had been with his now-former master, the chief jailer saw that the Lord was with Joseph and elevated him, giving the man authority over the other prisoners (Genesis 39:21-23).
Joseph, in Genesis 40, through the power and for the purposes of God, correctly interpreted the vivid dreams of two other prisoners, and just like Joseph had said, one of the men was restored to his office in the Egyptian government and the other was killed at the order of Pharaoh. Joseph had hope for the future as he breathlessly said to the man who was to be released, “Remember me when it is well with you, and please show kindness to me; make mention of me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house” (Genesis 40:14). But the narrative continues to the point of today’s Verse 23, as we look into the utter dejection felt by Joseph in these words: “Yet the chief butler did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” Have you ever been forgotten by someone who should have remembered and helped you?
As I studied this section in Genesis, it seemed that this was an extreme low point in Joseph’s life. He had survived betrayal, enslavement, more betrayal, imprisonment and now he was forgotten altogether. He felt like he had ceased to exist. He liked the feeling that he and his life were special, but he was special no more. Not one person in the “real” world knew where he was or even that he was alive. Would he survive this moment? Had God forgotten him, too?
A week ago, I was privileged to spend another three-day weekend with the resident-prisoners of the U.S. Terminal Island Federal Prison, in San Pedro, California. There were familiar faces among the “inside team” who previously attended a Kairos Prison Weekend such as this one, but the new men, the “candidates,” including the men who sat at my table, were new to us.
Entering a Federal Prison, oddly enough, does not have to be a frightening experience. The Team Meetings that preceded the 3-day event in Terminal Island Federal Prison were designed to prepare us, and the greatest part of those meetings was prayer. We learned to listen and see that God is very willing to help us. He merely wants us to ask Him in everything. In Philippians 4:6-7, we are urged to “be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God, and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ.” What we really need is “peace” and it is offered abundantly to those who pray.
Entering the prison waiting room is like coming to the Lord in prayer. Our pockets are to be empty of wallets, cell phones, pens, money and whatever else we ordinarily think is important. We must fill out a form that describes in detail 1) who we are, and 2) why we want to enter the prison. We must have a picture ID such as a driver’s license or passport, and we are also allowed an ignition key if we drove a car. To go further into the prison we must turn in the form and ID card, and then surrender to the guard-receptionist our glasses, shoes, belt and jacket to an x-ray machine and then be x-rayed ourselves. In prayer, our hearts are to be open, less filled with the cares of this world; we must identify ourselves as believers in the Lord, state our need in detail, and be willing to surrender all as the Lord leads.
We wait until our name is called, then quickly enter the "Sally Port" as a steel door is closed and locked behind us, not proceeding until another steel door is unlocked in front of us. “Port” and “Sally” were Latin terms, by the way. “Portus” means “door” and “Sally” is from the Latin “Salire” (“to jump”), a military maneuver in which a defending force would run out from behind defenses to reduce the strength of an attacking army while losing as few of their own soldiers as possible. A “Sally Port” makes certain that prison visitors are in a weakened position. Our hand is stamped with invisible ink before we are led by a guard to our destination in the prison.
Joseph, son of Jacob, experienced something like it, except that when he went in, they were not going to release him. He definitely did not receive the gentle treatment we did, and they didn’t let him out at 9:00 PM each evening like us. Psalm 105:18 reveals that “they hurt (Joseph’s) feet with fetters, he was laid in irons.” As a slave and prisoner he had no rights, he was brutally treated and would have remained that way except for the Lord who would intervene and bring him out.
Do you feel forgotten? At the start of our three day weekend in prison, one of the “inside” men said, “I feel all alone in a room full of people.” The messages heard at the end of the weekend were very different. They felt loved because they now knew that God had not forgotten them; they WERE and ARE loved by the God who made them.
Jesus Christ the Messiah became a prisoner, first by leaving the freedom of heaven and coming to the sinfulness of earth; and then at the end He was the prisoner of arrogant men who saw Him as a threat to their authority. He is a threat to ours as well. By accepting Him as your Lord and Savior, you will receive His Holy Spirit, who will lead you in God’s ways; you no longer are in charge. Sin blinds us to our need for God, by the way, just as our sins blinded the Son of God to the Presence of God the Father. You can see it in Psalm 22, a prophecy about Jesus Christ. In Verse One of that Psalm we are given a preview of words later actually spoken by Jesus on the cross when He cried out, “My God, why have You forsaken Me” (Mark 15:34). But it was our sin that made Him temporarily blind, for you can see in Psalm 22:24, “… When He cried to Him for help, He heard.”
The Father heard Joseph when he was alone in that prison. He heard the Son on the cross; He hears you and me, as He hears every need. We are not alone, we are never forgotten and there is great purpose in our suffering. He remembers us. Joseph would be the governor of all Egypt and Jesus is “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (John 4:42).
Father, though I feel forgotten, I see in places like Hebrews 13:5 that You will never leave me or forsake me. Please forgive my sins. I trust in You now, Lord. Thank You. In Jesus Name. Amen.