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B'resheet/Genesis 40:1 And it was after these things ...
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This set of words form a common Hebrew phrase, used to mark an indefinite period of time - see also, for example, 15:1. Although the word comes from the root - to speak - and is often translated "the words", it is also frequently used to mean "things" or "matters". Nahum Sarna points out that although we can guess that Joseph was 28 years old at this point - he is thirty when entering Pharaoh's service (41:46), which was at least two years after this event (41:1) and has been away from his family since the age of 17 (37:2) - "we have no way of determining how many of those years he spent in the service of Potiphar and how many in prison." The time is not insubstantial and just as Avraham had to wait a quarter of century from the giving of G-d's promise of progeny to its fulfillment at the birth of Yitzchak, Joseph has to serve his time in G-d's economy before his promises, given in his dreams in chapter 37, become reality.
Commenting on the start of this narrative unit, when Pharaoh's chief cup-bearer and baker are placed for a while in the same prison as Joseph,Rashi suggests (based a little loosely on B'resheet Rabbah 88:1) that HaShem arranged their imprisonment as a distraction among the Egyptian court so that they should squabble among themselves rather than becoming aware of Joseph in prison before his time had come: "so that relief should come to the righteous one through them." Be'er Yitzchak aligns the text with the word "therefore"; in the light of Joseph's confinement in prison, while at the same time finding favour with the prison governor, HaShem sends two high-ranking personal servants of Pharaoh on a temporary sojourn to the same prison in a way that will comfort Joseph in the short term and, at the same time, set up the connection that will lead to his eventual freedom from imprisonment.
Similar phrases appear many times in the gospels: "And it came about that when Yeshua had finished these words" (Matthew 19:1, NASB), "About a week after Yeshua said these things" (Luke 9:28, CJB); linking phrases that move us on from one narrative or teaching unit to the next without being specific about either time or place. They indicate that one event or set of sayings has ended and that another is about to begin. Just as the curtain closes briefly, or the lighting on stage changes, we know that the play has moved on to the next scene. Much of the Bible is written from a historical point of view - that is, with hindsight, recording events that happened in the past of the writers - and so the individual milestones can be clearly seen and the major events lined up in sequence to show the overall design that lies behind the day-to-day happenings. As Qohelet wrote: "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven" (Ecclesiastes 3:1, ESV).
Yeshua is keenly aware of G-d's timing and sequence during His earthly ministry; the gospel accounts, particularly John, have Yeshua making this point on many occasions: the wedding at Canaa at the start of His ministry, "Yeshua replied, 'Mother, why should that concern me? - or you? My time hasn't come yet'" (John 2:4, CJB); teaching in the Temple in Jerusalem, "At this, they tried to arrest Him; but no one laid a hand on Him; because His time had not yet come" (John 7:30, CJB); after the event of the woman caught in adultery, "He said these things when He was teaching in the Temple treasury room; yet no one arrested Him, because His time had not yet come" (John 8:20, CJB). Yeshua knows that there is a script to follow, so that everything happens in its time and place. Finally, in the days leading up to the Last Supper, John observes, "It was just before the festival of Pesach, and Yeshua knew that the time had come for Him to pass from this world to the Father. Having loved His own people in the world, He loved them to the end" (John 13:1, CJB).
Living our lives, coping with the events of each day: piano lessons, doctor's appointments, house-group, work - mustn't forget work! - and our families, we tend to lose sight of G-d's plans in our normal busy round of activity. When something dramatic or tragic happens - the marriage of a son or daughter, death of a parent, a road accident - we go into panic mode, dealing with the extra pressure on an emergency basis, often exhausting ourselves and the patience of those around us. The urgent overrides the important and survival becomes the name of the game. Our eyes get so close to what we are immediately dealing with that our perspective becomes totally compromised. We forget that G-d still has a plan for everything to happen in its proper place and time. Even the pressures that we endure are part of G-d's process to shape us and touch other people through us.
Ancient Israel went through times of distress and anguish; bad decisions and sinful behaviour impaired their relationship with G-d, so that He allowed the surrounding nations to prevail against our people as a means of discipline or a wake-up call. In those times of stress, however, G-d continued to speak to the prophets and those who would hear Him, to offer encouragement and assurance that however bad things looked, everything was still under His control. The Psalmist cries out to G-d with confidence, "You will arise and have pity on Zion; it is the time to favour her; the appointed time has come" (Psalm 102:13, ESV), and the prophets announce G-d's future plans for the people: "This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, 'They are my people,' and they will say, 'The L-RD is our G-d'" (Zechariah 13:9, NIV). All the time, G-d is working to purify and cleanse His people so that they may wholehearted and righteous before Him.
Exactly the same process is happening to both Jew and Gentile believers in Messiah Yeshua today. So that Rav Sha'ul's prophetic words may be realised - "Messiah loved the Messianic Community, indeed, gave Himself up on its behalf, in order to set it apart for G-d, making it clean through immersion in the mikveh, so to speak, in order to present the Messianic Community to Himself as a bride to be proud of, without a spot, wrinkle or any such thing, but holy and without defect" (Ephesians 5:25-27, CJB) - we are being lovingly and individually moulded to bring us to perfection. Those encouraging words that Sha'ul wrote to the community in Rome really do apply to us as well: "Furthermore, we know that G-d causes everything to work together for the good of those who love G-d and are called in accordance with His purpose; because those whom He knew in advance, He also determined in advance would be conformed to the pattern of His Son, so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers; and those whom He thus determined in advance, He also called; and those whom He called, He also caused to be considered righteous; and those whom He caused to be considered righteous He also glorified!" (Romans 8:28-30, CJB).
Wouldn't it be nice if we had some foreknowledge of the events that are scheduled in our lives so that we can be ready for them? Not according to Yeshua! Although He spoke these words in reply to the disciples' question about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel, the words are still appropriate for us: "You don't need to know the dates or the times; the Father has kept these under His own authority" (Acts 1:7, CJB). We would be swamped by knowing what was ahead and would try to avoid or circumnavigate those times of trial that we didn't think that we could survive, let alone enjoy. We must go through the times of trial and testing in the order that He knows best, "for you know that the testing of your trust produces perseverance. But let perseverance do its complete work; so that you may be complete and whole, lacking in nothing" (James 1:3-4, CJB).
It is only when we look back through our lives that we can recognise the hand of G-d at work. We persevere now so that we too may say, "After those days" and know that although difficult, they have been worth living with G-d. "Even gold is tested for genuineness by fire. The purpose of these trials is so that your trust's genuineness, which is far more valuable than perishable gold, will be judged worthy of praise, glory and honor at the revealing of Yeshua the Messiah. Without having seen Him, you love Him. Without seeing Him now, but trusting in Him, you continue to be full of joy that is glorious beyond words" (1 Peter 1:7-8, CJB).
Further Study: 2 Corinthians 4:15-16; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-7
Application: If you are now at a place of testing, where your faith and endurance are being stretched, perhaps beyond what you think you can bear, take comfort that all these times are in G-d's hand and He knows exactly what we can withstand and the fruit that He will produce in our lives if we co-operate with Him. In time to come, you too will be able to recognise, "After those days ..."
© Jonathan Allen, 2009
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