He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron: Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him. (Psalm 105:17-19)
Do you remember the story of Joseph? It is told beginning in Genesis 37 and would no doubt make a first rate soap opera script. It's a story of riches to rags to riches again; a story of a favored son, repeated betrayal, with ultimate success. It's quite a story all right, but what does it have to do with us? Can you put yourself in Joseph's place and understand something here?
Joseph was only seventeen years old when he had a dream. A BIG dream, wherein he becomes the ruler over his brothers. And he just can't wait to tell them about it. That was not a smart move as it turned out. For his trouble Joseph's own brothers betray him, sell him into slavery to make a profit and lie to the old man about it to boot. Considerably more than typical sibling rivalry.
Now what do you think was going through Joseph's head when he was bound in chains and sold into slavery? I know what most of us would be thinking. We would be thinking that our dream, or word from the LORD as we say, must have been false, a self-deception or something like that. I mean, we're going backwards here! Joseph is supposed to become a ruler not a slave. But Joseph does something remarkable. First, sold to Potiphar he becomes a favored servant and is made overseer. Then Potiphar's wife betrays him and Joseph winds up in prison. Going backward again it seems. But in prison, Joseph becomes a useful servant to the keeper of the prison. Up and down and up and down again.
Joseph eventually becomes the overseer of Egypt and in that position he is able to provide for his family when the period of famine comes. His dream is fulfilled and he becomes the one his brothers bow down to. So, it all works out for the best in the end. Every step of the way it seemed Joseph was moving backwards when in fact he was moving forwards to his destiny. I don't know about you, but my thinking is, did God really have to do it that way? Why couldn't He just have Joseph become a successful sheep herder who then gets Pharaoh's attention and wind up being the overseer of Egypt? Surely there was a better way than having Joseph go through all that pain and suffering!
There is something beautiful in this story and it is explained in Psalm 105, although it isn't immediately obvious. "He sent a man before them." Although it seemed that things were going against Joseph, it was God's plan to send Joseph down to Egypt and to put him into place there for the time of famine that was coming. OK, I get that. But why do it by having Joseph traumatized like that?
In one of the Bibles I have there is note in the margin for verse 18. Where the Authorized Version has "he was laid in iron" the note says, "Lit: his soul came into iron." This is beautiful poetry. What the Psalmist saw and expressed was that Joseph was put into iron until the iron entered into Joseph's soul. He became an iron soul. Without that experience, Joseph could not have fulfilled his destiny. He could not have become the powerful overseer of Egypt that was needed during that time of famine. He goes from being a spoiled brat to being a powerful and just ruler. And he did so because of the trial he went through.
This gives me hope. Many of us have either received promises of the Lord directly or indirectly through scripture. If you are like me, my general reaction is that it will happen "real soon now." Maybe tomorrow, next week, or at the latest this year some times. Then weeks turn into months and months turn into years and it seems that everything starts going backwards and every step appears moving farther from the fulfillment of the promise. Ever have that sense? It is all too easy to think that we misunderstood or are deceived. But consider the possibility. What appears to be delay or going backwards to you may be the Lord's way of putting iron into your soul.
Study the Bible closely and you see this same thing repeated. Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, and David, all went through this type of trial of first receiving an incredible promise and then appearing to move backwards. All of them stayed the course until the iron entered into their soul and they received what God had promised. Nothing is different today in this regard. We are no better than they were, that is for sure, and we must go through the same refining fire until the iron enters into our soul.