2005 header for issue 32

Joseph Hits Rock Bottom

Genesis 37


Seventeen year old Joseph son of Jacob was a youth who had strange dreams.  If he had just installed a good lock on his big mouth, that would have saved him a great deal of trouble.  But no, when he had a dream, he had to go and tell it to his eleven brothers.  And since his dream had all the brothers binding sheaves of grain out in a field, and his sheaves stood upright while his brothers’ sheaves bowed to his, his brothers were cheesed off, and it was sour cheese.  “Do you intend to reign over us?” they asked him [Genesis 37:8], and thus revealed their ignorance about how kings were made, and how impossible it was to control one’s dreams [not the kind we get by staring out of the office or school window, but the kind that comes when we are fast asleep].  

To make matters worse, Joe had another dream, and he told his brothers [yes, again!] that the sun and moon and eleven stars bowed to him in his dream.  He also told his father, who rebuked him and indignantly asked whether Joseph’s parents and brothers would actually come and bow down to the ground to him.  Not a good move, Joe.  

Since Joe was not one to keep his mouth shut, he presumably also told his mother about this dream.  Now Joe was Jacob’s favourite son, but not hers.  So, did she chase him around the tent with a broom?  Or cut his rations of slurpy mutton soup?  Did his lamb chop rations get the chop?

Anyway, after that, his brothers went off to graze their father’s flocks near Shechem, up in the cool hill country.  They obviously needed to cool down after getting hot over Joseph’s outrageous dreams.  Ha!  Who did he think he was, huh?  The big shot in the family?  

Did they leave him behind, by himself, to shun him?  Or did Jacob see their murderous mood and hold Joe back for his own safety? Whatever the reason might have been, Jacob later sent Joe to join them at Shechem [Genesis 37:13].  To let them be reconciled after a cooling off period?  Or to force young immature Joe to mature by sending him on a 100-kilometre journey alone?  

Anyway, Joseph eventually found them at Dothan, several days’ sheep-walk from Shechem.  When they saw him from afar, they plotted to kill him and throw his body into one of the cisterns in the desert [Gen 37:18-20].  But Reuben, the eldest brother, said, “Come now, let’s not take his life.  Don’t shed any blood.  Throw him into this cistern in the desert, but don’t lay a hand on him.”   

Did Reuben say “this cistern”?  So they were at a cistern?  Say, why else would shepherds be at a cistern in the desert if not to get water for the sheep and for themselves?  Alas, the cistern was dry, for verse 24 says so.  Ha, that would not have put the shepherds in a good mood would it?  

So when Joseph arrived, they stripped him of his richly ornamented robe that Jacob had given him, and threw him into the cistern.  What is a desert cistern?  Basically, it is a deep, usually pear-shaped hole, dug into impermeable clay or stone, so as to collect rainwater channeled into it by drains or the shape of the terrain.  The only way in, or out, is through a hole at the top. Now imagine yourself being thrown into that dark hole, not knowing how deep it is.  Wouldn’t you yell in shock and fear on the way down?  

If Joseph had been thrown in head first, he would have died. His skull would have been smashed in or his neck would have snapped.  But if Joseph had been thrown in feet first, why were his legs not broken?  We know that the cistern was dry, as Gen 37:24 says so.  So there was no water to break his fall.  Some martial arts experts are able to jump down from the second or third storey of a building and land safely on their feet, but Joseph was not known to have been a martial arts expert.  Even if he had been, it was very dark in the cistern and he would not have been able to gauge when to bend his knees and cushion his fall.  

The only logical reason for his non-injury is that whenever water fell into the cistern, it carried a good amount of desert sand with it.  Over many years, a small mound of sand would have piled up below the opening of the cistern.  Perhaps the sand cushioned Joseph’s fall, so that his legs did not break.  However, whatever the mechanics of it, what we need to keep in sight is the fact that God did not allow Joseph to be crippled, or to die.  

Now let’s use our imagination to put ourselves in the cistern.  It is almost pitch dark except for the part that receives a shaft of light through the small hole on top.  Being underground, it is cold.  It is silent as the grave, except for whatever noise you make.  You are entombed in the bowels of the earth.  You have hit rock bottom.   

I woke up one Sunday morning with a vivid impression that I was in a cistern like Joseph.  It was a terrifying experience.  How Joseph must have yelled and screamed, pleading with his brothers to let down a rope and pull him out!  Did Joseph regret telling them about his dreams?  Probably.  When they ignored him, in the frightening silence did Joseph pray to God?  

Did God hear his cries for help?  Of course!  Why then did a caravan of foreign traders “happen” to pass by at that point of time?  Didn’t God arrange that?  The brothers saw the caravan as a chance to get rid of Joseph for good, and make a bit of money at the same time.  They sold him as a slave to the traders.  We see it as a major disaster for Joseph.  

But if you were Joseph, would you not think that being a slave out in the open air was far better than being all alone in a dark, cold, cistern waiting to die of hunger and thirst?  A slave at least gets some food and water.  Would you not recognize that God had answered your prayer in a timely way?  I believe Joseph had a deep religious experience there, for he experienced the reassuring presence and love of God.  He saw that in what he thought was a hopeless, helpless situation, God was actually right there, to help him.  He realized that God would take care of him, no matter how bad things appeared.  

Do you need to be thrown into a cistern in the desert before you realize what Joseph realized in The Black Hole of Dotham?


Chapel speaker on 26 October was Mr Li Geng Fu, an MCS student. His sharing was from 1 Pet 2.
Chapel speaker on 9 November will be Dr Aquila Lee.


Intensive courses by Prof. R. Paul Stevens

  • Vocation, Work & Ministry (3 credits, MM101); Nov 17, 19 (Sat, 2.30-9.30pm), 22, 24, 26 (Sat, 2.30-9.30pm) & 29. Time: 7.15-10.15pm.

This course is a reflective experience in discernment of the way you have been made and the path to which the Creator and Shepherd of your life is leading you. While some of the application will concern finding or remaining in suitable employed work, the emphasis will be larger and deeper than finding the right job. In today's world most people are in fairly continuous vocational transition. But the approach to the course will take the largest understanding of calling or vocation: the invitation of God to live and work wholeheartedly and fruitfully. There will be a balance of teaching, small group interaction and guided personal solitude.

  • Everyday Spirituality (1.5 credits, AT104); Nov 18, 21, 23, 25 & 28. Time: 7.15-10.15pm.

It is widely recognized that the theological task has yielded to the needs of the professional Christian worker, and that spirituality has historically been associated with monastic movements, retreat centres and people not engaged deeply with the normal pressures of life in secular society. This course will address the Biblical emphasis of everyday, vocational holiness, providing both a theological foundation for the ministry of the ordinary Christian and a spiritual motivation. Developing a Christian lifestyle involves much more than being faithful in devotional and church activities. In this course we will consider our mentalities, pressures, environments and Christian patterns of response.

Visit our website for course description. For registration, please call 62276815 or email bgst@pacific.net.sg

A Blessed Birthday to…


Ms Serene Woon  1/11

Mr Mickey Chiang  3/11

Mr Jerry Tan  3/11

Mrs Koh Sin Yow  3/11

Mr Winston Chan  3/11

Ms Jessica Kou  3/11

Mr Clifford Chua  4/11

Pastor Alby Yip  5/11

Mr Ng Weng Chuen  6/11

Ms Eileen Su  7/11

Mr Wong Chee Boon  8/11

Ms Joan Teoh  8/11

Mr John Chai  9/11

Ms Sharon Tay  9/11

Ms Lim May Kwun  10/11

Mrs Soh Chiew Ping  11/11

Mr Tang Kok Fai  11/11

Ms Wong Su Ren  12/11

Ms Chiang Ban Lee  13/11

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