Sunday Sermon: ‘Joseph – In the Pit’


audio version

Genesis 39:23 And it came to pass, when Joseph was come unto his brethren, that they stript Joseph out of his coat, his coat of many colours that was on him; 24  And they took him, and cast him into a pit: and the pit was empty, there was no water in it. 25  And they sat down to eat bread: and they lifted up their eyes and looked, and, behold, a company of Ishmeelites came from Gilead with their camels bearing spicery and balm and myrrh, going to carry it down to Egypt. 26 And Judah said unto his brethren, What profit is it if we slay our brother, and conceal his blood? 27 Come, and let us sell him to the Ishmeelites, and let not our hand be upon him; for he is our brother and our flesh. And his brethren were content. 28 Then there passed by Midianites merchantmen; and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmeelites for twenty pieces of silver: and they brought Joseph into Egypt.

I.  Introduction – Describing the Pits

This morning we continue our study of the life of Joseph and we consider his time in the pit. The Bible says that his brothers took him and stript him of his coat and then threw him into a pit. It occurred in a region called Dothan which means – ‘Place of Two Wells.’ The pit in which they threw Joseph was probably a dry cistern or well.

Though none of us may ever physically be in a pit, most of us have experienced the pits emotionally and perhaps spiritually. It’s uncertain where the term ‘in the pits’ originated. One resource states that there is a reference to the ‘pit of hell’ that dates back as far as the 1200’s. We often use the phrase ‘in the pits’ to describe a feeling of discouragement. It’s a downtime in your life.

Why do we get in the pits? Let me suggest some possible reasons:

  • We experience a tragic event in our lives. Perhaps it is the death of a loved one. Perhaps it is the loss of a job or something else important in your life. Something occurs that shakes you deeply and therefore a natural reaction is to feel discouraged, or ‘in the pits.’
  • Some might experience a time in the pits because of medical reasons. Along with the chemical imbalance some experience that affects their emotions, people who undergo critical surgeries often go through a time of being in the pits afterwards. We know that Elijah experience a time in the pits after his battle with the prophets of Baal. As the Lord began to minister to him, the Lord fed him and allowed him time to rest.
  • Another reason some experience times in the pit is because of self-pity. If we turn our focus upon ourselves, we may become discouraged and disillusioned in life.
  • Some people experience time in the pits because they have a melancholic personality. Some of you are familiar with a character named ‘Eyeore’ found in the children’s story series Winnie the Pooh. Eyeore was a naturally pessimistic person. Because I have struggled some with melancholy in my life, I try to avoid other Eyeores whenever possible.
  • Some people experience pit times because of poor decisions. They forget that we reap what we sow and so they sow bad seeds and reap bad crops.
  • Another major reason many of us experience what we call pit times is because the Lord is trying to produce in us spiritual growth and maturity. God often allows events in our lives in order to mature us spiritually.

II. Pitfalls in the Pits

As if the pits themselves aren’t difficult enough, there are pitfalls within the pits. There are certain dangers associated with being in the pits. Let me mention a few of the pitfalls that Joseph might have faced.

A. Pitfall of Bitterness

Last week we talked about the bitterness Joseph’s brothers felt towards Joseph and their father Jacob. Jacob showed favoritism to Joseph and it angered his brothers. It caused them to be filled with such hatred and bitterness that they sold Joseph into slavery and then led their father to believe that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

What about the bitterness of Joseph? I am sure that there were moments when Joseph was tempted to be angry with his brothers and to hold bitterness in his heart towards them. Joseph spent many terrible days in Egypt. Consider his emotions on the day his brothers betrayed him.

Genesis 42:21 And they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.

The phrase ‘when he besought us’ indicates that he pleaded with them for favor and mercy. We can well imagine how traumatic it must have been for Joseph as his brothers treated him so brutally.

In addition, a large part of Joseph’s time in Egypt involved prison. Consider these verses from the book of Psalms.

Ps 105:17 He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant: 18 Whose feet they hurt with fetters: he was laid in iron:
(NLT – they bruised his feet with fetters and placed his neck in an iron collar)

Joseph had thirteen years to brood over what his brothers had done to him and therefore we can well imagine what a temptation it must have been for him to retaliate when they later came to him for help. Yet the LORD gave Joseph the grace to forgive and thus avoid the pitfall of bitterness.

B. Pitfall of Despair

There was another pitfall that Joseph may have faced. It was the pitfall of despair. Joseph had no way of knowing what was ahead of him. As far as he knew, any moment he could die. Therefore perhaps there were moments when he faced the pitfall of despair.

Jeremiah the prophet faced a pitfall of despair. Note his words –

Lamentations 3:18 And I said, My strength and my hope is perished from the LORD: 19 Remembering mine affliction and my misery, the wormwood and the gall. 20 My soul hath them still in remembrance, and is humbled in me.

The word ‘lamentation’ refers to the deep sorrow and anguish someone might experience as they are mourning the death of a loved one. The book of Lamentations is a funeral song. Jeremiah was in the pits, but then, he found hope. He was rescued from the pitfall of despair.

Lamentations 3:21 This I recall to my mind, therefore have I hope. 22 It is of the LORD’S mercies that we are not consumed, because his compassions fail not. 23 They are new every morning: great is thy faithfulness. 24 The LORD is my portion, saith my soul; therefore will I hope in him. 25 The LORD is good unto them that wait for him, to the soul that seeketh him. 26 It is good that a man should both hope and quietly wait for the salvation of the LORD.

David was another man who often faced the pitfall of despair. Consider these words from one of his Psalms –

Psalm 43:5 Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? (disquieted = troubled)

David faced many troubles during his life, therefore he spent a great deal of time in the pits. But like Jeremiah, David didn’t stay in the pits. This same verse goes on to say –

Hope in God: (i.e. – wait with expectation) for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God.

All of us have our times in the pits; yet we cannot allow ourselves to remain in the pits. David asked himself – ‘Why are you so discouraged? Trust in God and there will come a day when you will praise Him again!’

C. Pitfall of Resentment  

It’s easy to see how Joseph might have been tempted to resent his brothers; yet there was someone else that he might also have been tempted to resent. Often when we as believers are going through difficult times, we are tempted to become angry with God. We might find ourselves asking questions like: Where are You God?  Why are You allowing this to happen?  Are You against me?  Eventually such questions can lead us to think: What’s the use of trying? I might as well just give up. We might even become rebellious in our attitude towards God and do things that we know are sinful. It’s as if we’re saying to God – Treat me this way will You, Well I’ll show You!  Yet such thoughts will only eventually hurt us. They will separate us from our one true source of strength. Instead of letting pits drive us FROM GOD, we need to let the drive us TO GOD.

 III. Lessons Learned in the Pit

Though pits can be very painful during the time we’re trying to endure them, scripture teaches us that in the long run, they can be very beneficial. Joseph may well have learned several valuable lessons while in the pit.

A. A Lesson on the Awfulness of Sin

1. Awfulness of the Brothers’ Sin

As his father’s favoritism became more and more evident, so did the hostility and resentment of his brothers. Joseph saw their looks and heard their words of jealousy, bitterness and anger.  As Joseph sat there in the bottom of the pit, he could hear their mocking laughs and threats to kill him. Joseph got a good look at the awfulness of sin.

2. Perhaps – Awfulness of His Own Sin

There is no mention in scripture of Joseph’s sin; yet the Bible says that we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. There is none righteous, no not one. (see Romans chapter 3) Many of God’s greatest saints struggled with areas of sin and weakness in their lives and therefore Joseph probably did as well. What kind of sins might Joseph have struggled with?

If I had been in Joseph’s shoes, the combination of my father’s favoritism, along with the ornamental robe and even the dreams, would have most likely caused me to become prideful and egotistical. We know that the apostle Paul struggled with pride and it was for that reason the Lord had to give him a thorn in the flesh. (see 2 Corinthians 12) We know also that many of Christ’s disciples struggled as well. Later both James and Peter would stress the importance of humility in their New Testament letters.

I point out the possibility of pride because pride can be so damaging. A prideful person soon becomes a self-sufficient person. They don’t need God. If there was any pride in Joseph, the Lord had to deal with it before he could make him a great leader.

Whatever Joseph struggled with, I am sure that there was a lot of self-examination that occurred while Joseph was in the pit. Joseph’s time in the pit helped him to see the awfulness of sin.

B. A Lesson on Our Accountability to God

The LORD wanted to use Joseph in a great way; yet the LORD had to make sure that Joseph always kept in mind who it was that he was serving. The LORD had to burn into his heart that he was always accountable to God.

Genesis 39:1 And Joseph was brought down to Egypt; and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, captain of the guard, an Egyptian, bought him of the hands of the Ishmeelites, which had brought him down thither. 2 And the LORD was with Joseph, and he was a prosperous man; and he was in the house of his master the Egyptian.

1. Joseph’s Prosperity

The LORD was with Joseph and therefore he prospered greatly in Egypt. Whatever he touched turned to gold. Often with prosperity also comes:.

a) Increased responsibilities

b) Trust committed to us

Genesis 39:6 And he (Potiphar) left all that he had in Joseph’s hand; and he knew not ought he had, save the bread which he did eat…

c) A lack of accountability

d) Therefore – great vulnerability

2. Joseph’s Vulnerability

Consider Joseph’s vulnerability. He’s been rejected by those he loves. He has been isolated from all positive spiritual influences. He is living in a secluded environment, and he’s young, successful and attractive.

Genesis 39:6  … And Joseph was a goodly person, and well favoured.

Joseph was apparently a very good looking young man. That shouldn’t surprise us because the same thing was said about his mother, Rachel. Scripture says that she was ‘well favoured’, (Gen 29:17), meaning that she was physically very attractive. Joseph inherited such good looks from his mother.

7 And it came to pass after these things, that his master’s wife cast her eyes upon Joseph; and she said, Lie with me.

If ever someone was set-up to fall, it was Joseph. The Bible speaks of the handsome appearance of four men:

a) Saul

b) David

c) Absalom

d) Joseph

Of those four men, only Joseph didn’t fall prey to himself. Why? How was Joseph able to escape?

3. Joseph’s Accountability

A major portion of the reason why Joseph was able to survive the pitfalls of Egypt is found in his attitude regarding his accountability.

Genesis 39:8 But he refused, and said unto his master’s wife, Behold, my master wotteth not hat is with me in the house, and he hath committed all that he hath to my hand; 9 There is none greater in this house than I; neither hath he kept back anything from me but thee, because thou art his wife…

Joseph knew that he was accountable to an earthly master. But even more so, he knew that he was accountable to a heavenly Master.

… how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?

Joseph knew that even if no one else ever saw them, God would. Joseph understood that we all are accountable to God. Perhaps in his moments of greatest temptation, his mind went back to the pit. I remember the pit. I remember the chastening of the Lord. I remember how awful those days were and I never want to experience them again.

C. A Lesson on the Assurance of God’s Presence

The Bible says that the pit was empty and with no water. There was nothing in the pit except Joseph and the presence of God. When Joseph said:  … how then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?, perhaps he was thinking about his experience with the pit. Perhaps he was thinking about his experience with the presence of God. Perhaps it was in the pit that Joseph first began to realize that the God of his father, Jacob, could be his God as well.


Pit experiences are not enjoyable, but they can be enriching. There are at least two ways the Lord can use the pits to enrich our lives:

1. Purifying Aspect of the Pits

Consider these passages of scripture –

Psalms 119:71 It is good for me that I have been afflicted; that I might learn thy statutes.

1 Peter 1:6 Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season, if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations: (trials or testings) 7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ:

During one of the pit times in my life, the Lord led me to a precious passage of scripture from the book of Isaiah –

Isaiah 48:10 Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction.

Nothing can grab our attention and cause us to seek God, as much as the pits. There is a great purifying aspect of the pits. There is also a perfecting aspect.

2. Perfecting Aspect of the Pits

Hebrews 12:11 Now no chastening for the present seemeth to be joyous, but grievous: nevertheless afterward it yieldeth the peaceable fruit of righteousness unto them which are exercised thereby.

When I speak of the perfection of our faith, I am not referring to sinlessness, such as the sinlessness of God. Only in heaven will we become sinless.

Whenever the word perfect is use in scripture in reference to believers, it most often refers to their spiritual maturity. To be perfect as a believer means to become spiritually mature. The word actually means to become spiritually fully equipped. What do we need as believers to become spiritually mature? We need an understand of biblical principles. We need wisdom in knowing how to apply those principles to our lives. We need a hatred of sin and a hunger for righteousness. We need a deep appreciation of the grace of God and we need faith to believe that God will never leave us, nor forsake us. We need to conclude even as Paul did that God’s grace is sufficient and therefore – “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Php 4:13)

We will close our study this morning with this verse found in 1 Peter –

1 Peter 5:10 But the God of all grace, who hath called us unto his eternal glory by Christ Jesus, after that ye have suffered a while, make you:|
perfect,             (Sound or complete)
stablish,            (Fixed and able to stand fast)
strengthen,        (Strong in the soul)
settle you          (Spiritual stability) 

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