My first high school had round buildings with pie-shaped classrooms. The hallways circled the buildings’ perimeters. The campus looked as if spaceships had landed in San Antonio.
Students from other high schools referred to ours as “The Round School for Squares.” Nice, huh?
For fun, we would play a joke on new students who asked for directions: “Yeah, just walk down the hall and turn left at the corner.” They would circle for hours.
Sometimes that’s how it feels in our walk with God. He points the direction and we walk and walk and walk. But we never turn a corner.
Circling in the Round House
When we read the life of Joseph, we see him falsely accused and imprisoned. And yet, “the LORD was with Joseph”—both before his false accusation as well as in prison (Gen. 39:2, 23). It’s tough to wrap our arms around the words in that context. Bad things happen to Joseph, and yet God is with him?
The jail sat in the house of the captain of the bodyguard. The Hebrew text refers to the jail as the “house of roundness,” or “the Round House,” perhaps the name of the prison-fortress (v. 20).
The Round House reminds me of my high school and the circling new students who fell prey to our joke. Joseph circled in prison for years.
- Likely he served at least two or three years in Potiphar’s house—for it would take time for God’s blessing to show itself “in the field” (39:5).
- We do know Joseph’s time in the house and in the prison totaled eleven years (to this point).
The majority of that time seems to have been in the jail, for Psalm 105 reveals something about Joseph that Genesis omits:
They afflicted his feet with fetters, he himself was laid in irons; until the time that his word came to pass, the word of the LORD tested him. —Psalm 105:18-19
Joseph’s imprisonment included fetters and irons—for years. Take moment and think of that. Circling, wondering, and waiting in the huge gap of God’s will that included gulping gallons of unfairness and delay.
Turning a Corner—and Waiting Again
The day Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker became prisoners proved a surprising turning point for Joseph. Somehow these two officials offended Pharaoh and found themselves confined in Potiphar’s “house”—providentially in the same prison with Joseph (40:1-3). Potiphar assigned them to Joseph’s care. They were in jail “for some time,” literally the Hebrew text reads, “for days” (v. 4). It’s easy to pass over those words.
No one could have anticipated the significance of these men to Joseph’s future—nor the accidental encouragement they would offer him as he waited on God.
The cupbearer and the baker circled with Joseph until one night the two officials each had a dream. We the readers know that Joseph also had had dreams, as well as the gift of interpreting them, but no one in Egypt knew that. Joseph has kept that to himself for eleven years.
- If Joseph’s ability with dreams had been common knowledge, then the two dreamers in the Round House would have greeted Joseph in the morning with anticipation.
- Instead, Joseph found two gloomy fellows. When Joseph asked them why they had sad faces, they replied, “We have had a dream and there is no one to interpret it” (Genesis 40:8).
- For whatever reason, they understood the dreams as representing more than having eaten too many leeks and onions the night before. They took the dreams as having meaning, but they were at a loss to unravel the implications. What’s worse, “no one” could help them.
Forget that you know what comes next. Pause for a moment, and imagine yourself as Joseph.
Joseph could have responded with sarcastic cynicism: “You had dreams? Trust me, they’ll never amount to anything. I had dreams too, but it’s been eleven years and look what it’s brought me! Best forget them.” But we never catch a hint of that in Joseph’s words.
Instead, Joseph’s answer gives us insight into his silence about his own dreams: “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (v. 8). This response reveals two realities about Joseph:
- Joseph hasn’t forgotten his dreams or given up on them. Joseph’s response reveals he chose to wait on God to bring them about. How? He had no clue. But one truth he confesses: interpretations of dreams belong to God.
- Joseph hasn’t given up on his faith. Simple, but many people have abandoned their God for less trying circumstances.
A Lesson from the Round School for Squares
The dreams of Joseph’s companions served a number of purposes. Two were immediate, and another Joseph would have to wait for even longer.
- Immediately, the dreams served as a test. Joseph’s own dreams represented revelation from God. Would he still believe God’s words after all this time?
- Joseph’s correct interpretations of their dreams would have encouraged Joseph that his own dreams would still come true in God’s timing. God had not forgotten him!
- Their dreams would eventually serve as the catalyst for placing Joseph before Pharaoh.
Are you circling in the Round House today? You may feel like the object of some high-school prank as you walk and walk, and wait and wait—but never turn the corner.
The many years of waiting diminished nothing from God’s promises to Joseph. The same remains true for you and me. And if we’ll stay aware and close to God, He will send small signals of encouragement that He hasn’t forgotten us.
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This post is adapted from Wayne’s book, Waiting on God: What to Do When God Does Nothing.
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