Joseph was not living his best life now; Joseph was living his life in the pit. The pit: the suffocating, helpless abode of darkness where escape is almost impossible and whose purpose is to house those the world actively wants to forget. I’m guessing, at some point in your life, you’ve spent some time in the pit.
Pits are claustrophobic places, purposefully cast in shadows, damp, dangerous and removed from normal life. When Plato wanted to describe a hypothetical state of prehistory, a history of ignorance, slavery and deception, he imagined humanity in a pit. In his Allegory of the Cave, Plato finds human tragedy in the granite catacombs deep beneath the earth where only reflections of light reach into the hallows and cast fuzzy shadows on the grime-encrusted walls. The Psalmist, like Plato, uses the metaphor of the pit as a place of almost hopeless capture. Life in the pit means life no longer in control. The forces of evil, bad circumstance, and injustice have taken their toll. Perhaps the worst part of being in the pit is knowing you are there. Knowing you are in the pit means you are out of options, out of power, out of energy, out of ideas, but not out of time. The pit is the place that tortures you with lasting hopelessness.
When the Old Testament character Joseph is falsely imprisoned, he describes his situation as one who resides in a pit: “For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit” (Gen. 40:15). You can also translate that word as “dungeon” but the sentiment is not lost because pits are dungeons. Perhaps Joseph is referring to the pit his brothers threw him in and not his current prison? But that seems unlikely. The literal pit he had previously been thrown into is now metaphorically real as life in the dungeon.
There are many interesting insights about Joseph’s situation in the pit. First, even though Joseph knows his innocence and trusts in God, he puts some hope in the kindness of another: the cupbearer, whose impending restoration to Pharaoh's court might provide opportunity for restoration and justice. But what this really means is that Joseph cannot escape the pit himself. He is keen enough to realize that the God who works through dreams also works through means. And so, getting out of the pit will require the help of others. After all, if he could get out himself, it would not be a pit, only a puzzle.
Remembering is not recalling, its reflexing. It’s not meditating on things past and gone, but mediating into the present the truths learned in the past.
Another insight is that even in the pit, Joseph did not forget to be kind. Hardship has neither swollen him with pride or scarred him with bitterness. His fellow prisoners confess their dreams only because Joseph notices their sadness and inquires, “Why are your faces downcast today” (Gen. 40:7)? Notice I said that Joseph did not forget to be kind. As we have seen, the Hebrews understood “remembering” as a type of motivated-action. Remembering is not recalling, its reflexing. It’s not meditating on things past and gone, but mediating into the present the truths learned in the past. Joseph has every right to sulk and be sullen; he probably is sullen. But he is not only that. He remembers that life in the pit needs kindness. So, he empathizes and reaches out to his fellow pit-dwellers.
And Joseph expects that, in the very least, kindness is contagious. So, when he interprets the cupbearer’s dream and asks him to remember his situation, he expects that “remembering” will be a reflexive action. Remembering anticipates restoration.
What a lesson for us who are in the pit. Because, when we are there, it is hard to know that God cares. When we are in the pit, God is often silent, he often appears aloof, or even aggressively against us. But Joseph was not in the pit because he did something wrong. He wasn’t in the pit because God was angry and punishing him. He was in the pit because evil happened to him.
When we find ourselves in the pits of life, we have to hold fast to the promises God has made to us. We have to “remember” that God remembers us. He has not fallen away. For God to remember us means he is working for our good; a restoration. This also means he works through means—through circumstances and people. For us to remember him is to practice faith by praying, waiting in hope, being patient in persecution, and seizing opportunities. They will come if you wait a little longer. And sometimes, you will be that opportunity for others. So, wait expectantly, assuredly, because God’s remembering is not a point of recall (a return to what has been forgotten) but an active arousal to what has been promised. In remembering, God authenticates his Name.
One final point about remembering. It is not a scheme of agency that self-saves. “Remembering” is not a strategy of empowerment. It is faith to see the future that is promised and coming. Christian remembrance is promise-application, it is grace refreshed; it is light breaking into the darkness. It’s a ladder dropped into the pit, not stairs constructed from below.