How Long was Joseph in Prison?

by | Dec 3, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

The story of Joseph teaches us the importance of faith in God. Joseph faced a lot of tribulations after being sold off into slavery by his jealous brothers, but his unwavering belief in God did not fade. While in Egypt, he ended up as a servant in Potiphar’s wife where he was falsely accused and ended up in prison. So, how long was Joseph in prison?

From scripture, we know that after Joseph interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker, he stayed in prison for 2 more years and then he was released. This means that he was in prison for at least 2 years. However, we don’t know how many years he had been in prison before this event so there is no way of knowing the exact time. 

Even though the Bible gives a clear account of the events leading to his imprisonment and eventual rise to the position of prime minister, it is silent on the dates. So we cannot know for sure how long Joseph stayed in prison. 

From Genesis 37:2, we know that Joseph was 17 years old when he was kidnapped by his brothers and sold off to the Ishlaemites. We can safely assume that he ended up in Egypt the same year. If this is the case, then we can safely infer that it took Joseph 13 years from the time he arrived in Egypt to the time he became the second in command (Genesis 41:46) The 13 years include the time he spent in Portipher’s wife. Again, the Bible doesn’t specify how long his servitude lasted before he was accused of rape and put in prison. 

How Joseph Was Imprisoned

The story of Joseph’s imprisonment began back at home when his brothers conspired to sell him. They did this because they were jealous of him since his father openly loved him more. When they got their chance, they sold him to a caravan of Ishmaelites who eventually took him to Egypt. The Ishmaelites were traders and they eventually sold him to Potiphar (a servant of Pharoah) as a domestic slave. 

It was while he was working for Portipher that Portipher’s wife attempted to seduce him. However, Joseph declined her advances and told her that “to have sex with her would be great wickedness and sin against God” (Genesis 39:9). Angrily, the wife accused him of attempted rape. Understandably, Potiphar was furious and threw Joseph into prison. 

And Joseph’s master took him, and put him into the prison, a place where the king’s prisoners were bound: and he was there in the prison. Genesis 39:20-23

While in prison, Joseph crossed paths with  Pharoah’s cupbearer and baker. The three struck a friendship of circumstance and one day, he noticed the cupbearer and the baker had gloomy looks. When he inquired what the matter was, they opened up that they had strange dreams that they couldn’t decipher. Joseph invited them to share their dreams with him because “interpretations of dreams belong to God” (Gen. 40:8).

After they shared their dreams, Joseph told the cupbearer that the dream meant that Pharoah would take him out of prison and restore him to his job in three days. He also told the baker that, unlike his friend, Pharoah would have him killed in three days. Joseph also told the cupbearer to remember him when he was taken out of prison because he had been falsely accused (Genesis 40:9-19). 

Three days later, everything Joseph had said came to pass. However, when the cupbearer was taken out of Jail, he forgot about Joseph. After two years, Pharoah had a dream that troubled him and none of his wise men could intercept it. It was at this point that the cupbearer remembered how Joseph had interpreted their dreams. 

A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. Genesis 41:12

Pharoah was desperate to get an interpretation for his dream so he sent for Joseph.  After Joseph had cleaned up, he was presented to Pharaoh who proceeded to share his dream with him. In the dream, Pharoah had seen seven plump cows by the banks of the Nile being eaten up by 7 thin and malnourished cows. He also saw 7 healthy ears of corn growing on one stalk which were also eaten up by 7 thin ones (Genesis 41: 17-24). 

Joseph proceeds to interpret the dream for Pharoah. He told Pharaoh that the dreams meant that the nation would be faced with a 7-year season of plenty which would be followed by 7 years of drought. He also advised Pharoah to use the 7 years of plenty to prepare for the season of lack. As Joseph explained, the person in charge would collect tribute from the farmers in the season of plenty and store the grain in preparation for the season of drought that would come. When Pharaoh heard this, he immediately ordered Joseph to be taken out of Prison and to be put in charge of the program. 

Conclusion

In conclusion, the exact duration of Joseph’s imprisonment remains elusive, with only a clear reference to the additional two years after interpreting the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker. Despite the uncertainties surrounding the specific years spent in prison, Joseph’s unwavering trust in God’s plan and his ability to interpret dreams played a pivotal role in his eventual rise to power. His encounters in prison, particularly with the cupbearer and baker, foreshadowed a divine orchestration that led him to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams and subsequently become the second-in-command in Egypt.

The story of Joseph teaches enduring lessons about the transformative power of faith, the importance of integrity in the face of temptation, and the eventual fruition of God’s purpose in our lives. It serves as a timeless reminder that, even in the darkest moments, steadfast belief and moral courage can pave the way to unexpected blessings and triumph.

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About: Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.
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Ronie

Ronnie Amaya has been actively involved in ministry since his high school and university days where he served as a Christian union leader. After graduation, he worked as an itinerary minister preaching in Schools, Universities, Street Evangelizations, and Churches. In 2018, he led a team in planting a new church in Nairobi, Kenya where he is currently serving as the lead pastor.

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