Detour by Design

Now Joseph had been taken down to Egypt . . . and the Lord gave him success in everything he did (Genesis 39:1, 3).

Something had happened to Joseph.

You probably know the story, the basic course of events and how they unfolded: Joseph the dreamer sent to find his brothers as they tend the flocks, the brothers plotting Joseph’s murder, opting instead for leaving him in a well, seizing the chance to make a profit by selling him to Ishmaelite merchants. In this sense we know exactly what happened to Joseph.

But as with most stories, there’s more going on than what we can see. Something had happened within Joseph and not simply to him. When Joseph arrives in Egypt and eventually takes his place in the service of Potiphar he seems like a different person, less like a boy and more like a man. More winsome than whiny. More doer than dreamer.

Something had happened to Joseph, quietly and out of sight. And, as best we can tell, it happened on the road to Egypt. Somewhere between the deal his brothers made at the well, and the servant role in the household of Potiphar, a new Joseph began to emerge.

The Road to Egypt

We’re not told how this happened or how long it took. The Bible is silent on these details. But this much seems clear: God works in significant ways on the road to Egypt.

From our perspective, the road to Egypt almost always feels like a detour. It’s not the route you had in mind or a journey you intentionally planned. The road to Egypt is where you find yourself when your life has been hijacked, and it is often a long and barren route. We travel it much as Joseph did, not knowing where it will take us or what we’ll find once the journey stops.

The road to Egypt shows up repeatedly in the pages of the Bible. Of course, it isn’t always a road, and often it has nothing to do with Egypt. What we’re talking about is God’s way of shaping those whom he will use by leading them to difficult places. God likes detours.

The 40-year-old Moses will flee Pharaoh’s courts and tend to livestock in the wilderness terrain of Midian until God gives him a new mission at the age of 80, sending him back to Egypt (Exodus 2-3).

When Moses finally leads the Israelites out of Egyptian slavery, they will take a meandering desert route rather than the shorter well-traveled trade route that led to Canaan (Exodus 13:17-18).

Elijah will launch his prophetic career only to be told by God to go hide in the Kerith Ravine where he will be fed by ravens (1 Kings 17:1-6).

A young David is anointed as Israel’s king by the prophet Samuel, but first he must live for years as a fugitive hiding from the crazed and jealous King Saul (1 Samuel 21-31).

Jesus will emerge from the waters of baptism to be plunged into the desert temptations before beginning his public ministry (Mark 1:12-15).

Your Path and God’s Purposes

And then there’s you. Perhaps you’re on the road to Egypt right now, living a story you would have never written. This road twists and turns. There are arduous climbs and exhilarating descents, highs and lows. Fast and smooth is not often the way God chooses to get us to his intended destination.

Think of Joseph’s story: his adolescent dreams were showing him his adult future, but he didn’t know that. Serving under Potiphar was preparing him for greater service under Egypt’s Pharaoh, but he didn’t know that. Interpreting dreams in prison earned him a reputation that would bring him to the attention of Pharaoh, but Joseph didn’t know that.

And there are things that God is doing in your life today that you don’t know.

Let this truth sustain you until you reach the place where the road ends and a new life begins: God’s detours are by design. On the road to Egypt God chisels out the form of who you were made to be. God readies you for what you were made to do.

When have you traveled the road to Egypt?


Far too often, Lord God, the road I’m on just seems wrong. It seems to be taking me nowhere, or it seems to be taking me to a place I’d be glad to avoid. My tendency is to insist on my own way, a path of my own choosing. Grant me grace to walk the path you’ve placed before me, trusting that you are at work in every step, leading me to what is good and preparing me for what I cannot imagine right now. I ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.

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