How Long Was Joseph in Prison? (Genesis 40:1)

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The Bible often uses transition phrases to mark time. Instead of saying “after six and one-half years,” Scripture will say things like “after this” and “straightaway.”

While I love and respect the Word in all aspects, I find myself often hoping for just a little more specificity. How long thereafter did these things happen? By “straightaway,” do you mean the next day or after certain events transpired?

It’s just a minor quibble, though, so I’ll live with it.

One of the times when this happens is in Genesis 40:1, when the Text says that “after these things” — referring to Joseph being thrown in prison after accused of rape — he encounters the King’s baker and cupbearer. These two events are notable because it’s Joseph’s interaction with these two men that ultimately earn him a ticket out of prison and into the king’s direct court.

But how long was Joseph in prison for? How long is “after these things”?

Unfortunately, there’s almost no way to know for sure. We can deduce from a few things, though, that Joseph’s time in prison was at least two years, but no more than thirteen.

Genesis gives us a few markers to create these guideposts. For starters, we know that Joseph was 17 when he was sold by his brothers (Genesis 37:2), but no more than 30 when he managed the famine in Egypt (Genesis 41:46).

We also know that it was a full two years after Joseph interpreted the dreams before he stood before Pharaoh. (Genesis 41:1) gives us that information by not using a transition phrase. It simply says “at the end of two full years,” which I appreciate very much.

So, there you have it. From the time that Joseph went into slavery to the time he became a powerful administrator in the Egyptian government was 13 years, at least two of which were spent in prison. 

That’s a long time to marinate in a dirty, musty prison. From what we can tell, though, his faith never wavered.

Would mine?