Flashback: You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down

I’m sure we are all familiar with the aphorism, “You can’t keep a good man down”.  This is an American idiom whose origin is unknown but has widely been in use for well over a century.  The first song of this title was recorded in 1904 composed by M. F. Carey and sung by Dan W. Quinn on Victor Records.  Most recent songs with that title are by:

  • Can’t Keep a Good Man Down, an album by rapper Lil Rob
  • “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” (Alabama song)
  • “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down” (Eddie Money song)
  • “Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”, a song by NewSong from their compilation Arise My Love: The Very Best of NewSong
  • “You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down”, a song by Rose Ann Marks and Billy Ward that reached No. 8 on the R&B charts in 1953

Obviously, this is a widely used expression.  It feeds into the psyche of those who are facing or have faced hardship and have found their way back to a good place even though all things seemed to be against them.  It is a story we love to hear, read about, or watch in a movie. The overcoming of hardship and obstacles in order to ultimately prevail against all odds is inspiring, exhilarating, and hope producing in us that we might be able to do that too.

Some, like Wikipedia, attribute this phrase primarily to the story of Joseph.  Joseph was the favorite of his father Jacob, being the first child of his beloved, Rachel.  He was younger that all his brothers except Benjamin, who was the other son of Jacob by Rachel.  Jacob’s favor of him was no secret. He made Joseph an expensive coat of many colors.  Nor was Joseph shy about telling his older brothers that God had revealed to him that the brothers would someday bow down before him. 

All this led to his brothers taking the lad and selling him into slavery in Egypt. Beaten down!  Certainly, Joseph might have wallowed away in self-pity. But, as they say, “cream rises to the top” and before long he had risen to be the chief steward in the house of Potiphar. Then came along Mrs. Potiphar who propositioned Joseph and when he would not commit adultery with her, was accused by her of trying to rape her.  Into prison he went.  Beaten down, again!

While there he was able to interpret two dreams by Pharaoh’s former cup bearer and baker. The cup bearer was going to be elevated once again to his former position.  The baker was not to be so fortunate, he was going to be hung.  But Joseph pleaded with the cupbearer to remember him and plead his case before Pharaoh. Sure enough, the cupbearer was released from prison and restored to his former position. But he failed to appeal to Pharaoh for Joseph.  Down again.

The good thing about hitting rock bottom is that you can only go up from there.  It is fitting that the prison in which Joseph was incarcerated was called “the pit”.  Well, with the help of God, Joseph got out of the pitt.  Interpreting dreams again, this time for Pharaoh, led Joseph to become second in the land of Egypt and devise the plan to stave off starvation in Egypt while enriching Pharaoh to heights hither to unseen. 

This is what led to his ultimate ascension; the savior of his family and the fulfillment of his brothers’ bowing down to him (three times in the text).  Joseph becomes not only undisputed second in command to Pharaoh but he become undisputed leader of his family. 

In this he is a picture of the Lord Jesus who journeyed from humility to ultimate exaltation.  Jesus too was spurned by his “brothers” only to have them ultimately “bow down” to him in worship and believe. Jesus is the ultimate Savior of his people of which Joseph is but a type. 

I don’t know how beaten down you may be at this point.   Perhaps not at all. Perhaps you are riding the crest of a great wave of blessing and good fortune. All waves crash eventually.  Life, on average, is never one long pleasantry.  Getting beaten down is part of the reality for most of us. But the Psalmist said, “The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord.”  Loosely translated into American idiom it means, “You can’t keep a good man down.”  Proverbs says a good man may fall seven times, but he rises yet again.  So, what I say to you…good man…good woman… is “get up again”. And again if necessary because, you can’t keep a good man down.


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