Life can feel so messy. Have you ever been in one those the seasons of life where it seems like things keep going wrong? Just when you think you are getting past one hurdle, here comes another one. You jump one, then two, and you barely make it over the third, and you’re so tired, and you jump to clear the fourth hurdle, but you’re flagging strength doesn’t take you nearly high enough, and you crash into the hurdle, losing balance, crumbling to the ground. Been there?
Joseph was there. In this second installment in our series titled Characters, we’ve been following the life of Joseph, one of the patriarchs of ancient Israel, as he faces one hurdle after another. There are more to come. Will Joseph crash?
We read about Joseph’s life in the first book of the Bible, Genesis. In chapters 40 and 41 we return to the topic of dreams. Remember how 17-year-old Joseph had dreams about his family bowing down to him? That didn’t go over well. At all. His brothers responded by selling him into slavery, and he was purchased by an Egyptian official, Potiphar. God was with Joseph and he prospered serving in Potiphar’s house, until Potiphar’s wife tried to seduce Joseph. Though he ran from her, she lied to Potiphar saying that Joseph was making passes at her. Potiphar threw Joseph in jail, and life was awful again. Yet God was with Joseph, and in prison he prospered again, earning favor with the warden. This is when the dreams start again, but it is not Joseph who is dreaming.
Two men in prison with him have dreams: the king’s chief cupbearer and chief baker. If you want to read the story, open your Bible to Genesis 40:8. Both men had been on the King Pharaoh’s bad side, and the king jailed them. In prison they both have mysterious dreams. The men don’t know what the dreams mean, and they tell this to Joseph. Joseph says to them, with confidence in God’s ability to provide interpretation, “Tell me your dreams.” Again God is with Joseph, and he interprets the dreams. The dreams are prophecies, and they come true. Disaster for the baker, and restoration for the cupbearer.
In chapter 41 the text tells us two years go by. Now the Pharoah, the king of Egypt, has some dreams. Weird dreams. My dreams can get pretty weird too. I don’t know about you, but I have always had dreams, from childhood till now. Sometimes they are nightmares, especially when I am sick. That can really set off the weirdness at night. Have you ever woke from a dream thinking, “Whew…it was just a dream…I am so glad that wasn’t real!” because it seemed real, and it was weird or awful. Well, King Pharaoh has some strange dreams, and no one can interpret them, even the magicians and wise men of Egypt.
Guess who is there watching the King desperately trying to understand his dreams? The cupbearer. Remember him? He was one of the guys in prison with Joseph who had a dream. Joseph interpreted it, and the cupbearer was restored to favor with the king. Now the cupbearer, watching the king struggle to interpret his dreams, remembers, “Wait…there was this guy in prison, Joseph, who interpreted dreams.” He tells the king, and the king summons Joseph.
What Joseph says when the king asks him to interpret the dream is awesome. Look at Genesis, chapter 41:16. Joseph says to the king, “I cannot do it.”
When the king calls, you answer. When he says, “Jump,” you jump. And when he says, “I heard you can interpret dreams,” you say, “Let’s do it, what is your dream?” Not Joseph. Joseph says, “I can’t. But God can.” See the humility in Joseph? He has changed. Even after being in prison for over two years, he isn’t angry at God. He is devoted to God. Joseph had gifts from God. He was dreaming dreams and was discerning them as a young boy, but it is possible in those early years he was not using his gifts in a God-honoring way. It could be that he used his dreams to “show up” his brothers. But when Joseph turned to God and found his identity in God, those gifts became powerful tools for good, as we have read in Genesis chapters 40-41.
We all have gifts from God, and when we are asking God for his power to use those gifts for the mission of his Kingdom, our gifts are beautiful and powerful tools for Him.
Back to the story, we see Joseph using his gifts for God. Pharaoh tells the dream, and God gives Joseph the interpretation. The dream was God’s message that a famine is coming on the land, and they need to prepare.
Look at how Pharaoh responds to this. Read Genesis 41:37-38, where Pharaoh sees the evidence of God in Joseph’s life, and thinks, “I want this guy on my staff.” Pharaoh scoops Joseph up immediately, placing him in charge of all Egypt!
Let’s take a step back and notice the hurdles in Joseph’s life to this point: he went from losing his mother who died during the birth of his brother, to being the favorite son of his father, to having his coat of honor stolen from him, thrown into a pit, and sold into slavery by his jealous older brothers, to being a slave in Potiphar’s house, but achieving success, only to have Potiphar’s wife lie about him, resulting in being thrown into jail. How about that for a life of ups and downs?
Finally things come full circle in Genesis 41:41 as Pharaoh puts him charge of Egypt, even including giving Joseph a new robe. You can bet the robes Joseph wore now were fancier than the one his father gave him years before. But as Joseph puts on that Egyptian robe, did he remember his father? Did he think of his brothers?
As we continue in Genesis chapter 41, look at verse 51. Joseph marries, and has two sons. Even though he marries an Egyptian priest’s daughter, he names his sons in honor of God’s work in his life. God has made him forget his trouble and his father’s household. Yet he is talking about his father’s household. So he hasn’t forgotten. Maybe the family drama still stings a little. Or a lot. Yeah, he is now second in command of all Egypt. He is at the heights of power and wealth and fame. Yeah, he has a family now. God is good, and has blessed him, and Joseph is faithful to God. But that doesn’t mean the memories are wiped clean. That doesn’t mean the past doesn’t still sting a bit.
At the end of Genesis 41, we learn that a major famine has come upon the land, as was predicted through Pharaoh’s dreams. Under Joseph’s leadership, then, Egypt not only prepared enough food for its own people to make it through the famine, but they had so much extra, they were able to sell food to people from other nations too. That fact will have significant ramifications for Joseph, which we’ll see as we continue the story in the next post.
For now, no matter how messy your life has been, know that God is faithful. Keep pursuing him, even in the mess.