Do you have a dream? You need one. Dreams give hope. They display a powerful image of what life can be. Has your dream been shattered? Worse yet, has your dream turned into a nightmare and come true? For all of us dreamers, there is hope.
Joseph was called, derisively, the dreamer. Some of his dreams were prophetic. He saw himself as a leader of men. Joseph dreamed of using his considerable talents to do great things for God and his family. Joseph’s dreams enabled him to live affirmatively.
We begin now a study of one of the most exciting biographies in the Bible, that of Joseph and his brothers. The entire story illustrates the sovereignty of God and God’s providential care of His own. While Joseph had his faults, he still stands out as a spiritual giant in his own family.
- Joseph the Favored Son (37)
- Jacob’s love (vv. 1-4)
Since Rachel was Jacob’s favorite wife, and Joseph was her firstborn son (30:22-24), it is easy to see why Jacob favored him in his old age. This kind of partiality in a home is bound to cause trouble. Joseph at seventeen was helping with the sheep, but soon Jacob relieved him of that duty and made him an “overseer” by giving him a “tailored coat.” Jacob wanted to make Joseph a ruler before he had really learned how to be a servant! The result—Joseph’s brothers hated him (v. 4) and envied him (v. 11).
- Joseph’s dreams (vv. 5-11)
That these dreams came from God, there is no question; and certainly the assurance that one day he would rule helped to keep Joseph faithful during those many years of testing in Egypt. Note that the first dream had an earthly setting, while the second dream was set in heaven. This suggests Abraham’s earthly children (the Jews) and his heavenly seed (the church). Joseph’s brothers did one day bow down to him! See also 42:6; 43:26; and 44:14.
- Judah’s scheme (vv. 12-28)
We are not told which of the brothers first suggested doing away with Joseph. Possibly it was Simeon, who resented Joseph’s intrusion on the rights of the firstborn (which would finally be taken away from Reuben, 49:3-4). We know from chapter 34 that Simeon was crafty and cruel, and in 42:24, Joseph was rather harsh on Simeon. At any rate, the brothers were back in the region of Shechem (where they had gotten into trouble before, chap. 34), and they plotted to slay Joseph. It is to Reuben’s credit that he tried to spare Joseph’s life, although he used the wrong method to accomplish a noble deed. God overruled the hatred of the men, and Joseph was sold into slavery instead of slain in cold blood.
- Jacob’s sorrow (vv. 29-36)
Years before, Jacob had slain a kid to deceive his father (27:9ff), and now his sons deceived him the same way. We reap what we sow. Jacob spent the next twenty-two years in sorrow, thinking that Joseph was dead. He thought that everything was working against him (Gen. 42:36), when in reality everything was working for him (Rom. 8:28). God had sent Joseph ahead to prepare the way for Israel’s preservation as a nation.
- Joseph the Faithful Steward (38-39)
Chapter 38 presents a sordid picture, showing Judah yielding to the lusts of the flesh. It is quite a contrast to Joseph’s purity (39:7-13). Judah was willing to sell his brother for a slave, yet he himself was a “slave of sin” (John 8:34). Even so, “where sin abounds, grace much more abounds” (Rom. 5:20), for we see that Tamar is included in the human lineage of Christ (Matt. 1:3). Note that Judah was harder on others than on himself (v. 24). Like David, he wanted the “sinner” judged—until he discovered that he was the sinner!
Jacob had tried to shield Joseph from the responsibilities of work, but God knew that Joseph could never be a ruler until first he was a servant (Matt. 25:21). God used three disciplines in Joseph’s life to prepare him to be the second ruler of Egypt:
- The discipline of service (39:1-6)
Joseph exchanged his “tailored coat” for a servant’s garb, and God forced him to learn how to work. This way, he learned humility (1 Peter 5:5-6) and the importance of obeying orders.
Because Joseph was faithful in the small things, God promoted him to greater things. See Prov. 22:29 and 12:24.
- The discipline of self-control (39:7-18)
Joseph’s mother was a beautiful woman, and no doubt the son inherited her features (29:17). Egyptian women were known for their unfaithfulness, but Joseph did not yield. God was testing Joseph, for if Joseph could not control himself as a servant, he could never control others as a ruler. He could have argued, “Nobody will know!” or “Everybody else is doing it!” But, instead, he lived to please God and made it a point to make no provision for the flesh (Rom. 13:14). “Flee youthful lusts!” Paul admonished (2 Tim. 2:22)—and that is just what Joseph did. As the Puritan preacher said, Joseph lost his coat, but he kept his character. Too many people have failed in this discipline, and God has had to put them on the shelf (1 Cor. 9:24-27; Prov. 16:32; 25:28).
- The discipline of suffering (39:19-23)
Not only was Joseph able to control his appetites, but he was also able to control his tongue; for he did not argue with the officers or expose the lie Potiphar’s wife was spreading about him. Control of the tongue is a mark of spiritual maturity (James 3). It is likely that Potiphar was the captain of the guards in charge of prisoners; he may even have been the chief executioner. At any rate, he saw to it that Joseph was put in the king’s prison (v. 20), and Joseph’s faithfulness and devotion again brought him favor with the officers. “The Lord was with Joseph” is the key to his success (39:2, 5, 21). Joseph had to suffer as a prisoner for at least two years, and probably longer. Psalm 105:17-20 explains that this suffering put “iron” in his soul. It helped to make a man out of him. People who avoid suffering have a hard time developing character. Certainly Joseph learned patience from his suffering (James 1:1-5) as well as a deeper faith in God’s Word (Heb. 6:12). This suffering was not enjoyable, but it was necessary, and one day it turned into glory.
III. Joseph the Forgotten Servant (40)
Joseph was now a servant in the royal prison (41:12), faithfully doing his work and waiting for the day when his prophetic dreams would come true. One day two new prisoners were added—the cupbearer to Pharaoh and the chief baker. What their crimes were is not stated; it may have been some minor thing that upset Pharaoh. However, we know that God arranged their arrest for Joseph’s sake. Joseph had been treated unjustly, but he knew that one day God would fulfill His Word.
Note Joseph’s humility as he interpreted the two dreams (v. 8). He gave all the glory to the Lord. “Humble yourselves under the mighty hand of God, that He may exalt you in due time” (1 Peter 5:6).
The two prisoners were in bonds because of something they had done, while Joseph was innocent. His interpretation of the dreams came true: the cupbearer was restored, and the baker was hanged. Yet Joseph was left in prison! We may wonder why others experience the blessings that we so desperately need; yet God has His plan and His time.
There is a hint of discouragement and unbelief, however, in Joseph’s request in v. 14. Was Joseph leaning on the arm of flesh? If so, the arm of flesh failed him, for the butler completely forgot about Joseph for the next two years. This was a good lesson to Joseph never to trust in men. God was ultimately going to use the butler’s bad memory to deliver Joseph, but the right time had not yet come. The butler forgot Joseph, but God did not forget him!
Joseph was seventeen years old when he went to Egypt and thirty years old when he was delivered from the prison (41:46). This means he spent thirteen years as a servant and a prisoner, years of discipline and training, and years of preparation for his lifelong ministry as the second ruler of Egypt. God prepares us for what He is preparing for us, if we will but yield to Him.
This section records Joseph’s elevation from prisoner to second ruler of the land. He was given a new name—”the revealer of secrets” (41:45). Note the three secrets that Joseph revealed.
- The Secret of Pharaoh’s Dreams (41)
Joseph had hoped that the butler would remember him and intercede for him (40:13-15), but the man did not remember Joseph until the day Pharaoh became disturbed because he could not find the meaning of his strange dreams. God’s ways are past finding out, but God’s time to act is never too early or too late. Note the humility of Joseph as he stood before the mightiest monarch on earth: “God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (v. 16). He explained the dream: there would be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Then he gave wise counsel: appoint a wise man to administer the food supply. God directed Pharaoh to appoint Joseph, so now he was exalted to the throne! See also 1 Peter 5:6.
Joseph’s marriage to a Gentile bride is a type of Christ’s marriage to the church during this age when His brothers after the flesh have rejected Him. “Manasseh” means “to forget” and suggests that Joseph’s new position in God’s will had caused him to forget the trials of the past; and “Ephraim” means “doubly fruitful,” suggesting that all his trials had, in the end, led to fruitfulness and blessing. Like the grain of wheat, Joseph “died” that he might not abide alone (John 12:23-26). God kept His Word to Joseph, and Joseph’s predictions came true. The Word of the Lord stands when man’s wisdom fails (41:8).
However, all of this was but a part of a greater plan, a plan to preserve Israel and prepare the way for the birth of Christ.
The Secrets of His Brothers’ Hearts (42-44)
The plan was now set in motion, for Jacob heard that there was grain in Egypt and sent his sons to secure food. Consider their two visits to Egypt.
The first visit (42)
Ten of the sons went down to Egypt, and Joseph recognized them even though they did not recognize him. Certainly his appearance had changed in twenty years, and his Egyptian speech and dress would lead them to believe he was a native. Note that the ten men bowed down (42:6), but that Joseph’s dreams had predicted that eleven would bow (37:9-10). This explains how Joseph knew the men would return with his brother, Benjamin.
Why was Joseph so hard on his brothers? And why did he wait so long to reveal himself to them? Because he wanted to be sure they had repented of their sins. To excuse people who are not sincerely repentant is to make them a worse sinner (see Luke 17:3-4). How did Joseph deal with his brothers? He spoke roughly to them and accused them of being spies (7-14; he kept them locked up for three days (v. 17); and then he kept Simeon as hostage and bound him before their eyes (vv. 18-24). His crowning act was to give them back their money (vv. 25-28). This rough treatment had its designed result, for the men confessed, “We are guilty!” See vv. 21-23. This statement indicated to Joseph that their hearts were softening. Their report to Jacob back home and their discovery of the money in their sacks only complicated their problem. What would they do? If they stayed home, they were thieves, but if they went back to Egypt, they had to risk taking Benjamin with them. We wonder if v. 36 indicates that Jacob knew what they had done to Joseph years before.
The second visit (chaps. 43-44)
God made Jacob’s family hungry again, and like the prodigal son of Luke 15, these men had to go back or starve to death. We see here other indications of their change of heart: Judah’s willingness to be surety, to bear the blame for young Benjamin; their willingness to return the money; and their confession of the truth to Joseph’s steward (43:19-22). However, they were making some mistakes too—taking a present to Joseph and confessing their sins to the servant instead of to Joseph himself. We cannot help but see in this whole episode the way God deals with the lost sinner. God controls circumstances to bring the sinner to himself and to the end of himself. But, sad to say, too many convicted sinners try to win their salvation by offering a present, or by confessing to a human servant, or by making some great sacrifice (as Judah did when he offered his own life as surety for Benjamin). The only way Joseph could excuse their sins was by receiving their honest confession and repentance.
Joseph used two devices to bring them to the place of confession: the feast of joy (43:26-34—note that in v. 26 and v. 28 all eleven men bowed before him) and the discovery of the cup in Benjamin’s sack. Again in 44:14 all eleven men fell down before Joseph in true contrition. “God has found out the iniquity of your servants!” they confess (44:16, NKJV). We cannot help but admire Judah’s speech in 44:18-34, not only for its humility and confession but also for the love that it shows toward his father and his youngest brother. He was willing to be surety, to bear the blame, even though it would cost him his life.
What a beautiful spiritual lesson we have here. Judah thought that Joseph was actually dead (44:20), and therefore, that he himself was guilty of murder. What he did not realize was that Joseph was alive—and was his savior! The lost sinner stands before God’s bar of judgment and confesses his guilt, thinking that his confession will mean certain wrath. But Jesus Christ is alive, and because He is alive, He is able to save to the uttermost. Christ does not expect us to be surety for our sins, or for the sins of another, for He Himself is our surety before God (Heb. 7:22). As long as Christ lives, God can never condemn us. And He will live forever!
It was not their confession of guilt, their sacrifices, or their gifts that brought salvation to the brothers. It was the gracious forgiveness of Joseph, a forgiveness purchased by his own suffering on their behalf. What a picture of Jesus Christ!
III. The Secret of God’s Purpose (45)
It was now time for Joseph to reveal himself and the purpose for which God had sent him. Acts 7:13 makes it clear that it was “the second time” that he revealed himself, just as it was the second time that Israel received Moses after rejecting his leadership forty years before (Acts 7:35). This is the theme of Stephen’s speech recorded in Acts 7: the chosen people Israel have always rejected their saviors the first time and received them the second time; they will do the same with Jesus Christ.
Joseph’s revelation of himself brought his brothers terror, for they fully expected him to judge them for their past sins. But he had seen their repentance; they had bowed before him; and he knew he could forgive them. He explained that five more years of famine would follow, but that he had prepared a place of refuge for them and their families there in Egypt. God had sent him before to save their lives.
Joseph promised to nourish them (v. 11) and protect them. He wept over them and kissed them, and he sent gifts to his father to assure him of the riches that lay in Egypt. “Come unto me!” was his invitation (45:18). Then, what a change took place in Jacob after he discovered that Joseph was alive—a change not too different from the change in the disciples when they discovered that Christ was alive! Before, Jacob had said, “All these things are against me (42:36), but now he could say, “All things are working together for good!”
- Affirmative living means recognizing the presence of God in your life.
- Whatever happened to Joseph never caused him to give up on God.
- In fact, everything that happened to him only drew him closer to God.
- Do you notice the presence of God in your life? Do you believe he has a plan for you? If not, you need to dare to dream again.
- Affirmative living means making the best of bad situations.
- Joseph was hated and sold into slavery. He was unjustly accused and placed in prison. Though forgotten, he never lost hope. We couldn’t have blamed him if he had.
- But, whatever happened to Joseph, he kept on making the best of it. He was sold into slavery only to become the head servant. Sent to prison, he took over the administration. Brought before the king, he became Pharaoh’s right hand man.
- Are you faced with troubles that bear down on you? If so, you need to dare to dream again.
- Affirmative living means maintaining your principles even when inconvenient.
- Joseph faced his biggest challenge when accosted by his master’s wife.
- He could have given all kinds of excuses to give in, but he was willing to do what was right, in spite of the consequences. Have you been mistreated? If so, you need to dare to dream again.
- Affirmative living means recognizing God is in control.
- Joseph, when he was finally reunited with his brothers, said to them, “What you did to me you meant for bad, God used for good.” Joseph believed that ultimately God is in control, and that all things work together for good.
- Have you wondered if God has deserted you, or if your life has any purpose at all? If so, you need to dare to dream again.
It is my prayer that God will give you a dream if you do not have one. That he will restore your dream if it has been shattered. That he will give you courage if your dreams have turned to nightmares. Dare to dream again. If you have no dream, you are already dead.
If you were to observe a group of people in a downtown area, all walking in different directions, you might think there they had no purpose at all. But if you were to interview each person, you would find that they are going somewhere and there is a purpose in the trip. Likewise, this world seems at times chaotic, but if we had the wisdom, we would see that there is a direction and purpose in life.
Some statements to encourage
A bell doesn’t ring on its own—if someone doesn’t pull or push it, it will remain silent. Plautus (c. 254–184 b.c.)
A ship in a harbor is safe, but that’s not what ships are built for. A strong man must have something difficult to do. John Stuart Blackie (1809–1895)
Doing becomes the natural overflow of being when the pressure within is stronger than the pressure without. Lois Lebar
Every calling is great when greatly pursued. Oliver Wendell Holmes (1809–1894)
Four steps to achievement: Plan purposefully, prepare prayerfully, proceed positively, pursue persistently. William Arthur Ward (1812–1882)
Give me a person who says, “This one thing I do, and not these fifty things I dabble in.” Dwight Lyman Moody (1837–1899)
I’m a slow walker, but I never walk back. Abraham Lincoln (1809–1865)
It is not enough to aim: you must hit. Italian Proverb
It is very easy to overestimate the importance of our own achievements in comparison with what we owe others.Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906–1945)
No great achievement is possible without persistent work. Bertrand Arthur William Russell (1872–1970)
Nothing will ever be attempted if all possible objections must be first overcome. Samuel Johnson (1709–1784)
Only those who dare to fail greatly can ever achieve greatly.
Sitting on a tack is often more useful than having an idea; at least it makes you get up and do something about it.
Some men dream of worthy accomplishments, while others stay awake and do them.
The airplane, the atomic bomb, and the zipper have cured me of any tendency to state that a thing can’t be done. R. L. Duffus
The greatest works are done by the ones. The hundreds do not often do much, the companies never; it is the units, the single individuals, that are the power and the might. Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892)
The roots of true achievement lie in the will to become the best that you can become. Harold Taylor
There is no gathering the rose without being pricked by the thorns.
Whatever is worth doing at all, is worth doing well. Lord Chesterfield (1694–1773)