It’s been quite a journey for Joseph. He began as the favored son of Jacob, but at the age of 17, his brothers' jealousy turned to envy which turned to hatred which turned to malice and they assaulted Joseph and they threw him in a pit. Eventually, they pulled him out of the pit only to sell him into slavery into the land of Egypt, a land where he didn’t know the culture, the people, or the language. There he was bought as a slave by a powerful man named Potiphar and in his home he was falsely accused by Potiphar's wife, which resulted in him landing in prison.
While he was in prison, he met two staff members of Pharaoh - the cupbearer and the baker. Each of these men had a dream and they were troubled by it. Joseph interpreted their dream. For the baker, it wasn't very favorable. The interpretation was that in three days the baker would be hanged and that's exactly what happened. For the cupbearer, it was a little bit different. The interpretation for him was that in three days he would be restored to his position. And he was.
Joseph saw that as an opportunity for him to get out of the prison. He said to the cupbearer who had the ear of the king, “When you're restored to your position, please remember me. Tell Pharaoh the story of my mistreatment. Tell him how I helped you so that I can get out of this place.” But in the last verse of chapter 40 it says that the cupbearer forgot Joseph. Joseph now spends two more agonizing years in prison.
A.W. Tozer made a quote that I think describes Joseph perfectly and is also true across the board. He said,
“It is doubtful whether God can bless a man greatly until He's hurt him deeply.”
If we're really going to be used by God it is imperative that we learn the lesson of humility. During his time in the pit and his time in the prison, Joseph learned this reality. Being betrayed, falsely accused and forgotten brought about this lesson in his life.
Finally, verse number 1 of chapter 41 says this,
“Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream.”
It's now two years later since the cupbearer was restored to his position. For two full years Joseph has woke up every day in the dungeon. He's gone through the same daily monotonous routine in one of the most horrible places you could ever find existence. And two years later on the particular evening Pharaoh has a dream. It's no coincidence that on this particular night Pharaoh has a dream. God is at work behind the scenes orchestrating the whole thing. In fact, he really had two dreams. His first dream dealt with cows. His second dream dealt with corn. Both dreams, however, said the same thing.
In his first dream Pharaoh is standing by the Nile River. The Nile River is a fascinating river. I've had the opportunity now to visit Israel three times and Jordan a couple of times and also visit Egypt. Egypt's a fascinating place. When we arrived in Egypt the very first thing we did was to have lunch at an outdoor cafe overlooking the Nile River. It was my first view of this famous river. As I looked at the Nile River, I was trying to picture a little basket with baby Moses in it floating down the water. My whole mental vision got popped because instead, floating down the Nile River right in front of us as we ate was this big, fat, bloated dead cow. That was my first view of the Nile!
In Pharaoh’s dream, out of the Nile River came seven fat cows and they start grazing. Now the dream takes a deeper turn into the bizarre. Following that, out of the Nile River came seven sickly looking cows. The seven sickly looking cows literally devour the seven fat cows. Now, that's a strange dream. When Pharaoh woke up after that dream, he had to be thinking, “Maybe I should not have eaten that burrito right before I went to bed.”
Then he has a second dream. The second dream is likened to the first except this one deals with corn. In the second dream, he has a stalk of corn and the stalk of corn has seven full ears that grow from it. On that same stalk grew seven thin ears of corn. Just like with the cows, the seven thin ears of corn literally devour the seven full ears of corn. He has both of these dreams in the same evening.
Pharaoh's dreams now turns into Pharaoh's despair because since he had two strange yet similar dreams he's very troubled. He believes the gods are trying to tell him something but he can't figure out exactly what it is. So verse number 8 of chapter 41 says,
“Now, it came about in the morning that his spirit was troubled. So he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all of Egypt's wise men and Pharaoh told them his dreams but there was no one who could interpret them for Pharaoh.”
Pharaoh is so troubled that he calls for every wise man in Egypt, every magician, every intellectual person, every spiritual guru, to be brought in to the palace. Pharaoh tells them of the dreams but none of them can interpret either of them. As a result, Pharaoh grows even more troubled which is very noticeable, especially to those who are around him often. The cupbearer would be one of those individuals.
The cupbearer now remembers Joseph. Don't overlook this. For two years the cupbearer forgot all about Joseph. Suddenly, he remembers Joseph. Now, who do you think is orchestrating the thoughts in the minds of the cupbearer? It's God. Remember, we saw last week that, “God's timing may not always be our timing but it's always the best timing.” Verses 9 through 13 tells us what happened,
“Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh saying, I would make mention today of my own offenses.”
He's taking a chance here. He's going to remind Pharaoh about two years earlier when Pharaoh got so mad at him and the baker that he threw them into prison and then had the baker executed. He goes on and says,
“Pharaoh was furious with his servants and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. And we had a dream on the same night, he and I. Each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now, a Hebrew youth was with us there. A servant of the captain of the bodyguard and related them to him and he interpreted our dreams for us and it came about that just as he interpreted for us, so it happened, he restored me in my offense but he hanged the baker.”
Basically the cupbearer says, “King, I got an idea for you. I just thought of something. I just remembered that in the prison there was this guy named Joseph and he was there for a really bad rap that wasn't his fault. When I was there he interpreted one of my dreams and it came true. Maybe, just maybe, he can help you.” Pharaoh's desperate. A prisoner who might be able to help is better than no one who can help so he calls for Joseph to be pulled out of the dungeon and brought before him. They take Joseph out of the dungeon. He shaves. He puts on new clothes and he comes before Pharaoh.
For the last several years Joseph has been in prison. We don't know how many years. We know it was 13 years from the time he was thrown into the pit until the time he comes before Pharaoh. We know that the last two years for sure he was in the pit. What we don't know is how long he was at Pharaoh's house before he got thrown into the prison. But suddenly, after years in the prison, Joseph is standing in the Egyptian palace. Can you imagine what was going through his mind? For years he's only seen dinginess, darkness, and horridness. Now he's surrounded by palatial things.
When all of this was going on in the palace - Pharaoh was dreaming, he was calling in his magicians, he was telling them the dream and no one could answer it - during that whole time, where was Joseph? He was in prison. Did Joseph have any clue that any of this was happening in the palace? No. He didn't know that Pharaoh was having dreams. He didn't know that there was a big discussion at the palace about what the dreams meant. He didn't know that the cupbearer was finally going to remember him. He had no clue.
The day that Joseph got pulled out of the prison and taken before Pharaoh, did he know when he woke up that morning that this was going to happen? Not at all. He woke up and it was just another day in the dungeon. That's often how God works. We're in that waiting pattern. We remain faithful. And finally the day comes. When we first wake up we have no idea it's going to be our day.
A little bit later on in Bible history there will be a man named Moses who one day will be out in the wilderness shepherding his flock and he'll come across a burning bush and God will speak to him out of the burning bush and it will change his destiny. When Moses woke up that morning to go tend the sheep, did he have any idea that was going to take place? No. But it was his day. And if you're in one of those waiting patterns, I want you to know something. Your day will come. God is at work behind the scenes orchestrating the events of your life and you don't even know what He's doing.
Joseph now gets rewarded. Notice two things about Joseph. Notice first that after 13 years of this journey he's been on, we see his humility. Pharaoh brings him in and says, “I have had two very bizarre dreams. I need to know what they mean. No one can tell me. My cupbearer said that when he was in prison you interpreted one of his dreams and it came true. So I'm asking you, can you interpret my dream?”
Now, if I would have been Joseph after all those years in the prison, now standing before the throne in the palace of Egypt, I at this point am going to see this as my shot. This is my opportunity to rise from the ashes and make something of the rest of my life. I’m going to take matters into my own hands. At this point, I'm ready to look at Pharaoh and say, “Pharaoh, I can help you out, my friend. Tell me your dream.”
Joseph does just the opposite. He answers, “No.” Pharaoh says, “Can you interpret my dream?” Joseph says, “Nope. I cannot do it.” In fact, look at verse 16.
“Joseph then answered Pharaoh and said, it is not in me.”
Joseph has this opportunity to elevate himself but instead he says, “Pharaoh, I'm sorry. I'm not your guy. I can't help you.” Then he adds this phrase:
“But God will give Pharaoh an answer.”
At this point Joseph does something amazing. He has the opportunity to elevate himself in front of the king, but instead he humbles himself and elevates his God. As you go through the rest of this chapter, take note of how many times Joseph brings the attention of Pharaoh back to God.
“Now, Joseph said to Pharaoh, God has told the Pharaoh what he's about to do.” (verse 25)
“God has told the Pharaoh what he's about to do.” (verse 28)
“The matter is determined by God and God will quickly bring it about.” (verse 32)
What does Joseph do all the way through the conversation? He is careful never to take one iota of credit for himself but over and over and over and over again to draw all of the credit to God. Joseph has learned an amazing lesson. He has learned the lesson of humility. The Bible teaches it so clearly. The Bible tells us that if we will humble ourselves in the sight of the Lord, He will lift us up. The Bible also says that if we will exalt ourselves, He will humble us. God is very good at doing both. He's very good at exalting the humble and He's equally as good at humbling the self exalted.
I've seen that in my own personal life. I've told you through this series just a little snapshot about some of my story and the hurt I went through in ministry. As bad as that hurt was and as much as I believe mistreatment was part of it, now that I'm a few years away from those events and able to more clearly process it, I'm able to see some areas where God is saying to me, “Have you changed this yet? You know, you weren't totally innocent.” One of the things that God made very vivid to me is the fact of how arrogant I had become.
The church I pastored had seen pretty amazing growth. In fact, we were one of the fastest growing churches in our denomination. I had other pastors calling me and asking, “What is the secret to your church’s growth?” You know what happened? I didn't see it back then but I can see it now. I read my own press. I began to somehow think that some of the good things that were taking place may just have been because of me. One of the things that God did through my time in the pit of betrayal and my time in the prison was to humble me. He showed me that if anything good ever happens in my life, only God deserves the credit. If anything good ever happens in my family, only God deserves the credit. May we never forget that if anything good ever happens in and through our church, it is God alone who deserves the credit. Joseph had learned the lesson of humility.
Not only do we see the humility of Joseph, we also see his wisdom. Pharaoh tells Joseph all about his dreams and Joseph interprets the dreams just as he had for the cupbearer and for the baker. The seven fat cows and the seven full ears of corn represented seven years of abundance. There was going to be seven years of great abundance. They were going to have crops in Egypt like never before seen. That was the good news.
But there was also bad news. The seven thin cows and the seven sickly ears of corn represented seven years of famine that would come right after the seven bountiful years. The seven years of famine would be so bad that people wouldn't even remember the seven good years. That is what was meant by the thin cows devouring the fat cows and the thin ears devouring the good ears. That's how bad it was going to be. The fact that God gave Pharaoh, not one, but two dreams, said that these events cannot be changed and that they were going to have happen very soon.
After he gives Pharaoh the interpretation, he then offers Pharaoh a little bit of advice. He says, “Pharaoh, here's what I think you should do. I think you need to appoint an overseer, someone wise, who during the seven years of abundance can take a part of all the crops that are grown and store them away so that there's food in Egypt during the seven years of famine.”
That sounded like a wonderful idea to Pharaoh. In fact, it sounded so good, and Pharaoh sees such wisdom in the advice, that he appoints Joseph to that very position. Joseph now goes from the pit to the prison to the palace. He's now promoted to the second most powerful man in Egypt – much like what we might call a prime minister. Outside of Pharaoh himself, no one in the land would be more powerful than Joseph.
“Then, Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph's hand and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put gold necklace around his neck and he had him ride in his second chariot and they proclaimed before him, bow the knee, and he set him over all the land of Egypt, and moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission, no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” (verses 42-44)
Now, let me ask you - was it worth the wait? For Joseph, was it worth two additional years in prison? If he would have gotten out of prison two years earlier when the cupbearer was restored, it is likely that he never would have become prime minister of Egypt.
I find it interesting that one of the things Pharaoh says is that everyone who comes before Joseph, everyone you pass by him will have to bow down. I love God's sense of justice. As the story moves forward, Joseph’s brothers are going to show up in Egypt looking for food. That same group of brothers who threw him into the pit and sold him into slavery will stand before him because he is the one in charge of the grain. They're not going to recognize that it is Joseph and when they walk into the palace they're going to bow down before him.
Remember that little dream he had 13 years ago that got those brothers so mad at him? The dream said that one day they would bow before him. Folks, listen, God always keeps His word. It may take 13 years and there may be some down times in the process, but God always keeps His word. Joseph’s life is a great reminder to us of the law of timing. If you're in a waiting pattern, you need to remember the law of timing which says,
“God's timing may not always be our timing but it's always the best timing.”
That day that Joseph got out of that prison and became the prime minister of Egypt was 100% an act of God. God did the whole thing. And He did it in His timing.