Sunday, January 26, 2014

Joseph (part 7) - When Your Past Catches Up With You

The truth of the matter is that everyone has skeletons in their closet.  We all have things in our past that we wish were not there.  We have all made mistakes.  We have all hurt people.  The problem is that many of us are responding to our past by simply ignoring it and hoping that if we ignore it long enough it will go away.  But there's something you need to understand about your past.  Your past will always catch up with you. 

As we continue our journey in the life of Joseph, we now move the camera from Egypt back to the land of Canaan.  We now move the focus away from Joseph and back on to his ten brothers who ultimately put him in that pit that started the whole ordeal.  And as we do we are going to see that his brothers' past will catch up with them. 

I want to remind you about the timeline taking place because you need to understand that when Genesis 42 begins it has now been over 20 years since Joseph was thrown in the pit.  Remember the scenario.  Joseph was 17 years old when his brothers abducted him and threw him in the pit and then sold him into slavery into Egypt and convinced their father he had been killed by a wild animal.

At the age of 30, he eventually is brought before Pharaoh and he's promoted to prime minister of Egypt.  For the first seven years of his tenure as prime minister, Egypt lives through years of plenty but now the seven years of famine have begun.  It's been over two decades since this whole nightmare began on that day when his brothers threw him in the pit.


The first thing we see in the text is Joseph’s brothers being sent to Egypt in the first three verses of Genesis 42.  Jacob saw that there was grain in Egypt and asks his sons a question that many parents still ask of their kids today.  He says, “Why are you staring at one another?”  Remember, they're out of food but there's food in Egypt.  So Jacob asks. “Why are you staring at one another?  I've heard there's grain in Egypt.  Go down there and buy some for us from that place so that we may live and not die.” 

The famine is not just in the land of Egypt but all the surrounding lands as well.  It's now affecting Joseph's family back in the land of Canaan.  Everyone has heard.  The news is out there.  It's no secret that even though there's no food anywhere else there's plenty of food in Egypt.  Isn't it ironic that while Jacob realizes that there's plenty of food in Egypt, what he doesn't realize is that the reason there's plenty of food is because his beloved son Joseph has been the one in charge of handling it. 

Joseph’s brothers are now middle aged men, yet Jacob has to say to them, “Why are you sitting here staring at one another?  Why are you twiddling your thumbs?  Has it not crossed your mind that it might be a good idea for you to go down to Egypt and get us some food?”  What I see here is some sort of reluctance on the part of the ten sons.  They're not eager to go to Egypt.  Why?  My guess is that they're still living with the guilt of what they did 20 years earlier.  Most likely, over those 20 years those brothers didn't talk much about what they did.  It was out of sight, out of mind.  Their hope was that if they just ignored their past it would go away.  The problem is that guilt never goes away until it is dealt with and their guilt has been brewing for 20 years. 

Whenever those brothers think of Egypt, who do they immediately think of?  Joseph.  The last thing that happened in their relationship with Joseph was that they sold him as a slave into Egypt.  I don’t think they were reluctant to go because they were afraid they might run into Joseph.  Egypt's a big place.  Besides that, I think they pretty much were convinced he was dead by now.  You don't last as a slave in Egypt long and it's been over 20 years.  I think they're reluctant to go because Egypt reminds them of their past.  It reminds them of mistakes they made that they haven't dealt with yet because they are hoping that by ignoring them they will go away.  So Jacob has to order his sons to go down to Egypt and to get some food. 

Keep in mind from a geographical point of view that it's approximately 300 miles from Hebron, where Jacob and his family lived in the land of Canaan, to Egypt.  This is a journey they would take on foot or with donkeys.  It would be like your dad saying to you here in northern Michigan, there's food in Ohio.  Go get some.  And you would have to walk or ride a donkey from Gaylord, Michigan, to Ohio to get food and then come back.  We are not talking a simple day's journey.  We are not talking a week's journey.  We're not even talking a month's journey.  It would be several months round trip to go to Egypt, get the food and come back. 


Now let's fast forward the story a few months to the brothers' arrival in Egypt and the next thing that we are going to see are the brothers of Joseph being silenced.  This is an encounter for the ages seen in verses 6 and 7.

“Now, Joseph was the ruler over the land.  He was the one who sold to all the people of the land.  And Joseph's brothers came and bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.  And when Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them.  But he disguised himself to them and spoke to them harshly and he said to them, ‘Where have you come from?’  And they said, ‘We've come from the land of Canaan to buy food.’

Now, put yourself in Joseph's position.  You are the prime minister of Egypt.  It's been 20 years since you got thrown in the pit by your brothers and sold as a slave into Egypt.  I have to guess that over those 20 years Joseph daydreamed often about this day that he would be able to face his brothers again.  However, when Joseph woke up on this morning I doubt very seriously he said, ‘I bet today's the day I get to see my brothers.’  This was going to be a shock to him. 

Joseph is on his chair.  He's meeting with those who are coming to buy food and he notices these ten men who are obviously from the land of Canaan.  They're bearded.  They're not clean shaven like all the other Egyptians.  As he looks closely at them it becomes very obvious to him who they are.  These guys are his brothers that he hasn't seen in 20 years since they sold him into slavery. 

Joseph has the upper hand on them.  Though he recognizes them, according to the text, they have no clue as to who he was.  The last time they saw Joseph he was 17 years old.  He's now going on 40.  A lot changes happen in a man's appearance from age 17 to age 40.  Have you noticed that?  You don't think that's true?  Pull out your high school yearbook.  You have changed and it has not been for the good either.  Joseph changed. 

Not only that, the Bible says he disguised himself.  He would have had the Egyptian royal garb on, the Egyptian makeup, the Egyptian head dressing, and to make it even more of a disguise, he talks to his brothers through an interpreter.  So it seems to them like he only knows Egyptian even though he really does know Hebrew. 

Joseph is going to put his brothers through a series of tests.  Now, at first glance it almost looks like Joseph's trying to get revenge but I don't think that's the case.  We have already seen that Joseph has dealt with his past bitterness.  That is why he named his one son Manasseh (because God removed the sting from his pain) and the other Ephraim (because God has made him fruitful and blessed him in the land of his affliction).  I don't think he's being vengeful at all.  I think he's being wise.  He has forgiven his brothers already, but for there to be reconciliation, for him to enter back into a relationship with them, he has to know that they have changed. 

Remember that one of the big problems in their past relationship was that his brothers hated him because he was the favored son of their dad because he was the firstborn son of Rachel, his dad's favorite wife.  Who's the only other brother that has Rachel as a mother?  Benjamin.  Joseph wonders about the welfare of Benjamin.  He’s probably thinking, “If they did what they did to me, I wonder what they have done to Benjamin?”  So he puts them through a series of tests the try to determine if they have changed. 

Joseph immediately accuses these ten brothers of being foreign spies.  If you read through chapter 42 you will discover that he makes this accusation four different times.  Four times in one chapter he says, “You are spies.”  Notice what they say back to him in verse 11.  This blows my mind.  They respond to him saying, “We are not spies.  We are all sons of one man.”  Who's the one man?  Jacob.  Is that a true statement?  Yes.  They're all sons of Jacob.  There are four different mothers involved but they all have the same father. 

They then say, “We are honest men.”  I wonder if Joseph had to bite his tongue at that point.  They're standing there not knowing that they are talking to Joseph going, “No, we're not spies.  We are men of integrity!”  20 years ago they threw their brother in a pit and sold him into slavery and for the last 20 years have lived a lie, convincing their father that his son was dead.  Now they are standing before the prime minister of Egypt claiming to be honest men.  No wonder Joseph puts these guys through a test to see if they have changed.  Notice what else they say in verse 13. 

“Your servants are 12 brothers in all.”

There are ten of them standing before Joseph.  They said there we're 12 of them.  What about the other 2 brothers?  Here's what they say. 

“Behold, the youngest (that would be Benjamin) is with our father today back in the land of Canaan.’

That gives Joseph some crucial information.  He now knows Benjamin is alive and his father is still alive.  But now notice what they say about the 12th brother. 

“The youngest is with our father today and one is no more.

Who are they talking about?  Joseph.  Our youngest brother is back with our dad and one, well, he is no more.  He kind of disappeared.  We're not really sure what happened to him.  This is how these guys are dealing with their past.  They're dealing with their past by ignoring it.  They're dealing with their past by hoping it will go away.  My friend, your past doesn't go away.  Your past always catches up with you.  And it will with these brothers. 

Joseph responds by saying, “No, you're spies.  I'm going to put nine of you in jail and I'm going to send one of you back to the land of Canaan to fetch your younger brother.  You bring your younger brother here as proof that you're telling the truth and I'll let the other nine go.  If you don't bring the younger brother back, I'm going to kill all nine of them as spies.”  Then, instead of just putting one in jail, he throws all ten of them in prison and he lets them sit there for three days. 

Why does Joseph throw all ten of them in prison?  Wouldn't it be cool if each of us had our own prison and any time somebody annoyed us we could just throw them in prison?  Would that not be cool?  Someone cuts you off in traffic, you throw them in jail.  Someone says a mean word to you, you throw them in jail.  I don't think that's what Joseph did.  I believe that the reason Joseph did this was that he personally needed time to think and pray.  He needed time to regain his thoughts.  Remember, when he woke up that morning, did he expect to meet his brothers that day?  No.  He needs time to think this situation through.  He needs time to pray this through.  He needs time to make sure he's being wise in his decision making.  So he throws all ten of them in jail.  Ironically, it was most likely the same jail that he would have spent years in because of them. 

At the end of the three days Joseph gives them a chance to prove they are indeed honest men.  He does, however, change tactics a little bit.  Instead of keeping nine and sending one, he says “Let one of your brothers be confined in prison and then the rest of you carry grain back to your households.  Then bring your youngest brother back to me so your words may be verified and you will not die.” 

When Joseph tells them this, something amazing takes place.  The next thing we see is the brother's sorrow and their guilt comes pouring out.  Remember, for 20 years they've been ignoring their past.  But the guilt's been there.  You can see the guilt because they're very reluctant to even go to Egypt and the guilt keeps building and finally, 20 years later, it all catches up with them and the guilt comes pouring out.  They're now going to admit guilt.  They're going to express sorrow.  They're now going to accept punishment. 

This is very important because this is the turning point.  It’s going to be a slow turn.  It's going to take several chapters before it's completed but this is the turning point. This is the point that turns that past of theirs into what eventually will become forgiveness and reconciliation.  The very first step in dealing with your past is to quit ignoring it and finally admit it.  That's the first step.  For 20 years they've tried to ignore it hoping it would go away.  But your past never goes away.  It will catch up with you.  Finally, they admit guilt.  Look at verse 21.  “

Then they said to one another, truly we are guilty concerning our brother.”

Keep something in mind.  They are talking to each other while standing in front of Joseph.  They're in front of Joseph but they're clueless about two things.  Number one, they have no clue it's Joseph.  They just think it's the Egyptian prime minister.  They don't realize the very brother they're talking about is the one standing right there.  Number two, they're clueless to the fact that Joseph can understand every word they're saying.  They think he only speaks Egyptian.   

Put yourself in Joseph's shoes.  For 20 years you have had to deal with the mistreatment and pain that has come into your life because of your brothers.  For 13 of those 20 years you lived as a slave and a prisoner.  And now, after 20 years, you get to hear those words as the brothers admit, “We are guilty.”  The problem is that at this point, they're only going to admit it to each other.  They're not going to admit it to anyone else.  I'm telling you, it's a slow turn that they make but this is the starting point. 

Secondly, they express sorrow.  Look what else they say. 

“We are guilty because we saw the distress of Joseph's soul when he pleaded with us, yet we would not listen.”

As they talk to each other they remind each other of the look on Joseph's face when they pulled him out of that pit and sold him as a slave into Egypt.  They remind each other of his words begging them, “Please don't!  Please don't!”  For 20 years, even though they haven't talked about it, they have lived with that memory in their minds.  Every time they close their eyes at night they see Joseph's face with the fear on it.  Every time they dream, they dream of Joseph's words begging them not to do this.  Now, for the first time in 20 years, they're expressing sorrow over the fact that they caused distress in Joseph's life. 

And then, thirdly, they're willing to accept punishment. 

“Therefore, this distress has now come upon us.”

It's an amazing verse.  They are saying, “We caused distress on Joseph and now this distress (same word) is coming upon us.”  There's a principle there we really need to learn.  It comes from Galatians 6 and it says, “Whatever you sow you will reap.”  These guys sowed all kinds of distress into Joseph's life and now they're experiencing distress in their own lives.

Reuben now steps up to the plate.  Remember, Reuben's the firstborn son.  At this point, Reuben marches right in to one of those “I told you so” speeches.  Remember, when Joseph was coming towards the brothers in his coat of many colors, the brothers said. “Here comes that dreamer.  Let's kill him.”  Reuben's the one who spoke up and said, “No, don't kill him.  Instead, let's throw him in a pit.”  Reuben's intention was to come back later and rescue him but Reuben then had to leave for some reason and while he was gone the other brothers sold him into slavery.  Reuben now pipes up and basically says, “I told you so.”  He says, “Did I not tell you don't sin against the boy?  But you wouldn't listen to me.”  Keep in mind that though Reuben may have actually saved Joseph's life, he’s just as guilty.  For 20 years he's gone along with the lie.  He's an accomplice to the crime. 

Joseph is listening to this whole conversation and look how he responds in verse 23.  Joseph turned away from them and wept.  Joseph is not in this for vengeance.  Joseph is not carrying resentment.  Joseph's heart is breaking.  For the first time in 20 years he finally hears these brothers say, “We were wrong!”  Joseph leaves the room weeping.  His heart hurts for his brothers. 

He then comes back but he's still going to test them.  His heart hurts but he's still going to be wise.  He's not just going to come in and say, “Hey guys, surprise!  It's me.”  He's not ready to do that yet.  He's going to test them first.  He took Simeon from them and bound Simeon before their eyes.  He had already told them that he was going to keep one of them in prison while the others went back and got their younger brother.  Keep in mind that that would probably be at least six months for them to make the round trip back to the land of Canaan, get their brother and bring him back to Egypt.  So whoever Joseph picks to stay is going to stay in that jail cell for quite some time.  And who does he pick?  He picks Simeon. 

I've read that many times but for the first time as I did I asked myself this question.  Why Simeon?  There were ten of them, right?  Why didn't he pick Gad or Issachar or Zebulon?  Why did he pick Simeon?  Was Simeon the firstborn?  No.  Who was the firstborn?  Reuben.  Back in that day birth order was very important.  You would think if one brother was going to stay, they would pick the firstborn.  Instead Joseph picks Simeon who's the second oldest.  Why does he pick the second oldest instead of the first oldest?  This is just a guess.  My opinion is that this was Joseph's way of saying thank you to Reuben for saving his life 20 years earlier.  Instead of keeping Reuben, the firstborn, in the jail for months, he takes the second born.  He takes Simeon. 

Honestly, if I were Joseph, I would have picked Judah.  If you go back to Genesis 37, when Joseph's in the pit while Reuben is gone somewhere, it was Judah who instigated the whole idea about selling him into slavery.  He's the one who said, “Hey, let's make some money off the kid.  Let's sell him into slavery so we never have to worry about him again.”  Judah instigated it, and had I been Joseph, Judah's backside would have been in that jail for several months because I would have been in it for vengeance.  The very fact that he picks Simeon tells me he wasn't in it for the vengeance.  He was testing these brothers.  He wanted to find out had if they really changed. 

Notice now the gift that's involved.  Joseph has the food that they buy put on their donkeys but he does something else.  He puts in their sacks of food the money they used to buy it.  Now, why does Joseph do this?  I think it was a good thing.  I think Joseph was simply showing grace.  He was simply showing mercy.  He wasn't going to have his family buying the food.  He was going to give it to his family as a gift.  But notice what happens when they discover the money in verse 27 and 28.

“As one of them opened his sack to give his donkey some fodder he saw the money.  Behold, it was in the mouth of his sack and he said to his brothers, my money's been returned.  It's in my sack.”

Now, at this point, you would think they go, “Wow!  How about that?  We got free food!”  But no, their hearts sank and they turned trembling and the word trembling is the same word used in other places in the Old Testament to describe an earthquake.  They were fearful, trembling.  They said,

“What is this that God has done to us?”

In their minds they are now going to get accused of stealing.  This bad situation's become even worse.  That's what guilt will do to you.  When you live with guilt for all those years and the guilt builds and catches up with you, you begin to see all of life through the lens of your guilt.  It makes life miserable.  Even the good things that happen in your life are tainted because you can only view life through the horror of your guilt.  And that's where these brothers are. 

The brothers finally get back to the land of Canaan and we see the grief that's involved.  They tell their dad what happened.  They say, “Dad, when we were in Egypt we went before the prime minister.  He accused us of being spies.  We told him we were honest men.  He wouldn't believe us.  He threw us in jail for three days.  Then he kept Simeon.  He sent the rest of us back.  He said if we don't bring Benjamin back, he's going to kill Simeon.” 

But more importantly, notice what they didn't tell their dad.  They did not tell their dad anything about their guilt.  They did not say, “Dad, there's something you need to know.  We really think all these bad things are a result of something we did 20 years earlier and we think we need to tell you about it.”  You see, they're willing to admit guilt to each other but they're not yet willing to take responsibility for it. 

How does Jacob respond?  First, he responds with fear.  In fact, look what he says in verse 36. 

“Their father Jacob said to them, “You have bereaved me of my children.  Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more.”

He's written off Simeon.  The brothers tell him, “Simeon is still alive.  He's in jail.  We can rescue him.”  But Jacob has written him off. 

“And now you want to take Benjamin?  All these things are against me.”

How's that for the spiritual leader of the home?  At the very time of crisis, where the family needed a spiritual leader to rise up and say, “Guys, we need to seek God.  We need to fall on our faces before God.  We need to get direction from God.  We need to trust God.”  Instead, he's filled with fear.  And not only does he respond with fear, he also responds with favoritism. 

This is amazing.  How did Joseph's brothers deal with their past?  They tried to ignore it hoping it would go away.  How did Jacob deal with the mistakes of his past?  He just kept on repeating his mistakes over and over again.  What was one of the major causes for this whole debacle to begin with?  It was Jacob's favoritism of Joseph.  Has Jacob changed? No!  Look at verse 38. 

“But Jacob said, ‘My son, Benjamin, shall not go down with the ten of you to Egypt, for his brother is dead and he alone is left.”

Do you see a problem with that statement?  Weren't there nine other brothers sitting there?  Jacob says, ‘My one son (Joseph) is dead.  You're not taking my other son because if he dies he's all I have left.’  The brothers have to be thinking, “What are we, Dad, chopped liver?”  Do you see how Jacob's repeating the same mistakes all over again?  Look what else he says. 

“If harm should befall Benjamin on the journey with you, you will bring my gray hair down to Sheol.”

In other words, I will die of grief.  Wait!  What about Simeon?  If they don't bring Benjamin back, he's going to die a prisoner in Egypt.  I think there's a lot of Christians today who are really struggling in life because they are responding to their past like Jacob or like Joseph's brothers.  They are either ignoring it, hoping it will go away, or they just keep repeating the same mistakes over and over again. 

But there's hope.  There is good news because if you're willing to quit running from your past, if you're willing to quit ignoring it, if you're willing to quit repeating the same mistakes and you're willing to get honest with God, honest with yourself, and honest with those you have hurt, God can remove the guilt that is ruining your life and God can restore broken hearts.  

Thursday, January 09, 2014

Joseph (part 6) - Removing the Sting of Being Hurt

This is the halfway point of the series.  Let me just real quick, before we get into Genesis 41, catch you up to speed on what's happened in Joseph's life so far.  Joseph is first mentioned in the Bible when he's 17 years old.  He's the favored son of his father Jacob.  He has ten older brothers and they dislike him.  Their jealousy toward Joseph leads to envy which leads to hatred which leads to malice and ultimately they assault him and throw him in a pit.  They then bring him up out of the pit and they sell him as a slave to be taken into the land of Egypt hundreds of miles away.  There he finds himself in a totally foreign culture and he's sold as a slave and bought by a powerful man named Potiphar. 

Potiphar's wife ultimately falsely accuses Joseph of a crime he didn't commit.  Joseph now spends years in a prison.  While in prison he ends up meeting the cupbearer, one of Pharaoh's staff members who Pharaoh got mad at and imprisoned.  The cupbearer has a dream and it troubles him and Joseph interprets the dream and says that in three days he was going to be restored to his position.  When this happens, Joseph asks the cupbearer to please remember him and tell Pharaoh of his wrongful imprisonment so that he can get out of prison. 

Unfortunately, the cupbearer forgets about Joseph and he spends two more agonizing years in the prison until one day Pharaoh has some dreams that trouble him greatly and no one in Egypt can interpret the dreams.  At that moment the cupbearer remembers Joseph and the cupbearer says to Pharaoh, “I think I know someone who can help.”

They bring Joseph out of the prison and he comes before Pharaoh who tells him his dreams.  Joseph gives to him the interpretation.  There was going to be three years of incredible plenty in the land of Egypt.  They were going to have crops like they have never had.  That's the good news.  But the bad news is that the three years following that were going to be years of severe famine.  The famine would be so bad that people wouldn't even remember the three good years. 

Pharaoh is so amazed at the wisdom in Joseph and the fact that his God is working through him that Pharaoh on that day promotes Joseph from a prisoner to prime minister of Egypt.  Pharaoh tells Joseph that no one in Egypt will lift a finger unless Joseph says so.  In one day he becomes the most powerful man in Egypt, save Pharaoh himself. 

I think the reason we can so connect with Joseph's story is because it's so much like ours.  Our live may not be to the extremes of Joseph’s story, but the path is similar.  Most every one of us could talk about a time in our life when we found ourselves in the pit.  Then it seemed like bad went to worse and we went from the pit to a prison.  Yet, God was faithful in our lives and ultimately we found ourselves in the palace.  That's the story of Joseph. 

Notice two things as the story of Joseph continues.  First, notice that Joseph discovers a reason for his hurt.  Genesis 41:46 says,

“Now, Joseph was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh.”

Joseph was 17 when he got thrown into the pit.  He's 30 when he comes into the palace.  That means for Joseph, his path from the pit to the prison to the palace took 13 agonizing years.  It was 13 years of disappointment after disappointment after disappointment.  It was 13 years of pain after pain after pain.  It was 13 years of tears after tears after tears.  Finally, he's promoted to prime minister.  The verse goes on and says,

“Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt.”

All the land of Egypt isn't just talking about the geography of Egypt, the emphasis is on the power of Egypt.  Egypt was the world power.  It was the hierarchy of civilization.  No civilization would match it until the Babylonians.  Egypt was a powerhouse and Joseph was the second most powerful man in the land and in the world.


Joseph is going to begin to see the reason for his 13 years of hurt, the reason for his 13 years in the pit and the prison, and it's going to center around how God used the pit and the prison to prepare him.  Joseph is going to end up being the guy responsible to make sure that some of all the food that grows in Egypt during the seven years of plenty is stored away so that when the seven years of famine comes there will be plenty of food for all the Egyptians. 

That is major task.  Joseph is going to have to show some amazing leadership skills.  He's going to have to display some amazing management skills.  Where did Joseph learn these skills?  Where was he able to hone these skills?  It didn't happen when he was back in the land of Canaan as a teenager.  He was his father's favorite child.  He was spoiled rotten.  He never had to lift a finger.  He had everything given to him on a silver platter.  He didn't learn anything about leadership and management skills from his dad. 

Where did he learn it?  After he gets thrown in the pit and sold into slavery he becomes a slave in Potiphar's house.  Potiphar makes him the manager of his entire house and Joseph spends whatever time period it was in Potiphar's house managing his household, managing his estate, managing his servants and honing in these skills. 

When he ends up falsely accused and wrongfully imprisoned, the jailer makes him the chief prisoner and he puts him in charge of the entire dungeon system.  He's the one who manages the prison and the other prisoners.  Through his time in the pit and the prison Joseph learns skills that would be needed for this incredible task he had before him. 

Folks, listen, whenever you go through time of affliction and hurt in your life, whenever you go through pain, whenever you find yourself in the pit or in the prison, you can bank on this - God is teaching you something.  God is preparing you for something in your future.  And that's what happens to Joseph. 

He begins to realize that God had a reason for all of his pain.  God had a reason for his affliction.  God had a reason for his path.  In fact, notice not just his preparation.  Notice his performance because it's outstanding.  In verses 47 and 48 we read what he does during the seven years of plenty.  He manages the entire country so that in every city there are storehouses and 1/5 of all the crops are set aside so that they'll be available when the famine comes.  And as a result of Joseph's amazing performance, verse 49 says,

“Thus, Joseph stored up grain in great abundance like the sand of the sea until he stopped measuring it for it was beyond measure.”

Joseph's performance was outstanding.  Everything he learned in Potiphar's house, in the prison, now helps him to be the second in command in Egypt and to prepare Egypt for a time of devastating famine. 


The famine hits and when the severe years of famine comes, there are no crops.  According to the king's dream the seven years of famine would be so devastating no one would even remember the seven years of good.  There are no crops at all.  There is no food at all.  This is a devastating time. 

Had Joseph not been in place at the right time, Egypt would have been in a devastating situation because many people would have died of starvation.  However, because of Joseph, there is plenty of food in Egypt.  And Joseph opens up the storehouses and Egyptians are able to buy food and through the three most devastating years of famine in the history of Egypt, everyone survives and they survive because of Joseph.  In fact, not only does Joseph's mission impact Egypt, it impacts all the lands around Egypt.  Verse 57 says,

“The people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe in all the earth.”

Not only is Joseph able to save all of Egypt from starvation, he is able to save all the people in the lands around Egypt.  If you were able to come and have a conversation with Joseph, if you were able to sit down with him and say, “Joseph, the pit had to be horrible.  The prison had to be horrible.  But 13 years of that led you to this spot for this purpose to save tens of thousands of people from starvation.  Joseph, was it worth it?”  I don’t think Joseph would even have to think about it.  He'd say, “Absolutely.  It was worth it.” 

God will never take you through pain without a purpose.  God will never lead you into the pit without a purpose.  He will never lead you into the prison times of your life without a purpose.  He doesn't bring pain into your life just to watch you squirm.  That is not the God we serve.  He always has a purpose.  He will use your pain.  He will use your pit.  He will use your prison to prepare you for a purpose that He has for you in life.  That's what He does with Joseph.  And after 13 agonizing years, Joseph is finally able to begin to see the reason for all of the hurt. 

There's a second point I want to bring out.  This is the one that really stuck with me.  Have you ever had one of those moments when you've been reading and studying the Bible and maybe you're reading and studying a passage that you've read and studied many, many times before, but suddenly you learn something from that passage you never saw before?  Have you ever had one of those moments?  That's the beauty of the Bible.  It's a living book.  You can never consume all of its knowledge.  I have read the story of Joseph dozens of times.  I've taught on the story of Joseph.  I knew this passage but one day when I was studying this very passage I noticed something that I never noticed prior.  I remember where I was when it happened with this passage.  I was about 30,000 miles up in the air on a Delta flight on my way to Florida to spend some time with my dad during my mom's knee surgery.  I was studying this passage on the flight and I saw something I had never seen before and I could hardly contain myself.

This is when Joseph's going to discover a relief for his hurt and we are going to see it in the names he gives his kids.  When he's promoted to prime minister he's also given an Egyptian wife.  She bears him two sons.  We are going to meet them in just a minute.  But the importance is in their names. 

Why do we choose the names we give our kids today?  We do it differently than they did it back then.  I Googled that question this week and here is what I found.  Why do we give our kids the names we give them today?  Reason number one is because we like the way it sounds.  That's the reason.  That's how we choose names today. 

I got news for you.  That's not how they did it back in Bible times.  Have you read some of those names?  There is no way some of them sounded good.  You could hardly pronounce them.  But in our day, we give our kids names based on what they sound like or, number two, because it's unique.  We want to give our kid a name that no one else has which sometimes can be very disastrous.  So we find these unique names.  Or, number three, we might name them after somebody we knew.  I think sometimes just the opposite may be true.  You always liked this specific name for your future kid and then suddenly you met somebody with that name who was a real jerk which resulted in that name being taken off the short list. 

In Bible times the names were based on meaning.  The meanings of the names were important.  The meanings told a story.  Today that's really not all that important in our culture.  If I were to ask you what the names of your children were, most of you would answer correctly.  But If I were to say to you, “What do those names mean?”  My guess is nearly 100% of men and the majority of women would have no clue.

Until this morning, if you would have asked me what the names of my kids meant I could not have told you.  I looked it up this morning.  Jonathan means “gift from God.”  I would like to tell you that this is why we named him Jonathan but it had nothing to do it.  My daughter’s name is Joy.  Do you know what the name Joy means?  It blew me away.  Joy means joy.  That's all it meant.  We don't really go based on meanings today. 

They did in Bible times and so what I did on that plane ride as I was going to Florida was to look at the meaning of the names Joseph gave his sons and I was blown away.  Joseph's firstborn son he named Manasseh.  Why does Joseph give his firstborn son the name Manasseh?  Does he call him Manasseh because it was nice to say and sounded good?  That wasn't the reason.  Does he do it because it's unique?  That's not the reason.  Is it because he's named after somebody that Joseph knew?  That's not the reason either.  He gives his firstborn son this name for a specific reason. 

Before I give you the meaning I want you to notice verse 49 because this is what I saw on that Delta flight that I had never seen prior.  It was always there.  It wasn’t like it was invisible earlier.  I just never got it.  Look at what it says,

“Now, before the year of famine came…”

Stop for a second.  Let's get the timeline down.  It takes 13 years for Joseph to go from the pit to the palace.  He's 17 when he's thrown in the pit.  He's 30 when he becomes prime minister.  We are now right before the famine starts, which is 7 years later.  He's about 37 years old by this time and by this time he's had two sons.  Keep reading,

“Now, before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph.”

Somewhere between age 30 and 37 he has 2 sons.  He names the firstborn son Manasseh.  We read that today and we go, “Big deal.”  But don't miss this phrase.  Why does he name him Manasseh?  Why didn't he name him Scott?  Why does he name him Manasseh?  The reason is right there in scripture.  We don't have to guess, do we?  It is right there. 

“For Joseph said, God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.”

When he says “all my trouble,” what is he talking about?  He’s talking about those 13 years from the pit to the palace?  When he says, “and all my father's household,” who is he talking about?  He is talking about his brothers who threw him in the pit and sold him into slavery.  Why does Joseph give him the name Manasseh?  He says, “I name him Manasseh because God has caused me to forget all that happened from the pit to the palace which was caused by my brothers.” 

What does the word Manasseh mean?  The word Manasseh literally means “to forget.” That's why it says God has caused me to forget because it comes from a word that sounds like the Hebrew root word for forget.  Isn't that a strange name to give your kid?  “Hey, forgetful, time for dinner!”  That's kind of a strange name.  Names weren't given back then based on how they sounded.  Names were given because of their meaning.  His name literally means “to forget”.  Joseph gave him that name because God had caused him to forget. 

What's it mean that God caused him to forget?  It doesn't mean that God took away the memories.  We remember what happened to us.  God doesn't just kind of wipe out that part of our brains so we can't remember.  It doesn't mean that he didn't remember.  Joseph would always remember the people who hurt him.  Joseph would remember those brothers.  He would remember Reuben and Simeon and the other eight.  He would remember the look of hatred in their eyes and the laughter that came from their lips when they sold him into slavery. 

Joseph would always remember Potiphar's wife who falsely accused him of a crime he didn't commit.  Joseph would always remember Potiphar who wrongly imprisoned him.  Joseph would always remember the cupbearer who forgot about him resulting in two more agonizing years in the prison.  It doesn't mean he forgot the memory. 

Joseph would always remember the places that caused pain in his life.  Joseph would always remember what it was like to be in that pit.  Joseph would always remember the fear.  He would always remember the tears.  Joseph would never be able to forget what it was like to be in that prison.  He would never forget what it was like to wake up every morning in that dungeon.  Joseph would always remember the rest of his life what that prison smelled like that.  In fact, I venture to guess the aroma never really left his nostrils. 

So what does it mean when he says, “God has caused me to forget all my troubles?”  I think Joseph is saying, “While I remember all that happened to me those 13 years, God has removed the sting from the memory.  I remember the pit.  But the memory no longer hurts.  I remember the prison.  But the memory no longer hurts.  God has removed the sting from the memory.” 

You could put it this way.  Joseph's wound had now become a scar.  There's a big difference between the two, isn't there?  You see, a wound bleeds.  Scars don't.  A wound still stings.  Scars don't.  A wound can still have the scab knocked off of it and you relive the pain again and there's more blood again and the healing process has to start over again.  Scars don't do that.  You know what scars do?  They just serve as a reminder.  When you see the scar on your body, you remember what happened that caused the scar.  But the scar no longer hurts.  The wound has turned into a scar. 

Joseph, over 13 years after first being thrown in that pit, now sees his newborn baby boy and is able to say for the first time, “God has removed the sting from the memory.”  I don't know about you but I am so glad we serve a God like that.  I'm so glad that we serve a God who, though it may not be overnight, it may not be in a week, it may not be a month, it may not be in a year, it may not even be in a decade, we serve a God who one day can remove the sting from the memories. 

I believe with all my heart that we'll each have our Manasseh moment.  We will each have that day when we'll be able to say, “Though I remember, God has removed the sting.”  Folks, listen, if that day doesn't happen to you on this earth, I can tell you this, it will happen the moment you enter heaven's gates, when God wipes away every tear from your eyes.  By giving his firstborn son this name Joseph was offering praise to a God who removes the sting from the wounds. 

Every time Joseph would see Manasseh, every time Joseph would call his name, every time Joseph would hear his lovely wife call his name, Joseph would smile and go, “Thank You, God.  You are a God who has removed the sting from my memories.”  Wow!  What a God we serve.  But it didn't end with Manasseh. 

Joseph had a second son and this son's name has just as much meaning as the first son's name.  The second son he names Ephraim.  Why does he name him Ephraim?  He doesn't name him Ephraim because it sounds nice, or because it’s unique, or because it reminds him of a great uncle somewhere.  He names him Ephraim because the meaning has great significance to Joseph.  Verse 52 says,

“Joseph named the second son Ephraim for Joseph said, God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

What was the land of Joseph's affliction?  Egypt!  Up until he became prime minister, everything that happened to him in Egypt was horrible.  It was one affliction after another after another after another after another.  Now he's able to say that God has made me fruitful even in the land of my affliction.  The word Ephraim literally means “twice fruitful.”   

After 13 years of pain, after 13 years of anguish, Joseph is now able to not just say, God has removed the sting from my memory, Joseph is now able to say that my God is such an incredible God that even out of my land of affliction He brought me blessing.  Even out of my pain and trauma, He brought me fruit.  Not just a little bit.  He made me twice fruitful. 

Not only does Joseph get to be an individual who saves tens of thousands of people from starvation, but Joseph gets to have a family.  Joseph gets to have two sons.  At this point in Joseph's life, these are his gems.  These two sons would not exist had it not been for the land of his affliction.  Had Joseph not been promoted to prime minister he never would have married that Egyptian wife.  He never would have had Manasseh and Ephraim. 

Joseph never would have got promoted to prime minister had he not been forgotten by the cupbearer in prison.  And Joseph never would have been forgotten by the cupbearer in prison had Potiphar not wrongly imprisoned him.  And Potiphar never would have wrongly imprisoned him if Potiphar's wife hadn't falsely accused him.  And Potiphar's wife never would have falsely accused him had he not been a slave in Egypt.  And Joseph never would have been a slave in Egypt had his brothers not, when he was 17 years old, threw him in the pit of betrayal. 

For the first time Joseph could honestly say, “God, thank You for Egypt.  Thank You for the pit.  Thank You for the prison.  Through my affliction, You have blessed me.  Through my affliction, You have made me twice fruitful.”  Every time Joseph looked at Ephraim, every time he called his name, every time he heard his wife call Ephraim for dinner, Joseph would smile and go, “Thank You, God.  Thank You for my affliction because through my affliction you have made me fruitful.” 

I think Ephraim is a beautiful illustration of a verse we read about in the New Testament in Romans 8:28.  It's powerful.  It says,

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good.”

How many is all?  All means all and that's all that all means.  Does all include the pit?  Yes.  Does all include the prison?  Yes.  God works all things together for good.  Joseph is one of those guys who got to see that but even he didn’t get to see all of its impact.  You know one thing Joseph didn't realize?  When he would sit and watch his sons play and be reminded of God's blessing in his affliction, he didn't realize that 4,000 years later his story of being in the pit and in the prison would impact a pastor in Gaylord, Michigan.

We're never going to really know the full scope of Romans 8:28 until we get to heaven.  There God is going to roll back the eternal curtain and we're going to look back at our life and we're going to see for the very first time how all the pain fit.  We're going the see how God used it in ways that's going to blow our mind.  And I believe it will be one of the greatest moments of worship when we see that and we go, “What an amazing God we serve.”

Wednesday, January 08, 2014

Joseph (part 5) - Prepared and Promoted

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. 


In case you haven’t noticed, winter is here in northern Michigan.  I am one of those who love winter, but even if you don’t personally like the cold and snow, there is much to be excited about as we look at the next three months here at E-Free.  Below is just a taste of what is happening. 

MOSES – January through mid-March we are doing a 10-week study as part of our Sunday morning worship services through the life of the Old Testament Character, Moses!

THE ART OF MARRIAGE – Our Counseling and One Another Ministries is bringing this tremendous marriage conference back to Gaylord E-Free in early February!

SKATE AND SPLASH – This will be a March outreach sponsored by our Children’s Ministry that will be a one day event at the local Sportsplex that gives us an opportunity to build bridges to hundreds of families in our community and begin the process of meeting them where they are and moving them to where God wants them to be.

MEN’S CONFERENCE – Our annual Higher Call Men’s Conference will return in March.  Last year over 900 men filled the Gospel Center for this Saturday event.

It’s going to be a great winter here at Gaylord E-Free!  Be sure to check out our church website at for all the details to all of these events and more!

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Joseph (part 4) When You're Forgotten

Through this series we've seen Joseph in his dysfunctional family.  We have seen Joseph in the pit of betrayal.  And we have seen Joseph dealing with temptation which ended by seeing him thrown into a prison for a crime he did not commit.  As Joseph spends time in that prison we learn through his example what we should do when we feel like we've been forgotten.  What do you do in those times in your life when you feel like maybe even God has forgotten you?

My guess is that Joseph may have felt like he had been forgotten by everyone, even God.  He finds himself in prison for a crime he never committed.  By this time his brothers had completely forgotten him.  To his beloved father, he was just a distant memory.  Chances are very good that even as Joseph sat in this Egyptian dungeon that he must have faced the temptation of giving in to the feeling that maybe, just maybe, even God had forgotten him. 

Most of us have had a time in our lives when we felt like even God forgot us.  How do you respond during those times that you're in the prison?  How do you respond during those times when it feels like even God has forgotten you?  I want to give you three ways.  We're going to call them laws because each one will begin with a letter that spells out the word "law." 


The first law begins with the letter "L."  When you feel like you've been forgotten, what do you do?  Number one, you lean on God's presence.  Notice two things.  First of all there's a fact involved as seen in Genesis 39:20 which says,

“So Joseph's master (that's Potiphar) took him and put him into the jail, the place where the king's prisoners were confined.  And he was there in jail.”

Remember what has happened to Joseph.  This journey for Joseph to the jail has been a journey of great hurt.  His brothers took him, assaulted him, ripped off his coat of many colors and they threw him into a pit.  He ends up sold into slavery into a land hundreds of miles away, a foreign country where he didn't know the culture, didn't know the language, and didn't know the people.  His father has been convinced through the lies of his brother that he's dead.  There in Egypt he becomes a slave in the house of Potiphar.  He does very well as a slave but then he gets falsely accused by Potiphar's wife and now he lands in an Egyptian jail. 

Don't think of Egyptian jails like modern-day prisons.  Later on in chapter 40, when Joseph recounts what happened to him, he will call it a dungeon.  It is dark, dreary, ugly, horrible place to exist and that's where Joseph finds himself.  However, verse 21 presents a contrast to that.  It begins with the word "but." In contrast to all of that history, in contrast to all of those misfortunes, in contrast to his mistreatment, in contrast to him being in jail for a crime he never committed,

“The Lord was with Joseph.”

I have to believe that Joseph's feelings were contrary to that.  My guess is that as Joseph sat in jail day after day rehearsing the events of the last several years, rehearsing his brother's betrayal, the time in the pit, his time in Potiphar's house, his being falsely accused, my guess is that Joseph felt like God had forgotten him. 

Folks, listen, when you go through the lowest times of your life and it feels like you've been forgotten, and it feels like even God has forgotten you, it is there that you reach a fork in the road where you have to make a decision.  Are you going to lean on your feelings that tell you God has forgotten you or are you going to lean on the fact of the Word of God in which Jesus said,

“I will never leave you nor forsake you?”

If you lean on your feelings, you're going to be in trouble.  If you lean on the fact of the Word of God in spite of what your feelings say, there's hope even in the prison of life.  That's why Proverbs 3:5-6 says that we need to,

“Trust in the Lord with all our heart and not lean on our own understanding.”

Don't lean on your feelings.  Your feelings are deceiving.  When your feelings tell you that God has forgotten you, your feelings have deceived you.  When your feelings tell you that God has forsaken you, your feelings have deceived you.  One of the most critical things that you can do when you're in the prison of your life is to remember that you cannot lean on your feelings.  They will deceive you.  You must lean on the fact of the Word of God. 

Yes, Joseph was mistreated.  Yes, he was falsely accused.  Yes, he was in a horrible situation.  But no, God had not forgotten him.  And verse 21 is very clear.  The Lord was with Joseph even in prison.  In fact, in verse 23 it repeats it.  The Lord was with him even in prison.  And when you as a follower of Jesus Christ face the lowest times of your life, the same is true for you.  The Lord is with you.  “I will never leave you,” Jesus said.  “I will never forsake you.”  Even in the worst and most unfair of circumstances, we must lean on the fact that God has not abandoned us. 

And that's what Joseph has to do as he sits in prison day after day.  As his feelings cry out to him, saying “God has forgotten you,” Joseph must lean on the fact of the truth of the Word of God and the character of God and know that God has not forgotten him.  Not only is God with Joseph, but God is at work behind the scenes.  He always is.  And the end of verse 21 says this,

“But the Lord was with Joseph in prison and extended kindness to him and gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer.  And the chief jailer committed to Joseph's charge all the prisoners who were in the jail.  So that whatever was done there he was responsible for it.”

Joseph found grace in the eyes of the chief jailer.  Not only was God with Joseph in the lowest time of his life, but God was working in the situation.  We learned earlier that even when you find yourself in the pit of betrayal God has a purpose.  And He has a purpose for Joseph in prison as well.  The chief jailer sees that the Lord is with Joseph, much like Potiphar had, and the chief jailer puts all of the prison under Joseph's control.  He's now responsible for all of the prisoners in the dungeon.  He is now the manager.

There was a purpose for Joseph being sold into slavery.  There was a purpose for Joseph being in the prison.  It was while he was serving Potiphar and those years in the prison that Joseph learned all of those management skills, those leadership skills that would be necessary for him to know when he became the second in command in all of Egypt and is able to save all of Egypt and the surrounding areas from starvation due to a famine.  Even though Joseph feels forgotten, even though Joseph is in a horrible position, God has a purpose in Joseph's life.  And God is working behind the scenes. 

Folks, listen.  You will never go through a trial, you will never go through a hurt, you will never go through a heartache, you will never go through pain in which God does not have a purpose and isn't at work in your life.  You never go through hurt for no reason.  God doesn’t waste anything.   Joseph wasn't sold into slavery for nothing.  He wasn't put in the prison for nothing.  He is learning valuable lessons. 

David, much like Joseph, often found himself in a place where he felt forgotten but in Psalm 119:11 David realizes something.  He comes to a conclusion.  It's an amazing verse.  It goes in contrast to a lot of the teaching you will hear today that says God never wants you to hurt.  God never wants affliction in your life.  Just have enough faith and there will be no affliction.  Psalm 119:11 says just the opposite:

“It is good for me that I was afflicted.”

Imagine that.  It was good for David that he went through this time of affliction.  It was good for Joseph that he found himself in the pit of betrayal.  It was good for Joseph that he spent years in the prison.  And notice the reason why.  David said, it's good for me that I was afflicted.  Why? 

“That I may learn your statutes.”

Do you realize, my friend, that you learn more about God during the low times of your life than you ever learn during the high times?  It's during the low times of your life, during the times in the pit and the times in the prison, that you really lean into the presence of God and you learn some of the greatest truths you'll ever learn about God. 

My Grandpa Distler was a pastor for over 50 years.  I remember just before he died of cancer being able to go out to California to spend some final time with him.  I’ll never forget those final conversations I had with him while sitting by his bed.  His body was riddled with cancer and he wanted me to have some sense of what he was experiencing.  He took my hand and he placed it underneath his pajama top and he led my hand from tumor to tumor.  I remember saying to him, “Grandpa, do they hurt?”  He said, “Oh, they hurt.” 

Then he said something I will never forget.  He said, “Scott, for over 50 years I've preached Proverbs 3:5-6,” and then he quoted it, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart, do not lean on your own understanding.  In all your ways acknowledge Him and He will direct your paths.”  He went on to say, “For over 50 years I have preached that passage but for the first time in my life I really understand what it means.”

It's when you go through the difficult times of life, it's when you go through the adversity, it's when you go through the affliction, it's when you go through the heart ache, it's when you go through the pain, that you learn more about God than you ever dreamed possible.  David said, “It's good for me that I was afflicted.”  Joseph would be able to ultimately say, “It was good for me that I was in the pit and in the prison.”  At the end of the story he'll say, “Though man meant it for evil, God used it for good.” 

What's the first thing you need to do when you feel like God has forgotten you?  You need to refuse to follow your feelings and instead lean on the fact of the Word of God and lean on the presence of God in your life even when you find yourself in the pit or in the prison.  That's law number one.


Law number two to remember when I feel like God's forgotten me is that I need to assist others in need.  First, there is a need to be SELFLESS.  As Joseph is in prison in charge of all the prisoners, two of Pharaoh's key staff members, the cupbearer and the baker, do something to make the king furious.  The cupbearer's job was to taste all of the food and drink before it was given to Pharaoh.  He would do this for two reasons.  Number one, he would do this to make sure nothing was poisoned.  If the cupbearer fell over dead, the king didn't eat.  The second reason was to make sure that the food was quality.  If the food didn't taste good, it wouldn't go to the king.  That was the job of the cupbearer.  As a result, the cupbearer was one of the closest servants to Pharaoh.  He had the king’s ear because kings ate all the time.  The cupbearer was always in his presence. 

Then there's the baker.  The baker's the one who prepares the food.  He prepares the food and the cupbearer tastes the food.  These two guys did something that makes Pharaoh furious.  We don't know what it is but I think we can safely assume it had something to do with food because their jobs are connected in that way.  The result is that Pharaoh throws them both in to jail.  God is working behind the scenes seen in the fact that it is Joseph who is the one who cares for the cupbearer and the baker. 

Think about that.  Here's Joseph in prison for a crime he didn't commit.  The last several years of his life have been nothing but mistreatment and misfortune.  And what's he doing in the prison?  He is serving other people.  His focus is on the other prisoners.  We usually do just the opposite.  When we get in situations where we feel like we have been forgotten, when we feel like God's forgotten us, we put the focus right back on ourselves and we wallow in our own self-pity.  Joseph, realizing that God's presence is with him and realizing that there's a purpose in his pain, puts all of his energies into serving the other prisoners and God brings two very particular people under Joseph's care. 

If you grasp this principle it can really be exciting.  When you go through the lowest times of your life, when you go through the hurt and the pain and the heartache that comes at times with life, when you get in those situations where you feel like God's forgotten you, God will cause you to rub shoulders with people who you would never have met had you not been in that situation.  If Joseph not been in prison would he have met the cupbearer and the baker?  Probably not.  God was doing something big. 

I remember when I went through one of the prison times of my life and for a six-month period found myself out of local church ministry.  For those six months I worked in an insurance office.  No offense to you insurance agents but that was like a death sentence for me.  God's calling on my life was to preach but I found myself instead sitting in an insurance office.  Looking back, I am so thankful for that time as it was while I was there that God allowed me rub shoulders with people I never would have met had I not gone through this hurtful time in my own life. 

One person in particular that I met had a deep spiritual issue in their life and over the six months that I worked there I was able to work with this person and counsel them which resulted in an incredible victory to take place.  When I left the insurance office to go back into ministry, I remember getting an e-mail from this person that basically said, “I know what you went through was very hurtful but I'm so thankful that you went through it.  Had you not gone through that time of hurt you never would have ended up at the insurance office where you had a ministry in my life.” 

I think we often miss some of the most incredible opportunities to minister in the lowest times of our life because we're wallowing in self-pity instead of realizing that in that situation God is allowing us the opportunity to rub shoulders with somebody who we never would have met otherwise.  That's what happens in Joseph's life. 

Along with the need to be selfless there is also the need to be SENSITIVE.  The baker and the cupbearer have a dream and it troubles them.  In the Old Testament God often spoke through dreams.  The Bible wasn't completely written yet.  I personally don't believe that God speaks much through dreams today.  I'm not saying it's impossible but I don't think that's the way God speaks today.  I think the way God speaks today is through his Word but back in that day the Word wasn't completed and dreams were often an avenue in which God spoke.  The baker and the cupbearer have a dream and it troubles them.  In Genesis 40:6 it says.

“When Joseph came to them in the morning and observed them, behold they were dejected.  He asked Pharaoh's officials who were with him in confinement in his master's house why are your faces so sad today?”

Where's Joseph at?  He's in prison.  Why's he there?  He’s been falsely accused.  What's the last few years of his life been like?  They’ve been horrible.  And what does he notice in prison about these two other guys?  He notices that their faces look sad.  Most men don't even notice when their wife gets a haircut.  He notices that their faces look sad.  That's mind boggling to me.  I have to think that in that Egyptian dungeon most prisoners' faces looked pretty sad.  But on this day, the baker and the cupbearer's face look even sadder than normal and Joseph notices it.  Even in the lowest time of his life, because he's leaning on the presence of God and realizes God has a purpose, he is sensitive to the needs of people around him.  When you're in the lowest times of your life, one of the best ways to start every day is to say, “God, today, make me sensitive to the needs of people around me.” 

Finally, there is also the need to be SERVING.  In verse number 5, the cupbearer and baker have a dream that trouble them.  In verse number 6 Joseph notices that their faces look sad.  In verse 8 they say to Joseph,

“We have had a dream and there's no one to interpret it.  And Joseph said to them, do not interpretations belong to God?  Tell it to me, please.”

I'm amazed that Joseph is in any way open to the “dream thing.”  Remember when he had a dream issue earlier in his life what happened?  He ended up in a pit of betrayal.  But he's open to how God's going to use him and he's willing to serve these guys in prison.  Even in the situation he's in, even after all he's gone through he's willing to serve these guys.  So he says, “Tell me the dream.”


Law number one says that we must lean on the presence of God, even if our feelings tell us that God has forgotten us.  Law number two says that instead of wallowing in self-pity, we need to assist others in need.  Law number three states that we must wait on God's timing.

The cupbearer dreams about a vine and the vine has three branches.  The branches bud and then blossom. They then produce wonderful clusters of grapes and the cupbearer in the dream takes the grapes, squeezes them into Pharaoh's cup, and takes the cup to Pharaoh.  Joseph interprets the dream.  He says the three branches on the vine are three days.  In three days, Pharaoh is going to restore the cupbearer to his position as cupbearer. Joseph interprets the dream of the cupbearer and in verse 14 he asks the cupbearer for just one favor:

“Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this place.”

Joseph is putting a plan together in his mind.  He sees a way for God to get him out of the jail.  The cupbearer has the ear of Pharaoh and Pharaoh is the only guy who can pardon Joseph.  He has it all planned out what God should do.  We're going to get the cupbearer back in place and the cupbearer's going to tell the king about me and my unfortunate story.  Pharaoh's going to have pity on me.  He's going to pardon me and I'm going to get out of this dungeon.  You see, Joseph at this point sees a glimmer of hope.  Joseph sees this as his opportunity.  In his mind, this is God orchestrating the events to get him out of prison. 

The baker also has a dream.  The baker notices that the interpretation that was given to the cupbearer was very positive so he too tells Joseph his dream. In his dream he saw three baskets of bread on his head.  If the three branches in the cupbearer's dream represented three days, what do you think the three baskets represent in the baker's dream?  In the top basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh.  And the birds were eating them out of the basket.  He then asks Joseph to tell him the interpretation hoping for the same favorable outcome as the cupbearer’s dream produced. 

Joseph gives the interpretation.  The three baskets are three days.  Just like in three days the cupbearer would be restored to his position, in three days Pharaoh would hang the baker and the birds would eat his flesh.  I appreciate Joseph’s integrity.  He was honest.  If I had been Joseph, I may have said something like, “You know, I'm kind of tired right now.  I'll tell you the interpretation later.  It's just not coming through right now.  We'll get to it later.”  But Joseph speaks the truth to him even though the truth wasn't a fun thing to hear. 

Three days later it's Pharaoh's birthday and he throws a great feast.  Just like Joseph said, the cupbearer is restored to his position while the baker is hanged.  When they restore him to his position, Joseph is elated.  He's thrilled.  He's excited because in his mind the cupbearer's going to go in to the king and say, “I need to tell you about a guy in prison.  I need to tell you his story.”  The result in Joseph’s mind would be that the king would respond by saying, “What an unfortunate person,” and then pardon Joseph.  But Joseph’s elation turns to despair.  Genesis 40:23 says,

“Yet, the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph but forgot him.”

Joseph has been in prison for a while.  He finally sees a way out.  He believes that God is orchestrating it through the cupbearer, but in the end, the cupbearer totally forgets about Joseph.  In fact, Joseph will remain in prison for two more agonizing years.  For the next two years, every single day Joseph will continue to wake up in his cell never ever seeing the light of day.  I wonder how often in those two years Joseph questioned God.  Joseph had it all planned out.  The cupbearer would go in and tell the king who would release Joseph.  It seemed so simple.  Why didn't God allow it to happen?  Why does Joseph have to spend two more years in prison?  There's a law I want to share with you.  I call it the law of timing.  And here's what the law of timing says.   

“God's timing may not always be our timing but it's always the best timing.”
 If Joseph would have gotten his way, Joseph would have been pardoned.  But what would have happened to Joseph?  He was still Potiphar's property.  He probably would have went right back into slavery.  Let me ask you a question.  What's better, to get out of prison two years earlier and go back into slavery or to be in prison two more years and end up second in command in Egypt and have the opportunity to save thousands upon thousands of people from death and become an example of the power of forgiveness?  Which was better?  Pretty obvious, isn't it? 

When Joseph's forgotten in the prison, when the cupbearer doesn't say a word, Joseph's probably thinking, “God, where are you?  Why didn't you come through?”  But what Joseph didn't realize at that time is that God was still working.  And if Joseph would wait on God for two more years, something far better would take place. 

When Jesus walked on earth He had a very good friend that lived in Bethany named Lazarus.  Lazarus had two sisters, Mary and Martha.  One day Lazarus got so sick that he was about to die and Mary and Martha had it all planned out.  They would call for Jesus and He would come and heal Lazarus. 

So they call for Jesus but He purposefully waits to come.  Why does He wait?  He does so because God's timing isn't always our timing but it's always the best timing.  He doesn't show up until Lazarus has been dead and buried four days.  When He shows up Lazarus' sister says to Him, “if You had been here our brother would not have died!”  What was she saying?  “You blew it.  You're late.  It was all planned out, Jesus.  All you had to do was show up.  You didn't come.”  In the minds of Mary and Martha, God was late.  But God's timing isn't always our timing but it's always the best timing.  Jesus was about to do something far more incredible than healing Lazarus before he died.  He raises the old boy from the dead. 

Maybe you are wondering if God will ever show up in the hurt of your life.  Based on the examples in the Word of God, I can assure you that God's timing may not always be your timing but it's always the best timing.  I love the verse in Ecclesiastes 3 that says,

“He makes all things beautiful in His time.”

What do you do when you feel forgotten?  Number one, you lean on God's presence.  Number two, you assist others in need.  Number three, you wait on God's timing.  It may not always be your timing but will always be the best timing.