Joseph – But God meant it for Good!
Tell me, have you ever irritated your spouse so much, that they have woken up mad at you in the morning, because of something you did to them – in their dreams?
I have. Now, yes, I’m used to getting on Sarah’s nerves during the waking hours, but it takes special talent to be able to transcend into the dreamworld. One morning she woke up, and was mad at me – now good husbands like me can usually tell when something is wrong, can’t they… so, what’s wrong, nothing, no its fine… ok, what happened – no you did something horrible in my dreams last night – and I got the evil eye for the rest of the day? I can’t even remember what it was – well, one of the reasons I can’t remember what I did is because I didn’t actually do it, but that wasn’t enough. It was only a dream – it didn’t mean anything’ was the line, I believe. Well, some people think that dreams do mean something? We start our look this week at the story of Joseph the dreamer in the book of Genesis – and how God speaks directly to him through dreams – those dreams had very important meanings – they held messages or warnings, predictions of the future, they were given to specific people at specific times and needed to be interpreted and followed.
Thankfully, for the sake of my marriage – the dreams you and I have nowadays are mostly meaningless and easily forgotten, but this morning we’re going back to a different time. We’re going way back to the first Joseph in the bible, not Joseph of Arimathea, not Joseph as in Joseph and Mary in Bethlehem – all the way back in your bibles to Genesis 37 please. And before we dive in – as the memories of the story come back to you gotta say, what a drama – what a story – Joseph and his Amazing Technicoloured Dream Coat – do you remember the Andrew Lloyd Webber smash hit musical.
In a couple of weeks Stuart and Ali will continue after me and they’ve promised to personally sing some of the songs, so you can start placing your requests and they can start practicing.
So Joseph, we’re doing four weeks on the story, and having a look at what literally one of the oldest tales in the bibles has for us here in 2022.
Lets read in Genesis 37:1-4
37 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan.
2 This is the account of Jacob’s family line.
Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
3 Now Israel(Jacob – same person) loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he had been born to him in his old age; and he made an ornate[a] robe for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than any of them, they hated him and could not speak a kind word to him.
Ah, so , our story begins – actually lets just start even earlier than that – Joseph is Jacobs son – Jacob is Isaacs son – Isaac is Abrahams son – now your remember Abraham – Father Abraham, had many sons – many sons had Father Abraham – he was the one God makes this promise to – I will make you a great nation – I will bless you - and the whole rest of the Old Testament is essentially a working out of that promise – that Line is important – the writers of scripture often refer to the God of Abraham Isaac and Jacob – this is a good family tree – every tree and some rotten fruit – some issues – we’ll get into that later in the series – But in terms of Jewish Old Testament history – the bloodline that comes directly down to Joseph is pretty significant.
They live in the land of Canaan – also important – because (spoiler alert) by the end of this story God will have arranged events so that they all wind up in a very different land – in Egypt.
So, as we stumble into this character with such a rich history and future, we find him minding his own business, casually looking after sheep. He is seventeen. A teenager. Father Jacob, lucky man, or unlucky, who knows – he’s got a few wives - and please you can park your questions about God sanctioning polygamy for another time please, I’m trying not to get distracted here – Joseph is the son of Rachel – ahhhh not Zilpah, not Bilhah – but the special Rachel – and I know I’m going backwards here and not forwards, we’ll get moving now now – but a few Chapters earlier you have the story of Jacob and Rachel and Leah – Jacob is tricked into marrying Leah – and has to labour another 7 years for Rachel – his true love. Well, some time has passed – he’s not only got 2 wives, he seemingly has a couple of concubines as well and Joseph is now one of 12 brothers, almost all of them being half brothers – they are jealous of him because he is born to Jacobs ‘favourite partner’ Rachel – and Joseph quickly becomes Jacobs favourite son. Is he a tattletale – he brings a bad report of his brothers in the field – what have they been up to... who knows…. But suffice to say
His father loves him, his brothers hate him, lets begin the adventure.
Joseph has a dream about sheaves of grain and how one day his brothers will bow down to him, and I don’t know, foolishly? He tells it to them – they already don’t like him… and they hate him even more..
He has another dream – the one where the sun moon and stars bow down to him – he tells it to the whole family – and they are all angered - bow down to you – the young Joseph– even his father rebukes him.
His brothers, over the rest of the chapter – plot to kill him initially – they then change their mind to selling him off to the Midianites and faking his death – they take his famous ornate robe – smear it with blood, and manage to convince their father that an animal has killed his favourite son – understandably, he weeps and goes into mourning – next week is Father’s day, and we’ll look especially and the various Father Son dynamics being played out here towards the end of the book of Genesis. But as far as Jacob is concerned – he thinks he has lost his son. His special favourite son. We lost one of our cats this past week ,and believe you me the grief and tears flowed – I cannot even begin to imagine how awful it must be to grieve the loss of a child.
Things are going downhill here for Joseph and his family.
To try and simplify Joseph’s life – because we are going to whizz through many chapters in the next five minutes, i want you to visualise the letter W. We’ve started in a good spot up here, but things and rapidly gone south, and here we find Joseph at a low point – not long ago he was enjoying the favour of his father – now he is alone– sold into slavery by his own brothers – The Midianites then go one to sell Joseph to an Egyptian man by the name of Potiphar – who is one of Pharaohs officials.
You skip a chapter and a strange story about one of Josephs brothers and we pick up the tale in chapter 39 – the sordid scandal of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife.
Time has passed, and the Lord has been good to Joseph –
2 The Lord was with Joseph so that he prospered, and he lived in the house of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord gave him success in everything he did, 4 Joseph found favor in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned. 5 From the time he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the household of the Egyptian because of Joseph. The blessing of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field. 6 So Potiphar left everything he had in Joseph’s care; with Joseph in charge, he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate.
Now Joseph was well-built and handsome, 7 and after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph and said, “Come to bed with me!”
So we’re half way through the W – from the low of being sold into slavery – the Lord was with Joseph – did you hear the emphasis coming out of the reading. The Lord was with Joseph, the Lord gave him success, the Lord blessed.
The Lord lifts him out of this low point to a position of authority - Potiphar puts him in charge of his household – a big reputable household – Joseph is back at the top – he is thriving – what could possibly go wrong?
And a quick side note here about the main character of our story – he is a God fearing young man – he is an obedient believer – he has seemingly been raised well by the less volatile side of a messed up family. Even though his Father was a bit of a rubbish, more on that next week – Joseph was a good kid. Known for doing the right thing – that’s part of why his brothers hated him and his father esteemed him. And that becomes important again for what awaits him in the next chapter of the story….
Joseph, being well built and handsome, it’s not long before Potiphar’s wife ‘took notice’ of him and says – come to bed with me.
Every well built handsome teenage boys dream right? A powerful older woman begging him to have his way with her…. NO – not for a faithful Godly young man.
Joseph knows that it is not OK – it would be a violation of a marriage – it would be a violation of His masters trust in him – it would be an abuse of the power Potiphar’s wife has over him – it’s just wrong on all accounts – and he refuses – and this is impressive from a guy whose father has multiple wives and concubines – maybe he knows that being loose and free sexually speaking leads to trouble and hardship?
For sure he probably thought that he would be rewarded for being honest and doing the right thing, hey. How could I do such a wicked thing against God he says to her…
Well, as the story goes on, and again I’ll paraphrase for the sake of time – he underestimates just how devious Potiphar’s old lady is…. She tries again to seduce him and he flees, but she grabs him by the coat – he gets away but she has his coat, which she then, one assumes in a fit of jealous rages takes to her husband and convinces him, that Joseph has tried to attack her.
Potiphar believes his wife’s lies and guess what – the second U of the W begins – he gets thrown into prison. Down – Up, and then back down again. Can you believe it.
Has he been abandonded by God? Left alone without hope? Never
Reading from verse 21 of Chapter 39
But while Joseph was there in the prison, 21 the Lord was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden. 22 So the warden put Joseph in charge of all those held in the prison, and he was made responsible for all that was done there. 23 The warden paid no attention to anything under Joseph’s care, because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did.
Once again, just like he has been with him all along – the Lord is with him and Joseph starts to rise.
He somehow gains a position of authority in the jail itself. So much so that when the Pharaohs Cupbearer and baker also get chucked into prison, they get put under Josephs care – as the story goes, while in prison the two new inmates have dreams, and Joseph interprets them for him – a brave move, considering the fact that communicating the meanings of dreams so far hasn’t exactly led to good things for Joseph, but he interprets the two dreams. To the Cup bearer- you’ll get your job back – to the Baker – sorry, bad news Pharaohs going to kill you – and both come true –
And even after Joseph had begged the cupbearer to remember him – he didn’t – Joseph was left in prison.
A full two years later as we know Pharaoh himself starts to have dreams - and only then does the cupbearer remember – hold – I think I know a guy who can help.
So Pharaoh brings him forward, and tells him his dreams. The ones about seven fat cows – seven heads of grain. And Joseph says, I don’t interpret dreams – but God does – and he’ll tell me what your dreams mean.
Seven good years are coming, and after that seven bad years – and more than just the interpretation - what he should do about it – he wisely advises Pharaoh to save from the bounty of the good times for the famine, so Egypt will have enough food.
It all comes to pass - and Pharaoh is so impressed by Joseph – back up the W we go – he get’s placed in a position of authority, over all of Egypt – Pharaohs 2ic! Incredible!
To paraphrase massively – literally to compress like five long chapters into a sentence – Back home in Canaan, Joseph’s family hear of the food available in Egypt, and set out to purchase food from the Egyptians, bringing the brothers face to face with the forgotten brother Joseph, whom they don’t recognise – cliffhanger thriller stuff. Eventually Joseph reveals himself to be their long-lost brother, and they are all reconciled. Down up down up. A story of trial – of hardship – of underserved punishment and separation – but a story of redemption, reconciliation – restoration. A story of Gods faithfulness and deliverance.
Joseph of course wasn’t the only person in the bible to receive dreams - he wasn’t even the first – but he is the most famous - . But I’m not really interested in turning this morning into a study of dreams - this is just a method of communication between man and God. Can God speak to you in a dream? Sure, of course he can – do all your dreams therefore have deep significant meaning – my goodness…. I doubt it. Generally the accepted view is that since the compilation of the bible as the complete word of God – if we’re looking for God to speak to us – we ask him to reveal his guidance to us in his word. Bottom line – no need to wait for the voice in the clouds, or the life changing heart palpitating middle of the night revelation – stay in the word. Keep feeding, and the voice will come.
These ten chapters or so contain an amazing story – full of highs and lows, twists an turns, full of horrible characters and innocent heroes and all the in-betweens, . It’s little wonder it’s been made into a musical.
But this story is not just entertainment. The story is in the bible for a reason! And as we sit here listening to it once again so many thousands and thousands of years after it was first lived out, and then penned for history in the original scrolls, not for our amusement but for our benefit. To tell us something – something of our past – of our spiritual forefathers, what they went through – how God interacted with them – what type of challenges they faced – and you know what? some of the things are soooooo common – things are still the same – just to look at Joseph and Potiphar’s wife – the issue of marital fidelity is so huge – the stories are horrible. Family wrecking. And they are inside the church.
What else does the story tell us about the human condition – that there are rewards to be gained by honouring God – interesting enough , this story actually says the opposite in the short term – doing the right thing got Joseph into whole heap of trouble – but in the long term – it brought so much good to himself and his family.
The story tells us that even the youngsters can be used by God – 17 years old, 30 years old? Not too young …. At all.
And then, as with all of scripture, God is really telling us about himself. Revealing his nature to us.
It says he is with us. It says he does not abandon us in our darkest moments. It tells a story of a God who saves his people and that story echoes throughout history. Is repeated, over and over.
It tells a story of a sovereign God who orchestrates nations – you realise the Jewish nations from the line of Abraham Isaac and Jacob – they are now in Egypt – what comes next - Exodus, and the escape from Pharaoh and return to the promised land.
It’s tells a story of God being faithful to his promise to Abraham – if Joseph had died – if his family had starved like it looked like they were going to.. – the line then wouldn’t continue like God had promised it would – and that line by the way continues all the way to Christ.
It tells a story of how God is able to use tragic events, evil people and believers even at the lowest of their lows (bottom of the W) for his Good.
And this is the by line for our series in the next four weeks
Joseph reconciles with his brothers after his father’s passing, in this symbolic act of forgiveness he assures his brothers – all we have been through, all the stuff – you meant for harm, but God meant it for Good. God meant it for Good
Wherever you are this morning, whatever high you are experiencing, whatever mountain top you are looking down from, but maybe whatever pit you find yourself in, whatever chain it is that binds you, whatever God is teaching you through the metaphorical prison cell you wake up in each morning – He is with us – We is at work, He is alive, using it for Good. He is our Living Hope
I’m done - Next week we’re in the same area of Genesis, but because it’s fathers day – we’re going to look at Joseph and His father – they have a special relationship – we unpack a little more of Jacobs history and some of the generational things coming though, both good and bad, and we’ll ask ourselves what a good father looks like.
See you then, thank you.