************ Sermon on Genesis 41:1-36 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 14, 2014
I Joseph Forgotten
A Do you remember how the previous chapter ended? We are told, "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him" (Gen 40:23).
Remember what Joseph all did for the cupbearer? First, he was assigned to attend to his needs (Gen 40:4); Joseph, who had been head of the prison, was demoted to the level of a lowly servant but Joseph did this without complaint. Second, Joseph showed compassion when the cupbearer looked sad and upset about a dream. Third, Joseph correctly interpreted the cupbearer's dream. All that Joseph asked in return was "remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison" (Gen 40:14).
But what happened after the cupbearer was restored to his position in the presence of Pharaoh? Joseph had every hope of being soon released. However, the cupbearer forgot Joseph. So after spending ten or more years in prison Joseph ended spending two more years in prison. Now, remember, this is not one of those country-club prisons we have for white-collar crime. Joseph was in a "dungeon" (Gen 41:14); a more literal translation is "pit" or even "world of the dead." He was in shackles most of the time (Gen 40:3).
Joseph was forgotten. For two years he languished in prison. At this point he would have lost all hope that the cupbearer would ever remember him before the king.
B God never said His people would have easy lives. On the contrary, the first promise of salvation said that the woman's seed will have His heel bruised (Gen 3:15). The woman's offspring (which is the Messiah and all those who believe in Him) will suffer at the hands of the serpent and his seed (which is all those who hate the Lord and His church). We saw this suffering when Isaac was forced to dig well after well before he finally found a place of peace (Gen 26). We saw this suffering when Jacob was forced to serve Laban for twenty years (Gen 31). We see this suffering when Joseph was forgotten in prison even though he did a great deed for the royal official. We see this suffering today in places like Iraq, Afghanistan, and China; Christians languish in prison or are killed because of their witness to Jesus. In other places, believers are outcasts from family and society, suffering discrimination for their faith. And, in Western society, we suffer in a culture that proclaims freedom from religion, the insignificance of faith, and the lack of ultimate values and standards.
We should not be surprised by any of this. We need to keep in mind the words of Jesus and the apostles:
(Mt 10:22) All men will hate you because of me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.
(Jn 15:20) ... If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also ...
(2 Tim 3:12) ... everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.
(1 Jn 3:13) Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you.
As Christians, we should expect suffering. Furthermore, the Bible tells us we are following the example of Christ and even participating in His sufferings:
(1 Pet 4:12-13) Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you. (13) But rejoice that you participate in the sufferings of Christ, so that you may be overjoyed when his glory is revealed.
(1 Pet 4:1) Therefore, since Christ suffered in his body, arm yourselves also with the same attitude ...
Joseph did nothing that deserved slavery and prison and punishment and suffering. As he himself put it in the last chapter,
(Gen 40:15) "For I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon." In other words, he was suffering for being a Christian. He was suffering for Christ!
Regardless of our specific situation, Joseph provides a model for us to follow. Like Joseph, we are called to endure. Like Joseph, we must remain faithful to God. Like Joseph, we must be willing to suffer for doing good.
II Joseph Remembered
A I said earlier that the first promise of salvation, in Genesis 3:15, states that the woman's seed will have His heel bruised. Thank God that the bruising of the woman's seed is not all that God promised. God also promised that the Messiah, and in Him all believers, will crush Satan's head and have final victory over evil.
Haven't we seen this again and again in our study of Genesis? Think of the days of Noah. Man's wickedness on earth had become so great that God destroyed the whole world with the flood and saved only believing Noah and his family (Gen 6-8). When man attempted to make his own way to heaven God confused the language of the whole earth at Babel (Gen 11). When Lot was taken captive, God granted Abraham a great victory over a superior enemy (Gen 14). When the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah became too great and their sin too grievous God destroyed those wicked cities of the plain. When Ishmael persecuted Isaac, the child of the promise, God arranged for Ishmael to be sent away (Gen 21).
B Moses tells us in our Bible reading that the Lord sent dreams to Pharaoh to rescue Joseph from jail. The imagery in the dreams was familiar to Pharaoh: cows and grain. First, Pharaoh dreamt of seven sleek, fat cows that came out of the Nile and grazed among the reeds. It made sense for cows to come out of the Nile because they often stood in the river to find refuge from the heat and flies. What was new and troubling was the seven ugly, gaunt cows that ate up the seven sleek, fat cows.
Even more troubling was the next dream. Pharaoh dreamt of seven heads of grain, healthy and good, growing on a single stalk. Pharaoh had no problems with that part of the dream. At that time, Egypt was the bread-basket of the world because the annual flooding of the Nile enriched the soil with minerals and its water provided irrigation. That is why, centuries after Joseph, the Roman empire turned to Egypt as its chief source of grain. It is what Pharaoh saw next that horrified him: the seven good and healthy heads of grain were swallowed up by heads of grain that were thin and scorched.
Cows and grain represent the abundance and fertility of Egypt. But now Pharaoh has two dreams that question Egypt's ability to produce healthy grain and livestock. Pharaoh's dreams put a big question mark upon the entire nation. Keep in mind that at the time of Joseph Egypt was the world's superpower and its king was seen as a god. Egypt was respected for its knowledge, prestige, and strength. But now comes two dreams that question Egyptian domination.
We are reminded that there always is One Who is greater than Pharaoh and all the powers of this world – the Lord God Almighty. By a simple dream He is able to bring Egypt to its knees and Pharaoh is helpless and troubled. Pharaoh sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. He told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
Then the chief cupbearer remembered Joseph. It has been two years, two long years, since Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him. But as so often happens, the Lord intervenes at what seems the last possible moment. Pharaoh's nightmare ensures that Joseph is no longer forgotten.
Because of the intervention of God, Joseph is the right man at the right place and at the right time. To Joseph it might have seemed to be the midnight hour, but God intervened according to His timing at just the right hour.
III Joseph's Humility
A What follows next happened in a hurry. Joseph was released from the "pit," that is the dungeon. He shaved, which means he washed and cut his beard and his hair. And he was given a change of clothing so he was properly dressed for an audience with Pharaoh (Gen 41:14). Isn't this all ironic? It was Joseph's interpretation of dreams that angered his brothers and got him thrown into a pit in the first place (Gen 37:18-36), but now it is this same gift that gets him out of the pit.
B Our president addressed the nation this past week about the Islamic Republic. Because of the threat to American life and interests he declared it was time to take action. It seems most Americans agree with him. However, what would you have thought if the president said on national TV, "It has been revealed to me in a dream that we should take action." Probably men in white coats would have grabbed him and Joe Biden would be President instead. In contrast to this, ancient Egyptians believed that dreams – especially to their king – revealed the future. So, Pharaoh told Joseph his dreams and Joseph told Pharaoh the meaning of the dreams. And no one thought it strange that Pharaoh's dreams and Joseph's interpretation resulted in a change to national policy.
C More than one person thought I was too hard on Joseph the teenager when I preached on Genesis 37. At that time I said Joseph had problems with arrogance, favoritism, being a tattle-tale, and boasting about his dreams. I stick with what I said. But in today's passage we see a new Joseph, a changed Joseph, a godly Joseph. We see that Joseph is now a humble man.
Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." I just love Joseph's response: "I cannot do it but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires" (Gen 41:15,16). What a change in Joseph. Instead of parading around his dreams and his ability to interpret those dreams, Joseph gives all the credit and all the glory to God. Two times Joseph indicates it is God Who has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do (Gen 41:25,28). Joseph realizes it is entirely because of circumstances beyond his control that he stands before Pharaoh and gives him God's wisdom.
I have said it before and I am sure I will say it again, but we need humility when God calls us for service in His church and kingdom. Ultimately, all of our talents come from Jesus. And, ultimately, it is Jesus Who strengthens us and equips us for every circumstance we face (Phil 4:13). Joseph shows us that we succeed only because the Lord's grace and Spirit gives what is needed for faithful service. Joseph finally understands this and is quick to credit God with his gifts (Gen 41:16,25).
A verse we all need to keep in mind all the time is Philippians 2:5. This verse introduces the Hymn of Christ. The hymn starts with the humiliation and suffering of Christ: He did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, He made Himself nothing, He took the nature of a servant, He was made in human likeness, He became obedient to death, even death on the cross. But now consider the verse that introduces this hymn: "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). In other words, you need to imitate Christ. We are called to be like Christ.
In Genesis 40 & 41 we finally see Joseph as a type of Christ. Like Jesus, Joseph suffered humiliation and unjust suffering. Like Jesus, Joseph endured suffering with patience and faithfulness. The wicked rejection and crucifixion of Jesus was providentially used by God to save many from eternal wrath; likewise, the jealousy and treachery of Joseph's brothers was used by God to save many from starvation. The evil intentions of men toward Jesus and Joseph were meant by God for good.
Joseph was a type of Christ. Joseph adopted the mind of Christ. But that is what happens when the grace and word and Spirit of God work in a person. Don't ever forget, congregation, that the grace that saves us also changes us. Let me repeat this: the grace that saves us also changes us.
Learn from Joseph, congregation. "Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus" (Phil 2:5). Or, as another translation puts it, "Have this mind among yourselves that is yours in Christ Jesus." Be humble. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit but in humility consider others better than yourselves (Phil 2:3).
IV Joseph's Prophecy
A By the power and grace of God, Joseph interprets the meaning of Pharaoh's dreams. Joseph tells Pharaoh there will be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of famine. Joseph prescribes wise actions so that Egypt will not perish.
We know that the years of plenty and the years of drought came upon Egypt by the providence of God. As the Catechism puts it,
Providence is the almighty and ever present power of God by which he upholds, as with his hand, heaven and earth and all creatures, and so rules them that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty – all things, in fact, come to us not by chance but from his fatherly hand. (Q & A 27)The Lord's purpose was not to destroy the Egyptians, but to reveal Himself as Savior.
Here is a message about the inability of man. Pharaoh is helpless. Pharaoh's magicians are helpless. Pharaoh's wise men are helpless. Pharaoh's army and generals are helpless. But the Lord God Almighty, He is more than able to provide rescue. Rescue was possible for Pharaoh and his people if only they listened to God's Word through Joseph (Gen 41:33-36). Similarly, salvation remains available today to all who repent and believe.
B Joseph spoke to Pharaoh as God's prophet. Many people, most people in fact, do not understand prophesy. In the popular mind prophecy has to do with future events. But when Biblical prophets spoke they called people to repent and believe. Think of Elijah, Elisha, Jonah, Amos, Isaiah, Jeremiah, John the Baptist, and even Jesus – they didn't so much foretell the future as call people to change their behavior.
Joseph spoke to Pharaoh as God's prophet. Joseph was God's agent of grace and salvation.
As I said, in today's passage Joseph is a type of Christ. We look at Joseph and we see the humility and suffering of the Savior. Next time we look at Joseph we will also see the exaltation of the Savior. And, we cannot help but break out in song,
(Rev 4:11) "You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honor and power ..."
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