************ Sermon on Genesis 41:37-57 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on September 28, 2014
"Joseph in Charge of Egypt"
David vs Goliath. Israel vs Egypt. Elijah vs the prophets of Baal. Gideon vs Midian. The Rocky movies. Erin Brokovich. We all love stories in which the underdog wins. The story of Joseph is one such story when a prisoner becomes second-in-command of all of Egypt.
I Joseph's Exaltation
A Do you remember Joseph's suffering and humiliation? He was thrown into a pit by his brothers and then sold as a slave (Gen 37:22-24). Once in Egypt he was falsely charged with attempted rape and again thrown into a pit (Gen 39:16-20); this time he had shackles that limited his movement (Gen 40:3). When the king's cupbearer and baker were thrown into prison, Joseph was assigned to attend to their needs as though he were a lowly servant (Gen 40:4). After this, even though Joseph correctly interpreted his dream, the cupbearer forgot Joseph so Joseph spent two more years in the pit (Gen 40:23). In all of this unjust suffering we see Joseph as a type of Christ.
B By the power and grace of God, only Joseph was able to interpret Pharaoh's dream. Joseph told Pharaoh of seven years of plenty followed by seven years of severe famine. According to Joseph, "the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon" (Gen 41:32). The message is that God is in charge. He is controlling events. He is revealing that leaf and blade, rain and drought, fruitful and lean years, food and drink, health and sickness, prosperity and poverty come to us not by chance but from His fatherly hand (cf Heidelberg Catechism, Q & A 27).
But, now, how does Joseph respond to the providence of God? Does he sit back and do nothing? Does he say, "Que Sera, Sera" "Whatever Will Be, Will Be"? To give a title to this kind of thinking, is Joseph a fatalist? Not at all! Therefore, Joseph suggests a plan to Pharaoh so Egypt will not perish. Rescue was possible for Pharaoh and his people if only they listened to God's word through Joseph. Joseph was not a fatalist, and he did not end his speech to Pharaoh saying, "Famine is coming and we cannot stop it. Let us hope for the best." Instead, he laid out a plan: store up food during the seven years of plenty for the seven years of famine.
Here is a reminder that Biblical Christianity is not fatalistic like the Muslim faith. Yes, we believe in the providence of God. Yes, we believe God has a plan. Yes, we believe God ordains all things. But we also believe that God's declarations require action on our part – especially worship, repentance, prayer, and holiness. And, in the case of Egypt, store up food during the seven years of plenty for the seven years of famine.
C We see that Joseph's combination of warning and wisdom pleases Pharaoh greatly. The wisdom of Joseph's words is so clear that the king of Egypt recognizes the presence of the Holy Spirit (Gen 41:38).
Pharaoh immediately pays attention to Joseph's counsel. He agrees to place a man in charge of famine relief (Gen 41:34-36) and chooses Joseph for this task (Gen 41:37-40). What happens next is totally unexpected:
(Gen 41:41-43) So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt." (42) Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph's finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. (43) He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, "Make way!" Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.Joseph is given all the trappings of royalty: Pharaoh's signet ring, fine clothing, jewelry, and a chariot. Joseph becomes second-in-command next to Pharaoh.
As I said, this is totally unexpected. But after years of faithfulness in little things – serving Potiphar, managing the prison, and attending Pharaoh's officials – Joseph is finally given authority over much. But didn't Jesus say this is the way it is in the Kingdom of heaven: "You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things" (Mt 25:23).
Joseph was granted all this because he relied on the Lord and was empowered by the Spirit.
D Take a step back with me for a moment and look at the whole picture. Do you remember how Joseph ended up in prison? Mrs. Potiphar was mad that she couldn't seduce Joseph. A woman rejected in love can be very angry and dangerous. We have an expression, "Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned." So Mrs. Potiphar trumped up evil charges against Joseph. As for Potiphar, he believed his wife without bothering to find out the facts for himself. He took it for granted that his wife was a modest and virtuous woman, and condemning Joseph as a wicked man, he threw him into prison.
The Bible doesn't tell us, but I was wondering this past week how the Potiphar family reacted to the exaltation of Joseph? They certainly knew that it was Joseph who now was in control of Egypt – after all, Potiphar was the captain of Pharaoh's guard and it appears Joseph was in Potiphar's prison (Gen 40:3). Scripture doesn't idly give us little details like this.
We look at the humiliation and exaltation of Joseph and we see the humiliation and exaltation of Jesus. Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel to conspire against Jesus and condemned Him to death (Acts 4:27). But death and humiliation did not have the last word because Jesus arose, ascended into heaven, and was seated at God's right hand. Listen to how Christ's exaltation is described in the hymn of Christ in Philippians:
(Phil 2:9-11) Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, (10) that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Do you see the similarities between Jesus and Joseph? Like Jesus, Joseph suffered humiliation and unjust suffering. Like Jesus, the rejection and persecution of men was used by God to save. And, like Jesus, Joseph was exalted to the highest place; he was given a name above other names; before him every knee shall bow (the Hebrew for "Make way!" can also be translated "Bend the knee!"); and, every tongue was to confess his greatness. We see that Joseph is a type of Christ.
E The first promise of salvation, in Genesis 3:15, states that the Messiah, and in Him all believers, will crush Satan's head and have final victory over evil. We see our promised victory displayed in the life of Joseph.
We may not all receive public exaltation and vindication in this life, as Joseph did. But we all will be exalted on the last day when our perishable body is raised in glory, finally free from all sin and sickness and death. That's the promise of God for you and me in the story of Joseph.
Have you noticed that every significant change in Joseph's life involved a change of clothing. Father Jacob gave Joseph a beautiful coat, but his brothers stripped it off him and used his garment to deceive his father (Gen 37:23,31-33). Similarly, Potiphar's wife stripped Joseph of his garment and used it to deceive his master (Gen 39:12,16-18). When Joseph was summoned by Pharaoh, the text notes that he first changed his clothes (Gen 41:14). And, when Pharaoh put Joseph in charge of Egypt, he gave him robes of fine linen (Gen 41:43). In the same way, in Christ we also have a change of clothing: our rags of sin are exchanged for Christ's robes of righteousness. And, at the wedding supper of the Lamb and His bride, those who are faithful will be given fine linen, bright and clean, to wear (Rev 19:7-9; cf Rev 3:5).
II Joseph's Witness
A Joseph was exalted. Just like the Lord Jesus Christ, he went from rags to riches. Just like the Lord Jesus Christ, the underdog wins. "The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone" (1 Pet 2:7).
As we all know from sports and Hollywood, success can often be a curse. Think of Tiger Woods, various NFL players who are either in prison or banned from football, Charlie Sheen, Mel Gibson, Paris Hilton, and many others. Even in the Bible we see that success can often be a curse. For example, Gideon and Solomon were lead astray when theirs became fame and position (Judg 8:22-28; 1 Kings 11). Think of Samson (Judges 13 ff). Yet, Joseph remained faithful to the Lord. Joseph did not allow success to keep him from bearing witness to the Lord.
When he was a young man Joseph boasted about his dreams and their interpretation. But before Pharaoh Joseph was careful to say dreams and their interpretation are from God. Joseph turned attention away from himself and to God. Joseph gave all the glory to God. This evidently made an impression upon Pharaoh. Why do I say that? Because of the Egyptian name Pharaoh gave to Joseph: Zaphenath-Paneah (Gen 41:45). The name means, "God has spoken, and He lives." By this name a pagan king acknowledged that our God is a living god – in contrast to the idols of the heathen – and He is the source of revelation.
B Pharaoh also gave Joseph an Egyptian wife. He was married to Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On (Gen 41:45). So what, you may say? This means Joseph was married into the family that led the worship of the sun-god Ra. So, Joseph was married into a pagan family, a practice God forbids in Scripture. Yet it may be the Lord used this marriage to convert Joseph's wife to the worship of Himself. Though far from conclusive, Philo, a first-century Jewish philosopher who lived in Egypt, mentions a story in which Asenath turns to God.
C Even if this information is only a legend, there is clear biblical evidence that Joseph maintained a strong witness to the one, only, true God. In our Bible reading today we see the birth of Joseph's sons, Manasseh and Ephraim. Joseph was given an Egyptian name but he made sure his sons had Hebrew names. Their names prove Joseph's continued awareness of the Lord's presence with him in the land of Egypt. Any time the Egyptians would ask Joseph to explain the names of his boys, he could testify to the Almighty. Notably, the name "Manasseh" means "God has made me forget all my trouble." When we count God's many blessings and name them one by one, our troubles seem like nothing in comparison. Or, as Paul puts it, our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us (Rom 8:18). So, with the name "Manasseh" Joseph was testifying to the goodness of God. The name "Ephraim" sounds like the Hebrew for "twice fruitful." Remember God's promise to great grandfather Abraham? God promised to make Abraham fruitful (Gen 12:1-3). In Egypt, Abraham's great grandson was increased and fruitful.
Now, think for a moment of the message the names of Joseph's two sons gave to the children of Israel. Don't forget, they were slaves in Egypt. If God blessed Abraham's son Joseph in the land of "suffering" (Gen 41:52), these slaves could be confident God would bless them in the very same land since they also were sons of Abraham.
Manasseh - God has made me forget my trouble. Ephraim - God has made me fruitful. What do these names say to you and me? Do we count our blessings? Do we consider our trials and troubles to be light and momentary (2 Cor 4:17)? Do we rejoice that those who believe in God and Christ are a crowd beyond number from every tribe and language and people and nation?
D Lastly, Joseph also bore witness to the Lord through his work ethic. We are told Joseph "traveled throughout Egypt" (Gen 41:46). He collected food produced in the seven years of abundance and stored it up for the seven years of famine. Think about all the arrangements that had to be made. Joseph needed storage facilities. He needed to negotiate with the farmers as prices fell due to the huge surpluses. He needed agents to buy the grain. He needed workers to guard the grain from thieves and rats and mold. He needed a distribution method to bring the grain from the countryside into the cities. He needed the cooperation of the farmers and the priests and Pharaoh's officials. What a lot of work. But Joseph not only did it, he did it well so Egypt was prepared when the famine came.
We are told that Joseph was able to gather up a tremendous store of grain – it was like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure (Gen 41:49). There was so much that "all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain" (Gen 41:57). Through Joseph, then, God blessed the world. Through Joseph God confirmed His promise to Abraham that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen 12:3) – though, of course, this promise is especially fulfilled in Christ.
At the start of Genesis 41 Joseph was in prison. At the end of Genesis 41 Joseph was second-in-command of all of Egypt. By the grace and power and plan of God the underdog was given a great and glorious victory. As I said, Joseph was a type of Christ. So, we turn from Joseph and to Christ.
At the name of Jesus every knee shall bow,
every tongue confess him King of glory now;
'tis the Father's pleasure we should call him Lord,
who from the beginning was the mighty Word.
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