Genesis 40 ~ 20080608 ~ Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~

6/08 Genesis 41 Joseph; Suffering for Righteousness Sake

We've been watching Joseph as he's gone from favored son at his father's side to being sold by his brothers into slavery; then from favored position in control of everything in his master's possession; (even favored in an unwholesome way in the eyes of his master's wife) to being falsely accused and imprisoned on false charges. It seems Joseph has done everything right; worked hard, told the truth, resisted temptation, and it appears as if he's being punished for it. But even as Joseph's circumstances have turned from unimaginably bad to worse, Joseph retains his confidence in the sovereign God who loves him and is bringing about these circumstances to bless him and do good to him. The last chapter ended with Joseph unjustly thrown in prison, and the narrator gives this theological interpretation of the events:

39:21 But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. 22 And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. 23 The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph's charge, because the LORD was with him. And whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.

In this passage the name YHWH is mentioned three times. The Lord's covenant name is not mentioned again until the prophetic blessings given by Jacob to his sons in chapter 49. But that does not mean that God has stepped off the scene for these nine chapters. God's invisible hand is clearly seen providentially moving in circumstances and orchestrating events to bring about what he has promised and planned. God is with Joseph. God is showing 'chesed' – steadfast love to Joseph – even in the dungeon. YHWH is with Joseph.

Genesis 40:1 Some time after this,

Wait a minute. God is with Joseph, granting him grace and showing him steadfast love, and he's still in prison. He's been there for some time. We might expect to read 'God showed him steadfast love and gave him favor and got him out of prison.' Instead we see God showing him steadfast love and leaving him in prison. We tend to equate our external circumstances with God's favor or displeasure. If we have offended God, things go poorly; if we please God, things go well. This is what Job's friends thought – you surely must have done something awful to be punished like this. And remember in the gospels the man born blind – the question of the disciples was 'who sinned, this man or his parents that he was born blind?' Remember Jesus' answer?

John 9:3 Jesus answered, “It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him.

Joseph had the opportunity to sin and things might have gone well for him. Instead he chooses to honor God and do what's right, and things go from bad to worse. Joseph's story is showing us that we need to create a new category in our thinking for sustained suffering that goes hand in hand with God's favor.

:1 Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. 2 And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

We are not told what the cupbearer and baker did, but we are told they sinned against the Pharaoh and it landed them in prison. Potiphar was introduced to us in chapters 37 and 39 as 'the captain of the guard'. He's not named in this chapter, but it is likely that he's the one who appointed Joseph to care for these high-ranking prisoners. With the possibility that they be restored to power, it would be wise to take good care of them. Joseph is trusted to serve the men who serve the Pharaoh. Again we are told, 'they continued for some time in custody.'

5 And one night they both dreamed––the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison––each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. 7 So he asked Pharaoh's officers who were with him in custody in his master's house, "Why are your faces downcast today?" 8 They said to him, "We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them."

We get a hint at Joseph's character. He attended to their needs, and he was perceptive enough to notice that they had had a rough night. And he cares enough to ask them about it. And he has earned their trust enough that they are willing to talk to him. Trustworthy is when your guards give you a set of keys to the prison and ask you to make sure to lock yourself up at night.

We need to understand the world view of these Egyptians. Dreams were omens of future events. There were trained experts in Pharaoh's court that were skilled in interpreting dreams. You could lay on this guy's couch for a half-hour and tell him your dreams and he would tell you what would happen to you in the next five years and what you ate for dinner last night. But in prison, you don't have access to these highly trained psychological gurus. So they were depressed. We had dreams and we can't go see our therapist!

This is Joseph's golden opportunity – you've come to the right prison! I'm a certified dreamnologist. Come lay on my couch and tell me your problems and I'll tell you what you ate for breakfast and dinner yesterday (because I served it to you). I'll even tell you something plausible about what might happen in the future. And I only charge seventy-five hundred dollars a minute. Guaranteed results or your money back. If you act now I'll throw in a free set of ginsu spoons – guaranteed not to bend, chip or crack as you dig your way to freedom. This is Joseph's chance to capitalize on his gifts and take advantage of the opportunity. But Joseph doesn't do that.

And Joseph said to them, "Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me."

Joseph unashamedly introduces them to a completely different world view. God is in control of the universe and everything that happens in it. God is the author of your dreams. Don't you think God could also give you the interpretation of your dreams? Joseph doesn't point to himself; he points them to God. Joseph doesn't seize the opportunity for personal gain or to advance his own reputation; instead he seizes the opportunity to point them to the one true God and speak some truth into their lives at this teachable moment. I may sound like I'm disparaging counselors; that's not my intent, there are some good ones out there, but any counselor worth the dust on his couch cushions will put his finger on the sin in your life and tell you to repent and run to Jesus as the one who can solve your problems and set you free – free to really live.

9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, "In my dream there was a vine before me, 10 and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh's cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh's cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand."

The cupbearer was the one who took care of the Pharaoh's drink -like a bodyguard – to make sure no one poisoned the Pharaoh. He was responsible for sampling the wine to make sure it was of the highest quality and that it was not poisoned. He and the baker both would be in a trusted position, and also a position that could play a sinister role in any plot against the Pharaoh.

God communicated to these two men in dreams. God can communicate in many ways. God communicates to all men through the natural world. God can communicate directly to individuals. God can communicate through other people, he can communicate through dreams or visions, he can communicate through circumstances. Most often today God communicates to his people through his written word. In this situation God chose to communicate to these two men with dreams that they didn't understand, while they were in contact with his ambassador; and God gave them the interpretation of their dreams through his ambassador in order to establish the credibility of Joseph as one who indeed was in communication with God. Joseph gave a concise definitive unambiguous interpretation, and it was an interpretation that could easily be proven true or false. This was no fortune cookie proverb like 'something good will happen to you soon'. God had given Joseph the interpretation, and in faith he stated it boldly:

12 Then Joseph said to him, "This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. 13 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh's cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. 14 Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. 15 For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit."

Joseph is confident of the interpretation, and out of that confidence he makes a request. Joseph says 'when you get back, be sure to remember me and get me out of here. I did nothing to deserve being thrown in this pit.' Joseph uses the same word for pit that was used back in chapter 37 to describe the cistern that his brothers had thrown him in before they sold him. His brothers had thrown him in the pit, and he's been in a pit ever since.

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, "I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, 17 and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head."

The chief baker had been reluctant to share his dream, but when he heard the good interpretation, he shared his dream also in hopes that his interpretation too would be favorable. The chief baker would have been the one responsible for all the baked goods that would be served at Pharaoh's table. He would insure that they were of the finest quality and, of course, safe. In his dream, the baker has worked hard to prepare a wide variety of the best baked goods to offer to the Pharaoh, but he doesn't have the strength or presence of mind to protect what he has and drive the birds away.

18 And Joseph answered and said, "This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. 19 In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head––from you!––and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you."

The baker's interpretation is much less favorable. The wording is the same – lifting up the head can refer metaphorically to cheering someone who is despondent, as with the cupbearer. But this time the phrase is not a metaphor; it is literal. – his head will be lifted up – from off his body. He will be publicly disgraced and his body will be impaled on a pole. The birds will eat his flesh. It is comfortable to be the bearer of good news. Nobody wants to be the one to tell the family that the surgery didn't go as well as they had hoped. The good news for the cupbearer is possibly to Joseph's advantage – this might be his ticket out of prison. But he has nothing to gain by delivering the bad news. Joseph has to take care of this guy for the next three days, and that probably won't be a lot of fun once he knows what will happen. It would be tempting to soften the message. Maybe even lie and make up something that would give him comfort rather than dread for his final days. But Joseph tells him the hard truth. It's easy for us to tell someone that God loves them and has a wonderful plan for their life. It's not quite as easy or comfortable to tell someone that hell is hot and forever is a long time and that's where you're going if you don't repent and turn to Jesus.

20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh's birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. 21 He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh's hand. 22 But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them.

Events unfold exactly as Joseph had indicated they would. There is hope here for Joseph. Now someone who has the Pharaoh's ear knows of him and the injustice done to him. Someone knows of his relation to God and his gifts of interpretation. Surely this is his ticket out of prison. Things went exactly the way Joseph had predicted. Surely the cupbearer would repay his kindness. Joseph had been a slave in Egypt and then a prisoner for somewhere around ten years. Now there is finally hope.

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

This doesn't mean that he didn't remember what had happened in prison. We find out later that he does remember. But he did nothing about it. It would not be a benefit to the cupbearer to do Joseph a favor. He has nothing to gain by fighting for Joseph's freedom. So we leave Joseph – hopes dashed, forgotten in prison.

What can we learn from Joseph?

We should be ware of equating external circumstances with God's blessing or disfavor. God was showing Joseph his steadfast love by leaving him in prison. God was tempering Joseph to make him useful. Not a moment in prison was wasted. Every bit of it was used by God to develop Joseph's character and make him into the man God wanted him to be.

Joseph's story should also give us hope.

Romans 15:4 For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

It must have seemed to Joseph that he was enduring meaningless hardship and was the victim of unfortunate circumstances for no good reason. His faithfulness was getting him nowhere. But Joseph, through 10 years of slavery and prison never lost hope in God. He trusted that God had a good plan and that God would do what he promised. We can read Joseph's story and see how it all turned out. And we can trust that in our difficult circumstances God has a plan and God is working to show his steadfast love to us. And we can draw our strength from the nearness of God in the midst of adversity.

And we should learn to seize every opportunity for the glory of God.

Joseph was an unlikely witness. We would expect bitterness and resentment toward God. Instead, Joseph is pointing everyone he comes in contact with to the greatness of the God he serves. Joseph could truly say with the Psalmist:

Psalm 73:28 But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord GOD my refuge, that I may tell of all your works.

Joseph is not whining and complaining about his circumstances. Instead he is rising above his circumstances and being a light in a very dark place. Joseph doesn't have a church to go to. Joseph doesn't have his family to support him. Joseph doesn't have a small group or an accountability partner. Joseph doesn't even have a bible to read. But Joseph is leaning hard into God and finding meaning and satisfaction in God and drawing his strength from God. Joseph is showing God's love to those around him and is quick to point them to God as the all satisfying all sufficient source of everything we need.

May we have a Joseph kind of faith in God when we find ourselves suffering for righteousness' sake.