GOD REVEALS HIS SOVEREIGN WILL
Key Verse: 41:51,52
Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, "It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household.' The second son he named Ephraim and said, "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering."
In the previous chapter Joseph was successful in Potiphar's house because God was with him. But suddenly he was unjustly thrown into the prison. But we find God's purpose in his life. His misfortunes were no accident. God placed Joseph in the best place when Pharaoh needed him to interpret his dream. In the prison he met two officials of Pharaoh and took care of their needs and interpreted their dreams. Joseph's interpretation was correct. Then Joseph interpreted Pharaoh's dreams and God revealed his sovereign will to save the world from starvation through Joseph. Joseph rose from the bottom of the prison to the top of the world. His suffering turned into glory. Joseph was faithful to God in all circumstances. God used his life to bring his family from Canaan and to build a nation of God in Egypt. Naming his two sons, he reflected his faith in God-Manasseh which means "Forget" and Ephraim which means "Fruitful." May God bless us to forget our difficult past and to be fruitful in this land of mission. I pray that we may find God's purpose in our life and reveal his sovereign will to save many students through the word of God.
PART I. A SHEPHERD AND BIBLE TEACHER IN PRISON (40:1-23)
At this point Joseph was in the worst possible human condition. But Joseph did not complain about his situation. He did not blame others for his condition. He did not fall into fatalistic human thinking. He was not bitter towards people who caused him to suffer unjustly. He was busy again in serving people. He was faithful in his job whatever his situation. Like a shepherd he cared for the prisoners and the dungeon became his Bible center. Joseph began his prison ministry. To Joseph the place did not matter but faith in God did. Whether he was in a dungeon or in the palace, he was faithful to God and his mission. As long as we have faith in God, we can be successful in any place or in any situation.
Look at 40:1. "Some time later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt." Two of Pharaoh's officials were put in the prison where Joseph was. They were political prisoners, so they were put in the king's prison. Do you think that this was a coincidence? I don't think so. There is no accident in God. Everything has a purpose in God. God was moving his life with a very definite purpose. Look at verse 4a. "The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them." Joseph was put in charge of two political prisoners. They became his sheep. He did not take care of them in a superficial way; he was sensitive to their needs. Look at verses 6-7. "When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh's officials who were in custody with him in his master's house, 'Why are your faces so sad today?'" One day he noticed that they looked depressed. Joseph was a good shepherd to them. He knew them by name. Though Joseph had his own problems as a prisoner, he was able to notice his sheep's problem. Like the movie "Green Miles", the prison is a rough place. Though he was in prison, he was always concerned about his fellow inmates' well being. His heart was warm toward the people around him. He regarded his sheep's problem as more serious than his own. As a result, he recognized their problem right away. Suffering people understand other people's suffering. God gave Joseph a shepherd heart for all prisoners. When I am hungry or tired, I become insensitive and am unable to notice other's problems including my close room mate. But Joseph was different. When he talked with them, he found that each had a dream. They realized that their dreams had some special meaning, but they had no one to interpret them. At that time there was no written Bible and so God did speak in dreams, and he used symbols meaningful to them. A cupbearer would understand about serving wine and that was what he did for Pharaoh. In the same way, God had given these two men a special revelation through their dreams, but they did not understand what God was saying to them. So they needed a "Bible teacher." How did Joseph help his dejected sheep? Look at verse 8b. "Then Joseph said to them, 'Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.'" Wow! Joseph revealed God's name to the Gentile officials. Joseph taught them that interpretations belonged to God. Joseph gave God all the glory in this. Joseph did not take advantage of their situation but rendered glory to God through them. Joseph helped them trust God in his interpretations. He then listened to their dreams and as God's servant, told them the meaning.
What was the content of the cupbearer's dream? Look at verses 9-11. Look at verses 16-17. The two dreams were very similar in many ways-and very different. It was going to be Pharaoh's birthday. People would sing a happy birthday song. The cupbearer's dream was good news-his head would be lifted up and he would be restored to his former position within three days. But the baker's dream was bad news: His head would be lifted up--on a gallows--in three days. Joseph did not mince words. He told each man the meaning of his dream. He was God's servant, and he did not try to sugar-coat the bad news. He told him the truth. What request did Joseph make of the cupbearer? Look at verses 14-15. "But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. 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." Joseph asked the cupbearer to remember him when he was restored to his former position serving Pharaoh. Joseph put hope for his freedom in the cupbearer's favor. He wanted to get out of the dungeon as soon as possible. Who wants to spend his life in the dark dungeon suffering endlessly? Joseph's one glimmer of light had been that the cupbearer would remember him to Pharaoh. But God had a different plan. It was not God's time. What happened to Joseph? Look at verse 23. "The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him. Things happened as Joseph had said, but sheep are sheep and the cupbearer completely forgot about his shepherd Joseph. The cupbearer was so elated with going back to his job and being in favor with Pharaoh again that he forgot all about poor Joseph. The disappointing of Joseph's expectation from the chief cupbearer was painful. Though Joseph served the cupbearer well, he forgot Joseph. His human condition remained the same. Not only Joseph was mistreated by men but also he was forgotten by men. To be forgotten by others is the most unbearable pain a person can bear. There is even a flower named "Forget me not." Though the cupbearer forgot Joseph but God did not forget Joseph. God wanted to keep him there for a purpose. If the cupbearer remembered Joseph and Pharaoh freed him from the dungeon, he would have been at home in the land of Canaan at the time that Pharaoh would need him to interpret his dream. As we know, Pharaoh did not have his dreams yet So God kept Joseph nearby and prison was a convenient place to keep him. God also trained Joseph to become a good shepherd in taking care of the prisoners. Joseph planted the hope of God in them while serving them one by one. In prison he was faithful to the warden. He was faithful to his sheep. He was faithful to God, always giving him the glory. He learned how to serve God's will in a given situation. We will see later on that he was faithful to Pharaoh, and he will be faithful to his own brothers because God was with him. It was God's sovereign purpose for Joseph to stay two more years in the prison. I know that some of us may have a difficult situation saying, "I do not see the way out. Does God care about me and remember my situation?" That is the reason God has given us this story of Joseph. God wants us to know that he cares and that he has a purpose in our life. God is planning a wonderful thing in our life. I pray that we all may find God's purpose in our current human condition and serve his will faithfully.
PART II. A BIBLE TEACHER AND SHEPHERD FOR PHARAOH (41:1-40)
Look at 41:1. "When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: he was standing by the Nile.." Joseph stayed in the prison for two full years. He waited for the news from the cupbearer. He did not hear any news from his old sheep for two years. He might have been frustrated for his no-win situation. He might have blamed the cupbearer for his misfortune. Though two years seemed to be like an eternity to him, Joseph was waiting for God's time patiently. Two full years after the cupbearer's release, Pharaoh had a dream. It was a powerful dream, and it was clearly God's message to Pharaoh, but Pharaoh could not understand it. His dream troubled him, so he sent for all the wise men in his kingdom to tell him the meaning of the dream, but no one could interpret it. Then the cupbearer remembered Joseph. Look at verse 9. "Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, 'Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.'" He said again, "Oh, by the way, Pharaoh, he can interpret dreams." He made an honest confession of his shortcomings. He repented his sin of forgetting Joseph. Joseph's shepherd life in the prison was not in vain. It began to bear fruit in his sheep's life after two full years. Some people think that the shepherd's life is a losing business. But that's not true. It is a winning business. During my China trip I met Eric, shepherd Alan's brother. Shep. Alan used to my Bible student and currently he is serving Northwestern ministry in Chicago. He said, "Thank you for teaching the word of God to my brother. God made me a Bible teacher too." Joseph had a good reference in his prime minister job application. Now the cupbearer made a good recommendation of Joseph to Pharaoh.
Look at verse 14. "So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh." Joseph was brought out of the dungeon to stand before Pharaoh. He was lifted up out of the dark prison. He shaved and changed his blue prison uniform for a royal robe. This was a new life that was before him. It was like a resurrection. Now he stood before the Gentile king. He looked like a handsome prince of Egypt. This was his chance! Joseph could have said to Pharaoh, "Oh, great Pharaoh! I am an expert in dream translating. I did it for the cupbearer. I have 100 percent accuracy. Give me the job. I can do it." Joseph, however, did not try to impress Pharaoh. He told him the truth. Look at verse 16. "I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires." This is like a job interview to him. When people have a job interview, they never say, "I cannot do it." They always say, "Oh, yeah! I know that. No problem. I can do it if only you give me this job. I need this job." But Joseph was different. He did not advertise himself to Pharaoh. He did not use his Bible knowledge to serve his own promotion. He proclaimed God first to Pharaoh. From Joseph viewpoint, God must receive the glory. He was careful that God gets the glory for all of his accomplishments. So, he began to have 1:1 Bible study with Pharaoh. Joseph depended on God to interpret the dream.
What was Pharaoh's dream? Look at verses 17-23. Seven scrawny and very ugly and lean cows came out of the Nile River and ate up seven fat and sleek cows. Then, a second dream followed. Seven skinny heads of grain ate up seven fat, plump heads of grain. What a dream it was! How did Joseph translate these dreams? Look at verse 25. Joseph told Pharaoh, "God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is going to do." If Pharaoh had been a proud man, he could have been angry at the mention of God. But he did not seem to object to Joseph's testimony about God. He listened carefully. Joseph told him that God had firmly decided to grant Egypt seven years of abundant crops, followed by seven years of severe famine. In other words, God, not Pharaoh, controlled Egypt. Joseph taught Pharaoh that God was sovereign above him and God had plan to save people from starvation. It is true that Pharaoh cannot control the weather or the famine. He cannot create the rain. God is the creator of the heavens and the earth. Pharaoh is his servant. Joseph then added some advice which the king had not asked for. Joseph had shepherd heart for the king and the whole country. Look at verses 33-36. His plan was to save money in the time of abundance and prepare for the rainy day. This is Joseph's ECON 101.Planning and good management are the key ingredients to prepare for the worst famine to come. He advised the king to put some one in charge of the agriculture of Egypt and strictly gather grain during the years of plenty so that there would be enough to eat in the years of famine. Pharaoh did not become angry at Joseph's presumption. Instead, he did a surprising thing! He said, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the Spirit of God?" Pharaoh recognized Joseph's spiritual life. Why did Pharaoh give Joseph such a powerful position? Of course, the answer is that God was with Joseph. Pharaoh saw that the hand of God was leading this young man. This was a great honor to Joseph. And he put Joseph in charge of the whole land of Egypt!
PART III. JOSEPH BECOMES STEWARD OF EGYPT (41:41-57)
Look at verses 41-43. Joseph went out from Pharaoh's presence with Pharaoh's signet ring on his finger. He was dressed like a prince and given a late model chariot for his personal use. He was second only to Pharaoh in the land of Egypt. Whenever he rode around the streets of the capitol, someone ran before him shouting, "Make way! Make way! Bow down! Here comes Joseph." Pharaoh put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. Pharaoh said, "I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift a hand or foot in all Egypt." He rose from a slave to a prime minister of Egypt in a day! It was a glorious day for young man Joseph. How old was he? He was just thirty years old at that time. Wow! His dream was finally realized. It is good to have a dream. If you want to dream, dream big. When Joseph was faithful in a small thing, God blessed him to take care of the whole country. His ministry grew from the prison level to a national level. Several weeks ago I was able to visit Summit Lake to see the children's summer Bible conference. They were organized very well. I realized that God was using S. Belssi's faithfulness to bless many young children. Now she is working as an acting fellowship leader in the absence of M. David and she came to the early prayer meeting four times last week. When I assign a task to her, I do not have to worry about it because she is very faithful to her task not before men but before God. Joseph's success was enough to make him proud. He did not become a proud man suddenly. He was humble before God. It is a Biblical constant that God opposes the proud but lifts up the humble. But what did Joseph do? He didn't make a list of those who had wronged him and get revenge. (Potiphar's wife would have headed the list!) Look at verse 46. He went out from Pharaoh's presence and traveled throughout Egypt. He did not sit down in his high chair and order his officers to do this and do that. Rather, he began to work right away. He wanted to know what was going on in the country by himself. He traveled throughout Egypt. He began immediately to make plans for mobilizing Egypt for the famine that would occur after seven years. Pharaoh introduced him to a beautiful girl to be his wife. God solved his marriage problem. For seven years both Joseph and Egypt prospered. Joseph firmly believed God's word: There would be a famine. To most people, it seemed as if the times of prosperity would go on forever. People could have eaten up all the crops and wasted a lot of food and spent a lot of hours for losing weight. Sometimes, it was as difficult to believe that there would really be a severe famine as it had been for Noah to believe that there would be a flood. By faith, Joseph stored up grain and kept careful records until there was so much grain that it was impossible to keep records. It was like the sand of the sea. Joseph did not abuse his power and did a thorough job. They stopped counting, but they did not stop collecting.
During that time, God blessed Joseph with two sons. Look at verse 51. He named the first one Manasseh, which means "forget." Joseph thanked God who made him forget all of his trouble and sorrow that he had experienced at the hands of his brothers. He could have remembered their jealousy and all of the small ways they had tormented him. He could have harbored deep hatred for them for tearing him away from his loving father and selling him as a slave in a foreign land. But he turned those feelings and thoughts over to God. God healed him and filled him with love. Joseph believed in God's sovereignty over his life and was able to forget his brothers and moved on and served the people around him. He became the source of blessing to all people. He did not dwell in his dark past and found God's purpose in prison and palace. It is important for us to forgive those who wronged us in the past and move on in serving God's will. Look at verse 52. His second son he named Ephraim, which means "twice fruitful." God had not only healed his deep heart wounds, but God had made his life very fruitful. He said, "God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering." He didn't deny that he had suffered in Egypt. He was realistic about his life. But he acknowledged God's sovereignty and praised God for the blessings he had poured out on him. God fulfilled the promises of the dreams in the life of a man who held those dreams in his heart. God healed the heart of the man who accepted God's love and gave thanks to God in all circumstances. God was with Joseph in Egypt. He trained him until he could be a blessing to Egypt and to all the world--and especially to God's chosen people. God was working out his purpose for inviting Jacob's family to Egypt to form a nation of Israel through Joseph. May God bless us to be fruitful in any adverse human situation. May God heal our wounds through the love of Jesus. Let's read the key verse 41:51,52.