When considering Bible heroes to present in this “Profiles In Courage” series, I have to admit that one of my favorite books of the Bible, Genesis, has several characters worth covering. Abraham is certainly a man of courage; called to leave his homeland and go to an unknown place as God directs. Noah is a character who is unwavering in the face of an evil generation. Jacob is another; serving out his life under the promise God has given after wrestling with the Almighty. But it is one of Jacob’s sons, Joseph, who I feel compelled to look at today.
For any of us who have ever thought we’ve walked a hard road, Joseph’s life reminds us that things aren’t so bad in comparison. He is his father’s favorite son and therefore, is despised by his brothers. He is sold by his brothers into slavery, taken to a foreign land, and has all sorts of encounters that God allows to bring him to a unique position. He is a Hebrew living in Egypt, a country that worships other gods. He has the favor of the Lord upon his life and that favor extends to his time in Potiphar’s house, his time in jail, and finally his time as 2nd in command only to Pharaoh.
There are several chapters devoted to the story of Joseph in Genesis. I’d like to center on chapter 41 and draw out some key points that are applicable to our lives. Here, Joseph has been sitting in jail, brought up on false charges of sexual advancements made to Potiphar’s wife. The end of chapter 41 is Joseph’s rise to power as he has a God-orchestrated encounter with Pharaoh, king of Egypt. We see from Joseph’s life that nothing is impossible with God. The improbable is probable. The unlikely is likely. And the uncertain is certain as Joseph depends and relies upon his God. Let’s go!
1. Joseph is patient in the wait
After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile…Genesis 41:1
It seems in every great Bible character story, there is a waiting period that takes place. Moses waited several years as a shepherd before leading the Israelites. David waited many years from his anointing as king to his eventual reign after Saul. And Joseph waits in prison after having interpreted his fellow inmates’ dreams. In Genesis 40, Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker were thrown in prison. Both have troubling dreams and Joseph being gifted in interpreting dreams, tells them what the meanings are (read chapter 40 if you need refreshing). For Joseph, figuring out these dreams must have seemed like the light was at the end of the tunnel. Here was his moment to finally go free. But as the cupbearer is restored to his position, he quickly forgets about Joseph (Genesis 40:23).
We see in Joseph something that we all must come to terms with as well, if we believe God is going to use us. We must be patient in the wait. Things do not happen overnight. Joseph could have gotten bitter, blamed God, and been angry with Him. Perhaps he did have some moments where he honestly cried out and pondered aloud why he was in the pit. But we see that he didn’t allow his feelings to dissuade him from his eventual path. His dreams and visions from childhood (Genesis 37) were promises that he knew God gave. There was a significant work that must be done and at the right time, God would open the door to what He had for Joseph.
2. Joseph gives credit to God and not himself
Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Genesis 41:16
In chapter 41, it is Pharaoh who has a troubling dream. After consulting all the magicians and wise men of Egypt, there was no one who could tell him the meaning. It is at this point in which the cupbearer recalls his time in prison with Joseph: “A young Hebrew was there with us…When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came about.” Genesis 41:12,13. At this moment, we read the text and feel some retribution for Joseph. Finally we see him getting a fair shot. Finally he gets some recognition and the opportunity to perhaps show Pharaoh just what he can do!
But in this moment, Joseph doesn’t take the credit. As he goes before the king, he humbly admits that God is the one who reveals dreams. Joseph reveals the meaning to Pharaoh but is careful to not make it about himself. After a long season of waiting, it would be tempting for him and for any of us to want to take the glory. But what a testimony when, even after waiting, we come through and say, “it’s all about Him.” Joseph honors the Lord in this way and we honor Him as well when we refuse to take credit for what is plainly His doing.
3. Joseph writes his own job description
Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you.” Genesis 41:39,40
Pharaoh’s dream was a warning from God: prepare the land for seven years of plenty and seven years of famine. The famine will be severe but in order to survive it, the people of Egypt can store up food during the seven good years. Joseph not only interprets the dream but prescribes the remedy for Pharaoh; all under the Lord’s inspiration. To prepare he tells Pharaoh, “select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt.” (Genesis 41:33) If we could have read the king’s mind, I believe he would have thought “The discerning and wise man I need is standing before me. Joseph is that man.” Joseph writes his own job description before he knows Pharaoh is going to select him. God’s favor upon him includes speaking into existence the very thing God is going to do for Joseph: to be elevated to a position just under the king.
In verse 38 we see Pharaoh’s realization that something is different about Joseph: “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” You see, when we walk in the favor of the Lord, doors open that could never have happened before. Opportunities come that we would never have dreamed of. And people recognize something different in us because God has plainly revealed it. Joseph was faithful in the hidden years. He never took the glory that God deserved. And it all was honored by the Lord when the time was right.
We don’t know the things God is preparing for us as we wait and obediently serve Him. Joseph could not have known when he was a slave sold into Egypt that he’d one day be 2nd in command over the land. That people would come to him for advice. The years of training in humble roles and positions prepared him for an exalted role that brought power and authority. Without the proper training and humility, Joseph would never have been ready. We too must allow God to take us through the years in which our mettle is tested and honed by the fires of trials and perseverance. When we come into the promise, it is that much sweeter knowing we stayed the course in Christ.
One more takeaway which is an important conclusion to all of this: in the story of Joseph we also see redemption and a foreshadow of the coming Messiah. Joseph’s reunion and reconciliation with his brothers is the reflection of God’s heart for all of us (Genesis 42-46). To take a family so broken and seemingly beyond repair and heal it is only something God can do. Joseph could’ve chosen to never forgive his brothers and be forever estranged. He doesn’t and Jesus never leaves us abandoned either. The example for us is clear: even in the waiting process and in inheriting the promise, we always point to Christ as the One Who is worthy. A few thousand years before Jesus, Joseph was pointing to the man Who would make all things new. We do the same today.
I love you guys! Let me know how I can be praying for you today!
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Be very careful, then, how you live—not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity, because the days are evil. Therefore do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is. Ephesians 5:15-17