Summary: God gave Joseph dreams and interpretations of dreams but he needed to work on Joseph’s life to bring those dreams alive.
If you have not been part of St Stephen’s morning services for the past few weeks, you might have missed our series on the life of Joseph. Here was a young man, born into a well-off family already well-equipped with sons. Yet his father Jacob favours him over the others, possibly because his mum was Dad’s favourite wife, out of four women with whom he fathers children. Joseph makes sure that his brothers are fully aware that he is more favoured than they – an approach to brotherly love that pretty much ensures that they sell him as a slave to some passing Egyptians, after coming that close to killing him. Their story to the heartbroken father is that a wild animal tore his beloved son apart.
In case you think that surely such an unholy story should have got edited out of the Holy Book, be assured that this book is a true accounting of the lives of God’s people, as seen by God. If the Bible were written by men for men, they would certainly have left out some of the more embarrassing details, on the grounds that it does little to enhance the public image of some of the heroes of the faith. Instead, we get stuff that you could not make up because it happened for real.
Last week we left Joseph languishing in prison, unjustly victimised. He is in chains because he was framed by his Egyptian slave owner’s wife, who had failed in every attempt at seducing the smart young Hebrew slave who had joined the household.
That was last week in the life of Joseph. This week in our own era marks the start of the Ashes cricket test series between England and Australia. The Ashes have often been marked by some of telling insults and put-downs. In 2001, when the Australians were upping the ante in all departments, England sent out new boy Jimmy Ormond to play his first test. He was welcomed to the batting crease by Mark Waugh, the stylish Australian batsman who also happened to be the twin brother of Australia’s captain, Steve Waugh. Mark Waugh says to Jimmy Ormond, “Mate, what are you doing out here? There’s no way you are good enough to play for England.” Ormond replies, “Maybe not, but at least I am the best player in my own family.”
Joseph probably needed very little external affirmation in telling his brothers he was the best among them. In case there were any doubts, he had two dreams he could and did refer them to. The dreams showed, first the brothers and then, the entire members of the family bowing to the young upstart.
Tied in chains in an Egyptian prison, Joseph must have wondered what his dreams really meant. Were they for real? What did they really mean? Did he misinterpret them? Were they just fanciful creations of his own fertile, hopeful imagination? In this environment, Joseph is exposed to four dreams that were dreamed by others. It is these dreams and their interpretation that we are considering today.
If you want to follow the dreams in the passage today, you will need to read them for yourselves in Genesis 40 and 41 when you get home. I intend to focus on a big idea that gives us a key to understanding the passage. The key is simply this: God is the main character in the Joseph story – He is carrying out his plans and achieving his objectives. Look at Joseph’s story to get a sense of this:
• By being sold into slavery, Joseph ended up in the land of Egypt, the leading super-power of the age
• As a slave, he works for Potiphar, a leading figure in Pharaoh’s court
• When imprisoned, he ends up in a prison where there are some important political prisoners
• He is accurate in interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh’s imprisoned staff – one of them is released in three days to his old job, and the other is hanged
• When Pharaoh has his own cryptic dream which his dream team cannot deal with, the cup-bearer remembers the one person who did seem to be able to understand dreams – Joseph.
• Joseph helps Pharaoh understand his dream as one that is God-given in order to allow Pharaoh to come up with a plan to deal with the impending famine.
• Pharaoh is impressed by Joseph’s discernment and strategic thinking and gives his the top job in Egypt.
• The door is now open for Joseph to help save his family from death due to famine – the very family that God has chosen to be His special instrument for God’s salvation plan for the whole world.
It is a fantastic big picture. But why did God have to make it so complicated? And was it fair on Joseph to spend 13 years in a foreign jail so that God could accomplish his greater purposes?