Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Gen 41
We’re going to start off with some honest confession this morning-Who’s forgetful? Are you someone who easily forgets things? Or would your spouse or family members say you’re forgetful? Are yo someone who faithfully makes your to-do list or grocery store list? Or are you someone that says-don’t need a list-it’s all right up here. Won’t forget a thing! Of course famous last words when you do forget something! At our house we have a pad of paper hanging on the refrigerator to mark down what we need-and inevitably whenever one of us gets back from the grocery store we’ll ask-did you get the peanut butter? To which the reply is no-didn’t know we needed it-did you write it on the list? To which the answer to that is always-no-forgot to write it on the list. So we’ve worked hard, I’ve worked hard, at training myself to write stuff down on the list. The trick is actually remembering to take the list to the store. Who’s forgotten that? Countless times I’ve been at the the grocery store having forgotten the list-knowing it’s right there in the kitchen, all filled out with everything I need and now I have to try and remember it-which never works-something gets forgotten. So don’t forget the grocery list!
But what are others things you forget? I read an article that said we forget 4 things a day-and then listed the most common ones: forgetting why you went into a room, forgetting your keys, things at the grocery store, forgetting people’s names when you’re saying hello, forgetting to take meat out to defrost, forgetting where you parked, forgetting your wallet, forgetting words to a song. Of course-the number one thing we forget these days is where we put our phone. And when that happens we go into panic mode! I like what one guy said in the article-Yesterday my wife frantically called me to obtain help in locating her phone. Once I was able to stop laughing I helped her find it! Has anybody done that before? Called someone to help you find the phone you’re literally calling them with? There were a few more funny incidents of people forgetting. Check these out-gas station, keys, sink, drive-thru. Forgetting to order! Monica says that when she worked at McDonald’s one time she forgot to put the meat on a hamburger-and just served the customer the buns with some pickles and ketchup! But I’m sure we all have funny stories about things we’ve forgotten-which can be rather embarrassing or inconvenient or costly. Forgetting to book your airfare or hotel room until last minute can be quite expensive! But this morning as we continue our series on Joseph we’re going to see how forgetting can be a good thing. That forgetfulness is actually something spiritual and Christ-centered.
So open your Bibles to Gen 41-as we’re going to look at the second half of the chapter we started last week. And if you remember from last week we saw Joseph’s big turning point. From the pit to the pinnacle, literally from the prison to being promoted as prime minister of Egypt. We said that Joseph was elevated to the highest position one could achieve without actually being Pharaoh. Take a look at his promotion-v. 40-41. So Pharaoh’s a smart guy-he’s still in charge-but he’s got Joseph to do all the work! As long as Joseph doesn’t mess things up, Pharaoh can sit poolside all day knowing his nation is in good hands! So that’s a lot of responsibility for Joseph! He’s overseeing all of Egypt! A lot of us have had promotions in life-but I’m not sure any of us have had a promotion with that much responsibility! But look at all the perks it came with-v. 42a. Picture a big Super Bowl ring-but this ring contained Pharaoh’s emblem and was used to press his seal onto official documents in order to make them legal and binding. He didn’t just give Joseph a copy of the ring-it was his ring that he was taking off his finger and putting on Joseph. So he was delegating his very authority straight to Joseph-whatever you choose to do is signed, sealed and delivered in my name. Joseph literally has Pharaoh’s power when he presses the ring into a document. Joseph doesn’t need consensus or to take a vote or hear from the people. Joseph doesn’t have to explain his actions or plead his cause-because of that ring he has absolute power-what he says goes! So the ring is crucial-but beyond that he gets quite the fashion allowance-v. 42b. So Joseph is wearing designer Egyptian Armani robes and some shiny gold chains. He’s dressed to the hilt. And then it’s parade time-v. 43. So not only does he have the Super Bowl ring-but this is like the Superbowl parade-and instead of cheering fans decked out in KC Chiefs gear like this year when the team comes by-it’s the whole nation bowing before Joseph when he comes by in the royal chariot just behind Pharaoh. As I said-I’m sure many of us have had promotions before-but did anybody get a parade in their honor when they got promoted? Did the CEO parade you through the halls of the office telling everyone to take the knee as you walked by? Probably not (even though it would be awesome!) This is what Joseph’s experiencing. Pharaoh’s ring, royal robes, jewelry and a parade in his honor. Talk about a great signing bonus!
But there’s more-v. 44-45a. It’s an Egyptian name that means God speaks and lives. It’s the idea that Joseph speaks on behalf of God-both through his dream interpretations-and now through his authority over the nation. This was quite a lofty name to be given. People would be reminded that when Joseph was speaking he represented God. But there’s still more-v. 45b. He’s given a wife of high-born aristocratic lineage. The city of On was later known by the Greek name Heliopolis, the Sun City, and was the main center of worship to Ra the sun god. As daughter of the priest, she would have been an upper class, well-sought after woman-no doubt radiant and beautiful-and she’s given to Joseph as his bride. What more could Joseph need? In an instant he gets it all-v. 46. Joseph wasn’t 50 or 60 when all this happened-being duly promoted after a long and illustrious career-he was 30! Was anybody married to a princess and in charge of a small country at age 30? I didn’t think so! I thought about it! This is incredible! And Egypt wasn’t a small country-but the wealthiest civilization on the planet at the time-and Joseph is at the helm. Look at how the text emphasizes this-v. 46, 45, 44. Joseph-you’re in charge! Everybody bows to you. Who doesn’t want to hear those words? Who doesn’t dream of this? If I could be king for a day-Joseph gets to be king for the rest of his life! At age 30 he reached the pinnacle of his career. But here’s what’s so important-it didn’t go to his head! Not one bit. So Joseph would say to us stay away from being-Pt1:Prideful: Don’t be ruined by big promotions or success.
I don’t know about you-but it’s often a whole lot easier to cling to God during the hard times in the pit or prison, than it is when everything’s going great. In the tough times, dependance on God is a must, there’s no other option-but when the big promotion comes or when success shows up or we’re back out of the pit and life is good then dependance on God doesn’t seem as necessary. We feel like we’ve got this, we can handle it-and we start to say that to ourselves-look at what I’ve been able to accomplish. I’ll be fine, I got this-it’s all under control. I like what one author says-There’s only one way to look while in the pit, and that is up-to God. But at the top, looking up to God isn’t so natural. Life at the top can make people imagine themselves so original and so wise-a one-of-a-kind that deserves all he has. It’s one thing to remain God-centered and faithful in the pit; it’s quite another to be faithful at the pinnacle. That’s so true! Because the pinnacle is where pride tries to grab a hold of us, the pinnacle is where we stop looking up to God-and turn all eyes to self. The pinnacle is when we forget how God brought us here because we think our abilities, our skills, our intelligence our wit or business savvy, our humor or good looks or charming personality will keep us here. This is when self-confidence begins to take over and it replaces our confidence in God. What a dangerous place to be. Maybe you’ve known people who were ruined by a big promotion, how success went to their heads and their once-steadfast faith seemed to evaporate. They trusted God when times were desperate-but as soon as things turned in their favor that trust was gone. Or maybe that’s you right now. Maybe instead of identifying with Joseph in the pit or the prison, you’re identifying with Joseph’s promotion. Some good things have happened in your life, you’ve been promoted at work, finances are looking good, you’ve had lots of success and are at a personal pinnacle. That’s great-but Joseph would be the first to say don’t let it ruin you. Don’t let it go to your head. Don’t think that because God blessed you and brought you here-it’s now up to you and in your power to stay here. Don’t lose that reliance and dependance on God. Look at what it says in Prov 16:16-18. And that’s exactly what Joseph wasn’t! He wasn’t prideful or haughty. There is no indication whatsoever that Joseph strutted around like the big man on campus-I’m the new boss around here-you all bow to me. You thought Pharaoh was something-look at me-promoted at 30-check out these fine threads I’m wearing, the new chariot I’m driving-not too shabby. Certainly Joseph understood his position of authority-but back to Pt1. Keep your eyes just as fixed on God at the pinnacle as you did in the pit! Never lose sight of Him because you’re so enamored with yourself! Joseph showed his unwavering integrity even when life was good! But he learned that when life wasn’t good.
So he would also say stay away from being-Pt2:Woeful: Don’t be discouraged by lengthy afflictions or struggle. Again-Joseph is 30 at this point when he become prime minister of Egypt-but do you remember how old he was when he arrived in Egypt? 17 years old. So if you do the math-that’s 13 years of struggle. 13 years of living as a slave in Potiphar’s house and being unjustly accused in prison. 13 years of ups and downs, with mostly downs where it went from bad to worse. 13 years of the prison feeling like home. 13 years of wondering if things would ever change or if he was destined for misery. 13 long years before things got better. And Joseph would say don’t be discouraged by it. Don’t give up or quit, don’t let the afflictions or the struggle or the sufferings get the best of you. And yet maybe that’s where you’re at this morning-maybe those things are getting the best of you and wearing you down. That the things you’re going through have brought you to the end of yourself-and you’ve basically resigned yourself to resentment and discouragement, maybe even to a place of blaming God and growing bitter with Him. I don’t know about you-but it’s so easy to try and compare our sufferings with others. You think you’ve got it bad, but you should try going through what I’m going through, I can tell you about suffering-you should try dealing with this. Or we somehow think that there’s a limit to what God’s allowed to give us before it is acceptable to get discouraged. Well, Lord, I was okay going through this for a while-but clearly now it’s too much, it’s gone on too long-so my bitterness is well-warranted. Have you said something like that-or even thought something like that before? That it’s your right to be discouraged because of the severity or length of your struggles? Joseph could have thought that way-because 13 years seems like a viable limit-no one likes the number 13! Lord-if you would have only kept me in the prison for 10 years I would have been good-but 13 was too much so you understand why I’m done now. You can go find someone else to serve you-frustration and discouragement have settled into my life. But that’s not Joseph-even 13 long years didn’t destroy his faith or make him bitter. In fact, they did the opposite-those 13 years created perseverance and deepened his faith. Look at James 5:11. That was true for Joseph. Or he could have quoted Job’s words and made them his life verse-Job 23:10-11. That’s exactly what Joseph did and it’s how he came forth-as gold. His character was molded by God.
And the evidence is found in his family. We know that Joseph went about the nation of Egypt during the 7 good years gathering food and storing it for the 7 bad years that were coming. He was actively at work, preparing for what God had revealed through Pharaoh’s dreams of the severe famine. So look at v. 50. And I want you to make note that unlike his family, Joseph didn’t fall into the trap of polygamy and multiple wives. You can remember how his father Jacob ended up having 4 wives-Rachel and Leah, along with their two servants. Then one of his brothers had an affair with one of his dad’s wives, another brother had a child with his own daughter-in-law. Joseph came from a messed up family in regards to relationships-and yet here he is breaking that cycle by having a committed marriage with his wife. Joseph is living in Egypt, second in command under Pharaoh, married to a sophisticated Egyptian woman whose dad is the main priest for the sun god-how easy would it have been for Joseph to compromise his own religious beliefs, or compromise his standards, to try and fit in with his new identity? If I’m going to live in Egypt and accept this big promotion I better act Egyptian. When in Egypt… How many of us might think that way? But this is where Joseph stands apart and displays the character of God. He doesn’t start living out the faith of his wife’s background, he’s not trying to please his father-in-law the priest, or keep the family happy at holidays by going with them to the sun god’s temple for service. No-Joseph shows the God he serves by the way he names his sons. Check it out-v. 51-52. So Joseph has 2 boys-he doesn’t give them Egyptian names-but instead gives them Hebrew names-Manasseh and Ephraim-which literally mean Forgetful and Fruitful. That’s what Joseph named his 2 boys-Forgetful and Fruitful! Aren’t those some great names! Hey Forgetful-don’t forget to watch out for your little brother Fruitful! And Fruitful-behave yourself and don’t forget to listen to your older brother Forgetful! Joseph wasn’t trying to be creative or think outside of the box when he named his boys-Mike and Frankie are too common these days-that’s what every parent is naming their kids-we’re going with something original-Forgetful and Fruitful! The names were certainly original-but they were chosen very intentionally.
Go back to the oldest boy-v. 51. Here’s Joseph on the other end of those struggles. Those things are now in the past-the 13 years of prison time and being forgotten by the cupbearer and unjustly accused by Potiphar, the relentless temptation from Potiphar’s wife, and even the horrible treatment by his family back home-stealing his coat, throwing him into the pit, selling him off for a few bucks and all while they sat there and ate lunch. All of that stuff is now in the past as Joseph is out of prison and promoted to his new job-but he’s never forgotten the way those people treated him. He knows what they did-and he’s just waiting for all of them to come and apologize to him, to grovel and beg for his forgiveness. And in the meantime, he’s making their lives miserable-spreading gossip, giving the cold shoulder, dreaming of his revenge. No-not at all! Joseph has intentionally named his firstborn son Forgetful-because he has forgotten all of those wrongs. That every time he picks up his son or looks at him or calls his name-it is a reminder to Joseph that he’s forgotten his pain, instead of bearing a grudge. Did Joseph have a right to hold a grudge? Yes. Did Joseph have every reason to be bitter and angry and hope all those people get what’s coming to them? Certainly. But that’s not what he did. Joseph chose the blessing of forgetfulness. So he would say-set out to be Pt3:Forgetful: Don’t be held hostage by your past. What wrongs do you need to forget? And that word wrongs is so crucial because that’s what they are. Joseph didn’t name his firstborn son Forgetful so he could forget the ways people have been nice to him and helped him. He didn’t name him Forgetful so he could forget his friends and the people he liked. He named his son Forgetful so that he could forget all the ways people wronged him. He named him Forgetful so that the past wouldn’t hold him hostage anymore or keep him locked in the chains of bitterness and resentment.
Now we all know that by being forgetful it didn’t mean that Joseph literally wiped his memory banks clean and couldn’t remember those things. Of course he remembered them. No doubt those memories surfaced a lot. But every time they did-along with the accompanying anger-he told himself I’ve forgotten that. And that’s so remarkable-because in essence what Joseph is talking about is forgiveness. And certainly we’re called to forgive-but how many times have you heard someone say-I’ll forgive them-but I’ll never forget what they did. You can be sure of that. Or how many people do you know who are held hostage by the past and will remember every wrong committed against them until their dying day? But that’s not forgiveness. Joseph is taking that tangible step of forgiving but also forgetting. It’s done, it’s past, it’s over-and I’m moving on. I’m not bitter or resentful or secretly plotting revenge or dreaming of their demise. God has made me forget all my hardships and the wrongs my family did to me. Could you say that? Could you forget? I like what one author says, Boice, 980. When Joseph says God made me forget-I don’t think he just woke up one morning as the birds were chirping having just magically forgotten those wrongs. This was an intentional choice to forget. This would have been something he asked the Lord for the strength to do-and now he’s praising God because of it-v. 51–that every time I start to get all worked up again when I think about my terrible brothers or that no-good Potiphar and his wife, when that cupbearer who forget me in prison comes to mind-I remember that I’ve forgotten what they’ve done-and that brings me to a place of peace where I’m not shackled by resentment or held hostage by the past. I’ve given it to God-and He has made me, he has strengthened me to forget.
Because what if he doesn’t? Then Joseph spends the rest of his life waiting and hoping to get even with these people. He becomes a big knot of bitterness. His joy is gone and exchanged for anger and isolation. Instead of being someone who can move forward in relationships, he becomes locked in resentment. If there was anybody in the Bible who had a right to resentment, who could plead his case for resentment, it would be Joseph. 13 long years of being wronged by everybody-but that’s not the road he takes. And it doesn’t have to be the road you take either. It does you no good to try and plead your case for resentment. Well, they did this to me-and then they did that-and to top it all off-they did the unthinkable. The nerve of them. No doubt people have done terrible things and wronged you-but where does the road to resentment lead? What good comes form it? If you’ve ever read CS Lewis-The Great Divorce-which I highly recommend-he describes hell as the place where nobody ever forgets anything and instead remembers every slight, every cruel exchange of words, every harmful act-and where everybody is utterly unforgiving and unforgetful. Sounds like a great place, right? Listen to a snippet of conversation-Divorce, 84. And she goes on for 5 pages about the ways she was wronged. I’m sure all of us could go on for 5 pages about how we’ve been wronged-but back to Pt3.
You and I choose who or what holds us hostage? We make the choice about how someone’s wrong will affect us. There will always be wrongdoing done to us-and we can’t help it. We live in a broken world-but remembering it, wallowing in it, being filled with bitterness and resentment is what we do. We own that-and can’t say that’s on them. We have the choice to remember it and stew on the rest of our lives-or we have the choice to forget. And here’s why this is so important-because forgetting is exactly what God has done for us-Jer 31:34; Isa 43:25. God chooses to forget. If anybody has a brain that can remember everything it’s the God of the universe-but He chooses to forget. He chooses to remember our sins no more. He doesn’t bring them back up or hang them over our heads or make us pay for them. What does it say in 1 John 1:8-9. Because of Jesus your sins, your mistakes, the ways that you have wronged God and wronged others, is paid for and forgiven at the cross. God doesn’t bring back up what His own Son died to forgive! I go back to Boice, 980. But that’s what we do-we keep fussing over our sins and mistakes-whether the guilt of our own or the hurt from others. Is that where you often find yourself? Fussing and fretting over sin and hurt? But God forgets and so must we. Look at what the Lord says back in Isa 43:18. God loves to not remember. He loves to forget the stuff of the past-because he has new things ahead, great things on the horizon. If you stay locked in resentment and remembering every wrong you’ll never get to where He wants to take you. Even in the wilderness of pain and the desert of hurts-God does incredible things.
And that’s exactly what Joseph realizes in son #2-look at v. 52. Even in the pit and prison, Joseph grew and matured in his walk with God-and now in this foreign land of Egypt he is proving himself to be fruitful. Joseph didn’t say-fruitfulness in my life is on hold until my circumstances get better, not until things get a bit easier will I be useful to God. He had no idea if things would ever get better-but that didn’t stop his fruitfulness. So he would say set out to be Pt4:Fruitful: Don’t let your sufferings amount to nothing. What fruit do you need to bear now? You may be in this place of suffering right now, you might feel like you’re living in the land of affliction-and it’s no magical land! Have you ever made the statement before-or maybe you made it this week-How did I get here? How did I wind up in this place? In this job? In this department-working next to these people? How did I get to this spot in life, surrounded by these circumstances-what a waste. Nothing useful is going to happen here! But that’s where we’re wrong. God calls each of His followers to fruitfulness and it’s not contingent on our circumstances. What did Paul say in Phil 4:11-13 NIV. Paul flourished and was fruitful no matter what life threw at him-and it threw a lot at him. Paul was shipwrecked and stoned and left for dead. Or what did Jesus say in John 15:5 NIV. Jesus didn’t say that you couldn’t be fruitful in sufferings and afflictions-He said you couldn’t be fruitful apart from Him. That’s what matters. Life is always filled with ups and downs-moments of great affliction and moments of big promotions. We’ve seen both in Joseph’s life-and he was fruitful because he clung to his God. You can be fruitful too-in the ups and downs, highs and lows, because you have a Savior to cling to-and that’s Jesus. What did He say-John 15:16 NIV. Not bitterness and resentment that will last your whole life. But fruit that will last. Faithfulness that will last because you’ve chosen the blessing of forgetfulness! What wrongs do you need to forget from your past? What fruit do you need to bear right now? Everything that makes your forgetfulness and fruitfulness possible is because of Jesus. He has forgiven and forgotten your sins, His blood has paid for every last one of them. They are forever washed away by His blood. God will never bring them back up again. He remembers them no more-He loves to forget. And we need to be a people who love to forget too! Start forgetting today!