Joseph: Ongoing Opposition, Unwavering Integrity – Gen 41
Today we’re talking about Turning Points. Two very important words when put together because they describe a significant or decisive change. Once it was like this-this is what was happening-and then at the turning point it all changed and it’s never been the same since. So I want you to start thinking about some turning points in your life. And as you’re doing that-I want to point out how turning points show up all over the place. For example, in math there’s the turning point of a polynomial. Take a look-this is when the graph changes from increasing to decreasing, a downward slope, or from decreasing to increasing, an upward slope. In literature, the turning point is the climax of the plot, it’s the most exciting and revealing part of the story-like in a mystery novel when you find out who did it. In history, there’s also lots of turning points. In fact, I looked up an article from National Geographic that listed the Top 10 turning points of human advancement-and it began with the invention of fire (love this pic!), the bow and arrow, the wheel, iron tools, concrete in construction (like the Colosseum in Rome), latitude and longitude on maps, the Industrial Revolution, telecommunication, airplanes and the internet. So that’s a fairly comprehensive list-from fire to the internet-of major turning points in human ingenuity and invention. Although, I would argue the most important turning point took place in 9th century Ethiopia from a goat-herder named Khali. Apparently, his goats were behaving erratically after eating the red berries from a nearby Coffee arabica tree. He tried some of them himself and was soon acting as hyper as his herd. So he brought a batch of them back to the nearby monastery where they were instantly frowned upon because of their stimulating effects. So the wise monks tossed the berries into the fire to destroy them, but the pleasing aroma of the seeds on the inside as they roasted quickly sparked everyone’s interest so they put them into some warm water-and coffee was born! Thank you Kali and your hyper goats-what a turning point! Who had coffee this morning? I’ve always wondered how you’d figure out to take the seeds from a plant, ie the beans, roast them, grind them and then pour hot water over them-and even a bit of cream and sugar! But legend says that all-important turning point occurred in the 9th century-and the world’s never looked back!
So returning to our original question-what are some turning points in your life? We’ve all had career or educational turning points. For me, I can think of when I was in college waiting for the bus to take me to campus one day when I finally came to the realization that I needed to pursue secondary mathematics education as my major. I had thought about business, accounting, engineering-and all the while taken lots of math courses-but as I got on the bus the decision of studying education had happened. And while I’m not teaching math now-I’m so thankful for that turning point because the training in education has been so useful as a pastor for educating and teaching people about God’s Word. Or in the realm of relationship, maybe you’ve had some turning points. For me, it was also in college and I had gone on some dates with a girl named Megan and it was going fine-so one time after our weekly Campus Crusade meeting-that’s where we met-I asked her to go get some coffee (very important!) But instead of saying, Megan, would you like to get some coffee-I accidentally said-Monica, would you like to get some coffee-I mean Megan! Because I had also gotten to know Monica-and was clearly far more interested in her as my not so subliminal slip up revealed! Later in the date she asked-who’s this Monica? So that was turning point-Monica and I started dating after that-and it was my last date with Megan.
But on a spiritual note, I can remember the turning point in my life. I was in high school youth group-and our Youth Pastor challenged us to be reading God’s Word during our quiet times-and then we’d meet in small groups to discuss what we read. So in an effort to read something I started in on the book of Romans. I was reading it at night in our family room downstairs-and I remember having the overhead lights on but the lamp wouldn’t turn on. Oh well-it was enough light-and I was reading Romans 3 learning the real depth of who I was as a sinner and yet seeing God’s saving grace come right in at my point of need. Yes-I’d grown up in the church and SS-but this was me really reading it and discovering these truths for myself-and all of a sudden that lamp just turned on! I remember being so surprised-even slightly spooked-because no one else was downstairs with me. Lord, did you turn that light on? Now I later realized the bulb was loose and the switch was on-so it had made the connection and randomly turned on in the moment. But that was a huge turning point for me-because that light turning on in the basement symbolized the light of God’s Word turning on in my heart. I was now reading it for myself and it wasn’t some dusty, old book of thee’s and thou’s and long genealogies of who begat who-but instead God speaking to directly to me-and I went on to read the rest of Romans in the days to come and really grow in Christ. Maybe you can think of some spiritual turning points in your life too. Times when God got a hold of your heart or answered a certain prayer request or revealed Himself in a way you never imagined. As we continue our series in the life of Joseph, we’re going to see a huge turning point in his life-one he had been waiting for and praying about for a long time. So open your Bibles to Genesis 41.
And as you’re turning there, we’re going to encounter another set of dreams. Last week we talked about dreams-and listed some of the most common dreams people have-flying, showing up late somewhere, being back at school with homework or a test to take, or having all your teeth fall out-and there were several of you who came up to me after the service mentioning that you’ve had that dream of all your teeth falling out! The big question is what does it mean? We talked a bit about dream analysis and how our dreams can be a projection of our subconscious fears or worries. Well, this morning as we look at this next set of dreams-they’re not a projection of someone’s subconscious fears-but instead a part of the magnificent chain of events that God has been sovereignly orchestrating. And of course, this next set of dreams happens a long time after the last set-Gen 41:1. Now it’s quite important that Pharaoh is the one having dreams. But we talked about those 2 years last week-2 whole years where Joseph was stuck and forgotten in prison. Day after monotonous day of scratching another mark into the prison wall. Let’s see-day 400, day 500, day 600! Two whole years of waiting and waiting and waiting. So right away I want you to jot this truth down-Pt1:Turning Points: always begin with just another day in the dungeon. That’s precisely what this was. Joseph had no idea that today was the day. As he wakes up to another morning of dungeon breakfast where the toast is burnt and the eggs are runny-he has no idea that Pharaoh just had a remarkable set of God-ordained dreams. To Joseph this is more of the same, a whole lot of sitting around and doing nothing in the dungeon-just like he’s done for long 2 years. And yet according to God’s timetable, according to His plans, a whole lot is happening. God has been strengthening and shaping Joseph, he’s been molding his character, establishing humility and pounding out perseverance in him. Joseph could say-Why 2 years, why not quicker? I could have learned these lessons in 2 weeks, Lord! I was already starting to get that humility thing-why did it take so long? And don’t we often ask the same questions in our lives? Why so long, Lord? Why not speed things up a bit. I don’t like all this sitting around doing nothing. I’ve got things to do. Teach me what I need-and I’ll be off. But the reality is that God’s timetable isn’t ours. He will take far longer to accomplish His purposes than we want-but He’s the one in control-and He knows what He’s doing. In His perfect plans, it took 2 whole years for God to refine Joseph and shape him for greatness-and it might be the same or longer for you. But unbeknownst to Joseph, today’s the day of his release and restoration. And yet what’s today for Joseph as he wakes up-Pt1. What’s so interesting about God is that His timetable may move more slowly and patiently than you would like-but when God says it’s time-be ready-because He moves in an instant. Turning points happen when you least expect them. Today might be another day in the dungeon for you. Today might be another day in a long line of struggles and challenges, another day in a long season of waiting, another day of the same old thing-but be ready for God’s hand to move in your life-because when it does-it’s nothing short of remarkable!
Look at how it happened in Joseph’s life. Pharaoh had some dreams-v. 2-3. So we’ve got some good looking fat cows and we have some ugly cows! Anybody have this dream before-probably not! Here’s the fat cows-pic. That’s a lot of cow-or a lot of cheese! But here’s the ironic part of Pharaoh’s dream-v. 4. He wakes up from this weird nightmare because this big fat cow (actually 7 of them) are eaten up thin scrawny cows like this-pic. How in the world is this cow going to swallow the fat cow? It’s looks physically impossible! This reminds me of when you order a cheeseburger at a restaurant and it comes piled high-thick patty, bacon, onion rings, mushrooms, tomato and you try to pick it up and wonder how in the world you’re going to actually take a bite and eat it! Have you had this dilemma before? That’s Pharaoh’s dream-these skinny, scrawny cows impossibly ate up some big, fat, giant cows-and he’s woken up in a cold sweat! Then v. 5-7. Same idea-just different visuals-instead of cows it’s stalks of grain. But the thin stalks ate up the full, ripe stalks-which seems backwards. Shouldn’t the fat ones eat the skinny ones? But dreams are weird-no big deal, right? And maybe that’s what we would think. I had some weird dreams about cows and corn last night-maybe I’m supposed to be a farmer! And we might just brush it off-but not Pharaoh. He knows there’s something important going on-v. 8-9. Can you guys tell me what these dreams are all about? Those ugly cows are freaking me out-what’s going on? But they’re clueless as the text says. And so we come to the cupbearer! Remember him from last week-the guy who conveniently forgot about Joseph? Huh-funny thing, Pharaoh? I was supposed to give you a message-about 2 years ago-there’s this guy in prison! Look at his words-v. 9-13. That’s what the cupbearer was supposed to say 2 years ago-along with the heartfelt message from Joseph-Gen 40:14. Can you tell my story? Can you help me out as I’m unfairly stuck here? But he doesn’t! Talk about a self-absorbed guy! Joseph interprets his dream in prison, he gets out as Joseph says-and then he forgets all about Joseph-as he’s too focused on himself-and only remembers Joseph when the issue of dream interpretation comes up again-2 years later. It’s so unfair-and yet this reminds us once more that Joseph’s story completely points to God. It’s not a story about a cupbearer’s gratitude who eagerly tells Pharaoh about this poor guy stuck in prison. This is a story of God’s sovereignty. The cupbearer’s dream wasn’t the open door Joseph thought-even though it sure seemed like it. Instead, the open door was something only God could do in his perfect timing by causing Pharaoh to have a dream. And what a reminder in our lives that it’s not about being in the right place at the right time for opportunity to strike. It’s not about getting yourself out there or having friends in the right places. Joseph wasn’t in the right place-he was in prison-and he didn’t have the right friends, he was long forgotten by them. But he had a God he trusted in-and that God caused Pharaoh to have a dream.
So Pharaoh immediately says go get this guy-v. 14. No more long, scraggly prison beard-time to clean up! And notice how it happened quickly! Prison may have lasted awhile-but when God moves He moves-v. 15. Finally, here is Joseph standing before the most powerful person on the planet. This is his big shining moment, the open door he’s been waiting for, opportunity of a lifetime. What would that be like for you? Imagine having an interview for your dream job, you’re standing before the CEO and he’s asking if what he’s heard about you is true-can you do this job? Are you the right person for this job? How are you going to respond? No doubt with a responding yes-especially if this is the opportunity of a lifetime! Check out Joseph’s response-v. 16a. Nope-not me Pharaoh. What you’re looking for isn’t coming from me. If you have the NIV-it translates Joseph as literally saying-I cannot do it. In incredible humility and honesty, Joseph took all the spotlight off himself-and it pointed it straight to God-v. 16. I love that response-because talk about complete and utter reliance upon God. This is Pt2:Turning Points: always result in a God-centered life. That’s what Joseph learned in the prison-and that’s what He’s now telling Pharaoh. This isn’t about me. I’m not the one with all the answers-but I trust in the God who has them. And we need to hear what He has to say. But how easy for Joseph to assert himself and take the credit. Yeah-I’m the real deal. You should have pulled me out of that prison 2 years ago and I could have been interpreting all sort of dreams. But, Joseph doesn’t seize the moment or grab the bull by the horns in an earthly sense. Instead of making himself and his skills look good-at this incredible turning point in his life he turns the spotlight to God. And that is a profound lesson for all of us. Do you turn the spotlight to God in your life? Do you give all the praise and glory to God or do you try to heap up the praise for yourself? Or when you look at the ways God has gifted you, and the skills He’s given you-do you somehow still try to take the credit yourself? Do you desperately hope people see your talents and compliment you on it? Or maybe God did some amazing things through your life-things that only He could do-but you make sure that people recognize your part in it and the role you played. And if they don’t see that or give you the recognition you’re bummed out or disappointed. That’s how a lot of people live. Life is about them and how can they be elevated and exalted. But Joseph beautifully displays what it says in 1 Pet 5:6-7. And those years in prison allowed Joseph to learn that important quality of humility. I like what one author said-All whom God greatly uses are first hidden in the secret of His presence, away from the pride of man. It is there our vision clears. It is there the silt drops from the current our life and our faith begins to grab hold of Him. Away from the pride and pressures of people, stuck there in prison, Joseph’s vision could clear-and God could shape him and prepare him so that at his greatest moment Joseph could say it’s not about me, it’s about God. Are you able to say that in your life? It’s not in me-but I’m trusting in God to work through me. On the one hand that’s not an easy statement to make because it requires real humility. You’re not claiming anything for yourself but instead recognizing how God has blessed you with the gifts and talents you have. It’s letting go of self and acknowledging God. But on the other hand this is the easiest statement in the world to make because it takes away all the pressures and burdens on your end because you’re acknowledging God.
Notice how Joseph is totally at peace in this situation. He’s not fretting or worrying that if he blows this interview, if he doesn’t assert himself well or make himself look good, he’ll be back to prison again. There’s no anxiety here from Joseph-I’ve got to do this just right, say it just right to Pharaoh-this is my one big chance. If I mess this up-that’ll be the end for me. None of that. Joseph is completing trusting in God-he’s casting all his anxiety on God. It’s like if he gets out of prison great-but if he doesn’t-well God’s in charge of that too. He has come to a place of full-on trust in God-which simply allows Joseph to be himself. Yeah, Pharaoh-I can tell you what the dream means-but you need to know it’s not coming from me-it’s coming from God. And the reason I know that isn’t because I’ve done anything magical or special or used the right pages from the dream book-it’s because I have a relationship with God. That’s what’s so special about Joseph-he’s a humble guy who walks with God and trusts Him. Back to Pt2. And it should be no different with us! Whatever turning point you’re coming to in life-God’s goal is to make you more centered on Him. Are you letting Him do that? Or is your pride getting in the way? The world needs people like this, fully surrendered to Him, pointing to Him-just like Joseph.
So Pharaoh retells his dreams about the cows to Joseph-and I love how vividly he says this-v. 19. These were the ugliest cows ever! So back to our ugly cow pic– v 20-21. Joseph, these ugly cows are giving me nightmares-am I going crazy? What’s it all about? And look at what he says-v. 24b. I’ve tried all the dream professionals around here-and they’ve got nothing for me. So what about you? Again, another opportunity for Joseph to assert himself. Well, you see Pharaoh, my dream senses are more highly attuned. I look at it differently than those guys, my skills reach a little higher. Nope-Joseph just repeats the same thing he’s been saying-v. 25. This is all God-and he goes on to tell Pharaoh that the 7 fat cows and the 7 big stalks of grain represent 7 good years of food and crops in Egypt, while the 7 ugly cows and 7 thin stalks of grain represent 7 bad years of famine and hunger. And just as the 7 ugly cows consumed the 7 fat cows and likewise the grain, so the 7 years of famine will consume the land of Egypt. Look at v. 30b-32. God, God, God-all the way through the interpretation. Back to Pt2. Joseph didn’t highlight himself, nor did he highlight Pharaoh who was considered a god by his own people. Joseph was saying that God Almighty was in charge. He was sovereign, His plans were set, His purposes were fixed. This is going to happen, Pharaoh, there’s nothing you can do about it. God is far greater than you-so your only recourse is to plan ahead-which is precisely why God gave you these dreams in the first place. Joseph doesn’t shy away from speaking about God-even though in the presence of Pharaoh he could have easily tried to skirt the issue. This is Pharaoh-and this is not a culture that worships God in heaven, they have their own gods and goddesses, their own religion. If I talk about God Pharaoh will definitely be offended and then not just toss me into prison but chop off my head. I better just keep quiet about the God part and stick to the famine. How easy for Joseph to rationalize his thinking that way-and downplay God or not even mention Him. How easy we might have done that in his shoes. How easily we do that today. I better not say anything about God others people will get offended. I’ll just stick to the facts-and leave God out of it. But Joseph doesn’t do that. He makes God central in everything he says because Joseph’s life was completely centered on God. So he goes on to describe a plan to Pharaoh about appointing overseers in the land to store one-fifth of the crops during the 7 good years to save for the 7 bad years so the nation of Egypt doesn’t starve. Joseph is trying to be very proactive by providing a workable solution. And look at Pharaoh’s response-v. 37-42. And that’s where the big turning point happens-from the pit to the prison to the pinnacle-prime minister of Egypt, second only to Pharaoh! Joseph literally started the morning by eating breakfast in the dungeon and now he ends the day being elevated to the greatest position one can achieve besides being Pharaoh!
We’re going to talk about the details of Joseph’s new position next week-but I want us to conclude our time by looking at Pharaoh’s stunning observation of Joseph-look at v. 39. You’re discerning and wise because of what God’s shown you. Contrary to what we often think, relying on God brings discernment and wisdom-and in this case the world sees it, Pharaoh sees it. But how often do we think we know best and rely on ourselves? How often do we try to be wise in our own eyes and follow our own ideas? Prov 3:5-7. I don’t know if you’ve ever thought about this way-but whenever I do rely on God’s to give me discernment and wisdom (which usually requires patience because I want to solve something right away. Get it fixed, get it solved!) But whenever I trust in God’s wisdom and God’s timing-I never regret it. Whenever I wait on the Lord to give me His discernment and show me what to do I never wish otherwise. This is the last time I’m waiting on you, Lord. Your wisdom, forget that, I should have dashed out and done it myself! Never! I’m always so glad I waited on God’s wisdom and timing. And what I end up regretting is dashing out myself, thinking I know best or I’ve got this under control. Joseph was a man of wisdom and discernment because he waited and trusted on God. But it all stems from what Pharaoh said in v. 38. God was with Joseph because His Spirit, the Holy Spirit, was within Joseph. He wasn’t just looking out for Joseph and watching over him, He was dwelling within Joseph’s heart. And you may not realize it-but this is the first time in the Bible where it describes the Holy Spirit coming upon a person. Later on in the OT, the Holy Spirit will come and go upon people. But this wasn’t a common thing-until Jesus said in John 14:16-17. Just like God’s Spirit was in Joseph. And this happened in the book of Acts at the Day of Pentecost-Acts 2:38.
That’s the heart of the gospel. Every believer who turns to Jesus to repent of their sins and believe in Him, is saved and immediately receives the Holy Spirit. And the reason this is so important is that Pharaoh’s question is limited to one-v. 38. Yes, this one man here, Joseph. Today that answer is all believers. It’s you, me and all who’ve trusted in Christ. It’s not just one! Can we find a man like this in whom is the Spirit of God? Yes-it’s us, the church, the people of God, the people saved by His Son and filled with His Spirit! You don’t do this on your own, all alone. Joseph wasn’t alone. The Holy Spirit dwelt within him-from prison to his promotion-throughout the whole process, the entire turning point. And He dwells in you too if you’ve believed in Jesus. The world today is just as eagerly looking for people in whom the Spirit of God dwells, just like in Joseph’s day. And even if the world isn’t asking it so clearly as Pharaoh asked, the world needs people in whom the Holy Spirit dwells. People of wisdom and discernment, people of humility, people of faith to accomplish what God wants to do and advance His kingdom. You are no different than Joseph! You are not less equipped, not less capable, not less spiritual. When the Holy Spirit invades your heart, just like it invaded Joseph’s, you are ready to do everything God has for you. Look at Rom 8:15-16. You belong to God. HIs Spirit dwells within you-and is ready to use you. The question is if you’re willing. The question is if you’re relying upon His Spirit. The question is if you’ve humbled yourself and centered your life on Him. Verse 38 is the question for each of us-v. 38. And when the people around you ask that question, do they see you and say-Not that guy, not him, not her, let’s see, who else…? Or do they see you and say-Yes, God is at work in that person’s life. I can see it, it couldn’t be any clearer! Can the people around you find someone in whom is the Sprit of God? Swindoll, 70-71. His Spirit dwells within us when we believe in Jesus!