Our Old Testament journey takes us to another, very important character this week: Joseph! His long and unusual story teaches us lessons about life, what God is really like and how we can understand the ordinary and extraordinary events of our lives. If you don’t understand what’s been happening to you in your life, this message is for you!
Can God Use the Dreams of a 17-Year-Old to Save a Nation?
1 Now Jacob dwelt in the land where his father was a stranger, in the land of Canaan. 2 This is the history of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was feeding the flock with his brothers. And the lad was with the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives; and Joseph brought a bad report of them to his father. 3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than all his children, because he was the son of his old age. Also, he made him a tunic of many colors. 4 But when his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not speak peaceably to him.
There was Abraham, Isaac and then Jacob that God was working with to establish His promises to Abraham. Jacob was one of the twin sons born to Isaac. Jacob, in turn, had several sons, 12 of them actually, by four wives. And one of the younger two was a boy named Joseph.
Favoritism was the hallmark of this family. It started with Isaac and his two boys. Isaac favored Esau and his wife Rebekah favored Jacob and everyone knew it. Now Jacob had a favorite, Joseph. Joseph was eventually one of twelve sons, most of them much older than Joseph. So they were pretty irritated by the younger, self-righteous, favored, couldn’t do anything wrong in Dad’s eyes, brother. That’s where the famous “coat of many colors” came from, a doting Dad.
Favoritism in a family is destructive. If you let a child or children become aware that you like one more than another, you set rejection in their hearts and they will struggle with their identity for a long time. Every family needs to examine their hearts to see if there’s any favoritism. Each of your children needs to be convinced that if there was a favorite that it would be them.
But then guess what?
5 Now Joseph had a dream, and he told it to his brothers; and they hated him even more.
But we catch up with the story when Joseph was 17. And not being very discreet, he shared a couple of dreams he had. One of which was a dream about his brothers bowing down to him. And the second about his mom and dad and brothers all bowing down to him. Imagine how that went over, just to set the stage. Even though the dreams were from God about Joseph’s eventual future.
Your purpose is bigger than you are as an individual. And God had big plans for His people that were much bigger than Joseph. So, there were a series of events that propelled Joseph into God’s plans. Only, Joseph only had those dreams as a 17-year-old to inspire him, dreams that he probably discounted because of the events that were out of his control in his life.
14 Then he said to him, “Please go and see if it is well with your brothers and well with the flocks, and bring back word to me.” So, he sent him out of the Valley of Hebron, and he went to Shechem. 15 Now a certain man found him, and there he was, wandering in the field. And the man asked him, saying, “What are you seeking?” 16 So he said, “I am seeking my brothers. Please tell me where they are feeding their flocks.” 17 And the man said, “They have departed from here, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So, Joseph went after his brothers and found them in Dothan. 18 Now when they saw him afar off, even before he came near them, they conspired against him to kill him.
The first in a chain of events:
Jacob asked Joseph to go and check in on his brothers, who were with the livestock way out in an area far from home. So, Joseph set out to the place where they were originally going to take the flocks. When he got there, they had already moved on to who-knows-where. But a “certain man” who had overheard the brothers plans told Joseph where they would be. And Joseph finds them.
23 So it came to pass, when Joseph had come to his brothers, that they stripped Joseph of his tunic, the tunic of many colors that was on him. 24 Then they took him and cast him into a pit. And the pit was empty; there was no water in it. 25 And they sat down to eat a meal. Then they lifted their eyes and looked, and there was a company of Ishmaelites, coming from Gilead with their camels, bearing spices, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry them down to Egypt.
They take the opportunity to throw him in a pit, plot how to get rid of him, and eventually sell Joseph to a passing caravan of Arab traders on their way to Egypt. They put some animal blood on the coat of many colors, take it back to Jacob and they pretend they found it. Jacob concludes Joseph is dead by some animal.
Joseph, now a captive, is sold as a slave to one Potiphar, who happens to be the head of Pharoah’s, the king of Egypt’s, guard. Joseph begins to use his stellar administrative gifts and is given the responsibility of running Potiphar’s estate. He had a recognizable gift and he honed that gift in Potiphar’s house.
Potiphar had a wife, though. A pretty, flirty wife. And she wanted this handsome young slave to sleep with her. Joseph refused her advances and made sure not to be alone with her. Until one day, totally by mistake, he was alone in the house with her. He said no again, tried to run out of the house, but she grabbed his coat and when Potiphar came home that night from the office, she accused him of attempted rape. And then Potiphar had Joseph tossed into an Egyptian prison, serving an indefinite sentence.
To the fields, to the slave caravan, to Potiphar’s house, and then to prison. No, it didn’t seem like Joseph was on track for anything meaningful and positive. Yes, he was once again recognized for his administrative skills, only this time he got to run things in prison for the warden. Oh, boy.
While he was in prison for a long while, he met some new prisoners. After he asked the question, “What are you in for?”, he found out that one was Pharaoh’s butler and the other was Pharaoh’s personal baker. And one night in prison, the butler and the baker had dreams. They shared the dreams with Joseph and God gave Joseph the interpretation of the dreams, one meant that the Baker would get the death sentence, while the Butler would be restored to his old position with Pharoah. And the dreams came to pass! And all Joseph asked was that the Butler, when he went back to Pharaoh, was to mention Joseph, that he was innocent, with the hope that Joseph could be pardoned.
Joseph sat in prison two more years and no, the governor didn’t call.
But one day Pharaoh had a very vivid dream. It was all about 7 skinny cows eating 7 fat cows and 7 rather barren stalks of wheat eating up 7 very healthy looking stalks of wheat. Pharaoh was perplexed and voiced this in the presence of the Butler. Hey, there was a guy in prison who told me and the Baker what our dreams meant and he was right. Maybe he has a gift and can do the same for you, Pharoah.
14 Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they brought him quickly out of the dungeon; and he shaved, changed his clothing, and came to Pharaoh. 15 And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that you can understand a dream, to interpret it.” 16 So Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh an answer of peace.”
So, Joseph was brought from prison, given a shower and deodorant, a shave and a haircut and some proper clothes, and was brought to Pharaoh, the leader of the most powerful nation in the world at the time. And Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dream. Seven great years of crops and harvest would be followed by seven years of severe famine. And Pharaoh gave Joseph the task of preparing the nation in those good years for the bad ones to come. Joseph went from prison to the Prime Minister in short order.
Now fast forward. Joseph had Egypt store up the excesses during those good years. And he gave them out in rations during the bad years of famine. The whole world ended up on their doorstep because they had all the food needed. And guess who showed up at Joseph’s door. Yup, his brothers, sent by Jacob, who were out of food.
Long story short, after leaving the brothers in the dark about his identity for a while, Joseph revealed himself to his brothers and eventually his father and the rest of the family. And he moved the family, about 75 members, to Egypt, with Pharaoh’s blessing, and they were carried through the extreme famine with food and land.
But then, Jacob died. And the brothers were afraid that Joseph would take some revenge on them because of the whole sell-you-to-the-traders-thing. And that’s where we see what Joseph learned from this entire, multiyear, unexpected, twist and turn journey:
But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive.
So, here’s one main point you can learn from this story:
You may be confused, or relieved, or crushed by what you see happening, but God is in charge and is able to take all the events and relationships in life and weave them together for His greater purposes.
Here’s another. You may have dreams and promises from God that don’t seem to have any way to fulfillment, but if they are of Him, they will come to pass, no matter the circumstances.
And yet another: The Providential work of God most times turns on small hinges. The certain man. The Arab traders. Potiphar’s purchase at a slave auction. A false accusation. A conversation with two other inmates. Pharaoh’s dreams. Those were pretty small, fairly ordinary things. That had great implications.
Joseph didn’t understand the details, the timing, the preparation or the fulfillment of purpose, but he learned that even though others meant evil against him, God turned it for good. And the promises to Abraham, repeated to Isaac, then Jacob, were carried through Joseph and those 75 family members by a faithful God, toward the coming Savior, Jesus Christ.
Joseph was also a type of Jesus. We see Jesus in his life in that he left his home, lived among the hostile people of the world and became the savior for his family. That was what Jesus did for us.