SSL 10 - Gen. 41:15-21, 33-40
Last Week: In Gen. 39:3-12, 19-21, we covered Joseph's rise to complete authority as Potiphar's overseer, only to be thrown in prison after he refused to dishonor both his master and God by giving in to the determined efforts of his master's wife to seduce him. We discussed three major principles of practical application: 1. Regardless of whether or not the people you work for are Christians, godly character will be noticed. Potiphar not only saw Joseph as hard-working and reliable but also noticed that his effectiveness was connected to his faith in his God. In today's workplace we have to same opportunity to display godly character is a testimony of Christ in us. 2. Like Joseph, when we draw near to God and completely depend on Him, we will outwardly reflect His righteousness. Rather than yield to temptation, Joseph held onto God and God held onto him. Whatever we may be facing, we always know that God understands our situation perfectly and already has a solution for it. 3. Like Joseph, when we find ourselves facing an unexpected trial, we must hold on to God's promise that He will never forget us. Through all of his ups and downs, Joseph may not have been certain of the outcome, but he always trusted God as the architect and builder of his life.
Context: When we left Joseph last week in prison, Gen. 39:21b stated that God, "...gave him favor in the sight of the chief jailer," and in a scene reminiscent of his rise to power in Potiphars' house, the chief jailer ended up putting him in charge of the entire prison. We skip Chapter 40, which covers Joseph's time in prison, but I will give you a snapshot as background for today's lesson. While he was there, two of Pharaoh's senior attendants, his cupbearer and his baker, whose jobs were to provide food and drink to the king, were put in prison for committing offenses against him. At some point afterward, both of them had dreams they didn't understand. In the ancient Near East, dreams were often viewed as a medium of divine revelation, but since they were in prison, the two men didn't have access to the magicians and sages of the royal court who normally interpreted these things. When Joseph asked them why they were upset, they explained their dreams to him. With God's help in the interpretation, Joseph told the cupbearer that the dream predicted that he would be restored to his position in three days, and for doing this, Joseph asked him to remember him to Pharaoh. Unfortunately for the baker, his dream predicted that he would be beheaded in three days. However, when the cupbearer was restored to his position, he forgot all about Joseph's request.
Summary of Gen. 41:1-14: Two years after the cupbearer returned to his job, Pharaoh had two dreams he didn't understand. These dreams are repeated in vv. 17-24 of the lesson text. Pharaoh called-in all the magicians and sages to interpret them, but they couldn't make head or tails of it. It was then that the chief cupbearer remembered his experience with Joseph and told Pharaoh how accurately the young Hebrew had interpreted his dreams. Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and after being cleaned-up, shaved, and given a change of clothes, he was brought before Pharaoh.
Read Gen. 41:15-17 - Joseph Interprets Pharaoh's Dream
15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." 16 Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." 17 So Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, "In my dream, behold, I was standing on the bank of the Nile;
v. 15: "Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." - Pharaoh was probably pretty disturbed because his high-paid magicians and sages hadn't been able to decipher his dreams. Some Bible scholars have suggested that God dulled their minds to set the stage for Joseph. Pharaoh opening remarks, "I have heard it said about you" are tinged with flattery and hopeful expectation.
v. 16: "Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, "It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer." - Pharaoh had just given Joseph a golden opportunity to elevate himself and use this interval to bargain for his release from prison. Yet, as much as Joseph desired to be released, his first concern was not about his own circumstances but about honoring God. Instead, Joseph immediately informed Pharaoh that only God can interpret dreams, which not only revealed the source of his ability but also informed Pharaoh that he could expect God to give him a helpful answer.
TRUTH 1: We should honor God by remembering that He is the true source of all our success. When Pharaoh made specific reference to Joseph's ability to interpret dreams, Joseph easily could have credited the ability to himself and put a price on it. Even though he was standing face to face with the most powerful ruler in the world, Joseph did not forget the true source of all his abilities and declared that only God could interpret Pharaoh's dreams. When you are complimented for some-thing you've done, and automatically respond with, "it wasn't me but the Lord," it might come across as false humility; but even when you just say "thank you," you should also give thanks to God for the opportunity to do whatever you did. However, if you are praised for something for which God alone deserves the credit, like Joseph, you should boldly give the honor to God, not yourself. Remembering that God is the source of our success will help us keep our pride in check.
v. 17: "So Pharaoh spoke to Joseph, "In my dream, behold, I was standing on the
bank of the Nile" - With these words, Pharaoh retold the dreams to Joseph:
Synopsis of Pharaoh's two dreams (vv. 18-24):
Read Gen. 41:25-32 - God Speaks to Pharaoh through Joseph
25 Now Joseph said to Pharaoh, "Pharaoh's dreams are one and the same; God has told to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years; and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one and the same. 27 The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven thin ears scorched by the east wind will be seven years of famine. 28 It is as I have spoken to Pharaoh: God has shown to Pharaoh what He is about to do. 29 Behold, seven years of great abundance are coming in all the land of Egypt; 30 and after them seven years of famine will come, and all the abundance will be forgotten in the land of Egypt, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 So the abundance will be unknown in the land because of that subsequent famine; for it will be very severe. 32 Now as for the repeating of the dream to Pharaoh twice, it means that the matter is determined by God, and God will quickly bring it about.
vv. 25, 28-32 Analysis: Joseph interpreted the two dreams with skill and closely followed them in many particulars, which could hardly have gone unnoticed by Pharaoh and would have added credibility to Joseph's explanation. As indicated in v. 25, while different in some details, the two dreams were one in their meaning: both shared a common pattern of abundance followed by scarcity. Notice the emphatic statement, "God has told Pharaoh what He is about to do." In each instance "seven" was the time involved-seven years of abundance to be followed by seven years of famine (and we know the number seven means that God put His stamp on it). In Egypt, because of the fairly predictable floodwaters of the Nile, famines were rare, but Joseph explains in v. 31 very emphatically that this famine will be especially severe, a real catastrophe for Pharaoh's people. As for repeating the dream to Pharaoh twice in v. 32, Joseph explained it is done that way in order to emphasize that God has already decided this matter and it would happen as described with absolute certainly-what we would call a "done deal" in today's vernacular. At this point, Joseph believed the matter was entirely in the hands of God, and specifically, he knew that: (1) God had a purpose for the dreams; (2) a purpose for their timing; (3) a purpose for the famine to follow; and (4) a purpose for His being put in prison. In short, Joseph believed God had purposed everything.
TRUTH 2: We should honor God by bearing witness to His sovereignty over all things. Three times in the above passages (vv. 25, 28, and 32), Joseph tells Pharaoh that God has determined what is going to happen and the it will happen exactly as described because God pronounced it. In a polite, but unmistakable way, Joseph is telling this mighty ruler that no one is more powerful than God. Like Joseph, we shouldn't be hesitant to tell lost people that God created everything we see and is the sovereign ruler of the entire universe. Likewise, we don't need to apologize for God's sovereignty because He allows disasters and tragedies to strike the world for purposes unknown to us. Some-times, like the famine in this story, it is to allow godly people to step in to alleviate human suffering.
Read Gen. 41:33-36 - Joseph Advises Pharaoh to Make Plans
33 Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. 35 Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh's authority, and let them guard it. 36 Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine."
v. 33: "Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt" - It would have been easy for Joseph to have stopped at v. 32., insofar as he'd completely answered Pharaoh's questions about the dreams. But Joseph was much more than a prophet in this context; he was also a competent administrator who could analyze the problem and develop a doable plan for dealing with it.
34: "Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance" - Notice that Joseph recommends a course of action, not by force or martial law, but by imposing a 20% levy, double the usual rate (10%) on the crops produced. And since these years would produce a significantly above average harvest, the extra levy wouldn't put too great a strain on the landowners.
vv. 35-36: "Then let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh's authority, and let them guard it.36 Let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land will not perish during the famine." - Notice the "all" in the phrase, "gather all the food," which suggests that the government could also buy other foodstuffs to add to that collected with the 20% levy. Last, Joseph advises that the food be stored-up and guarded as the reserve for the seven year of famine that would follow. By doing all of these things, the worst effects of the famine could be minimized.
TRUTH 3: We should always be careful to keep godly character above our ambition. When Joseph advised Pharaoh to "appoint overseers in charge of the land," he didn't have a secret agenda to elevate himself. The only agenda he had was God's agenda. He probably hoped to be set free at some point, but him, being a mere foreign slave, certainly didn't envision becoming the most powerful man in Egypt next to Pharaoh himself.
Read Gen. 41:37-41 - Joseph's Rise to Great Authority
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?" 39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you." 41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt."
vv. 37-38: "The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?" - I think the plan Joseph presented to Pharaoh is what today we would call a "no-brainer." Pharaoh's statement, "one in whom is the spirit of God," tell us that he believed that Joseph was enabled by his God with the divine ability to see things that were hidden from others. This doesn't mean that Pharaoh had forsaken his pagan polytheism to become a follower of the One God, but that he recognized that divine empowerment was a recurring feature of the Hebrew religion.
vv. 39-41: "Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you.40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you." 41 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt." - Do Pharaoh's words sound familiar, like those used by Potiphar and the Jail Keeper when they gave Joseph authority? Did anything Joseph said in vv. 33-36 insinuate that he was lobbying for the Job. No, because for Joseph, it is totally out of character. I suspect that because he was a slave, a Hebrew nobody from the Canaan boondocks, that he never in his wildest dreams could have imagined that he'd be picked for the job, whether or not he asked for it. He never asked for any of the jobs given to him; the Godly character he projected and his complete dependence upon God got him the jobs. As a man, I believe Joseph only had one ambition: to stay completely lined-up behind God's shadow. The Psalmist said it this way: He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High Will abide in the shadow of the Almighty. I will say to the Lord, "My refuge and my fortress, My God, in whom I trust!" (Ps. 91:1-2).
TRUTH 4: We should always develop our competence alongside godly character. Joseph was not only a godly man but was very good at what he did. Pharaoh readily acknowledges both qualities when he said Joseph was, "one in whom is the Spirit of God" (v. 38) and "no one so discerning and wise as you" (v. 39). Besides proposing a very sensible and practical plan of action, Joseph had the competence needed to carry it out. Sometimes Christians allow themselves to think that godly character is enough, taking the position that God will grant them a good opportunity simply because they've been faithful in prayer. But along with prayer and faith, we need to develop the competence for the job that should go hand-in-hand with our Christian character. You need both. As Christians, you need to be godly, but you also need to be good in doing what you do.