Joseph: From Prisoner to Potentate

(Please read Genesis 41 from your favorite version of the Bible.  My citations (in capital letters) are from the NIV.)

 

Message: God lifts up the humble.

 

There was a hunter on a hunting expedition in the Amazon.  As the sun rose, he noticed a family of large birds. The mother bird tended to the baby birds while the father flew from place to place retrieving food for his hungry family.      While watching this scene, the hunter caught sight of a poisonous snake slowly making its way towards the mother bird and the babies, anticipating an easy meal. About the same time, the father bird dropped food at the nest and spotted t snake. The father bird quickly flew away. The hunter was disappointed, thinking that the father bird abandoned his family to a certain death.      He kept an eye on the father bird and saw it break off a leafy twig from the bush and rush back to the nest, where the serpent has come dangerously close. The father bird placed the leaves over the front edge of the nest closest to the snake and then he retreats to a nearby branch to watch.

The serpent drew to within striking range. It coiled itself and launched itself toward the baby birds. However, when the snake touched the leaves it instantly recoiled in pain and fell out of the tree.

The hunter asked the native villagers about this strange turn of events.  He said, “I don’t understand why the snake pulled back.” The villagers explained that the leaf the father bird chose was from the only bush in the jungle that was poisonous to the snake. The father bird knew how to protect his nest.

  1. Pharaoh had disturbing dreams (vs. 1-8).

TWO FULL YEARS pass between chapters 40+41. Virtually everything is in twos: both the prisoners’ and Pharaoh’s dreams are repeated twice, Pharaoh had two dreams to make one point, and Joseph had two sons.  Chapters 42-44 are two very similar plot Joseph unfolds to trick his brothers.  All of this is for emphasis and to show God’s hand in the events as they unfold.

Once again we observe that God’s timing is better than ours.  Had the cupbearer mentioned Joseph two years earlier, Pharaoh would’ve had no need of him.

Even before he learned the meaning of the dreams, Pharaoh was disturbed. In verses 4+5 we observe that Pharaoh awoke and fell asleep again. How well does that work for you?  Might that indicate “troubled sleep” as far as you are concerned?

Verse 8 says pointedly, PHAROAH’S MIND WAS TROUBLED.  That explains why, when he told Joseph about the dreams that he editorialized a bit: “I HAVE NEVER SEEN SUCH UGLY COWS IN EGYPT (v. 19).” Given the way these dreams turned from good to bad, his emotional reaction is understandable.  He had a nightmare double feature!

All this explains his immediate reaction: HE SENT FOR ALL THE MAGICIANS AND WISE MEN OF EGYPT (v. 8).  No help there,  as Pharaoh said, “NONE COULD EXPLAIN IT TO ME” (v. 24).

The first dream took place at the Nile.  It is hard to overestimate the importance of the Nile in Egyptian culture.  They saw that river as the origin of their national life, their most important resource.  If the Nile was corrupted, then that would weigh heavily on Pharaoh’s mind. As it was customary to fatten cattle on the grasses & plants that grew on the banks, the connection of cattle and the river was not itself out of the ordinary.

Regarding the grain, imagine a single seed producing up to 14 stalks and on each stalk a head producing 30 grains.  That’s 420 spikelets per stalk! In Egypt, an eastern wind has blown over the Saharan desert, becoming a hot blast of air that withers plants.

Strictly on his CUPBEARER’s say-so, PHARAOH SENT FOR JOSEPH (v. 14).  The cupbearer’s lack of gratitude to Joseph still stands.  He is only now mentioning Joseph because he is desperate to be useful and to appease Pharaoh.  This shows Pharaoh’s trust in his cupbearer and/or his desperation for an answer.

  1. Joseph interpreted Pharaoh’s dreams and solved his problem (9-36).

Joseph once again attributed to God his ability to interpret dreams (v. 16).  This is a sign of humility and faith – directing people’s attention back to God. By faith Joseph made a confident promise: “GOD WILL GIVE PHARAOH THE ANSWER HE DESIRES.”

Joseph also repeatedly identified God as the giver of these dreams – not the Egyptian pantheon of gods, but the one true God.

While interpreting the dreams, he also set forth a solution to the famine fore-shadowed in Pharaoh’s dreams.  This is the most significant part of the whole exchange.

  1. God lifted Joseph up (vs. 37-57).

Pharaoh was so impressed with Joseph and so convinced of God’s hand on him that he elevates him from prisoner to potentate in an instant!  He noted Joseph’s qualifications in verse 39: “GOD MADE ALL OF THIS KNOWN TO YOU” and “THERE IS NO ONE SO DISCERNING & WISE.”

He elevated Joseph’s authority, from Assistant Warden to Assistant Pharaoh!  Note the specifics:

– He put Joseph “IN CHARGE OF MY PALACE.”

– He proclaimed that “ALL PEOPLE [will] SUBMIT TO YOUR ORDERS.”

– In rank, Joseph was second only to Pharaoh.

– Pharaoh said Joseph would be “IN CHARGE OF/T WHOLE OF EGYPT.”

– He gave Joseph several signs of office, including Pharaoh’s own SIGNET RING, ROBES OF FINE LINEN to replace his prisoner’s garments, and A GOLD CHAIN AROUND HIS NECK.

– Joseph had the honor of riding “shotgun” in Pharaoh’s chariot.

– Pharaoh gave Joseph an unpronounceable and hyphenated name; both very cool!  The name meant “revealer of secrets,” or “savior of the land,” or, in an ironic twist, “a wise man who flees from adultery.”

– He gave Joseph an Egyptian princess as his wife.  It is possible that her father worshiped the one true God and so Pharaoh did not require Joseph to marry a pagan woman and thereby compromise his beliefs.

Verse 46 says that Joseph was 30 years old when he came into Pharaoh’s service.  He was seventeen when he was first brought into Egypt, spending thirteen years in service to Potiphar, and three in prison.

Most importantly, God elevated Joseph, making him successful and blessed.  Joseph was blessed with two sons whose descendants would each become half-tribes of the nation of Israel.

But the most important sign of god’s blessing is how Joseph’s plans succeeded.  God blessed Egypt with super-abundant crops for seven years.  The word ABUNDANCE in v. 47 literally means “handful.”  Imagine this: just the one-fifth of these crops provided more grain than could be reliably counted (v. 49)!  God used Joseph’s administration to save Egypt and surrounding countries during the seven years of famine.

Remember, regardless of the people involved, the hero of every biblical story is God.  God’s hand is the one orchestrating these events, it is His timing that brings dreamer and interpreter together at just the right time.  God’s action in human history is called “providence” and this is one of those occasions when providence takes place on a big scale, affecting the outcome of nations.

PSS 22:27-28 = ALL THE ENDS OF THE EARTH WILL REMEMBER AND TURN TO THE LORD, AND ALL THE FAMILIES OF THE NATIONS WILL BOW DOWN BEFORE HIM, FOR DOMINION BELONGS TO THE LORD AND HE RULES OVER THE NATIONS.

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