What God Is About To Do.

Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years; the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind are also seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt, but after them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt. The famine will consume the land, and the plenty will be unknown in the land by reason of the famine that will follow, for it will be very severe. And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plentiful years. And let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming and store up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.” – Genesis 41:25-36 ESV

If you were going to have to interpret the dreams of the most powerful man in the world, wouldn’t you prefer that you have something positive to share? Nobody likes to hear bad news, especially someone like Pharaoh, who was probably used to having everyone around him tell him what he wanted to hear. But Joseph gave Pharaoh the truth, telling him, “God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do” (Genesis 41:28 ESV). According to God’s interpretation of Pharaoh’s two dreams, there was only one meaning. There was going to be seven years of plenty followed by seven years of drought and famine. The seven years of agricultural bounty would be completely consumed when the famine came. And as if that news was not bad enough, Joseph tells Pharaoh, “the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Genesis 41:32 ESV).

This is going to be a divine act. Which brings us back to the issue of God’s timing. Why had Joseph had to stay in prison for two years? Why had God waited all that time before causing Pharaoh to have his dreams? It was all part of His divine plan and according to His perfect timing. At just the right time, Pharaoh had his dreams. At just the right time, the cupbearer remembered what Joseph had done for him in the prison. At just the right time, Joseph was brought from the prison to the palace to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. And it would prove perfect timing, not only for Joseph but for the land of Egypt. The events foretold in Pharaoh’s dreams were about to take place. And Joseph gives him some very sound counsel:

“Therefore, Pharaoh should find an intelligent and wise man and put him in charge of the entire land of Egypt. Then Pharaoh should appoint supervisors over the land and let them collect one-fifth of all the crops during the seven good years. Have them gather all the food produced in the good years that are just ahead and bring it to Pharaoh’s storehouses. Store it away, and guard it so there will be food in the cities. That way there will be enough to eat when the seven years of famine come to the land of Egypt. Otherwise this famine will destroy the land.” – Genesis 41:33-36 NLT

The passage doesn’t say this, but it seems clear that Joseph’s counsel to Pharaoh had been given to him by God. This was not some off-the-cuff advice that Joseph threw in for free. It was part of the interpretation. God had shown Pharaoh what He was about to do. Now He was telling Pharaoh what he should do to prepare for the inevitable. Honestly, I doubt that Joseph had any idea that the words coming out of his mouth were in reference to himself. That kind of grandstanding doesn’t fit the kind of character he has displayed throughout the story so far. Joseph wasn’t trying to audition for a job. We know that he was a hard worker, a good manager of the affairs of others, and had a track record of having God’s hand of blessing on his life. But there is no indication that Joseph was trying to get out of jail by jockeying for a role in the royal cabinet. He was simply sharing the words of God. The remarkable advice he gave Pharaoh was divinely inspired, not the result of human discernment. God was giving ample warning about the events to come and the steps to prepare for them. The famine had a divine purpose behind it. So did the seven years of plenty. But only those who heeded the Lord’s counsel and followed His prescribed steps of preparation would survive. And survival was at the heart of God’s message. This famine would be widespread and have an impact far beyond the borders of Egypt. And God was preparing the land of Egypt to be His divine resource for rescuing the descendants of Abraham and fulfilling His promises to them.

So often, the ways of God make no sense to us. His methods appear to be convoluted and confusing. We wonder why He does things the way He does. We question His reasoning and complain about His timing. Whether we intend to or not, when we doubt the ways of God, we are really questioning the wisdom of God. And He has some fairly strong words for those who raise questions about His wisdom.

“Who is this that questions my wisdom with such ignorant words? Brace yourself like a man, because I have some questions for you, and you must answer them.” – Job 36:2-3 NLT

This statement was addressed to Job, who had been through a great deal of suffering and loss. He had some legitimate questions about all that had happened to him. He was confused by all the pain and persecution he had endured. And his confusion caused him to lash out at God, questioning His ways and raising doubts about His wisdom. So God had a few questions of His own for Job:

“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me, if you know so much.” – Job 36:4 NLT

“Have you ever commanded the morning to appear and caused the dawn to rise in the east?” – Job 36:12 NLT

“Have you explored the springs from which the seas come? Have you explored their depths?” – Job 36:16 NLT

“Can you shout to the clouds and make it rain? Can you make lightning appear and cause it to strike as you direct?” – Job 36:34-35 NLT

God’s questions to Job are numerous and come in relentless waves. Then He adds one last question: “Do you still want to argue with the Almighty? You are God’s critic, but do you have the answers?” (Job 40:2 NLT).

We may not understand God’s ways, but we have no right to question His wisdom. He is God Almighty. He is the creator of all things. He is the God of the universe. His wisdom is beyond our comprehension. His methods are too much for our minds to grasp. But we can know this. He is all-wise, all-powerful and all-loving. He knows what He is doing and what He does is always right.

He is the Rock; his deeds are perfect. Everything he does is just and fair. He is a faithful God who does no wrong; how just and upright he is! – Deuteronomy 32:4 NLT

The LORD is righteous in everything he does; he is filled with kindness. – Psalm 145:17 NLT


In the Fullness of Time.

Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my offenses today. When Pharaoh was angry with his servants and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, we dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own interpretation. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each man according to his dream. And as he interpreted to us, so it came about. I was restored to my office, and the baker was hanged.”

Then Pharaoh sent and called Joseph, and they quickly brought him out of the pit. And when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Behold, in my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile. Seven cows, plump and attractive, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Seven other cows came up after them, poor and very ugly and thin, such as I had never seen in all the land of Egypt. And the thin, ugly cows ate up the first seven plump cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have known that they had eaten them, for they were still as ugly as at the beginning. Then I awoke. I also saw in my dream seven ears growing on one stalk, full and good. Seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them, and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. And I told it to the magicians, but there was no one who could explain it to me.” – Genesis 41:9-24 ESV

Two years have passed. During that time, Joseph has remained in prison, waiting and most likely wondering when his God was going to do something about his circumstances. But what may have appeared to Joseph to be a delay was the perfect unfolding of God’s divine plan. God had not been up in heaven coming up with a plan. He was not desperately and hurriedly trying to figure out what to do about Joseph’s circumstances. His plan had been in place for a long time – even before Joseph was born. The seeming delay in God’s plan was nothing of the sort. It is reminiscent of what Paul says in his letter to the Galatians when talking about Jesus incarnation.

But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons. – Galatians 4:4-5 ESV

At just the right moment, when the timing was perfectly right, God sent His Son. All the conditions were right. He didn’t act too soon and He was not too late. That is the idea we have in the story of Joseph. Two years may have seemed like a long time to Joseph, but for God it was nothing. To Him “a thousand years are as a passing day, as brief as a few night hours” (Psalm 90:4 NLT).

When the time was right, God acted, Pharaoh had his dreams, and the cupbearer remembered Joseph. The Pharaoh, disturbed by the nature of his two dreams, demanded that his magicians tell him their meaning. When they were unable to do so, the cupbearer told Pharaoh about his own encounter with Joseph in the prison. He recalled how Joseph had accurately interpreted his dream and that of the former chief baker. So Pharaoh sent for Joseph. After two long years, this moment had to have come as a shock to Joseph. One minute he is in prison, the next he is standing before the most powerful man in Egypt.

Joseph’s long-awaited moment had finally arrive. He was going to get an audience with the Pharaoh. Not only that, he was going to get to use his God-given ability to interpret dreams in order to do for Pharaoh what no other man could do. But rather than gloating over his good fortune or seeing this as his opportunity to boost his resume, Joseph wisely and humbly gives credit to God. When Pharaoh asks Joseph to tell him the meaning of his dreams, Joseph replies: “It is beyond my power to do this. But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease” (Genesis 41:16 NLT). It would have been easy for Joseph to take the credit. He could have just interpreted the dreams and allowed Pharaoh to think he was something special. But Joseph knew that any ability he possessed had been given to him by God. And he recognized that this was no coincidence. His entire life had seemed to be built around dreams. He had had two of his own and his sharing of them with his family had led his brothers to sell him into slavery. While in prison, he had interpreted the two dreams of the cupbearer and the baker and that had led to this moment in time. And now he was being given the two dreams of Pharaoh to interpret. This could not be a case of coincidence. God was at work and Joseph knew it. All six dreams had been God’s doing. And their meanings and interpretations were the work of God. 

While God is not limited by time, He uses it. While He exists outside the bounds of time, He chooses to work within it. Every event in Joseph’s life, from his birth to his betrayal, his imprisonment to his divine appointment with Pharaoh, had been the work of God. Nothing had happened outside of God’s plan.

The psalmist reminds us, “Be still in the presence of the Lord, and wait patiently for him to act” (Psalm 37:7a NLT). We are creatures who are bound by time. We are obsessed with time. Every day we are reminded of times constant passing. The sun rises and sets. The arms on the clock move around and around in a ceaseless cycle. We run out of time. We long for more time. We bill our time. We enjoy the good times and dread the bad ones. We spend time as well as waste it. We give our time and have it taken from us. But God would have us trust Him with it. Like everything else in life, our time is a gift from God. We can’t make more of it. We are each given just so much of it. And God uses time to accomplish His will in our lives. Joseph’s two years in prison were not wasted. Neither were the years that Paul spent in prison. Jesus’ three years of ministry on this earth were just as important as the hours He spent hanging on the cross. Each moment God gives us is precious and a part of His divine plan for our lives. We must see them and seize them as opportunities to watch Him work. In the fullness of time, He will do what He has planned to do. In the meantime, we may have to wait, but our time will not be wasted.

How Long Must I Wait?

After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and behold, there came up out of the Nile seven cows, attractive and plump, and they fed in the reed grass. And behold, seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly, thin cows ate up the seven attractive, plump cows. And Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time. And behold, seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. And behold, after them sprouted seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump, full ears. And Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. So in the morning his spirit was troubled, and he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh. – Genesis 41:1-8 ESV

Even for those of us who believe that God is in control and sovereign over all things, we sometimes lose patience when it comes to His sense of timing. We tell ourselves that He is at work behind the scenes and has a plan in place, but then we wonder what is taking Him so long to put that plan into place. The story of the life of Joseph should be a great reminder to us that God’s will for us may not always match our own, and the manner in which He intervenes in our trials may be anything but timely.

Chapter 40 ended with the words, “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23 ESV). Joseph had interpreted the cupbearer’s dream and all he asked in return was that the cupbearer remember him and share his plight with Pharaoh. But then, chapter 41 opens up with the words, “After two whole years…” (Genesis 41:1a ESV). The space between these two chapters represents two full years of Joseph’s life. We are given no details of what went on during that time. He more than likely remained in charge of the other prisoners because he had found favor in the eyes of the warden (Genesis 39:21-22). But we are given no glimpse into the state of Joseph’s emotional or spiritual health during this time. Was he depressed? Had he become defeated and disillusioned with God over his long incarceration. We would understand if he had, because he was innocent. He had done nothing wrong. Even as we read the opening words of chapter 41, we find ourselves asking the question, “Why two years?” Surely, God could have moved faster and done something sooner to change Joseph’s circumstances.

But the story of Joseph is really the story of God’s sovereignty and providence. It has less to do with the specifics going on in Joseph’s life than it does with what God is doing behind the scenes as He orchestrates His plan to fulfill the promise He had made to Abraham.

I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and make you famous, and you will be a blessing to others.– Genesis 12:2 NLT

It is the same promise He repeated to Isaac.

Do not go down to Egypt, but do as I tell you. Live here as a foreigner in this land, and I will be with you and bless you. I hereby confirm that I will give all these lands to you and your descendants, just as I solemnly promised Abraham, your father. I will cause your descendants to become as numerous as the stars of the sky, and I will give them all these lands. And through your descendants all the nations of the earth will be blessed. – Genesis 26:2-4 NLT

Isaac would then pass on this promise in the form of a blessing to his son, Jacob.

May God Almighty bless you and give you many children. And may your descendants multiply and become many nations! May God pass on to you and your descendants the blessings he promised to Abraham. May you own this land where you are now living as a foreigner, for God gave this land to Abraham. – Genesis 28:3-4 NLT

And Jacob’s son, Joseph, was going to be instrumental in God fulfilling that promise. When Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, his family had been living in the land of Canaan. But they did not yet possess the land. It belonged to the Canaanites and an assortment of other people groups. Like his grandfather and father before him, Jacob was more or less a nomad or wanderer in the land. The promise of God had yet to be fully realized. And one could ask the same question: “What is taking God so long?” The delay seems unnecessary. After all, He is God. He can do what He wants, whenever and however He wants. But who are we to question the wisdom of God? The prophet Isaiah gives us some much-needed advice:

“What sorrow awaits those who argue with their Creator. Does a clay pot argue with its maker? Does the clay dispute with the one who shapes it, saying, ‘Stop, you’re doing it wrong!’ Does the pot exclaim, ‘How clumsy can you be?’” – Isaiah 45:9 NLT

And God provides us with His own thoughts regarding our audacity to question His wisdom, timing, or methods.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord. “And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine. For just as the heavens are higher than the earth, so my ways are higher than your ways and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.” – Isaiah 56:8-9 NLT

Joseph had to remain in prison two full years. Why? God does not tell us. But His ways are beyond anything we could imagine. Even if He told us, we would not understand. What right do we have to question His motives or methodologies? How arrogant and prideful for us to suggest that God might somehow be doing things wrong.

Joseph was sold by his brothers. He was falsely accused and thrown in prison. He was all but forgotten for two years. Job suffered the loss of all of his children, his wealth and even his health. Stephen was stone to death for sharing the gospel. Paul spent the majority of his most productive ministry years in prison. Jesus was hung on a cross for a crime He didn’t commit. The Bible is full of injustices and what appear to be apparent lapses in God’s sovereignty and power. But the story of the Bible is one of God’s divine plan being played out over time in perfect detail and according to His infinite wisdom. We may not understand it or even like it, but we can trust that God knows what He is doing. Joseph’s two-year wait was purposeful, not regretable. God’s delay was intentional, not insensitive. There is always a reason behind God’s seeming madness. There is a purpose behind all that seems purposeless and meaningless.

“After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed…” The wait was over. The divine plan was being unveiled. At just the right time. No sooner. No later. This story is about far more than Joseph’s imprisonment. It is about the promises of God and His faithful, unwavering commitment to do what He says He will do.

God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfill it?
 – Numbers 23:19 ESV



Good News and Bad News.

So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph and said to him, “In my dream there was a vine before me, and on the vine there were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms shot forth, and the clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes and pressed them into Pharaoh’s cup and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” Then Joseph said to him, “This is its interpretation: the three branches are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office, and you shall place Pharaoh’s cup in his hand as formerly, when you were his cupbearer. Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.”

When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was favorable, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream: there were three cake baskets on my head, and in the uppermost basket there were all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating it out of the basket on my head.” And Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days. In three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from you!—and hang you on a tree. And the birds will eat the flesh from you.”

On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he made a feast for all his servants and lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. But he hanged the chief baker, as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. – Genesis 40:9-23 ESV

Two men. Two dreams. Two diametrically opposite interpretations. The cupbearer to the king receives good news. His dream is a prophetic vision that he will be restored to his original position in the royal court. How did Joseph know this? As he stated earlier, “Do not interpretations belong to God?” (Genesis 40:8 ESV). God had somehow shown Joseph the meaning of the cupbearer’s cryptic dream. And God also gave Joseph the interpretation of the baker’s dream. But in this case, the news was anything but good. The baker was going to lose his head! His dream was going to turn into a nightmare that would end up with him being executed by order of the Pharaoh. Joseph does not provide a reason for this outcome. We are not told what crime the baker may have committed, but according to Joseph’s interpretation, the outcome of his dream is less-than-ideal.

But back to the cupbearer. The important thing to note in this passage is Joseph’s request that the cupbearer not forget about him when he gets restored to his position in Pharaoh’s court. All Joseph asks is that he remember what he has done. Like the cupbearer, Joseph is innocent and has been unjustly imprisoned. He simply wants an opportunity to explain his situation and appeal his sentence before Pharaoh himself. So he begs the cupbearer:

”Only remember me, when it is well with you, and please do me the kindness to mention me to Pharaoh, and so get me out of this house. For I was indeed stolen out of the land of the Hebrews, and here also I have done nothing that they should put me into the pit.” – Genesis 40:14-15 ESV

But once again, Joseph’s hopes get dashed. The cupbearer gets restored to his position, just as Joseph predicted. But this chapter ends with a sad statement: “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (Genesis 40:23 ESV). This seems to sum up Joseph’s life. By now, his brothers had forgotten all about him. His father had most likely stopped mourning over him and gone on with his life. Potiphar probably hired someone else to run his household. Potiphar’s wife most likely turned her immoral attention to some other young man. And Joseph was all alone again. Or was he?

Up until this point, we have seen that everywhere Joseph went, God was with him. And while this chapter ends on a somber note, it does not mean that God had abandoned Joseph. In fact, everything that has happened so far has been the direct result of the sovereign hand of God. Nothing has been a coincidence. Nothing has happened as a result of fate. God has been directing Joseph’s life every step of the way. And all that has happened so far has been according to God’s timing. Joseph had been forgotten by the cupbearer, but not by God. Joseph remained in prison, but he was completely within the will of God. Even the cupbearer’s poor memory was part of God’s plan for Joseph’s life.

We will see in the next chapter that Joseph remains in prison for two full years. He will stay in his less-than-ideal circumstances as God works out the exact timing of His will concerning Joseph’s life. We are not told anything about Joseph’s life during that two year time period. We are given no details about his life in prison. Only that he waited. But while he waited, God was at work. Joseph was confined, but his God was not. Joseph was under all kinds of limitations, but not God. Our circumstances are never limiting to God. Our predicaments are never a problem for God. It would have been easy for Joseph to assume that he had been forgotten, not only by the cupbearer, but by God Himself. He probably had nights of despair. He more than likely had moments of doubt. We can easily assume he became angry at times and wondered what he had done to deserve such a fate. But regardless of Joseph’s moods or even the state of his faith in God, his heavenly Father was still at work. He had not forsaken or forgotten Joseph. Joseph was about to see his bad news transformed into really good news.


A High View of God.

Some time after this, the cupbearer of the king of Egypt and his baker committed an offense against their lord the king of Egypt. And Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and he put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be with them, and he attended them. They continued for some time in custody.

And one night they both dreamed—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were confined in the prison—each his own dream, and each dream with its own interpretation. When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they were troubled. So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were with him in custody in his master’s house, “Why are your faces downcast today?” They said to him, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them.” And Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me.” – Genesis 40:1-8 ESV

It is important to look back on an important detail from the previous part of the story. In chapter 39 we read, “And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison” (Genesis 39:20 ESV). A little later on, in chapter 40, we are told it is “the house of the captain of the guard” (Genesis 40:3 ESV). This was most likely a building attached or adjacent to  Potiphar’s house so that he could keep his eye on these royal prisoners. Because Joseph had been a slave of Potiphar, captain of the king’s guard, he had been transferred from Potiphar’s house to the royal prison. Joseph had committed no crime against the king, but yet he was placed in this prison, even though he was a common slave. This is an important detail, because it is while Joseph is in this prison that he will “just happen” to meet two other individuals who will play a significant role in his future.

Before long, Joseph is joined by the king’s cupbearer and chief baker, both of whom had done something to make the king angry enough to throw them both in prison. We are not told their crimes, but they had both experienced the same meteoric fall in their fortunes that Joseph had. They were placed under Joseph’s care, because as we saw in the last chapter:

And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:22-23 ESV

Two men with close ties to Pharaoh are imprisoned alongside Joseph. Because of the Lord’s hand on Joseph’s life, he is placed in charge of them. And then the fun begins. Both of these men end up having dreams. Vivid dreams. Disturbing dreams. On the very same night. And we’re told that each dream had its own interpretation. But remember where they are: In prison. They have no access to wise men or magicians, astronomers or seers. How will they ever discover the meaning to their dreams. And why had they both had dreams on the very same night in the very same place?

The next morning, Joseph notices that something is wrong. The two men are visibly upset and, true to his role as their caretaker, Joseph asks them what is disturbing them. They both reply, “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (Genesis 40:8a ESV). They seem to know that these dreams are not your garden-variety dreams. There is something significant about them and they are anxious to know what they portend. The response Joseph gives provides us with a glimpse into his theology – his view of God. He simply states, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Please tell them to me” (Genesis 40:8b ESV).

There is a great deal of similarity between this story and the one concerning Daniel and his interpretation of King Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. Over the book of Daniel we read:

Then the king commanded that the magicians, the enchanters, the sorcerers, and the Chaldeans be summoned to tell the king his dreams. So they came in and stood before the king. And the king said to them, “I had a dream, and my spirit is troubled to know the dream.” – Daniel 2:2-3 ESV

The king’s counselors and wise men respond, “Tell your servants the dream, and we will show the interpretation” (Daniel 2:4 ESV). But the king is adamant. He not only wants them to tell them what the dream means, he demands that they be able to tell him what he dreamed. If not, he will have them torn limb from limb. These men are dumbstruck. They find themselves in a life or death predicament and plead with the king.

“There is not a man on earth who can meet the king’s demand, for no great and powerful king has asked such a thing of any magician or enchanter or Chaldean. 1The thing that the king asks is difficult, and no one can show it to the king except the gods, whose dwelling is not with flesh.” – Daniel 2:10-11 ESV

Enter Daniel. He tells the king:

“No wise men, enchanters, magicians, or astrologers can show to the king the mystery that the king has asked, but there is a God in heaven who reveals mysteries, and he has made known to King Nebuchadnezzar what will be in the latter days” – Daniel 2:27-28 ESV

Long before Daniel lived and his story was written down in a scroll, Joseph held a similar view of God. His God was all-knowing and ever-present. His God was able to reveal mysteries and make known the unknowable. Joseph knew a thing or two about dreams. He had had a few of his own. Perhaps Joseph had been given the interpretation of his own dreams by God. By this time in the story, Joseph could have had a much more clear idea of his future and the role his two dreams were going to play. But whatever the case, Joseph is nonplussed by what the two men say and simply asks them to share their dreams so he can provide them with an interpretation – with the help of God.

Joseph held a high view of God – even in the lowest moments of his life. He refused to let his physical location or the state of his circumstances alter his view of God. His expectations of God were greater than any complications life might bring. Even in prison, his God was with him. And if his God was with him all the time and in all places, He was big enough to handle the interpretation of a few dreams.

“We should fix ourselves firmly in the presence of God by conversing all the time with Him…we should feed our soul with a lofty conception of God and from that derive great joy in being his. We should put life in our faith. We should give ourselves utterly to God in pure abandonment, in temporal and spiritual matters alike, and find contentment in the doing of His will,whether he takes us through sufferings or consolations.”  – Brother Lawrence

The Lord Was With Him.

As soon as his master heard the words that his wife spoke to him, “This is the way your servant treated me,” his anger was kindled. And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison. But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison. And the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it. The keeper of the prison paid no attention to anything that was in Joseph’s charge, because the Lord was with him. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed. – Genesis 39:19-23 ESV

Have you ever felt alone? Has there ever been a time in your life when it seemed as if God had abandoned you ? Those dark moments of the soul can be difficult to handle. When your world feels like it is collapsing in on you and your God has turned His back on you, it is easy to give in to despair. It is even possible to allow what appears to be God’s rejection of you to lead to your resentment of Him.

The story of Joseph provides us with a glimpse into the painful reality of life on this planet. Even as the favorite son of his father and a descendant of Abraham himself, Joseph was not immune to the difficulties of life. He was sold by his own brothers into slavery. He was bought on the slave block by Potiphar, the captain of Pharaoh’s guard. But while in Potiphar’s home, the Lord was with Joseph, and he succeeded in all that he did. The blessing of God was upon him and Potiphar senses it, eventually placing Joseph over all of his household. But things took a dramatic turn for the worse when Pharaoh’s wife attempted to seduce Joseph and he repeatedly turned her down. Finally, in revenge, she accused him of attempted rape. That is when Joseph’s young life took another dramatic turn.

Potiphar was furious and had Joseph thrown into prison. No trial. No due process. No innocent until proven guilty. It all happened so fast, it had to have left Joseph’s head spinning and his mind reeling with thoughts of “here we go again!” The first time, Joseph had been stripped of his cloak and thrown into a cistern. Now he finds himself stripped of his position and thrown into prison. And in both cases, he had been completely innocent. Where was God? Why had He let this happen? Joseph had done the right thing by rejecting the immoral overtures of Potiphar’s wife, and yet he was the one suffering in prison. Even as we read this story, it is easy for us to focus all our attention of Joseph’s circumstances and assume that something is wrong, that God has somehow abandoned Joseph. Evil appears to be getting the upper hand. And yet, Moses reminds us, “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (Genesis 39:21 ESV).

Yes, even in the prison, God was with Joseph. God’s presence is never limited by our circumstances or surroundings. Yet we tend to think that the good times are the best indicator of God’s blessing. We seem to believe that any difficulties that come into our lives are either an indication of God’s displeasure with us or a sign that He has distanced Himself from us. And yet, King David provides us with these comforting words:

I can never escape from your Spirit! I can never get away from your presence! If I go up to heaven, you are there; if I go down to the grave, you are there. If I ride the wings of the morning, if I dwell by the farthest oceans, even there your hand will guide me, and your strength will support me. I could ask the darkness to hide me and the light around me to become night—but even in darkness I cannot hide from you. To you the night shines as bright as day. Darkness and light are the same to you. – Psalm 139:7-12 NLT

Even if we wanted to get away from God, we couldn’t. So why would we think that our circumstances are proof that God has given up on us? The only thing that had changed for Joseph was his location. He had gone from Potiphar’s house to prison. His accommodations had changed, but not his relationship with God. His employment status had changed, but not status as a child of God. The Lord was with Joseph – even in prison. Just as the Lord had been with Joseph in the cistern. He was never alone. His master had fallen out of love with him, but not his God. His brothers had abandoned him, but not his heavenly Father.

And God continued to bless Joseph, not by providing him with an immediate escape plan from prison, but by making him successful in prison. God used what appeared to be a less-than-ideal situation to accomplish produce a better-than-could-be-expected outcome. He had a plan for Joseph and his imprisonment was an important part of that plan. What is important for us to recognize is that Joseph seems to have spent no time having a personal pity party. He simply went to work. Just as he had in Potiphar’s house, Joseph showed himself to be a diligent and faithful worker. And before you know it, the warden elevated Joseph to a position of prominence and importance. The text tells us, “the keeper of the prison put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners who were in the prison. Whatever was done there, he was the one who did it” (Genesis 39:22 ESV). He saw something in Joseph’s character that impressed him. He found Joseph to be an ideal prisoner and an individual he could trust. Joseph’s character had not been changed by his circumstances. He was still faithful to his God and his God was faithful to him. “And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed” (Genesis 39:23 ESV).

Too often, we judge the presence and power of our God based on the comfort and convenience of our circumstances. If all is going well, God must love us and be with us. If anything goes wrong, we immediately assume He is angry with us or turned His back on us. But He is always with us. He never leaves us or forsakes us. Even Jesus told His disciples that their circumstances were going to get worse before they got better. Their lives, after His departure, were going to be marked by difficulty. But God would be with them. The trials they would soon face would not be a sign of God’s abandonment of them, but of His work being done through them.

“But before all this occurs, there will be a time of great persecution. You will be dragged into synagogues and prisons, and you will stand trial before kings and governors because you are my followers. But this will be your opportunity to tell them about me. So don’t worry in advance about how to answer the charges against you, for I will give you the right words and such wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to reply or refute you! Even those closest to you—your parents, brothers, relatives, and friends—will betray you. They will even kill some of you. And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But not a hair of your head will perish! By standing firm, you will win your souls.” – Luke 21:12-19 NLT

Betrayed by those closest to you. Unjustly thrown into prison. Hated and despised. But what does Jesus say? Stand firm. God would be in the midst of it all. In time, the circumstances would become proof of God’s presence, not His absence. Joseph was learning that God was with him, even in the worst of times.

Spiritual Success and Satan’s Seduction.

Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master’s wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master’s wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.

But one day, when he went into the house to do his work and none of the men of the house was there in the house, she caught him by his garment, saying, “Lie with me.” But he left his garment in her hand and fled and got out of the house. And as soon as she saw that he had left his garment in her hand and had fled out of the house, she called to the men of her household and said to them, “See, he has brought among us a Hebrew to laugh at us. He came in to me to lie with me, and I cried out with a loud voice. And as soon as he heard that I lifted up my voice and cried out, he left his garment beside me and fled and got out of the house.” Then she laid up his garment by her until his master came home, and she told him the same story, saying, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to laugh at me. But as soon as I lifted up my voice and cried, he left his garment beside me and fled out of the house.” – Genesis 39:6b-18 ESV

Though having been sold into slavery by his brothers, Joseph must have considered himself blessed of God to have ended up in the home of Potiphar. He appeared to be a kind and gracious master who saw Joseph’s potential for leadership and rewarded him by putting Joseph in charge of his entire household. It had not escaped Potiphar’s notice that everything Joseph did was blessed by the hand of Joseph’s God, and since Joseph was a slave and all that he did was done on behalf of his master, Potiphar was the beneficiary of all the blessings. But in the midst of all of Joseph’s success, trouble was brewing, in the form of Potiphar’s wife.

At the end of verse six, Moses relates a seemingly out-of-place bit of information regarding Joseph’s appearance. “Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance” (Genesis 39:6b ESV). But this little descriptor plays a significant part in helping to explain what happens next. It seems that Joseph had not escaped the notice of Potiphar’s wife, but it had nothing to do with his household management skills. She was attracted to Joseph’s attractiveness. He was more than likely about 20-years old at this point in the story, and his master’s wife wanted more from Joseph than he was prepared to give. She was about to use full-court pressure and all her feminine wiles on Joseph in an attempt to seduce him. We know this was an attack of the enemy because for Joseph to give in to the temptation would have been a sin against his God. Joseph knew that to commit any form of sexual immorality was forbidden, especially adultery. The enemy has long used sexual sin as a primary means of bringing down God’s people. It is one of the primary appeals to the weakness of the flesh that has proven to be the most successful for him. The Proverbs of Solomon repeatedly warn about this very thing.

For the lips of an immoral woman are as sweet as honey,
    and her mouth is smoother than oil.
But in the end she is as bitter as poison,
    as dangerous as a double-edged sword. – Proverbs 5:3-4 NLT

Stay away from her!
    Don’t go near the door of her house!
If you do, you will lose your honor
    and will lose to merciless people all you have achieved. – Proverbs 5:8-9 NLT

Drink water from your own well—
    share your love only with your wife.
Why spill the water of your springs in the streets,
    having sex with just anyone?
You should reserve it for yourselves.
    Never share it with strangers. – Proverbs 5:15-17 NLT

Can a man scoop a flame into his lap
    and not have his clothes catch on fire?
Can he walk on hot coals
    and not blister his feet?
So it is with the man who sleeps with another man’s wife.
    He who embraces her will not go unpunished.
– Proverbs 6:27-29 NLT

The passage tells us that “day after day” she tempted Joseph. We can only conjecture the kind of pressure she put on this young man to get what she wanted. But the Proverbs gives us an idea of the kinds of things she probably said.

“Come, let us take our fill of love till morning;
    let us delight ourselves with love.
For my husband is not at home;
    he has gone on a long journey;
he took a bag of money with him;
    at full moon he will come home.” – Proverbs 7:18-20 NLT

The warning is clear, stay away from her. Run for your life. Her seductive-sounding promises are lies that will only result in death.

Don’t let your hearts stray away toward her.
    Don’t wander down her wayward path.
For she has been the ruin of many;
    many men have been her victims.
Her house is the road to the grave.
    Her bedroom is the den of death. – Proverbs 7:25-27 NLT

And Joseph repeatedly spurned her advances, knowing that to give in to her would be to dishonor his master and to disobey his God. “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9 ESV). Joseph could have rationalized his circumstances and convinced himself that it was only fair that he take what was offered to him. After all, he had been treated unfairly and had never asked to be placed in this situation to begin with. What harm could he do by satisfying his own physical desires? But Joseph knew that his actions would have consequences. He knew that to commit adultery with Potiphar’s wife would be a sin against God, even though it would be years before the written moral law of God would be given at Mount Sinai. Joseph knew in his heart would God would have him do. So he refused to give in to the temptation and ran for his life.

It was William Congreve who penned the now famous words:

Heav’n has no Rage, like Love to Hatred turn’d,
Nor Hell a Fury, like a Woman scorn’d.

Potiphar’s wife was a woman scorned and she was furious. So much so, that she accused Joseph of attempted rape. Suddenly, Joseph found himself falling from favored status again. And it involved yet another one of his garments. In the earlier part of his story, his brothers took his torn and bloodied robe to his father and presented it as proof of Joseph’s death. In this case, Potiphar’s wife held out Joseph’s discarded garment as proof of Joseph’s supposed indiscretion. And in both cases, Joseph ended up imprisoned though innocent of any wrong doing.

Contrary to the popular opinion in some Christian circles, doing what God deems right does not guarantee that nothing will go wrong. Obedience does nothing to prevent opposition. Faithfulness to God will usually result in the a full-frontal assault from the enemy. Spiritual success will almost always elicit spiritual warfare. Joseph’s presence in Egypt had not escaped the notice of Satan. The blessings of God on Joseph’s life and the subsequent success he experienced in Potiphar’s household were threats to Satan’s rule. He did not want or need a faithful follower of God stirring up the pot in the god-suturated, yet God-less realm of Egypt. So Joseph could expect more of the same. But he could also expect God to continue His work in and around his life – regardless of the circumstances in which he found himself.

The Blessing and the Battle.

Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there. The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph’s charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate. – Genesis 39:1-6 ESV

The story of Joseph is picked back up in chapter 39 after a brief, but sordid look into the domestic difficulties of his brother, Judah. The last thing we were told about Joseph in chapter 37 was that, upon arrival in Egypt, he had been sold to an Egyptian military officer, a captain of Pharaoh’s guard. Chapter 38 reveals that life was going on “as usual” for Joseph’s brothers. They acted as if nothing had ever happened, knowing full well that their younger brother was now most likely a slave in Egypt. But Judah is provided as an example of just what was going on in the lives of Joseph’s brothers while he was suffering the painful outcome of their intense hatred for him. While they had rid themselves of Joseph, their lives were going to be far from easy. And their decision-making capabilities would continue to be far from stellar. Judah ended up marrying a Canaanite woman, with whom he had three sons. Er, the firstborn, would be put to death by God for his wickedness. Onan, Er’s brother, refused to provide his widow with an heir, choosing to “spill his seed on the ground” rather than impregnate her. So God killed him as well. Judah promised Tamar, the widow, that he would give her to his youngest son when he was of age. But Judah never kept his promise. So Tamar disguised herself as a prostitute and tricked Judah into having sex with her. The result was a pregnancy and, ultimately, the birth of two twin sons, Perez and Zerah. Judah’s life had been far from a fairy tale after the dreamer was gone. It had turned into a nightmare.

But meanwhile, Joseph had gone from favored son to the life of a slave living in a foreign country, far from home. Yet four times in this chapter, Moses uses the phrase, “The Lord was with Joseph” (Genesis 39:2 ESV). Even though he was many miles from home and had been rejected by his own brothers, Joseph was far from alone. The very One who had given him the dreams was with him and was going to see that those dreams became reality. It is interesting to note that chapter 38 provides a glimpse of Judah, choosing to live outside the will of God by selling his brother into slavery and then marrying a Canaanite, a pagan who did not worship Yahweh. He would suffer greatly for his choices. Yet Joseph, who had been treated unfairly by his brothers and sold into slavery, was well within the will of God and would enjoy His divine favor – even hundreds of miles away from his family and home. Living obediently within the will of God is always the safest place for His children to be. Joseph was going to discover the joy of discovering that God’s presence and blessings are not limited by time or space. Distance is not a difficulty for God. Joseph may have been miles from home, but His God was right beside him.

And God’s presence in Joseph’s life was far more than a warm, fuzzy feeling. It manifested itself in tangible, practical ways. Moses tells us, “the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favor in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had” (Genesis 39:3-4 ESV). God’s favor on Joseph showed up in the form of blessings on his life and those blessings flowed out, impacting the lives of all those around Joseph. Potiphar ended up getting far more than he had bargained for when he had purchased Joseph at the slave market. He had bought a slave, but little did he know that what he really got was a servant of God. 

The blessing of God on Joseph’s life is an ongoing theme in this story. And it goes all the way back to the original promise that God had made to Abraham when He had called him out of Ur. “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed” (Genesis 12:1-3 ESV). While we know that this promise was ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ, a descendant of Abraham, it was also partially fulfilled in Joseph. In a real way, Joseph had been cursed by his own brothers. He was a descendant of Abraham and yet had been treated as nothing more than property, sold into slavery for 20 shekels of silver. He had been betrayed by his own, just as Jesus would be centuries later. Judas would be paid 30 pieces of silver to betray Jesus to the Jewish religious leaders. And yet, Joseph’s betrayal by his brothers would result in blessings on him and on all those around him. And as we will see as the story unfolds, God was going to utilize the forsaken and forgotten Joseph to fulfill His promise to make of the descendants of Abraham a great nation.

God extended favor to Joseph and Potiphar was a beneficiary of those divine blessings. As a result, he made Joseph the overseer of his entire household. “From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house for Joseph’s sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field” (Genesis 39:5 ESV). But where God blesses, the enemy wants to bring destruction. Jesus said of Satan, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy” (John 10:10a NLT). Satan is always out to destroy the servants of God. He wants to turn God’s blessings into curses. And Satan will use everything and everyone he can to counter God’s good intentions in the lives of His children. While we live on this earth, we will always find God’s good favor directly opposed by the enemy’s evil intentions. God gave Joseph dreams. Satan gave Joseph’s brothers visions of revenge and retribution. God showed Joseph favor. Satan will use Potiphar’s wife to show Joseph unwanted attention. The hand of God on the life of one of His children will always bring the hatred of the enemy. The favor of God will always solicit the full brunt of Satan’s fury and his spiritual forces. “For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty power” (Ephesians 6:12 NLT).

The Providential Plan of God.

Then they sat down to eat. And looking up they saw a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing gum, balm, and myrrh, on their way to carry it down to Egypt. Then Judah said to his brothers, “What profit is it if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Come, let us sell him to the Ishmaelites, and let not our hand be upon him, for he is our brother, our own flesh.” And his brothers listened to him. Then Midianite traders passed by. And they drew Joseph up and lifted him out of the pit, and sold him to the Ishmaelites for twenty shekels of silver. They took Joseph to Egypt.

When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not in the pit, he tore his clothes and returned to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone, and I, where shall I go?” Then they took Joseph’s robe and slaughtered a goat and dipped the robe in the blood. And they sent the robe of many colors and brought it to their father and said, “This we have found; please identify whether it is your son’s robe or not.” And he identified it and said, “It is my son’s robe. A fierce animal has devoured him. Joseph is without doubt torn to pieces.” Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him. Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard. – Genesis 37:25-36 ESV

After having thrown Joseph into an empty cistern, his brothers sit down and share a meal together. They weren’t exactly distraught over their actions or showing any signs of remorse. The only one to speak up and interrupt their meal was Judah, who offered an alternative plan that entailed selling their brother to Ishmaelite traders, rather than leaving him to die in an empty cistern. They could be rid of their brother, make some money, and not have his blood on their hands. It was a win-win proposition. So all the brothers agreed, except for Reuben, who had earlier convinced them to throw Joseph into the pit so he could sneak in and rescue him later. For whatever reason, he was not there when this decision was made. But everyone else was fully complicit and on board with this latest plan.

So they sold their younger brother to Ishmaelite traders for 20 shekels of silver. The Ishmaelites were descendants of Ishmael, the son of Abraham and Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah. When Sarah realized that she was unable to provide a son to Abraham, she convinced him to impregnate her maidservant so that they might fulfill the promise of God. But once the child was born, Sarah changed her mind and demanded that Abraham get rid of the boy and his mother. And God told Abraham to do as Sarah commanded, saying, “ I will make a nation of the son of the slave woman also, because he is your offspring” (Genesis 21:13 ESV). So Abraham sent Hagar and Ishmael away, providing them with water, but little else. When the water ran out, Hagar laid her son under a bush to die and then she cried out to God. Moses records, “…and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Fear not, for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is.  Up! Lift up the boy, and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make him into a great nation.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. And she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink. And God was with the boy, and he grew up. He lived in the wilderness and became an expert with the bow. He lived in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took a wife for him from the land of Egypt” (Genesis 21:17-21 ESV).

This is an important detail in the story of Joseph, because of the connection between Ishmael and Egypt. His wife would be Egyptian and while his descendants would become Bedouins, they would develop an ongoing trading relationship with the Egyptians. So when the brothers of Joseph decided to sell him, they chose to do business with Ishmaelites, who just so happen to take Joseph to Egypt.

When Reuben returned and found Joseph no longer in the pit, he panicked. His brothers shared with him what they had done and took the news poorly. But yet another decision was made to concoct a story to tell to their father, Jacob. They took Joseph’s multicolored tunic, tore it and covered it in goat’s blood. And then they carried it the 70 miles back home and told their father that his favorite son had been killed by a wild beast. This news was devastating to Jacob. He was distraught and refused to be comforted. Perhaps he couldn’t stop thinking about Joseph’s dreams and wondering that had happened. Had the dreams not been of God? Had God’s plan somehow been thwarted by a random act of violence perpetrated by a wild animal? His favored son was dead and the dreams of Joseph had died along with him.

But there is something Jacob does not know. While his world had seemingly caved in on him, Moses reminds us that the story of Joseph is far from over.  “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard” (Genesis 37:36 ESV). Joseph was not dead. Neither were his dreams. Because God was not done. The brothers of Joseph thought they had gotten rid of him once and for all. Any chance of them ever having to bow down to their younger brother had been completely eliminated. Or so they thought. Little did they know that they had actually facilitated the very thing they dreaded. They had helped set in motion a chain of events that would result in the fulfillment of Joseph’s dreams and the realization of their worst nightmare. Years earlier, when Sarah decided to give her handmaiden to Abraham, she had no way of knowing the outcome. She had initially hoped that Hagar would give birth to a son who would become the father of a great nation, and that is exactly what had happened. But not according to Sarah’s original plan. God had another plan in mind. The descendants of Ishmael would play a role in the future of the people of Israel. They would facilitate the sale of Joseph into slavery in Egypt. None of this was blind luck or the result of fate. The sovereign, providential hand of God was at work behind the scenes, orchestrating His plan and preparing the descendants of Abraham to receive the fulfillment of the promises He had made to him years earlier. He was going to make of them a great nation. The question was, “How?” And the answer was, “According to His providential plan.

The Death of a Dream?

Now his brothers went to pasture their father’s flock near Shechem. And Israel said to Joseph, “Are not your brothers pasturing the flock at Shechem? Come, I will send you to them.” And he said to him, “Here I am.” So he said to him, “Go now, see if it is well with your brothers and with the flock, and bring me word.” So he sent him from the Valley of Hebron, and he came to Shechem. And a man found him wandering in the fields. And the man asked him, “What are you seeking?” “I am seeking my brothers,” he said. “Tell me, please, where they are pasturing the flock.” And the man said, “They have gone away, for I heard them say, ‘Let us go to Dothan.’” So Joseph went after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

They saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him. They said to one another, “Here comes this dreamer. Come now, let us kill him and throw him into one of the pits. Then we will say that a fierce animal has devoured him, and we will see what will become of his dreams.” But when Reuben heard it, he rescued him out of their hands, saying, “Let us not take his life.” And Reuben said to them, “Shed no blood; throw him into this pit here in the wilderness, but do not lay a hand on him” — that he might rescue him out of their hand to restore him to his father. So when Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped him of his robe, the robe of many colors that he wore. And they took him and threw him into a pit. The pit was empty; there was no water in it. – Genesis 37:12-24 ESV

Joseph has had two very vivid dreams. But neither he or the members of his family seem to know what they mean. Jacob, his father, seems the most oblivious and yet he is one who had experienced his own personal encounters with God. Years earlier, when he was escaping from the wrath of his brother, Esau, for having stolen his birthright, he had had a dream of his own.

And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed. Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” – Genesis 28:11-15 ESV

Years later, on his return home, he had another encounter with God. This time it wasn’t a dream, but a very real and physically exhausting wrestling match with God. He even named the place where it happened, Peniel, which means “the face of God.” So of all people, Jacob should have known that something was going on in regards to the two dreams of Joseph. But did nothing about them. In fact, for him, it was simply business as usual. He didn’t even seem to be aware of the growing animosity of his own sons to their younger brother. While they were off tending the families sheep, he sent Joseph to go check on them. The trip from Hebron to Shechem would have been 60 miles one way. And when Joseph arrived, he found that his brothers had moved on to Dothan, another ten miles further north. What was Jacob thinking? Why would he put his favorite son at risk? Was this Jacob’s attempt to knock his son down a few notches and teach him a lesson regarding his arrogant-sounding dreams? There are so many questions that whirl around this narrative. Many of which are left unanswered. We are not told the motivation behind Jacob’s decision. But we are given numerous signs that God was sovereignly and providentially at work behind the scenes.

Why had the brothers traveled 60 miles to pasture their flocks? It was because Jacob owned land there. He had purchased it on his return from his self-imposed exile (Genesis 33:18-20). But why had the brothers then moved on to Dothan? It seems that they had left the flocks in Shechem to pasture and had headed to Dothan, which was trading town that lay on a busy caravan route between Damascus and Egypt. We are not told the reason for their little jaunt to Dothan. It could have been to buy goods or simply to see the sights. But their decision would prove providential.

When Jacob finally arrived in Dothan, the text says, “saw him from afar, and before he came near to them they conspired against him to kill him” (Genesis 37:18 ESV). How did they recognize him from a distance? Perhaps it was his coat of many colors that gave him away. But upon recognition that it was their despised brother, Joseph, they come up with a plan to eliminate him once and for all. They are 70 miles from home. He is not under the protective care of their doting father. The circumstances couldn’t have been more perfect. It was time to put an end to the dreams and the dreamer. And little did Joseph know of the nightmare that lay ahead.

It was Reuben, the first-born, who intervened and prevented the brothers from killing Joseph. He advised them to place Joseph in a cistern in the ground, with the intention to come back later and rescue him. So when Joseph arrived, he received a shocking and less-than-welcoming reception. His brothers stripped him of his multi-color tunic and threw him in a pit. This scene is a foreshadowing of what is to come. It will be repeated several times in the life of Joseph over the course of his life. His meteoric fall from favored son to despised and deserted brother will not be the last time he experiences a setback in his young life. And yet, we will see that God is with him – all along the way. His father’s insensitivity and lack of common sense are no match for God’s sovereign plan. His brothers’ hate-filled, revenge-motivated plan cannot thwart the will of God. In fact, they will eventually discover that their evil actions end up actualizing the very dreams they so despised. Their wrongly-motivated intentions to strip Joseph of his favored status would actually result in his ultimate rise to the second-highest position in the land of Egypt.

It was Nebuchadnezzar, the king the Babylon, who had another dream given to him by God. He was told that, because of his pride, he would suffer from a period of insanity. He would fall from his splendor as king and spend his time living like a wild animal. And when the king’s sanity returned to him, he “praised and worshiped the Most High and honored the one who lives forever” (Daniel 4:34 NLT), saying, “All the people of the earth are nothing compared to him. He does as he pleases among the angels of heaven and among the people of the earth. No one can stop him or say to him, ‘What do you mean by doing these things?’” (Daniel 4:35 NLT). God’s will is unstoppable. His providential purposes are irrefutable and irresistible. What He determines will take place. What He predicts will come to pass. What He promises will be fulfilled. A dream given by God can never die. And while the dreamer may suffer, he or she is protected by the sovereign hand of God.