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

 

 

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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.