“Remembered and Elevated”
October 5, 2008
God remembers and elevates those who have suffered for His sake.
I. Remembered in Prison (Genesis 41:1-36)
II. Elevated to Rule (Genesis 41:37-57)
We’ve now spent several weeks in Genesis with Joseph, and a few key truths have dominated our thinking: first, that God is faithful when we are afflicted; second he desires for us to have integrity, dependence and willingness even in difficult circumstances; third, that he uses affliction to shape us for his purposes. We saw those truths in the life of Joseph as he was suffering, and we related those truths to our own suffering, and to the hurricane that’s been part of our lives a while now.
This week we’ll begin to see the other side of suffering; when God’s people suffer to do God’s will, God uses that suffering for our good and for his glory. He remembers and elevates those who have suffered for his sake. He restores and exalts. We’ll see that today in the life of Joseph. And because it’s a communion Sunday, we’re not going to focus much on the application to our own lives, preferring to see how this truth is lived out in the life of Jesus.
So, when we last left our story, Joseph was still in prison. He had correctly interpreted the dreams of the cupbearer and the baker, but when the cupbearer was restored to Pharaoh’s service, the cupbearer forgot Joseph. Genesis 41:1 tells us that it was two more years before anything happened: two more years of prison, two more years of undeserved hardship and adversity. But God was at work.
I. Remembered in Prison (Genesis 41:1-36)
Genesis 41:1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. 5He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted--thin and scorched by the east wind. 7The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads.
Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
Pharaoh has a dream. Two dreams really. Vivid dreams, the kind you remember: Ugly gaunt cows eating up the fat sleek cows of Egypt. One commentator mentioned that even today when the flies and insects are bad the cows of Egypt will sometimes take refuge in the river. Pharaoh’s other dream was thin, scorched heads of grain, probably wheat, eating up the fat healthy grain of the harvest.
We’ve heard this story so many times that these dreams don’t mystify us, but they were a mystery to Pharaoh and to all of his court. Verse 8: In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.
Remember, dream interpretation was a big part of Egyptian idolatry. Priestly dream interpreters were supposed to be able to tell you what your dreams meant. But like the crystal-ball-Gypsies of Europe, I suspect these priests knew psychology better than they knew dreams, and mostly told people what they wanted to hear. But even that could be risky with Pharaoh, because his displeasure could cost you your life. Admitting they couldn’t interpret the dreams was risky too, but that’s what they did.
At that awkward moment, God steps in. Joseph is remembered: Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, "Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. 13And things turned out exactly as he told them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged."
The cupbearer had forgotten Joseph and never mentioned him. Now, due to Pharaoh’s extreme distress, he finally remembers Joseph and his ability to interpret dreams. He describes Joseph as a young Hebrew. This ethnic label was first used to describe Abraham in chapter 14, and used repeatedly by Potiphar’s wife in her accusations against Joseph. Abraham’s tribe was pretty well known and probably a bit despised.
Still desperate from these vivid dreams, Pharaoh sends for Joseph. Verses 14-16: So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh. 15Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it." 16"I cannot do it," Joseph replied to Pharaoh, "but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires."
Notice two things. First, Joseph hasn’t lost the foresight that made him a good manager. When he’s summoned to Pharaoh he takes the time to shave, bath and dress appropriately. Shaving was especially important, because all through their history the Egyptians were either clean-shaven or wore carefully maintained and trimmed beards. Someone with a full beard would might be considered low class, even a scoundrel. So Joseph shaves off his prison beard before he goes to Pharaoh.
Second, when he does stand before Pharaoh, notice that Joseph still will not take any credit for things that are from God. Pharaoh says “I’ve heard that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph says “No, I can’t. But God can.” The cupbearer had failed to mention Joseph’s God when he told Pharaoh of Joseph. But Joseph never misses a chance to attribute all that is happening and will happen to God. God is constantly on his lips, which is a good example to us.
While we were preparing for the memorial service last week for Frank Early, his brother Tim mentioned Frank’s conviction that a Christian ought to make himself known as a Christian early in any relationship. If God is central in our lives, he should be central in our speech - he certainly was to Joseph.
So Pharaoh tells Joseph his dream, and adds some details. Verses 17 to 24: Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. 19After them, seven other cows came up--scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. 20The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. 21But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up.
22"In my dreams I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. 23After them, seven other heads sprouted--withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. 24The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none could explain it to me."
One of the details Pharaoh adds is that these were the ugliest cows he’d ever seen: scrawny and very ugly and lean. Even after they ate up the seven fat cows, they remained just as ugly. He’d obviously had time to reflect on his dream, and he was trying to tell Joseph everything he thought might be important to the interpretation.
And Joseph is up to the task, or God is through him. Verses 25 to 32: Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, "The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine. 28"It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.
29Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.
Did I mention that God is constantly on Joseph’s lips? Not only is God the one who gives the interpretation of dreams, but Joseph’s God is the one who is sovereignly in charge of the events the dreams depict. Who is remembering Joseph here? Who is raising him up? It’s God. It’s not Joseph himself nor his skills, it’s not the cupbearer with the intermittent memory, it’s not Pharaoh himself. No, Joseph says “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.”
In verse 28: "It is just as I said to Pharaoh: God has shown Pharaoh what he is about to do.” And in verse 32: “the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.” Joseph is utterly convinced that God is sovereignly in control of this situation, in control of the most powerful man in the most powerful kingdom on earth. If Joseph is being restored, it’s not by man’s hand, but by the hand of God.
God gives Joseph the understanding of what the dreams meant: Seven years of great abundance followed by seven years of famine so severe that the abundance will be utterly forgotten. Then Joseph offers a management solution to this awful scenario.
Verses 33 to 36: "And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. 36This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so the country may not be ruined by the famine."
Notice the skill of Joseph’s plan. It’s not just storing during the good years to provide for the lean. He’s also recognized that such a scheme requires a strong wise leader and an organization of commissioners or deputies or overseers, who will have Pharaoh’s own authority. Initially Joseph calls for a fifth of the good harvests to be put away, which is the minimum that might be expected to feed the people during the famine. In practice we’ll see that they store up all the excess during the fat years so that Egypt becomes the granary for the surrounding nations during the lean years.
Let’s pause and ask ourselves what we’ve seen so far? It’s a great story. Everything we’ve read in the past few chapters has pointed toward this climax: Joseph’s management skills for Potiphar and the prison warden, his dream interpretation for the cupbearer and the baker; the death of the baker, letting us know that Pharaoh is not one to be trifled with; the faulty memory of the cupbearer which leads to this climactic timing. All of it worked by God to rescue and restore Joseph at just the proper time.
So, when we’re down, when we’re in the dungeon, the prison, the affliction, the trial, the stress, we’ve got to expect that God is working out his good purposes for our good and for his glory. God knows good from evil; he knows what blessing looks like; and though his ways are subtle and his thoughts deeper than ours, his definition of blessing is not so foreign to us that we can’t recognize it when we see it. God has orchestrated the rescue and restoration of Joseph, and he has not stopped doing these kind of things - and we’ll see the ultimate example in the life of Jesus, who went lower and was exalted higher than any other person in history or experience.
II. Elevated to Rule (Genesis 41:37-57)
In fact Joseph himself wasn’t just rescued and restored, but promoted. elevated and exalted as a result of God’s blessing in this situation. Verses 37-41: The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38So Pharaoh asked, "Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?" 39Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40You 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." 41So Pharaoh said, "I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt."
Joseph does not propose himself. I’m sure he wondered whether God had in mind for him to be that wise and discerning man, or at least one of the commissioners, but he doesn’t say so to Pharaoh. But Pharaoh consults with all his officials. This might include the prison warden, and would certainly include Potiphar, Joseph’s former master. Potiphar apparently didn’t say anything to dissuade Pharaoh from choosing Joseph, which may be evidence that Potiphar did not believe his wife’s accusations.
And of course, apart from the false accusation, everything Potiphar and anyone else had seen in Joseph would be good. Great management skills, combined with a blessing from God to interpret God’s will. So Pharaoh says “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?” He give credit to God for having made all this known to Joseph. And he puts him in charge of everything, palace, people and land. Only the hereditary kingship does he reserve for himself.
This is a promotion, an elevation of Joseph’s status far above anything we could expect, an exaltation of Joseph that had to come from God. There is no human reason why Pharaoh should take this interpretation of his dreams so seriously, but he does.
He does everything to cement Joseph’s authority. Verse 42: Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph's finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. 43He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and men shouted before him, "Make way!" Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt. 44Pharaoh said to Joseph, "I am Pharaoh, but without your word no one will lift hand or foot in all Egypt." 45Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-Paneah and gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, to be his wife. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.
He gives him the signet ring, whose imprint sealed Pharaoh’s own orders. He dresses him as the aristocracy of Egypt. He puts him in the second chariot, only behind his own, so that men must defer to him. He puts Joseph in charge, so that no aspect of Egyptian government was outside his control. And he gives him a new name ‘Zaphenath-Paneah’. The meaning of this name is obscure but might be ‘His God speaks and lives’, though some have speculated that it means ‘Savior of the World’.
He’s exalted to the highest place and given a name is above every name, that at the name of Joseph every knee should bow. Oops, that’s Jesus, we’ll get to him in a few minutes - but you can see why Joseph is called a type or pre-figurement of Jesus.
Joseph is also given a wife, Asenath, daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. Potiphera’s name is similar but not exactly like Potiphars’, chief of the palace guard. But their occupations are very different, as Potiphera is a priest, Potiphar a secular official. I very much doubt that Asenath is Potiphar’s daughter. But she’s certainly a ‘princess’ of Egypt, the marriage designed to enhance Joseph’s status. Well developed Hebrew legends say that she accepted Joseph’s religion and his God.
Verse 46: Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from Pharaoh's presence and traveled throughout Egypt. 47During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. 48Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. 49Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.
If Joseph is thirty it means that he’s spent thirteen years in slavery and prison. Can you imagine that in your life? Go back to the age of seventeen and imagine that the next thirteen years were spent in captivity, prison, dungeon and chains. Whatever you did in those years, or if you’re young whatever you hope to do, is entirely taken from you. Imagine the impact that would have on your life, your attitudes, your drives and convictions. Only a work of God could allow you to come out the other side with grace and wholeness. God did that work in Joseph’s life.
He gets in his chariot and manages Egypt just the way he said he would. He collects the food produced in the years of abundance and stores it in each city. And it worked: he stored up huge quantities of grain, quantities ‘beyond measure’ even by the rather sophisticated methods known to be used by the Egyptians.
While this was going on, Joseph had two s children Before the years of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On. 51Joseph named his firstborn Manasseh and said, "It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father's household." 52The second son he named Ephraim and said, "It is because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering."
I love what Joseph names these children, name which capture the blessing Joseph has received. He gives them very Hebrew names.So Manasseh means “made to forget”. Joseph says “It is because God has made me forget all my trouble and all my father’s household.” He probably means that God has taken away the bitterness of those memories, both of his troubles in Egypt and his troubles with his brothers.
Ephraim means ‘made me fruitful’, “because God has made me fruitful in the land of my suffering.’ The word is often used for abundant prosperity, for children and their children, and Joseph may be looking forward to the fruitfulness of his people in this land where he has suffered, and even forward to a return to Canaan.
These two names remind me of Paul’s words in Philippians: “But this one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, 14I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” But as Bruce Waltke says “this is not so much a story about Joseph as about God’s faithfulness to his promises. After thirteen bitter years God suddenly exalts Joseph directly over all of Egypt by spiritually gifting him to interpret dreams, and with supernatural wisdom, statesmanship and discernment. Joseph himself expresses this central theme: God has decided the course of history and he will do it.
And so the seven years of plenty gave way to the seven years of famine. Verses 53 to 57 The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, 54and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, "Go to Joseph and do what he tells you." 56When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. 57And all the countries came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe in all the world.
The text never tells us that Canaan or any of the other lands had seven years of abundance, but even if they did they didn’t know what to do with it. Only Egypt was prepared by God for this historic famine. But what Joseph set aside was enough to feed not only great Egypt but all the lesser nations nearby. Notice that Joseph’s leadership is even more important now, when the food that has been stored will have to be parceled out wisely. So Pharaoh says “Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.” Of course, these verses are also a preparation for the encounter between Joseph and his brothers that will dominate the next few chapters.
It’s a great story, the kind of rags to riches story we all love. But it’s a rags to riches story with God as the hero. On his own Joseph would have been powerless to manage his way out of slavery, let alone out of prison. But with God’s supernatural intervention at every point, misery has become blessing. It was God who sent the dreams to the cupbearer and the baker. It was God who sent the dreams to Pharaoh. It was God who gave Joseph the right understanding of those dreams. It was God who enabled him to find favor in Pharaoh’s sight. It was God who gave the skills and abilities to manage the crisis. And it was God who blessed the outcome.
It was God who remembered and rescued Joseph in prison. And if that was not enough, it was God who elevated him to this place of influence and power where he could save many lives. It was God who raised him up and God who exalted him. At the end of God’s promises to which we cling, at the end of God’s affliction in which we are shaped, there is a very real blessing. It may come, often does, in the course of our human lives; but if it doesn’t, it is surely promised in the life to come. God raises up, elevates and exalts those who have suffered for him.