Last week we left Joseph just as he was the week before, in prison. However for perhaps the first time since he was sold into slavery Joseph was given a glimmer of hope that everything he was enduring was a part of God’s plan and that just maybe it would all come to fruition shortly.
We’ve all certainly waited anxiously for something before whether it was as a child in the days leading up until Christmas or for the birth of a child. We know what it is like to wait. Joseph is not only waiting for God to act, He also must wait through his time of slavery and then his time in prison. Nevertheless, while he waits he is the model slave and the model prisoner, bringing glory to God in all that he does along the way.
We pick up where we left Joseph after the release of the king’s cupbearer, but two years later because Joseph has been forgotten.
1 When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile, 2 when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. 4 And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.
5 He fell asleep again and had a second dream: Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. 6 After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.
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.
We’re not going to spend much time on the dreams here because this is a long passage. The magicians and wise men are unable to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. We shouldn’t think of magicians as someone with magical powers but perhaps as someone with a better understanding of the world than others so that their observations and workings appear as if magical. Moses would encounter magicians that performed some spectacular stunts.
These men appear to be trustworthy people. When Nebuchadnezzar has a dream that he doesn’t understand, he doesn’t trust his officials to give him an accurate interpretation so he asks that they first tell him his dream before it is interpreted. Pharaoh must not be expecting such trickery from his officials. They are honest with him and tell him that they don’t understand the dream however.
9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings. 10 Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. 11 Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. 12 Now 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. 13 And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged. “
14 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.
15 Pharaoh 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.”
The first lesson to draw from this passage is in the last verse. It would be easy for Joseph to take the credit for the ability to interpret dreams. It would be easy for him to be bitter about his unfair imprisonment, the cupbearer forgetting him, or for allowing his talents and abilities to go to waste for the best years of his life. Joseph was sold into slavery at seventeen and we read later in this chapter that he was thirty when he entered the service of the Pharaoh. His best physical years have been wasted.
Instead Joseph gets right down to work. He doesn’t hold a grudge, he doesn’t complain, he isn’t bitter. He gives God the glory that He deserves and reserves none of it for himself.
Pharaoh tells Joseph his dreams and Joseph sets to interpreting them:
25 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. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. 27 The 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. 29 Seven years of great abundance are coming throughout the land of Egypt, 30 but seven years of famine will follow them. Then all the abundance in Egypt will be forgotten, and the famine will ravage the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered, because the famine that follows it will be so severe. 32 The 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.
The interpretation is that there will be seven years of abundance followed by seven years of great famine. Just as interesting as the dream and the interpretation though is the reason Joseph gives that there were two dreams.
There are times that we can change God’s mind. There are people who argue against free will because they believe it removes God’s sovereignty. The argument is that if man can choose to do something that God hasn’t determined, then God isn’t really in charge. Nothing could be further from the truth however. Having choices to make in life doesn’t remove the control from God’s hands at all.
At work we all have certain responsibilities and we are accountable to a boss. But that boss doesn’t tell us how to do every single aspect of our jobs. There are some things that must be done a certain way but other things that don’t matter how they are done so long as they are done. If we don’t do the things that must be done or don’t do the things that must be done a certain way that way, then we’re going to be in trouble. This is the same way with God.
There are certain things that God has clearly said we are to do or not do. If we fail to live up to those standards we can expect trouble. But God does not care if I have eggs or toast or no breakfast at all when I get up in the morning. It is not predetermined and my ability to make this choice on my own doesn’t remove God’s sovereignty.
The Bible is full of instances where God offers people a choice. They choose A, then B will happen. They choose X, then Y will happen. Many times it is an issue of repent or be punished. There are other times though that there is no option given. When Jonah went to Nineveh the message was clear – you are going to be destroyed for your sins. But Jonah ran in the opposite direction not because he didn’t want to give the message of destruction to Nineveh. Rather, Jonah knew that if the Ninevites heard the word of the Lord and repented God would relent and not bring disaster upon the city.
There are times that God changes His mind when we respond in a certain way to Him. Now there is a whole other debate about whether God knew we would respond in such a way to begin with but I’m not going to discuss that. Scripture is full of instances where God says He will do something and the people react differently than expected and God changes the way He plans on dealing with people.
With Pharaoh that isn’t the case however. What is planned is set in stone and the people better get ready.
33 “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 They 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. 36 This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.”
37 The plan seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his officials. 38 So Pharaoh asked them, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
39 Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. 40 You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.”
Right now I have five weeks to go to finish my second master’s degree and the course I’m taking is on church leadership. There are a few different types of leaders in the Bible but no one else appears to have the administrative skills of Joseph.
Joseph is able to see a problem and he immediately begins thinking of ways to address the problem. Not only does he think of how to address the problem but he thinks in steps to make sure that it is carried out.
Some people who are in positions of leadership but are not actual leaders would hear about this problem and “solve” it by sending out a decree that a famine was coming and that people should stockpile food for the next seven years in order to make it through the famine years. But Joseph understands that more is needed than this.
Many if not most churches don’t have leaders. They have preachers, teachers, caretakers, or evangelists but not leaders. Some of it is a matter of gifting. Not every pastor is a gifted leader. But much of it is that churches don’t want to be led. They don’t recognize problems so they feel no need to change. Or even worse, they recognize the problem but don’t like the solution so they refuse to be led in a direction they don’t want go.
Pharaoh isn’t a fool however. He knows that the dream he had was given to him by God Almighty. He recognizes Joseph as a messenger and servant of God. And he realizes that there is no better person to lead his people than someone who is filled with the spirit of God. Pharaoh doesn’t need any more proof. It doesn’t matter that Joseph was a slave and a prisoner, only that he obviously communes with God.
And thus Joseph is raised from prisoner to second in command over all of Egypt in an instant. It has taken many years but God has placed him exactly where He intended and where Joseph needs to be at this exact moment.