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Genesis 41: From prison to palace

For the average person, everything that happens to them in their life is more or less chance and fate and coincidence and the so-called “luck”. Some people are waiting in vain for the future “breakthrough“ that will ostensibly change everything in their life. The person who does not know the living God in Jesus Christ, and who is not filled with the content of the Word of God, their life is actually just surrended to so-called chance and fate. My hairdresser, for example, believes that the universe decides the direction of his life. Other people turn to “seers” – such as one Gerald who appeared on KykNet recently and who was misleading people with his prayers and calling on the name of Jesus, while in reality he is a medium who receives information from demons. People who call on mediums for help end up with more problems than ever before. What a terrible way to live.

Therefore people can read Genesis 41 and think well, at least Joseph has struck it lucky at long last! For years he was innocently locked up in prison, but then by chance Pharaoh had a strange dream and then luckily the cupbearer suddenly remembered about Joseph and by coincidence Joseph was able to interpret the Pharaoh‘s dream and viola – overnight Joseph is made Prime Minister. One moment he is still in a prison cell and the next moment in the palace. For years I have been waiting for THAT kind of luck, some people may think. Random course of circumstances!

However, Scripture speaks a different language. The Divine Plan of the sovereign God was behind everything that happened to Joseph – also his elevation to a position of power and authority. Joseph’s story is not a fairytale. Joseph was elevated to the position of prime minister of Egypt with a specific Divine purpose.

1 Verses 1-13 -> Pharaoh’s dream
The cupbearer completely forgot to mention Joseph’s name to Pharaoh and so Joseph spent another two years in prison. This man did not have an easy life. Sometimes the Lord does not work through human means. That is why the Lord spoke directly to Pharaoh by way of two dramatic dreams. Take note: He was a pagan, not a redeemed child of God (in NT terms). The fact that supernatural things happen to one is not necessarily an indication that you are a saved person! There are people who put their trust and faith in such things, but it can be fatal.

Pharaoh’s dreams were truly Egyptian in nature, for example the prominence of River Nile and the dreaded east-wind which meant drought.

What upset the Pharaoh was that the two dreams described the same matter in two different ways – and that the seven scrawny and lean cows remained lean even after they had eaten the seven fat cows. The same with the seven heads of corn. It is not usual that cows would eat cows. Also that corn would eat corn. Surely the lean cows and the corn should have put on weight after eating what they did, not so? Somewhere, something is very wrong.

The Pharaoh’s usual source of information, the magicians, were not able to interpret the two dreams. Incidentally, we must not confuse these magicians with the present-day conjurers. They did not pull rabbits out of hats. They were the wisest and best educated and cleverest men in the Egyptian kingdom – trained in the art of interpretation of dreams.

But they could not interpret these two dreams, because it was a revelation from the Lord God, and according to 1 Cor 2:10-16, the things of the Lord can only be understood by the Holy Spirit.

Pharaoh’s dream-experience was similar to that of the cupbearer, and that is why he suddenly remembered Joseph. And in this way Joseph is released from jail and brought to Pharaoh. Behind the scenes the Lord’s provision is at work .

2 Verses 14-36 -> Pharaoh’s problem and Joseph’s plan

Joseph first had to shave before he could appear before the Pharaoh. To the Hebrews a beard was a sign of dignity, but in Egypt it was an offence. It was important that Joseph would not unnecessarily offend the Pharaoh.

Different to what his father Jacob would have done, Joseph did not take advantage of the opportunity he had with Pharaoh. One could just imagine how Jacob would have used the opportunity to his advantage to plead for his release and to explain that he was actually innocently put in prison and how unfairly he had been treated.

But Joseph does not mention his situation to Pharaoh. He is giving glory to God. He does not want to receive the honour for his ability to interpret dreams. Pharaoh must understand that. It comes from above. It is only the Lord who can interpret dreams – which He himself gave. Joseph forgets about himself and inspires Pharaoh with hope. Pharaoh takes heart and reveal the dreams to Joseph.

In short the meaning is that the Lord wants to be gracious to Egypt by warning them ahead of time about what is waiting in the future for Egypt (and the world) to give them time to make preparations.

Seven years of plenty would be followed by seven years of drought and famine – so severe that the seven years of abundance would quickly be forgotten. We know that the Lord’s plan with this was to get His nation into Egypt. All this was not merely a senseless run of circumstances. Everything was done according to God’s Divine Plan.

However, Joseph did not stop there. He had received from the Lord the gift to get to the bottom of a situation and to understand what has to be done. He sets out before the Pharaoh a plan of action. That wisdom also came from the Lord.

Action plan: First thing was to appoint a leader who had to see that – during the 7 years of abundance – corn and food were stored up. The surplus should be kept under the authority of Pharaoh, and carefully administered. In that way the effect of the drought and famine would be softened – also for other parts of the world. Egypt would be the only source of provision for a starving world. And we know that Joseph was the man who would be at the helm of all this. Once more a striking foreshadowing to the Lord Jesus as the only, unique Life-giver to a world lost in sinful darkness. Whoever did not come to JOSEPH for corn, would die. Whoever does not receive the Bread of life from JESUS, will die the eternal death.

The point is: When Joseph was laying out the plan of action, he did not imagine that he would become the man to manage it all. That he would become second in command only after Pharaoh himself. But his humble spirit prevented him from thinking about something like that. Indeed, who would ever imagine that a Hebrew slave would receive the second highest rank in Egypt?

3 Verses 37-45 -> Joseph is promoted

Pharaoh was more grateful for Joseph’s plan of action and his capabilities than about the interpretation of the dreams. Even the magicians agreed that Joseph is the obvious person to bring such an important plan into fruition.

Pharaoh acknowledges that it must be some or other spirit or god in Joseph who has given him such insight. And immediately Pharaoh promotes Joseph to second in command in the kingdom. Farewell to prison life! Suddenly Joseph receives power and authority and prestige. And also all kinds of signs of his new status such as rings and robes of fine linen and a gold chain around his neck. On top of all that, he is given his own chariot. He is also given an Egyptian name. In the Pharaoh’s opinion Joseph was no longer a Hebrew, but a full blooded Egyptian. Therefore he is also given an Egyptian wife.

Is someone who belongs to the Lord’s covenant-nation then allowed to take as wife a woman from the pagan nations? Did Joseph not err here? We know how important it is to the Lord God that His people do not marry unbelievers.

Joseph probably did not have much of a choice to accept this lady as his wife. Indeed it was Pharaoh’s orders. Therefore we should see it as part of the Lord’s Divine Plan with Joseph. It was something that was done to him that he had no control over. But he could be at peace about it knowing that the Lord’s reign is sovereign – also over things which are logically inexplicable.

4 Verses 46-57 -> Joseph’s plan is implemented

During the years that Joseph was Prime Minister of Egypt, we see how perfectly accurate the interpretation of the Pharaoh’s dreams were. And also with how much wisdom and skill he carried out his instructions. Added to that, he was conscientious in his service and love for the Lord God. He did not relax in his devotion. In all these things we can see what is called in the NT: the fruit of the Holy Spirit. It is not that Joseph was such a good person. Or that he was better than other people. It is the fruit that the Spirit produced in his life. Like the vine that push juices through the branches so that grapes can be produced – to use the image that Jesus used in John 15.

Joseph was blessed with two sons named Manasseh and Ephraim. The meaning of their names reveals something of the quality of Joseph’s relationship with the Lord during his time in Pharaoh’s palace.

Manasseh means: Making to forget. It tells something of Joseph’s gratitude towards the Lord who helped him to work through and forget the difficulties of his past (v 51). That does not mean that he forgot his father and brothers in the negative sense of the word. But he could get the bitterness and desire for revenge and pain of rejection and unforgiveness of what they had done to him, out of his system. Yet he did not want to return home immediately, but he was willing to remain where the Lord had put him for as long as the Lord wanted him there. Released from pain and bitterness and unforgiveness, he now could be of service to the Lord.

Ephraim means to be fruitful, and gave expression of Joseph’s assurance that it was not himself or his circumstances or anything/anyone who blessed him in his suffering and temptations with abundance and blessing, but that it was from the Lord. To him suffering and blessing were not opposites, because both come from the Lord, and the Lord can change sorrow into joy.

1 When Rom 8:28 renders the assurance that – in the case of God’s chosen children – everything works together for good, it is clear that it speaks of many things that work together – for our benefit.

It is illustrated in the life of Joseph. His elevation to Prime Minister was not the result of one lucky shot, no, it was the result of a long series of God-given painful events that worked together. If Joseph had not refused the seduction of Potiphar’s wife and landed innocently in the same cell as the Pharaoh’s cupbearer, he would never have been recommended to the Pharaoh. And if Joseph had not been treated shamefully by his brothers and consequently sold as a slave, he would not have ended up in Potiphar’s household.

2 Joseph’s elevation to prime minister was not about his own comfort and prosperity. There was a Divine purpose with it namely that he had to provide abundance and provision to his father and brothers. Yes, those same cruel brothers who sold him as a slave – THEY were the objects of the abundance that Joseph had to provide. Is it not a disgrace? Like the Lord Jesus who was elevated to the right hand of the Father – not for His own glory – but to give eternal life and saving grace to His enemies – sinners! (Rom 5:10). That’s how Joseph became the saviour of those who rejected and despised him.

3 The way in which the Lord worked in Joseph’s life was not a blueprint of the exact way He would work in the lives of all true Christians. Struggle and suffering will not always lead to deliverance and glory. It is not true that suffering will prepare the believer in all instances for a good deliverance. For some the deliverance will not arrive while on earth. Yes, THAT Christian-believers do not escape pain and suffering, is certain. And THAT they, in the next dispensation, will experience glory, is just as certain. But in this earthly dispensation suffering is not necessarily followed by deliverance and glory.

We see this for example by comparing Joseph with Moses. The Lord worked with Moses in exactly the opposite direction. Joseph starts in Canaan and ends up in Egypt with the Lord’s people in his care. Moses starts in Egypt and ends in Canaan with the Lord’s people in his care. Joseph’s life starts as shepherd of his father’s flocks and is later elevated to Pharaoh’s palace. Moses is taken to Pharaoh’s palace as a baby, but later becomes the shepherd of his father-in-law’s flocks. The Lord elevates Joseph from shepherd to the palace in order to save God’s people from famine. But Moses had to leave the palace in order to deliver the Lord’s people from slavery.

4 Joseph was God’s message of deliverance, hope and preservation in the face of a national (and actually international) catastrophe.

Look carefully: Yes, Joseph announced very bad news: Seven years of famine is coming. Few will survive. It will affect other countries also.

But, Joseph was not a doom prophet. He himself was the deliverance, the hope. Because through him food supplies would be held in reserve and thereby would be deliverance and provision.

The Gospel-message announces the worst news possible: The entire humanity is set on a road to disaster. Sinful lost humanity can do nothing to save themselves out of this sorry plight, and is on the path to the certain judgment of God.

But the same Gospel-message also announces the best news ever: The greater Joseph has worked certain redemption, deliverance and blessedness. Whoever trust Him for that, receive it, because He paid the price for it with His own life.

Thus, when we preach the Gospel to people, we must announce both the good news and the bad news and not only one of those. We do not preach only sin and judgment. We also do not preach only deliverance in Christ. At all times we preach the complete message – with an appeal for faith and repentance.

Translated by Marthie Wilson
Main source: Bob Deffinbaugh

Category Genesis Series

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