Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Failed expectations, improved determination

Joseph and Potiphar's Wife'', by Guido Reni 1631Image via Wikipedia
Failed expectations, improved determination

The Genesis 37 account of how the Israelites were translated to Egypt, to remain there for about 400 years, and return to the land of Canaan afterward, began when Joseph had a dream. But truth be told, it began long before that. But for our discussion’s sake, we limit that to the story of Joseph.

Joseph was born of Jacob, who already had 10 sons and a daughter. He was growing old, and Joseph was the firstborn of the woman he loved. Simply put, Joseph is a beloved son. It was even more affirmed by his brothers, when Joseph was given a coat of many colors, one that extends to the arms, as if to tell everyone, “You won’t be working like your brothers.”

This sparked sibling rivalry.

To complicate matters, Joseph had a dream. Twice.

They were binding sheaves in the field, then his sheaf stood up, and those of his brothers gathered round and bowed down.

Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God (Ivp Classics)And I thought that Joseph didn’t work in the fields, or even to ‘know’ how it is to work in the fields. But a dream like that? That made his brothers hate him even more.

The other dream was about the sun, moon and eleven stars bowing down to him, reason enough for his father to rebuke him.

Joseph had a dream, and he was enthusiastic about it. He believed it would happen, will it?

His brothers had something different in mind, as saw to it. When they had the opportune time, they plotted to kill him, but due to a split decision, he ended up being sold as a slave to the Ishmaelites, who later brought him to Egypt.

This began the grand plan of protecting the Israelites from extinction due to the coming famine that will strike Egypt and its neighbouring countries in the next 30 years or so.

With God preparing the way, Joseph was bought by Potiphar, the captain of the Pharaoh’s guards. He did good work, and he progressed, and was later promoted to become Potiphar’s overseer, everything under him, all of his properties, and Potiphar had to worry only about the food he will eat. Everything else, it’s under Joseph’s care.

Well, almost everything else.

El sufrimiento y la soberania de Dios: Suffering and the Sovereignty of God (Spanish Edition)Potiphar’s wife took note of the young Hebrew lad, who, apart from becoming a notable and sensible worker, is also a handsome man. He tried to seduce Joseph. Once. Twice. Many times.

One day, nobody was around. She caught Joseph’s garment, and said, “Lie down with me.” Nowadays, men don’t even get to hear that seduction. They make the advances.

What did Joseph do? He fled. He feared God. He feared his master Potiphar. He ran.

The wife was cunning, and to cover up her own sins, she concocted a plausible story. An attempted rape, a premeditated harassment.

Did the master believe her? You bet.

Joseph was thrown into prison, but the prison for the king’s servants, not the lowdown prison.

Yet even there, Joseph’s leadership skills were noticed, and the warden put him in charge of all the prisoners. His training as a leader continued.

It so happened that Pharaoh’s butler and the baker were imprisoned one day. Ranting and swearing, they joined the king’s prisoners, bemoaning their fate. And while inside, they were put under Joseph’s care, naturally.

Sovereignty of God, TheThen the two had a dream. They were troubled. Egypt is a land of mysticism, and dreams had their special, mystical place in Egyptian folks. What could it mean?

Joseph was gifted with interpreting dreams, but even that, he acknowledged it to be from God, not of him. He asked the two to pray, tell their dreams to him.

The butler was told that he would be restored to his former post, to once again hand the cup to the Pharaoh.

The baker didn’t get a good one. He would be hanged, ad his body the birds will feed on.

Joseph knew that it would come true, and requested the butler to tell the Pharaoh about him when he is once again in the presence of the king.

True enough, the baker was hanged, and the butler was restored. And perhaps, men have a way of forgetting their misfortune, and all things that surrounds those events. The butler forgot about Joseph. He lingered in the prison for two more years.

Then his break came. The Pharaoh was one day so troubled and could not have any merriment or singing in his palace. Why is that? He had a dream, and nobody can tell him what it means.

Trusting God / Sovereignty of GodThen the butler came to his senses, and he told the Pharaoh about Joseph.

In a moment, Joseph was clean-shaven, cleansed, and was wearing a presentable garment. Once again, he was in the presence of a dignitary, but this time, it is the man holding the highest position in the whole land of Egypt – the Pharaoh himself.

He was asked if he could interpret dreams.

He said no, but his God can.

He was told the dream, and he gave its meaning: 7 years of abounding plenty, bumper crops, overflowing harvest, followed by 7 years of famine, gnawing famine, consuming famine.

Pharaoh was so convinced of the interpretation, as Joseph himself confirmed by saying, “And the doubling of Pharaoh's dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.” (Gen 41:32)

“What do we do now?” was Pharaoh’s question.

Suffering and the Sovereignty of GodBased on Joseph’s reply, we can deduce a bit of his wisdom, and humility: “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.” (Gen 41:34-36)

Pharaoh was so pleased, and was so mystified (let us not forget that), and with the words that followed, he made Joseph that man, who would be in-charge, and what’s more, he was made second-in-command in the kingdom of Egypt: “And Pharaoh said to his servants, "Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?" Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, "Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are. You shall be over my house, and all my people shall order themselves as you command. Only as regards the throne will I be greater than you." And Pharaoh said to Joseph, "See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt." (Gen 41:38-41)


Almighty over All: Understanding the Sovereignty of GodWe’ll end the story of Joseph here; the rest is found in Genesis 41 onwards.

What does this story of Joseph teach us? Let us just enumerate them here.

God can use a dream to put a dream in us. Joseph was just a lad when he had the dreams. He was almost killed by his brothers, but was sold as a slave. He was made overseer, but falsely accused by his own master’s wife. He was thrown to prison. Until he was made the second-in-command over Egypt. In all of these, Joseph remained focused on his dream, and exerted all effort to be the ‘sheaf that rose and stood up’.

Failing is not the failure; it is when we don’t rise up again after the failure – that is when we fail. When his brothers betrayed him, we can’t tell what pained that caused him. For those of us who had gone through the same experience, we can empathize. And yet, he excelled as a servant, and was made the overseer. When he was falsely accused, we cannot know his frustration why his ever-trusting master can simply take his wife’s words for it. Some say that Potiphar didn't somehow believe his wife, but he had to do something, to save face, and he threw Joseph in prison. But then again, he found favor in the warden’s eyes, and was made in-charge of all the prisoners. Even in prison, he rose to his calling. Until his opportune time came.

Sovereignty: God, State, and SelfWhen called upon, give your best, even when you don’t like it. Joseph may have thought to himself, ‘I should be a ruler’ but he was a slave instead. But work as a slave he did, and gave his best. I’m sure he didn’t like being put in prison, but as a prisoner, he did good inside. He sure would have counted the years while he is there, but he continued giving his best, and didn’t question God’s silence, or seeming abandonment. He couldn’t have care more when the butler and the baker were imprisoned, but he did. He may have withheld the interpretation of the dreams, but he did ask God of the interpretation, and that paved the way for the fulfillment of his dreams – dreams which were almost forgotten.

The higher the position, the hotter the tempering. If Joseph were made the second-in-command in Egypt anytime earlier than when he was made next to Pharaoh, he may not be ready yet. Power corrupts, and if the internal structure is not failsafe, destruction is unavoidable.
God made sure that Joseph was ready to assume position when he was done begin betrayed by his own brothers, when he was sold as a slave, when he worked as a slave, and when he was thrown into prison. Having experienced all debasement, all embarrassment, all humiliation, and having encountered all sorts of people of all levels, and all the while maintaining his identity and calling, God knew he was ready to take up this work of being next to Pharaoh. He knew himself, and he knew where he stood.

To Gary And Marcus: The Sovereignty Of God Is OmnipresentWhen the unknown beacons, trust in the known God – and go. There are musical productions made from the story of Joseph, and there are two songs that caught my attention, both on Joseph’s trusting in God when he was down and out:

“When God closes the door, He opens the window so I can see
He’s working it out, working it out for me”

That didn’t strike me lately. I sang the lyrics wrongly, and it became:

‘When God opens the door, He closes the window…”

The correct lyrics struck the message right home: God sometimes doesn’t want us to even ‘see’ what He is doing, but He wants us to simply trust in Him, all the way through.

From the animated motion picture, the lyrics goes this way:

“You know better than I, you know the way;
I’ll let go the need to know why,
I’ll take the answers You supply –
‘Cause You know better than I.”

Classic Sermons on the Sovereignty of God (Kregel Classic Sermons Series)Again, in Trust His Heart, the chorus goes this way:

"God is too wise to be mistaken,
God is too good to be unkind;
So when you don't understand,
When you don't see His plan,
When you can't trace His hand - trust His heart."

I say, it is profound, simply, simply profound. We don’t know, we can't see. But we trust. And we go.

God is still in-charge of everything. Finally, it is comforting and reassuring that God is still in control of everything. Trust may wane, and faith may be reduced, but God remains. And whatever our situation in life is, whatever trial or testing, whatever success or failure, whatever, whatever – know that God is still in control. Our life may have its ups and downs, and our passing through this earth will have its seasons of change, it is calming to know that God is still in control.

Sovereignty of God in Salvation: Biblical Essays (Tgt Clark Biblica Studies)
Be blessed. And keep your faith in God.

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