October 21, 2018 | God's Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance | Genesis 42:1-38

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Zeb and Zeke had a plan. Now, Zeb and Zeke were not good guys. We don’t want to be like Zeb and Zeke.

You see, Zeb and Zeke hijacked an armored car filled with money. Now, an armored car isn’t the easiest thing for one to just hide so, Zeb and Zeke devised a plan. The sank the stolen armored car in a swamp. Then they waited—a few years—before they went back to it to tap into their ill-gotten treasure.

But there were two problems. First, they couldn’t find the exact spot where it sank. Second, in the intervening years the area had experienced significant growth among fishermen and outdoorsmen.

So Zeb and Zeke, resilient criminals that they were, hatched another plot. This one seems kind of out there, so you have to stay with me. They decided to dress in elaborate witch and zombie costumes to scare off local fishermen and tourists while they searched for the armored car in the dead of night.

It seems to have worked for a little while. They even fooled local law enforcement. Ultimately, it looks like they would have gotten away with it, too. Had it not been for a group of kids. Meddling kids, according to Zeb and Zeke. Meddling kids and their dog.

Ok, Zeb and Zeke aren’t real. They were the villains on an episode of Scooby Doo that first aired in December 1969. If you aren’t familiar with the show, the premise is four young adults drive around in a van with a dog solving crimes that are inevitably perpetrated by bad guys in costumes and masks. Typically, the show ends with a scene where they’ve caught the villain and proceed to unmask him or her and explain their plot to the bumbling sheriff who never would have been able to solve the case without them.

Often, after they’ve laid out the plot the bad guy will say “I would have gotten away with it, too, had it not been for those meddling kids and that dog!” The line varied, but that’s the gist.

I loved that cartoon. And, as those of you who have young kids can attest, children’s cartoons are getting worse every second and so a few of years ago I thought it would be a good idea to let Sophie test out a couple of episodes of the old Scooby Doos. Even though they’re a little scary, she enjoyed them in the moment, but after she ended up terrified and sleeping in our bed a few nights in a row we decided to kick Scooby out of the house.

I loved the show, though, because you always knew the bad guy would never get away with it. The good guys always solved the crime and the bad guys ended up in handcuffs. Wouldn’t it be great if life worked that way?

We’ve been studying the last section of the book of Genesis from chapters 37-50 for almost two months now and it seems like the bad guys have gotten away with something doesn’t it?

If you remember back to Genesis 37, Joseph was beaten, stripped, and sold into slavery by his brothers. That’s pretty bad, but really he got off easy because in the beginning they wanted to kill him. Joseph’s brothers are bad guys. That was highlighted for us in Genesis 38 when we focused in on Judah and his illicit relationship with Tamar.

But we’ve spent the past few chapters focused in on Joseph and his brothers have been an afterthought. As we open chapter 42 today, though, we’re going to see a stark truth begin to take shape and it’s this: God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance.

That’s the overarching theme of Genesis 42. What is God’s providence? God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose. So God acts in creation to bring sinners to repentance. That’s what we’ll see in this chapter as we revisit the villains who kicked this story into motion with their abuse of Joseph. Let’s read Genesis 42 together:

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance

This chapter opens in ‘meanwhile back at the ranch’ fashion. The focus for several chapters has been on Joseph, but now it shifts back to Jacob and the remaining 11 sons. We need to remember that none of the human players in this drama are the main character. God is the main character and driving force of this entire story and his purpose here is bigger than any one person, family, or nation. He’s working out an eternal plan to restore sinful and broken humanity to himself.

In the beginning, creation was perfect and God was in a face-to-face relationship with mankind. Adam an Eve had a personal and unhindered relationship with God. But sin broke that relationship. They were cast out of the Garden of Eden and out of the presence of God because of their sin.

God offers a promise, though, in Genesis 3:15 that He will one day restore that relationship and He’s actually going to use Adam and Eve to do it. He says Eve’s offspring will one day crush the head of sin and death forever in that verse. He’ll make it so that sin and death is no more.

He further reveals to a descendent of Adam and Eve named Abraham in Genesis 12 that He’s going to use his family to make that promise come true. I think I have mentioned this connection to some degree every week in this series and I do that because it’s imperative for our understanding of Joseph’s story that we have it set in the context of the entire Bible.

One of the implications of setting this story within the big picture of Scripture is that we need to recognize that no one gets away with anything, ever. Just like every bad guy on Scooby Doo gets unmasked, so every sin that has ever been committed will be made right by our Holy God. And it happens in two ways: either on the cross or for eternity in a place called hell.

Sin earns the wrath of God. Romans 6:23 tells us the wage that sin earns for us is death, but one chapter earlier Paul teaches us something even more dreadful than that. Romans 5:10a For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son

Sin makes us enemies of God. Because He is holy and just, God must punish sin. Jonathan Edwards wrote:

"Any sin is more or less heinous depending upon the honor and majesty of the one whom we had offended. Since God is of infinite honor, infinite majesty, and infinite holiness, the slightest sin is of infinite consequence. The slightest sin is nothing less than cosmic treason when we realize against whom we have sinned.”

So if this Holy God against whom mankind has committed cosmic treason is the main character of Genesis 42, then how should we read it?

Thus far, these brothers—who are a part of the family God has chosen as His own—are wicked. And instead of pouring our the wrath they deserved, God acts to push them toward repentance.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Hardship

We looked last week at how this monumental famine that had ravaged the entire Middle East was a tool God used to place Joseph in a position of power and authority in Egypt.

This week we see this same plague used as a tool to re-unite this broken family and to bring about repentance from Joseph’s brothers.

Jacob heard there was plenty of food in Egypt, but his sons didn’t seem to be showing much initiative even though things looked pretty dire. He said ‘Why are you just sitting here staring at one another? There’s grain in Egypt, go buy some so that we don’t starve to death.’ Moses is showing us here that this family hasn’t changed much since we last saw them. They’re still dysfunctional.

That is made more clear in verse four where Jacob keeps Benjamin at home instead of sending him with the other 10. Benjamin was the other son Jacob had with his favorite wife, Rachel. Joseph had been the favorite and now it’s clear that his brother Benjamin had taken his spot after the other 10 convinced Jacob that Joseph had been killed.

So in God’s providence, the brothers set off for Egypt. Nothing happens by accident in this story, nor by luck. In fact, neither of those things exist if we rightly understand God’s sovereignty. On this particular day by the grace of God, Joseph was in charge of the distribution in the city where the brothers came to buy grain. But they didn’t recognize him. After all, it had been at least 20 years and they’d written him off—perhaps as dead—long ago. They were foreigners who would have dressed different and spoken a different language than the Egyptians and he recognized them quickly but didn’t reveal himself.

Why didn’t he reveal himself to them immediately? I really don’t know and I don’t think the text ever gives us a specific answer. I don’t think, though, that this was done out of spite. If Joseph harbored hatred for his brothers, this would probably be a very short chapter. In fact, if I sat in Joseph’s chair this would be a very short chapter. Imagine the temptation here! He probably had the power to have these men executed on the spot. They wrote him off as dead, perhaps he could do the same to them. And if he wanted to harm them, I think he would have gone about it differently.

The best explanation here is that God was working through Joseph to bring about repentance in the brothers’ lives. There are just too many parallels here for the answer to be any different.

In Genesis 37, Jacob sent one son to the whole group. In Genesis 42, Jacob, though he doesn’t fully understand what he’s doing, sends the sons to go see Joseph. In 37, the confine Joseph but in 42 Joseph confines them. In both chapters, a severe punishment is spoken of, but a more less devastating punishment is inflicted. God’s fingerprints are all over this situation.

And it’s because of that that we need to notice that, even though Joseph causes considerable hardship for his brothers here this is actually an act of grace. What do you think the brothers deserved for what they’d done to Joseph? Whatever they deserve, he gives them grace. And that grace ultimately will bring about conviction and repentance.

Let’s look further into the text to see how that’s true. Joseph accuses them of being spies, they plead their innocence and Joseph throws them in jail. But after three days he changes his mind. Look at verse 18 again:

On the third day Joseph said to them, “I fear God—do this and you will live.

Had they been thinking clearly this would have been a huge giveaway for the 10 brothers. Here is an Egyptian official, a leader in a polytheistic land, saying he fears God. The real one. But, perhaps due to fear, they don’t catch the hint. Joseph tells them he’ll let nine of them go with enough food to keep their large family back home alive. But that he’ll keep one of them until they return with Benjamin so that he can know for sure they’re being truthful.

God has used all these difficult circumstances, the famine, the long journey to Egypt, the fear of imprisonment, and maybe even of death to bring them to the threshold of what we see in verse 21. Let’s look again:

 Then they said to each other, “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.”

22 But Reuben replied: “Didn’t I tell you not to harm the boy? But you wouldn’t listen. Now we must account for his blood!”

Here we see the second way God’s providence calls sinners to repentance and that is through guilt.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Guilt

They are speaking Hebrew among themselves here, not knowing Joseph understands every word and they confess—for the first time in the text and maybe the first time in their lives—their guilt concerning Joseph.

Hard circumstances do not always mean that God is convicting you of sin, but sometimes they do. How do we know the difference? Well, Scripture teaches that we actually need help to see our own sins because we can be spiritually blind to them.

Psalm 19:12

Search me, God, and know my heart;

test me and know my concerns.

See if there is any offensive way in me;

lead me in the everlasting way.

When is the last time you’ve asked God to search your heart and convict you of your sin? (we want him to convict others) Because we have a sin nature still fighting for control of our lives, sometimes we will be blinded to our own sins. We need the Holy Spirit’s guidance to identify those sins and kill them.

Pastor and author Paul Tripp wrote the following:

Because I am a believer, and the heart of stone has been taken out of me and replaced with a heart of flesh, my conscience bothers me when I sin. This is the beautiful, convicting ministry of the Holy Spirit. When my conscience is activated and bothered, I must make one of two choices. The first and best choice is to admit that what I have done is wrong and place myself once again under the justifying mercies of Christ, receiving his forgiveness. Or I can erect some system of self-atonement that essentially argues for the rightness of what I’ve done. I am making myself feel good about what God says is not good. I am participating in my own spiritual blindness. Everyone still living with sin is a skilled self-swindler.

Because we are so good at swindling ourselves, Scripture also teaches us that we need each other:

Hebrews 3:12-13

Watch out, brothers and sisters, so that there won’t be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage each other daily, while it is still called today, so that none of you is hardened by sin’s deception.

If you look at verse 22, it’s Reuben—the one who was against killing Joseph in chapter 37—who’s the voice of reason here. He’s the one who calls out the other brothers in the text. God used the circumstances of their life to bring about guilt for their sin.

The brothers are admitting their guilt right in front of the one whom they wronged, but they don’t know he understands them.

After hearing their admission, Joseph takes Simeon into custody but lets the rest return home. On their way home we see a third way God’s providence calls sinners to repentance and that is through fear.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Fear

Look down at verse 27 again:

At the place where they lodged for the night, one of them opened his sack to get feed for his donkey, and he saw his silver there at the top of his bag. 28 He said to his brothers, “My silver has been returned! It’s here in my bag.” Their hearts sank. Trembling, they turned to one another and said, “What is this that God has done to us?”

When Joseph sent his brothers home, he instructed the servants to fill their sacks not just with grain but with the money they had intended to use to make the purchase. He was giving them a gift. But upon seeing it they feared. They thought they were being framed for stealing.

Sin can cause us to so misinterpret what is happening to us that we see a gift as a curse. I think that’s what John Newton meant when he wrote the now famous lyrics “’twas grace that taught my heart to fear.”

Why should we fear grace? Because it reveals our standing before a holy God. They saw this gift of grace and they trembled before it. And then finally, we’ll see the last way God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance and that is through sorrow.

God’s Providence Calls Sinners to Repentance Through Sorrow

The brothers return to their father and recount the story fairly accurately in verses 29-35. But they still leave out the truth about Joseph. They’re still hiding their sin and it causes such great sorrow for everyone involved.

Sorrow for the brothers because now they’re going to have to live separated from Simeon for a time, since Jacob will not allow them to take Benjamin to Egypt. More sorrow for the 9 remaining, knowing that Joseph and now Benjamin are the favorites.

Sorrow for Jacob in knowing that his family has been further separated. In fact, after 20 years we see the emotion he felt toward Joseph is still very raw in verse 38. Sin causes so much pain. And the whole family sees it. Reuben wants the pain of sorrow to go away so badly he offers up his two sons as collateral in the hope they can be reunited. Eventually, there is sorrow for the whole family because the food they were given will run out and the famine is still raging.

And yet, in the midst of all this brokenness God is still at work. As we finish, look back at verse 24 with me. It says Joseph turned away from his brothers and wept.

What Joseph was doing—forcing his brothers to come to terms with their sin—was hard. And it broke his heart. Joseph’s heart here reflects God’s heart for his children. He weeps as He is breaking us down so that repentance can come. F.B. Meyer captured this thought well:

We suffer, and suffer keenly. Imprisoned, bereaved, rebuked, we count God harsh and hard. We little realize how much pain He is suffering as He causes us pain. . .we should feel that we were as safe amid his rebukes as ever we were amid his tenderest caresses.

Joseph was rejected by his brothers, only to later save them from starvation. Later, another like Joseph would come. Rejected by the entire nation of Israel, though He did not wrong. In His providence, God allowed Him to be crushed for our iniquity. Jesus Christ became the sacrifice for our sins that we could never offer on our own. And He did it all so that we would be reconciled to God forever.

Because nobody gets away with anything, ever. What does that mean for us in this room today?

Well, either the punishment for your sin was paid for on the cross or you’re still under the wrath of an Almighty God.

For those of us who belong to God, what now? Well, we are still called by Scripture to confess our sins. Jesus commands confession in the model prayer in Luke 11. 1 John 1:8 tells us that if we say we have no sin the truth is not in us.

If Christ took our punishment, why do we need confession?

Because confession of sin is the application of the gospel to your life. When you confess and repent of sin as a Christian you are allowing God to apply His grace and reconciliation to your life and expressing true gratitude for what has been accomplished on your behalf on the cross of Christ.

Don’t try to hide your sin or sit on your sin. German pastor and WWII martyr Bonhoeffer wrote:

“he who is alone with his sin is utterly alone. . . . But it is the grace of the gospel, which is so hard for the pious to understand, that confronts us with the truth and says: You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come as the sinner you are, to the God who loves you.” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together)

Everyone in this room is in the same boat. Just like Zeb and Zeke. We’ve laid our plans—some outlandish and some benign. We’re all great and desperate sinners. And just by virtue of you being in this room today God’s providence is calling you to repentance.

We get the 10,000-foot view of the lives of these 10 brothers. We see how God worked in their circumstances, through their guilt, their fear, and their sorrow to bring about repentance. I hope that each of us sees anew this morning how God is at work in us to bring us to repentance.

God is the one who unmasks the sins of our heart. And we desperately need Him to do so. Let’s ask Him to do that for us today. In Genesis 42, Jacob’s 10 sons travel to Egypt in search of food to save the lives of their whole family. In traveling there they carry the hearts laden with the burden of sin. They needed something more than physical food, they needed the spiritual life that is found in repentance. That’s the same thing we need this morning. Let’s pray.

October 14, 2018 | The God of Joseph Reigns Over the God of Egypt | Joseph: Providence and Promises

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The most powerful man in the world is in crisis. That is the situation we are faced with in the Genesis 41 this morning. Forbes magazine publishes a list every year of the most powerful people in the world. The people on that list are who you’d probably expect—leaders of nations and leaders of the world’s largest corporations. But there is no one alive today who experiences power on the scale of the man we’ll be talking about today.

Pharaoh was the title of the king of Egypt, but he was much more than a king. To his people, he was both a ruler and a god. One ancient Egyptian writing called him: The Good God, beloved of gods, The Son of Re, who acts with his arms. He had absolute authority in Egypt—which was, at the time, the most powerful nation in history.

We’ve already seen him execute that authority in our study of Genesis 37-50. Last week he we saw he had the power to imprison, execute, and/or restore his servants at will.

So what happens when the god-man Pharaoh has a crisis that he can’t solve? Let’s read Genesis 41 together and find out.

Verses 1-7

41 At the end of two years Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing beside the Nile, 2 when seven healthy-looking, well-fed cows came up from the Nile and began to graze among the reeds. 3 After them, seven other cows, sickly and thin, came up from the Nile and stood beside those cows along the bank of the Nile. 4 The sickly, thin cows ate the healthy, well-fed cows. Then Pharaoh woke up. 5 He fell asleep and dreamed a second time: Seven heads of grain, plump and good, came up on one stalk. 6 After them, seven heads of grain, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up. 7 The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven plump, full ones. Then Pharaoh woke up, and it was only a dream.

Two years have passed since the cupbearer was released from prison. This is the man whose dream Joseph rightly interpreted in the last chapter. He had promised to remember Joseph when Pharaoh restored him to his position of authority, but he failed to do so.

His first dream is of seven healthy looking cows, who come up from the nile, turn to Pharaoh and say “Eat more chicken.” No? Ok. So seven sickly cows devour seven healthy cows. The second dream is similar, dealing with heads of grain. But we need to note these were no ordinary dreams. They were so vivid that when verse 7 tells us ‘it was only a dream’ we’re led to believe they were so lifelike and graphic Pharaoh thought they were real.

These agricultural images would have been deeply unsettling for Pharaoh because not only was agriculture the lifeblood of his empire, but his people believed him to have power over nature itself.

These dreams are both very bad omens for Pharaoh and a telltale sign for us as readers of this text. It’s the third time we’ve seen a couplet of dreams. This time, Pharaoh’s dreams have implications not just for one family, or one nation, but ultimately all the nations of the earth. Let’s continue reading to see how that’s true.

Verses 8-13

8 When morning came, he was troubled, so he summoned all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.

9 Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “Today I remember my faults. 10 Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and he put me and the chief baker in the custody of the captain of the guards. 11 He and I had dreams on the same night; each dream had its own meaning. 12 Now a young Hebrew, a slave of the captain of the guards, was with us there. We told him our dreams, he interpreted our dreams for us, and each had its own interpretation. 13 It turned out just the way he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was hanged.”

Moses doesn’t say—Pharaoh had these dreams, fell back asleep, and then was curious what they meant in the morning. No, Pharaoh was deeply troubled here. He was anxious. The picture is of a sleepless, disturbed night followed by a frantic assembly in the morning of all the magicians and dream interpreters of Egypt. Over 400 years later, another group of Egypt’s leading sorcerers would square off with Moses in Exodus 7. Here, like their counterparts a few generations down the road, they were unsuccessful in providing Pharaoh what he needed.

It’s when all their efforts have failed that the cupbearer pipes up. And it is in this short recollection that Joseph’s life is forever changed. Joseph had one simple request for this man in the last chapter—remember me. In verse 9 he says “Today I remember my faults.” Finally, now that it benefits him the cupbearer remembers Joseph. And we learn in verse 14:

Verses 14-16

14 Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and they quickly brought him from the dungeon. He shaved, changed his clothes, and went to Pharaoh.

15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said about you that you can hear a dream and interpret it.”

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

“Then Pharaoh sent for Joseph.” With those five words Joseph’s life would never be the same and God’s sovereign plan for Joseph’s life begins to really take shape. It had been 13 years since Joseph was sold into slavery in Egypt. God’s providence had taken Joseph on a 13-year roller coaster ride of a few emotional highs and some extreme and prolonged lows. He has endured physical, emotional, and probably even spiritual distress over this period but as soon as Pharaoh says ‘bring me this Hebrew slave’ his life is changed.

Joseph is taken into Pharaoh’s presence and Pharaoh asks if he can interpret his dream. This is where the main point of today’s text really comes to the forefront. 15 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said about you that you can hear a dream and interpret it.”

16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

Remember, Pharaoh is supposed to be the god-man. He’s supposed to know all. The Egyptians worshiped him. Yet, Joseph is clear. ‘It’s not me.’ It’s not me who interprets dreams. I’m not able to. It is the true God, the God of Jacob, the Israelites’ God who does that.

But Pharaoh is unfazed. He wants an answer so badly that he apparently ignores the fact that Joseph is subverting Egypt’s entire hierarchy of gods here. The most important thing we learn from this chapter is that God is sovereign over not just Joseph’s life, but over the circumstances of nations. God is in control in Egypt—even though they’re a pagan nation and a powerful one at that—God very much reigns over this land. Let’s read on:

Verses 17-36

17 So Pharaoh said to Joseph: “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, 18 when seven well-fed, healthy-looking cows came up from the Nile and grazed among the reeds. 19 After them, seven other cows—weak, very sickly, and thin—came up. I’ve never seen such sickly ones as these in all the land of Egypt. 20 Then the thin, sickly cows ate the first seven well-fed cows. 21 When they had devoured them, you could not tell that they had devoured them; their appearance was as bad as it had been before. Then I woke up. 22 In my dream I also saw seven heads of grain, full and good, coming up on one stalk. 23 After them, seven heads of grain—withered, thin, and scorched by the east wind—sprouted up. 24 The thin heads of grain swallowed the seven good ones. I told this to the magicians, but no one can tell me what it means.”

25 Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams mean the same thing. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. 26 The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads are seven years. The dreams mean the same thing. 27 The seven thin, sickly cows that came up after them are seven years, and the seven worthless, scorched heads of grain are seven years of famine.

28 “It is just as I told 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 After them, seven years of famine will take place, and all the abundance in the land of Egypt will be forgotten. The famine will devastate the land. 31 The abundance in the land will not be remembered because of the famine that follows it, for the famine will be very severe. 32 Since the dream was given twice to Pharaoh, it means that the matter has been determined by God, and he will carry it out soon.

33 “So now, let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt. 34 Let Pharaoh do this: Let him appoint overseers over the land and take a fifth of the harvest of the land of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. 35 Let them gather all the excess food during these good years that are coming. Under Pharaoh’s authority, store the grain in the cities, so they may preserve it as food. 36 The food will be a reserve for the land during the seven years of famine that will take place in the land of Egypt. Then the country will not be wiped out by the famine.”

Egypt’s entire religious system had failed to interpret Pharaoh’s dreams, but Joseph is extremely specific about what God has revealed here and not only that but God also gives Joseph a solution. He tells Pharaoh there would be seven good years followed by a severe famine. To save Egypt, God gives Joseph a plan: save 20% of your food over seven years, spread it out over store cities so it will be accessible and you’ll have enough food to survive the famine.

It took extreme courage for Joseph do to what he did here. This was the most powerful man in the world. He didn’t have run his ideas by congress or any kind of court system, remember in the last chapter he had the baker executed on the spot. Joseph was giving him bad news, and he could have had Joseph killed in just the same way. But Joseph spoke God’s word to Pharaoh and he responded well. Let’s read on:

Verses 37-45

37 The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants, 38 and he said to them, “Can we find anyone like this, a man who has God’s spirit in him?” 39 So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one as discerning and wise as you are. 40 You will be over my house, and all my people will obey your commands. Only I, as king, will be greater than you.” 41 Pharaoh also said to Joseph, “See, I am placing you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Pharaoh removed his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, clothed him with fine linen garments, and placed a gold chain around his neck. 43 He had Joseph ride in his second chariot, and servants called out before him, “Make way!” So he placed him over all the land of Egypt. 44 Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh and no one will be able to raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt without your permission.” 45 Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah and gave him a wife, Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest at On. And Joseph went throughout the land of Egypt.

God exalts Joseph from from an imprisoned former slave to essentially the prime minister of the most powerful country in the world. Just like he was found faithful and promoted in the house of Potiphar, and then in prison, Joseph was exalted over the entire nation of Egypt. He became the second in command, with all the authority of Pharaoh himself. His initial task is to prepare the nation for the coming famine, and he does it well. Look at verse 46:

Verses 46-54

46 Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Joseph left Pharaoh’s presence and traveled throughout the land of Egypt.

47 During the seven years of abundance the land produced outstanding harvests. 48 Joseph gathered all the excess food in the land of Egypt during the seven years and put it in the cities. He put the food in every city from the fields around it. 49 So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance—like the sand of the sea—that he stopped measuring it because it was beyond measure.

50 Two sons were born to Joseph before the years of famine arrived. Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest at On, bore them to him. 51 Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh and said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and my whole family.” 52 And the second son he named Ephraim and said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”

53 Then the seven years of abundance in the land of Egypt came to an end, 54 and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every land, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. 55 When the whole land of Egypt was stricken with famine, the people cried out to Pharaoh for food. Pharaoh told all Egypt, “Go to Joseph and do whatever he tells you.” 56 Now the famine had spread across the whole region, so Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. 57 Every land came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, for the famine was severe in every land.

At thirty years old Joseph is paraded throughout Egypt as the new prime minister, the one who is going to lead the nation through a coming famine. He follows the plan laid out earlier and the nation is blessed greatly. Joseph, himself, is blessed greatly and we can see that—even in the midst of a still god-less people—Joseph hasn’t abandoned his faith in the one-true God. He was faithful in prison and he’s faithful in the palace. We see that in the names of his children. Manasseh, meaning God allowed him to forget the pain of his past, and Ephraim, God has made me fruitful. God has blessed Joseph in some incredible ways.

It took us a little while, but we’ve seen the story. Now let’s look at what it means. There are three things I think it is important for us to see here in the time we have remaining. First,

God Reigns Over Nations

Kent Hughes said it well: “(W)e are here confronted with the premise upon which all biblical history rests: Kings do not make history. Rather, God uses them to effect history.”

That is true all throughout the Bible. Look at what God says to Cyrus through the prophet Isaiah:

I call you by your name,

for the sake of my servant Jacob

and Israel my chosen one.

I give a name to you,

though you do not know me.

5 I am the Lord, and there is no other;

there is no God but me.

I will strengthen you,

though you do not know me,

6 so that all may know from the rising of the sun to its setting

that there is no one but me.

I am the Lord, and there is no other.

7 I form light and create darkness,

I make success and create disaster;

I am the Lord, who does all these things. (Is. 45:4-7)

Cyrus did not believe in God. But God clearly says I’m going to use you for my purpose. There is no God but me. God reigned over nations when Joseph lived, he reigned over nations when Isaiah lived hundreds of years later, and he reigns over nations today.

We live in times that are uncertain to us, but there is nothing that has happened in the United States of America that has ever caught God by surprise. He is working through ruling authorities today, just as much as He was working when he appointed a former slave and prisoner and immigrant from another nation, to be the prime minister of Egypt to guide them through a famine.

We may not understand how God is working. We many not understand why God is working the way He is. But God reigns over the United States today and over the rest of the nations of the earth.

What does that mean for us? It should mean comfort. In a time where anxiety is perhaps higher than ever in regard to the national political climate we can find rest. In a time where the volume of the political climate has surely never been louder, we can rest at knowing that whether you like the current guy, the last guy, or the next guy or gal or whatever, God reigns over our country. When we don’t understand, it’s actually good. Why? Because it forces us to more fully rely on God’s sovereignty. John MacArthur wrote: There may be times when the authority figures over us seem inept or unjust or even openly wicked. Yet we must recognize their authority comes from God, and He has placed us under it for His purposes. There can be few situations more unjust than slavery, yet Joseph submitted— and God blessed his faithfulness.

God has a purpose for every ruler that is appointed. Kings don’t make history. God uses them to write His story. Next,

God Reigns Over False Beliefs

Egypt had an intricate system of gods and goddesses and each of them are proven to be impotent in this chapter. The assembly of Pharaoh’s magicians and wise men in verse 8 represented the sum of all the religious leadership in that pagan nation had to offer. And they could come up with nothing.

God provides one man. One man who says in verse 16 that “it’s not me, but my God who will give the answer.” There is only one source we can look to for the truth. We’ve been here for a while, I need to make sure you’re still with me. We call this the congregational participation portion of the morning message. I’m going to sing for you. Well, not sing really, but I’ll start a song lyric and you finish it for me. Ok? Jesus loves me, this I know . . . for the Bible tells me so.

We teach this to kids, but it seems as though the Church loses this truth more and more all the time. We have to turn to Scripture for our truth. The Egyptians couldn’t find the answers they were looking for in their pantheon of gods. Neither could the Greeks in Athens when Paul preached to them in Acts. And it can’t be found in your horoscope or in popular psychology or in even within yourself. We have to be rooted in the reality of Scripture because that’s the only reality that ultimately matters.

The reality of our lives according to Scripture is that God is holy and we are not. Because God is holy, He punishes evil. Our sin—our selfishness, our greed, our jealousy, etc.—has separated us from God and earned His wrath. But in his great love and mercy God became a man in Jesus Christ, lived perfectly, died on the cross and took the punishment that was deserved by all the people who will ever turn form their sins and trust in Him, rose again from the dead, and now calls us to repent of our sins. If we repent of our sins and place our trust in Jesus Christ we will be saved. That’s reality according to Scripture and that’s the only path to salvation. And if we are not living in light of that gospel everyday then we risk finding our comfort in something that is false.

I don’t believe anyone in here bows down to Ra, the Egyptian sun god every morning. But we do run the very real risk of substituting false ideology for the true gospel if we aren’t careful.

One of the ways this happens is when we don’t devote ourselves to Scripture well enough to know when we see false teaching. There are many teachers and authors who fall under the banner of Christianity who minimize the value of Scripture and if we don’t learn it for ourselves then we are at risk of veering off course.

One of the most well-known and often-quoted pastors in the country recently released a book in which he calls the Old Testament outdated and obsolete. He’s wrong and demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of Biblical Theology. But if we hadn’t examined the Old Testament and seen how God has written the gospel on every page of this story, we’d be tempted to believe.

If we don’t deepen our understanding of Scripture then we are extremely prone to damaging false beliefs. One that I have encountered a few time since I’ve been here is the line that “God won’t give you more than you can handle.” That’s pretty. That may even be helpful under some circumstances. It’s just not biblical. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 10 that we won’t be tempted beyond our ability and that God will provide a way of escape. That’s temptation, not general trials and circumstances. See what he wrote in 2 Corinthians 1:8 he writes this: We don’t want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, of our affliction that took place in Asia. We were completely overwhelmed—beyond our strength—so that we even despaired of life itself.

Paul was afflicted beyond his strength. If we believe God won’t give us more than we can handle, then when He does so, what are we left thinking? Is something wrong with us? No. God will absolutely give us more than we can handle. Why? Paul tells us in the very next verse of 2 Corinthians 1:

9 Indeed, we felt that we had received the sentence of death, so that we would not trust in ourselves but in God who raises the dead.

We need to know that Christianity is not about our performance or our own ability to endure. Whatever ability to endure we have comes from God.

One of the other false beliefs we run the risk of falling into over the course of our Christian walk is that our salvation is somehow sustained by something that is in us. We acknowledge that salvation comes from God, but on this side of the moment of salvation we can begin to practically live in such a way that would lead us to believe that we’ve now got this all figured out.

Sure, I needed Jesus to get saved but now that I believe the gospel then my standing in God’s sight is based on how well I’m doing. Self-reliance is the antithesis of the gospel. Calling on Jesus for salvation is the ultimate admission that “I can’t”. And there never comes a point in the Christian life where “I can” becomes the new truth. But that beliefs is pervasive within Christianity today.

One of the best-selling books by any Christian publisher this year has this statement as its thesis: “You, and only you, are ultimately responsible for who you become and how happy you are.”

That’s the opposite of the gospel! And Christians are buying it by the thousands. God shows us in Genesis 41 that His truth and His truth alone reigns over all the false wisdom of the Egyptian gods. His truth is the only truth. Finally, we need to see that:

God Always Keeps His Promises

We’ve used Romans 8:28 several times in this series.  We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

We’re reminded of that verse as we see the end of chapter 41. After Joseph had executed his plan to prepare Egypt for the famine we see that Every land came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, for the famine was severe in every land.

We get to see here that the promise of Genesis 12:3 is already coming to fruition. God told Joseph’s great grandfather, Abraham,

all the peoples on earth

will be blessed through you. (12:3b)

This is the first time that tangibly starts to become true. But Joseph isn’t the ultimate fulfillment of this promise. As vital as food is during a famine, God’s promise meets an even greater need. The ultimate fulfillment of Genesis 12:3 came in the person of Jesus Christ. And it’s a promise that is still being fulfilled today. The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19 commands us to make disciples of all nations. The gospel for all the nations of the earth. That’s what God was promising Abraham in Genesis 12.

When we see God’s faithfulness moving on a nation-sized scale, it should bring us great assurance. The machinations of Egypt were no problem for God and neither are your present circumstances. We see God’s promises coming to fruition in Joseph’s life. He’ll do the same in ours. What has He promised? Two things quickly as we close:

The first promise is found in Philippians 1:6:  I am sure of this, that he who started a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

God saved you and He will keep you saved until the coming of Jesus Christ. He began the good work in you and He’s the one who will carry it on.

The second promise is found in Jude 24-25

Now to him who is able to protect you from stumbling and to make you stand in the presence of his glory, without blemish and with great joy, 25 to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority before all time, now and forever.

He will protect you from falling away. And He will make you stand in the presence of His glory without blemish and with great joy. Those are two things we could never do on our own.

We are about to sing a song, and one that I’ve grown to love. I love it because it’s simply a prayer.

When I fear my faith will fail,

Christ will hold me fast;

When the tempter would prevail,

He will hold me fast.

I could never keep my hold

Through life’s fearful path;

For my love is often cold;

He must hold me fast.

He will hold me fast,

He will hold me fast;

For my Savior loves me so,

He will hold me fast.

Those He saves are His delight,

Christ will hold me fast;

Precious in his holy sight,

He will hold me fast.

He’ll not let my soul be lost;

His promises shall last;

Bought by Him at such a cost,

He will hold me fast.

For my life He bled and died,

Christ will hold me fast;

Justice has been satisfied;

He will hold me fast.

Raised with Him to endless life,

He will hold me fast

‘Till our faith is turned to sight,

When He comes at last!

God is sovereign over nations. He’s also sovereign over your life and mine. Would you pray with me?

October 7, 2018 | When You Can't See God | Genesis 40:1-23

When You Can’t See God (pdf)


Willard Duncan Vandiver led an interesting life. Before he grew the fantastic mustache and wild shock of white hair you see in the picture on the screen, he moved with his family from West Virginia right here to Boone County, MO. His parents farmed in Boone County in the 1850s while Willard was just a young boy. Sometime later in his childhood they moved to Fayette, where Willard later attended Central College (now Central Methodist University). He was a successful student. He studied law and went on to become a professor and later president at Missouri State Normal College (now SEMO), in Cape Girardeau.

In 1896 he was elected to the U.S. Congress and it was while serving there that that he made an off-hand remark during a political speech that left a legacy that would long outlive him.

Accounts vary, but Vandiver is quoted as once saying during either a political debate or a speech, "I am from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me."

The quip was a memorable one. So much so that the state now carries it as a nickname. Even though Vandiver probably isn’t the first one to make the statement, he’s credited with bringing it to popularity.

My question this morning is what do we here in the Show-Me State do when God seems to be absent? Most of us don’t raise corn or cotton and I don’t know why anyone in their right mind would raise cockleburs. . . but we are still a people who want to see tangible proof of the things we believe. We want God to show us His faithfulness. We sang earlier about our strength rising as we wait upon the Lord to demonstrate that faithfulness.

The problem in the text we are going to read this morning is that it doesn’t appear as though God is very present. In fact, we have seen Joseph treated very unfairly in two different settings now. First, by his brothers who stripped him, abused him, and tossed him into an empty cistern before selling him as a slave. Then by Potiphar and his wife as she accused him of assaulting her and Potiphar believed her and had him thrown in prison. But at least in chapter 39 we had a comforting refrain—God was with Joseph. In the darkest moments we had the reminder that God was with Joseph.

Chapter 40 doesn’t offer us that assurance—at least not on the surface. If you were to look at chapter 40 and say “show me” the evidence that God’s providence is working all things for good in Joseph’s life—that would be tough after a first read through. You could read this chapter and ask, ‘where is God’s faithfulness?’

There’s a theme in this story we have touched on at least a little bit every week and that is that God, not Joseph, is the main character of the story. And if we believe that, it makes God’s apparent absence in this chapter even more unsettling. The external circumstances of Joseph’s life change little from Genesis 40:1 to 40:23. At the beginning of the chapter, Joseph is alone and in prison. At the end of the chapter, Joseph is alone—now forgotten by someone who was supposed to help him—and in prison.

So what are we to think of this God—the main character, the driving force behind this story—and His treatment of Joseph so far? This is where “show me” isn’t enough. Because if we limit ourselves to a God we can see, our God is too small. If we limit ourselves to a God we can see, our God is too small.

Genesis 40 is a story of faithfulness in the midst of apparent silence. Of God’s hand of providence working even when He seems to be absent.

Genesis 37-50 tells us the story of Joseph’s life but what it’s really about is how God acts in the lives of real people through His divine providence to secure His divine promises as He works to bless all the nations of the earth by rescuing a people from their sin for His glory.

God’s providence secures His promises. What do I mean by God’s providence? God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose.

God’s providence is all over this story. But He works in ways that could be easy for us to miss and Joseph responds in such a way that I think we can see he trusted in God’s faithfulness even though he didn’t fully understand what God was doing.

To really understand chapter 40, what it sets up for the rest of Joseph’s story, and how these things matter for you and I today I want us to examine this text in light of three things: Joseph’s faithfulness to a God who seems absent, God’s faithfulness to Joseph, though He seems absent, and God’s faithfulness to the nations through His quiet movements in Joseph’s life.

Let’s read Genesis 40:1-23 together:

After this, the king of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker offended their master, the king of Egypt. 2 Pharaoh was angry with his two officers, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, 3 and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guards in the prison where Joseph was confined. 4 The captain of the guards assigned Joseph to them as their personal attendant, and they were in custody for some time.

5 The king of Egypt’s cupbearer and baker, who were confined in the prison, each had a dream. Both had a dream on the same night, and each dream had its own meaning. 6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they looked distraught. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

8 “We had dreams,” they said to him, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Then Joseph said to them, “Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

9 So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph: “In my dream there was a vine in front of me. 10 On the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, its blossoms came out and its clusters ripened into grapes. 11 Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, and placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.”

12 “This is its interpretation,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. 13 In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position. You will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand the way you used to when you were his cupbearer. 14 But when all goes well for you, remember that I was with you. Please show kindness to me by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this prison. 15 For I was kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should put me in the dungeon.”

16 When the chief baker saw that the interpretation was positive, he said to Joseph, “I also had a dream. Three baskets of white bread were on my head. 17 In the top basket were all sorts of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.”

18 “This is its interpretation,” Joseph replied. “The three baskets are three days. 19 In just three days Pharaoh will lift up your head—from off you—and hang you on a tree. Then the birds will eat the flesh from your body.”

20 On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, he gave a feast for all his servants. He elevated the chief cupbearer and the chief baker among his servants. 21 Pharaoh restored the chief cupbearer to his position as cupbearer, and he placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. 22 But Pharaoh hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had explained to them. 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

Joseph’s Faithfulness When God Seems Distant

The prison phase of Joseph’s life started off remarkably similarly to the period where he was a slave in Potiphar’s house. The end of chapter 39 tells us the warden put all the prisoners under Joseph’s authority and that he fully trusted Joseph. We talked last week about the importance of the refrain of chapter 39—God was with Joseph. That chapter closed by telling us that God made everything that Joseph did successful.

That success may have plateaued, though, because when chapter 40 opens Joseph is still in prison. This was not an easy period in Joseph’s life. Even though he was elevated to the position of trustee or something like it, his circumstances in prison would not have been easy.

Yet, it’s clear that he remained faithful to the Lord and His promises in Joseph’s life. Remember back in chapter 37, God gave Joseph a pair of dreams in which he was lifted up and it seems—based on his conduct for the remainder of the story—that Joseph clung to those promises from God.

He would have had a myriad of reasons to abandon hope. When God falls silent, or His providence directs our lives in a way we don’t understand, it’s natural for us to ask why. Why, God, did you allow this hurt into my life? Why, God did you allow this hard circumstance to happen?

Think about the whys Joseph could have asked. Why did you allow my brothers to hate me so much they wouldn’t even speak to me? Why did you allow dad to show favoritism that drove them to such a jealous hatred they wanted to kill me? Why did you allow them to beat me, strip me, and leave me for dead? Why did I get sold as a slave? Why did you send me into that household where I was tempted toward illicit sex? Why did you allow me to be falsely accused? Why am I rotting here in this Egyptian prison cell with no prospect for freedom?

There are some really big ‘whys’ sitting in this room today. And when you ask God your really big why questions, you feel like the only answer you’re hearing is silence. And that may actually be true. . .but I hope you’ll find by the end of this sermon that silence from God isn’t bad and I know we can see from Joseph’s life that silence from God wasn’t an excuse to stop being faithful.

This is the first of two false beliefs this chapter lays bare. It’s the idea that God’s goodness in our lives is based on our performance.

Joseph was faithful to God’s promises in his life even though he had dozens of excuses not to be. Joseph must have understood a hard truth that I hope this text causes us all to wrestle with today. God’s favor is not tied to life’s circumstances. If you have a flat tire, that doesn’t mean God is mad at you. Yet, so often we tend to view our circumstances as a commentary on God’s view of who we are as a person. Or we think that if we are good, God will improve our circumstances. I love what Jerry Bridges wrote in The Discipline of Grace Your worst days are never so bad that you are beyond the reach of God’s grace. And your best days are never so good that you are beyond the need of God’s grace.

We don’t have to read far into the text to see that Joseph’s character—how he related to God and the people around him everyday—was not destroyed by his circumstances. In the first eight verses we learn about Joseph’s faithfulness to God through his character and his speech.

In verses 1-5 two government officials run afoul of Pharaoh. The chief cupbearer and the chief baker. Now, I concede those may not sound like the highest of government offices. In fact, I think baker doesn’t sound like a very important office at all. But these would have been high ranking men with large staffs of underlings and their responsibility would be to ensure that the food and drink that came to Pharaoh was safe—untainted by a political, or family, or national rival. These would have been very important men. And based on the word used in verse 1 it seems their offense was legitimate. Unlike Joseph, they are not innocent.

And when they are thrown into prison—because they’re important officials—they’re assigned a personal attendant by the captain of the guards. We’ve already met a man who holds that very same title back in the last chapter. Back in verse 39:1 we learn Joseph and been sold to Potiphar, who was an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards. We’re not specifically told that Potiphar still hold this office in chapter 40, but it is reasonable to think so.

It reveals a great deal about Joseph’s character and work ethic that Potiphar would choose Joseph to hold this important role after what they’d been through together. Joseph’s faithfulness to God is demonstrated in his moral character over and over again in this story. He’s held up as the opposite of all the morally corrupt people surrounding him—from his father who played favorites, to his homicidal brothers, to adulterous Judah and Tamar and Potiphar’s wife. Joseph is the photo negative to the corruption of the other characters in this narrative.

Now, what I don’t want us to do is to only look at Joseph’s actions in all these situations and reduce this to story about morals—because it is much, much more than that. If we reduce Scripture to tales of moral dos and don’ts, then we no longer have Scripture. This isn’t Aesop’s fables for Christians. We’re looking at God working something much bigger than a morality play here, not just in the life of Joseph but in all the nations of the earth.

But at the same time, we don’t want to miss that Joseph’s faithfulness to God is displayed in his moral character. Potiphar still saw in Joseph a character that was different from those around him, causing him to stand out from the rest of the people we’ve seen so far. The warden sees it as well, which is why he has this position of authority in the prison to begin with. God’s people should be marked by a character—the way we treat God and His creation—that is vastly different from those around us.

And we see in Joseph’s life that his character put him in a situation where he had the opportunity to point those around him to his God. Look at verse 6:

6 When Joseph came to them in the morning, he saw that they looked distraught. 7 So he asked Pharaoh’s officers who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?”

8 “We had dreams,” they said to him, “but there is no one to interpret them.”

Joseph did something revolutionary here. He asked how someone was doing and actually waited for the answer. I know it sounds insane, but I think we should give it a go.

In all seriousness, notice that as Joseph was going about his regular, daily routine he paused long enough to take a genuine interest in the people his job put him in relationship with. And then he’s going to steer the conversation toward his God.

These two men had some form of contact with one another and they both had a dream on the same night. In Egyptian culture dreams were a big deal because it was generally believed that dreams put you in contact with the afterlife. The interpretation of dreams was its own enterprise. There would be professional interpreters who kept books of dreams and their interpretations. But these two prisoners wouldn’t have had access to those professionals.

Then along comes Joseph. If you look at the last part of verse 8, he says

“Don’t interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”

Not only did Joseph demonstrate faithfulness to God through his character but also through his words. These men wanted some sort of divine wisdom from their pagan society and Joseph says, hey these unknown truths they belong to my God, the one, true God. They don’t come from a horoscope, they don’t come from a fortune cookie, my God holds the future. Joseph seized the opportunity to speak God’s truth during his own moment of crisis when he’s been unjustly imprisoned.

Here’s the second false belief this chapter helps us to combat. Some think that because God is sovereign—because He’s working in His providence to accomplish His purpose—we don’t need to do anything. What’s the point? God’s going to work it out anyway. Here’s a simple problem with that line of thinking: If you were in a room with everyone in Scripture who worshiped God and you held that view, you’d be the only one.

God’s sovereignty does not render man’s responsibility null and void. Instead, over and over again Scripture shows us how God uses the obedience of His people to accomplish His purposes. That’s what we see here.

Joseph tells them both Pharaoh will lift up their head, an expression that meant to be called before the king. The cupbearer would be restored and the baker would be executed. But Joseph makes an appeal to the cupbearer. He asks that when he’s restored, he’ll remember Joseph and free him because—after all—Joseph hasn’t done anything to deserve to be in prison.

Events play out exactly as he said they would and it looks like there might just be some hope for Joseph. Yet, the chapter ends on a depressing note: 23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.

It doesn’t seem like chapter 39 accomplished anything! Joseph started out as a prisoner with no hope of pardon. It ends with Joseph, a prisoner with no hope of pardon who had been given false hope that he might be freed! Emotionally, he’s worse off in verse 23 than he was in verse 1. Joseph has proved his faithfulness by his character and by his words, but on the surface it seems as though he has been forgotten by not just the cupbearer, but by God himself. The refrain of chapter 39—God was with Joseph—is absent in chapter 40. Does that mean God has taken his hand off Joseph? Absolutely not.

I shared this quote with you last week, but I want you to see it again because it’s so helpful: God is often absent in the ways we most desire, but present in the way we most require. (David Bowden)

While it may seem on the surface level that God is less present in chapter 40 than in chapter 39, that is no where near true. We’ve seen Joseph’s faithfulness to God in prison, let’s now see how God remains faithful to Joseph even though He seems silent.

God’s Faithfulness to Joseph in Ways Joseph Can’t See

There are at least four ways in this chapter we see God’s providence at work in ways that we can see since we get to see the story in its entirety. That’s not a luxury we have for our own lives, but God is no less sovereign over ours than he was over Joseph’s. I like to think of it this way: God can see both ends of the train. I grew up in East Tennessee, where we had a lot of hills, forests, mountains, and things like that. If you saw a train, at most, you’d see a few cars as they went by but there was never a long enough stretch of the tracks visible for you to see the whole train. Then when I was 26 we moved to Iowa. And they don’t have any of those geographical features. And for the first time in my life, I was able to see a whole train. I thought it was pretty cool. I could see the engine all the way back to the last car. We never get that view of our own lives, but since we see that in Joseph’s life we can see at least four ways that God was at work in the circumstances of this very chapter. I’ll go through them quickly:

The location. We see that the prison Joseph was sent to in Genesis 39 was the king’s prison. So when Pharaoh sends these two officials away in chapter 40 they end up in the very same location as Joseph. Had Joseph been sent to a different prison he would haven ever crossed paths with the cupbearer.

We looked at it briefly as a component of Joseph’s faithfulness, but had Potiphar never purchased Joseph as a slave in the first place then Joseph would have never proven his worth as a servant in his household and he would not have been assigned to the cupbearer and the baker. God’s hand was guiding these seemingly random events of Joseph’s life for a much greater purpose.

God was active in the lives of these officials. Remember, the human side of this whole epic was set in motion by sin. The sin of favoritism on the part of Jacob, perhaps the pride of Joseph, and the hatred of his brothers. Just as God worked in those sins, a fact Joseph grows to understand because he will later say to his brothers in Genesis 50:20 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result-the survival of many people. Just as God redeemed the sin of Joseph’s brothers for good, whatever evil plot landed the baker and the cupbearer in prison was ordained by God for His good purpose. Remember the promise of Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.

God’s providence caused Joseph to be forgotten. This one is tougher for us to come to grips with, but the cupbearer forgetting Joseph was an act of God’s providence. And though it would have caused Joseph great heartache and distress it won’t be long until we can clearly see in the text why God would have Joseph wait. He will eventually be released directly by Pharaoh himself and made an high-ranking official in Pharaoh’s government. Had the cupbearer released him, that probably never happens and Joseph would have probably starved to death in the famine that was to come.

One of the most difficult commands God will ever give His children is a single word: wait. But it’s always for our good and His glory. I can’t even imagine how hard this waiting would have been for Joseph. John Calvin’s words might help us come to grips with God’s actions here:

"Thus, when God might have delivered the holy man directly from prison, he chose to lead him around by circuitous paths. The better to prove his patience and to manifest by the mode of his deliverance that he has wonderful methods of working hidden from our view. He does this that we may learn not to measure by our own sense, the salvation which He has promised us.”

Speaking of that salvation, there is one more way God demonstrates his faithfulness here that I want us to notice this morning.

God’s faithfulness to all His people in imaging Christ in Joseph’s life

We’ve seen already in our study that Joseph’s life provides us an image of the savior to come. Joseph will be the one to save both his family and the entire nation of Egypt by the end of Genesis. But he can only save them from starvation. He’s an imperfect savior because he has no power over sin and death. But his life offers us a glimpse of the savior who Genesis 3:15 promised would crush the head of sin and death once and for all. The same savior God promised would be a blessing to all the nations of the earth in Genesis 12.

The gospel itself is pictured in the life of Joseph in the events of this chapter. What’s the gospel? I try to provide you with different definitions over time so that we can take in the fullness of the gospel in all its facets. Here’s a great definition of the gospel from Mark Dever, pastor of a baptist church in Washington, DC:

( The gospel is the) good news is that the one and only God, who is holy, made us in his image to know him. But we sinned and cut ourselves off from him. In his great love, God became a man in Jesus, lived a perfect life, and died on the cross, thus fulfilling the law himself and taking on himself the punishment for the sins of all those who would ever turn and trust in him. He rose again from the dead, showing that God accepted Christ’s sacrifice and that God’s wrath against us had been exhausted. He now calls us to repent of our sins and to trust in Christ alone for our forgiveness. If we repent of our sins and trust in Christ, we are born again into a new life, an eternal life with God.”

Aspects of that perfect life and death are pictured for us here in Genesis 40. Just like Christ would be condemned, though innocent—so was Joseph. Both were victims of false accusations, and both were held captive with two guilty criminals. Both narratives take place during a festival when a guilty criminal was freed, but the innocent man remained under condemnation.

But the most striking similarity here is that both innocent men were forsaken. Joseph was forgotten by the cupbearer. While Jesus on the cross in Matthew 27:46, we read this: About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Elí, Elí, lemá sabachtháni?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”

Here’s where I hope this hits home for us today. Just like God wasn’t passively standing by in Joseph’s abandonment, He wasn’t standing idle while Jesus died on the cross, either. As Christ took the wrath that you and I earned for ourselves on the cross of calvary God, in his divine providence, was pouring out the wrath that we deserved on Jesus as the offering that would die in our place.

Isaiah 53:10 says

Yet the Lord was pleased to crush him severely.

When you make him a guilt offering,

he will see his seed, he will prolong his days,

and by his hand, the Lord’s pleasure will be accomplished.

There’s no way Joseph could have seen all that God was doing in these moments. Remember, if we limit ourselves to a God we can see, then our God is too small. Even when we feel alone, we have to remember God has not abandoned us. He has already shown His faithfulness. He showed it on a cross over 2,000 years ago. Let’s pray.

September 30, 2018 | Three Temptations and a God Who Overcomes | Joseph: Providence and Promises

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Turn with me in your Bibles to Genesis 39. As we continue our look at the life of Joseph in Genesis 37-50 we rejoin the hero of the story this week. Last week’s text took us on a detour into the life of Joseph’s brother Judah, his sin, and its consequences and we learned that God both can and does accomplish His purpose through the shortcomings of His people.

When we last saw Joseph at the end of chapter 37 he had been taken to Egypt by Midianite slave traders and sold to an officer of Pharaoh named Potiphar.

There is an incredible beauty to this text. God wraps a story of spiritual success in the face of temptation within the grander narrative of what He’s doing in human history to secure His promise of rescue that stretches all the way back to Genesis 3.

There, he promised in verse 15 that one day Eve’s offspring would crush the head of sin and death forever. Later, in Genesis 12, He revealed that He would bring about that offspring through the family of a man named Abraham and that He would do it by growing Abraham’s family into a great nation.

So, we know—because God is true to His promises—that He is going to turn this family into a great nation. Later in Abraham’s life God told him this:

13 Then the Lord said to Abram, “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed.

We’ve said before in this study that Joseph’s story is the pivot point in this epic narrative. Joseph, through being sold into slavery by his brothers, becomes the first member of this family to become a resident alien in a land that does not belong to him.

Egypt becomes the safe harbor where the family of Abraham would grow into the nation of Israel. And it started with Joseph.

But within that great big picture of what God is at work doing in the family of Israel there is a ground level story of integrity and devotion to God in the face of some very real temptation.

We are going to look at this chapter in the light of three different temptations. One will be obvious. The other two, while less clear upon a first reading, I believe are very much present in the text and I think that all three are present in the lives of people in this room today. They are the temptation to forget, the temptation to give in, and the temptation to give up.

The Temptation to Forget

Genesis 39:1

Now Joseph had been taken to Egypt. An Egyptian named Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards, bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him there. 2 The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, serving in the household of his Egyptian master. 3 When his master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord made everything he did successful, 4 Joseph found favor with his master and became his personal attendant. Potiphar also put him in charge of his household and placed all that he owned under his authority. 5 From the time that he put him in charge of his household and of all that he owned, the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house because of Joseph. The Lord’s blessing was on all that he owned, in his house and in his fields. 6 He left all that he owned under Joseph’s authority; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.

For all the agony Joseph went through in Genesis 37 from being stripped of his distinct robe, beaten by his brothers, tossed in a cistern and left to die, and then being rescued from the pit only to be sold as a slave, this section of his life actually turns out pretty well.

One of the core truths I hope we take from this study is that God is sovereign over every circumstance of your life. Even when you feel alone, God is not just with you but He is profoundly involved in the day-to-day events and small moments of your life. Joseph would have had reason to feel very alone in this new context. He was ripped away from everyone and everything he knew and was spit out into the capital city of the most powerful nation on the planet at the time. They not only had a different way of talking, dress, and conduct, but they also would have worshiped a pantheon of different gods. Joseph was the only man in Egypt at the time who worshipped the one true God.

And while this would have been terrifying, painful, and lonely on a scale I can’t even begin to wrap my mind around, these verses make two things very clear to us. First, God didn’t abandon Joseph and second, Joseph didn’t abandon his faith in God.

Author David Bowden said it well: God is often absent in the ways we most desire, but present in the way we most require.

The very fact that Joseph was sold to this man, Potiphar, shows us from the outset that God was present with Joseph right in the midst of the mess that had become his life. Chapter 37 calls Potiphar the captain of the guards. He was an important guy. At the very least, he was captain of Pharaoh’s guard, but based on the word used to describe him in the original language and its usage elsewhere he may have even been the commander of Pharaoh’s entire army. This guy mattered. And so he would have been very wealthy. Joseph went from the pit in chapter 37 to the palace in chapter 39.

There’s no booming voice from heaven, no burning bush, but we do see clearly in the text that God was with Joseph—in verse 2—and therefore he became a successful man. Because God blesses Joseph so much in his work as a slave, Potiphar notices and puts him in charge of his entire household. Everything Joseph touched turned to gold to the degree that Potiphar decided he was better off letting Joseph manage it than managing it himself.

And here’s where the temptation comes in. You have to rely on God to get you out of the pit. . . but when you’re in the palace it’s easier to forget who is with you. When everything in life is going great then the temptation is to think that it’s going great because of something I did. We tend to think that because we work hard, because we are skilled, and because we’re intelligent we are successful and the temptation is to forget that all our successes in life come to us because we have a good God who loves us.

Remember, we said the first week that Joseph is not the main character of his own story. That’s why when he’s in the pit, we don’t see “Oh, whoa is me.” And when he’s in the palace, we don’t see “Hey, look at me.”

Because Joseph overcomes the temptation to forget God in the midst of comfort, not only is God glorified but he was so glorified that even Potiphar could see it. This man, who would have worshiped many false gods, saw in verse 3 that the true Lord was with Joseph.

Joseph took the comfortable circumstances God had placed him in and used them for His glory and God prospered Him.

But even though that’s true, we can also see here that prosperity isn’t the goal for Joseph. If God worked that way all the time, we’d be all in. But—thankfully—He doesn’t. Because if God rewarded us based on our performance in light of His holiness we’d all deserve to spend an eternity separated from Him and in torment in a place called Hell. Prosperity wasn’t Joseph’s goal because, as we’ll see in the next section, Joseph loses his prosperity but not his trust in God.

The first six verses are overall pretty positive, but at the end of verse six there’s this hint of change coming and we see it clearly in the next section. Let’s start with verse 6 again and then read on.

The Temptation to Give In

6 He left all that he owned under Joseph’s authority; he did not concern himself with anything except the food he ate. Now Joseph was well-built and handsome.

7 After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”

8 But he refused. “Look,” he said to his master’s wife, “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority. 9 No one in this house is greater than I am. He has withheld nothing from me except you, because you are his wife. So how could I do this immense evil, and how could I sin against God?”

10 Although she spoke to Joseph day after day, he refused to go to bed with her. 11 Now one day he went into the house to do his work, and none of the household servants were there. 12 She grabbed him by his garment and said, “Sleep with me!” But leaving his garment in her hand, he escaped and ran outside. 13 When she saw that he had left his garment with her and had run outside, 14 she called her household servants. “Look,” she said to them, “my husband brought a Hebrew man to make fools of us. He came to me so he could sleep with me, and I screamed as loud as I could. 15 When he heard me screaming for help, he left his garment beside me and ran outside.”

Potiphar had placed his full trust in Joseph to manage his household affairs, even though he was only in his late teens or early 20s at the time. And just like his brother Judah in last week’s text Joseph is confronted with sexual temptation. But, unlike Judah, Joseph resists.

And he resists over and over again. If anyone were going to give in to this temptation, Joseph makes a prime candidate. Judah gave in almost immediately in chapter 38. Moses describes Joseph in this text as constantly fighting off the advances of this woman who, in reality, held all the power in this relationship.

Think about everything Joseph had been through! One commentator considering Joseph’s fight agains this particular temptation put it this way: Add to this the fact that Joseph knew the dysfunction of a father’s favoritism (37: 3), the scorn of ten brothers’ hatred (37: 4-5, 8), the betrayal of being sold for profit by those responsible for him (37: 27-28), the disdain of a slave’s life as chattel (37: 36; 39: 1), and the dissolution of transplantation to foreign soil and culture (39: 1). With this as his bio, Joseph had every reason to be angry, bitter, resentful, cynical, fearful, self-serving, and self-pitying. . . . Joseph had every human reason to find fleeting solace in an illicit embrace— frankly, to “act out!”

So, with all those ready-made excuses in his pocket, how was Joseph able to withstand the temptation?

Well, he makes three reasons plain in the text. It would violate his master’s trust, it would be evil, and ultimately, it would be a sin against God Himself.

Notice, that the first reason is one that many would use as an excuse. He basically says, ‘Hey, Potiphar trusts me so much that I’m here and I’m unsupervised.’ Verse 8: “with me here my master does not concern himself with anything in his house, and he has put all that he owns under my authority.”

Joseph fully had the freedom and the access to commit this sin, yet he held strong because he wouldn’t sin against Potiphar. He then makes two definitive statements about the act she’s asking him to commit. It’s evil and it’s a sin against the Lord.

Joseph was able to overcome the temptation to sin because he truly understood the consequences of his actions. He had been the victim of great sin and he refused to victimize someone else. His response to this temptation was steadfast.

There was no debate here. Joseph’s morality was solid because it was founded on a serious relationship with God. He wasn’t playing with sin here.

Too many times, we tiptoe toward the line of what is sin—especially when it comes to sex. And we need to acknowledge that we are playing with something is extremely dangerous. One of the most frequent questions I was asked by students when I was a youth pastor was when it came to relationships, what can I do, how far can I go down this road with my boyfriend or girlfriend before it’s sin. We want to tiptoe the line of sin and here we have Joseph literally running away from it.

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 6:18a Flee sexual immorality! and in Philippians 3:13b-14

Forgetting what is behind and reaching forward to what is ahead, 14 I pursue as my goal the prize promised by God’s heavenly call in Christ Jesus.

We cannot pursue the prize if we are tiptoeing around sin because those two races are run in opposite directions.

Kent Hughes wrote The grand deterrent to Joseph’s sinning was the awareness that God sees all and that a sin that no one knows about, committed behind locked doors in a dark room, is actually done in the presence of a holy God. Joseph believed this. And I am convinced that the personal realization and conviction of this truth is the strongest deterrent to sin that there is.

And sometimes, fleeing temptation will mean that we suffer loss on this side of eternity. That’s what happens to Joseph here. He literally runs out of his tunic to get out of this situation and Potiphar’s wife accuses him of rape. Potiphar believed her, became furious with Joseph and had him imprisoned. And that leads us to the third temptation in this text:

The Temptation to Give Up

16 She put Joseph’s garment beside her until his master came home. 17 Then she told him the same story: “The Hebrew slave you brought to us came to make a fool of me, 18 but when I screamed for help, he left his garment beside me and ran outside.”

19 When his master heard the story his wife told him—“These are the things your slave did to me”—he was furious 20 and had him thrown into prison, where the king’s prisoners were confined. So Joseph was there in prison.

21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden. 22 The warden put all the prisoners who were in the prison under Joseph’s authority, and he was responsible for everything that was done there. 23 The warden did not bother with anything under Joseph’s authority, because the Lord was with him, and the Lord made everything that he did successful.

So far, Joseph has been beaten, stripped, tossed in a pit, sold as a slave, falsely accused of rape, and now tossed in prison—and as best we can tell he did nothing wrong. In the beginning of chapter 37 we see that he gave what was probably a false report to his dad. Then, maybe he was a little arrogant about his dreams. . .but certainly nothing to deserve all this. Definitely, he has behaved honorably since coming to Egypt. So, why would God allow all this to happen to him? He went from pit to penthouse to prison—and in prison Scripture shows us he suffered greatly:

Psalm 105:17-19

He had sent a man ahead of them—

Joseph, who was sold as a slave.

18 They hurt his feet with shackles;

his neck was put in an iron collar.

19 Until the time his prediction came true,

the word of the Lord tested him.

But through this testing, we know Joseph didn’t give up. This is where it helps us to zoom the camera out, to really see what the Hand of the Lord is at work doing here.

There’s some repetition in this chapter that should bring us comfort. When Joseph is a slave in verse 2 we see The Lord was with Joseph. When he’s a prisoner in verse 21 we see But the Lord was with Joseph. The Lord was with Joseph in the darkest moments, just like he was with him at the brightest ones.

Over and over again, Joseph’s life illustrated what is to come generations later when the promised Messiah arrives in the person of Jesus Christ—another man who would be falsely accused, counted among the prisoners, unjustly convicted, and sentenced. In fact, we find that when Jesus’ birth is heralded to another Joseph in Matthew 1:20b-23

“Joseph, son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because what has been conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

22 Now all this took place to fulfill what was spoken by the Lord through the prophet:

23 See, the virgin will become pregnant
and give birth to a son,
and they will name him Immanuel,

which is translated “God is with us.”

God was with Joseph through the temptation to forget, to give in, and to give up. And God guided Joseph’s story as a part of a much bigger plan He had for all of humanity. Over and over again the echo in chapter 39 is “God was with Joseph.” The same is true of you and I.

I want to draw your attention again to the last eight words of chapter 39: the Lord made everything that he did successful.

Don’t you wish that were true of your life? But what is success, really? I’m afraid that by our standard, Joseph’s life wasn’t successful at all. Beaten, stripped, thrown in a hole, sold as a slave, lost his whole family, falsely accused of rape, thrown in prison—those aren’t the descriptors of success that most of us are striving for.

We need desperately to understand that success for you and I means obedience to the God who saved us. It doesn’t mean a bigger house, a bigger office, and a smaller waistline.

The scale of what God was at work doing in Joseph’s life—both in the moments he prospered Joseph and the moments Joseph’s life utterly fell apart—the scale of what God was at work doing had implications for generations and generations. We have the privilege of seeing Joseph’s whole story and knowing what God was up to. You don’t have that in your life. But success still means obedience. God never guarantees that success for you means material prosperity. Sometimes it does, and we see that in Joseph’s life. But sometimes it means prison.

John Piper said it well back in 2012. “God is always doing 10,000 things in your life, and you may be aware of three of them.” God’s plan for your life is much larger than you will ever understand on this side of eternity. Don’t limit your obedience only to things you understand or you will miss out.

The key to Joseph’s success is not that he was good. It’s that God was with Him. That is why Joseph overcame the temptation to forget, the temptation to give up, and the temptation to give in. Let’s pray.

September 23, 2018 | God Redeems Our Failures to Accomplish His Purpose | Genesis 38:1-30

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I firmly believe there are people in this room today who believe a lie. Actually that’s probably true in a number of ways. Some of you may believe Batman is better than Superman. That’s a lie. You may believe cats are enjoyable as pets. Also a lie. My wife believes that pineapple is acceptable as a pizza topping. That’s just not okay.

But those aren’t the lies I’m talking about. I threw them in for the sake of levity because there isn’t much of that in our text today. But I believe Genesis 38 provides the truth that combats the lie that cripples a lot of people in this room and—truthfully—a lot of people who are sitting in churches all around us this morning.

Here’s the lie: That because of who I am or what I have done, God cannot use me. I believe that guilt is one of the primary ways Satan acts to cripple the people of God. And I’ve talked with a lot of people in this room who believe that either because of what you’ve done in your past, or because of what someone else has done to you, or because of your level or education or intelligence or your job or whatever the reason is that God can’t use you for His Kingdom’s work. And that is a lie from the lips of Satan himself.

We are about to read a story about a woman who disguises herself as a prostitute to have sex with her wicked father-in-law and God uses that sinful behavior as one of the means by which He ultimately brings about the salvation of not just Jacob’s family, but rescues for himself a people from every tribe, tongue, and nation.

Here’s the truth I hope we all learn from Genesis 38 today: Our actions do not override God’s providence. Instead, God overcomes our failures through His holiness and grace.

God’s providence means God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose. This story is such a mess that one scholar called it an awkward editorial insertion into the story of Joseph.

But we need to remember that this isn’t just the story of Joseph. He’s the character in this real-life drama that has the most lines but his life isn’t the most important thing happening in these pages. Genesis 37:2 tells us from the beginning of this section of the narrative that we are looking at the family records of Jacob—Joseph’s father. But to fully understand what’s going on here we looked all the way back to the Garden of Eden to see that God’s redemptive purpose for all of humanity began with the first Gospel promise of Scripture in Genesis 3:15.

God revealed a little bit more about how that promise would take place in Genesis 12 when He told Abraham that all the nations of the earth will be blessed through you. Now, that’s a pretty big promise and it means that through Abraham’s family, God would bring about the Messiah that He promised to Adam and Eve in Genesis 3. Therefore, this family—and this inheritance God has promised them—is extremely important. So the idea of being the firstborn, or the child of the blessing, will be very important for this family.

We looked at the family tree a couple of weeks ago but here it is again: Jacob had seven children with his first wife, Leah—Reuben (the oldest and original heir to the family blessing), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. Jacob had another wife, Rachel. She couldn’t conceive initially, so she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her and it worked. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Later on Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.

You’ll see there that Judah wasn’t the firstborn, and wasn’t originally the heir to the blessing. But we’ll see by the end Genesis that the inheritance of Jacob came—by God’s sovereign choice—through Judah. It could be because of the sin of his three older brothers—Reuben had sex with his father’s concubine, Bilhah, and Simeon and Levi committed a massacre against the Shechemites after one of them sexually assaulted his sister Dinah. I told you this was a messed up family. We’re not talking about the Waltons here, we’re not even talking about the Simpsons.

Judah had his faults as well. This chapter breaks down into three sections: Judah’s family criss, Tamar’s plan, and the fallout.

Judah’s Family Crisis

At that time Judah left his brothers and settled near an Adullamite named Hirah. 2 There Judah saw the daughter of a Canaanite named Shua; he took her as a wife and slept with her. 3 She conceived and gave birth to a son, and he named him Er. 4 She conceived again, gave birth to a son, and named him Onan. 5 She gave birth to another son and named him Shelah. It was at Chezib that she gave birth to him.

6 Judah got a wife for Er, his firstborn, and her name was Tamar. 7 Now Er, Judah’s firstborn, was evil in the Lord’s sight, and the Lord put him to death. 8 Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife. Perform your duty as her brother-in-law and produce offspring for your brother.” 9 But Onan knew that the offspring would not be his, so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he released his semen on the ground so that he would not produce offspring for his brother. 10 What he did was evil in the Lord’s sight, so he put him to death also.

11 Then Judah said to his daughter-in-law Tamar, “Remain a widow in your father’s house until my son Shelah grows up.” For he thought, “He might die too, like his brothers.” So Tamar went to live in her father’s house.

That Judah’s family is about to be in a troubling spot is evident from the very beginning. At the close of chapter 37 Joseph had been sold as a slave in Egypt after he was forced out of the family by his brothers. In contrast, chapter 38 opens with Judah willingly leaving his family and seeking a wife among the Canaanites, who were Pagans—they didn’t follow Judah’s God.

Judah’s wife bore him three sons Er, Onan, and Shelah. Judah married off Er to another Canaanite woman, Tamar, in verse 6. However, Er was evil and God decided to take his life.

The common practice in this days seems to have been what we now call levirate marriage. Levirate comes from a latin word that means brother-in-law. There’s no concept of this in the Bible up until this point but we know that it was practice by the peoples surrounding Jacob’s family at this time. It’s mentioned three times in the Bible—here, Deuteronomy 25, and in the book of Ruth.

Simply put, it meant that if a husband died without a male heir, his brother would be responsible to enable the widowed wife to bear a son who would become the deceased brother’s heir, so that the family line would go on.

Now, this poses a conflict of interest. Because if your brother dies with no heir, your chunk of the family inheritance grows. Unsurprisingly, every time levirate marriage shows up in Scripture there is conflict.

The conflict here is that if Onan fulfills his duty, then his share of the inheritance will shrink. So, selfishly, he refuses to give Tamar a child. Tamar would remain childless, which in the culture would mean both shame and a lack of financial provision. So Onan’s treatment of Tamar was judged as evil in the sight of the Lord and he takes Onan’s life as well.

Now, the family line of Judah is in crisis. He had three sons, three chances to carry on this family line. But now, two of his sons were dead. So he hatches a plan. He gets Tamar out of sight and out of mind. He tells her to return to her father’s house and when his youngest son came of age he would give her to him—even though it appears he had no plan to do so because we find out in the next section that Selah grows up and Judah never sends for her. Er, Onan, and now Judah have victimized Tamar so far. She’s about to take matters into her own hands. Let’s read on;

Tamar’s Plot

12 After a long time Judah’s wife, the daughter of Shua, died. When Judah had finished mourning, he and his friend Hirah the Adullamite went up to Timnah to his sheepshearers. 13 Tamar was told, “Your father-in-law is going up to Timnah to shear his sheep.” 14 So she took off her widow’s clothes, veiled her face, covered herself, and sat at the entrance to Enaim, which is on the way to Timnah. For she saw that, though Shelah had grown up, she had not been given to him as a wife. 15 When Judah saw her, he thought she was a prostitute, for she had covered her face.

16 He went over to her and said, “Come, let me sleep with you,” for he did not know that she was his daughter-in-law.

She said, “What will you give me for sleeping with me?”

17 “I will send you a young goat from my flock,” he replied.

But she said, “Only if you leave something with me until you send it.”

18 “What should I give you?” he asked.

She answered, “Your signet ring, your cord, and the staff in your hand.” So he gave them to her and slept with her, and she became pregnant by him. 19 She got up and left, then removed her veil and put her widow’s clothes back on.

20 When Judah sent the young goat by his friend the Adullamite in order to get back the items he had left with the woman, he could not find her. 21 He asked the men of the place, “Where is the cult prostitute who was beside the road at Enaim?”

“There has been no cult prostitute here,” they answered.

22 So the Adullamite returned to Judah, saying, “I couldn’t find her, and besides, the men of the place said, ‘There has been no cult prostitute here.’”

23 Judah replied, “Let her keep the items for herself; otherwise we will become a laughingstock. After all, I did send this young goat, but you couldn’t find her.”

24 About three months later Judah was told, “Your daughter-in-law, Tamar, has been acting like a prostitute, and now she is pregnant.”

“Bring her out,” Judah said, “and let her be burned to death!”

25 As she was being brought out, she sent her father-in-law this message: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these items belong.” And she added, “Examine them. Whose signet ring, cord, and staff are these?”

26 Judah recognized them and said, “She is more in the right than I, since I did not give her to my son Shelah.” And he did not know her intimately again.

Tamar is a victim of three different men who were at least neglectful if not outright abusive in the first 11 verses of this chapter. In this middle section she decides to take matters into her own hands.

It speaks to Judah’s morality that Tamar thought up this particular plan and was able to accomplish it in what seems to be a simple and straightforward manner. Judah and is friend Hirah probably went through this same process on a yearly basis. When it was time for a major agricultural event like this, there would have been a celebration. Many of the pagan religions in Judah’s day would have had temple prostitutes who men would hire as a sort of good luck charm to win the favor of the fertility gods. Tamar disguised herself as a one of these prostitutes and sought out Judah. The way the original language spells it out, he essentially begs her to have sex with him. She turns it into a business negotiation. And two utterly ridiculous things happen. Judah asks to pay on credit and Tamar asks for his social security card and driver’s license.

Not literally, but but’s the equivalent of what takes place in verses 17-18. Judah offers to send a valuable young goat from his flock. Tamar says she needs something so that he will keep his word and he offers her his signet, cord, and staff. His signet would have probably been a long wooden cylinder on a cord worn around the neck that would be used to affix his seal to business and legal documents. His staff was likely unique to himself as well. These were some of the most personal items that Judah owned and he gave them up almost without a second thought.

After their infidelity, they go their separate ways. Judah tries to send the agreed upon payment—actually the noblest thing he’s done so far—by way of his friend Hirah. But when he goes to make the transaction he can’t find the prostitute he’s looking for. Now Judah has a dilemma. He could make a concerted effort to go looking for the girl—but then everyone would know that Judah is searching for a prostitute so that he can get his ID back. So he decides to let the matter go and he reassures himself that he did the right thing. Look at verse 23—‘After all, I did try send this young goat.’

Now, there have been some shocking things in this passage. But what happens next is the most shocking thing of all. Three months pass and it becomes clear that Tamar is pregnant. Now, she is not living in Judah’s house at this time and she’s not even married. But during the betrothal period, improper sexual activity was treated just as it would’ve been treated if you were married.

So Judah, perhaps thinking he can finally dispose of this problem for good, says in verse 24 “Bring her out,” Judah said, “and let her be burned to death!” How cold. How callous can you be?

Judah, though, quickly realizes what has happened. She send him back his identification. Verse 25 As she was being brought out, she sent her father-in-law this message: “I am pregnant by the man to whom these items belong.” And she added, “Examine them. Whose signet ring, cord, and staff are these?”

Judah, who participated in the deception of his father in the last chapter, had been deceived in a very similar way. Listen to the similarity in the last part of Genesis 37:32 “We found this. Examine it. Is it your son’s robe or not?”

Judah was deceived by Tamar just as he had deceived his father in the previous chapter. To his credit, Judah recognizes his failure here and seems to repent. In fact, this seems to be a pivotal moment in Judah’s life because later in Joseph’s story we will see him assume a leadership role within the 11 brothers.

So we’ve seen Judah’s sin and we’ve seen Tamar’s sin. The final section helps us see how—in this man-made mess—God’s attributes of holiness and his grace will work to see that his providential plan to redeem a people for his glory will continue, and it will continue through this branch of this family despite their actions.

The Aftermath

27 When the time came for her to give birth, there were twins in her womb. 28 As she was giving birth, one of them put out his hand, and the midwife took it and tied a scarlet thread around it, announcing, “This one came out first.” 29 But then he pulled his hand back, out came his brother, and she said, “What a breakout you have made for yourself!” So he was named Perez. 30 Then his brother, who had the scarlet thread tied to his hand, came out, and was named Zerah.

The struggle between these twins is reminiscent of the struggle between Judah’s father Jacob and his brother Esau. But there is an important theme at work here that helps us start to see some order worked from this chaos. God, contrary to cultural norms and what would have seemed like conventional wisdom, constantly chose the younger over the older in Genesis. That was part of what made Jospeh’s brothers hate him so much in the last chapter.

Tamar gives birth to twins Perez, who would technically have been considered the younger, and Zerah. Perez is going to become extremely important in the grand scheme of things. We’ll see that in a minute, but now that we’ve walked through the passage let’s take a step back and look at the canvas God has painted for us in Genesis 38.

Here’s the mess: We have Judah’s sin. He chose an unbelieving wife and that led to raising children who were evil in the sight of the Lord. He lied to Tamar, failed to protect this woman who would have—by cultural tradition and moral obligation—become a member of his family. His greed and desire to further his family name led him to lie to Tamar. Then he committed sexual immorality.

Since we’re here, and we haven’t really been on this topic specifically in my time here yet, let’s address sexual immorality for a minute. Adultery is sexual activity between a married person and someone who is not their spouse. Sexual immorality is any sexual contact that occurs outside of a relationship between a husband and a wife. Both of those things are sins. We’ll dive a little deeper next week, but we need to acknowledge that today because we live in a culture of blurred lines. There are no blurred lines in Scripture when it comes to sex. If you’re dating, engaged, divorced, single, any designation that isn’t a marriage between one woman and one man, then any sexual activity is sin. If you’re married and you engage in any sexual activity with anyone who is not your spouse, that is sin.

Judah and Tamar’s relations were sinful. So we have a laundry list of sins committed by Judah just in this chapter. Tamar was not only sexually immoral but also deceptive and manipulative here as she tricks Judah and earns status for herself as mother, which was a significant thing in her day.

We see all those human shortcomings on display in this text. Now, let’s see how two specific attributes of God work in this passage to secure his providence.

God’s Holiness

God’s holiness is the catalyst for this whole situation. Err and Onan act so sinfully in this passage that God kills them. We’re less comfortable with the holiness and justice of God than we are his grace, but we need to acknowledge that because He is holy, God always punishes sin.

This is also a reminder that our actions matter. Even though we fully believe in God’s sovereignty over every situation, and the Bible teaches that man is 100% responsible for the actions he commits. Err and Onan’s actions led to God striking them dead.

God’s Grace

At the same time, His grace is evident in this chapter. Tamar, though not innocent, was victimized by at least two men in Judah’s family. Onan refused to give her an heir and Judah refused to care for her by providing his son to her has a husband. Therefore, she would have had no means to earn a living, no social status, and no family unit to which she would properly belong. Judah’s actions made Tamar socially, economically, and probably psychologically an isolated outcast.

Even though the actions of every human named in this passage were sinful, God acted in his grace to care for Tamar. At the end of the story, her place is secured as a member of Judah’s household, which is what should have happened in the beginning. She’s treated poorly, she makes mistakes, but ultimately God shows her incredible grace.

God’s Providence

And finally, and this is the big picture idea here and the most important thing we can take from this chapter, God’s providence—His action in creation to advance His purpose—redeems this story as a part of his plan to redeem humanity.

Perez, the son of Judah and Tamar, who was born out of this sinful union shows up a few other times in Scripture. He even makes it into the New Testament. If you look at Matthew 1 there’s this list of people you might be tempted to skip over. But you shouldn’t, because Matthew 1:3 tells us that

3 Judah fathered Perez and Zerah by Tamar,

Perez fathered Hezron,

and if you were to read all the way to verse 16 you’d see that

16 and Jacob fathered Joseph the husband of Mary,

who gave birth to Jesus who is called the Christ.

Perez, Tamar, and Judah show up in the lineage of Jesus Christ—the offspring that God promised in Genesis 3:15 and told Abraham would come through his family back in Genesis 12. The very means of salvation for all people came directly from the mess of Genesis 38.

We can learn a little bit more about God’s sovereignty in redeeming human mess in Matthew 1. There are four women listed before Mary in Jesus’ genealogy. Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, and Bathsheba (identified as Uriah’s wife in 1:6). All these women were non-Israelite outsiders with pasts that would make us cringe. Victor Hamilton explained it this way:

Each of these four women had a highly irregular and potentially scandalous marital union. Nevertheless, these unions were, by God’s providence, links in the chain to the Messiah. Accordingly, each of them prepares the way for Mary, whose marital situation is also peculiar, given the fact that she is pregnant but has not yet had sexual relations with her betrothed husband Joseph. Thus the inclusion of the likes of Tamar in this family tree on one hand foreshadows the circumstances of the birth of Christ, and on the other hand blunts any attack on Mary. God had worked his will in the midst of whispers of scandal.

God was sovereign over this whole situation and, what man meant for evil, God turned for not just the good of Tamar, but the good of everyone who would one day call on the name of Jesus Christ.

Some of you believe the lie that because of who you are or what you have done, God cannot use you. This chapter teaches us that our actions do not override God’s providence. Instead, God overcomes our failures through His holiness and grace.

Based on the two chapters we’ve read, you’d think Joseph is the son of the promise. He’s not. The blessing passes from Jacob to Judah and eventually all the way down to Jesus.

That’s why Revelation 5:5 can say

Then one of the elders said to me, “Do not weep. Look, the Lion from the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has conquered . . .”

Your failures are not too big for God’s providence. I don’t care how big a mess you have created for yourself or how big a mess others have created in your life. God can work through it.

There’s a song popularized by Michael and Lisa Gungor a few years ago entitled Beautiful Things. Here are its opening lines:

All this pain

I wonder if I'll ever find my way

I wonder if my life could really change, at all

All this earth

Could all that is lost ever be found?

Could a garden come out from this ground, at all?

You make beautiful things

You make beautiful things out of the dust

Yes, your life can really change. Yes, all that is lost can be found. And yes, God can spring up something beautiful from the ashes of your life. Let’s pray.

September 16, 2018 | From Brother to Slave | Genesis 37:12-16

Manuscript (pdf)


If you have your Bibles, I invite you to turn with me to Genesis 37. If you don’t have a Bible there are some black ones in the pew back in front of you and the passage we are studying can be found on page 33.

We are in the second week of a study of the life of Joseph from Genesis 37-50. While Joseph is the central human character of the narrative, we saw last week that God is the main character of this story. We went all the way back to Genesis 3 and saw God’s first restorative promise after the fall of man in Genesis 3:15.

God declares that He is going to set right the wrong that occurred in the Garden of Eden and he’s going to do it through the offspring of Adam and Eve. He reveals later on to Abraham that it’s through his family he will bless all the nations of the earth—bringing to fruition the promise he made in Genesis 3.

God further reveals to Abraham in Genesis 15:13-14 “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.

Those are the words that set in motion the events we are going to read about in a moment. We see the first mention of that land that doesn’t belong to Abraham’s family at the end of Genesis 37.

We had this on the screen last week but I want us to see it again as a reminder of what these 14 chapters are really about: In Joseph’s story we learn how God acts in the lives of real people through His divine providence to secure His divine promises as He works to bless all the nations of the earth by rescuing a people from their sin for His glory.

To put it more briefly, God’s providence secures his promises. God’s providence, his actions in creation to advance His purpose, secures the promises He has made to humanity.

And because God is at work in Joseph’s life—and in yours and mine—in bigger ways than you and I could ever comprehend we know that we can press on. We know that because He has promised in Romans 8 . . . all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

That doesn’t mean we will understand all things. But just because we don’t understand them doesn’t mean they aren’t good. Hot dogs are good. I don’t understand what they are and I don’t want to . . . but they’re good.

We need to state that at the outset because on its surface what is about to happen to Joseph is very bad. Extremely bad, as a matter of fact. We saw last week how God—in His sovereign way—created circumstances in which Joseph would be hated by his brothers. Because God granted Joseph a vision of his future position of authority in a dream, because of his father’s favoritism, and because of Joseph’s own attitude—his brothers hated him. But that was necessary for God to to work His purpose in this family and—ultimately—to bless all the nations of the earth.

That plan begins to come into view as we read text today. The events of Genesis 37:12-36 really unfold in four movements. We’re going to label them devotion, depravity, deception, and deliverance so that they’re easy for us to remember as we go through. Devotion, depravity, deception, and deliverance.

Devotion (Genesis 37:12-17)

First we see the devotion of Joseph as he takes an assignment from his father. Let’s read the first three verses together:

12 His brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13 Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers, you know, are pasturing the flocks at Shechem. Get ready. I’m sending you to them.”

“I’m ready,” Joseph replied.

14 Then Israel said to him, “Go and see how your brothers and the flocks are doing, and bring word back to me.” So he sent him from the Hebron Valley, and he went to Shechem.

Joseph demonstrates not just devotion to his father here, but also to his brothers. Jacob telling Joseph to go check on his brothers in Shechem is a dangerous proposition if ever there as one. At the end of our text last week, we learned that Joseph’s brothers were unable to speak peaceably to him. Here Jacob literally tells Joseph to go and check on their peace—in the original text those are almost identical phrases. This would have been extremely uncomfortable for Joseph no matter where the brothers were but we learned in verse 14 that they had taken Jacob’s flocks to Shechem.

Shechem was not a safe place for members of this family. Back in Genesis 34 Simeon and Levi, Joseph’s older brothers, led a massacre there as an act of revenge because a Shechemite had disgraced their sister. This would not have been forgotten, so Jacob is asking Joseph to go to a dangerous place looking for dangerous men who had already committed a massacre once and who we know hated him.

Yet, Joseph doesn’t protest. He’s presented as a son devoted to carrying out the will and wishes of his father—even though the task is unpleasant and even though its more difficult than he imagined. Look at verse 15:

15 A man found him there, wandering in the field, and asked him, “What are you looking for?”

16 “I’m looking for my brothers,” Joseph said. “Can you tell me where they are pasturing their flocks?”

17 “They’ve moved on from here,” the man said. “I heard them say, ‘Let’s go to Dothan.’” So Joseph set out after his brothers and found them at Dothan.

Joseph not only made the journey to Shechem—which was approximately 50 miles from where Jacob and his family were currently living. That was somewhere around a 5-day journey. But he searched for them so diligently in Shechem that a man notices him searching and asks what he’s looking for. By the way, this is one of the ways we see God’s hand of providence guiding the events of this story. Nothing happens by accident. Ever. Some have even thought of this scene as a theophany—a visible manifestation of God like we see in Genesis 32—or an angel. This stranger appears in the text and directs Joseph to find his brothers and, essentially, seals his fate. God’s hand is all over this story, directing Joseph to just the right place to bring to fruition the promises he made to Abraham three generations ago.

We’ve seen Joseph’s devotion. Now let’s contrast it with the depravity of the brothers in the next section. Depravity is moral corruption, or wickedness. It’s the opposite of holiness—which is what the Bible describes God to be and His people to be seeking. Joseph, while imperfect, will be held up during most of the rest of his life as an example of what holiness applied to everyday life looks like. The brothers are just the opposite. Their depravity is on full display in the next verses. Let’s see it:

Depravity (Genesis 37:18-29)

18 They saw him in the distance, and before he had reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19 They said to one another, “Oh, look, here comes that dream expert! 20 So now, come on, let’s kill him and throw him into one of the pits. We can say that a vicious animal ate him. Then we’ll see what becomes of his dreams!”

21 When Reuben heard this, he tried to save him from them. He said, “Let’s not take his life.” 22 Reuben also said to them, “Don’t shed blood. Throw him into this pit in the wilderness, but don’t lay a hand on him”—intending to rescue him from them and return him to his father.

23 When Joseph came to his brothers, they stripped off Joseph’s robe, the robe of many colors that he had on. 24 Then they took him and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty, without water.

25 They sat down to eat a meal, and when they looked up, there was a caravan of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead. Their camels were carrying aromatic gum, balsam, and resin, going down to Egypt.

26 Judah said to his brothers, “What do we gain if we kill our brother and cover up his blood? 27 Come on, let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites and not lay a hand on him, for he is our brother, our own flesh,” and his brothers agreed. 28 When Midianite traders passed by, his brothers pulled Joseph out of the pit and sold him for twenty pieces of silver to the Ishmaelites, who took Joseph to Egypt.

Can you imagine a hatred so consuming that upon seeing your own brother in the distance you decide you’re going to kill him? As Jospeh journeyed to Dothan and drew close to his brothers, the distinctive coat given to him by his father probably allows the brothers to identify him at a distance.

The deep depravity of the human condition is on display here. I don’t want us to miss this because we don’t acknowledge this enough—the example of depravity here is not a warning for someone else. It’s a warning for you and for me. Because of our fallen nature—because you are a sinner—you have the capacity within you to commit every sin imaginable. We see out in the world and on the news the litany of heinous acts that people commit against one another and there’s a danger in thinking we are above that. We are only different because we have been rescued from our sinful actions and from the sinful heart that married us to those sinful actions. Ephesians 2:1— and you were dead in your trespasses and sins. You were dead to holiness—you were in your trespasses and sins so you were alive to depravity. You had no power to live in holiness, because what can dead people do? Nothing.

What changed? Ephesians 2:8-9 answers that—8 For you are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift— 9 not from works, so that no one can boast.

So when we look at these 11 brothers we need to understand that we are not far removed from their behavior and we are only removed from it at all based on the work of Christ and now our own doing. There’s a phrase credited to John Bradford, an English preacher who lived in the mid-1500’s. There’s no way to verify if he actually said it or not, but he’s the one who is quoted. The story says that from his study every so often he would see criminals being led to the gallows to be executed. His statement takes a few forms but the most popular one is this. Upon seeing those condemned men Bradford said: “There but for the grace of God, goes John Bradford.”

Hearts just like ours led one of the brothers to say in verse 19—look, here comes that dream expert.

Depravity directly contradicts the Word of God. Remember, it was God’s providence that led to Joseph having the two dreams we talked about last week. We even jumped ahead in the story and saw how those dreams would be fulfilled. And here we have the brothers mocking not Joseph’s plan—but God’s.

So they come up with a simple plan—let’s kill him and throw him in a pit. We’ll be done with him for good. But then we have Reuben, the oldest brother, stepping in. His motivation could have come from a good place or it could have been self-preservation. He was already in hot water with his father over his role in the Shechem massacre we mentioned earlier. He knew who would bear the most responsibility for this if dad found out. So he hatches a plot to save Joseph later on.

Instead of killing him the language in the text leads us to believe that they severely beat him, stripped him naked, and tossed him in an empty cistern and left him for dead. And then it gets worse!

They sit down and have a meal—likely a meal that Joseph brought for them from their father. And they did it within earshot of the pit. If we fast forward to Genesis 42:21 we see the brothers say: “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.”

It’s likely that they could hear his pleas for rescue while they were eating this meal. . . but they offered no help. In fact, they only changed course when they thought there was something in it for them. Judah pipes up and says, “Hey, we can sell him to that caravan of slave traders and get some money out of this whole situation.” So they sell him for 20 pieces of silver and go on about their business. Now, they’ve created a sin that needs to be covered up. So we move from seeing their depravity to seeing their deception. Let’s read verse 29

Deception (Genesis 37:29-35)

29 When Reuben returned to the pit and saw that Joseph was not there, he tore his clothes. 30 He went back to his brothers and said, “The boy is gone! What am I going to do?” 31 So they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a male goat, and dipped the robe in its blood. 32 They sent the robe of many colors to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it. Is it your son’s robe or not?”

33 His father recognized it. “It is my son’s robe,” he said. “A vicious animal has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces!” 34 Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth around his waist, and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and daughters tried to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted. “No,” he said. “I will go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” And his father wept for him.

I think Reuben’s motivation is revealed to us in verse 29. Notice that he’s not worried about Joseph. “The boy is gone, what am I going to do.” That doesn’t sound all that sincere.

The brothers depravity and deception devastate the entire family. Jacob, in verse 33 uses the same word—vicious animal—that the brothers used back in verse 20. It’s appropriate because the literal translation there is an evil animal. It’s the brothers’ evil that has now torn this family apart.

Mourning was a much more formal process in those days and would last for a determined amount of time. Despite the attempts at comfort from his whole family, Jacob remained despondent over the loss of his favorite child. He tells the family he’ll mourn for the rest of his life. I think when the brothers deceived him they hoped, in Joseph’s absence, that his affection for his remaining sons would grow but that doesn’t seem to be the case. He essentially rejects the comfort of the remaining sons and daughters over Joseph’s loss.

There’s a caution here for parents. Notice how Jacob was deceived—they took and killed a goat and dipped Joseph’s robe in its blood to deceive their father. Back in Genesis 27, Jacob had taken the skins of dead goats and used them to deceive his father into thinking he was Esau so that he could steal the blessing. The very same sinful deception present in Jacob’s life was present in the lives of his children. That should be sobering to those of us God has entrusted with the discipling of the next generation.

When we see this family—and we’ll get a little deeper into them next week—we see that sin has very real consequences. The hurts run deep here and they keep running for generations. You see how dangerous unchecked sin can be and you see the deep contrast between the devotion of Joseph and the depravity and deception of the brothers and within all that there is one crucial thing that we can’t walk away from this text without acknowledging today:

When we read a story like this it’s natural that we inject ourselves into it. Our natural bent is to want to look at Joseph’s life and emulate his character, especially in some of these later stories that we’ll study. And that’s not a bad thing. But here, in Genesis 37, we need to understand that we are not Joseph. We are not the hero of this story. We’re the brothers. You and I, if we are anywhere in this story, are the villains. When we read the Bible, Jesus is always the hero. We aren’t Joseph. We aren’t David flinging rocks at a giant. Jesus slays the giants, we stand behind him shaking in the armor. In this text, here we are throwing the hero in the pit and covering up our own sin.

Covering up our own sin is a serious problem. David wrote in Psalm 32:5

Then I acknowledged my sin to you

and did not conceal my iniquity.

I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”

and you forgave the guilt of my sin.

When we try to cover our sin we are functioning as atheists. Think about that. When we know we sin and we try to hide it, we are acting as though we don’t believe that God exists. How? Because rationally, we all understand that we can’t hide anything from God. We can hide things from one another, but not from Him. The Holy Spirit within is unsettling when we sin. David knew that, too:

Psalm 32:3-4

When I kept silent, my bones became brittle

from my groaning all day long.

For day and night your hand was heavy on me;

my strength was drained

as in the summer’s heat.

We should be a people compelled to confess our sin. First, to God. And then, to those we have sinned against. That psalm begins wit these words: How joyful is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered!

If you struggle with joy, you could have a sin problem. If you confess your sin, Jesus will cover it. If you hide your sin, Jesus will expose it.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, in Life Together, writes, “You are a sinner, a great, desperate sinner; now come, as the sinner that you are, to God who loves you.  He wants you as you are; he does not want anything from you, a sacrifice, a work; he wants you alone. . . . You can hide nothing from God.  The mask you wear before men will do you no good before him.  He wants to see you as you are, he wants to be gracious to you.” (source)

We should read the story of Joseph and sense our deep need for the gospel and not our accomplishment in being devoted to the Father. It starts to come into focus with the last verse of chapter 37:

Deliverance (Genesis 37:36)

36 Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards.

This is the deliverance of not just Joseph from death but remember, this whole story is about how God will rescue His people. This is the first step in God securing Joseph’s place in Egypt as the one who can rescue His family. When we see this story we have to acknowledge that deliverance doesn’t come through us, it comes through Jesus. And Joseph is held up time and time again in this story as a picture of who Jesus will be when he finally arrives.

Often in the Old Testament we see examples of what the Messiah will be like, or to use the language of Genesis 3:15—how the offspring will come to crush the head of sin and death. I like to think of these as billboards. For 6 1/2 years we lived in a place where we were 90 minutes from the nearest Cracker Barrel. And every time we’d go visit family in Tennessee we’d start seeing these billboards for Cracker Barrel—and it’d get that craving. They’d show pictures of the food, directions to the restaurant, and when they are open, etc. That’s what God has given us in the life of Joseph. He shows us what Christ will look like.

Just think about the similarities in this very chapter—he’s sent from the father to be with the brothers, they reject him, mock and humiliate him, and throw him in the ground. But God’s providence rescues him from what looked like a certain death (a real death in Jesus’ case) and took him to a place that would become the refuge for even those who rejected him.

W.A. Criswell called Joseph the story of our holy Messiah Redeemer in miniature. Throughout this story we’ll see Joseph falsely accused, persevere through temptation, thrown into prison, stand before ruling authorities, rise to a position of exaltation, feed the hungry, and save God’s people from what would be certain death. As we go through the story we’ll try to point out these pictures of Christ in the life of Joseph.

But for today what is most important for us to see is that God is the hero of the story and we are the ones desperately in need of his rescue.

That rescue comes despite our own depravity and despite our own deception. We have God who is fully devoted to his commitment to rescuing His people and we can rest in that today. Let me give you one final encouragement as we close.

Dothan, the place where Joseph was sold into slavery is an interesting site in the Old Testament. Not only did these events take place there, but something very comforting happened there in 2 Kings 6.

The king of Aram had set out to kill the prophet Elisha, who was living in Dothan. We see in 2 Kings 6:13-17:

13 So the king said, “Go and see where he is, so I can send men to capture him.”

When he was told, “Elisha is in Dothan,” 14 he sent horses, chariots, and a massive army there. They went by night and surrounded the city.

15 When the servant of the man of God got up early and went out, he discovered an army with horses and chariots surrounding the city. So he asked Elisha, “Oh, my master, what are we to do?”

16 Elisha said, “Don’t be afraid, for those who are with us outnumber those who are with them.”

17 Then Elisha prayed, “Lord, please open his eyes and let him see.” So the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he saw that the mountain was covered with horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.

It would be easy to think, “Gee, that would have been nice for Joseph.” You know what, I think those very same horses and chariots were guiding Joseph that day. He probably felt abandoned, as some of you may today.

But, despite our depravity and deception, God’s devotion to delivering us to Himself remains true. We won’t always see the plan, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t real. Let’s pray.

Discussion Questions

(Use the questions in this section to further your study of this text with your spouse, Bible study group, or in your own personal devotional time)

Have you ever resented someone that you should treat lovingly?

Resentment is a passive, weak emotion that has no place in the Christian life. If there is injustice, we should deal with it through prayer and godly action. If there is insult, we should concentrate on who we are in Christ and not place too much value on the cruel words of others. If we face injustice in the course of our work for God, we should accept it as to be expected. And if God allows us to be dishonored for the sake of sanctification, the best, least painful response is to repent and allow Him to work in us. (source)

Should we expect this life to treat us fairly? (Read John 15:18)

How should believers respond when we feel resentment toward another person?

Read the story of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21-35. Remember that we have been forgiven much, so we must not only forgive but also change our attitude toward those who we feel have wronged us.

What do you think led Joseph’s brothers to want to kill him?

Why did they decide instead to sell him as a slave?

What does the greed and hatred expressed by Joseph’s brothers tell you about human nature?

How can you see God working behind the scenes in these verses to accomplish his purpose?

What initially caused the hatred between Joseph and his brothers?

Read Matthew 5:21-26

What do these verses tell us about harboring anger toward another person?

Why is it so important as disciples for us to forgive one another?

How could forgiveness have changed the outcome of this situation?

September 9, 2018 | God’s Providence Secures His Promises | Genesis 37:1-11



Over 500 years ago, Nicolaus Copernicus looked up at the night sky and made some calculations. Over the course of what was likely a number of years Copernicus developed a dangerous theory. His theory was that the sun, not the earth, was the center of the universe. Around 100 years later, Galileo Galilei came along and argued the same thing but both men were met with opposition. It took over 200 years from the time Copernicus published his first statement until this now foundational scientific truth was accepted by the mainstream.

There are a number of reasons both Copernicus and Galileo were met with such pushback, even excommunication from the church and arrest. Some of the reasons were scientific and some of the reasons were religious . . .but I have a theory of my own. I think that humanity really doesn’t like to be told that we aren’t the center of the universe.

On an individual level we might not be that arrogant, right? But most of us at least view ourselves as the main character of our own story. One secular psychologist put it this way:

It’s far from uncommon to imagine that you are the main character in your own life. Indeed, it seems fairly widespread for people to act as if they are the main character in all of human history, the crowning achievement of evolution and the culmination of God’s inscrutable plan.

I think that might be a little strong. I doubt that you think of yourself as the crowning achievement of evolution. But most of us—I think—do view ourselves as the center of the story. When you watch a movie it’s the main character who is the focus and we tend to think of ourselves as the main character. You’re the one who appears in every scene, the voiceover doing the narration is your own, and the movie doesn’t end until you die, right? A lot of us are hoping to get to that happily ever after one of these days and that’s a frustrating pursuit. We find ourselves staring into the camera doing a frustrated monologue like Zack Morris or Jim Halpert depending on what generation of TV you grew up watching.

As we enter a brand new series where our focus is on Joseph, one of Jacob’s sons whose life is chronicled in Genesis 37-50, I want you to notice something right off the bat. Look with me at Genesis 37:1-2a:

37 Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. 2 These are the family records of Jacob. At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers.

Did you notice anything there? These are the family records of Jacob. Though this series will be focused on the events of Joseph’s life he’s not the main character. Moses, who wrote Genesis, devotes more space in this narrative to Joseph than Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob. But Joseph isn’t the main character.

The Bible doesn’t even set him up to be. Verse two tell us this is the story of Jacob’s family. And that is important for us to know on the front end. Joseph isn’t the main character of the story and neither is Jacob. God is.

The Purpose of Joseph’s Life

Genesis 37-50 tells us the story of Joseph’s life but what it’s really about is how God acts in the lives of real people through His divine providence to secure His divine promises as He works to bless all the nations of the earth by rescuing a people from their sin for His glory.

God’s providence secures His promises. What do I mean by God’s providence? God’s actions in creation to advance His purpose. There are three things that are true about God’s providence that I want us to see here that will help us understand Joseph’s story.

God is Sovereign

First, God is sovereign. That’s a church word, and important word, and one you should know but one you probably haven’t used this week outside of this room. It means that God is King. There is nothing—no situation, no relationship, no circumstance over which God is not in control.

God’s providence requires God to be sovereign and He is. God created everything and everything is subject to His authority. Me, you, Joseph, his brothers and Satan himself are all subject to God’s divine authority.

God is Active

The second truth about God’s providence is that He is active. God didn’t just create the universe, spin it, and sit back and say ‘Let’s see what happens!’ He is actively governing the world and has an eternal plan for it. And that is true even when—and especially when—we can’t see it. God is the main character in Joseph’s story, but He works primarily in the background. We’ll see that as we go along. Nothing in Joseph’s life is a surprise to God and nothing in your life is a surprise to God. A pastor friend of mine always asks this question: “Did it ever occur to you that nothing ever occurs to God?”

God’s Actions Point Us to Jesus Christ

God’s providence over creation means that He is sovereign, that He is active, and that all His actions point us to Jesus Christ. Authors Tony Payne and Colin Marshall stated it this way “. . . God’s goal for the whole world and the whole of human history is to glorify his beloved Son in the midst of the people he has rescued and transformed.”

Everything that God has worked to do in human history since the fall—and I’d really argue even before—is to gather a people to the praise of His glory through His Son. Jesus said in Matthew 6 that the will of the Father who sent Him was that he would lose none of those the Father has given Him. Colossians 1:13 shows us how God has worked this rescue for us: He has rescued us from the domain of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves. (Col. 1:13)

Why have we been transferred into this kingdom? We find the answer to that in 1 Peter 2. 4 As you come to him, a living stone—rejected by people but chosen and honored by God— 5 you yourselves, as living stones, a spiritual house, are being built to be a holy priesthood to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

All God’s actions in human history point us to Jesus Christ—and they’ll continue to do so for eternity.

God’s providence has delivered us to salvation in Jesus Christ so that we can glorify Him. Joseph’s story points us to Jesus in ways that absolutely cannot be accidents and I’m excited to dig into it with you.

To study his life and understand it we need some background. We are jumping into the middle of a story here and I don’t like to do that. I’d love for us to camp out in Genesis sometime but I think that would take us at least a year-and-a-half and I don’t feel like that is where God is leading us right now. We’ll be in these 14 chapters from now until Christmas and that is moving quickly. We’re going to have to be really focused in to not miss some things on the way. But all along the way over the next four months we’ll be reminded that God truly is the main character of this story. He is working in His providence to fulfill promises He has already made in the book of Genesis and He does it mostly invisibly. There are no miracles in these 14 chapters. No flood, no burning bush, no raising of the dead. Just a sovereign God acting in the everyday live of fallen people to accomplish His redemptive purpose.

And that redemptive purpose has been at work since the very beginning of Genesis when Moses introduced us to a sovereign, yet personal God who created a perfect universe and ruled over it while remaining distinct from it. We meet humanity in chapter two—when God creates man and woman in His very own image. We see evil creep into the world as Adam and Eve rebelled against God in chapter 3. . .but we also get a promise. The very first promise of the gospel, in fact.

God looks at the serpent who deceived Adam and Eve and says in 3:15

I will put hostility between you and the woman,

and between your offspring and her offspring.

He will strike your head,

and you will strike his heel.

That’s the very first promise of the Gospel in all the Bible. God is promising that one day He would repair what had been broken in the Garden of Eden. When God sent His son hundreds of years later, Satan bruised His heel—but Jesus crushed the head of sin and death on the cross of Calvary. And here’s God dropping the first Gospel breadcrumb in just the third chapter of Scripture.

The rest of Scripture is the story of God preserving for Himself that offspring. It starts with a family—first in Seth who replaced his fallen brother Abel. Then in Noah in Genesis 6-9 as God reveals both His justice in punishing sin at the flood and His grace in preserving a family through which he would one day bring that offspring.

God enters into a covenant with Noah after the flood and later with a man named Abraham—Joseph’s great grandfather. God promises Abraham some things in Genesis 12:

I will make you into a great nation,

I will bless you,

I will make your name great,

and you will be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you,

I will curse anyone who treats you with contempt,

and all the peoples on earth

will be blessed through you.

God chose Abraham’s family as the family through which the offspring—Jesus—would one day be born. The last part of that promise is my favorite—all the peoples on earth will be blessed through you. That promise finds its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. More specifically in His great commission—Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Mt. 28:19). The promise of blessing to all the peoples of the earth is still being fulfilled today but that fulfillment is only possible through Christ.

We see that picture more fully today, but in Genesis it is revealed piece-by-piece as God works at first through family and begins to build them into a nation. He goes on to tell Abraham in Genesis 15 13 . . . “Know this for certain: Your offspring will be resident aliens for four hundred years in a land that does not belong to them and will be enslaved and oppressed. 14 However, I will judge the nation they serve, and afterward they will go out with many possessions.

This promise to Abraham meets its fulfillment in the life of Joseph. Generations before He was even born God was sovereignly at work to work in Joseph’s life to make him the lynchpin in his plan to take Abraham’s descendants from a family to a nation. The land referenced in Genesis 15 is Egypt, where the Israelites would be enslaved but at the same time they would grow vastly in numbers. And it’s through Joseph that God leads them there.

That’s just a little bit of the family’s back story. We’ll get into more of it in the coming weeks. But we needed to see that Genesis 15 verse because it plays a hugely important role in Joseph’s life. Remember, Joseph isn’t main character here. God is. And Because God’s providence secures His promises here is what going to see that in the first 11 verses of this chapter: God created a situation where Joseph would be hated.

I recognize that’s probably not the most encouraging sermon point that we’ve ever had on the screen here at First Baptist. But it’s the truth of this text and—if God is the main character of the story—it’s not only okay but it’s ultimately good. I’ve said this before and I’ll continue saying it as long as I’m here—we need to understand that God’s primary purpose for our lives is not our own comfort. That was true in Joseph’s life, we saw in our last study how it was very much true in Paul’s life and it’s often true in your life and in mine.

God created a situation where Joseph would be hated and He did it in three ways we’ll see in these first 11 verses.

Because of his behavior, because of father’s favoritism, and because of God’s direct influence Joseph was hated by his brothers to such a degree that in verse 18 they’re going to decide to kill him. And God’s providence is all over this plot. We’ll see that next week but let’s look first at the three reasons Joseph was hated.


At seventeen years of age, Joseph tended sheep with his brothers. The young man was working with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought a bad report about them to their father.

Now, father’s wives is a strange thing to say. Jacob, who God called Israel in Genesis 32, is Joseph’s father and he had children with four different women—two wives and two servants. This is a weird family tree and there’s some things we can learn from it. I know you have questions—as you should. We’ll dive deeper into this messed up family in two weeks. You have to come back for it. If you think your family is messed up, be here September 23.

We know from verse 2 that Joseph was tending sheep with his brothers Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher. Those were his half-brothers and the sons of his father’s servants Bilhah and Zilpah. The brothers play a major role in this story so I wanted to introduce us to them today

Jacob had seven children with his first wife, Leah—Reuben (the oldest and original heir to the family blessing), Simeon, Levi, Judah, Issachar, Zebulun, and Dinah. Dinah won’t matter much in this story but the other brothers will. Jacob had another wife, Rachel. She couldn’t conceive initially, so she gave her servant Bilhah to Jacob to bear children for her and it worked. Bilhah gave birth to Dan and Naphtali. Later on Rachel gave birth to Joseph and Benjamin.

That’s the family. Again, more on them in a couple of weeks. We see in verse 2 that Joseph brought a bad report about Dan, Naphtali, Gad, and Asher to Jacob. The word that is used for ‘bad report’ in verse two is always used in the rest of the Old Testament in the negative sense of an untrue report. It could actually be translated as an evil report. Most likely it was a report of something that was embellished, but partially true. Joseph essentially was a tattler.

Joseph’s own actions planted the seed of hatred in the minds of his brothers. And on top of that, Jacob’s favoritism of Joseph didn’t help matters any. Let’s read on:

3 Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a robe of many colors for him. 4 When his brothers saw that their father loved him more than all his brothers, they hated him and could not bring themselves to speak peaceably to him.

Favoritism had been a problem in Jacob’s childhood. The Bible tells us Jacobs father favored his brother Esau, while his mother favored him. That caused confusion and family strife for Jacob’s entire life and you’d think he would have learned from it but he didn’t. Jacob openly favored Joseph—the oldest son of his favorite wife—more than all his other children.

He favored him so much so that he gave him a garment that bore great significance. Now, I know what it says in our text here and I’ve seen the coloring pages we give out in kid’s ministry . . .but it’s highly unlikely that this garment was a coat of many colors. That was first derived from the Latin translations but there’s nothing in the original Hebrew that says anything about colors here. The text describes a sleeved outer garment that reached to the wrists and knees and it set Joseph apart as the son who would received the blessing—the double portion of the inheritance.

By custom the inheritance should have gone to Reuben, the true firstborn. But Jacob chose Joseph and it angered the brothers so much that they couldn’t even speak to him.

So Joseph’s actions contribute to the brother’s hatred. Jacob’s actions contribute to the brother’s hatred. And if we read on we’ll see how God gets even more directly involved in creating this family strife:

5 Then Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the field. Suddenly my sheaf stood up, and your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”

8 “Are you really going to reign over us?” his brothers asked him. “Are you really going to rule us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream and what he had said.

Not every dream is a vision from God. Sometimes it’s a vision from Taco Bell or the TV show you watched right before bed. But we know this dream is a work of God because it comes true. A number of years later, after the brothers likely think Joseph to be dead and gone we find him as essentially the prime minister of the most powerful nation on the planet. There’s a famine in the land and Jacob and his family are at risk of starving. Joseph’s skillful leadership has left Egypt as one of the only remaining nations with food in reserve and we see in Genesis 42:5-6 5 

The sons of Israel were among those who came to buy grain, for the famine was in the land of Canaan. 6 Joseph was in charge of the country; he sold grain to all its people. His brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground.

God reveals things in Joseph through dreams elsewhere and I have no doubt this dream was an act of God’s providence in Joseph’s life. But look what it does, back in 37:8: 8 “Are you really going to reign over us?” his brothers asked him. “Are you really going to rule us?” So they hated him even more because of his dream and what he had said.

God’s providence directly causes Joseph’s brothers to hate him even more. Does this mean God is bad? Is he mean to Joseph in these verses? I don’t think so. And neither did Joseph.

At the end of the story, in Genesis 50:20 Joseph addresses his brothers this way: 20 You planned evil against me; God planned it for good to bring about the present result—the survival of many people.

God’s providence led Joseph’s brothers to hate him and sell him into slavery—we’ll look at that next week. But it was all to secure the promises God had made to Abraham and ultimately to all the nations of the earth way back in Genesis 15 and Genesis 12 and all the way back to the garden of Eden.

This truth is echoed in the New Testament—in Romans 8:28 We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

In these 11 verses we have a family in turmoil. And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets any better. But God’s got this. There’s one more dream in Genesis 37 I want to read as we close:

9 Then he had another dream and told it to his brothers. “Look,” he said, “I had another dream, and this time the sun, moon, and eleven stars were bowing down to me.”

10 He told his father and brothers, and his father rebuked him. “What kind of dream is this that you have had?” he said. “Am I and your mother and your brothers really going to come and bow down to the ground before you?” 11 His brothers were jealous of him, but his father kept the matter in mind.

Literally, here, Joseph dreams he’s the center of the universe. The story is all about him. I suspect he shares this dream with at least a hint of arrogance and that’s part of what leads the brothers to hate him so.

God’s providence secures His promises. It was true in Joseph’s life and it’s true in yours. Even when it doesn’t make sense and certainly doesn’t look like it. God has promised that all things work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. He doesn’t promise that we’ll understand it. He doesn’t promise it will be easy—and He doesn’t even promise it will get any better on this side of eternity. But if we will understand God is the main character in our story, we’ll be able to see how His providence is at work in your day-to-day life to secure His promises to you much more clearly than you will if you think that you’re at the center of it all.

We sang the a song titled Sovereign Over Us this morning. It was written by Aaron Keyes and starts like this:

There is strength within the sorrow

There is beauty in our tears

And You meet us in our mourning

With a love that casts out fear

You are working in our waiting

You're sanctifying us

When beyond our understanding

You're teaching us to trust

Your plans are still to prosper

You have not forgotten us

You're with us in the fire and the flood

You're faithful forever

Perfect in love

You are sovereign over us

Some of you are in the middle of the fire and the flood. I hope from Joseph’s life you can see God is sovereign over your circumstances this morning. Let’s pray.

Discussion/Study Questions

Lookup Genesis 25:28. What does this verse have in common with Genesis 37:3?

Should Isaac and Jacob have favored any of their children over the others? How can this be hurtful for their families?

Verse 4 tells us Joseph’s brothers hated him. Right or wrong, this feels like the natural human response. Have you ever been angry at someone due to favoritism? How did you handle it?

What were Joseph’s dreams in vv. 4-11?

How did Joseph make his brothers’ hatred of him worse? How could he have handled himself differently?

Why would Joseph’s dreams have been offensive to his brothers?

Do you think his brothers would have reacted differently to hearing about his dreams if they didn’t hate him? How so?