Joseph: From Slavery to Deputy Pharoah
Good morning, Chapel! This morning we pick up where we left off three weeks ago! While I’m sure CH’s Koeman and Herring had great messages, and we, along with you, are always eager to have a variety of voices and perspectives delivering reflections on God’s word, I hope you’re all excited to dive back into our series, The Story, which will take us on a journey through the Bible, with the exception for a few occasional guest preachers, through September. At last we departed our series CH Hornbaker presented, “God Builds a Nation.” Today, we resume with the story of Joseph, “From Slavery to Deputy Pharoah.”
I want to start with Romans 8:28, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
At the age of 23, with 6 years invested in the Army, I decided to hang it up. I had joined the Army in the first place to gain experience and training to become a member of the Anchorage Fire Department, my childhood dream. As a metropolitan-size fire department, no easy feat. First, they only considered people for their department with emergency medical training, not just fire science. Second, there were several hundred applicants from the local Fire Science program competing. And third, they only hired about once every 5 years. This was a dream come true. Not only had I distinguished myself as a combat medic, but I also had flight medic training, regarded by many as the varsity of that career field. I had also begun discerning a call to ministry, at least in some capacity, and I was trying to be obedient. Now, discernment in itself is a tumultuous time in anyone’s life, especially when it’s at a time when everyone else your age seems to be years ahead of you, college graduates, starting their own families. I, especially at this point in life, thought I had God on my side. So, I took the exam with 500+ others and awaited a callback. As I waited and waited, it never came.
There’s a lot more to that story—I assure you—but in the interest of time, I’m going to fast forward a couple weeks to a point when I had become pretty sure that God had laid on my heart that I was going to be in vocational ministry. I had packed my car, for the second time in 6 months, with all my worldly belongings and headed across the country to start school. I was miles to the Canadian border, about a whole day’s drive from Anchorage when I received a call back to take the physical fitness test, the last gate, before being admitted to the fire academy and becoming a probational firefighter. I had been 6 months out of the Army and had no doubt in my mind it was anything but a sure thing. After a brief session of self-pity, I continued on, determined that if I’d let all my certifications expire, they would not serve as a temptation, and began the long track that was in itself fraught with more discernment, frustration, and mixed messages from God, ultimately leading me here.
That’s an oversimplification, for sure, but what I am trying to emphasize is that my childhood dream; not just that, but what I had, up to that point, invested my whole adult life into pursuing, preparing, and training for, began to challenge my decision to follow God.
“Some of God’s greatest gifts are unanswered prayers.”
1. Through the story of Joseph and his brothers, we discover that God’s plans are alwaysbrought to pass.
2. God remains faithful to his covenant promises, saving his chosen people from famine and using Joseph to save all of Egypt.
I chose that experience to share because there was real grief; maybe some of you can relate. I had given up something that wasn’t bad. I felt something akin to affliction for my decision to follow God, perceiving even some semblance of betrayal. I was relying on God’s promise (Prov 3:5,6) “trust[ing] in the LORD with all [my] heart and lean[ing] not on [my] own understanding; in all [my] ways acknowledging him, [that] he [would] make straight my paths. To be fair, He had not promised me anything, but I had felt like he had through discerning my call to ministry. Surely, He was with me. And He is, right? But what does that even mean? Do we not stumble, fall on our faces even? Though Abraham, Issac, and Jacob had received God’s promise, none of them would live to see it fulfilled.
That portion of my story illustrates the point of our series. That in the Bible, there are two storylines. The upper story—God’s story, where the narrative is His fulfilled purpose, and the lower story; the human characters’ story with all of its complexities and details of life, afflicted with the fall. God calls us to capture the upper story and its effects on our lives. God calls us to have faith in his promise, the redemptive act, and dedicate ourselves to the reconciliation work of the Kingdom, establishing on earth communities of support and worship, bringing fulfillment in an otherwise poor and destitute excuse for existence. The story of Joseph is a crystal-clear example of the intertwining of the two storylines in the Bible.
Think of it like the poorly dubbed translations in Kung Fu Movies—God’s portion is the point, the translation; our story is much lengthier—the original recorded language, especially when we’re telling it. Though the words are never synced, the points match.
Though temptation was never far, and it sometimes felt even as if God were testing me, God’s calling upon my life was brought to pass.
Though I sometimes perceived betrayal, God was—and is—never far.
Leading up to where we are today in our series, God gave Abraham this “promised land,” right? Then, there’s a famine almost immediately, and he has to go into Egypt. Now, I’m sure that Abraham had some heartache about that. He probably didn’t like that and perhaps even felt a little betrayed. I mean, he was obedient, right? What are you doing here, God? And the dubbed translation was thus, but Abraham’s still moving his mouth.
We know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” Rom 8:28
Spoiler, God’s plan continued, and that brings us to this morning, where the stage is set for Joseph.
Now, I know that many of us know the story of Joseph; if you don’t, I encourage you to read it. It takes up the last 13 chapters of Genesis 37-50. But I’ll tell you what, the word of God is living and active (Heb 4:12). What many of us, when we simply look at the big picture, his morality, or the Character of Joseph; we miss what’s going on below the surface, his story.
So, this morning we look at longsuffering because it’s a choice to be patient in your suffering. It’s a virtue because if you weren’t virtuous, you probably wouldn’t suffer; you’d give in. The lower story today is about clothes and dreams, and perhaps if you’re familiar with the story of Joseph, that’s what you focused on. The upper story, though, is about bloodlines and blessings. Now Joseph was a young man, and he was a little brother, and I’m a little brother. My point is that we all have criticisms; what I mean is that we bring our perspectives, they come from our predispositions; socio-economic, age, gender, and so on, and it’s important to be aware of them so as to not project them onto Scripture. Still, they also help us understand the world around us and to better appreciate how others fit into the Kingdom. Because the Bible isn’t meant to be interpreted alone but in fellowship. Again, because the word of God is living and active, we can’t put it in a box, and we do a great disservice to say that we grasp all that is within it.
Beginning in Genesis 37: 1Jacob lived in the land where his father had stayed, the land of Canaan. 2These are the family records of Jacob.
So here we have the called people of God; they’re in the Promised Land, they’re going to build a nation, they’re supposed to increase in number.
3Joseph, a young man of seventeen, was tending the flocks with his brothers, the sons of Bilhah and the sons of Zilpah, his father’s wives, and he brought their father a bad report about them.
He’s a tattle-tale. It doesn’t say that. I’m sorry.
I’m a counselor, so I’m just going to call it what it is. The picture painted here of this family is textbook dysfunction. There are 2 wives, 12 sons with 4 different women; lots of conflict. Conflict between the wives, conflict between the sons.
3Now Israel loved Joseph more than his other sons because Joseph was a son born to him in his old age, and he made a long-sleeved robe for him.
Do you think this helps or hurts the conflict? Right, this favoritism causes additional disputes in the family.
Picture a military family with a couple mirages and huge age gaps between the kids. The father is still serving; let’s say he’s a field grade, and several of the older ones have already enlisted. Now you’ve got this baby, daddy’s dependent, who’s still young enough to be cute with the little kids’ uniforms, you know, dress-up, and what’s he wearing, private rank? No, he’s daddy’s baby.
4When 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.
Multiple authors in the Bible will cite this robe. It was significant. Most likely, it was a sign that Joseph was going to be the one receiving the inheritance. Ruben is the oldest one. But this Joseph story isn’t about Joseph; it’s about the heir of the promise. The Promised Land includes a seed through which a messiah from Genesis 3:15 is eventually going to come. The heir is the one whose family line is going to be blessed; who’s it going to be? That’s what this story is about.
5Then Joseph had a dream. When he told it to his brothers, they hated him even more. 6He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7There 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.”
He’s telling them they’re going to worship him. And he didn’t do it just once. It happened a couple times, even his parents, he says, they’re all going to end up bowing down. Are any other younger brothers out there? If you had told this to your bigger brothers, do you think they would respond any differently? Probably not. And do big brothers take responsibility for anything? Of course not; they would say you had it coming, right?
8“Are you really going to reign over us?”
They say in verse eight, and in verse nine, we’re told he has another dream, and it’s detailed there. But you can see where this is going.
12His brothers had gone to pasture their father’s flocks at Shechem. 13Israel said to Joseph, “Your brothers, you know, are pasturing the flocks at Shechem. Get ready. I’m sending you to them.”
Now, last time he brought back a report. What kind of report was it? It was a bad report. He snitched. That might tell you something about the brothers, too, that maybe they’re up to no good. But does anyone want to be snitched on, especially by the favorite? Probably not.
I also want to note that Jacob tells Joseph to “get ready” in verse 13. That means that he’s aware, to some degree, of this ongoing conflict. And what’s really at the heart of this conflict? Joseph is having dreams—given to him by God, and he’s being obedient at a certain cost to himself, right? Now, that resonates with my story; I’m sure some of you can also imagine what that’s like.
Christians, what do we do when we’re anxious, when we’re heavy-hearted, or burdened by our walk? Pray! And I imagine he did, but we’re not told about that, so we have no frame of reference whether he asked for delivery from his persecution or for strength to endure, but through Joseph’s story, we know God’s plans are always brought to pass, and that God always remains faithful.
But Joseph may not have known that. He didn’t have scriptures, and there was no nation of Israel. To this point, there are three generations of story, and some examples of provision and good looking out, but not a lot of reason to believe in the promise he hadn’t even received yet. In any case, we see in his response, “I’m ready,” what I take away from that is that unanswered prayers give us an opportunity to trust God and challenge us to grow.
So, the E4 mafia, excuse me, the brothers were up to no good last time; what might be happening this time? They might be up to no good, and he might tattle on them, and they might get in trouble, right? So look what happens:
18They saw him in the distance, and before he had reached them, they plotted to kill him. 19They said to one another, “Oh, look, here comes that dream expert! 20So 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!”
So, Ruben says, don’t shed blood. Rather, proposing they throw him in the pit because he’s secretly plotting against them, even. He intends to rescue him from their hands and return him to his father. What a swell guy, right? Except Ruben is the oldest. He’s already slept with dad’s concubine, trying to take over the family lines. Ruben’s actually already been disqualified. Will Dad give him the blessing now, after he tried to take over? No, he will not. So, what is most likely happening is that he’s trying to get back into his father’s good graces.
So they do this, and then they sit down and eat. They’re eating a meal—Joseph’s in a pit. The irony here is that the next time they eat a meal in the presence of Joseph will be when they go to Egypt because they have no food, and Joseph is Deputy Pharoah.
They looked up and saw a caravan of Ishmaelites; these are the descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s son through Hagar, rather than Isaac, the heir of the blessing, and Judah proposes they sell him for money rather than letting him die for nothing.
Afterward: 31…they took Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a male goat, and dipped the robe in its blood. 32They sent the long-sleeved robe to their father and said, “We found this. Examine it. Is it your son’s robe or not?”
33His father recognized it. “It is my son’s robe,” he said. “A vicious animal has devoured him. Joseph has been torn to pieces!” 34Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth around his waist, and mourned for his son for many days. 35All 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.
36Meanwhile, the Midianites sold Joseph in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh and the captain of the guards.
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
So, Joseph’s been sold into slavery, taken down to Egypt, and his story picks back up in chapter 39, where he becomes Potiphar’s servant. And here’s where most people focus, the boundless character and integrity of Joseph. That he resists the pleas of Potiphar’s wife to sleep with her. What I find interesting is that, here, again, a coat comes into play or a cloak this time. As he flees, he leaves behind that cloak. This time it’s evidence that she uses that he tried to rape her. Last time his coat was the evidence that he’d been murdered by an animal.
So, Joseph ends up in prison. Most of you know the story to some degree, but he is forgotten about for years until the Pharaoh has a dream that can’t be interpreted. At this point, I’m willing to bet he felt a little betrayed. He was just being obedient, right? While he’s down there, poorly dubbed lips still moving, asking God what he’s doing, God was and is working for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
For the sake of time, we have to fast-forward. There are 13 chapters, and I summarized the second one. If we skip to Genesis chapter 40, verse 46, we see that he’s now 30 years old. One more reason I resonate with him a bit; that’s how old I was when I reentered active duty, starting a new life, finally getting some affirmation. For 13 years total, he was a prisoner.
So, Joseph had prophesied a famine, that’s what he was exalted for, and it would come after the seven years of abundance in which he advised Pharoah to stock up. Hence, we’re at some point in his late 30s when his brothers arrive in search of food. They get their food, they go back home, and they come back a little while later and get more food. Joseph keeps one of his brothers, Simeon, in prison. They eventually bring Benjamin, and at the end of the story, Joseph is there, revealed as their brother, and they eat together.
That’s the person of Joseph. But what’s the plot line? The plot line is a bit different.
Technically, our Joseph story is Genesis 37, 39, 41-48,50. Well, that’s weird; why take breaks? Why the interruptions? Many people think chapter 38 doesn’t belong here, but it does. Because God’s story is about the heir of the promise. What house is Jesus from?
In chapter 38, You see Judah, he marries a foreigner. Isaac, his grandfather, told Jacob not to marry a Canaanite. Jacob’s brother Esau had married a foreign woman, and he lost his birthright, and now we see Judah. So, Judah, kind of like prince Harry, he’s not in the line of succession, not by a long shot, and figures he’s going to do his own thing. He doesn’t concern himself with what God wants, not worried about blessings, the promised land…
Fast forward many years, all captured in the 30 verses of chapter 38, but he’s old now. Two kids. You’d think God wouldn’t care, but he actually smites his firstborn. Not only that, but Judah tells his secondborn to sleep with his firstborn’s wife; that’s the way it worked; it was all about bloodline. Breeding can’t stop, you have to continue the family, and that’s what a woman was responsible for. Onan doesn’t want to. He wants to be his father’s heir; if he continues his brother’s bloodline, he writes himself out. Pass. So, God smites him too.
How many tribes of Israel? Judah has two sons that are dead. He has a third son, and he should go to Tamar, the firstborn’s wife, for the same reason, but the common denominator here is this woman. So, Judah sends her packing. Not just no, but go home with her parents. Not released from his household, mind you, go marry or kill someone else, but home until his son is grown. But what’s that mean about her? Not going to be of childbearing age. This is embarrassing, disgraceful even; he’s disrespecting her family.
Verse 12 says after a long time, Judah’s wife died. When Judah had finished mourning, he and his friend went up to the sheep shearers. This is something done in the spring, after the winter, and it’s festive. When they sheep shear, they have a party. The mourning clothes are off, and he is going with his buddy. But someone’s got an axe to grind. Tamar finds out. She changes her clothes too. She takes off her drab widow’s outfit and veils her face with a flashy decorative something, maybe akin to thigh-length boots; anyhow, Judah sees her and thinks she’s a prostitute.
In verse 16, he propositions her, and she graciously accepts, but in verse 18, demands his signet ring, his cord, and his staff. A deal’s a deal, and she gets pregnant. Fast forward to verse 24, Judah finds out—this girl—a member of his house, technically betrothed to his son, though he was never going to honor that, is pregnant! The outrage, she has shammed him, oh no… Kill her, he says.
Wouldn’t you know, remember the cloak that symbolized Joseph’s birthright. It’s a focus of attention in both the story with the brothers and the story with Potiphar’s wife in chapters 37 and 39. It culminates here in chapter 38 when Tamar tells her father-in-law, “[she is] pregnant by the man to whom these items belong” (Gen 38:25).
And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.
God has a soft spot for those who repent. This is a turning point in Judah’s life. Judah humbles himself. Judah recognizes that he’s been living in sin; he has not been living for God or doing what he should have been doing.
Like Ruth, Tamar had accepted the family to which she was bonded, and she was loyal and faithful to that family. She, not Judah, stands out as the hero. For raising up the family and not letting the family line die, she is rewarded and grafted into the lineage of the Messiah. God uses her to bring Jesus into the world.
The lower story is about Joseph, and he’s playing a part—but a whole other part. The point here is that God is Lord over the upper and all the lower stories, the extraordinary and the trivial alike. If he cared about this Canaanite woman, how much more so you, for whom the Son was sent to save.
God remains faithful to his covenant promises, preserving his chosen people through this story and our own. God’s plans are always brought to pass.