Building a People of God With Unusual Characters: Joseph, Part 2: Building A Better Character

Building a People of God With Unusual Characters  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  37:16
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Building a People of God with Unusual Characters

Well, last week you heard me begin the story of Jacob’s 11th son, Joseph. As I said, Joseph’s story takes most of the last 12 chapters of Genesis—about 1/4 of the book. And we find out how God takes this first son of Jacob and his beloved Rachel, who is the 11th son of Jacob, and brings him from a place of prideful prominence in his family down into the depths of slavery and up to the management of a state official’s household and down into the depths of wrongful imprisonment and up to the management of the stores of wheat in Egypt, and finally his role to make Pharoah the richest ruler of the ancient world. In the process of this, he resettles his family to Egypt, which was far from the Promised Land, where they all would eventually end up as slaves in the following generations until our next unusual character, Moses, is used by God to bring them out.
Thank you all for enduring the recorded message last week, while I was finishing my vacation cruise with Bobbi, headed south from Alaska. I had the opportunity to preach onboard the ship last Sunday at the 1:00 PM worship led by the cruise director, so those who attended got an abbreviated version of the same message you heard.
Today we move into the second message on Joseph, picking up where we left him last week, paying the penalties of too much pride which nearly got him murdered but did instead get him sold into slavery.
This is where we find Joseph now, in chains (or at least bound) and being led off to a life of slavery in Egypt as his distant, estranged cousins descended from Ishmael, the disowned first son of Abram by his wife’s servant Hagar the Egyptian.
>>>What is going on in this story of Joseph is this:

God Sometimes Needs to Clarify the Character of His People

Now, in Genesis 37, we found Joseph as a 17-year-old overseer of his elder brothers in the care of Jacob’s herds. Jacob is also called his new name Israel at places in the story to come. These are hints to us that there were at least 2 streams of the stories of the Patriarchs that have been combined into our records in Genesis over the centuries. One prefer’s Jacob’s birth name, the other prefers the significance of the renaming of Jacob as Israel.
In the same way, in the story we read today, there are two streams of the story that have been combined, but this time it is evident by one’s use of the Lord’s proper name Yahweh, and the other’s use of the more generic word for God, as we use it in English. In Hebrew the word for God is “El”.
Anyway, that is a very brief description of how the scholars apply a practice of textual criticism to help their studies of the origins of the original records before they were collected as we have them now.
So Joseph, the 17-yr-old son of Rachel, as we shared last week, had this pride problem that nearly got him murdered, and did get him bound to Egypt as a slave of whomever would pay the highest price for this young man.
Just think of from where he came. From the most favored position in his father’s household, and wearing the fancy coat that was a sign of some authority, Jacob was stripped of his robe and his role, thrown into a water pit in the pastures a week’s walk north of where his father was, and left to die if God allowed it.
His father was shown his torn and bloodied robe and thought he was dead. Ripped away from his father’s favor and love, Joseph began to understand somewhere along the caravan trails to Egypt that there would be no rescue mission.
He came from a place of pride to a place of dishonor; a place of importance to a place of servitude; a place of personal independence to a place of complete dependence upon the protection of God and the mercy of others.
God has some work to do in the character of Joseph, so that his character might be re-formed into what God wanted to use. And for Joseph, this would be a harder path than his father’s voluntary indenture to win Rachel as his bride.
>>>Now, of course, we know that . . .

Joseph Had Dreams

as a young man, that clearly pointed to his future role in the story God’s people. But I am sure he never thought of it being in Egypt. I wonder how much he talked with God about his dreams while he trudged along,
The dream of the Sheaves that he first shared with his brothers that made them hate him even more was a kind of vision of their journey to buy grain.
Then there was the dream of the Sun, Moon and Stars all bowed down to Joseph would be realized in part when the extended famine led to his whole family and their wealth being imported into Egypt under Joseph’s arrangements with Pharaoh.
But Joseph had no idea that his dreams would work out this way right now.
Stripped of his robe, stripped of his father’s favor, stripped of his hopes and stripped of his freedom, we can see from our reading of scripture that these terrible events came about because. . .

Joseph Had Too Much Pride

And not enough wisdom to keep these dreams of dominance to himself, instead sharing them with the all the headstrong pride of a 17-year-old overseer of his brother’s work who thought the world he lived in was his oyster.
Most of his brothers plotted to murder him, but Reuben intervened.
At first left alone in a deep, dark pit with no hope of escape, his immediate answer to his prayers to get out of this situation would not work out as a 17-year-old might have thought.
He wasn’t removed and restored to a place where he could demand justice from his murderous siblings.
Not at all. The record in Genesis instead tells us that. . .

Joseph Was Sold Into Slavery

As revenge from his older half-brothers, on the sudden insight of Judah when the caravan of Ishmaelites and the traders of Midian just happened to show up at lunchtime (by God’s grace, really).
He was priced at 20 pieces of silver, a couple coins for each of the boys to bribe them all into silence, as the youngest brother was probably told that they could do this to him even more easily than they did it to Joseph.
>>>But at least Joseph’s life was preserved, because. . .

Joseph Had Talents God Wanted to Use

This is where the story reminds us that the talents and skills we each have are not strictly our own, however hard we have worked to hone and develop them. Every talent we have is a gift of God; every strength we have is a design of God, and every skill we have is a tool that God wants to use for His own purposes.
I really don’t think this became clear to Joseph for a number of years after his enslavement. I think that his first success in the house of Potiphar might have come from a young man’s own imaginations of his self-importance. It takes us a while to learn to be useful for God.
>>>Yet, through all that was about to happen, many years later Joseph would save his family—and Egypt—from starvation. But First,

God Needed to Train Joseph’s Character

And God doesn’t waste the situation of Joseph in the coming years, just like he doesn’t waste whatever it is that we have gone through.
It seems that, in that long journey as a slave, for sale to the highest bidder, Joseph began to learn the lessons of relying on the God of his fathers for his hope and safety.
The forced humility of slavery was part of God’s way of training Joseph’s character to serve others as he served God.
>>>And so, from this point in Joseph’s story, God becomes much more important in his life. But first,

Joseph Became A Slave In Egypt

The part of Joseph’s story we are sharing today is from Genesis chapters 39 and 40. There is an unfortunate story of his older brother Judah’s misadventures with his daughter-in-law in chapter 38 that isn’t important to us at this point.
So picking up the story again from the last verse of chapter 37, we read in the first verse of chapter 39,
Genesis 39:1 CSB
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.
We don’t know much about Potiphar except for these records that surround Joseph’s story. Just that he was an officer in Pharaoh’s army, here listed as captain of the guards, which would have put him in a role of some importance in the protection of the king of Egypt.
>>>The good news for Potiphar is that his purchase turned out to be a wise investment, for. . .

What Joseph Did, God Prospered

which places Joseph in the house of his master instead of in the fields or brickyards. And As we read in Genesis,
Genesis 39:2–3 CSB
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,
So from his position of slave, Yahweh God’s activity in Joseph’s life turned him into a success for his master’s service.
We read through this in just a couple of Bible verses, but remember, this kind of change in situation and position does not happen overnight.
First Joseph had to learn the language. Then he had to see the way things worked on his master’s estate. Remember that Joseph’s father was a nomadic shepherd that lived most of his life in a tent. Joseph had to learn what it was like to manage a more settled society in Egypt.
He had to make his offers to serve in the next step up, and then prove himself able, and do this again and again and again until he finally got in to his master’s household through the slave’s entrance.
>>>Then he had to keep at his tasks, working as a slave, not a superior, long enough for his master to see that Joseph’s work was what was prospering him. Until, finally, Joseph was seen as . . .

A Trustworthy Man Who Blessed His Master

which was happening because God was with him. Joseph’s work and skills and talents made him valuable to Potiphar, and so we read,
Genesis 39:4–5 CSB
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.
Partly our story shows a bit of bigotry, as the Hebrew takes control of the affairs of the Egyptian. Joseph may be the newcomer, but he is the one who rises above all others, including all that Egypt had to offer, to manage his master’s household.
And not only was Joseph a shining example of Hebrew skills, he was also. . .

A prime example of Hebrew strength

Which is what allowed him to take control of his own situation, working now as a servant more than a slave, trusted in his master’s household, manager of all he saw, and maybe the best-looking guy in the house of Potiphar as well.
>>>For Genesis records that. . .
Genesis 39:6 CSB
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.
And now the trouble really begins. Joseph had a relatively cushy job, for a slave, as estate manager serving inside his master’s house. Of course, God was teaching Joseph to put to use his greatest talents for the good of others.
But, while Joseph’s position was cushy,

The Master’s Wife Had the Hots for Joseph

And just couldn’t stop thinking about him. Every day, she would pass by and see him at work, observing him from every angle, obviously, and finally,
Genesis 39:7 CSB
7 After some time his master’s wife looked longingly at Joseph and said, “Sleep with me.”
Which was more than bold, however, as the wife of the slave’s owner, she probably thought that she had the rights of the slaveowner over this young man, even thought it was crossing some lines that shouldn’t be crossed. She was totally infatuated with the strong, handsome, talented young man who was managing the house.
>>>But while the offer was probably tempting,

Joseph Was Still Trustworthy

Which was something new he had learnt in these years of slavery. It was a loyalty to the house in which he worked, and a recognition of responsibility as well as an understanding of morality that he had now determined was important to uphold.
>>>The story says,
Genesis 39:8–9 CSB
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?”
We see there is still some sense of pride in the heart of Joseph, as he says “no one in this house is greater than I am,” but it is also surrounded by this sense of morality and a greater loyalty to the God who had preserved him than to his Egyptian slaveowner. “So how could I do this immense evil, and how could I sin against God?”

Potiphar’s Wife Was Insistent

but that didn’t change Joseph’s resolve. This wasn’t just a one-time offer that Joseph spurned. She kept after Joseph in the absence of her husband Potiphar,
>>>until finally she set a trap.
Genesis 39:10–12 CSB
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.
It may be one thing to be refused by a common servant, but to be spurned by the household manager put her in a very dangerous position,

She Hid Her Lust With A False Charge

because she couldn’t afford to lose all that she had because of this Hebrew she had eyes for.
>>>She had the perfect evidence in hand for an accusation against Joseph:
Genesis 39:13–15 CSB
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.”
Well, Joseph no longer had a voice in the matter.
>>>No trial, no defense. and

Joseph Ends Up In The King’s Prison

because of the lies of his master’s wife.
Genesis 39:19–20 CSB
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.
Yet even in this situation,

God Stayed With Joseph

as the scripture records.
Genesis 39:21 CSB
21 But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him. He granted him favor with the prison warden.
So that even in prison, with a charge against him that involved his master’s own wife, Joseph found favor with the warden.

God Helped Joseph Put His Talents to Work

Genesis 39:22–23 CSB
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.

Pharaoh’s Officers Get Canned, Joseph Serves Them

Genesis 40:2–4 CSB
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.

God Gave Joseph the Talent to Clarify Other’s Dreams

The Sad Stories of Pharaoh’s Servants

Genesis 40:5–6 CSB
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.

Joseph Offers to Interpret

Genesis 40:7–8 CSB
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.”

The Cupbearer’s Dream

Genesis 40:9–11 CSB
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.”

The Good News for the Cupbearer

Genesis 40:12–13 CSB
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.

Joseph’s Plea for a Positive Review

Genesis 40:14–15 CSB
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.”

The Baker’s Dream

Genesis 40:16–17 CSB
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.”

Bad News for the Baker

Genesis 40:18–19 CSB
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.”

The Interpretations Are True

Genesis 40:20–22 CSB
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.

Joseph’s Hopes Are Dashed

Genesis 40:23 CSB
23 Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
And isn’t that just how it goes in life? You do someone a huge favor and you are promised that they won’t forget you. But alas, people are people. They don’t often do it for orneriness, just because their own lives get busy and the problem you had fixed for them isn’t a problem anymore, so they forget you.
And so, like some of us are used to, it would be another few years before Joseph was remembered by the Chief Cupbearer to Pharoah and finally brought out of the King’s Prison. We’ll be on that part of the story next week.

God Allows Life’s Challenges to Clarify Joseph’s Character

And in the same way,

God Allows Life’s Challenges to Clarify Our Character

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