I really love the story of Joseph. It grows and matures with Joseph, while keeping a wonderful thread of iron-clad faithfulness through both times of “feast and famine” (the pun is entirely intended) and crowned ultimately with reconciliation and forgiveness.
We left poor Joseph who had suffered a considerable fall from the great heights of being the “little prince” of a wealthy, nomadic herdsman family. He had been sold as a slave, had made a little progress as a slave until his master’s wife lied about him, and then had been thrown in jail. Through all of this, however, we find a common thread of Joseph’s faithfulness and good stewardship — which was in turn blessed by God. Even in jail Joseph’s good stewardship was noticed and rewarded (at least, as much as you can be rewarded in jail); he was given charge over some high-profile prisoners from Pharaoh’s court, the king’s baker and cupbearer.
One night both the baker and the cupbearer had dreams that troubled them. Ordinarily they’d probably consult a dream interpreter (common enough in ancient Egypt), but prison had sort of a short supply men with such skills. Joseph invited them to share the dreams and tells them that with God’s help he could possibly interpret them for them. The cupbearer’s dream, Joseph said, meant that he would be restored to service to the king in 3 days. The baker, encouraged by the favorable interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream, tells Joseph his dream, too. Sadly, his dream meant that he would be executed in 3 days. When the dreams came to pass just as Joseph had interpreted, Joseph asked a favor of the cupbearer: remember me to the king.
However, the cupbearer did forget about Joseph for about 2 years. You have to imagine that Joseph was feeling pretty abandoned by this time. But just at this point God intervened; He gave Pharaoh a pair of dreams that none of his wise men could interpret. It is then that the cupbearer remembers Joseph to the king. After being cleaned up enough to see the king, Joseph hears and interprets the two dreams of 7 fat cattle/ears of grain being consumed by 7 lean cattle / ears of grain without getting fatter themselves — 7 years of bumper crops followed by 7 years of severe famine. And, oh by the way, Joseph interjects, be sure you get someone wise and prudent to tax the years of plenty in preparation for the years of famine. It ought to be noted here, that Joseph doesn’t take the credit for the interpretation here or earlier — he gives the credit to God. Here is an important principle in accepting praise or honor — the praise and honor always really belongs to God, who gives the talents and skills and opportunities.
Who else should or could do such a job as Joseph had proposed than Joseph the interpreter. Pharaoh chooses to make Joseph the new “grain czar” with the level in his court of grand vizier or prime minister — second in command in all of Egypt. He was given a wife of a high ranking priest and Joseph started a family — giving his sons names that reflected both his years of suffering but also his gratitude for recovery.
Just as God had revealed the years of plenty, it happened just that way, and Joseph faithfully collected surplus grain for Pharaoh. When the years of famine hit, then, Egypt was the only country in the region that had anything to eat. In short order people, including Jacob and his family, started running out of food and turning to Egypt for help.
When Joseph’s brothers turn up looking for food, it had to have been quite a shock to Joseph. He recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. He asked about their family — the only news he had had about his father and brother for about 20 years! And on the surface of it, it seems like Joseph is “playing games” with his brothers by not revealing to them at first who he really was, but after twenty years, I think we have to give Joseph a little lee way to handle the chaos of emotions that had to have been playing around in his head; and it was probably only prudent to play his cards close to the vest, until he got a sense of what kind of men they had become in those 20 years.
What to learn here? Do what’s right, when you are the little prince. Do what’s right when you fall from the heights unjustly. Do what’s right, when you become a slave. Do what’s right, when they lie about you. Do what’s right, when you’re back on top again. No matter the circumstances, do what’s right. It’s easy to write; it’s easy to agree with; but it’s much harder to actually do. Too often, when we’re on top, we’re hardly thinking about God at all. And too often, when we’re scraping bottom, we’re kicking dirt about “the injustice of it all”!
See you tomorrow, Lord willing.