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Joseph in Prison

Today we continue looking at the story of Joseph. For those who may not have been with us for these past few weeks, Joseph was a young man, who, although the favourite of his father, was hated by his brothers. I won’t rehash the backstory of why that was, but they hated him so much that they were willing to kill him! In fact, one day they grabbed him and threw him in a pit and left him to die. But then, through the providence of God, a roving band of slave traders came by and so rather than leaving him to die, they decided to sell Joseph as a slave to these slave traders instead.

To make a long story short, Jospeh’s new owners took him down to Egypt where he was sold to a man named Potiphar – who happened to be the captain of the the guard for Pharaoh.

And as Mike shared with us two week ago, the Lord was with Joseph – even in slavery – and Joseph quickly rose in the ranks among the slaves in Potiphar’s house – eventually becoming the head of the household – with no one having more authority than he did (except of course for Potiphar himself).

Mike also noted that the Bible described Joseph as being very handsome and well-built. Potiphar’s wife made note of that as well and she tried relentlessly to convince Joseph to sleep with her. But Joseph wouldn’t do it. He wouldn’t sin against his master Potiphar and he would not sin against God.

This didn’t sit well with Mrs. Potiphar and so one day, after her advances were once again rejected by Joseph, she falsely accused Joseph of trying to sleep with her. She painted him as the bad guy and Joseph ended up being thrown into prison.

And so that’s where we last left Joseph a couple weeks ago. And you’ve really got to appreciate the roller coaster ride that Joseph life has been so far. It’s just a series of highs and then lows, highs and then lows – over and over again.

  • He was the favourite of his father – but all his brothers hated him.
  • His dad honored him with a beautiful coat of many colours – then his brother’s threw him in a pit and left him to die.
  • He was was rescued from that pit – only to be sold as a slave.
  • He rose to be the head of Potiphar’s house – but then falsely accused and thrown in prison.

It’s just one thing after another after another….

But throughout the story we get this cool little reminder – there’s a phrase that keeps popping up: (I think it comes up 4 times in Genesis 39…) And it’s that phrase that I want to start with today. I think I’m overlapping a little bit with where Mike left off, but I want to start in Genesis chapter 39, starting at verse 21.

 “But the Lord was with Joseph…” Genesis 39:21a

Through all the ups and downs, the Lord was with Joseph. And I’m sure there were times when Joseph probably felt completely abandoned by God – but God never left his side. God didn’t leave him alone in that pit. He didn’t leave him alone as a slave. And He didn’t leave him alone in the prison. The Lord was with Joseph. In fact, verse 21 continues…

21 But the Lord was with Joseph in the prison and showed him his faithful love. And the Lord made Joseph a favorite with the prison warden. 22 Before long, the warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners and over everything that happened in the prison. 23 The warden had no more worries, because Joseph took care of everything. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed. Genesis 39:21-23

Just like how Joseph rose to a position of great authority in Potiphar’s house, again, he did the very same thing even in the prison. The Lord was with him and caused everything he did to succeed.

I find it pretty interested that every time Joseph gets knocked down or set back or has his whole world turned upside down, he doesn’t have a meltdown or give up or turn bitter. Instead, he presses on – doing his best in whatever his situation, and time after time, he rises above his circumstances – he rises above everyone else in those same circumstances. You’ve got to wonder, how does he do it?

Well, as Mike pointed out, a major part of that is because the Lord was with him. God caused everything he did to succeed because God had a particular plan for Joseph’s life.

But in addition to God’s involvement with Joseph’s life, I think there had to be something about Joseph’s character as well.

If Joseph had been a lazy, selfish, bitter young man, I don’t think that he would have risen above everyone else in Potiphar’s house or risen above everyone else in the prison.

Because, think about it: For someone like Potiphar – who was a man of signifiant authority – he was the captain of the guard – the head Pharaoh’s elite men – for him to give Joseph absolute control over his entire house, Joseph had to be a man of impressive character.

I was talking with Greg earlier this week and we talked a little bit about FAT people! 

FAT = F – Faithful A – Available T – Teachable

I believe that Joseph was FAT.

FAT people are the kind of people that rise through the ranks and get put into positions of authority. I know I’m always looking for those kind of people in the church. If I ran a business, I’d sure be looking for FAT people to work for me. Those are the people that I want to put in charge. Those are the kind of people I want on our church board. Those are the kinds of people I want my children to be. Faithful – available – teachable.

And just on that side note – are you FAT?  Do you show yourself to be faithful to God and to others? Do people know that they can count on you? If you say that you are going to do something – do people know what you will do it? Are you the kind of person who shows up to every practice? 

Are you the kind of person who never arrives late for work?

Are you the kind of person who faithfully attends church every Sunday?

Those are all little things – but they show that you are faithful. Are you faithful?

Are you available? When someone asks for help, are you available? And I don’t mean “Is your schedule clear at any particular moment?” – but do you intentional make yourself available to others?

Whether it’s to help move a piano into the basement or to volunteer in the kids corner or just to take five minutes to chat with the neighbour – are you available? 

  • When your kid wants to show you some little thing that they made or to tell you a story about their day – are you available to them? 
  • When God prompts you to go talk to that lady in the grocery store – are you available to God? 

Because being available isn’t about how busy you are – it’s about making the choice to be available to others. Are you available?

And are you teachable? 

  • When your boss asks you to do something a certain way – even though you’ve done it your way for years – are you willing to try it a different way? Are you teachable? 
  • When your spouse or kids points out a mistake you’ve made – and they may not even do it very tactfully, but you know its true – do you accept it and make the necessary change? Are you teachable? 
  • When God points outs an area of weakness in your life (maybe a sin that you didn’t even realize before) – but when He brings it to your attention, do you confess and repent? Or just make excuses? Are you teachable?

God does some pretty amazing things through people who are faithful, available, and teachable. I’m convinced that Joseph was exactly that – he was FAT and I hope that each one of us grows more FAT every day!

But to get back to our story, because he is so FAT, Jospeh is now in charge of the entire prison and he oversees all the other prisoners. The warden doesn’t concern himself about a thing because Joseph’s got it covered. So let’s see what happens next – we’ll pick it up in chapter 40 now – starting at verse 1.

Some time later, Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and chief baker offended their royal master. 2 Pharaoh became angry with these two officials, 3 and he put them in the prison where Joseph was, in the palace of the captain of the guard. 4 They remained in prison for quite some time, and the captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, who looked after them. Genesis 40:1-4

I find it interesting that it was the captain of the guard who assigned Joseph to take care of these two new prisoners. Because who was the captain of the guard? Potiphar.

I think that fits nicely with Mike’s theory that Potiphar may not have fully believed Mrs. Potiphar’s story. A man like Potiphar was probably much more inclined to execute criminals than just throwing them into prison. And so the fact that Joseph wasn’t put to death was already an indication that Potiphar maybe wasn’t convinced that Joseph did the things Potiphar’s wife claimed. And now to see that Potiphar was still entrusting things to Joseph’s care seems to make that argument even stronger.

I think Potiphar knew that Joseph was FAT and so he continued to give Joseph more and more responsibility even in prison.

Now I don’t know exactly what it meant for Joseph to ‘look after’ these guys as it says in verse 4 – whether that meant giving them their food rations or supervising their work duties or just making sure they stayed alive – I don’t really know what all that entailed, but it’s clear that Jospeh took a personal interest in the well-being of these two fellows – the cup-bearer and the baker. It says in verse 5…

5 While they were in prison, Pharaoh’s cup-bearer and baker each had a dream one night, and each dream had its own meaning. 6 When Joseph saw them the next morning, he noticed that they both looked upset. 7 “Why do you look so worried today?” he asked them. Genesis 40:5-7

Now pause here for a second…. Again, I think this speaks volumes to Joseph’s character. Instead of wallowing in his own self-pity, moping around thinking ‘woe is me’ – which, after all that he had been through, wouldn’t have been surprising – but instead of that, we see Joseph thinking about others – paying attention to the fact that they seemed a little down. He wasn’t all concerned about his own troubles – he was concerned about the troubles of others.

And I think that’s pretty amazing. I don’t know about you, but I have a hard time paying attention to the feelings of others at the best of times – let alone when I’m feeling down – when my world isn’t going along perfectly. But here’s Joseph, after being betrayed by his brothers, sold into slavery, falsely accused by his master’s wife and thrown into prison – here he is – noticing that these two new guys are looking a little down this morning and wants to see what he can do to help them.

I have a hard time relating that. 

If you remember last fall at our family camp, we all took those spiritual gifts tests that are designed to help us see some of the ways that God has uniquely created and gifted us? Well, I think I mentioned this to you then, but whenever I take those test, the gift of mercy is always one of my absolute lowest gifts.

Noticing the hurts and struggles of other people is just not something that I naturally do well. And I apologize if as your pastor, I’ve neglected to notice and comfort you in your struggles. It’s not that I’ve purposely ignored you – I’m probably just a little bit oblivious.

And I don’t say that as an excuse, because God has called everyone of us to pay attention and to care for one another.

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” Galatians 6:2-3

Even if we don’t have the ‘gift of mercy’ – even if it doesn’t come naturally to us – it’s important that we notice and care for the people around us – because that’s exactly what God has done for us. Philippians 2:4 says…

4 “Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. 

5 You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

6 Though he was God,

    he did not think of equality with God

    as something to cling to.

7 Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;

    he took the humble position of a slave

    and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form,

8     he humbled himself in obedience to God

    and died a criminal’s death on a cross.” Philippians 2:4-8

Jesus was the ultimate example in taking an interest in others. It wasn’t for his sake that he took on humanity. It wasn’t for his benefit that he died a criminal’s death on a cross. He did all that for our sake.

He took note of our hurts and our struggles – he could have ignored us and just left us to wallow in our sins and to continue to be separated from him forever. But he didn’t do that. He cared enough for us to provide exactly what we needed. He became a man and took our punishments on himself and provided a way for us to be free from our sin and to have eternal life.

That’s what Jesus did for us.  That’s how he shared our burdens. That’s how he took an interest in us.

And we need to do the same. Like Joseph, we need to make sure that we’re not so wrapped up in ourselves and in our own problems that we ignore the hurts and the struggles of the people around us.

We can have confidence that God is going to take good care of us – but he’s commissioned us to take care of the people around us.

And I think this is particularly fitting to talk about on Father’s Day. One of the earmarks of a godly father is a man who doesn’t “look out only for his own interests, but takes an interest in others, too.”

I know many times I’ll be working away at something and one of my kids will come up to me and have some story to tell me or have something little trinket show me or whatever, but I’m in the middle of something. I’m focused and I know that whatever it is that have to tell me isn’t really that urgent. And many times I’m tempted to brush them off, or tell them I’m too busy right now or whatever. But then I remember that verse we read earlier…

“Share each other’s burdens, and in this way obey the law of Christ. 3 If you think you are too important to help someone, you are only fooling yourself. You are not that important.” Galatians 6:2-3

That last sentence is such a good reminder for us dads. “You are not that important.” 

I am not that important. The project that I’m working on isn’t that important. The hockey game that I’m watching is not that important. The to-do list that I’m trying to get through is not that important.

But my kids are. And my wife is. And the people around me are.

The people in my life are that important. And God has called me to help carry their burdens – to take an interest in them – not to be all wrapped up in myself.

But you know, I fail at this a lot more than I ought. Far too many times, I’m so wrapped up in me and what’s going on in my world and how I’m feeling – that I ignore the people that God has put in my life for the very purpose of me helping to carry their burdens. That’s my job as a dad. That’s my job as a husband. That’s my job as a pastor, as a neighbor, as a friend. To take an interest in others and to help carry their burdens.

Well, that’s just what Joseph did. He noticed that these two guys were looking upset and so he asked them what was upsetting them. We find their reply in verse 8.

8 And they replied, “We both had dreams last night, but no one can tell us what they mean.”

“Interpreting dreams is God’s business,” Joseph replied. “Go ahead and tell me your dreams.” Genesis 40:8

And just before we continue and read about their dreams, I wonder if Joseph was thinking about his own dreams at this point? …Those dreams he had back when he was living at home – enjoying being the favourite of his father? …Those dreams that seemed to indicate that one day, his entire family would bow before him?

Because as far fetched as that seemed back then, it was an absolute impossibility now. I mean, here he is in Egypt, as a slave in prison… Not much hope his family bowing down to him there….

So I wonder what was going through Joseph’s mind as he said “Interpreting dreams is God’s business. Go ahead and tell me your dreams.”

We don’t know at this point if Joseph was just being trying to be a kind, listening ear to these guys or if he believed that God would explain the dreams through him somehow – but at the very least, Joseph had confidence that if anyone could interpret these dreams – it would be God. Interpreting dreams was God’s business.

And so the chief cup-bearer went first. It says in verse 9…

9 So the chief cup-bearer told Joseph his dream first. “In my dream,” he said, “I saw a grapevine in front of me. 10 The vine had three branches that began to bud and blossom, and soon it produced clusters of ripe grapes. 11 I was holding Pharaoh’s wine cup in my hand, so I took a cluster of grapes and squeezed the juice into the cup. Then I placed the cup in Pharaoh’s hand.” Genesis 40:9-11

So that was the dream. Now at this point, we’re not really told how it happened, but in the next verses we are going to see that God had somehow revealed to Joseph exactly what this dream meant. In verse 12, Joseph replies.

12 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph said. “The three branches represent three days. 13 Within three days Pharaoh will lift you up and restore you to your position as his chief cup-bearer. 14 And please remember me and do me a favor when things go well for you. Mention me to Pharaoh, so he might let me out of this place. 15 For I was kidnapped from my homeland, the land of the Hebrews, and now I’m here in prison, but I did nothing to deserve it.” Genesis 40:12-15

I find it interesting that not only does Joseph tell the cup-bearer that he will get his old job back in three days, but he also asks him that when he does, to mention him to Pharaoh so that Pharaoh might realize that Joseph didn’t deserve to be there and would let him out of prison.  

I wonder what made Joseph think that Pharaoh would care about a Hebrew slave in prison? Of all the concerns of the great king of Egpyt, I can’t imagine that helping out a foreign slave in prison would make it to the top of his to-do list.

But on the other hand, Joseph had no lawyers or any legal way to appeal his case. That wasn’t really how things operated back then – so even though it was a long shot, I guess there was no harm in asking, right? So Joseph asks the cup-bearer to remember them and do him a favour and mention his case to Pharaoh when he gets out in three days.

Well, the baker – after hearing the good news that the cup-bearer received – he too asked Joseph to interpret his dream. verse 16.

16 When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given the first dream such a positive interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I had a dream, too. In my dream there were three baskets of white pastries stacked on my head. 17 The top basket contained all kinds of pastries for Pharaoh, but the birds came and ate them from the basket on my head.”

18 “This is what the dream means,” Joseph told him. “The three baskets also represent three days. 19 Three days from now Pharaoh will lift you up and impale your body on a pole. Then birds will come and peck away at your flesh.” Genesis 40:16-19

Not quite the positive interpretation that the baker was hoping for, was it? I imagine the baker was hoping he was going to get his job back too…. Probably the last thing the baker wanted to hear was that his body was going to be impaled on pole and the birds would eat his flesh!

That’s not what he wanted to hear at all! But keep in mind that these aren’t Joseph’s interpretations. These interpretations are from God. God gave the dreams and God had determined their meaning.

It wasn’t up to Joseph to decide what the dreams meant. It wouldn’t have been honest just to say whatever the baker wanted to hear. Joseph’s job was simply to relay what God had revealed to him. For Joseph to say anything different that what God had revealed would have been deceitful.

And that’s a good reminder for us too. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but much of what God has revealed in his Word is not very popular with a lot of people these days. God’s message about sin, and about right and wrong and about eternal judgement – that’s not what most people want to hear.

But it’s not our job to say what people want to hear. Our job is to relay what God has revealed to us through His Word. We need to be truthful with people – not glossing over the message or changing it to suit their preferences – we have to share what God has said.

Now of course, we need to speak the truth in love – not callously or without tact or in a mean spirit – but in love – showing genuine concern for their well-being. 

I don’t think Joseph shared this information to the baker in callous, matter-of-fact manner (even thought that’s maybe how it reads here) – I’m sure there was a great deal of compassion and care for this man. None the less, Joseph spoke the truth in love.

Paul tells us to do likewise. In Ephesians 4:14 it says…

14 Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth. 15 Instead, we will speak the truth in love, growing in every way more and more like Christ, who is the head of his body, the church. Ephesians 4:14-15

As Christians it is our responsibility to know the truth of Scripture and to speak that truth in love to each other – and to a lost and hurting world. Again, not in a spirit of condemnation or self-righteousness, but with humility, filled with the compassion and love of Christ. We have to share what God has said.

Because the bottom line is that what God has said, will happen. God doesn’t make idle threats or empty promises. His Word will always prove true. And that’s exactly what we see in our story.

The things that God had revealed through these dreams and through Joseph was exactly what would take place. It says in verse 20… (and we’ll read through to the end of the chapter)

20 Pharaoh’s birthday came three days later, and he prepared a banquet for all his officials and staff. He summoned his chief cup-bearer and chief baker to join the other officials. 21 He then restored the chief cup-bearer to his former position, so he could again hand Pharaoh his cup. 22 But Pharaoh impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had predicted when he interpreted his dream. 23 Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer, however, forgot all about Joseph, never giving him another thought. Genesis 40:20-23

Just as God had revealed through Joseph, the cup-bearer was restored to his old job, and the baker was executed. It all happened exactly how God said it would.

And that’s where we’ll wrap it up for this morning. That last verse is a bit of a teaser for what will come in the next chapter – the cup-bearer forgets all about Joseph, but of course, God does not. God is right in the middle of doing something pretty amazing with Joseph. But that’s next week – for today, I know we’ve covered quite a few different topics in one sermon – I usually try to have one main point, but that just didn’t happen this time. 

We talked about FAT people – being faithful, available, and teachable. We talked about not being wrapped up in our own little world and instead thinking about others and carrying their burdens. And we talked about the importance of speaking the truth in love.

So for a final thought, I’ll leave you with yet another little point and that is this: Whatever God says, will come true.

  • When God says you’re going to get your job back, that’s exactly what happens.
  • When God says you’re going to get impaled on a pole, that’s exactly what happens.

Now I realize that those examples may not be applicable to all of us (thankfully), but the principle still applies. Whatever God says, will come true.

  • When God says He’s going to forgive you, that’s exactly what happens.
  • When God says He’s going to be with you in any circumstance, that’s exactly what happens.
  • When God says He’s going to judge sin and reward the faithful, you can be sure that that’s exactly what will happen.

Whatever God says, will come true.

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