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The Lord's Plan Unfurls

Date: Jan. 27, 2019

Author: Dan Bockenfeld

Genesis 41:1-57

Key Verse: Genesis 41:32

The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon.

The International Space Station is one of the most complex engineering feats this world has ever seen. It is approximately the size of a football field, weighs 460 tons and orbits the earth at an altitude of 250 miles. Five different space agencies built it, representing 15 countries. It is four times larger than the Russian Mir space station that preceded it and five times larger than Skylab, the US’s most recent station. On January 25, 1984, President Ronald Reagan directed NASA to build an international space station within ten years. At that point, a lot of planning had to begin. The station would be built out of 30 different modules, which each was required to be launched into space and assembled in orbit. A tremendous amount of planning went into preparing for the station. Pieces would be built and launched separately, but they had to fit together perfectly in space. There could be no errors, or the pieces couldn’t come together and there would be no station. The American parts had to fit with the Russian parts, which had to fit with the European, Japanese and Canadian parts. They couldn’t do a pre-check or test fit on Earth. It had to be planned to the smallest detail. On November 20, 1998, the first Russian module was launched. On December 4, 1998, the first American module was launched. This would be the first time that two pieces of the station came together. More than 16 years after the initial mandate, the ISS got its first crew on November 2, 2000 and has manned been ever since. The last pressurized module of the ISS was added in 2011, but even this year, more pieces will be added to the station. For the longest time, it didn’t look like there was much going on. A lot of careful orchestrating had to go on, plus all the political issues involved, to get everything ready. After all that work, and various tragedies and struggles, the station is there. Likewise, there are many times where it looks like the Lord’s plan is stagnant—like there is nothing going on. In Joseph’s life, God had given him vivid dreams, but all that happened so long ago for Joseph. Maybe they weren’t God’s plans. Maybe they would never come to fruition. However, in this passage, we will see how the Lord’s plan begins to unfurl.

Joseph had vivid dreams when he was sixteen or seventeen, which seemed to signify that his brothers and parents would be bowing down to him. Joseph’s brothers grew to hate him because their father showed him so much favoritism and those dreams, so Joseph’s brothers sold him into slavery to Midianites. Then, the Midianites took Joseph to Egypt, where he was sold to Potiphar. After serving Potiphar well for possibly years, Joseph was wrongly accused of attempted rape and thrown in prison. While in prison, Joseph became pretty much the head person in the prison. You see, the warden put Joseph in charge of the whole prison and he pretty much had the run of the place, but he was still a prisoner—he could not leave. While in prison, the Pharaoh’s cupbearer and baker offended Pharaoh and were sent there too. They had dreams and Joseph was able to interpret them. The cupbearer was released, and the baker was killed. When the cupbearer was set free, Joseph implored him to remember him, but the cupbearer forgot about Joseph and he languished in prison.

Our passage, today, begins just after that. “When two full years had passed, Pharaoh had a dream: He was standing by the Nile,” (1) It had been two years since the cupbearer returned to the Pharaoh. It was two years more that Joseph sat in prison. When I read the words “two full years”, I took it to mean that it was a long time. It wasn’t barely two years, but two long years since the cupbearer was freed. In that time, Joseph’s situation remained the same. Joseph implored the cupbearer to remember him. It was reminiscent of one of the criminals that was crucified along with Jesus. He asked Jesus to remember him when he came into his kingdom and Jesus did. He said, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) But the cupbearer did not respond to Joseph and did not remember him either.

Then, one day, the Pharaoh, the king of Egypt, had some disturbing dreams, which sets up today’s passage. “He was standing by the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, sleek and fat, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows, ugly and gaunt, came up out of the Nile and stood beside those on the riverbank. And the cows that were ugly and gaunt ate up the seven sleek, fat cows. Then Pharaoh woke up.” (1-4) Pharaoh was standing by the Nile. This is the longest river in the world and the source Egypt’s prosperity. Its livelihood was tied to the river. While he was standing there seven cows came up out of the river. During hot times, cows would nearly submerge themselves to remain cool and to avoid flies. So, these cows coming out of the river were not an unusual sight. These cows were very well fed. They were perfect cows and they proceeded to graze on the reeds by the riverside. Then seven more cows came up and stood beside the first cows. The Bible calls these cows ugly and gaunt and next to the fat cows, the must have looked downright skeletal. The ugly cows, then ate up the fat cows and Pharaoh woke up. It startled him to see those ugly cows and it woke him up temporarily.

After a moment, Pharaoh was able to fall asleep again, but he had a second dream, “Seven heads of grain, healthy and good, were growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads of grain sprouted—thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven healthy, full heads. Then Pharaoh woke up; it had been a dream.” (5-7) In this dream, there were seven heads of grain on a single stalk. If you have ever seen some wheat or barley, they usually have one head per stalk, but in the first part of the dream, there were seven head on one stalk. This again, shows how abundant these stalks were. After those seven head sprouted there were seven more, but these heads were thin and scorched. The east wind came in off the desert and would remove the moisture of the area causing any crops to become parched and sickly. These sickly heads swallowed up the healthy ones and then Pharaoh woke up again.

These dreams disturbed Pharaoh. “In the morning his mind was troubled, so he sent for all the magicians and wise men of Egypt. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but no one could interpret them for him.” (8) Pharaoh wanted to know what his dreams meant, so he sent for all his magicians and wise men. Now, these magicians weren’t the type to be pulling rabbits out of hats and telling you to pick a card. These were probably officials and priests that had knowledge of the occult. They probably practiced divination and consulted spirits in order to interpret dreams. They came to Pharaoh and he told them his dream, but for all their ability, they could not tell Pharaoh what the dreams meant.

It was at that moment that the cupbearer had a revelation. “Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, ‘Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.’” (9) As mentioned last week, the position of cupbearer was one that was very close to Pharaoh. He had witnessed the failure of the magicians and their failure reminded him of his failure. Joseph had asked him to remember him, but the cupbearer had forgotten him until this moment. Then he remembered him, “Pharaoh was once angry with his servants, and he imprisoned me and the chief baker in the house of the captain of the guard. Each of us had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. Now a young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. We told him our dreams, and he interpreted them for us, giving each man the interpretation of his dream. And things turned out exactly as he interpreted them to us: I was restored to my position, and the other man was impaled.” (10-13) The cupbearer recounted what happened to him and the baker in the prison. He accurately told Pharaoh about Joseph interpreting his and the baker’s dreams. The cupbearer was released and restored to his position, while the baker was killed.

The passage continues, “So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was quickly brought from the dungeon. When he had shaved and changed his clothes, he came before Pharaoh.” (14) Pharaoh had Joseph brought over from the prison. He was pulled out of the dungeon and was prepared to meet the king. Joseph shaved and put on clothes that were more suitable in meeting the king. He was made more respectable to the Egyptians. Hebrews valued their hair, but Joseph shaved. The Egyptians tended to shave their facial hair and the hair on the top of their heads, while a shaved head was considered a sign of disgrace. At any rate, Joseph was brought before the king and he had to be made presentable.

Pharaoh and Joseph, then, begin to have a conversation. “Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I had a dream, and no one can interpret it. But I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.’ ‘I cannot do it,’ Joseph replied to Pharaoh, ‘but God will give Pharaoh the answer he desires.’” (15-16) Pharaoh told Joseph of the situation. He had a dream that no one could interpret, but he heard about what he did for the cupbearer. Joseph, in response, told Pharaoh that he couldn’t do it. He recognized that whatever ability he was thought to have, it was ultimately God who can tell Pharaoh what he wants to know.

So, Pharaoh begins to tell Joseph his dreams. “In my dream I was standing on the bank of the Nile, when out of the river there came up seven cows, fat and sleek, and they grazed among the reeds. After them, seven other cows came up—scrawny and very ugly and lean. I had never seen such ugly cows in all the land of Egypt. The lean, ugly cows ate up the seven fat cows that came up first. But even after they ate them, no one could tell that they had done so; they looked just as ugly as before. Then I woke up. In my dream I saw seven heads of grain, full and good, growing on a single stalk. After them, seven other heads sprouted—withered and thin and scorched by the east wind. The thin heads of grain swallowed up the seven good heads. I told this to the magicians, but none of them could explain it to me.” (17-24) Pharaoh explained his dreams about the cows and grain to Joseph. He was fixated on the ugly cows. He had never seen such ugly cows before, not even eating the seven fat cows could change the appearance of the ugly cows. He also recounted the dream with the grains.

Joseph was quick to reply, “The dreams of Pharaoh are one and the same. God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” (25) The dreams were two versions of the same one. Joseph continued, “The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good heads of grain are seven years; it is one and the same dream. The seven lean, ugly cows that came up afterward are seven years, and so are the seven worthless heads of grain scorched by the east wind: They are seven years of famine.” (26-27) The good cows and good head of grain are good years, times of plenty. While the ugly cows and worthless heads of grain are bad years, times of a severe famine. Joseph explained in more detail that the good years would provide a great abundance, but afterwards there would be a famine so severe that people would forget those seven years of abundance. Joseph, then tells Pharaoh that it would happen soon, which is why the Lord gave him two dreams about it instead of one. The dream came from God and I believe that fact is why the magicians were unable to interpret it. They used occult means and consulted spirits, but those dark ways could never know the mind of God, so they were unable to interpret them.

Not only did Joseph interpret the dreams, he gave some advice to Pharaoh about what to do. This seems a little odd to me. Joseph was a slave in a dungeon just a short time before, but now he was advising the king without Pharaoh’s expressed permission. Joseph was giving unsolicited advice to the most powerful man in the world. Joseph advised, “And now let Pharaoh look for a discerning and wise man and put him in charge of the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh appoint commissioners over the land to take a fifth of the harvest of Egypt during the seven years of abundance. They should collect all the food of these good years that are coming and store up the grain under the authority of Pharaoh, to be kept in the cities for food. This food should be held in reserve for the country, to be used during the seven years of famine that will come upon Egypt, so that the country may not be ruined by the famine.” (33-36) Joseph advised Pharaoh to appoint someone to gather a fifth of the grain during the good years and store it up for use during the times of the famine. It would be like a tax on the people, but honestly, times would be so good, that they wouldn’t even notice one fifth of the harvest taken away. Also, unlike most taxes at the time, the grain wasn’t going to be used by Pharaoh, but kept in reserve to be used during the hard times.

Pharaoh liked the plan and appointed Joseph to carry it out. “Since God has made all this known to you, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be in charge of my palace, and all my people are to submit to your orders. Only with respect to the throne will I be greater than you.” (39-40) Pharaoh recognized God’s hand on Joseph and recognized that he was the best choice to carry out the plan. He knew what God was going to do and had a plan to carry things out. The passage continues, “So Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.’ Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck. He had him ride in a chariot as his second-in-command, and people shouted before him, ‘Make way!’ Thus he put him in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” (41-43) The whirlwind transformation of Joseph was now complete. Pharaoh had given him the highest authority over Egypt. He was essentially made king. He had all of Pharaoh’s powers and the transfer of power is shown in the signet ring, the robes and the gold chain. These were symbols of the transfer of power. Earlier that morning, Joseph was a prisoner in a dungeon, but now he was second only to Pharaoh. He became to most powerful man in the world.

To mark this promotion, Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name and a wife from the priestly caste. It was a great honor to be from the line of priests and Joseph was grafted into that line by Pharaoh himself. Then Joseph went out from Pharaoh and traveled throughout Egypt. Joseph took stock of the country and began to prepare. “During the seven years of abundance the land produced plentifully. Joseph collected all the food produced in those seven years of abundance in Egypt and stored it in the cities. In each city he put the food grown in the fields surrounding it. Joseph stored up huge quantities of grain, like the sand of the sea; it was so much that he stopped keeping records because it was beyond measure.” (47-49) During the times of plenty there was so much abundance that a fifth of all that was produced was so much that they had to stop record keeping since it was beyond measure. Their number system had been maxed out and there was no way to count how much it was. Surely those even heads of grain from Pharaoh’s dream signified how abundant things would become.

During the time of abundance, Joseph had two sons. The first he named Manasseh and the second Ephraim. Joseph saw how God had remembered him as he settled into his new life in Egypt. It was a land where he suffered much, but God always allowed Joseph to prosper and be fruitful through it all. Joseph’s life was changed, but he never forgot God. He could have become very much like every Egyptian, but Joseph held on to God and acknowledged him wherever he could.

When the famine arrived, Joseph was ready for it. “The seven years of abundance in Egypt came to an end, and the seven years of famine began, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in all the other lands, but in the whole land of Egypt there was food. When all Egypt began to feel the famine, the people cried to Pharaoh for food. Then Pharaoh told all the Egyptians, ‘Go to Joseph and do what he tells you.’” (53-55) The time of abundance allowed the Egyptians to weather the famine better than the people around them. When the famine started, everyone had plenty of food, but even that would not last. Eventually, the Egyptians began to feel the famine, too. They cried out to Pharaoh and he directed them to Joseph. “When the famine had spread over the whole country, Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold grain to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe throughout Egypt. And all the world came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph, because the famine was severe everywhere.” (56-57) When there was no more food readily available, Joseph opened the storehouses where the gathered grain was stored. He allowed the people to buy grain and even people from all around the world came to get grain from Joseph. Not only did Joseph become powerful in Egypt, but he was in control of the whole world because he was in charge of the food for everybody. It was a reversal of fortune for the one-time slave.

But it was also the beginning of God’s greater plan coming to fruition. Joseph had those dreams of his brothers and parents bowing down to him. He dreamt of being in a position of great power, but then he was sold into slavery and for thirteen years, Joseph’s situation went from bad to worse. He was first a slave and then became a prisoner in a dungeon, but God was just moving the piece of his plan into place. Joseph needed to be in a certain place to be brought to Pharaoh. He had to be sent to Egypt and he had to be sold of Potiphar. Joseph had to be thrown into prison and meet the cupbearer. Joseph had to interpret the cupbearer’s dream and be forgotten by him for two years. Without any of these things, Joseph would not have come face to face with Pharaoh and Egypt wouldn’t be saved. If the cupbearer remembered Joseph earlier, he may have been freed, but then no one would be able to find him when Pharaoh had his dreams. For so long, God didn’t seem to remember Joseph, but in reality, Joseph was never forgotten. God was always working in Joseph’s life and any suffering that Joseph was going through would be transient, a blip on the radar of life. He was thirty when he began to rule, and Joseph would rule for eighty years.

In this passage, the curtain was only beginning to be pulled back on God’s plan. The plan was not for Egypt to become more prosperous and be saved. That was just a means to further his real plan. As we will find out in later passages, Joseph’s family would eventually come to Egypt for food and he would bring them into Egypt. He would save them from famine and God’s chosen people would thrive and become a nation of their own that would be able to return to that land of Canaan and take it as their own. That was the larger plan that was being carried out, but even that plan is only a part of God’s master plan.

God’s master plan is for the salvation of the whole world and we are still in the middle of it right now. God needed his people to take the promised land as their own to prepare a way for the coming of the Messiah, God’s anointed. Everything that his people went through served as a sign as our need for God to come and save us. All their struggles and suffering, and all their success and abundance was proof to God’s goodness and humanity’s need for a savior. When left to our own devices, we tend to fall back into our own lives of sin. The nation of God’s people would eventually be destroyed, and its people sent away. It looked like God didn’t care for his people. It looked like his people were abandoned, but again he was just moving the pieces into place for the next big move. The coming of the Messiah. God’s people needed to again learn that they needed him, and the shape of the world needed to be ready for this savior, as well. All of the disparate nations had to be consolidated and all of the various languages needed to be unified. The Persians and Greeks conquest of the Holy Land set the stage for God’s word to be reached to a number of people previously unheard of. Former blocks were torn down and with the arrival of the Romans, a means of effective travel to share God’s great news was created. He caused the emperor to call for a census and made a young couple who were very pregnant to take a long journey to Bethlehem. On a silent night, in a stable in Bethlehem, the savior of the world was born, and his life would lead him to the cross. Every step he took moved him closer and closer to the cross. God was orchestrating it all. There were many people trying to silence him, but this savior’s path was always defined by God. The cross would only come when it was time to come.

Then, one spring day, that savior, Jesus, was arrested for crimes he did not commit, much like Joseph. He was put on trial and convicted, but he wasn’t put in prison, he was put to death in the most contemptable way possible. Jesus was crucified. His body was broken, and it looked like Satan had won a great victory over God, because God’s own son was being put to death by being nailed to a tree. The heir of life was dying, but God’s plan was moving forward. It may not have looked like it from the outside, but God was saving the whole world. Satan thought that he was winning, but instead his power and the power of sin were being broken. Jesus didn’t just die, he died for us. He saved us and that was God’s great plan in action.

Still, that wasn’t the end of God’s plan. Jesus didn’t just die, he came back to life and ascended into heaven, where he is preparing a place for us. God is still working to this day and will continue to work until Jesus returns. Our world is as broken as ever. There is so much uncertainty everywhere in life. We live in a time of violence. There are terrorist attacks, beheadings, school shootings and senseless violence everywhere. Words have become like poison and used to attack others. Good is being seen as bad, and evil is becoming commonplace. Even people who call themselves “Christian” are taking God’s word and twisting it to further their corrupt and fearful legal morality. The world looks broken and we might think that God has left this place and he has no more work to do, but that is not true. God is still working to this day and every day until Jesus returns. We can see it in each of our lives. People are still being brought to him and are still praising God. His kingdom is still advancing, and he is still moving his pieces around the world to get things ready for the next great moves. The invention of the printing press allowed for his message to reach an unprecedented number of people and mass forms of transit allow us to reach any part of the world within hours. With life moving increasingly online, we now have the instantaneous ability to reach people all around the world. Our worship service hovers around thirty people, but we reach thousands through technology. God is using it all to bring more and more to him.

In our own lives, we might feel stuck and wondering where God is, but he is always there for us. We are always remembered. The struggles that we face on a daily basis prepare us for what is to come. They help us to know more about the nature of God and put us in the places where we need to be to do God’s will. Our lives are just a small part of God’s larger plan, just like Joseph’s life was. He had a special part to play and so do we. God’s plan is just starting to be unfurled and there are so many pieces that it is mind boggling, and yet God is always in control. His plan never stops, and he will carry it out to the end. God loves you. He wouldn’t have sent his son to die, if he didn’t. Whatever you are going through, whatever is going on in this world, our hope is in him whose plan never fails. He is coming for his lost and we are here to help find them, all the way until the day Jesus returns. God is never absent but is always present. That is something that we can hold on to for all the days of our lives.

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Daily Bread

Seek Righteousness, Seek Humility

Zephaniah 2:1-15

Key Verse: 2:3

  Seek the LORD, all you humble of the land,
    who do his just commands;
  seek righteousness; seek humility;
    perhaps you may be hidden
    on the day of the anger of the LORD.

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