Friday, January 23, 2009

Have any of you had any spy ware sneak into your computer? I did and my computer was in the shop last week, so I didn’t get to send out my column. Today, you’re getting a double installment in the Jacob and Joseph saga, and next week, we’ll wrap up this series with thoughts about staying on God’s path and how God restores what was lost—it’s a recurring theme with God’s people.

As usual, send an email to or comment here for your name to be entered into a drawing for a book The Stained Glass Pickup or A Scrapbook of Christmas Firsts.


“When it rains it pours” is an old saying meaning when Trouble arrives it’s followed by its kin Double Trouble. That’s probably what the young Joseph felt when his brothers sold him into slavery, and his life went from pleasant to punishing. A Psalmist later wrote about Joseph, “They bruised his feet with shackles, and his neck was put in irons” (105:18).

Last week, we left the Old Testament patriarch Jacob absorbing tragic news: His ten oldest sons had sold Joseph, and then they deceived Jacob into thinking that his beloved 17 year old Joseph had been mauled by a wild animal and killed.

Chained, Joseph was headed for Egypt’s auction block. Did he feel abandoned? Large question marks must have punctuated every thought. What will become of me? Will I die soon? Will I be beaten? Will I ever see my family again? Where is God? Does he see? Does he know? His questions may be similar to what many ask today.

We’ve read the end of the story and know that God’s long range plan was unfolding. But Joseph is in the middle of the script, the live actor and he has no way to flip the pages to read the pleasant ending -- of being reunited with family and of becoming God’s hero who helped to save millions from starvation. But even in the middle of his miserable journey, Joseph is smack dab in the heart of God’s plan.

But the monsoons are coming, and he will go through some really muddy places before he sees positive results. However, throughout the biblical account of Joseph’s lonely sojourn away from his family, there are several compassionate descriptions of God and his constancy with Joseph: “The LORD was with Joseph and he prospered” (Genesis 39:2); “. . . the LORD was with him . . . and the LORD gave him success in everything he did” (39:3).

God’s generously granted wisdom to the young man and a definite pattern formed in his life. Even away from hands-on parental guidance, Joseph behaved honorably. Potiphar bought him, eventually giving him management over all his household and business. God blessed all the enslaved Joseph did, and the grace received by Joseph splashed onto all of Potiphar’s holdings, increasing his wealth.

We’ve all seen enough weather and life patterns to know that just behind the sunny days, the cloudy ones gather. Just when God and Joseph niched out a place in Potiphar’s trust, the lustful wife of Potiphar enters the stage.
Joseph was apparently “well built and handsome” (Genesis 39:6) Yes, the Bible says Joseph was, in today’s vernacular, a hunk. Mrs. Potiphar grew fond of Joseph in a very unhealthy way, and repeatedly sought him out. Joseph kept evading her, but one day, he ran out of her presence so hurriedly that she grabbed his cloak.

When Potiphar came home, Mrs. Potiphar fabricated a story about Joseph and an attempted assault. Falsely accused, Joseph got tossed to the bottom rung of life again. He ended up in a dungeon with royal prisoners. Again Joseph is faced with seemingly impossible circumstances, but dungeons don’t deter deity.

God repeated his efforts of blessing Joseph with wisdom, and soon the jailer put Joseph in charge of prison facilities, and there “the LORD was with him; he showed him kindness and granted him favor in the eyes of the prison warden” (39:21). The text says the warden didn’t pay attention to anything under Joseph’s care. That’s how good he was at managing. Joseph may be unhappy, but the warden now had free time to go Nile-fishing. Some days bring gloom. Some days bring brightness.

Joseph’s story speaks to paying attention on both rainy days and sunny days. A wise saying from future King Solomon addresses such. And it’s still good advice whether windshield wipers or sunshades are needed: “On a good day enjoy yourself; on a bad day, examine your conscience. God arranges for both kinds of days so that we won’t take anything for granted” (Ecclesiastes 7:14).


We re-visit Joseph’s story during a very tough personal time for him. Within a decade or so, more hard times will fall upon his homeland and Egypt. Joseph is still awaking in a prison each day. Although, he’s gained favor with the warden and is in a trusted position, there’s nothing appealing about being locked away from society, about staring at the same limited scenery day after day.

Joseph doesn’t know it but he is about to be set free. Some of his cell mates are the king’s former cupbearer and baker, and Joseph’s sensitivity to others shows when he asks them, “Why are your faces so sad today?”

The night before, both had significant dreams, dreams which begged to be interpreted. Joseph asked to hear their dreams, and assisted by God, he correctly determined the meanings.

Eventually, the poor baker was hanged and the fortunate cupbearer was restored to his position of honor. Before he left the confines of the dungeon, Joseph requested a favor from the wine taster, “Show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison” (40:14).

“The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (Genesis 40:23). Two full years passed. That’s a long time to be morally obligated to Joseph and to forget his ally.

God then sent double dreams to the Pharaoh. In one he saw seven gaunt cows eat seven fat cows, and in the other he watched as seven blighted heads of grain ate seven healthy full heads.

Troubled, the Pharaoh asked his magicians and wise men the meaning of his dreams. I suspect they were more than intimidated by His Majesty’s request. After all, he could hang or knight you. No one even tried to conjure up the meaning.

The need prompted the cupbearer’s memory, “Today I am reminded of my shortcomings.” He even went so far as to remind the king why he’d been imprisoned and explained how Joseph, the dungeon keeper, had correctly interpreted his dream. I’m starting to warm up to this cupbearer, this righter of wrongs.

Joseph was summoned and after he had shaved and put on clean clothes, he came before Pharaoh. Still giving credit to God, he told how the land of Egypt would be blessed with seven years of bounty followed by seven years of severe famine. He advised that a discerning man be employed to head up a mighty storage effort during the years of plenty.

Pharaoh recognized the “spirit of God” was in Joseph and appointed him over everything in the land except the throne. Within a few hours, God culminated Joseph’s pitiable years of mistreatment into a top political position, from dungeon director to officiating next to Pharaoh.

Improbable outcomes seem to be God’s specialty. Our dreams in his capable hands can turn into reality. Dare to dream and pray big this year: “For nothing is impossible with God” (Luke 1:37).
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