Have you ever had one of those days when things have gone totally pear-shaped? Where things just seem to go so badly wrong.
Like the guy from Florida who was working on his motor bike on the patio. He was revving the engine, when somehow the bike slipped into gear. And suddenly, he was dragged right though the glass patio doors. And ended up cut and bleeding in the middle of the lounge-room floor. Bad start to the day. But there’s more.
His wife calls the ambulance. They take him to hospital. While his wife cleans up the mess. There’s petrol spilled everywhere; she wipes up the petrol with paper towels, and drops them down the toilet.
A few hours later, her husband is home from the hospital. Looks at the damage, feels a bit depressed. Takes a toilet break. And while he’s sitting on the toilet, decides to have a smoke.
Which is fine until he flicks the butt into the toilet bowl.
I won’t go any further. Except to say that the SAME AMBULANCE CREW was called back to attend to the third degree burns on his backside; and when they heard what had happened, they laughed so much they dropped his stretcher. And broke his arm.
It’s TRUE. The internet says it’s taken from a Florida newspaper!
Of course, your own bad days might have a darker tone than that. Which I know is true for a lot of you. Long hours in a doctor’s waiting room. Or beside a loved one in a hospital bed. Years spent persevering in a difficult marriage. Or mopping up the messes of your grown-up children who should know better.
Or perhaps it’s YOUR JOB. No matter what you do, you can’t please the boss. And you’re watching your career go backwards. Or your business fails. Maybe no matter how hard you try, you can’t make ends meet.
Or it might be, as in the example we’re about to see, that your dark days are about being terribly mistreated. When you’ve done nothing to deserve it. And you want to say where is God?
Two Dreams (37:1-11)
Today we meet Joseph, whose story takes up nearly all of the rest of Genesis. One of Jacob’s twelve sons. And in the second verse of chapter 37, we see he’s tending the flocks with the rest of his brothers.
And if anyone could ask the question why do bad things happen to good people, it’s Joseph. In fact, sometimes it seems the more he does right, the more the trouble.
We’ve seen already, he’s the son of Rachel, Jacob’s favourite wife. And that makes him, the favourite son. Which it says in verse 3. “Now Israel,” that’s Jacob, “now Israel loved Joseph more than any of his other sons, because he’d been born to him in his old age, and he made a richly ornamented robe for him.”
Which as you’d understand, made his brothers insanely jealous.
But to make it worse, Joseph was a dreamer. A pair of dreams who’s meaning is pretty obvious. Verse 7 he says they were binding corn out in the field, and HIS sheaf STOOD UP. And the others bowed down. And then another dream with stars that did the same.
And instead of just shutting up about it, seems like young Joseph was bragging for all he was worth. To the point where his brothers’ jealousy was just about at boiling point.
Joseph’s dressed up in his richly ornamented robe like a prince. The youngest of the family. And, what’s more, he’s dreaming everyone’s going to come and bow down to him. Which is crossing the line.
A deceptive coat – 1 (37:12-36)
And in the second half of chapter 37, when he’s sent out into the fields to check on his brothers, they’ve had enough. And quite bluntly, they want to kill him. Now Joseph might have been a bit of a pain in the neck, but he didn’t deserve this.
First up they’re going to kill him and drop him in a hole. Verse 19 in chapter 37, they’re out in the fields, they see him coming, they’re saying let’s kill him and throw him in one of these cisterns. Which were big underground water tanks dug out of rock. And we’ll say that a ferocious animal ate him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.
Reuben tries to stop them. And the plan changes. Just take his coat. And drop him in the hole. Which they do. He’ll come back later and rescue him.
Until they’re in the middle of lunch, and they see a camel train. A caravan of Ishmaelites on their way to Egypt with a load of spices. At which point Judah in verse 26 has an idea. Don’t kill him. Let’s sell him instead. Which they do.
But Reuben’s somehow missed out on the vote. And when he gets back, he’s DISTRAUGHT. But what are we going to tell dad?
So they get Joseph’s beautiful embroidered robe, they kill a goat, and they dip the robe in goat’s blood. And they take the dripping robe back to their dad in verse 32, and they say look at this.
This is DECEPTIVE COAT NUMBER ONE. I don’t know if you’ve noticed how often dead goats and pieces of clothing come up in the story of this family. But every time, they’re the tools of deception.
Last time, Jacob fooled HIS dad. And now, his sons do it to him. With some clothing and a dead goat. In what I reckon has to be one of the most cold hearted scenes in the bible. A father inconsolable. While his callous sons look on. Not saying a word.
(pause) But turn it around for a moment, and think about it from Jacob’s position. Totally unaware of your brothers’ plans, a friendly wave as you come to them in the field; and they circle around you and they grab you. And they strip off your favourite coat. And before you know it, you’re looking up at a small patch of sky from the bottom of the well. Rubbing the bruises from where you fell. And listening to the cruel laughter up above.
And it gets worse. Because the next thing you know, there are OTHER voices. And you’re dragged out, and handed over, a teenager… to slave traders. Tied by a rope to the back of a camel. Heading for a foreign land.
This isn’t what you’d call a great day!
Chapter 38, the scene switches back to brother Judah; and a story that will make your hair curl.
It’s a story we’ll have to leave for another day. But it seems to be here to CONTRAST with Ch 39. Together the two chapters make up a couple of stories about DESPERATE HOUSEWIVES. One to do with Judah. Who behaves DISGRACEFULLY. And the other to do with JOSEPH, who’s the absolute GENTLEMAN.
Ch 38 is a story about Tamar. Who’s Judah’s widowed daughter in law, And she’s DESPERATE to get pregnant. And Judah mistakes her for a prostitute… and says come to bed with me.
They’re words with an echo we’ll see in the next chapter. Where we’ll see the mirror image; exactly the same proposition put to Joseph, with very different results.
Deceptive Coat #2 (Gen 39)
So on to Genesis 39, and the spotlight’s back on Joseph. And a story about ANOTHER deceptive coat.
Joseph’s been sold as a slave to Potiphar. And he flourishes. And it’s clear, isn’t it, that even though his jealous brothers have sold him as a slave, even though his circumstances are in turmoil, God is over-ruling. Somehow bringing blessing from a bad situation. V2.
2 The LORD was WITH Joseph and he PROSPERED,
As slaves go, Joseph’s an IMPRESSIVE example. Faithful, wise. Potiphar can see he’s different. Potiphar can see that the LORD’s with him, giving him success in whatever he turns his hand to. So Potiphar entrusts EVERYTHING HE OWNS to him.
And according to verse 6, all Potiphar has to do is play golf. “So he left in Joseph’s care everything he had; with Joseph in charge, he didn’t concern himself with anything except the food he ate.” Life is good.
Until you hear the echo of those fateful words. The words we heard back in chapter 38. Come to bed with me. But in exactly the opposite situation. Chapter 39 verse 6, Now Joseph was well built and handsome, and verse 7, after a while his master’s wife took notice of Joseph, and said “come to bed with me.”
Almost exactly the words that came from Joseph’s sleazy brother in the chapter before. But now the roles are reversed. I mean, if Judah had an offer like this, he’d be in bed like a flash. If Judah was here, he’d be the one making the proposition.
But here, like I said earlier, is the one man from this whole family who’s a man of integrity. The one man who knows the difference between right and wrong. And does the right thing. Verse 8. “But he refused.”
I wonder if you’ve ever had an offer like that. Maybe it’s been flattering. The opportunity to take advantage of the moment.
Let me suggest Joseph offers an excellent model at this point. Look at this words. First of all, he’s loyal. He says no. He says, my master – your husband – he trusts me. Everything he owns he’s entrusted to my care. He’s with-held nothing from me except you… because you are his wife.
You see, faithfulness in marriage matters. To throw it away betrays OUR spouse, it betrays the person we sin WITH. It betrays THEIR spouse. And deep down we know it matters.
And Joseph knows it. And he gets it absolutely right at the end of verse 9. Because it’s more than just a matter of loyalty. He says it’s not just my boss I’d be sinning against. He says, “How then could I do such a wicked thing and sin against God.”
But verse 11, she’s relentless. Another day, when none of the other servants are around, she tries it again. She grabs him by the cloak, and she says come to bed with me! But Joseph tears himself away and he runs. Verse 12, but he left his cloak in her hand and ran out of the house.
Can I lay it on the line very directly this morning: if you’re here today and you’re right on that borderline? Or even if you’ve crossed it? If you’re on the brink of an affair, if there’s even half the possibility of getting tangled up with someone else’s husband or someone else’s wife, listen to Joseph when he says it’s not just betraying a friend and destroying a family; it’s sinning against God. And run away.
Right through the bible, the message is the same; 1 Corinthians 6 verse 18. Flee from sexual immorality.
Perhaps that’s a warning YOU need to hear. The opportunities in this technological age are almost LIMITLESS. But don’t entertain the idea for a minute. It might be FLATTERING. But it’s just not WORTH IT. Do whatever you need to do to RUN AWAY.
Joseph ran. But his incriminating cloak stayed behind.
And from this point on, he’s going to be wondering again what he’s done to deserve such a hammering. Here’s the guy who’s been sold off as a slave by his brothers. He’s clawed himself back to respectability. Minding his own business. More than that, acting with absolute integrity. And yet look what happens. Potiphar’s scorned wife screams as Joseph runs. She holds onto the cloak til Potiphar comes home, verse 17, and lies to him.
ANOTHER case of a deceptive cloak.
She says, “This Hebrew slave you bought us came to me to make sport of me. But as soon as I screamed for help, he left his cloak beside me and ran. Here it is. Look.”
And the “evidence speaks for itself”. Potiphar doesn’t stop to ask questions. He’s furious. And Joseph is thrown into prison.
Two more dreams (40)
Where he stays, forgotten… for two full years. But even THERE, The Lord’s with him in his circumstances (v21) AGAIN. He’s put in charge of the other prisoners, and he rises to the top of the heap again.
And so we move into Ch 40, where you read about two MORE dreams. Two of the kings servants. God’s got a MESSAGE for them, and for Joseph. Because God is the one interpretations belong to. That’s what Joseph says in v8.
For the cupbearer, God’s got RELEASE and RESTORATION in mind. But for the poor old baker, the news ISN’T so good. He’ll be HUNG.
And even though Joseph gets it 100% right. And even though he asks the winetaster to put in a good word for him. Joseph is STUCK there. Because the servant FORGETS ALL ABOUT HIM.
And it’s not until Pharoah himself has a couple of dreams in chapter 41 verse 1, that anyone gives Joseph another thought. Two long years later.
Two MORE dreams (41)
Two MORE dreams. And they’re dreams GIVEN BY GOD. Seven fat cows, grazing. Followed in verse 3, by seven of the ugliest, scrawniest, gauntest cows you’ve ever seen. The skinny cows… eat the fat cows. Verse 5, he dreams again. Same dream; but this time, corn stalks instead of cows.
And when the next day he’s talking about these weird dreams he had in the night, the Chief Cupbearer finally remembers. He says, that time I was in prison, there was this guy who could figure out dreams. The Hebrew guy. Joseph.
And so Joseph’s brought in. He’s dragged out of the dungeon, he scrubs himself up and shaves, verse 14, and he comes before Pharaoh. And he’s about to go from ZERO TO HERO. Because even though Joseph can’t interpret dreams, JOSEPH’S GOD CAN.
And Pharaoh tells him the details. Chapter 41 verse 17 to 24, the dreams are retold. Blow by blow. The fat cows, the skinny cows, the fat ears of corn, the skinny ears of corn.
And Joseph knows exactly what they mean. They mean seven years of prosperity. Followed by seven years of famine. They mean seven years of unprecedented economic growth. Followed by the recession they have to have. And through Joseph, God is giving them a warning of what’s to come. See it there in v32?
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.
This is the dream direct from THE GOD WHO REVEALS. No warning. No changing his mind. It’s definitely going to happen. So make some plans. Joseph says, here’s what to do. Find someone wise. And put him in charge. Store a fifth of the harvest in the good years. And disperse it in the bad years. Which is a good plan. And Pharaoh knows just the man to put in charge.
And in Genesis chapter 41 verses 37 to 40, Joseph has once again made it to the top of the heap. Pharaoh says in verse 38, “Can we find anyone like this man, one in whom is the spirit of God?”
And the answer is no. Joseph is absolutely distinctive. His wisdom, his discernment… second to none. Because in Joseph, is the spirit of God.
A NEW coat
And so, in verse 41, Joseph’s put in charge of the whole land of Egypt. He gets the signet ring. And he gets a NEW coat. Robes of fine linen that makes his old coat of many colours look lame. He gets a gold chain round his neck. He gets a chariot. All part of the package. And he oversees the Egyptian economy through prosperity. And then through the famine. That comes exactly as he foresaw.
And exactly as God planned.
The fact is, God has put Joseph through some bad times… for a good reason. Good for Egypt. But good especially for his brothers. Who are caught up in the same seven year famine as Egypt. Back in Canaan. And are at the point of death. When they decide to go down to Egypt, where they’ve heard you can buy grain.
And where, as you can see in chapter 42, they bow down in verse 6 to their young brother Joseph who they’d sold as a slave. Exactly as Joseph had dreamed so many years before.
“Now Joseph was the governor of the land, the one who sold grain to all its people. So when Joseph’s brothers arrived, they bowed down to him with their faces to the ground.”
And Joseph recognises them; but pretends that he doesn’t. Because as we’ll see next time, he’s going to put them to the test.
But we need to jump ahead as we pull the threads together this morning to one of the key verses in the whole of the book of Genesis. That brings, in a sense, the story of Joseph to a close.
Because the fact is, if Joseph hadn’t been in Egypt, and if Joseph hadn’t been at the right place at the right time to interpret Pharaoh’s dream… and if Joseph hadn’t risen through the ranks to the point where he could ultimately save his family from extinction; then the promises of God to Abraham, the promises of God to bless the world through this one family line… would have all come to nothing.
The fact is, Joseph’s brothers treated him like dirt. And to top it off, he spent years in prison, unjustly accused as an adulterer.
And after their dad dies in Genesis 50, Joseph’s brothers are worried. They say, What if Joseph holds a grudge against us? Verse 15. What if he pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him? And they come and throw themselves at Joseph’s feet.
And have a look at Joseph’s reply. Ch 50 v19. It’s a perspective that sums up so much of what we’ve seen these past few weeks. As human bad choices are so often turned around. As the deceivers who so desperately want to bless themselves find themselves blessed by God anyway. Joseph says to them in verse 19, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God?” I’m not going to seek vengeance.
And he says this. Which are the words I want to focus on. He says in verse 20,
“You intended to harm me. But God… intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done – the saving of many lives. So don’t be afraid.”
God uses the intentions of sinful men. Aimed at HURT and PAIN and REVENGE. To achieve GOOD. To GUIDE and to REVEAL. And to DIRECT.
To raise up spirit-filled SAVIOURS. And then to use them to achieve SALVATION.
This is the God who fills Joseph with his Spirit so he can endure the hard times and save his family line. In spite of their appalling track record. In spite of betrayal; in spite of false accusation; God’s actually going to use that stuff. And turn it around.
I wonder, does that remind you of another situation? Because I think it’s meant to remind us of Jesus. The one on whom God had poured out his Spirit without measure.
And while the Priests and the Teachers of the Law and the powerful ones of Israel plotted against him, and while his friends betrayed him, and while he was arrested and whipped and spat on unjustly…, God uses that for good. Because the perfectly innocent one, as he dies, is taking our penalty for us. And so he saves us; price paid.
They meant it for EVIL. But God – in exactly the words Joseph used – but God intended it for good, to accomplish what is now being done – the saving of many lives.
All of which we need to keep in mind as we go through our dark days. Because no matter how dark your days, there’s the example of Jesus to look to.
Paul puts it this way in Romans 8:28. A very famous verse. But look at what follows as well. He says, “And we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.”
And yet, so often, it’s hard to see that, isn’t it?
And yet Paul goes on to say it’s not because of our circumstances that we can be hopeful. But because of Jesus. He says, “If God is for us,” verse 31,
who can be against us? He who DID NOT SPARE HIS OWN SON, BUT GAVE HIM UP FOR US ALL – WHO WILL HE NOT ALSO, ALONG WITH HIM, GRACIOUSLY GIVE US ALL THINGS?
The CROSS is what we’re to look to when we wonder what God is thinking. As we try to work out whether he REALLY has our best in mind. As we ask the question, why do bad things happen to good people? Specifically, why are bad things happening TO ME?
(pause) Paul goes on.
Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies – who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God, and is also interceding for us. So he says, if that’s the case… who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Trouble? Hardship? Persecution? Famine or nakedness or danger or sword?
Nothing. Which means in the dark days, in the times when nothing seems to go right, there’s still every reason to keep going. Because Paul says you can be SURE of this. God is RELIABLE. And TRUSTWORTHY. And the cross is our guarantee.