If We Pray Then Like This

When I was fifteen years old, I attended the Moody Bible Institute Pastor’s Conference. I do not remember the daily speakers like John MacArthur and Howard Hendricks and Stuart Briscoe and E. V. Hill (he spoke in the evening, dressed in all white from head to toe). I do not remember the mound of Twinkies available as late night snacks. I kind of remember this being so much better than spending an entire week at school. But I really remember holding my Dad’s hand.

At the end of the conference, it was the last evening, Joe Stowell, then president of Moody Bible Institute, led these hundreds and hundreds of pastors in one final song. It started out slow and somber. Our Father, which art in heaven, hallowed be Thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day, our daily bread. And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors (and right here the organ or piano repeats the last few notes, building in anticipation of what is to come). And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (At this point each voice grew louder and louder as each man grabbed the hand of the man next to him and together raised their hands). For Thine is the kingdom and the power and the glory…forever…Amen. Heads were lowered. There were some tears. But men were still holding hands.

We are setting aside our study of Genesis for a moment. We will soon pick it up again with Genesis 43. But today, after much thinking on the beach and after much praying on the beach, we are going to spend time on a mountain. It was where it was first heard – The Lord’s Prayer. It is Matthew 6:9-13. And my hope is that by the end we are holding hands. And my hope is that this will not be the end, but rather we will be found still holding hands in the weeks and months and years to come.

The Lord’s Prayer Was Not Even Prayed

It is important to know that when The Lord’s Prayer was first heard, it was not sung. There was no organ. There was no choir. There was no one directing music. It is even more important to know that when The Lord’s Prayer was first heard, it was not even prayed. Instead, when The Lord’s Prayer was first heard, it was taught.

Matthew 6:9-13 are just five verses. And these five verses are a part of the greatest sermon ever preached. This sermon is recorded for us in Matthew 5, Matthew 6 and Matthew 7. But just listen to how this sermon is presented for us. It is Matthew 5:1-2. “Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him. And he opened his mouth and taught them.”

Jesus was sitting. Jesus was not standing, but sitting. And his disciples came to him. What was their posture? I think there is something different to be felt when a teacher (the disciple-maker) sits among the students (the disciples). Jesus teaches about being blessed by God (Matthew 5:3-12). He teaches about how his disciples are for the good of society (Matthew 5:13-16). He teaches about the Old Testament (Matthew 5:17-20). Jesus teaches about anger and lust and divorce and making promises (Matthew 5:21-37). Jesus teaches about love…the kind of love that loves enemies (Matthew 5:43-48). It is here in this uncomfortable section about loving your enemies, people who hate not in general, but people who hate you, that Jesus first brings up the subject of prayer. “Love your enemies and pray.” Pray how? “…for those who persecute you” (5:44). It is also the first time that he mentions God the Father in relation to praying (5:45). It is something, too, to consider that as Jesus hung on the cross, he cried out to his Father and prayed for those who were persecuting him. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Why did Jesus do that? Why did he mention prayer when he did? He does so briefly, then quickly moves on to a couple other points. And when he did mention prayer, he talked about praying for those who are my enemies, those who seek to do me pain. What were the disciples thinking? What were the disciples feeling? Were they thinking, “Love my enemies and pray for them?! Pray for those who cause me pain?! Why would I do such a thing?! How could I do such a thing?!” And is that why? Is that why Jesus mentioned praying when and how he did? Was it to get them to feel and to think?

And When You Pray

It is not until Matthew 6:5 that a few minutes later Jesus then said, “And when you pray…” In Matthew 6:9-13, Jesus will give us the how to pray. But before the how Jesus first gives the when. This is Matthew 6:5-8. Listen closely.

Listen to verse five. “And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites.” The word hypocrite is a theater word or a movie, television word. It is an actor or actress. In Jesus’ day, it would be an actor who would put on a mask to play a part. It was not real. It was pretend, trying to be someone you were really not. This kind of person wants to be seen praying by others and wants their praying to be heard by others (6:5-8). And for what reason? It is to impress. But the big question is, when do you pray?

Listen to verse six. “But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret.” When do you pray? It seems that Jesus is encouraging private prayer. It seems this way because Jesus is encouraging private prayer! What is private prayer? Private prayer is a set aside time with no distractions, no interruptions to pray, just you and your heavenly Father. And since Jesus is encouraging private prayer, part of my aim even as we get into The Lord’s Prayer is to encourage private praying. So, when I ask, “when do you pray?” I am not asking for a time, but rather I am asking, do you have a time? The Bible exhorts that we always be praying and pray without ceasing (Ephesians 6:18; 1 Thessalonians 5:17). You can pray in the car; at work; at school; while doing dishes or yard work or…but do you have a time set aside with no phone; no tv; no wife; no husband; no kids; no distractions and no interruptions to just be with your Father? Have your Bible with you for this is how your Father speaks, this is how you hear his voice. And pray, for prayer is how God hears your voice.

Pray Then Like This

But then there is The Lord’s Prayer. It is Matthew 6:9-13. And we need to hear Matthew 6:5-8 before we hear Matthew 6:9-13. We need to hear Jesus encourage us and exhort us to be praying privately. After encouraging us and exhorting us to be praying privately, Jesus then says, “Pray then like this.” So do not pray to be seen. Do not pray to be heard by others. Instead, pray privately and pray privately then like this: Our. Stop there.

If I am to be praying privately, why would I begin by saying our and not my? Who is the our? Notice that the prayer begins with “Our Father.” Throughout his sermon, Jesus refers to God the Father seventeen times. So, it seems that this relationship with God the Father is to be pretty important to the sermon. But who has the right to call God Father? Can anyone simply call God Father? Listen to John 1:12-13. “But to all who did receive him [Jesus], who believed in his name [who he is], he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” Listen, too, to John 8:42. “Jesus said to them, ‘If God were your Father, you would love me, for I came from God and I am here. I came not of my own accord, but he sent me’” (John 8:42). So, to be able to call God Father you cannot get around or past Jesus! You must deal with who he is, if you are to call God, Father.

So, the our are all those who have been given the right, because of and through Jesus, to call God, Father. But notice the rest of the prayer. This is what has first and only recently gripped me about this prayer. There are what look like six petitions in this prayer. A petition is a request. And the person praying is the petitioner and the person being petitioned is God the Father. So, this prayer or this kind of praying is about asking God to do something. We can view the prayer and the petitions in two parts: the first three petitions (6:9-10) and the last three petitions (6:11-13).

The first three petitions are God-centered. “Our Father, hallowed be Your name. Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” The last three petitions are different. These petitions are we-centered. “Give us this day our daily bread. Forgive us our debts as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.” The point is to see the words “our” and “us” and “we.”

Do not forget Matthew 6:5-8. Jesus encourages and exhorts that his disciples be engaged in private praying. And in this private praying, I am making requests, heart-felt petitions. But who is involved in this private praying? It is me, but it is also we and us and our! And for us, who are the our and us and we? It is my spouse. It is my children. It is other believers, other disciples, but especially those who I see every Sunday and call “members one of another” at Calvary Community Church.

We Are To Pray Then Like This

But there is more. And it is just how Jesus teaches. Jesus teaches so that we think and God blesses thinking (cf. 2 Timothy 2:7). In this kind of praying, Jesus is encouraging and exhorting private prayer. But he is also encouraging and exhorting group prayer. In my private praying, I am to be praying, like this, for me and you and us and our and we. But…is there something contradictory about praying with the words “our,” “us” and “we,” but never experiencing the “our,” “us” and “we”? And what about group prayer? What about praying together?

Listen closely, for this is really important to hear and understand and remember. Group prayer is not a replacement for private prayer. Nor is private prayer a replacement for group prayer. In fact, private prayer richly affects group prayer and group prayer richly affects private prayer. Think. What can be had in praying with those that I have been praying for? And what can be had in praying for those that I have been praying with? I have to admit that I have never understood this until thinking upon it on the beach and praying about it on the beach.

What is group prayer? Here is how I am thinking about group prayer and I am sharing it with you in order to cast a vision before us for private prayer and group prayer at Calvary Community Church. It is to encourage both private prayer and group prayer among us because we need both. This makes for a healthy, vibrant and living local church. Group prayer is a husband praying with his wife. Group prayer is a dad and mom praying with their children. Group prayer is women praying together. Group prayer is men praying together. Group prayer is elders, our servant leaders, praying together. And it is evenings and mornings and whenever to set aside any distractions and interruptions to simply pray. But pray how?

If We Pray Then Like This

It begins with that very first petition. The whole prayer is asking God to do something. But it all begins, and I think ends, with that first petition. “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be Your name.” The word hallowed is an imperative. It is us asking God to hallow his own name. Hallow is an old word which simply means to make holy or revere. The Bible tells us that God’s name is holy (cf. Leviticus 22:2; 32; 1 Chronicles 16:10). So what does it mean to ask God to hallow his own name?

I want us to think on that, but with the question, what could happen if we pray then like this in both private prayer and group prayer? I want to know. I want to know this kind of praying and experience this kind of prayer and it is because personally in my private praying, I have not known this kind of praying.

 

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What Is This That God Has Done To Us?

These are the generations of Jacob: Reuben. Simeon. Levi. And Judah. Dan. And Naphtali. Gad. And Asher. Issachar. And Zebulun. Dinah. Joseph. And Benjamin. More space in Genesis is devoted to this family than anything else – Creation (Genesis 1-2); the Fall (Genesis 3); the Flood (Genesis 6-9); or the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11). More space in Genesis is devoted to this family than anyone else – Abraham (Genesis 12-23); Isaac (Genesis 24-26); or Jacob (Genesis 25-35).

These are the generations of Jacob: Genesis 37 and Genesis 38 and Genesis 39 and Genesis 40…and all the rest. The generations of Jacob are the remaining fourteen chapters of Genesis beginning with Genesis 37 and concluding with Genesis 50. And the generations of Jacob are marked by these concluding words: “So do not fear” (Genesis 50:21a). But really important is how the generations of Jacob begin.

How Does It All Begin?

And how do the generations of Jacob begin? Look and listen carefully. “These are the generations of Jacob” (Genesis 37:2a). However, it is the next word that is rather telling. “These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph…” It begins with Joseph and it continues with Joseph. Joseph gets thrown into a pit. Joseph gets sold into slavery. Joseph was a slave. Joseph was falsely and wrongly accused. Joseph was thrown into another pit, a prison. Joseph was promised to be remembered, but forgotten. And then after thirteen really long years of hardship and affliction, Joseph stands at the pinnacle of the world. It continues with Joseph and it all seems to be primarily about Joseph. Except that one chapter called Genesis 38. It is the one chapter in which there is absolutely no mention of Joseph. It is about his older brother Judah. And after Genesis 38, the generations of Jacob continue with…Joseph.

But there is more. How do the generations of Jacob begin? Look and listen carefully. “These are the generations of Jacob. Joseph, being seventeen years old, was pasturing the flock with his brothers. He was a boy with the sons of Bilhah and Zilpah, his father’s wives. And Joseph brought a bad report of them to their father” (Genesis 37:2). It begins with Joseph. And it begins with Joseph’s brothers. And it begins with Joseph’s dad. And it continues in Genesis 42 with Joseph and with Joseph’s brothers and with Joseph’s dad.

Genesis 42 is the first time that Joseph and Joseph’s brothers and Joseph’s dad are each mentioned in the same chapter and the same context since Genesis 37. In Genesis 42, Joseph’s dad hears that there was grain for sale in Egypt. In Genesis 42, Joseph’s brothers, all except Benjamin, went down to Egypt to buy grain. In Genesis 42, Joseph was the man in Egypt selling grain.

Why Do You Look at One Another?

As Genesis 42 begins, Joseph’s dad “learned that there was grain for sale in Egypt.” And how did Jacob learn that there was grain for sale in Egypt? The more word-for-word translation would be that Jacob saw that there was grain for sale in Egypt. Joseph’s dad must have seen his neighbors with arms full of grain. And Joseph’s dad must have asked his neighbors, “Where did you get all this grain?” And the neighbors must have answered, “in Egypt. There is a man there selling grain.” So, what does Joseph’s dad do? “He said to his sons, ‘Why do you look at one another?’” Jacob’s sons were just sitting around looking at one another! What were those looks like? Worry? Confusion? Mouths slightly hanging open, befuddled?

The famine that began in Egypt, spread over all of Egypt had reached Jacob’s home. The ground is hard and cracked. There has not been seen even a drop of water. The livestock are failing and perhaps some have died. Neighbors have been buried. Death is more real than ever. Jacob sends his sons to Egypt, but only ten sons. He detains Benjamin, refusing that he go. Listen to Genesis 42:4. “But Jacob did not send Benjamin, Joseph’s brother, with his brothers, for he feared that harm might happen to him.” I like how the King James translation words it. “Lest peradventure mischief befall him.” Jacob was afraid that evil could happen to Benjamin. Is that not interesting? The chances of death are high in a severe famine. This severe famine had reached Jacob’s home. And it is safer that Benjamin stay home than go buy grain with his brothers? It is safer that Benjamin stay with his dad than be with his brothers? Why was Jacob thinking like this?

And Joseph Remembered the Dreams

Listen to verse six. “Now Joseph was governor over the land.” He was at least thirty-seven years old and he was overseeing the health and safety and function of Egypt and the people of Egypt. And he was the one, this was not delegated, who sold to all the people who came to buy grain. If you wanted grain you had to see Joseph.

In Genesis 41:51, Joseph’s testimony was that “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” This is so important. There are all kinds of people from all kinds of places coming to buy grain. And each must have come with some anxiety that “we must get there before they run out of grain!” And so here all these anxious, hungry people shuffling in line. Is the line moving slow? Everything moves slower when you are anxious and hungry. The line can never move fast enough. And there were those ten sons, Joseph’s brothers.

They come before Joseph and “bowed themselves before him with their faces to the ground.” And Joseph recognized them, treated them like strangers and spoke roughly to them (42:6-7). We might think that these rotten brothers are finally getting what they deserve. They soon will think that as well (Genesis 42:21-22). Remember Genesis 41:51, for the most important part of the entire chapter is in verse nine. “And Joseph recognized his brothers, but they did not recognize him. And Joseph remembered the dreams he had dreamed of them.” Joseph does not remember the affliction. Joseph does not remember his father’s house where the affliction began. Instead, he remembered the dreams he dreamed. How many dreams? There were two dreams, different but the same. When did Joseph dream those two dreams? And what do we know about the significance about two dreams? It is a thing fixed by God and God will surely and shortly bring it about. It is what God is about to do. This was twenty plus years later and Joseph is now seeing the dreams not fully fulfilled, but being fulfilled. Ten brothers, ten family members have just bowed before him. But God had set out to do more. Included was the entire family bowing before Joseph. Where is the rest of the family?

Joseph’s tone and tune changes. This must have set straight the remainder of the line. What had happened, the line thought, to the nice demeanor of this man? Joseph accuses these ten men of espionage. “No, no!” They exclaimed. “We are just ordinary men. We are just honest men, your servants, never spies. We are just here to buy grain. We are here because we are hungry.” But Joseph will not budge. “No. You are spies.” And then the ten brothers get real, get honest. “We are actually 12 brothers, well used to be twelve. One brother is no more and another brother is back home with our dad.” What does Joseph hear? Honesty. Benjamin is alive. Dad is alive! But Joseph still will not budge. “No. You are spies” (42:9b-14).

Joseph has his ten brothers detained. Let’s put it this way: Joseph has his ten brothers thrown into a pit, but a lot nicer pit than the one they threw him in. They have three days to decide which brother will leave the other nine behind and fetch Benjamin. Three days later, Joseph returns and has changed his mind. They have moments to decide which brother is left behind while the other nine return home to fetch Benjamin (Genesis 42:15-20).

These Are Finally Honest Men

Listen to what this produced. These are finally honest men. The brothers remember Joseph. “In truth we are guilty concerning our brother.” They confess. They heard the distress of his soul back in his pit. Here they are now in their pit and “distress has come upon them.” We are getting what we deserve, they say (42:20-21).

Joseph hears it all, turns away to not be seen and weeps (42:23). “Behind the harsh pose there was warm affection.” Joseph is not bitter. Joseph is not out to get revenge or dish out what they deserve. Joseph is being used by God to seek their repentance. And this is awesome. As a 17-year-old with dreams, could Joseph in his wildest imagination have imagined how God would fulfill those dreams?! At 37-years-old, Joseph remembering those two dreams is watching them unfold in the amazement and wonder of how God works out his ways and his word! This is the big idea of Genesis 42.

What Is This That God Has Done To Us?

Genesis 42 is a lesson in the three perspectives of Genesis 37. It is a lesson in the three perspectives of those two dreams. A lesson in the perspectives we can have of God’s Word. Joseph remembers and weeps as it unfolds, in amazement and wonder of how God works out his ways. But there are two other perspectives.

The brothers. Simeon was left behind while the others returned home. And on the way home they stop at a hotel to rest. One brother, we are unsure who, stops to feed his donkey. Now when they left, Joseph had each of their nine bags filled with grain, leaving the brothers with the impression that the grain was bought and paid for. But when this one bag was opened, his money was returned and put in his sack. At this the brothers trembled and for the first time mentioned the name of God. “What is this that God has done to us?” There is a perspective (Genesis 42:25-28).

The brothers tremble. The brothers are afraid and at this, assume that God is the cause. I would say, they view this as not good and are crediting God for what is not good. In other words, when things have gone well there was never any mention of God. But when things went south, then God is mentioned or blamed. And really what is happening is that God is working. He is working out those dreams, dreams the brothers despised. They do not know, do not see that this is how God is working and for their good. He is working for their repentance (cf. Romans 2:3-4). The brothers do not yet see (cf. 2 Corinthians 3:14-16).

Returning home the brothers get honest again and tell dad just about everything. Then all nine brothers open their bags and, behold, there is money in each bag! Now all, including Joseph’s dad, are afraid (Genesis 42:29-35). Joseph has been thought all but gone. Simeon is no more. He was left in a pit at the mercy of the second most powerful man in the world. And Jacob learns that this man is demanding to see Benjamin?! NO! And listen to Jacob. “All this has come against me” (Genesis 42:36). Nothing is going my way. There is the third perspective. Jacob knew Joseph’s dreams and even guarded the words of Joseph’s dreams, waiting for their fulfillment (Genesis 37:11). And here now, beyond what anyone thought or imagined, these dreams are being fulfilled. But not as Joseph thought or Joseph’s brothers thought (they thought they stopped the dreams) and not as Joseph’s dad thought. And as it happens, Jacob thinks all is against him. Perhaps who can blame him? But this all is written for our instruction (1 Corinthians 10:11).

And there is my perspective. I am not like Joseph. Maybe a little like the brothers and the dad. I know God’s Word, meaning, what God wants and what God has promised. But I know how it should come about and how it should look. And I get frustrated. I lose patience. It is wrong. But I get frustrated. I ask, “God, what are you doing? Or, what are you not doing?” And do you know what I miss out on? Weeping at the unfolding promises in amazement and wonder of how God works out his ways. And what I need, Genesis 42 has pointed out for me. I need repentance, just as those brothers. And Genesis 42 is for all those who need repentance for getting frustrated or impatient, that things are not going or coming about and looking how I think it should go and come about and look. Frustrated and impatient instead of content to serve and being faithful and loving with warm affection.

Thus Joseph Was Over All The Land Of Eypt

My oldest daughter is fifteen years old, soon to be sixteen years old. And her most favorite question at this point in my life is, “Can I drive?” If we go to my parents’ house the question is, “Can I drive to Granny’s?” If we go to my in-laws’ house the question is, “Can I drive to Grandma’s?” But this is Chloe! She has always loved to ask questions. And my answers to her questions are usually, “I don’t know;” or “Because I said so;” or “I have seen as much of the show as you have.”

But this too is the book of Genesis! It is a book of questions; questions that make you tilt your head, slightly squint your eyes and say, “Hmmmmm.” The first question in the Bible, also the first question in Genesis, is the very first question recorded in human history. “Did God really and actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1). And from there the questions keep coming. Sometimes God himself asks a question. “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:9). Or, “Where have you come from and where are you going?” (Genesis 16:8). Or, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do?” (Genesis 18:17). And sometimes God himself is asked a question. “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” (Genesis 18:23). Sometimes dads are asked a question. “Behold the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?” (Genesis 22:7). Sometimes people ask themselves a question. “Why is this happening to me?” (Genesis 25:22). The book of Genesis ends with a question. “Am I in the place of God?” (Genesis 50:19).

Can We Find a Man Like This?

But sometimes we are asked a question. “Can we find a man like this?” (Genesis 41:38). I read a book this week called The Prayer that Turns the World Upside Down by Albert Mohler. It is about what is called the Lord’s Prayer found in Matthew 6:9-13. It is a well known prayer, many know the prayer but do not really know the prayer. And there is something so subtle, but so beautiful about the prayer. Notice how the prayer begins, “Our Father.” There are then seven petitions which follow. But notice just four of these petitions. “Give us…forgive us…And lead us…deliver us.” The beauty of this prayer is that it is a prayer that we are to pray together. It is a corporate prayer.

And so it is with the big question in Genesis 41. It is a corporate question. “Can we find a man like this?” And in Genesis 41, who is asking this very corporate question? His name was Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world. He was a man. He was thought to be a god. He thought of himself as a god, but he was a man. And in Genesis 41, this most powerful man in the world was reduced to a man in need. He was reduced to a man in need of the help of a forgotten prisoner named Joseph. And in Genesis 41:38, this man asked a question. He asked it as a man in need. And he asked it as a man among a people in need. “Can we find a man like this?”

What Kind of Man is This?

It just intrigues me so much that Pharaoh, the most powerful man in the world needs this kind of man and says to the nation, “we need this kind of man.” Listen closely to the rest of Genesis 41:38. “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” So, what kind of man is this?

In the very next verse, Pharaoh says to Joseph. “You’re the man! You are this man!” How does Pharaoh know that Joseph is this kind of man? Listen closely to Genesis 41:39. “Since God has shown you all this, there is none so discerning and wise as you are.” How does Pharaoh know that in Joseph is the Spirit of God? How does Pharaoh know that Joseph is discerning and wise?

On Pharaoh’s birthday, he dreamed a dream. He woke up, collected himself and went back to sleep. He then dreamed another dream. So two dreams were dreamed in one night. And perhaps really important is that Pharaoh remembered both dreams down to the smallest details (Genesis 41:1-24). Pharaoh was really bothered by the dreams. The Bible says that it stirred up anxiety within him (41:8). It kept his eyes open, he did not want to go back to sleep out of fear of dreaming a third time. So, he gathered all the magicians with their dream books and all the wise men with their wisdom to discern the dreams. Is that not interesting? Pharaoh’s first reaction was to find men who were discerning and wise. And he found none. No one could figure out these two dreams.

But Joseph was remembered. He was quickly plucked from his prison confines, given a bath and a shave and brought before Pharaoh. In short, Joseph interpreted the dreams. The dreams were different, but the same; each had the same meaning. But what was it about the telling of the dreams that said to Pharaoh, we need a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God? What was it that showed Pharaoh that Joseph was discerning and wise? The two dreams were God’s revelation. Joseph showed from God’s Word (revelation) what God was about to do. And that was not enough. Joseph also showed from what God was about to do what needed to be done. And we need both. We need to be shown, week after week after week, from God’s Word what God has done, what God is doing and what God is about to do. And that will not be enough. We also need to be shown what needs to be done; what we need to do.

Why hear so much of this a second time? This was all review of last week, so why hear it again? The big idea of Genesis 41 is that question. Can we find a man like this? And it is because in Genesis 41:42-57 there is more to this man.

Thus Joseph Was Over All the Land of Egypt

What did Pharaoh do when this man was found? Listen to Genesis 41:41. “And Pharaoh said to Joseph, ‘See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.’” For two whole weeks, I kept picturing Pharaoh, his hands on Joseph’s shoulders rotating him to behold the view. It was the view of Egypt. It was the view from the top. And Joseph saw the pyramids; pyramids completed and pyramids yet to be completed. There were large statues and large pillars, and men carving stones and men making bricks. There were homes and businesses; there was Potiphar’s house just across the way and near it, the prison. The busy-ness of Egypt filled the air. And the view led all the way to the horizon. The sun was setting and everywhere its rays touched belonged to Egypt. Here stood Joseph over it all. He was in charge.

It was an awesome picture, at least how I pictured it. But it was not the picture at all. When Pharaoh told Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt,” Joseph was not looking out some window. He was looking down. Pharaoh slid the ring, his signet ring, off his finger and placed it on the hand of Joseph. All the land of Egypt was in that ring. Joseph possessed all the authority of Pharaoh in that ring on his finger.

Oh, this is not all. Pharaoh clothed Joseph in “garments of fine linen,” perhaps the Egyptian version of a robe of many colors. It was the clothing of royalty. It really stood out. When was the last time Joseph wore such clothing? Oh, this is not all. Pharaoh placed a gold chain around Joseph’s neck. A forever gift to show that the gratitude of Pharaoh rests upon Joseph. Oh, this is not all. Pharaoh gave Joseph the second best chariot in all the world! Oh, this is not all. Pharaoh led the way in a parade for Joseph! Throughout the streets it was exclaimed, “Bow the knee! And make way. Make way for Joseph!” It was all to show that Pharaoh is Pharaoh and without Joseph’s consent, no one would lift a finger or their baby toe in all of Egypt. Thus Joseph was over all the land of Egypt (41:42-44).

Oh, this is not all. Pharaoh gave Joseph a new name; an Egyptian name. Oh, this is not all. Pharaoh gave Joseph a wife, the choicest of wives, an Egyptian wife. And what comes with all wives? In-laws; Joseph was given a father-in-law. Joseph’s wife had a name – Asenath. Her name meant, “belonging to Neith.” Neith was an Egyptian goddess, a powerful and fierce deity. She was revered as the first of all gods, the prime creator of the universe and the sustainer of all it contains, governing all of its functions. This goddess gave birth to the sun god named Ra. It was ironic, for Joseph’s father-in-law was a priest. He presided over the worship of the sun god named Ra and officiated all the major festivals and supervised all the other priests. He was this world’s religious leader (Genesis 41:45). “A young Joseph began his married life listening to hymns sung to Ra at the morning sunrise – in his own home.”[1]

And it all says this to us: will Joseph be this kind of man? How will this affect him? Will he be the man Pharaoh needs? Will be he be the man God has provided for the needs of Pharaoh and the needs of the nation? Or will he be this man? He was primed for pride. He was primed to be enveloped by a godless culture. What man will he be?

Joseph Went Out Over the Land

It is twice mentioned that after all of this, and Joseph is now thirty years old, he went out over the land of Egypt. He seems unphased by it all; the power, the prestige, the prominence, the beautiful morning and now everything finally going his way. He gets to work. He gets to work to oversee the plenty so that he might plan for the empty (41:45-49). And can we find a man like this? Joseph kept the next fourteen years in view.

Joseph had thirteen years in the pit, one pit after another. It shaped him. It humbled him for such a time as this; that he would be God’s man for God’s purpose in God’s plan at God’s better timing. And what did Joseph do? He kept the big picture in view. He kept the long run in view. He knew where to lead and he knew how to get there. But how did he do it in the midst of it all?

Before the Year of Famine Came

Notice Genesis 41:50. Before the year of famine came, Joseph became a dad of not one, but two sons. And what is really interesting is that Joseph named each son. But really, really interesting is what Joseph named the two sons. He gave them Hebrew names; Manasseh and Ephraim. And each name said something about God. “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name itself though showed that Joseph did not really forget all his hardship or his dad and family. Instead, it is just to say that all his hardship, all thirteen years of it, was not holding Joseph from growing and moving forward. It did not make him bitter and resentful. Instead, it said that through it all God was holding him fast. And the other boy. “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” See, each boy was to be a reminder of who God is, who Joseph knew God to be in and through all the hardship and all the affliction. And by the way, the Egyptian name that Pharaoh gave Joseph, Zaphenath-paneah, is best thought to mean, “God speaks and is alive!” So, everywhere Joseph went and every time he was called upon, he heard always, “God speaks and is alive!” It was what would keep him from pride. It was what would keep him from being enveloped by the culture, especially as the whole world would come to him for bread (41:57).

Joseph knew God. I read of a pastor who endured hardship and affliction.[2] He wanted to quit and just get away. But he did not. He was faced with a reality. It was a question he had to ask himself. Do I really know the Word of God? God speaks and is alive, but do I really know the Word of God? Not the facts and the Greek and the Hebrew, etc. But am I being shaped by the Word of God? Humbled and driven to repentance and contrition and joy and life and grace and mercy. But there is more. Do I know the Word, the incarnate Word Jesus Christ? Am I knowing him better, growing in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ?

And so, can we find a man like this? Can we find men like this? Men like this show from God’s Word what God is about to do. Men like this show from what God is about to do what we need to do. Men like this keep the big picture in view, knowing where to lead and how to get there. Men like this know the Word of God. Men like this know the Word, the incarnate Word Jesus Christ.

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Believing, page 487.

[2] https://www.9marks.org/article/i-was-burnt-out-and-i-stayed-in/

Can We Find a Man Like This?

A few years ago, my wife and her sisters spent an evening out on the town. Oh, from what I can tell, there is nothing like being with your sisters! There was the getting dressed up; taking pictures; going out to eat; taking pictures and then taking in the sight and the sounds of the theater. Oh, but not that theater with popcorn and hot pretzels and nachos. No; the theatre with the grand marquee outlined in the brightest of lights; the foyer with the high ceiling; the stage with the ornate aesthetics; and the rows and rows of seats. Oh, and the box seats for kings and queens and presidents.

The lights dimmed. The chatter of the audience grew soft. Someone uttered with an eager smile, “It is about to start!” The curtain rose and the play began. One act and one scene followed another until the curtain closed, the lights brightened and the chatter grew. The audience stood from their seats and the aisles began to fill. Lisa then exclaimed, “This is so good!” Another sister agreed. “I know, it is so good!” And yet another sister agreed. “Yeah, it is good, but that sure was a weird ending.” It was intermission. She did not know that the ending was yet to come!

This is the intermission. Intermission is not a time to stand and stretch. Intermission is not a time for chatter. It is not a time to fill the aisles. Intermission is a pause. It is a time to pause and take a deep breath.

After Two Whole Years

Genesis 41 begins, “After two whole years.” Does that not seem really specific? The Hebrew reads, word-for-word, “It came to pass at the end of two years full.” The word full is the same word as day in Genesis 1. So, this is like saying, “After two years of days…” This is either seven hundred thirty days or seven hundred thirty-one days if there was a leap year. It is just really specific. And it is because it is referring to something.

The verse prior is Genesis 40:23. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.” So, it could be that Genesis 41 begins with two whole years of Joseph being forgotten. He is in prison. He made a friend and asked that friend to remember him. And the friend forgot him for two whole years. And it seems likely, for in Genesis 41:9 the chief cupbearer remembers Joseph after two whole years. But why does he remember?

The two whole years is not directly referring to the cupbearer forgetting Joseph. Look at the next few words of verse one. “After two whole years, Pharaoh.” So, these two whole years have to do with Pharaoh. Now remember, the word whole or full is the Hebrew word for day. Listen then to Genesis 40:20. “On the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday…” This is very specific. I                t has been two whole years since Pharaoh’s birthday. This means that Genesis 41 is Pharaoh’s birthday!

And there is a contrast. Two years ago, Pharaoh threw a party for his birthday. And this is a shocker; Pharaoh was happy on his birthday. He laid out a feast for all his servants! It was a day of rejoicing and celebration. There were gifts to open and cards to read and birthday cake – white cake with white buttercream frosting from Giant Eagle – and Breyer’s vanilla ice cream. Two years later, it was Pharaoh’s birthday. There was the party and the feast and the presents and cards and the birthday cake and ice cream. But Pharaoh was despondent. “In the morning his spirit was troubled” (Genesis 41:8). This word troubled is used in Psalm 77:4. This helps in getting a sense of what Pharaoh was feeling. “You hold my eyelids open; I am so troubled that I cannot speak.”

Pharaoh was anxious; so anxious that he could not even close his eyes. I wonder why? May I suggest it was because he did not want to fall asleep? He was so anxious that he could not string words together to form a sentence. He was tired. And he did not want to go back to sleep because he might…

After Two Whole Years, Pharaoh Dreamed

Pharaoh dreamed (41:1). After two whole years, on his birthday, Pharaoh dreamed. And he did not dream one dream, but two dreams. The first dream woke him up, but although kind of gruesome he was able and wanted to go back to sleep (41:4-5). And he dreamed a second dream. It was the combination of the dreams that held his eyelids open, muffled his speech and troubled his spirit.

Pharaoh was there in his own dream. He was standing by the Nile River, the longest river in the world and most important to Egypt. It sustained them and it was revered. The Egyptians treated the river as itself a god. And there were seven cows, standing in the river, perhaps cooling off and just having a good time eating. These were plump and good looking cows. But then arose seven thin and ugly cows who ate up the good looking, healthy cows! Pharaoh awoke, gathered himself, took a drink of water, relieved that it was just a dream, a bad dream. And then he dreamed again (41:1-4). Behold! This is the third of six times that this word of astonishment is used to describe these dreams (cf. 41:2; 3; 5; 6; 7; 17). Behold! There were seven good and plump ears of grain growing on one stalk. And behold! Seven hideous ears of grain sprouted up and devoured the seven good and plump ears of grain. And now Pharaoh awoke, wide eyed, refusing to go back to sleep and troubled. The birthday party was spoiled.

Joseph Remembered

Remember, the Egyptians viewed dreams as gifts from the gods. The dreams were meant to be paid attention to, for your life would be affected by them. But these gifts were mysterious and the gods left no interpretation. Hence, Pharaoh gathered all the magicians with the dream dictionaries and all the wise men with all their wisdom, but no one could figure out these dreams (41:8). Probably the most that could be figured out is that the number seven must be important and maybe the cows meant that we should all eat more chicken.

The cupbearer speaks up. “I remember!” The cupbearer recounts to Pharaoh that two years ago and three days before the birthday party he and the baker – remember the baker, he was put to death – dreamed two dreams on the same night. They too, had no idea what the dreams meant. They too, were troubled because no one was available to interpret nor could interpret except this one prisoner. It just so happened that this prisoner was assigned to attend to these two men. And Joseph nailed the interpretation (41:9-13). Joseph is remembered.

Pharaoh is the most powerful man in the world. He is thought of as a god. But he is reduced to a man in need; a man who needs the help of a forgotten prisoner: Joseph. And remember, this is two whole years later. And remember, Joseph was forgotten. God has a better plan. God has a better purpose. And God has a better timing. With God, all things are always better.

Can we remember that Joseph too, one night had two dreams? Can we remember that there was no mystery to those two dreams? Can we remember that Joseph immediately knew the interpretation, as did his brothers and his dad? Can we remember that Joseph was then seventeen years old?

Joseph Plucked from the Pit

Pharaoh orders that Joseph be plucked from the pit; a.k.a, prison. He is given a clean shave and clean clothes and brought before Pharaoh. Pharaoh gets to the point. He had two dreams. No one can interpret them. It has been said that when Joseph hears a dream he can interpret it (41:14-15). I wonder how the cupbearer was feeling at this point.

Now listen to Joseph’s response. In Hebrew it is a one word answer. “It is not in me.” The cupbearer could not get out of the room fast enough. But there is more to Joseph’s response. “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (41:16). Now here is the short of it: Pharaoh gets what he was looking for. The dreams are different, but the same. There will come seven years of plenty, seven years of prosperity. But then will come seven years of recession and depression that will wipe out the seven previous years. It is a famine. It will be so bad that the seven great years will be forgotten. There will be no evidence that those seven years ever existed (41:26-31). It is quite a warning.

But it is the big idea that demands our attention. Notice that Joseph first says that “God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” This is very similar to the previous chapter when Joseph told the cupbearer and baker that interpretations belong to God (40:8). Listen though to the big idea. It is given in Genesis 41:25 and then again in Genesis 41:28. “God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do.” This is what needs to be gotten, not the prosperity and not the famine. It is all about what God has done. It is all about what God is doing. It is all about what God is about to do. And here is the interesting part; when Joseph dreamed his two dreams there was no mention of God either by Jacob or Joseph’s brothers or Joseph. The difference lies in that it has been thirteen years since Joseph dreamed his two dreams which were different, but the same (cf. 37:2 and 41:46). And something is different about Joseph. From the pit to the prison to the palace, thirteen years, Joseph has been shaped not by his circumstances, but by God through his circumstances. It is like 1 Peter 1:6-7. “Joseph had become a radically God-centered man.”[1]

Can We Find A Man Like This?

The intermission is coming. It is verse forty-one. On Pharaoh’s birthday, Joseph’s fortune changes. The most powerful man in the world grips Joseph’s shoulders and says, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” The curtain closes. And we pause to take a deep breath.

The big idea is what God is about to do. Then there is a big question. It is asked by Pharaoh. “Can we find a man like this, in whom is the Spirit of God?” What gave Pharaoh the sense that in Joseph was the Spirit of God? Yes, Joseph shared that the dream revealed what God is about to do, but that is not all. Joseph also shared what Pharaoh needed to do. Appoint a man! Joseph did not think he was this man, but a man was needed to oversee the plenty and plan for the empty. For Pharaoh, Joseph was this man (41:31-39). Why?

There are two parts to Genesis 41:1-41. It all centers around God’s revelation. The two dreams are God’s revelation. We have God’s revelation. It is called the Bible and there are sixty-six books revealing to us what God has done, what God is doing and what God will do. And with the revelation of Genesis 41, Joseph was a preacher. Here is what God is going to do (41:1-30). I am going to say with much trembling that this was not enough. It is not enough to expound and point to what God is going to do. It is needed, but not enough. Joseph then pointed to what needed to be done (41:31-36). So, the two parts are what God is going to do and what we need to do. And we need to pause and take a deep breath. Can we find a man like this? Can we find men like this?

This is the hardest sermon I have ever preached. I have had to pause. Do we have a man like this? I had to answer it. Do we have a man who each week opens God’s Word to us, points us to God and then leads us to what we need to do? And I thought, what does it take to be this kind of man? It takes time. For Joseph it took thirteen years. It takes time in God’s fatherly hand to humble and to shape and to season a man to be God’s servant who is radically God-centered.

This is all to say that we need a vision. A vision to grab onto and a vision that leads us to action. Where do we get that vision? Monday while mowing for three hours, I asked God for a vision. I told him that I thought we needed a vision. He did not answer me. He did not answer me on Monday. He answered Tuesday. And his answer began like this, “After two whole years.”

So, what is God going to do and what do we need to do? How do we get this clear vision? It begins with His Word. We have it and need it like our lives depend on it. But this all reminded me of the book of Acts which begins with what God is going to do, the revelation (Acts 1:6-11). But then the rest of the book is what needed to be done, the response. And in that response, we first see those who got the vision praying together. We then see them devoted to teaching and fellowship and communion and to prayer. We see them loving the lost world. And we see the gospel growing and the gospel bearing fruit, people getting saved, the world turned upside down and radically God-centered people asking for more boldness (cf. Acts 1:14; 2:42; 6:7; 4:29).

[1] R. Kent Hughes, Genesis: Beginning and Blessing, page 481.

When Disappointments Loom Large

Where is the best place to serve God? Is it my home? Is it my neighborhood? Is it my workplace? Is it my group of friends? Is it my golf league; my rec center; my gym? Is it my church? Or is it some far away land? The answer, of course, is…yes, yes, yes, yes, yes, yes and yes.

But is it prison? And not just prison, but in prison. Is the best place to serve God in prison? And not just in prison, but in prison…twenty-four hours a day, seven days week, week after week, month after month, year after year. Is this the best place to serve God? And not just in prison twenty-four hours a day, seven days week, week after week, month after month, year after year, but with other prisoners…twenty-four hours a day, seven days week, week after week, month after month, year after year. Is this the best place to serve God? The answer, of course, is…

Wherever He Sets You Down

I am just wondering. I am just wondering if I really believe it. I have been thinking about it for two years. It changed my thinking. It changed my perspective and I have held on to it ever since. It is John 15:16. “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide.” Pause there. There is much more to the verse, but this is the part that opened my eyes. Notice the words chose (choose) and appointed. The two words go together, and one reason is that Jesus uses the word and to connect the two words. Jesus first says, “You did not choose me.” The word choose is used in the sense of picking up. So, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “You did not pick me up.” And then he gives that hinge on which great truths swing. “But I chose you.” The word chose is used in the sense of picking up. So, Jesus is saying to the disciples, “You did not pick me up, but I picked you up.” Now watch how this then fits with the word appointed. It means to set down. “You did not pick me up, but I picked you up and set you down.” And we want to ask, where? Where does he set you and me and down? It is wherever. He sets you down wherever, this is really important, according to his purpose. Notice the rest of this sentence. He sets us down that we should go, and we must ask, where are we to go? It is wherever. We are to go wherever he sets us down and bear fruit, long-lasting fruit. The best place then to serve God is wherever he has set you down.

But do I really believe it? Do I really believe it when a disappointment happens? Disappointments are those unexpected and unpleasant happenings that mess up how I think things should be going.

Not unlike Genesis 37 or Genesis 39 or Genesis 41 to come, Genesis 40 is about Joseph. Joseph is in prison. Then comes a disappointment followed by another disappointment.

And so here comes the big idea of Genesis 40. The best place to serve God is wherever he has set you down. But what do I do when it no longer feels like the best place? And what about the places that sure do not look like the best places, like prison? Then what do I do whether it does not look like the best place nor feel like the best place and a disappointment comes? What about when a disappointment becomes disappointments and those disappointments just loom large over all else? What do I do?

Remember Joseph

Remember Joseph. His testimony begins with two dreams. He was seventeen years old. And what do we know about two dreams? This is not, what are the two dreams about? The two dreams are about Joseph and his family. What do we know about two dreams? Listen to Joseph. “And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about” (Genesis 41:32). Meaning, God is at work and God is in control and God will do it. This is all very important.

Joseph is then tattered, battered and thrown into a pit left for dead. Until at just the right time a caravan of human traffickers come his way. His brothers, his own flesh and blood, sell Joseph into slavery. Sold into slavery, Joseph is sold again to a man named Potiphar. And who is Potiphar? He is an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian. Joseph is placed in Potiphar’s house and things go well for him. He does all things well and with diligence and integrity and care. So much so, God blesses Potiphar and his house because of Joseph and for Joseph’s sake.

But then Joseph is put in prison. Why? It is because he refused to sin. Listen as a reminder to Genesis 39:9. “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And who put him in prison? It was his master Potiphar. And things go well for Joseph in prison. He is pretty much in charge and succeeding, although staying, in prison. We need this reminder. Oh, and the Lord, Yahweh is with him. Catch that, the Lord, Yahweh is with him…in prison (cf. 39:21; 23).

A Servant to Prisoners

But then one day comes. This is not too profound, but true for all of us. One day will come. Two officials, two high officials of Pharaoh, quality control men are put in prison. Their names are cupbearer and baker. Why are these two men in prison? They “committed an offense [sin] against their lord the king of Egypt” (Genesis 40:1). Notice the parallel to Joseph. He refused to commit an offense, a sin, against the Lord the King of all kings. He was put in prison.

Genesis 40:3-4 are really interesting. Pharaoh puts the cupbearer and the baker in custody of the captain of the guard. This captain of the guard just so happens to oversee the prison where Joseph is confined. And what does the captain of the guard do? The captain of the guard appoints Joseph to these two men. Who is the captain of the guard? His name is Potiphar. Who is really at work here? Who is really in control here? in prison? And who is keeping the big picture in view?

The word attended (v. 4) is critical. It means to serve. Joseph was called upon, and it is not like he had a choice, to serve these two prisoners. What is going through Joseph’s mind? He is a prisoner! But for a while the best of a bad situation was being enjoyed by Joseph. As a prisoner, he was running the whole place and now is brought low, humbled. He is now a servant to prisoners. And what does he do? He serves.

Two Prisoners, Two Dreams, One Night

And it just so happens that these two prisoners dream a dream, that is two dreams, on the same night. The cupbearer is in his own dream and the baker is in his own dream and the number three is in both dreams. When morning dawns Joseph rises to his duty and serves. And the two men he serves are awake, but miserable. They look sick! “Why are your faces downcast today?” Listen to their reasoning. It is about the dreams, but not so much about the dreams. “We have had dreams, and there is no one to interpret them” (40:5-8b).

In Egypt, dreams were a big deal. A whole economy was built around dreams. Books were written, jobs were created to interpret dreams. Dreams were seen as gifts from the gods, but mysterious. And these men have each had a dream, “a gift from the gods,” full of mystery but surely meaning something for them. And no one can tell them what each dream means! It just so happens that Joseph has experience with dreams. It is interesting that when Joseph had his two dreams he knew the interpretation immediately, as did his brothers and his dad. But here in Egypt, interpreters are needed. So here is Joseph in prison serving two men with two dreams. Listen to what he does. He draws their attention to the Most High God, for all interpretations belong to Him. “Please tell them to me.” Joseph puts on display his faith in God.

And then Joseph gives the meanings. The cupbearer in three days will be released from prison and restored to his high position. This is good and great news not just for the cupbearer, but for Joseph too. He just helped a man who was sick to his stomach about his future. And Joseph pleads, “Only remember me.” He asks that when the cupbearer is before Pharaoh again and in his good graces again, bring up Joseph’s name. He has been falsely accused and is in prison, another “pit” (40:9-15).

But the baker. In three days he too will be released from prison and into a high position (40:16-19). His death! Three men are now counting down the days and only two men are happy about it!

The interpretation of each dream was true. Why? Because it was fixed by God and God shortly brought it about. But what about Joseph? This is the worst part. “Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (40:23).

When Disappointments Loom Large

When do you think Joseph realized that the cupbearer forgot about Joseph? Genesis 41 will tell us that two years go by before the cupbearer will remember Joseph. Two years is seven hundred thirty days. Except if there was a leap year, then it is seven hundred thirty-one days. After how many days did Joseph realize he was forgotten? And not by the cupbearer, but after how many days would it take to think that God has forgotten? This is when disappointments loom large.

It will be thirteen years before Joseph is released from slavery and from prison and has his two dreams realized, dreams fixed by God and dreams God will shortly bring about. From Joseph’s perspective, three days seems short, not thirteen years. But in thirteen years, each place Joseph had been was the best place to serve God. How? How is that even possible, in prison too? God is at work. God is in control. God will do it. This is called providence. It is the almighty and everywhere present power of God where by God’s hand, no matter what and no matter where, he still upholds heaven and earth and even you.[1] There is nothing called chance. Three days or thirteen years, nothing is called chance. It cannot be called chance when whether in the pit, in prison or in the palace God has never left you and by his fatherly hand has sustained you. “Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father” (Matthew 10:29).

So, how do I get through it? Because it is real. John 15:16 is real. But Joseph is real. The pit and the prison and the disappointments are all real. How do I get through it? Right where you are…preach; pray and plug away. God has a better plan. God has a better purpose. And God has a better timing. And wait. Get frustrated (for a little bit). Get perplexed (for a little bit). And get patience because with God all things are better.

[1] Reworked from The Westminster Shorter Catechism

A Servant of Prisoners

A servant of prisoners. Think on those four words for a minute or so.

 

Are you finished thinking?

The closing section of Genesis is fourteen chapters long – this is Genesis 37 through Genesis 50. It is surprisingly titled The Generations of Jacob. It is surprising because Jacob has very little to do with it. It is more surprising to learn that Jacob has thirteen kids and these fourteen chapters have very little to do with them. These closing chapters are about Joseph (Genesis 37, Genesis 39 through Genesis 50) and Judah (just Genesis 38).

In Genesis 40 we find Joseph in prison. He has been there not as a guest but as a prisoner! He has been there for quite some time. But in Genesis 39 we learn that he quickly gained favor in the eyes of the warden. He is more than an ideal prisoner, he is an extraordinary prisoner! The whole prison is put in his charge. Joseph is a prisoner in charge. He has made the warden’s job so easy, so much so that he loves being the warden!

But there is Genesis 40. And in Genesis 40, the prison population grows by two – a cupbearer and a baker, but no candlestick maker are placed there. And Joseph is not in charge. Instead, he is placed in their charge! Joseph is assigned to attend to them. In other words, Joseph is given as a servant to prisoners. Can you imagine this? A servant of prisoners.

But here is the kicker. Joseph serves well. Joseph thus far is continually humbled, from the pit to the prison which he calls another pit. And throughout it all he serves well.

A servant of prisoners. It made me think of the saying, “the best place to serve God is where he sets you down.” Leading to Genesis 40, four times in Genesis 39 we are told that the Lord, Yahweh, was with Joseph. So, Joseph was a servant of prisoners and he served well. Does it have anything to do with the glorious truth that the best place to serve God is wherever he sets you down? By the way, to the prisoners Joseph served, he directed their very thoughts to the most high God.

But the Lord was with Him

These are the generations of Jacob. And the generations of Jacob start with Jacob because he is the dad. But then there is Reuben the first born. And Simeon the second born. And Levi the third born. And Judah the fourth born. And Dan the fifth born. And Naphtali the sixth born. And Gad the seventh born. And Asher the eighth born. And Issachar the ninth born. And Zebulun the tenth born. And Dinah the only daughter. Then Joseph the eleventh born. And Benjamin the twelfth born. These are the generations of Jacob.

But the word these does not refer to Jacob and his thirteen kids. No, instead the word these refers to the ending of Genesis, all fourteen chapters. These fourteen chapters are primarily about two of Jacob’s thirteen kids. Is this sounding familiar? Is this sounding like something you have heard before? It should and it is because Genesis 39 sounds like Genesis 38.

Asking Rather Big Questions

The final fourteen chapters of Genesis are about two of Jacob’s sons; Joseph and Judah. One of these fourteen chapters is about Judah – Genesis 38. This leaves thirteen remaining chapters about Joseph beginning with Genesis 37 and picking up again with Genesis 39. But sandwiched in between is Genesis 38. And we have asked a rather big question. What does Judah have to do with Joseph? The answer is astounding: a lot. But that was Genesis 38 and this is Genesis 39. And so we are asking another rather big question: What does Joseph have to do with Judah? The answer is astounding: a lot.

Now watch this; listen to how Genesis 39 begins. “Now Joseph had been brought down to Egypt, and Potiphar, an officer of Pharaoh, the captain of the guard, an Egyptian, had bought him from the Ishmaelites who had brought him down there.” The struggle for me all week, each day, was this verse. What is its point? It is because it sounds so much like Genesis 37:36. “Meanwhile the Midianites had sold him in Egypt to Potiphar, an officer Pharaoh, the captain of the guard.” So notice, there is Genesis 37:36 and then Genesis 38 and then Genesis 39:1 which sounds so much like Genesis 37:36. Why is that? Genesis 38 is about Judah and Judah is responsible for Joseph being brought down to Egypt (cf. Genesis 37:26-27). This, in part, answered the rather big question, what does Judah have to do with Joseph?

But what does Joseph have to do with Judah? Joseph and Judah are brothers; sons of Jacob. Genesis 38 is about Judah and Tamar or a son of Jacob and another man’s wife. Genesis 39 is about Joseph and Potiphar’s wife or a son of Jacob and another man’s wife. This has led to another rather big question: What if Genesis 38 and Genesis 39 have something to do with the very same thing?

And He Had No Concern About Anything

Genesis 39 may be divided in two parts. Part one is Joseph in the house (Genesis 39:1-18). Part 2 is Joseph in the prison (Genesis 39:19-23). And, again, there is something so similar! Whether in the house or in the prison Joseph found favor (Genesis 39:4; 21). In the house he found favor in the sight of Potiphar. In the prison he found favor in the sight of the warden. And in both parts the end result was that neither Potiphar nor the warden had a concern about anything! But why?

We must keep something in mind; whether it was in the house or in the prison neither place was the ideal or desired place to be! Why was Joseph in the house? It was because he was sold into slavery and therefore a slave. Why was Joseph in prison? He was falsely accused and arrested and placed into prison and therefore a prisoner. So keep in mind, part of Genesis 39 is what to do when we find ourselves in less than ideal places in life. And this happens or will happen or has happened to each one of us. We each have moments or seasons in our lives that are less than ideal. So what are we to do? Do not turn to Facebook or to Twitter or to… Listen carefully. Whether in the house or in the prison, Joseph opened his mouth just one time (Genesis 39:8-9). It was thirty-five words, but it was all he ever said.

But what really has captured my attention is that both Potiphar and the warden had no concerns about anything and it was not until Joseph showed up. Both Potiphar and the warden placed all their concerns into the hands of Joseph. Why? Genesis 39:6 makes me laugh. Potiphar so trusted Joseph that day after day his number one question was, what is for dinner? What was it about Joseph?

All Eyes on Joseph

Sight is rather important to this chapter. “His master saw that the Lord was with him.” “But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favor in the sight of the keeper of the prison” (39:3; 21). But there is Potiphar’s wife and she too saw Joseph. Listen to verse six. This is all so important. Joseph found favor in the eyes of Potiphar. Joseph found favor in the eyes of the prison warden. And let me say this, that whether in the house or in the prison, no matter the circumstance, Joseph did all things well. His circumstance did not dictate his attitude. He did what was right. He was faithful. He was found faithful. And listen to Genesis 39:5. “From the time that he made him overseer,” in other words, Joseph got a promotion but the circumstance was still less than ideal, “in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian’s house.” Pause there. Joseph did all things well. His circumstance did not dictate his attitude. He did what was right. He was faithful. He was found faithful. And God blessed…not Joseph, but the Egyptian and the Egyptian’s house. We can rightly assume the same thing about the prison. Joseph did all things well. His circumstance did not dictate his attitude. He did what was right. He was faithful. He was found faithful. And God blessed…not Joseph, but the prison and the keeper of the prison. Just think on that for a while. It was less than an ideal circumstance, the circumstance does not change for Joseph, but God blessed everyone around Joseph “for Joseph’s sake.”

But there was Potiphar’s wife and Joseph caught her eye. Joseph was handsome and perhaps beyond handsome. Both he and his mother Rachel are the only people in Genesis called beautiful such as this (cf. 29:17). And after a time, Potiphar’s wife “cast her eyes on Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me’” (39:7). Just listen to verse eight. “But he refused.” Notice the word refused. It has the connotation to reject something because it was distasteful and not only that, but Joseph maintained this kind of refusal. It is not that he found Potiphar’s wife distasteful. It was the sin. This was another man’s wife. How do we know that this was sin or that Joseph thought it sin and distasteful? Listen to part of his maintained refusal. “How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” (Genesis 39:9b). There is the rather biggest question of all. Joseph’s refusal is thirty-five words long; the only record of Joseph opening his mouth in the entire chapter. And he calls sin for what it is: sin.

Why did Joseph maintain this refusal? Listen to verse ten. “And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.” This temptation, this proposal was daily. Where was Joseph to turn? He was stuck. But day after day he just said no, and if not to her directly, it was to himself. See 1 Corinthians 10:13-14.

Joseph Then Runs Like the Wind

But one day it was not just another day. It felt like another day. It felt like another day in a less than ideal circumstance until temptation had its hands around Joseph’s collar, literally. Potiphar’s wife could not take it anymore and she caught him by his garment. The word caught can mean to seize or to seize by violence. And she spoke. “Lie with me.” Notice what Joseph does. There is no verbal refusal. Instead, Joseph runs like the wind and her grip was so tight on him, Joseph’s garment was ripped right from him (39:12).

‘Flee’ is a strong word. The Bible does not tell you to amble, meander, lope, or trot from your sin. It tells you to flee. Fleeing involves effort. It involves straining. It involves speed. You flee when you need to find and experience safety from a threat—a threat like a bear. You flee when it is too dangerous to remain where you are, when standing still would put you in mortal peril.[1] So, I am wondering, how do I flee from sin?

This, Genesis 39, is a particular sin, a sexual sin. But the Bible also tells us that each of us struggles with sin (Colossians 3:5). Each of us struggle with certain sins. Let’s call these certain sins the sin that so easily entangles (Hebrews 12:1). Regardless, we are called to fight sin. So, I am wondering, how do I fight sin?

Joseph will be falsely accused. Potiphar’s wife had Joseph’s garment in his hand. She cries out for help and declares that she was the victim, that she was sexually assaulted by that “Hebrew” (39:14, 17). Her husband’s anger was kindled. He rightly could have put Joseph to death, instead he put him in prison. So, why did he not put Joseph to death, a non-Egyptian? Did he have some doubts?

But this all sounds so similar to Genesis 38. Genesis 38 is about a son of Jacob and another man’s wife. And the heart of it was sin, a sexual sin. Judah said yes to the temptation. And when we say yes to temptation, yes to sin there remains the offer of grace and mercy and forgiveness (cf. 1 John 1:9). So, Genesis 38 helps us in what to do after we have said yes to sin. Genesis 39 though tells us to fight and flee from sin. Even in fighting and fleeing from sin, Joseph will still end up in a less than ideal circumstance. But regardless, it is better to fight and flee. So, how do I fight and flee from sin?

But the Lord was with Joseph

Four times in this chapter; twice when Joseph was in the house and twice when Joseph was in the prison; we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. The third time is my favorite though. “But the Lord was with Joseph.” Buts “are small hinges on which great truth swings. Always ponder when you are given a hinge.” How do I fight and flee from sin? Think back to Joseph’s refusal of Potiphar’s wife. “By giving the proposition its right name of wickedness he made truth his ally, and by relating all to God he rooted his loyalty to his master deep enough to hold.”[2] Joseph made truth his ally and related all to God. So, again, how do I fight and flee from sin?

Œ God’s Word. See 2 Peter 1:3-4; 9-11.

 God’s People. See Hebrews 3:13-14.

Ž God Himself. This is so incredible. Four times we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. And each time the divine name Lord is in all capital letters – YHWH. Now get ready. Listen to Matthew 1:21. This the Christmas message. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” So, how do I fight and flee from sin? It is not without knowing Jesus! The name Jesus literally means “YHWH saves,” or “YHWH is salvation.” And what does Jesus do? He saves his people from their sins. And who was with Joseph in the house and in the prison? But there is more. Four times we are told that the Lord was with Joseph. Listen to Matthew 1:23. This is the Christmas message. Speaking of Jesus, “Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel.” And what does Immanuel mean? “God with us.” Who is Jesus? He is YHWH, the Lord who is with me! So, who do I fight and flee from sin? It is not without Jesus! Be reminded of Matthew 28:20. For those who know Jesus, “Behold, I am with you always, to the very end.” (cf. John 14:23; 2 Corinthians 4:7-11; 14-16).

[1] https://www.challies.com/articles/run-run-away/

[2] Derek Kidner, Genesis, page 201.