Learning from God's Word: Genesis 37-41
Here, we have human sin and divine grace. We see jealousy (11) and its effects: ‘where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice’ (James 3:16). We see God working out His purpose: ‘you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good’ (50:20). In his dreams, Joseph was given a glimpse of the ‘new thing’ (Isaiah 43:19) God was about to do. Joseph’s situation seemed hopeless: ‘cast... into a pit’, ‘sold’ into slavery (24,28). God was in this situation. Each of us is in a ‘pit’, but we are not alone. Jesus has gone into the ‘pit’ for us, and He has come out of it victorious: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O grave where is your victory?’. Slaves of Satan, we have been set free by Christ (Romans 6:17-18; Hebrews 2:14-15). God was with Joseph. He is with us.
‘Judah went down from his brothers, and turned in to a certain Adullamite...’ (1-2). This is the sad story of so many people: Drawn away by an unbelieving man/woman from the fellowship of God's people, the story then goes from bad to worse. A whole catalogue of disasters follows. God is mentioned in only two verses (7,10). Both speak of human sin and divine judgment. God’s Word is clear: Believers are not to be joined in marriage to unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). Lower your spiritual defences at this point, and you are asking for big trouble! Satan is ready to sweep in and cause chaos. This sad story of sin and shame stands as a warning to us. Do not rush into sinful choices. Put God first, and let Him lead you in His perfect way: ‘Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things shall be yours as well’ (Matthew 6:33).
In chapter 38, we read of unbridled lust. Here, we read of sexual restraint: ‘how can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?’ (9). Sin brings complications, and so does obedience! There is, in fact, only one complication - sin. We live in a sinful world, which has no real interest in obedience to God. We must be realistic: ‘all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted’ (2 Timothy 3:12). Obedience and persecution - we see both in the story of Joseph. He was tempted, but he did not sin (7-9). Temptation is not sin. God provides ‘the way of escape’ (1 Corinthians 10:13). Christ is ‘the way’ (John 14:6), God’s way of escape. We go to Him when we are tempted (Hebrews 2:16; 4:15-16). Joseph was put into prison, ‘but the Lord was with him, and showed him steadfast love’ (20-21) - ‘persecuted, but not forsaken’' (2 Corinthians 4:9).
God gave Joseph power to overcome temptation (chapter 39). Now, He gives him power to interpret dreams. Here, Joseph the dreamer (37:5-11) becomes Joseph the interpreter of dreams. Joseph may be viewed as a prophet: ‘Surely the Lord does nothing, without revealing His secret to His servants the prophets’ (Amos 3:7). As a true prophet, he gives the glory to God alone: ‘Do not interpretations belong to God?’ (8). Joseph became the forgotten man (23). For Joseph, life had become very difficult. He had known prosperity (39:2-3). Now, he was suffering adversity. God is in both our prosperity and our adversity. He uses adversity to produce in us a heart of humility. What was Joseph doing while he was in prison? He was keeping close to God, waiting patiently for his ‘time to speak’ (Ecclesiastes 3:7).
‘After two whole years’, Joseph was still the forgotten man. Then Pharaoh had a dream (1). This was the beginning of the next stage of God’s plan for Joseph. In the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dream, Joseph directs attention to God: ‘It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favourable answer... God has revealed to Pharaoh what He is about to do... God has shown Pharaoh what He is about to do... the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass (16,25,28,32). Joseph spoke with divine authority because ‘the Spirit of God’ was living in him (38). God was at work in Joseph, enabling him to forget his hardship and to be fruitful in his affliction (51-52). This is the work of divine grace - a reversal of human expectations. By God’s grace, hardship and affliction lead not to bitterness and resentment but to a deeper love for the Lord.