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A Ruler in Egypt

Series: Genesis: The Foundations of the Faith

Sermon by J. Ligon Duncan on Apr 16, 2000

Genesis 41:38-57

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Genesis 41:38-57

Ruler in Egypt

If you have your Bibles, I'd invite you to turn with me to Genesis 41. In the last several weeks we have been working through the life of Joseph together. We've emphasized on a number of occasions that two overarching themes are found in this whole section of the book of Genesis. First, the providence of God. And second, the way that God designed to create a great nation out of Jacob's great family. How would Jacob go from being a tremendous tribe, occupying as nomads, the land of Canaan to be a nation that could actually occupy and transform the land of Canaan. Well, in large measure, the answer to that is given in the story of Joseph which is itself just another indication of God's providence in the life of Joseph. Though Joseph is the main character in this cycle, God's providence is actually highlighted by Moses as much as he does the work and place of Joseph.

Last week we looked at Genesis 41, verses 1 through 37, and we said there where Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream we finally come to a turning point in Joseph's career. Now Joseph might have sensed a little of that turning and had been hopeful perhaps of his reward by being released from prison, but he couldn't have anticipated exactly how God was going to use that incident. And it is that precise story that we're going to pick upon on tonight. Joseph could never have imagined just how dramatic the turn was going to be. And we find out in the passage tonight. So let's look at Genesis 41, and we’ll look at the end of the chapter, beginning with verse 38. This is the word God:

Genesis 41:38-57

Father, we bow before You and we acknowledge you as the providential Ruler of heaven and earth. We pray that Your word would be timely for our hearts tonight, and that You would teach us to trust in providence. We pray, O Lord, to learn the lesson to walk by faith, rather than sight. And we pray that in some measure You would convince us of that truth before we have to walk in it, and live by it. But if now, oh Lord, You are speaking to the hearts of some who are in the midst of the valley, we pray that in Your grace You would encourage them even now by Your word; that their faith might be strengthened, and that You might receive glory from their trust. Now we ask these things in Jesus' name, Amen.

Joseph had been called before the Pharaoh to interpret his dreams. The dreams that the magicians had been unable to interpret. Joseph, perhaps was enjoying a brief time out of prison for the first time in three years, and was hoping perhaps for a grant of amnesty from the Pharaoh, and something absolutely unbelievable occurs. No amnesty is granted. No. He is placed in charge of Egypt. That's the response, the amazing response, the unexpected response of God's providence. I'd like to walk you through this story because I think it has some very important things for us in how we are to respond under God's

providence. First if you’ll look at verses 38 through 45.

I. God exalts Joseph in the ways of faithfulness.

Here, after Pharaoh's dreams are interpreted by Joseph, and after Joseph actually offers, unsolicited, a plan to Pharaoh for how he ought to respond to God's providence in the famine and in the time of plenty. Pharaoh turns and counsels with those who are called his servants, presumably his advisors. And asks them, can we find anybody like this in Egypt? And he turns back to Joseph, and he appoints him as the Grand Vizier of Egypt. The Viceroy of all of Egypt. It's really an amazing thing to see Pharaoh do this. Joseph is a foreigner, and Pharaoh shows a great deal of wisdom in appointing the person that he finds most competent for the position. Those in government don't always do that. Often times one is called upon to appoint those who are your closest political allies or supporters or from a particular family line or perhaps those who have curried favor in some other way by providing money for a political campaign and such. And the same kind of thing happened in the ancient world. But Pharaoh shows a great deal of wisdom for a natural man in appointing Joseph, a man who has clearly distinguished himself as a person of wisdom.

I want you to notice also if you look at verse 38 and 39 that Pharaoh had gotten Joseph's message. You remember early on before Joseph interpreted the dreams, he said now Pharaoh, let me get one thing straight. I have not a clue how to interpret dreams. But God does, and God reveals what those dreams mean to me; and I reveal them to you. I have no secret powers myself. There's nothing within me in and of myself that enables me to tell you these dreams. But God, the God of heaven and earth, He can indeed reveal these dreams. And the very way that Pharaoh addresses Joseph lets us know that he got the message.

First of all, notice what he says to his servants. Can we find a man like this? Pharaoh has no idea that this is some sort of a divine spirit before him. This is a man just like his servants are. But he goes on to say this is a man in whom is a divine spirit. Now clearly that statement from Pharaoh recognizes Pharaoh's own polytheistic background. Pharaoh believed that there were lots of gods. And he thought that somehow the gods communicated to Joseph. But it's amazing how much truth Pharaoh spoke without knowing it. Because Joseph was a man indwelt by the spirit of God, and he was a man to whom God had spoken. And so though Pharaoh speaks from the perspective of polytheism he uttered a real essential truth about Joseph. He was a man indwelt by the Holy Spirit of God. And so he goes on to say in verse 39, “Since God has informed you of all of this, and there is no one discerning and as wise as you are, you shall be over my house.” And then he begins to list a string of rewards and honors that are heaped upon Joseph. One of the interesting things about these particular, the signet ring, the clothing that is given, the necklace, the various terms that are used in the passage, all of those are confirmed in Egyptian history. In fact, the very position that Joseph has been given is documented in parallel passages in books that have come down to us from the ancient near east, which are in translation now which you can read today, which speak about the various signs that were given to those who are put second in command in Egypt. It all simply corroborates the carefulness of Moses' recording of history. Especially if you’ll look at verse 43, the Egyptian word there, the word that was spoken before Joseph as he rode through the streets “Bow the Knee” is a word which actually has Semitic roots and is still used in Arab countries today. You can hear it in the street. They will use it. It means make way, make way. And this very word was used before Joseph, as he made his way through the land of Egypt.

Notice also the kiss of homage that is mentioned there in the passage. We are told that everyone would do homage to him wherever he went. And so we are reminded of that homage that is mentioned in Psalm 2, verse 12 of the Messiah: That they would kiss the Son, lest He be angry. And again the mention of the prostration kiss of homage in Psalm 72:9. Here again is one of those interesting parallels between Joseph and the Christ, between Joseph and the Lordship of Christ. As those two passages in Psalm 2 and 72 look forward to the reign of the Son of God.

Now the suddenness and the drama of Joseph's exultation here reinforces in his heart that this could only have happened by the providence of God. And that's very clear in the way Joseph responds in the next section. He knows that it's only the one true God that could have brought about a turn of events like this. God works in His own way. He works in His own time, and He works for His own glory. He expects us to be faithful, to be patient and to keep trusting. And that's exactly what Joseph did. He was faithful, he did what God placed in his way, he was patient. He waited for God to reveal his plan, and he continued to trust in God. And God worked in His own way, in His own time and for His own glory. He brought glory to Himself in Egypt, even in the way that Joseph conducted himself, and in the way he used Joseph in the interpretation not only of the cupbearer's dream, but of Pharaoh's dream. So here we see God exulting Joseph in the way of faithfulness. But there's something else we learn in this passage.

II. God shows us a glimpse of Joseph's personal pain, even in this time of his public success.

If you look at verses 46 through 52 there's a second thing I'd like you to see. Here we have a description, Moses gives us a description of the administration of Joseph during the time of plenty, and Moses tells us a little bit about some of God's blessings on Joseph in his private life. So it not only focuses on Joseph's public successes, but the blessings that God granted to Joseph in his family life. And God, even in showing us the success of Joseph; and even showing us the blessings that Joseph had received in his family life, a blessing of two sons, shows us a glimpse of Joseph's personal pain. Even in this time of public success we see something of the personal pain of Joseph.

Moses, if you look at verse 46, notes that Joseph was now thirty. Now I think Calvin is right when he suggests that there are two reasons why Moses tells us how Joseph was. First of all, to show us again, how dramatic it was that God should place him in this position. A thirty year-old man being placed over the whole of a nation. God, in His sovereignty, had done something that was unthinkable. But the second reason he tells us this is to remind us just how long that Joseph had been a slave, an exile, a prisoner, away from his own family. Joseph was seventeen years old or thereabouts when he was sold into slavery. Now he is thirty. Half a lifetime has passed since he has laid eyes on his father or his brothers. Now Joseph may not miss his brothers. In fact, there's something in this very passage that hints that he doesn't very much. But I suspect from the very way that Joseph speaks in this passage that his longing to see Benjamin, his longing to see his father, his longing to be back in his homeland is great; and it has been thirteen years of slavery. And Moses doesn't want us to forget that. In fact, before a reunion would occur between the family of Jacob, over twenty years would pass.

Isn't it interesting that God had done the same thing in the life of Abraham. For a long time Abraham waited for the fulfillment of the promise, and he did the same thing in the life of Jacob. So long it was before Jacob would be back in the land of his people, in the land of his father. God had different purposes in each of those waits, but he had purposes indeed. And so for the third time in the lives of the patriarchs, we see an enormously long wait before the purposes of God in their lives begin to reveal themselves in such a way that they can apprehend them. As we read the stories, we know the end, and we're watching for every little mark along the way. And it's like — I'm a history buff, and I love to study, for instance, Second World War history, and especially Second World War history in the Asian Theater and the Pacific Theater. And I remember as a history major studying the Battle of Midway, and people speaking of Guadalcanal and Midway as the turning point of the war in the Pacific. Now I suspect that those of you who are in the Pacific, and those of you who were alive during the Second World War didn't wake up the morning after Guadalcanal and Midway and say, “Whew, the turning point in the war has come. It's all down hill from now.” Now we look at this history, and we see a turning point for Jacob, for Joseph. It's going to be a decade before their sense of the turning point comes. Patience is a lesson that God is teaching to Joseph and to his family.

The names that Joseph gives his children speak volumes. Look at verses 51 and 52. They do tell us about his trust in the goodness of God. But don't let me suggest to you that we ought to underestimate just how much Joseph trusted in the goodness of God's providence. Joseph sensed how God had blessed him, and you see it in the names of his sons. God has made me to forget all my trouble. God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction. Joseph recognizes that God has blessed him beyond belief, beyond imagination. He couldn't have dreamt of this kind of blessing, of this kind of responsibility, of this kind of authority. But, both of the names, even the name of Ephraim tells us not only about Joseph's trust in God's providence, it tells us about Joseph's pain.

Now that's interesting because Moses doesn't let you see much in the window of Joseph's soul. In this whole cycle, Moses is incredibly reserved in telling you what Joseph's frame of mind was. If an American in the twentieth or twenty-first century had written this story. Three-quarters of it would have been describing the emotional state of Joseph from day to day. Moses here simply gives us a glimpse, however, and you see it in those words. Look. “God has made me to forget all my trouble, God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction. Clearly, Joseph thought that there was one ache that could not be healed. God had helped him forget his trouble and his father's household. Isn't that a strange way to speak? God has helped me to forget the household of my father. If you had a wonderful relationship with your father would you think of it? I know he's thinking of his brothers, too. But, think of the phrase. “He's helped me to forget my father's household.” Joseph, I think, Moses is telling you, Joseph could only cope with that pain through a self-enforced amnesia. And he was thankful that God in some measure had enabled him to forget. And he thought that that was the only medicine that there could ever be for that particular ache. And the way he uses, the two words that he uses to characterize his life are trouble and affliction. Now I wonder if the jealous Egyptian counselors looking at Joseph thought of him as a man full of trouble and affliction. And yet here is a man who has all the success in the world in public, and in private his life is a life of pain. Remember friends, Joseph does not yet know what God's providence is for him. And so though we see a trust in God's providence, and a measure of contentment, we also see along with that contentment, frankly, a resignation. Joseph has resigned himself to ache in that one area for the rest of his days. And the best that he can hope for is to forget it. But God is going to show Joseph that his plan for Joseph is better than Joseph could ever have dreamt. That's God's love and grace. He loves to bring blessing where only trouble and curse exist.

III. God shows us what He's willing to do to advance the good of His people.

And then if you look at verses 53 through 57, we move from Joseph's administration in the time of plenty to Joseph's administration in the time of the famine. And we see again his wisdom in application. And the stage is set, though Joseph doesn't know it, the stage is set for a re-encounter with his family. In verses 53 through 57 God shows us though He does not show Joseph yet, that He is willing to do unbelievable things to advance the good of His people.

Take it in, my friends. Take in what Moses is telling you. Moses is telling you that God plunged Egypt and not only Egypt, but the entire near eastern world into a seven-year cycle of famine and starvation in order to bless the family of Jacob. God's people are the apple of His eye. And history, and in this case the history of these nations, is merely a backdrop to God's plan of redemption. You are seeing in the story of Joseph a picture of God's gospel providence. God's evangelical providence. The way that God rules the world for the sake of his people.

It begins to dawn on us, but not yet Joseph, when we read in 56 and 57, look at the words. “When the famine was spread over all the face of the earth, then Joseph opened all the storehouses and sold to the Egyptians and the famine was severe in the land of Egypt, the people of all the earth came to Egypt to buy grain from Joseph because the famine was severe in all the earth. When we read those words in verses 56 and 57 we begin to suspect that God is up to something with regard to the family of Jacob. He hasn't revealed it yet, but we suspect when we hear that the famine is severe in all the earth, that there may be more to this story than the simple exultation of Joseph. And indeed God is shaping world events in order to effect a family reunion. That's staggering, and that's God's gracious problems. And my friends, it may be in glory before we ever know how often he has done that for us. God rules the world for the good of His people, and for His own glory.

Now one more tidbit I want to show you here. Look at verse 55. When the people begin to come to Pharaoh and beg him for bread. Even in Egypt, things had been going so well in Egypt. Egypt was dependent upon the Nile as long as the banks of the Nile were overflowing during the flood season, then the crops were plentiful in Egypt. The rest of the near eastern world depended on rainfall, and so the famine often sent people from other nations into Egypt to ask for food, because as long as the Nile was healthy, the agriculture was healthy in Egypt. Now, however, Egypt is hit and Palestine is hit. And so the famine is severe and people in Egypt are going up, and they buy grain from Joseph in the storehouses that he had built in every region. And now people from all the world begin to journey into the land. And as these people come to Pharaoh and say give us bread.

Notice what Pharaoh says in verse 55. “Whatever he says to you, you shall do.” Do those words sound familiar to you? There was a time right before the first miracle of the Lord Jesus Christ in Canaan when Mary, having had a conversation with her Son, turned to the servants of the household, and she said, “Whatever He says to you, do it” in John, chapter 2, verse 5. I wonder if Mary's mind was on these words, for her Son was greater than Joseph, and He could speak reality into being. Joseph was able to answer that particular compliment from Pharaoh because he had planned for seven years. Jesus Christ, within Himself, has the power to effect the fulfillment of His word because He is God. And that teaches us that in the midst of our own providential struggles, the one we ought to flee to is the Christ who speaks, and it is done for the good of His people. May God bless His word. Let's pray.

Our Lord and our God, we have confessed over and over how easy it is to talk about providence and how difficult it is to be patient under it, to be trusting in it, to be faithful through it. But we ask for the grace of the Spirit that we might be. That You might be praised even in our lives, and that we might gain the comfort and the peace which You attend for us, even in the most difficult of circumstances. We give You all the praise and all the glory as we offer up this prayer. In Jesus' name, Amen.

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