God tests His people through adversity to mature them in obedience, patience and faithfulness.
Genesis(93) (Part of the Origins(91) series)
by Marc Webb(59) on April 2, 2023 (Sunday Morning(291))
Comfort(1), Faithfulness(14), Obedience(27), Patience(6)
If you were thinking about joining the Marines and you went to their website, this is what you would read about their boot camp or basic training: There are few reputations more storied and none more deserving than that of Marine Corps Recruit Training. The difficulties this process presents to every recruit are as deliberate as they are legendary, as physical, mental and moral toughness are prerequisites to fight among our ranks. During these 13 weeks of intense battles, it is not enough to simply endure, you must prevail. Pushing through surrender’s pull. Pulling together to prevent all from falling apart. Tapping into the purpose that brought you there. There is no room in our ranks for those who fall behind. Because of this, we constantly and continually take recruits to the brink of exhaustion in ways that test their toughness physically, mentally, and even ethically. What doesn't stop them only makes them more purposeful. And the hardships they overcome together only makes them more resilient. It is a demanding process, but also an exacting one.
This story is from sermoncentral.com: There was a Marine Sergeant who was recuperating from wounds he received when an explosion damaged multiple vertebrae, his left hip, and parts of his legs. His entire left side absorbed a large portion of the blast, and his fellow Marines, who were also injured, pulled him out of the vehicle to safety. He had difficulty standing or sitting for long periods of time, and usually had to alternate between those positions as the pain increased. He was told he would suffer from chronic pain for the rest of his life. While he was in the hospital, they had their annual POW-MIA 5-K Run. This sergeant completed the run, shuffling through the three miles with his cane in about 52 minutes. To this sergeant, and many others, being a Marine means completing the mission despite any obstacles, pushing yourself past where others would quit, always keeping the goal in mind and pressing ever forward, one small step at a time until you reach victory.
When I think about the training required to be a marine and the mentality of that sergeant, I think about Joseph. Joseph must have been physically and mentally tough and we know from last week’s message that he was morally tough. He was thrown into a pit, by his own brothers, for who knows how long and was then sold into slavery by them. He was morally tough in refusing the sexual advances of Potiphar’s wife, was wrongfully accused by her and thrown in jail. He must have been faithful and obedient to the Lord because the Lord was with him and to Potiphar because he was put in charge of his entire household. He continued to trust in God despite all the obstacles that came his way and was patient waiting on God to deliver him, never quitting or giving up. He knew that God had something great in store for his life and kept pressing forward, one small step at a time until his mission and purpose came to fulfillment.
Every experience, every hardship and every adversity he went through, was basic training or boot camp, if you will, in the Lord’s Army. For those who have faith in God and in his purposes for their lives, they will experience his testing which is designed to develop a physical, mental, and moral maturity that puts steel into faith so that it becomes steadfast and mature. James 1:2-4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” Today, we will learn that Joseph continues to be incarcerated and two officials of Pharaoh's court are put in jail with him. He is assigned to attend them and when they both have dreams on the same night, he is able to interpret them with God’s help. Both dream’s interpretations come true, and Joseph hopes to gain his release from jail, but he is forgotten and the testing of his obedience, patience and faithfulness continues. Which brings us to our big idea that God tests his people through adversity to mature them in obedience, patience and faithfulness.
Before we dive into Genesis 40 this morning let’s ask the Holy Spirit to illumine our hearts and minds to what he wants us to learn and what he wants us to apply to our lives today. Dear Awesome God, as we open your Word this morning, we ask for your Holy Spirit to open our hearts and our minds to this passage. As we learn about going through basic training in your army, Lord God, I pray that we would allow you to mature us in obedience, patience and faithfulness even when it means going through adversity and trials of many kinds. Help us to persevere, becoming mature and complete, not lacking anything, for your honor and your glory, in Jesus’ name, Amen.
There are three points this morning. The first is Incarceration and is found in Genesis 40:1-8. Follow along as I read those verses. This is what God’s Word says, “Sometime later, the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt offended their master, the king of Egypt. Pharaoh was angry with his two officials, the chief cupbearer and the chief baker, and put them in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, in the same prison where Joseph was confined. The captain of the guard assigned them to Joseph, and he attended them. After they had been in custody for some time, each of the two men—the cupbearer and the baker of the king of Egypt, who were being held in prison—had a dream the same night, and each dream had a meaning of its own. When Joseph came to them the next morning, he saw that they were dejected. So he asked Pharaoh’s officials who were in custody with him in his master’s house, “Why do you look so sad today?” “We both had dreams,” they answered, “but there is no one to interpret them.” Then Joseph said to them, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.”
We begin with the timestamp, “sometime later” which means that Joseph was in prison for a considerable amount of time before the cupbearer and the baker offended their master. Their master was the “king of Egypt” who was the Pharaoh. That title was used when referencing his servants. The cupbearer and the baker were probably foreigners who had been previously enslaved and were now trusted officials in Pharaoh's court. This reminds us of Nehemiah, the cupbearer of King Artaxerxes while in exile in Persia, who was a man of influence and ability. These were important positions of power, temptation and danger. If someone wanted to assassinate Pharoah, one way would be to poison his food or drink. These officials would have been the first to come under suspicion. They are also called the chief cupbearer and chief baker, meaning they would also have the responsibility of ensuring that their respective staffs were wholly trustworthy as well.
Both of these officials “offended” Pharaoh. The word used translates to “sinned against.” We aren’t told what their specific offenses were meaning that God in his sovereignty was probably orchestrating these events. The phrase “sinned against” is probably to connect and contrast the last chapter where Joseph was thrown into prison for refusing to “sin against” God and this chapter where the officials were thrown into prison for “sinning against” Pharoah. Pharoah was angry, or “enraged.” Wenham says that Pharoah “lost his temper” but it would not have been an overreaction or over something trivial. He put them under “house arrest” in the house of the captain of the guard, pending an investigation into the charges against them.
By God’s sovereignty, they were confined in the same prison that Joseph was confined in and he was assigned by the captain of the guard to attend to them. Potiphar is not named here but it makes sense that Joseph, who was once in charge of his household, and who was now in charge of and responsible for all that was done in the prison, would be assigned to attend these officials. This reinforces the overarching theme of the Joseph story – the providence and sovereignty of God. God is in control of what is happening to Joseph. If Joseph is not put in charge of Potiphar’s house he doesn’t have the opportunity to be wrongfully accused by Potiphar’s wife and he doesn’t get sent to prison. If he is not in custody in the house of the captain of the guard, and if God isn’t with Joseph and grant him favor in the eyes of the prison warden, then Joseph is never assigned to attend to the prisoners, and he never hears and interprets their dreams. We can praise the Lord this morning because He is sovereign and his sovereignty is amazing. Only God can work all things out perfectly, even though it brings trials and adversity to his people, for his purposes. Only God in his infinite wisdom can use these trials and adversity to bring his people to maturity in obedience, patience and faith, and all for his glory and honor. (Big Idea)
Again, we see a timestamp, “after they had been in custody for some time.” We don’t know how long before they had their dreams. It seems that God was giving Joseph time to work on being patient. We are told that the cupbearer and baker both have dreams on the same night and each dream has a meaning of its own. The following morning when Joseph comes to attend them, he notices that they are dejected or sad. The word translated “dejected” is used for a “raging sea” giving us the sense that they were distraught. Seeing themselves as participants in a dream where no one is speaking would have been unnerving and would have added to their feeling of dread. Joseph, instead of ignoring them, inquires why their faces are so sad. We should also be aware of the “faces” of those we come in contact with. God may be wanting us to reach out to them to comfort and care for them as Joseph did here. This brings us to our first principle this morning which is “God is pleased when we notice the hurt in others and try to comfort them.” We see this in the following verses: Philippians 2:3b-4: “Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way, you will fulfill the law of Christ.” 2 Corinthians 1:4: “(God) comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” Joseph was not so preoccupied with his own struggles that he didn’t notice that they were struggling as well. Instead of ignoring their faces, which would have been easy to do, he went the extra mile and inquired as to what was happening with them. I believe God wants us to go the extra mile when we notice someone is having a bad day or struggling with something. All it takes is asking “why” or “what” and being ready and willing to listen and help in any way we can. Which brings us to the first next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to notice those who are hurting, not ignoring them, but listening to and comforting them.
They both answer they are sad because they have had dreams and there is no one to interpret them. There was no one to interpret because they were in prison. It would have already been a bad omen they both had dreams on the same night but to not have access to someone who could interpret them would make it worse. They would have thought their dreams were about their futures and not having an interpreter would have upset them more than being in prison in the first place. Hamilton says, “A dream without an accompanying interpretation is like a diagnosis without a prognosis.” And I would add “a diagnosis without a treatment.” Egypt was well-known for having magicians who could interpret dreams. They believed that dreams came from the gods, but interpretation came from human beings. They had “dream books” that would have contained sample dreams along with the keys to interpreting them. These books would contain thousands of dreams, the symbolism used in them, and the interpretation of those symbols to tell what the dreams meant. These magicians would use the symbols, an understanding of the person who dreamed the dream, and current events to interpret the dream.
Next, we see the faithfulness of Joseph. How do we know he was faithful? Because he is in prison for being wrongfully accused and still he puts his faith and trust in God having full confidence that he will give him the interpretation. Why? Because God has done it before. Joseph’s relationship with God has not waned or wavered. He knows God will give him the interpretations of their dreams because he had already proven faithful by giving him the interpretation of his dreams. Joseph also believed that God was all-powerful and had authority over all things. Joseph was humble as he told the officials that it was only God who could interpret dreams and not himself. He then asked them to tell him their dreams, putting himself in a position to be used by God. Which brings us to our second principle this morning which is “God is pleased when we allow him to use us to fulfill his plans and purposes.” This is a principle we have seen all throughout our study of the book of Genesis. Joseph, even though he is in prison, is obedient, patient and faithful as he allows God to use him to fulfill his plans and purposes. (Big Idea)
That brings us to our second point which is Interpretation found in verses 9-19. This is what God’s Word says, “So the chief cupbearer told Joseph his dream. He said to him, “In my dream I saw a vine in front of me, and on the vine were three branches. As soon as it budded, it blossomed, and its clusters ripened into grapes. Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand, and I took the grapes, squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup and put the cup in his hand.” “This is what it means,” Joseph said to him. “The three branches are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position, and you will put Pharaoh’s cup in his hand, just as you used to do when you were his cupbearer. But when all goes well with you, remember me and show me kindness; mention me to Pharaoh and get me out of this prison. I was forcibly carried off from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing to deserve being put in a dungeon.” When the chief baker saw that Joseph had given a favorable interpretation, he said to Joseph, “I too had a dream: On my head were three baskets of bread. In the top basket were all kinds of baked goods for Pharaoh, but the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” “This is what it means,” Joseph said. “The three baskets are three days. Within three days Pharaoh will lift off your head and impale your body on a pole. And the birds will eat away your flesh.”
The first dream Joseph hears and interprets is the cupbearer’s dream. In his dream, we notice that the cupbearer is fulfilling his occupation. He was responsible not only for opening and tasting the wine but also for the quality of what he put in Pharoah’s cup. This would include the production of the wine seen in the budding, blossoming, and ripening of the grapes. Next, we notice some sets of threes. There is a vine with three branches on it. There are three actions of the branches - budded, blossomed and ripened. We see that the cupbearer is holding Pharoah’s cup, squeezing the grapes into Pharoah’s cup and putting the cup in Pharaoh's hand. “Pharoah'' is referred to three times and “cup” is mentioned three times. Joseph immediately after hearing the cupbearer’s dream starts to interpret it. The immediacy proves that Joseph is truly interpreting the dream – he is not faking it. The rapidity with which the actions happen show that the dream’s fulfillment was imminent. The three branches stood for three days meaning the interpretation would be realized in that time. The ripening of the grapes, the cupbearer’s interaction with Pharaoh and the three-fold mention of Pharaoh, shows their close relationship. The interpretation of “lift up your head”, in the case of the cupbearer, meant that he would be “restored” to his position in Pharaoh's court. He would be putting Pharaoh’s cup in his hand just like he used to.
Joseph then takes the opportunity, after giving a favorable interpretation, to ask a favor of the cupbearer. This showed his confidence in God’s interpretation and was smart on Joseph’s part. One of the best times to ask a favor of someone would be after giving them good news. He asked the cupbearer that once he got released, to “remember him and show him kindness” by putting in a good word for him with Pharoah, so he could get out of this prison. He must have realized at some level that he is there because God wants him there but that doesn’t mean God wants him to stay there. His own dreams prove that he would not wallow in prison forever. We may debate whether Joseph was patient and waiting on God or putting his future in the hands of a man. The phrase “remember me and show me kindness” is more common to divine than human action so maybe Joseph felt that through this true and favorable interpretation given to him by God he would gain his release. Ultimately, he was right but he would have to be patient a little while longer and wait on God’s perfect timing for his release. Joseph gives two reasons why he wanted to be released. First, he was forcibly carried away from his homeland – the land of the Hebrews. Second, he has done nothing wrong to be in this dungeon – he is innocent. The word “dungeon” is the same word for “pit” or “cistern” reminding us of the pit his brothers threw him into. Notice he doesn’t mention his brothers or Potiphar’s wife or blame them for his present state.
When the baker hears Joseph’s favorable interpretation of the cupbearer’s dream he proceeds to tell Joseph his dream. Again, we notice that the baker is fulfilling his occupation having three baskets of bread on his head. In the top basket is “all kinds of baked goods” for Pharaoh but there is no mention of him giving the bread to Pharaoh. In fact, it’s not Pharoah who eats the bread but the birds. This would have been a picture of impending doom for the baker. Again, immediately after hearing the dream, Joseph interprets it. As in the cupbearer’s dream the three baskets stood for three days. And like the cupbearer, Pharoah will “lift up his head” but this time instead of “restoring” him, he will “lift up” the baker’s head meaning the baker would be beheaded and his body would be impaled on a stake. The meaning of the birds eating Pharoah’s bread was that the birds would feast on the baker’s impaled body. This picture may have reminded the first hearers of Abraham fighting off the predator birds in his dream in Genesis chapter 15. The birds of prey signified oppression which Abraham was able to fight off, but the baker will not. This would have been a harsh punishment relegated to the worst kind of criminal. The Egyptians believed that the soul in the afterlife was dependent on the body and this kind of damage to one’s body would have major repercussions. Goldingay says, “While impaling shames a person and dissuades others from imitating the offense the birds suggest that the punishment continues after death. There will not be enough to bury and he will not be able to rest with his ancestors.” This vivid picture shows that Joseph was certain his interpretation would come true.
That brings us to the third point this morning which is “Implementation” found in verses 20-23. Here we see the fulfillment of the interpretations of the dreams. This is what God’s Word says, “Now the third day was Pharaoh’s birthday, and he gave a feast for all his officials. He lifted up the heads of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker in the presence of his officials: He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so that he once again put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand—but he impaled the chief baker, just as Joseph had said to them in his interpretation. The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him.
We start this section with another timestamp. The fulfillment of Joseph’s interpretations on the third day would coincide with Pharaoh's birthday. This could have been his physical birthday or the anniversary of the day that he ascended to being Pharoah. It was not uncommon that the celebration of Pharaoh's ascension be accompanied by granting amnesties. The celebration included a feast given by Pharaoh for all his officials. We see the fulfillment of Joseph’s interpretations as Pharaoh “lifted up the heads” of the chief cupbearer and chief baker in the presence of his officials. He restored the chief cupbearer to his position, so he could continue to put the cup into Pharaoh's hand, and he beheaded and impaled the chief baker just as Joseph interpreted. The exact implementation of the dream’s interpretations showed that they came from God. The punishment of the baker indicates that his sin or offense against Pharaoh was grave. The text does not recount their reactions or why one is set free while the other is condemned to death. This silence I believe continues to show the sovereignty of God. He has the right to rule and he rules rightly and was in control of all that happened to the cupbearer and baker. Then we are given this final caveat. The chief cupbearer, knowingly or unknowingly, did not remember Joseph and in fact he forgot him. The cupbearer’s neglect is doubly emphasized by the verbs “did not remember” or “ignored” and “forgot.” We know that God was with Joseph because he spoke through him to interpret these dreams. He has been forgotten by man but not by God. Joseph will continue in prison for another two years until Pharoah has his dreams and the cupbearer finally remembers him.
Earlier, one of our principles were “God is pleased when his people are faithful in adversity.” The following comes from Gangel & Bramer’s commentary. What will be your response to unfairness, mistreatment, and misfortune? In the eyes of the skeptical world, the manner in which a believer meets difficulties by means of the grace of God is a powerful apologetic for faith in God. F.B. Meyer said, “The child of God is often called to suffer because there is nothing that will convince onlookers of the reality and power of true religion as suffering will do, when it is borne with Christian fortitude.” William Sangster, a well-known British pastor of the last century, was told by a doctor that he had progressive muscular atrophy; his muscles would gradually waste away, his voice would finally fail, and he would lose the ability even to swallow. He made the following resolutions and stuck by them for the rest of his life: I will never complain, I will keep the home bright, I will count my blessings, I will try and turn it to good. Sangster devoted himself to the work of British home missions, figuring he could still write and he would have even more time for prayer. He wrote articles and books and helped organize prayer cells throughout England. He turned misfortune into triumph because he believed in the God of the Bible. Someday we may also be called upon to face unfairness, mistreatment or misfortune. Will we respond with faith and faithfulness or with complaint and compromise?
As Christians, some time or another, we will have adversity in this life. So the question before us today is how will each of us face those adversities. How will we face our own unfairnesses, mistreatments or misfortunes? Hopefully, we will face them like Joseph did. That brings us to the second next step on the back of your communication card. My next step is to face adversity with obedience, patience and faithfulness. When we do this God will bring us to Christian maturity and we will be better equipped to notice the hurting and bring them comfort and to allow God to fulfill his plans and purposes in us and through us.
As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song and as the ushers prepare to collect the tithes and offerings, let’s close our time in prayer: Lord God, by the power of your Holy Spirit help us not to leave this place the way we came but to be transformed by your Word. Give us your eyes to see the hurting in our world and to not ignore them but to comfort them. Mature us in obedience, patience and faithfulness for your honor and your glory. In Jesus’ name, Amen.