Good morning. We need God’s help so before we go any further, let’s pray:
Heavenly Father, you know what’s going on in our lives – our joys and our struggles. Speak to us through your word by your Spirit this morning, we pray, and help us to make sense of it all. In Jesus name. Amen.
This is part two of our new series on ‘Joseph and the Amazing Sovereignty of God’. We’re following the extraordinary story of Joseph and seeing what we can learn from all that God did in his life. This week we’ve come to Genesis chapters 39-40 and I’ve given this the title ‘Good Times, Bad Times and God’. Because how we deal with both the good times and the bad times that we go through is one of the big challenges to our faith. Will we trust that God is both powerful and loving, not only in the good time, but when they’re bad as well? That’s the question for us this morning.
Jon introduced us to Joseph and his family last week, from Genesis 37. We saw how this family had been uniquely chosen by God to be the bearer of God’s promise of blessing and salvation to the world. But we also saw how despite this, Joseph’s family was deeply dysfunctional and torn apart by favouritism and jealousies, and hatred. There is comfort in that. God doesn’t give up on us when our own families get in a mess. But there are consequences of sin as well. And for Joseph, as we saw last week, being on the receiving end of the hatred of his brothers meant being sold in to slavery by them, and it meant Joseph’s father father Jacob being deceived into thinking he’d been killed, that Joseph was dead. That was a very bad time for Joseph. But after that, things began to look up for him. So the first of my three main headings this morning is this:
First, THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH IN GOOD TIMES
We’re picking up the story at the beginning of chapter 39 of Genesis. Here’s what happens next – this is Genesis 39.1-6:
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 Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man, and he was in the house of his Egyptian master. His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands. So Joseph found favour in his sight and attended him, and he made him overseer of his house and put him in charge of all that he had. From the time that he made him overseer in his house and over all that he had the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake; the blessing of the Lord was on all that he had, in house and field. So he left all that he had in Joseph's charge, and because of him he had no concern about anything but the food he ate.
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance.
That’s an amazing turnaround, isn’t it! In New Testament terms, this looks like Romans 8.28 in action. The apostle Paul says there:
And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good
The very fact that Joseph was hated by his brothers and sold into slavery has lead to him ending up in the household of Potiphar – a wealthy soldier in Egypt, the leading economy, culture and military power of the region. And there Joseph thrives. Potiphar promotes him, to the point where Joseph becomes Potiphar’s right hand man, in charge of everything, with status and authority. And on top of it all, Joseph is good looking as well! So Joseph became ‘a successful man’, with the favour and support of what we might call ‘the secular authorities’. Why did that happen? Because, as the Bible emphasises, the Lord was with him. Genesis 39.2:
The Lord was with Joseph, and he became a successful man …
His master saw that the Lord was with him and that the Lord caused all that he did to succeed in his hands.
…the Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for Joseph's sake…
When things go well for God’s people, and times are good, why is that? It’s because God is with his people, and he blesses them and gives them success.
That’s true at a national level. There have been times in the life of this country when God’s people (the church) have thrived as Joseph did, with grown in numbers and in wealth, and had the favour of the secular authorities and therefore recieved great security on the one hand, and also influence for the good of the nation, on the other hand. And when that happens, it is because God is with his people.
It’s true at an individual level as well. I remember my father saying to me, when I was a young man and he was in his fifties, that he felt as though he had had lived a “charmed life” as he put it. He had a happy marriage with four children. He had a wide circle of friends. Along with his brother he had grown a very successful business. He got significant professional recognition for his achievements as an engineer. He was a respected leader in his local church. He recognised God’s blessing and was thankful for what he had. And he was right to be. He had a taste, you could say, of what Joseph experienced. The Lord was with Joseph in good times. That’s the first thing for us to see. Then:
Secondly, THE LORD WAS WITH JOSEPH IN BAD TIMES
Because of course, as anyone who’s seen Joseph and the Technicolour Dreamcoat knows, the good times did not last. Just when everything seemed so good, Joseph found himself assailed by strong temptation, unjustly attacked and persecuted, and ultimately falsely imprisoned. He was assailed by temptation as Potiphar’s unscrupulous and immoral wife took a fancy to him. This is what happened – chapter 39.6-10:
Now Joseph was handsome in form and appearance. And after a time his master's wife cast her eyes on Joseph and said, “Lie with me.” But he refused and said to his master's wife, “Behold, because of me my master has no concern about anything in the house, and he has put everything that he has in my charge. He is not greater in this house than I am, nor has he kept back anything from me except yourself, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” And as she spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her, to lie beside her or to be with her.
It’s worth noticing Joseph’s strategy here for avoiding falling into temptation when it jumps out at you. One, know what’s right, ahead of time and before the temptation bites. Two, keep God in view. It’s very striking what Joseph says to Potiphar’s wife: “How … can I do this great wickedness and sin against God?” In the heat of the moment, his mind immediately turns not so much to his master Potiphar but to what God thinks about this, and what his duty is towards God. The way people think in a crisis is shaped not in that moment of urgency, but in all the years of relative tranquillity before the crisis hits. It’s clear that Joseph’s faith in God is at the very heart of his life and his thinking. And three, in the light of that, don’t listen to the temptation. Genesis 39.10:
And as [Potiphar’s wife] spoke to Joseph day after day, he would not listen to her …
The onslaught of tempatation was relentless, but because of his faith in God, Joseph was having none of it. But he paid a high price for his faith and integrity. He angered his tempter by not giving in, and she then attacked and unjustly accused him. She deliberately sought to destroy him. She knew exactly what she was doing. She lied, and lied again, and lied again. And she got what she wanted. Potiphar believed her. A wiser man would surely have had more insight into which of these two was more trustworthy, but he didn’t. He believed his wide, so he was understandably angry, thinking that Joseph had taken advantage of the favour that he’d shown him. And he had Joseph thrown into prison. Genesis 39.39.20:
And Joseph’s master took him and put him into the prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined, and he was there in prison.
Now, all through that account of Joseph’s temptation, persecution and being sent to prison, there is no mention of what God is doing. It’s a reminder that when times are bad, it often feels as if God’s not there any more. But not so. The very next verse, after Joseph’s imprisonment, Genesis 39.21, has this to say:
But the Lord was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison.
And Joseph ends up running the prison just as he had been in charge of Potiphar’s household before. Why? Because (Genesis 39.23):
… because the Lord was with [Joseph]. And whatever he did, the Lord made it succeed.
But that’s not saying that the Lord had been with Joseph when he was on the up, then the Lord disappeared when everything went pear-shaped, and then the Lord reappeared and things started looking up again. No. What the Bible is says is that the Lord showed Joseph “steadfast love” – that is, unwavering love and faithfulness to his promise. Even as everything was falling apart, God was there. He was carrying Joseph through. And he was working out his good purposes, even through the evil that was done to Joseph. That is the amazing sovereignty of God. We can look ahead and see that God was using these events to get Joseph not just into a soldier’s household, but right to the very top – to the notice of Pharoah himself, and into the royal court. It’s what chapter Genesis 40 sets up, with its account of Joseph in prison, and the two dreams of the king’s cupbearer and baker who are in prison with him, and Joseph’s God-given interpretations of those dreams. Chapter 40 still ends with Joseph forgotten in prison. But the scene is set for God’s next big move in Joseph’s life. That’s for the future. Come back next week to hear more about that! We don’t see that yet. We don’t see that in the midst of the bad times. God’s good purposes only become clear later.
But the Lord is there. And it takes faith to know it. The kind of faith that the apostle Paul shows when he writes his extraordinary and joyful Letter to the Philippians when he’s in prison and with his life in danger. He knew that the crucifixion of Jesus came before his resurrection, and that the pattern of suffering before glory was the pattern of the normal life for those who follow a crucified and risen Saviour. So he wrote – this is Philippians 1.12 and then Philippians 1.18:
I want you to know, brothers, that what has happened to me [his imprisonment] has really served to advance the gospel …[and he goes on:] Yes, and I will rejoice…
I was telling you about my father’s apparently charmed life. Well, around when he hit the age of sixty, the good times turned bad. He had to have a serious heart operation. His business collapsed. He lost most of his money. His relationship with his brother sadly broke down. Then his spine also started to collapse, and he ended up paraplegic and in a wheelchair. But he never lost sight of the fact that the Lord was with him. I was impressed by his earlier achievements in the good times, in the earlier part of his life – though if anything they were a bit intimidating and so didn’t help me. But in the end what made an even deeper impression on me, by God’s grace, was his resolutely cheerful faith when times were bad. Point one – the Lord was with Joseph in the good times. Point two – the Lord was with Joseph in the bad times. Finally, and here is the obvious application:
Thirdly, THE LORD IS WITH US IN GOOD TIMES AND BAD
We find it all too easy to lose sight of God in both good times and in bad, but for different reasons. In the good times, it’s easy to become complacent and forget God. In the bad times, it’s easy to become bitter and turn away from God. So what’s the antidote for us? How can we hold fast to the certain knowledge that the Lord is with us in good times and bad? Here are three things that Joseph did, and that we should do too. One, trust God, no matter what. He is both powerful and loving. And that is always true. Trust him. Two, obey God, no matter what. Build habits of Godly integrity when the going is easier and then follow Joseph’s example when the crunch comes. Three, watch, wait, and see what God will do. A bit of it we’ll see during these earthly lives of ours. Most it will have to wait until heaven. Joseph had no clear idea that in all he went through God was ultimately preparing the way for the coming of Jesus, the Saviour of the world. But the Lord was using Joseph. And he will use us as well, in the good times and in the bad times, if we trust him, obey him, watch and wait.
Heavenly Father, we know we can’t do these things on our own. So please help us. Help us to know that you are with us, in good times and in bad. Deepen our faith in the Lord Jesus. And by your Holy Spirit give us grace to trust you, and to obey you, and to watch and wait – no matter what. In Jesus name and for his glory. Amen.