Hi. Please have Genesis 41 open as we continue our series; Joseph and the amazing sovereignty of God under the heading ‘God’s Timing’. Let’s pray:
Sovereign Lord, speak to us now from your word. Encourage us, change us and help us to trust you. For your glory, Amen.
I wonder what you’ve been making of what’s been happening this year? Not only nationally and internationally but also personally? Don’t we sometimes want to ask: ‘What are we to make of God’s timing?’ At times it can appear confused as well as confusing, but we have to make sure our starting point is right. You see, we’re not to begin with circumstances and try to work out what God might be doing from those, which can be unclear and ambiguous, rather, we’re to start with God and his character and what he’s told us he’s doing; namely, bringing a wayward world back to himself. This he promised to do back in Genesis 3.15 - after the Fall; through the seed of the woman, he would raise up the serpent crusher, and he promised it again to Abram in Genesis 12, a seed who would be a blessing to all the nations. So, God has determined to work out his purposes in his own way and time and that applies to our lives too, and this reassuring truth is illustrated for us in Genesis 41.
Joseph is now 30 years old, having arrived in Egypt as a 17-year-old slave. 13 years have passed, a long time, especially for a youth. His twenties have vanished. Perhaps some of you feel the same. Where did they go? What’s going to become of me? What’s God doing? What does God want me to be doing as I wait? Everything seems so slow. Well check out 2 Peter 3.8-14 in your own time, for more answers. Yet it’s at such a point when there appears to be hope for Joseph. The cupbearer’s released from prison and surely he’ll put in a good word for Joseph with Pharaoh, but instead another two years pass as Joseph is forgotten. God’s timing from Joseph’s perspective must have seemed so slow. But in Genesis 41 the pace changes dramatically. Genesis 41.14 Joseph’s sent for, brought from his cell, shaved, clothed, and taken to Pharaoh. There’s the key verse, Genesis 41.32, when Joseph says:
…the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.
Things now speed up further for Joseph; Genesis 41.41 he’s commissioned by Pharaoh, given a signet ring, robes, a gold chain of office, a chariot. Then a wife and two children appear. It’s almost as if God is making up for lost time, but there’s no such thing as lost time for God because every second is used by him to make sure everything’s in place for the divine drama to unfold. And if he does that with Joseph, one of the covenant people, do you think he won’t do it with you? So what can we learn here about God’s timing?
First, God’s timing is merciful
The occasion for this massive turnaround in Joseph’s life and the great leap forward is the horror movie-like dreams of Pharaoh with cannibalistic cows and consuming corn. God’s certainly got Pharaoh’s attention. But why? Why didn’t Pharaoh put his sleeplessness down to something he ate?One reason is that the Egyptians believed that dreams were messages from the gods, especially to Pharaoh who was himself considered a god. Two, there’s the timing of the dreams. They happened on Pharaoh’s birthday - two years on from the cupbearer’s release, which would have been seen as a sign. Three, the first dream is full of symbols. The seven evil cattle emerge out of the Nile. Cows weren’t typical farm animals in ancient Egypt but they did symbolise Egypt and were related to the myth of Egypt’s origins - of a god Isis who emerged out of water. Isis was depicted as a cow who was the mother of the god Horus, and Pharaoh was considered to be Horus incarnate. So it appears that Egypt is going to be subject to destruction. And seven was a sacred number symbolising fate - this was going to happen! It couldn’t be ignored. So Pharaoh called on Egypt’s finest for an interpretation but they failed, Genesis 41.8.
Pharaoh’s beside himself with worry and that’s when the cupbearer steps in to tell Pharaoh of Joseph’s remarkable powers of dream interpretation.
Note the timing of this. Here’s one reason why Joseph spent two more years in prison; God was waiting for this moment to bring everything together. Do you think that if Joseph had been released two years earlier, a Hebrew slave on an unjust charge of attempted rape, that Pharaoh would’ve cared? No, but now he can’t wait to meet Joseph because Joseph has something he wants. Also, notice the development of Joseph’s character during those 13 years. He’s far more mature, wiser, and courageous now. How does he reply to Pharaoh’s demand that he interprets the dream? Genesis 41.16, ‘I can’t do it’. But then we get the expression of a humble man whose faith has been forged in the furnace of suffering who won’t manipulate circumstances for his own advantage, but submit to circumstances for God’s glory, ‘I can’t do it, but I know a God who can and who will.’ There’s your mercy.
As well as warning of the approaching famine and the years of plenty preceding it, Joseph’s bold enough and caring enough to advise what to do about it, Genesis 41.33-36. And when Joseph said, ‘Let Pharaoh select a discerning and wise man and set him over the land of Egypt’, don’t think that Joseph was subtly lining himself up for the job. ‘That Pharaoh should appoint a jail bird and a foreigner would’ve been totally unthinkable and would never have entered Joseph’s head. But it wasn’t unthinkable to God who had this in mind from the very beginning, so Genesis 41.39-41, Joseph becomes second only to Pharaoh himself in the then most powerful Kingdom in the world. That’s what the King of Kings can do, out of mercy. Doesn’t it strike you what a kind God he is, even to pagan, idolatrous, god-usurping people like Pharaoh? Yes God has other purposes for saving people from famine, but it does encompass even those who oppose him. What did Jesus say of his heavenly Father, ‘He makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.’ That’s what he’s like (merciful and gracious) and we his people are meant to be like that too.
Secondly, God’s timing is unchangeable
And the doubling of Pharaoh’s dream means that the thing is fixed by God, and God will shortly bring it about.
Joseph’s saying that the doubling of the dream is an indication that God is really going to do it as when Jesus prefixes his statements with ‘Amen, amen’. The thing is, everything that’s happened in the narrative up to this point has either been said twice or doubled up in some way. Joseph has had two dreams; his brothers had two different plans; Joseph has experienced two waves of temptation; two humiliations (the pit and jail), and two exaltations (promoted by Potiphar and by Pharaoh). There are two’s everywhere. It’s as if God’s feet are marching throughout the whole of this story so that we don’t miss the message that God’s purpose is fixed and we’d better get used to that.
Why is this so important? Well why is there so much concern about the future regarding the virus? Because of uncertainty which in turn is the result of a sense of lack of control. In our own personal lives, why do we sometimes find it difficult to sleep with imaginary future events churning over in our minds? It’s the fear of the future and having a lack of control over it. But the Bible says there’s one who never for a millisecond loses control, whose hands are always on the helm of history steering it to its intended purpose (the manifestation of his kingdom) and that someone is God. Spurgeon wrote:
There’s no attribute more comforting to His children than that of God’s sovereignty. Under the most adverse circumstances, in the most severe trials, they believe that Sovereignty has ordained their afflictions, that Sovereignty overrules them, and that Sovereignty will sanctify them. There’s nothing for which the children ought more earnestly to contend than the doctrine of their Master over all creation — the Kingship of God over all the works of His own hands — the Throne of God and His right to sit upon that throne. It’s God upon the throne that we love to preach. It’s God upon the throne whom we trust.
Are you trusting him? Because he really is reigning. Which brings us thirdly to:
God’s timing is purposeful
There’s always a point to any delay or to speeding things along.
We’ve already seen what some of those purposes are; the shaping of Joseph’s character, making Pharaoh receptive to God’s message, the saving of people’s lives etc. But remember, God’s purposes are much bigger than even these things. He has a grand plan and Joseph’s a key player in it.
Remember what I said about God’s grand plan to produce a seed who will become the Saviour of the world? God has designed that it will be through Abraham, more specifically Jacob/Israel and more specifically still from the tribe of Judah. Famine is part of being in a fallen world, a sign that all’s not well between ourselves and our Maker. And so God superintends events, as well as people’s motives, to get Joseph to be the right man (a more mature Joseph), in the right place (Pharaoh’s palace), at the right time (just before the famine) so that God’s people would be preserved and the ‘seed’ kept so that Jesus the Saviour would come 1800 years later. God’s involved at every level of detail to execute his divine plan - he has to be.
And having that understanding of God’s control over all things, great and small, good and bad, with good purposes in mind does change your perspective as it did with Joseph. Genesis 41.50-52:
Before the year of famine came, two sons were born to Joseph by Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera, priest of On... Joseph called the name of his firstborn Manasseh “For”…God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The name of the second son he called Ephraim. “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.”
Times of blessing can lift our sights higher. Here it was in having children but it could be in having spiritual children (those we’re privileged to see converted). In the light of God’s greater plan of which the two children (the seed) were tokens of what was to come, Joseph could look back and reassess his past circumstances, painful though some of them were.
Manasseh means ‘forget’. Joseph hasn’t forgotten his father, brothers and homeland. What he’s chosen to forget is the hardship. Yes, it happened. Yes, it was awful, but he wasn’t going to be held back by the past and bitterness. The past can’t be reversed, but it can be reviewed, seen within the larger framework of God’s goodness. And so, instead of dwelling on the past, the gift of a baby is sign of hope for the future.The name Ephraim means ‘fruitful’. Even in this pagan land the land of affliction, God produces fruit in Joseph’s life. Yes, the ‘fruit of his loins’, but this is but a picture of the greater fruit of salvation which many (including his brothers) were going to experience.
And we all need a Manasseh and an Ephraim in our lives to prevent us from lapsing into despair and wallowing in self-pity. We’re all wounded in various ways by things that have happened to us but some of those wounds were probably necessary to ween us away from pride and a sin we’d decided to overlook. Christians especially should beware of going down the road of victimhood which is so popular in society. Paul says, Philippians 3.14:
Forgetting what lies behind…I press on towards the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
Bumps are what you climb on- we need a Manasseh. We also need an Ephraim (bearing fruit in affliction), that’s our choice. We can trust that God’s hand is in this somehow and ask: ‘Lord what will you teach me from this?’ A prayer that will always be answered. The most gracious, Spirit filled, Christ-like Christians I’ve known have all embraced their ‘Ephraim’ and that includes some of you.
Now if you’d like to think further about God’s timing and plan then why not sign up for our September God’s Big Picture courses at whyjesus.org.uk as well as reading 2 Peter 3.8-14 which I mentioned earlier, which tells us what we should be doing as we wait for Jesus’ return.