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Joseph Before Pharaoh

"And Joseph answered Pharaoh, saying, It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace." (Genesis 41:16)

A pair of dreams. For the third time in the life of Joseph we see an instance where a pair of dreams will prove pivotal. Back in Chapter 37, we read about two dreams which Joseph himself had: two separate dreams, yet the same. In Chapter 40, two officers in Pharaoh’s court — having been thrown into the same prison as Joseph — were troubled by a pair of dreams; two different dreams that they each had.

And now, in Chapter 41, Joseph finds himself standing before Pharaoh, and for what reason? A pair of dreams. We now learn the purpose for which we were told beforehand of Joseph’s interpretations of the dreams of the butler and the baker. Seemingly insignificant events in the lives of God’s people are often cogs in the wheels of God’s plan; serving little apparent purpose, yet crucial steps that God has laid out before us in order to bring us to the place where He wants us. Surely Joseph gave little thought to his encounter with the officers of Pharaoh as the weeks and months passed by. When it became obvious that the butler had made no such mention of Joseph’s predicament to Pharaoh, though he had pleaded with him to do so, Joseph likely put the whole matter behind him. After two full years transpired, Joseph must have been surprised that he was being summoned to the service of Pharaoh based on the belated testimony of the King’s cupbearer.

“Then spake the chief butler unto Pharaoh, saying, I do remember my faults this day:” (Genesis 41:9)

Did the butler truly remember his faults that day? It would seem that we have a portrait of the man whose encounter with the Divine is wholly without impact. Like those who can see no possible benefit, no possible merit in what God can do in their life beyond satisfying some temporal and fleshly goal, the butler’s only real motivation here appears to be ingratiating himself with his earthly ruler. God moved in this man’s life in a very remarkable way, the Lord graciously brought to him a message of salvation from the hangman’s noose, but for all intents and purposes this man remained unfazed. As those who stand by the wayside in the Lord Jesus’ parable (Luke 8:12), this man has the privilege of being right in the middle of a mighty move of the hand of God and yet he is missing the spiritual significance of it all. He forgot all about his encounter with the Spirit of God working through Joseph until such a time that it might be of value to his own career.

Nevertheless, God can use even the most unspiritual of people to fulfill His purposes. As God moved upon the heart of Caesar Augustus, spurring him to enact an empire-wide census, God moved on the butler’s heart (regardless of the butler’s own motivations) in order that His own will would be fulfilled. Pharaoh, perplexed by the disturbing images he had been haunted by the night before, wasted no time in having Joseph brought before him. Joseph shaves and makes himself presentable for an audience with the King. He was as a dead man and now he is alive again. He changes his clothes (Gen. 41:14). Twice now Joseph has been identified by the clothes he wore. First his coat of many colors, splattered with the blood of a goat, was presented to his father as “proof positive” that he had been slain by a wild animal; and later his clothes, ripped from his body as he fled, were used by the wife of Potiphar to falsely accuse him of a lewd indiscretion. Now Joseph’s “identity” is changed again as he puts on a new outfit for his visit with Pharaoh. Life as he knew it has ended for him twice, marked by the loss of his garments; this time, he is beginning a new life and the garment wherewith he is clothed will not be taken from him.

We notice again the remarkable faith of Joseph as he responds to Pharaoh’s dilemma: “It is not in me: God shall give Pharaoh an answer of peace” (Gen. 41:16). How tempting it is for many people to gladly accept any credit which comes their way. The praise of men, especially those seated upon thrones and ruling kingdoms, can be very alluring. Joseph was also in a unique position; for all of Pharaoh’s other advisors, all of his magicians and soothsayers, admitted that the meaning of his dreams were beyond their own understanding. To embellish his own sagacity and to present himself as a master clairvoyant might have earned Joseph a permanent spot among Pharaoh’s elite counselors. But Joseph can do nothing of the sort. Just as he had previously testified to the butler and the baker (Gen. 40:8), he responds without hesitation that God alone is the Revealer of mysteries.

“And for that the dream was doubled unto Pharaoh twice; it is because the thing is established by God, and God will shortly bring it to pass.” (Genesis 41:32)

Joseph is ever-protective of the glory of God and he never does anything which might usurp that glory which belongs to the Lord. He makes no effort to advance his own interests at any time, never does he seek after that which would seem to help him the most. Joseph knows that God will lift him up in due time, that the Lord will not forsake him, but put him in the place where He wants him. The pair of dreams that Pharaoh has dreamed would no doubt have reminded him of his own pair of dreams so long ago. And just as surely as the visions which God has shown to the King of Egypt would certainly come to pass, so, too, would those the Lord had shown him. That Joseph would be elevated to a place above his brethren was just as much of an established reality as what God was about to do concerning the great famine in all the land.

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3 responses

  1. To think of Joseph in prison all that time, unjustly, coming out and still protecting God’s glory . . .wow. :) I liked learning about the garments, had never thought of that before. :) And this morning, I was working on a post for a later date. It was from Matthew, when Jesus said “Render therefore to Caesar the things that are Caesars, and to God the things that are God’s.” (22:21) Next it says that the men who heard this marveled at His words, but left Him and went their way. ! It reminds me of that butler who was so close to God and His plans, but didn’t know it. I want to stop these men and tell them to stay with Jesus and walk His way! And I wonder how many times have I not realized the Divine happening in my life?
    Thank you for these wonderful studies! I always learn from your posts! God bless you and keep you and yours! deb

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  2. Thanks, Deb, I always enjoy reading your comments :)

    Can you imagine standing in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ during His time on earth, hearing His words, marvelling at them and then just walking away?!? Wow, that’s something! But I agree with you: before I am too quick to point a finger at those people listening to Jesus that day, or Pharaoh’s butler, I, too, wonder how many times I have missed what God was doing around me because my attention was focused on something else. May we all walk closely enough to Him that we can clearly see where He is leading us.

    God bless you and yours also, Deb, and thank you for all that you do :)

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  3. […] Last time, we looked at how the chief butler of Pharaoh seemed to have missed what God was doing around him and even in his own life. What a stark contrast between his response to Joseph’s interpretation of his dream and Pharaoh’s response to his own dreams being expounded. The butler may have forgotten what God did for him through Joseph (Gen. 40:23), but Pharaoh sure did not! On the contrary, Pharaoh promptly elevated Joseph to a position of leadership second only to his own. “See, I have set thee over all the land of Egypt“, Pharaoh declares to Joseph (Gen. 41:41).  Whatever sense of pride, whatever fear or insecurity that prevented the butler from immediately telling the King of Egypt about what Joseph had done was certainly not a trait in Pharaoh himself. Ironically, the very man who might have felt the most threatened by the Spirit of God working through Joseph had no problem yielding great authority to the man. Pharaoh recognized the power of God working through Joseph and, consequently, responded with wisdom by putting Joseph in a position where the blessings of God would pour down on his nation. “Can we find such a one as this, a man in whom the Spirit of God is?”, he asks his advisors (Gen. 41:38).   Unlike Herod, who would attempt to snuff out the life of the young Lord Jesus rather than willingly allow any other King to reign in Judea, Pharaoh makes no hesitation in permitting the man through whom God is working to take control of the affairs of his kingdom. He even hands over his signet ring, giving Joseph the power-of-attorney to act completely on his behalf (Gen. 41:42). What remarkable trust Pharaoh placed in this Hebrew slave who had just now been plucked from prison. We should not miss the risk that Pharaoh was really taking: he was giving Joseph enough authority that potential mismanagement could have easily run the entire nation into the ground! Yet he did not wince at giving Joseph this authority based solely on the fact that the Spirit of God was working through him. How unfortunate that we are so reluctant to freely turn over all the affairs of our lives, to hand over our own signet rings and yield authority over our own kingdoms to the Spirit of God Himself. Were it that we might be so filled with faith as this pagan monarch!   Joseph is then given a new name (Zaphnath-paaneah), arrayed in fine clothing — a gold chain placed around his neck, and presented with a bride. With a shaven face (and most likely a shaved head, as scholars tell us was the fashion in those times), an Egyptian name, Egyptian clothes and jewelry, an Egyptian wife, and speaking the language fluently now after some 13 years in the land, Joseph looks a lot like an Egyptian. A new life has now begun for him. And herein we begin to see parallels again between his life and that of the Lord Jesus. As the Lord’s own ministry began at about the age of thirty (Luke 3:23), so begins Joseph’s active ministry (Gen. 41:46). As the Church is the Gentile bride, called out of the world: Asenath is the called-out, Gentile bride of Joseph (Gen 41:45). As the Lord Jesus is the Bread of Life (John 6:35), Joseph is the holder of all of the bread in the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:57). As the wedding guests in Cana sought after wine and were told by Mary to do whatsoever Jesus said to them (John 2:5), so were the Egyptians who cried to Pharaoh for food told to do whatsoever Joseph told them to do (Gen. 41:55).   “Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended: but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.” (Phil. 3:13-14)   Two sons are born to Joseph during the 7 years of plenty: Manasseh (forgetting), and Ephraim (fruitful). Joseph declares that God has caused him to forget his toil and his home and has made him fruitful in this new land (Gen. 41:51). These are two qualities which God desires for all who belong to Him. To forget what lies behind us, to forget those things in our past and to be fruitful in the service to which He has called us. Regret and bitterness over a lifetime of abuse and mistreatment could have plagued Joseph, but God caused him to forget those things. What a blessing it is when God causes the pains and hurts of our past to be washed away by His grace and mercy! If we will only let go of these things and turn them over to the Lord Jesus Christ, He will make us the fruitful servants he intends us to be.   […]

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