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  • Writer's pictureWayne Shelton

Joseph's Rise to Power

Genesis 41:14-16

After he preached on Genesis 40, Kent Hughes received a copy of an eight-year-old’s notes on that chapter. The little fellow wrote:

“Joseph helped the butler and baker with their dreams. He understood their dreams. Pharaoh had a feast on his birthday. He lifted up the butler’s head and lifted up the baker’s head from his body! But the butler forgot Joseph. Joseph never forgot his dreams. We should always know that God is always with us.”

This young fellow captured the story line with admirable economy and clarity.

These final events of Joseph’s imprisonment were arranged by God to make Joseph an extraordinary instrument for the preservation of his people. Amidst the disappointment and delay of being forgotten by the butler, Joseph’s trust in God had been further tempered and deepened. Joseph had become a radically God-centered man who believed that his God-given dreams would come true in God’s good time. God would remain at the center of his vision through everything that was to come. At last Joseph was ready for the great work of his life.

God’s time came in Joseph’s thirtieth year after two more years in prison, with nearly half his young life spent in Egypt. The occasion was a pair of bizarre nightmares that visited Pharaoh on the same night. Deep in his world of dreams he saw himself standing by the sacred Nile, where Egyptian cattle often stood almost submerged as a retreat from the heat and flies.

The perversity and grotesqueness of the dream so shocked Pharaoh that he awoke – perhaps with a start – quite like young children do when they have night terrors. Awake for a time, the king calmed himself and dozed off into a second fantastic dream. And he awoke a second time to discover that he was dreaming.

But consciousness and morning light gave him no comfort as ‘his spirit was troubled’ (41:8). Egyptian Pharaohs, supposedly gods themselves, were thought to live on the edge of the divine realms. So their dreams were given special credence. And these dreams were full of portent. They had come as a pair, signaling their importance and certitude. They were also closely parallel. Both ended in consuming violence. And both dreams were built on the number seven.

The dreams so stunned Pharaoh that the narrator uses an astonished ‘behold’ six times (in the Hebrew) to indicate the king’s response. So shook was Pharaoh that in the morning he assembled “all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men” (41:8) – a vast company of wizards and pagan priests with their dream books and priestcraft. “But there was none who could interpret them to Pharaoh” (v8). Likely, some of the experts had an idea of what the dreams symbolized but didn’t want to go there. The result was that Pharaoh was left anguished and nearly frantic.

It was not good for the king to be in such a state, and certainly not for anyone who worked closely with him, as did the butler. So at the opportune moment the butler delicately volunteered that he knew of someone who could interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. The man had been a fellow prisoner. And the butler told Pharaoh about Joseph.

The outcome was a bustle of activity as the rush of verbs indicates. Quickly Joseph stood standing before Pharaoh. But Joseph was not standing alone because the Lord was with him just as he had been with him in Potiphar’s house and in prison (cf. 39:2, 3, 21, 23). Though God is not mentioned here, God was the convener. God had orchestrated exquisite timing, first through the forgetfulness of the butler and then through the butler’s recollection. Had the butler’s selective memory chosen to function earlier, it would likely have been lost on Pharaoh.

From ground level Joseph’s situation was, to say the least, intimidating. But Joseph was not standing alone and God who is faithful, was faithful to prepare him for this moment. I hope you can join us this Lord’s Day as we see Joseph’s rise to power and what God can do through a single person whose heart is fixed in faith on the Lord.

For His Glory,

Pastor Wayne

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