Sunday, April 23, 2017

Can We Find a Man Like This? (Genesis 39-41)

We return today to our series on the Essential 100 passages of Scripture, and we pick up with the story of Joseph where we left off in Chapter 37. In our study of the Bible, we rarely encounter a man of Joseph’s caliber. Even in his own lifetime, his uniqueness of character was evident to those who knew him. Of all the people described in the book of Genesis, of Joseph (and Joseph alone) do we read that he was filled with the Spirit of God. Pharaoh declared, “Can we find a man like this in whom is a divine spirit?” (41:38). The Hebrew could be literally translated “the Spirit of God,” but the translators allow for a little ambiguity, given that the statement is made by Pharaoh, a man who considers himself one of some two-thousand or more deities in the Egyptian pantheon. But the point is clear enough. In all of Pharaoh’s dealings with people the world over, he’d never encountered anyone like Joseph, and what made him different was the presence of the Spirit of God in Joseph’s life.

The New Testament teaches us that this same Holy Spirit indwells each and every follower of Jesus. The New Covenant which was promised in the Old Testament and inaugurated by Jesus promised that the Spirit of God would be within the people of God (Ezek 36:27). Galatians 4:9 says God has sent forth the Spirit of His Son into the hearts of those who have been redeemed by Jesus Christ because they have been adopted into God’s family. This indwelling of the Spirit is a one-time event that occurs at the moment a person is born again by faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit comes into our lives and never departs. There is, however, an ongoing need for surrendering control of oneself to the Holy Spirit. This is referred to in Scripture as the “filling” of the Holy Spirit. Writing to Christians who are indwelt by the Spirit in Ephesians 5, Paul gives an imperative command for Christians to “be filled with the Spirit,” or perhaps more literally, “be always being filled with (or controlled by) the Spirit.”

Just as Pharaoh had never encountered a man like Joseph who was filled with the Person and power of the Spirit of God, so also many in the world today have yet to meet a person like this. Many have met Christian people who are indwelt by the Spirit, but they do not see evidence of the Spirit’s presence and power in the lives of those believers because the Spirit is “quenched” and not allowed to have full control of our lives. When we live as Spirit-filled people, yielded to His control, we will make the same kind of impact on others that Joseph did, and His presence within us will be made known in the same ways that He made Himself known through Joseph. So as we look at the manifestation of the Spirit’s powerful presence in Joseph’s life, we see how He may be manifested in our lives as well. So these are the marks of a Spirit-filled person.

I. The presence of God is the root of his success (39:1-6)

In our therapeutic culture, it has become commonplace for people to identify themselves as victims. Now, we want to be sensitive to the reality that there are a great many people who have been terribly victimized by the wrongdoing of others. No one denies this. However, it is one thing to be victimized, and it is another thing to make victimhood become one’s identity, and to allow the wrongs of others to shape and define our lives. If anyone in history could have identified as a victim and blamed all of his life circumstances on the evil deeds of others, surely Joseph could have done so. He could have blamed all of his problems on his father, his brothers, the band of traders who bought and sold him into slavery in Egypt, or Potiphar who purchased him and made him his servant. But in spite of all these unfortunate circumstances, Joseph did not allow the victimization he had experienced at the hands of others to define his life or become an excuse to be an underachiever. Neither did he become idle and wait for his circumstances to improve before applying himself diligently to make something better of his life than others had made for him. Our text says in verse 2 that “he became a successful man,” and it should be noted that he was still enslaved when he became a successful man. His success is stated as a result, and the cause is expressed in these terms: “The Lord was with Joseph.” Because the Lord was with him, he could become the person whom God wanted him to be, regardless of what others did to him.

The phrase, “The Lord was with Joseph,” occurs repeatedly throughout Chapter 39, and each time, there is an effect stated. Because the Lord was with him, he was successful, and “the Lord caused all that he did to prosper in his hand” (v3). He found favor and was shown kindness because the Lord was with him, and he was entrusted with great responsibilities because of the Lord’s presence in his life. Joseph knew that the Lord was with him, and others knew it as well. So Joseph could apply himself with all diligence, in the power of God’s Spirit, to whatever task was before him, knowing that ultimately it was this God who was present in his life whom he served.

In Ephesians 6, Paul writes to Christians about how they should conduct themselves in whatever station of life they find themselves. And some of those to whom he was writing were slaves like Joseph was. He says,

Slaves, be obedient to those who are your masters according to the flesh, with fear and trembling, in the sincerity of your heart, as to Christ; not by way of eyeservice, as men-pleasers, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart. With good will render service, as to the Lord, and not to men, knowing that whatever good thing each one does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether slave or free.

In a similar passage in Colossians 3:22, Paul says, “Whatever you do, do your work heartily, as for the Lord rather than for men.” There is no room for a Christian to say, “I would do God’s will if I had a different job, or a different boss, or a different spouse, or a different set of circumstances.” The Spirit-filled believer knows that God is sovereign over his circumstances, and whether those circumstances be pleasant or unpleasant, they are a theater in which God desires to demonstrate His goodness and glory through the lives of His people as they yield control to Him.

God blessed Joseph and those around him in accordance with His promise to Abraham. God’s purpose in blessing His people is that He might bless others through them. We are blessed to be a blessing. Verse 5 says the whole household of Joseph’s Egyptian master was blessed because of the Lord’s presence in Joseph’s life. His diligent work in the power of the Holy Spirit and his success under God’s blessing became a radiant testimony to Potiphar and all in his house of the power of the presence of God.

I wonder, do the people in your home, in your community, in your place of work take notice of the fact that the Lord is with you? Do they see that He blesses the work you do? Do they experience those blessings overflowing from your life into theirs? Do they see you overcoming the difficulty of your disquieting circumstances and giving all diligence to whatever you do as though you were doing it for the Lord Jesus? These kinds of things become evident in the lives of Spirit-filled people because the Lord is with them, and that is the root of their success.

The second mark of the Spirit-filled life that we see in Joseph is this …

II. Reverence for God is the fuel of his integrity (39:6-12)

A couple of Sundays ago, April 9, marked the 72nd anniversary of the death of Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German Christian pastor executed in a Nazi concentration camp. Bonhoeffer wrote a profound little booklet entitled Temptation. In it, he writes,

In our members (that is, the members of our body), there is a slumbering inclination towards desire which is both sudden and fierce. With irresistible power desire seizes mastery over the flesh. All at once a secret, smoldering fire is kindled. The flesh burns and is in flames. It makes no difference whether it is sexual desire, or ambition, or vanity, or desire for revenge, or love of fame and power, or greed for money, or finally, that strange desire for the beauty of the world, of nature. Joy in God is in course of being extinguished in us and we seek all our joy in the creature. At this moment God is quite unreal to us, He loses all reality, and only desire for the creature is real; the only reality is the devil. Satan does not here fill us with hatred of God, but with forgetfulness of God. … The lust thus aroused envelops the mind and will of man in deepest darkness. The powers of clear discrimination and of decision are taken from us. … It is here that everything within me rises up against the Word of God.[1]

This is a proven and effective strategy of Satan that all of us should recognize from our own experiences with temptation. Joseph was not immune to temptation because of his spiritual strength. In fact, it seems that Satan often targets those who have significant spiritual influence all the more. When a believer yields full control of his or her life to the Spirit of God, a war is declared on Satan, and that Spirit-filled individual becomes a target for spiritual attack. Joseph found himself in the crosshairs of one of the most deadly weapons in the devil’s arsenal – that of sexual temptation.

Throughout Scripture, some of the strongest warnings about temptation are reserved for those of a sexual nature. Sexuality is a gift of God designed for His purposes and for man’s pleasure when it is expressed in God’s defined boundaries of the marriage of one man and one woman. Temptation beckons people to pursue the gift of sexuality in ways that defy the Giver’s boundaries. Because human beings are created by God with the capacity and desire for this gift, the temptation is all the more powerful to resist. It should come as no surprise, therefore, to find Satan employing this tactic so frequently and effectively against the people of God. But we are not without defense mechanisms. We see that in Joseph’s life here in our text. Because He was a Spirit-filled man, his reverence for God fueled his personal integrity in the face of sexual temptation.

Verse 6 tells us that Joseph was a handsome man in form and appearance, and the fact didn’t escape the notice of Potiphar’s wife. In verse 7, we read that she “looked with desire at Joseph, and she said, ‘Lie with me.’” This was not a subtle seduction. Now, here is a man, and a woman who is attracted to him, practically throwing herself on him. But because Joseph is a Spirit-filled man, his reverence for God fuels his integrity. Notice his response in verse 8. He says, essentially, “My master trusts me with everything in his house, and I am not going to betray his trust.” But moreover, the ultimate reason for his refusal is found in verse 9, “How then could I do this great evil and sin against God?” Because of Joseph’s reverence for God, he is aware that there is never a moment of life in which “no one has to know” what went on. God always knows, and God is always present, even when the master of the house is not.

He said his peace, and testified to his faith in God in maintaining his integrity before Potiphar’s wife. But the story doesn’t end there. Verse 10 says that she continued to lure him “day after day,” but Joseph never gave in. He “did not listen to her to lie beside her or be with her.” He found avoidance of the situation altogether to be a good strategy for dealing with the temptation. But on one occasion, she trapped him. Verse 11 tells of a day when he went into the house to do his work, and no one else was around. Verse 12 says that “she caught him by his garment, saying, ‘Lie with me.’” The Hebrew words here indicate that she was forceful. But Joseph fled from her grasp so decisively that he came out of his garment and left it in her grasp. As Wiersbe says, “Better to flee and lose your garment than fall and lose your character.”[2]

Joseph knew better than to hang around and try to reason against this temptation. Three New Testament passages are instructive for us in our battle with severe temptation: Romans 13:14 – “Put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh in regard to its lusts.” Though he was no longer wearing his outer garment, Joseph was wearing the integrity of his faith in God and giving no room to any illicit desire that may arise in his heart. First Corinthians 10:13 – “No temptation has overtaken you but such as is common to man; and God is faithful, who will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation will provide the way of escape also, so that you will be able to endure it.” This means that there is no such thing as an irresistible temptation, because God, in His faithfulness to His people, will make a way for you to escape the situation or stand strong in the midst of it. And sometimes, as in the case of Joseph, the way of escape is to run as fast as you can away from the situation. And that brings us to the third New Testament passage – 2 Timothy 2:22, which says simply, “Flee from youthful lusts and pursue righteousness.” That is exactly what Joseph did. In his pursuit of righteousness, fueled by his reverence for God through the filling of the Holy Spirit, he fled from youthful lusts, as we all should.

Now, it should not escape our notice that in his flight from this situation, he left behind some evidence that would be used to frame him under a false accusation. Just as his brothers deceived their father with his coat of many colors, so Potiphar’s wife deceived her husband with his outer garment that he left behind. She accused Joseph of trying to force himself upon her – the exact opposite of what happened! And for this, Joseph was imprisoned. Frankly, he got off light, because the prescribed penalty for these charges was death. But the point here is this: Integrity fueled by reverence for God does the right thing, no matter the consequences. To withstand such intense temptation and endure the trial of being falsely condemned is something that is not within our nature. It requires us to be controlled by the supernatural power of God that His indwelling Spirit provides. 

We are considering Joseph as a case study of being Spirit-filled. We have seen that the person filled with God’s spirit experiences success because of the presence of God; and he or she lives with integrity because of his or her reverence for God. So thirdly we see…

III. Dependence upon God is the source of his wisdom (40:8; 41:16, 25, 28, 32-33)

Joseph is the kind of guy that you just can’t seem to keep down. No matter how far down he gets knocked, he just rises up by God’s gracious blessing on his life. And it happened in prison, as we see in Chapter 40. It did not take long for the chief jailer to see that Joseph was unique, and that God’s hand was on him. So, the jailer puts him in charge of everything and everyone. Pretty soon, Joseph was joined in prison by the royal cupbearer and the royal baker. We don’t know what the charges against them were, but they were obviously pretty serious. To the many other virtues that we could list about Joseph, let us not overlook his compassion for others. Verse 4 says that Joseph “took care of them.” Since “they were in confinement for some time,” they probably got to know each other pretty well. And one morning when Joseph came in, he noticed that they were “dejected” (v6), so he asked them, “Why are your faces so sad today?” He took a special interest in their well-being and was concerned for them. Well, it just so happened that the night before, they had both had dreams, and they didn’t know if there was any significance to their dreams, or if there was, what meaning the dreams could possibly have. Dreams, you say? That just happens to be something Joseph knows a thing or two about. God had revealed His truth to Joseph in dreams before. But Joseph did not depend on his own experience or expertise. He depended on the Lord for his wisdom.  

Joseph said, “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell it to me, please” (v8). He pointed to God, not himself, as the One who could make sense of their dreams. Over the course of the rest of the chapter, they related their dreams to Joseph, and he told them what God was revealing to them by their dreams. Good news, bad news. For the cupbearer, the good news was that he was about to be restored to his position. For the baker, the bad news was that he was about to be executed. And these things happened “just as Joseph had interpreted to them” (v22). Now, before the cupbearer was released and restored, Joseph asked for a favor from him. So confident was he in the interpretation of the dream he had provided, he said, “Keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh and get me out of this house” (v14). But, the cupbearer “did not remember Joseph, but forgot him” (v23). A full two years went by before the cupbearer’s memory was jogged concerning Joseph. It happened when Pharaoh became troubled by a mysterious dream. That is the focus of Chapter 41.

Pharaoh was so troubled by his dream that he summoned his magicians and wise men and asked them to interpret the dream for him. They could not. At this point, the cupbearer says, “Well, I happen to know a guy ….” And Pharaoh had Joseph brought before him. Pharaoh said, “I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it” (41:15). Again Joseph is again quick to demonstrate his dependence on the Lord. He says, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer” (v15). So Pharaoh told him the dream, and Joseph interpreted it, saying three times in his explanation that God was giving Pharaoh a clear message that a severe famine was coming very soon.

Now, we see here that because of Joseph’s dependence upon God, he had wisdom to understand God’s truth. He alone in all of Egypt was able to hear the dreams of the baker, the cupbearer, and the Pharaoh, and respond by saying, “This is what the Lord is saying to you.” Now, as we mentioned before in our study of Joseph, it is a rare thing for God to communicate today by dreams and visions. We do not dare say that He cannot or will not, but the He usually does not. That is because we have God’s Word recorded for us in the Bible. He cannot and will not reveal anything to anyone by any other means that is contrary to anything that He has revealed in His written Word. But the need of the present hour is the same as it was in Joseph’s day. All around us there are people who are dejected and troubled, unable to make sense of their life circumstances. What they need is a person with the wisdom of God to come into their lives and say, “This is what the Lord says.” And we do that most effectively, not by offering them our own personal opinions and conjectures, but by showing them and telling them what God has spoken to us all in His Word, the Bible. Because Joseph was dependent on the Lord, he had the wisdom to understand God’s truth. And if we are similarly dependent on the Lord, we will have the wisdom of Scripture to share with those who need to hear a word from God as well.

But I want you to notice that Joseph’s wisdom was not merely seen in his understanding of God’s message, but in his application of it also. He had the ability to answer the question, “What does God have to say?” And he had the ability to answer the question, “So what? How does that affect me, and what should I do?” Joseph was able to do that for Pharaoh. In 41:33, he says, “Now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt.” He gives Pharaoh a precise plan for how to prepare for the coming drought so that the nation can survive. Pharaoh needs a wise and discerning man to carry out the plan. And one is standing right in front of him. Because of Joseph’s dependence on the Lord, his wisdom and discernment is evident, and Pharaoh exalts Joseph to the second most powerful position in Egypt. The nation of Egypt was saved, multitudes from other nations are saved, including Joseph’s kinsmen – the fledgling nation of Israel. God furthers His purposes in the world through His Spirit-filled people.

When we live our lives under the control of the Holy Spirit, when we are Spirit-filled, we will be dependent on the Lord and this will give us wisdom to understand and apply His word to the needs of our own lives and the lives of others. They may not always respond as favorably as Pharaoh did with Joseph, but in the course of their lives, they will come to understand that God’s Word never returns void, and they will recognize at some point that they encountered His truth in the words that we have shared with them. And many will be saved! Many will turn to us seeking a word from the Lord because they will know we are people of the Book. God will further His purposes in the world through the wisdom of Spirit-filled Christians.

Now finally, I want to share one more mark of the Spirit-filled person that we see in Joseph, and hopefully we will see in our lives as well….

IV. Hope in God is the cause of his perseverance (41:45-57)

At any point in Joseph’s story, we would not have been surprised to find that he had abandoned hope in God. He could have identified himself as a victim, and given up on ever being more than that. Verse 46 tells us that he was 30 years old when he stood before Pharaoh. That means that 13 years had elapsed since he was sold into slavery by his brothers. That’s a long time. But he never forgot the dream that God had given to him, that he would be exalted above his brethren and play a fundamental role in God’s purpose for his family, the descendants of his people, and the world. He trusted in God to deliver on that promise, and that caused him to persevere.

Joseph gained an Egyptian position, an Egyptian name, and an Egyptian wife. But when his children were born, he gave them Hebrew names that showed where his trust and hope were anchored. The first one was named “Manasseh,” which means “forget.” He said, “God has made me forget all my trouble and my father’s household.” This doesn’t mean he forgot where he came from. It means that he put the past behind him, and when he thought of his own people, he did not wallow in the hardships he endured at the hands of his brothers. He could forget all of that and focus on the promise and purpose of God for his people, that began to unfold with the promise given to his great-grandfather Abraham to bless all nations through his seed.

The second son was given the name “Ephraim,” which means “fruitful.” He said, “God has made me fruitful in the land of my affliction.” Joseph was the second-most powerful man in Egypt, and had the authority of the Pharaoh himself at his disposal. He lived in Egyptian luxury at this point, but Egypt still was not home. Egypt represented affliction for Joseph. It was a place where he was isolated from his family, where he was alone in his faith, and where he had suffered unjustly as a slave and a prisoner. But his trust in God did not waver. He could look beyond all the trials and treasures of Egypt and know that his real home was elsewhere. That is why, when Genesis comes to a close and Joseph is dying, he “made the sons of Israel swear, saying, “God will surely take care of you, and you shall carry my bones up from here” (50:25). Egypt was a lot of things to Joseph, but it was never home, and his hope in God’s promise and purpose enabled him to endure and persevere through everything he experienced there.

In this world, we will experience many things – some good, some bad. But we have to remember that this world is not home. It is, above all else, a land of affliction. But we persevere through it in confident hope as we trust in God to fulfill the promises that He has made to us in Jesus Christ. By faith in Him, our citizenship is in a kingdom that is not of this world. But while we are in this world, He has indwelt us by the Person of His Holy Spirit, and as we yield control of our lives to Him, we will be able to serve Him wholeheartedly with great effectiveness, we will be able to live with integrity, we will have wisdom to understand and apply His truth to ourselves and others, and we will persevere to the end. And when we live that way, the world around us will say, “Can we find such a one as this, in whom is the Spirit of God?”

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Temptation (New York: MacMillan, 1953), 116-117.
[2] Warren W. Wiersbe, Chapter-By-Chapter Bible Commentary (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1991), 41. 

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