If you have a Bible or Bible app, please turn or scroll with me to Genesis 41. Genesis is the first book in the Bible. Genesis 41, beginning in verse 1. If you don’t have a Bible with you, just take a moment to steady your heart and open your ears to hear God’s word this morning. We are spending this summer working our way through the story of Joseph. Joseph’s story is one of God’s faithfulness when life is in the pit. Joseph was exalted by his father, hated by his brothers, then cast into a pit, into slavery, and then into prison. After thirteen long years where God was with him though life was still difficult, things begin to change in our passage this morning. It’s Genesis 41, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me:
After two whole years, Pharaoh dreamed that he was standing by the Nile, and there came up out of the Nile seven sleek and fat cows, and they grazed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows, ugly and thin, came up out of the Nile after them, and stood by the other cows on the ban of the Nile. The ugly and thin cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. And Pharaoh awoke. Then he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; seven ears of grain, plump and good, were growing on one stalk. Then seven ears, thin and blighted by the east wind, sprouted after them. The thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Pharaoh awoke, and it was a dream. In the morning his spirit was troubled; so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt and all its wise men. Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.
Then the chief cupbearer said to Pharaoh, “I remember my faults today. Once Pharaoh was angry with his servants, and put me and the chief baker in custody in the house of the captain of the guard. We dreamed on the same night, he and I, each having a dream with its own meaning. A young Hebrew was there with us, a servant of the captain of the guard. When we told him, he interpreted our dreams to us, giving an interpretation to each according to his dream. As he interpreted to us, so it turned out; I was restored to my office, but the baker was hanged.
So Pharaoh sent for Joseph, and he was hurriedly brought out of the dungeon. When he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came in before Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I. God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.” Then Pharaoh said to Joseph, “In my dream I was standing on the banks of the Nile and seven cows, fat and sleek, came up out of the Nile and fed in the reed grass. Then seven other cows came up after them, poor, very ugly, and thin. Never had I seen such ugly ones in all the land of Egypt. The thin and ugly cows ate up the first seven fat cows, but when they had eaten them no one would have know that they had done so, for they were still as ugly as before. Then I awoke. I fell asleep a second time and I saw in my dream seven ears of grain, full and good, growing on one stalk, and seven ears, withered, thin, and blighted by the east wind, sprouting after them; and the thin ears swallowed up the seven good ears. But when I told it to the magicians, there was no one who could explain it to me.”
Then Joseph said to Pharaoh, “Pharaoh’s dreams are one and the same; God has revealed to Pharaoh what he is about to do. The seven good cows are seven years, and the seven good ears are seven years, the dreams are one. The seven lean and ugly cows are seven years, as are the seven empty ears blighted by the east wind. They are seven years of famine. It is as I told Pharaoh; God has shown to Pharaoh what he is about to do. There will come seven years of great plenty throughout all the land of Egypt. After them there will arise seven years of famine, and all the plenty will be forgotten in the land of Egypt; the famine will consume the land. The plenty will not longer be known in the land because of the famine that will follow, for it will be very grevious. And the doubling of the dream means that the thing is fixed by God and God will shortly bring it about. Now therefore let Pharaoh select a man who is discerning and wise and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh proceed to appoint overseers over the land, and take one-fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt during the seven plenteous years. Let them gather all the food of these good years that are coming, and lay up grain under the authority of Pharaoh for food in the cities, and let them keep it. That food shall be a reserve for the land against the seven years of famine that are to befall the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish through the famine.
The proposal pleased Pharaoh and all his servants. Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this – one in whom is the spirit of God?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house and all my people shall order themselves as you command, only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” Removing his signet ring from this hand, Pharaoh put it on Joseph’s hand; he arrayed him in garments of fine linen, and put a gold chain around his neck. He hand him rise in the chariot of his second-in-command; and they cried out in front of him, “Bow the knee.” Thus he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I am Pharaoh and without your consent no one shall lift up a hand of foot in all the land of Egypt.” Pharaoh gave Joseph the name Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, as his wife. Thus Joseph gained authority over the land of Egypt.
Joseph was thirty years old when he entered the service of Pharaoh king of Egypt. And Joseph went out from the presence of Pharaoh and went through all the land of Egypt. During the seven plenteous years the earth produced abundantly. He gathered up all the food of the seven years when they was plenty in the land of Egypt, and stored up food in the cities, he stored up in every city the food from the fields around it. So Joseph stored up grain in such abundance – like the sand of the sea – that he stopped measuring it; it was beyond measure.
Before the years of famine came, Joseph had two sons, whom Asenath daughter of Potiphera, priest of On, bore to him. Joseph named the firstborn Manasseh, “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” The second he named Ephraim, “For God has made me fruitful in the land of my misfortunes.”
The seven years of plenty that prevailed in the land of Egypt came to an end and the seven years of famine began to come, just as Joseph had said. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. When all the land of Egypt was famished, the people cried to Pharaoh for bread. Pharaoh said to all the Egyptians, “Go to Joseph; what he says to you, do.” And since the famine had spread over all the land, Joseph opened all the storehouses, and sold to the Egyptians, for the famine was severe in the land of Egypt. Moreover, all the world came to Joseph in Egypt to buy grain, because the famine became severe through the world.
This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Finally, Joseph gets out of the pit. It’s been thirteen long years for him, but the work of God in bringing him out is incredible. As we work our way through Genesis 41 and see Joseph’s elevation, we are going to do so by answering three questions. The first is this: who is in control? Hint: It’s not Pharaoh.
Who is in control? Pharaoh has two dreams and no one knows what they mean. Seven fat cows eaten up by seven ugly and thin ones. Seven good ears of grain swallowed up by seven withered ears. We have encountered this scenario before. Two dreams and no interpretation. This was the situation with the baker and cupbearer. Yet, it is different with Pharaoh. Pharaoh calls in all the experts in the kingdom. Egypt was the center of dream interpretation in the ancient world. There was a science to it, there were textbooks, guilds, and experts in the field. Surely someone from the magicians or wise men would be able to interpret the dream.
Yet, they are stumped. Before the revelation of God, the experts of the world fall flat. Before the dream where God tells what he is about to do, Pharaoh’s power and expertise and control amount to nothing.
Who is in control? God, not Pharaoh, and God through Joseph.
After everyone is stumped by Pharaoh’s dreams, suddenly the chief cupbearer remembers Joseph. It took two years, but he finally remembered. God is in control, not Pharaoh, not the cupbearer, because if the cupbearer had remembered Joseph right away, Joseph might have been set free and gone back to the land of the Hebrews and when this dream and its meaning came, Joseph would not have been there to interpret. But now he is.
The cupbearer recalls the episode from the last chapter, which we talked about last week. The cupbearer and baker each had a dream and Joseph was able to interpret them. Pharaoh immediately calls Joseph in. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, and there is no one who can interpret it. I have heard it said of you that when you hear a dream, you can interpret it.” Joseph answered Pharaoh, “It is not I. God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”
Who is in control? God, not Pharaoh.
Pharaoh goes on to tell Joseph of his dream, highlight just how ugly and thin the second set of cows are. There is a pause and then Joseph interprets the dream. Seven years of plenty and then seven years of famine. What all the experts with all their training could not understand, the lowly Hebrew fresh from the prison can clearly see. Who is in control? God, not Pharaoh. God is going to provide good things for Egypt, but then will give seven years of harsh famine.
Joseph goes beyond interpreting the dream to propose a solution. Set someone wise in charge of Egypt, collect twenty percent of the grain in the good years to prepare for the bad. Pharaoh and his servants are pleased and can think of no one better for the job than Joseph. Pharaoh immediately gives away authority, placing Joseph over his house and over all Egypt. He dresses him in the right robes, drives him around in the right chariot, gives him a new name and a wife. Joseph is exalted to second-in-command of the whole land of Egypt.
Who is in control? From the moment he receives the dream, we see Pharaoh not in control. From the moment God reveals himself, Pharaoh is put on his back foot, rendered weak, and forced to search for what he does not know.
In an episode that will echo again when Moses stands before Pharaoh proclaiming what God is about to do, Joseph stands before Pharaoh and proclaims just what God is going to do to the land of Egypt. Feast and famine.
For all his magi and wise men, for all his power and control, Pharaoh is impotent in the face of the revelation of God. Unlike the later Pharaoh, this Pharaoh lets go of control. He gives it away. In doing so, he saves his people from starvation.
This is an amazing act of humility. Pharaoh, king of Egypt. Pharaoh, most powerful man on planet earth. Pharaoh, whose favor means life and ire means death. Pharaoh, full of mastery and control, surrounded by experts and wise men. Pharaoh gives it away to Joseph. Before the revelation of God that he cannot control and cannot master, Pharaoh bows his head. Before a God who is in control when he, Pharoah, is not, the king of Egypt humbles himself and gives power away to Joseph.
Who is in control? God, not Pharaoh. This is a comfort and a challenge. It is a comfort both because the Pharaoh’s of this world are not ultimately in control, but also because no matter what happens or how much the world spins like mad, God is in control. Years down the road, famine will come, but God knows and he sends Joseph. No catastrophe surprises God. Nothing, no matter whether it seems to shake the whole world or simply shatter yours, can jar the world out of God’s loving hand. This is a comfort when the world swirls, who is in control? God, not Pharoah.
Yet, this is also a challenge for us. Who is in control? God, not Pharaoh. Not you. Not me. The powerlessness of Pharaoh is a challenge to all of us who want life and the future to be in our control.
We should notice Pharaoh’s response to his powerlessness. This is what true leadership looks like. Power and control are a quite a drug. We all want to be in control of our selves, our lives, our destiny. Yet, Pharaoh does not hold fast to power, does not cling to control and force everyone to do just what he wants. Instead, he gives it away. In doing so, he saves his people from starvation. Had Pharaoh clung to the illusion that he was in control, that he was competent enough to figure out the dream and garner a solution, his people would have starved. There is no famine severe enough that the king himself will starve. There will be food for Pharaoh, it is others he must consider. Pharaoh looks not to his own interests, but the interests of others. Pharaoh recognized one simple truth: Who is in control? God, not Pharaoh.
Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find anyone else like this – one in whom is the spirit of God?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has shown you all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you. You shall be over my house and all my people shall order themselves as you command, only with regard to the throne will I be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.”
The church has had its fill of strong leaders who seem to know everything but are strangers to the revelation of God. The church has had its fill of leaders who cling to control and power when, in fact, we should give it away for the good of our people. The church has had its fill of leaders who cannot face catastrophe with humility and so doom their flock.
My prayer for myself this week, as a leader in this congregation, has been that I would be willing to heed the revelation of God, that I would be willing to let go and give away control to the Josephs God has placed in my life. Or would I cling so tightly to what I want that I would let others be hurt for my selfishness?
Whether we are a leader or not, we are all faced with the same question: Who is in control? If we truly believe it is God and not us, are we willing to let go of control for the sake of others?
The second question that will guide our time in Genesis 41 is this: at what cost? Joseph is lifted out of prison and made second in command over all Egypt, but at what price? at what cost? There are hints of trouble and temptation here for Joseph that won’t be resolved for quite some time.
When Joseph is elevated by Pharaoh, he robed by Pharaoh in fine linen and has a gold chain put around his neck. Long ago, Joseph’s father robed him with authority as a sign of his position in the house, a coat of many colors, a long robe with sleeves. That robe was stripped off as Joseph was cast down into the pit, into slavery, into prison. Now exalted again, a different man robes Joseph with authority as as sign of his position in his house.
Before, Joseph was robed as second-in-command of the house of Jacob, now he is robed as second-in-command in the house of Pharaoh. Whose son is Joseph now? Joseph has been exalted over the land of Egypt, but at what cost?
There’s more. Pharaoh gives Joseph a new name, Zaphenath-paneah, a sign of his new identity in the Egyptian court. Pharaoh gives Joseph a wife, and not just any woman. Asenath is the daughter of the priest of On, the chief priest of the Sun-god, Re, one of the highest religious positions in Egypt. Joseph marries into the elite of the elite. Yet, he marries a woman who does not worship the LORD, but is the daughter of pagan priest. We saw the damage Judah endured being separated from his brothers and marrying a woman of the land, will the same happen to Joseph? Joseph has been exalted over the land of Egypt, but at what cost?
There’s more. Joseph, new robe, new name, new wife, has two sons: Manasseh and Ephraim. When naming the oldest, Manasseh, he gives this explanation: “For,” he said, “God has made me forget all my hardship and all my father’s house.” Joseph has not forgotten God, but he claims that at the birth of his son, he has forgotten all his father’s house. Will Joseph forget who he is and whose he is?
As Joseph steps higher and higher into influence in the land of Egypt, the pressure of Egyptization grows. The more he steps into Egypt, the more he is tempted to forget where he has come from, to forget who he is, to leave behind his identity as the son of Jacob and become the son of Pharaoh. Joseph still calls Egypt the land of his hardships in naming Ephraim, so he has not fully assimilated to Egyptian culture, but the pressure is there.
Joseph has been exalted over all the land of Egypt, but at what cost? Will Joseph leave behind his identity as a child of Jacob, a child of the promise, and become a child of Pharaoh, a child of the world? We don’t know at this point. We only get hints of the temptation.
As Christians, when we step into the world, step into influence and places of power, there will be incredible opportunities to do good. Joseph fed the world and, in part, fulfilled the promise of Abraham that all the nations would be blessed through you. Joseph did incredible things. When children of God, armed with the revelation of God and filled with the Spirit of God, use their God-given talents in the world for the sake of the world, incredible things happen.
Yet, as Christians, when we step into the world, into influence and places of power, we need to beware of the cost. For Joseph, it was a new robe, a new name, and new relationships that tempted him to forget who he was and who he belonged to, to forget just what kind of land Egypt was. For you, the temptations might be different. In this new opportunity, this new job, new relationship, what do I have to leave at the door in order to go in? Are there convictions I have to leave behind to go there? Are there pieces of my identity as a child of God that I would have to surrender?
I am not saying we should never go out into the world or step into new opportunities. Far from it. Yet, we would be wise to recognize the recurring temptations we face are so similar to what Joseph faced. We are tempted to leave behind our identity in Christ when we step into influence. We are tempted to check our faith at the door in order to be respected and heard.
Remember who you are. Joseph was exalted over all the land of Egypt, but at what cost? When God places opportunities in front of you, when you are called to step out of one thing into another, remember that you belong to Christ, count the cost, and do not forget all your Father’s house.
The last question we should consider this morning is this: where do you go? When you are hungry and thirsty, when you are famished and in need, where do you go?
When the world faced famine, they all came to Joseph. The world might be starving, but there was bread in Egypt. There was famine in every country, but throughout the land of Egypt there was bread. There is a sad and striking difference between that day and ours. The world no longer knows where to go to find bread. Not physical bread, though there is far too much hunger in the world. Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.” In Joseph’s day, people knew where to go to find bread. They came from all the world to the child of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob to eat and be filled. Does our world know where to go to find the bread of life? Do our children? Do our neighbors?
The world may be starving for truth, starving for hope, starving for the life and freedom that is found in Jesus, but do they know that though there is famine everywhere else, in Jesus Christ, held forth by his church, there is plenty?
When you are hungry and thirsty, when your soul is parched and famished, come to Christ, the bread of life, for in him there is plenty. But others across the street and across the world, do they know where there is bread? Where do they go to be sustained?
The path of Joseph is both glorious and dangerous. Joseph is sent by God to proclaim to Pharaoh what God is about to do. That God is in control, not Pharaoh and that there will soon be both plenty and famine. Through Joseph, God feeds the world and blesses the nations. Yet, the path is also dangerous, because there is the constant temptation to forget your identity in Christ and become one with the very world you serve for the sake of Christ. Yet, the path is worth it, because Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
So we feed the hungry, heal the sick, cloth the naked, shelter the homeless, work for justice, and proclaim the mighty work of Jesus Christ because there is nowhere else to find bread, but in Jesus Christ. The world may be filled with famine, but in Christ there is bread, there is life, there is salvation.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.