September 12, 2021 Service
Building a People of God With Unusual Characters: Joseph, Part 4: An Agent of Security21 Service
- Building a People of God with Unusual CharactersI have been using the past several weeks to show how God doesn’t always, or even often, use the kinds of people that we expect to become his all-stars in the story of the people of God. Each one is unique. Each one has some interesting character flaws and fortunes, and God uses each one for his long-term plans for his peopleNoah was a righteous man, seen as self-righteous in the eyes of his contemporaries, but he was willing to listen to God and because of that he saved the human race by God’s design.Abraham has unexpected roots in the territories that would become Babylon and in our day Iraq. An old man with an old woman as his wife and no children, he believed God and was called righteous. Through Isaac would his seed be counted for the Hebrews. So an old man and an old woman became the parents of the son through whom God produced his people.Isaac had a wife from Abraham’s home territory who proved to be quite the deceiver—although Rebekah worked through Isaac’s mis-balanced mindset to bring about what God told her concerning Esau and Jacob.Jacob got the blessing, and the favor that God intended—but the dealings were pretty shady. Yet this was to bring about God’s plan to build his people.Jacob learned to honor God, and received the new name of Israel. Meanwhile, his first wife Leah and his favorite wife Rachel, sister though they were, were locked in a wrestling match for the respect and love of Jacob. In that competition for offspring, 12 sons would be born. They would form the 12 tribes of Israel. And finally the multiplication of Abrahams’ descendants bears fruit.It was through Jacob that altars were built and the land of Canaan claimed for the future nation—although the promise included 400 years of slavery, with God bringing them back to the land.Now in the land of Canaan, Joseph bought some land near Shechem and was quite a nomadic shepherd, living always in tents, it seems, with his 12 sons learning to be good shepherds.>>>That’s when we got to. . .The Unusual Story of JosephAnd so, we return today to finish the unusual story of Joseph, the 11th son of Jacob Israel. The last third of the book of Genesis carries the records of Joseph, so we needed to break it up so see what God was doing with Jacob’s first son from his favorite wife Rachel. He was dear to Jacob, because she had died in childbirth as she bore Benjamin, Jacob’s 12th son.>>>In our First, message we found, for Joseph, that...Pride has its Price.We have covered his rash 17-yr-old pride that got him in a boatload of trouble and a world of hurt, as he went from his father’s farm manager to be sold as a slave and carted off to Egypt. We need to remember. like Joseph learned the hard way, that pride will blind ourselves to the truth about who we are and about the faults we carry.>>>The Bible of course has it’s guidance on Pride in18 Pride comes before destruction, and an arrogant spirit before a fall.The destruction of Josephs pride broke his arrogance with his fall from the place of honor in his home to a place of dishonor as a slave.So, if you are living with a spirit of arrogant pride, best find a way to divest yourself of that attitude before it does you in.Pride doesn’t just get us in trouble with our brothers. It puts us in an attitude of superiority that can really mess up our relationship with God and everyone else.Arrogant pride won’t win you any favors when you stand before the Holy God. The only thing to do is humbly face our faults, starting with pride, and confess it as sin as we seek God’s forgiveness and help.>>>Joseph was in a position now that God could use for his good, as he arranged things around Joseph for . . .Building a Better CharacterIt would take a few years for God’s transformative work to break Joseph’s pride so he could use Joseph’s talents for the good of others.Then we shared about Joseph’s character-building adventures. First his early success in Potiphar’s house, then his banishment to the King’s Prison after being falsely accused of rape. He was still a success, by God’s grace, and was running the prison affairs when the Pharaoh’s chief cup-bearer and head baker joined him.Well, you remember they had some dreams that messed with their sense of peace, and Joseph offered to give God’s interpretation of the dreams.It worked out well for the Cup-bearer, because he was restored to his position. Not so much for the baker, who lost his head over the matter.But restored to his place of honor and service to Pharaoh, the cup-bearer forgot to say anything about Joseph to help him out of prison. It would take a couple more years of character building before this Joseph character would be fit to help build a people of God.Just like God used the things in Joseph’s life to clarify his character, God will use your life events to help clarify your character if you submit to God. Then he can use you for the purpose he designed you.>>>We find Paul reflecting on that very thing in3 And not only that, but we also boast in our afflictions, because we know that affliction produces endurance, 4 endurance produces proven character, and proven character produces hope.Last week the story of Joseph took him from the prison to Pharaoh’s side. It all happened because Pharaoh had a really bad pair of dreams one night that none of his magicians could explain to him.With Pharaoh upset, everyone was on edge. That’s when the Cup-bearer remembered Joseph and told Pharaoh he that he knew a fellow prisoner who was able to interpret dreams accurately.>>>Here, in Genesis 41, we saw that God was about to move JosephFrom Prison to Pharaoh’s SideJoseph was called in, cleaned up, and commanded to give the interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams.Well, Joseph’s character had been shaped a lot in the 13 years that got him to this point. No longer full of arrogant pride, his character has recieved some needed adjustments.>>>Now, humble before God and humble before the Pharaoh, we read. . .16 “I am not able to,” Joseph answered Pharaoh. “It is God who will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”An through the telling of the dreams of fat cows and skinny cows, fat heads of grain and dried up stalks, God was at work in the interpretation and in the events.You know the story in Genesis 41, how the skinny cows ate up the fat cows, and the dry stalks ate up the full heads of grain and weren’t any better for it.Joseph interpreted to Pharaoh what the Almighty Yahweh God had revealed through the dreams, that there would be 7 years of great harvests and then 7 years of severe famine.The plan was given to Joseph as well as far as what to do about the dreams. Tax the people 20% of their harvests for 7 years so there would be enough to keep the Egyptians alive for the 7 years of famine.You remember that Pharaoh immediately put Joseph in charge of the whole enterprise, dressed him like an Egyptian official, gave his his 2nd best ride and married him to the daughter of an Egyptian priests, and gave Joseph, the former felon, the highest position in the land next to Pharaoh.Joseph’s good management paid off. He had two sons, Manasseh a Ephraim by his Egyptian wife. The storehouses all over Egypt were overflowing. And then, when the famine hit hard, the people went to Joseph and he sold them the grain that had been stored up, making the Pharaoh richer all the while.God was using Joseph for the purpose he had for him. Just like God can use you for his purposes. It might take a breaking of pride, a shaping of character, and times of training, but God has something in mind for each of us as his servants.>>>Now today, it’s time to talk about how Joseph was used asAn Agent of Securityfor not only Egypt, but for his own family and all the surrounding peoples.The story opens up for us in Genesis 42, as the focus moves off of Joseph for a bit to get back to Jacob and his offspring in Canaan. For the years of plenty and the years of famine were hitting the Promised Land like it was everywhere else around the southern and eastern Mediterranean lands.What we know about the time that has passed since his brothers sold Joseph to the Ishmaelite slave traders is this:From 17 years of age when he was overseeing his older brothers, Joseph had lived through enslavement to rise to a place of importance in his master’s household. That took a few years.Then he was in prison because of the false rape charge by Potiphar’s wife. He became administrator under the warden there, where Potiphar was Captain of the Guard. That took a few years.Then he dealt with the Pharaoh’s servants, and the cup-bearer’s restoration to his position, and two more years before the Pharaoh’s dreams would call him up from the prison. At that time, Joseph was 30. It had been 13 years since he was sold into Egyptian bondage where he joined the Pharaoh’s management team.Now, it was probably 8 years into the cycle of plenty and want. We know that because we find that the same cycle had hit Palestine and now Jacob and the whole family were also stuck without food because of famine.>>>So Jacob decides it’s time to send his sons to Egypt and buy some food because it’s . . .A Serious Faminewhich has already drained the reserves of the family of Jacob Israel.Being nomadic shepherds, they wouldn’t have stored up a lot of feed for their livestock or grain for themselves. Shepherds, not farmers. The situation is serious because they have already exhausted all the grazing that is within reach.One good thing is that sheep and goats are pretty good at finding any little scrap of grass or growth to eat. But the pack animals, the chickens and those other animals that weren’t so resourceful were looking pretty thin. And as the loss of pasture got worse, even the flocks had kept themselves fed are now with them instead of scattered in various fields.More important than the loss of pasture is the simple fact that they were beginning to lose weight and go hungry. This made them listless and dull.>>>They didn’t really have a clue what to do, until traders or travellers brought some news that had some hope in it:1 When Jacob learned that there was grain in Egypt, he said to his sons, “Why do you keep looking at each other? 2 Listen,” he went on, “I have heard there is grain in Egypt. Go down there and buy some for us so that we will live and not die.” 3 So ten of Joseph’s brothers went down to buy grain from Egypt.They prepared their donkeys with empty sacks to hopefully bring them back full of grain for their families and their livestock.And each one of them brought silver with them as cash to buy grain. Right now was a good time for the greedy and the robbers that found places to mount an ambush, overpower a traveler and steal the money and meager provisions they had brought. That’s why most of Jacob’s sons made the journey to Egypt together.>>>Then arriving from the famished land of Canaan, Joseph’s Brothers get in line so they could buy what they needed because. . .Egypt Was Selling Foodeven to the outsiders.That’s what they knew. They didn’t know who was in charge of the granaries. They only knew what every other family with some silver to spend knew: They could buy food in Egypt to bring back to their families to tide them over.It was only Egypt that had the word from God about the length of the famine. Only Egypt that was prepared for it. They didn’t have anywhere else to go.When they got to Egypt there was only one place to go to buy grain. They had to go to the one man who was in charge of all the resources of Egypt, someone known as the Minister of Life, or Zaphenath-paneah. So they got in line.There was no way that Joseph’s brothers knew that he was in any position of authority or even still alive. They would have expected that whoever had purchased him as a slave would have put him to work in the fields or brickyards and no one would know his name.The sons of Jacob were now in what was the richest and most powerful nation of their world, surrounded by all the buildings and great temples that told them that Pharaoh’s Egypt had the resources to sell grain or turn them away.>>>It was finally their turn to make their case to buy food if they could. They found themselves following protocol and. . .Bowing to the Master of the MarketsThey had probably not thought about Joseph much since they had put him out of their sight more than 20 years before,>>>but there was only one source for what they needed.6 Joseph was in charge of the country; he sold grain to all its people. His brothers came and bowed down before him with their faces to the ground.>>>Unknowingly to the brothers, they were acting out the first dream of Joseph:6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 There we were, binding sheaves of grain in the field. Suddenly my sheaf stood up, and your sheaves gathered around it and bowed down to my sheaf.”The record in Genesis makes it real clear that this is what is playing out right now and it was payback time as>>>Joseph decided that he was going make his brothers sweat a bit.7 When Joseph saw his brothers, he recognized them, but he treated them like strangers and spoke harshly to them. “Where do you come from?” he asked. “From the land of Canaan to buy food,” they replied.8 Although Joseph recognized his brothers, they did not recognize him. 9 Joseph remembered his dreams about them and said to them, “You are spies. You have come to see the weakness of the land.”Joseph knew they were without any options. So did his brothers.13 But they replied, “We, your servants, were twelve brothers, the sons of one man in the land of Canaan. The youngest is now with our father, and one is no longer living.”So Joseph sets them up so he can see his little brother again:14 Then Joseph said to them, “I have spoken: ‘You are spies!’ 15 This is how you will be tested: As surely as Pharaoh lives, you will not leave this place unless your youngest brother comes here.With all seriousness, Joseph keeps them on edge. In fact, he gives them a taste of what he had been through, putting them in prison for 3 days before he says,19 If you are honest, let one of you be confined to the guardhouse, while the rest of you go and take grain to relieve the hunger of your households.20 Bring your youngest brother to me so that your words can be confirmed; then you won’t die.” And they consented to this.The brothers realize it’s time to face the music for what they had done:21 Then they said to each other, “Obviously, we are being punished for what we did to our brother. We saw his deep distress when he pleaded with us, but we would not listen. That is why this trouble has come to us.”But of course there is a twist to the story:22 And Reuben answered them, “Did I not tell you not to sin against the boy? But you did not listen. So now there comes a reckoning for his blood.” 23 They did not know that Joseph understood them, for there was an interpreter between them.That’s when Joseph pulled out his brother who had made the deal with the slave traders more than 20 years before:23 They did not realize that Joseph understood them, since there was an interpreter between them. 24 He turned away from them and wept. When he turned back and spoke to them, he took Simeon from them and had him bound before their eyes.But Joseph was interested in the long-term health and welfare of his family in Canaan, whom he hadn’t heard about in all this time.25 Joseph then gave orders to fill their containers with grain, return each man’s silver to his sack, and give them provisions for their journey. This order was carried out. 26 They loaded the grain on their donkeys and left there.Jacob Hears the Demand toBring Benjamin to Egypt34 Bring back your youngest brother to me, and I will know that you are not spies but honest men. I will then give your brother back to you, and you can trade in the country.’ ”35 As they began emptying their sacks, there in each man’s sack was his bag of silver! When they and their father saw their bags of silver, they were afraid.36 Their father Jacob said to them, “It’s me that you make childless. Joseph is gone, and Simeon is gone. Now you want to take Benjamin. Everything happens to me!”But despite Jacob’s insistence that Benjamin not go to Egypt, the famine dragged on another year.2 When they had used up the grain they had brought back from Egypt, their father said to them, “Go back and buy us a little food.”Reuben said he would not go back without Benjamin. Jacob decried the fact that they told the master of Egypt that they had a younger brother, and they had to prove their veracity by bringing him back to Egypt, if they didn’t want to be killed as spies.So Jacob finally told them to go back, with some of the best things Canaan had to offer and twice as much silver and even their youngest brother Benjamin.14 May God Almighty grant you mercy before the man, and may he send back your other brother and Benjamin. And as for me, if I am bereaved of my children, I am bereaved.”And so the brothers set out—ten of them traveling, for Simeon was imprisoned in Egypt already, but Benjamin was with them, a boy as the scripture calls him who is by now is well over 35 years old himself.Both Reuben and Judah made promises to Jacob about keeping Ben from harm, and they went back again to Joseph.But this time,Joseph Reveals Himselfas he had his family gather for the mid-day meal at his own home.27 He asked if they were well, and he said, “How is your elderly father that you told me about? Is he still alive?” 28 They answered, “Your servant our father is well. He is still alive.” And they knelt low and paid homage to him.29 And he lifted up his eyes and saw his brother Benjamin, his mother’s son, and said, “Is this your youngest brother, of whom you spoke to me? God be gracious to you, my son!”30 Joseph hurried out because he was overcome with emotion for his brother, and he was about to weep. He went into an inner room and wept there. 31 Then he washed his face and came out. Regaining his composure, he said, “Serve the meal.”Lots of back-and-forth happens in the next chapter and a half—4 Then Joseph said to his brothers, “Please, come near me,” and they came near. “I am Joseph, your brother,” he said, “the one you sold into Egypt.Of course, there is a lot of story here, that i invite you to read yourself in these last chapters of Genesis. But what ends up happening is thatJoseph Forgives Because God Has Better Plansand he had figured out that he was the agent of security for not only Egypt but also his own family.5 And now don’t be grieved or angry with yourselves for selling me here, because God sent me ahead of you to preserve life.God Has Been At Work For Good Through JosephHere is the key that Joseph discovered:6 For the famine has been in the land these two years, and there will be five more years without plowing or harvesting. 7 God sent me ahead of you to establish you as a remnant within the land and to keep you alive by a great deliverance.Joseph Bring His Family to Egyptas an Agent of Security for God’s People13 Tell my father about all my glory in Egypt and about all you have seen. And bring my father here quickly.”26 They said, “Joseph is still alive, and he is ruler over all the land of Egypt!” Jacob was stunned, for he did not believe them.27 But when they told Jacob all that Joseph had said to them, and when he saw the wagons that Joseph had sent to transport him, the spirit of their father Jacob revived.28 Then Israel said, “Enough! My son Joseph is still alive. I will go to see him before I die.”God Confirms His Plans for Jacob1 Israel set out with all that he had and came to Beer-sheba, and he offered sacrifices to the God of his father Isaac. 2 That night God spoke to Israel in a vision: “Jacob, Jacob!” he said. And Jacob replied, “Here I am.”3 God said, “I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid to go down to Egypt, for I will make you into a great nation there. 4 I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you back. Joseph will close your eyes when you die.”So Jacob’s deepest wishes were fulfilled. Becausse of Joseph, Pharaoh welcomed them into the land and settled them in Goshen, the best pastures of all Egypt.And when Jacob died 17 years later, there was a great funeral procession that went from Egypt to the burial cave at Mamre as he was buried with his fathers and his wife Leah.The Heart of the Matter is God’s Heart16 So they sent this message to Joseph, “Before he died your father gave a command: 17 ‘Say this to Joseph: Please forgive your brothers’ transgression and their sin—the suffering they caused you.’ Therefore, please forgive the transgression of the servants of the God of your father.” Joseph wept when their message came to him.19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.
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