Genesis 39-41, From Riches to Rags and Back to Riches by Charlie Taylor
The most popular series of books in the late 19th century were Horatio Alger’s 100 plus books about the American dream, which is with hard work and integrity you can rise from whatever low position you were born into to a place of wealth and influence. We call this a “rags to riches” story. On the other hand, Joseph’s life was a riches to rags then back to riches story. Joseph started out as the favored son of his rich father, Jacob. In Genesis 37 we find Joseph parading around in front of his brothers in a very expensive coat given by his rich father. But by the end of the chapter Joseph’s jealous brothers have beaten him, taken his coat, thrown him in a deep hole, and then sold him into slavery. In a very short period he has gone from the heir to a fortune to a slave in Egypt. Nevertheless, the emphasis in the story was more on the Lord God being with him, blessing him, and prospering him. In Genesis 39, it is repeated seven times that the “Lord was with Joseph”, and “the Lord gave him success”. At that point, another antagonist, Potiphar’s wife, intervenes and tempts him, and in spite of his proper behavior she has him thrown into prison. Still the text says in Genesis 39:20-23 that “the Lord was with him” and gave him success even in prison. Recapping this guy’s story, he was betrayed by his brothers, beaten badly, thrown into a grave, sold into slavery, and falsely accused and imprisoned. Kind of makes you want to keep a low profile and not receive so much blessing and success! Yet in the beginning of Genesis 37, when he was a boy, God had promised him he would be the head of his family and have great success, and Joseph believed God. Therefore he was able to stay the course, keep the faith, and persevere through these trials.
Genesis 39:20 Through Genesis 40, Prospering in Prison
Joseph had shown great integrity to his master, and in return he was thrown into a prison for “the king’s prisoners”. This was a special prison like the Tower of London reserved for the king’s ambitious relatives and advisors in the king’s court. By the providence of God Joseph would share a prison experience with previously rich influential people. The Lord blessed Joseph in every job they gave him so that the warden put Joseph in charge of all the prisoners. By proving his integrity and by being blessed by God, Joseph had success even in prison and greatly impressed the warden as well as all the prisoners. Some of these prisoners would be proven innocent and be returned to life in the court of the king. End result—Joseph was put into a place where he would become acquainted with members of Pharaoh’s court. Joseph distinguished himself in prison, and God blessed him even in prison such that the captain of the guard appointed Joseph to be in charge of the inmates. At that time, two high profile prisoners were sent to jail and assigned to Joseph to attend to. These two were noblemen of the king’s court who normally had Pharaoh’s ear. If either one ever was proven innocent they could help Joseph big time, but I doubt Joseph even thought about that when he served them.
This story proves that there is a purpose in suffering in that God gives you an opportunity to serve other people who are going through the same adversity as you are. God gives you people to serve while you are suffering. God wanted Joseph to help these men before God would help Joseph. This is a great lesson for us because we have a tendency to be selfish and self absorbed when we go through hard times. When we have problems, we may not care about other people’s problems. Yet the Scriptures are telling us that the key to persevering through your issues is to serve others. You will reduce your pity party as you minister to them while you wait on God to bless you. I can think of several biblical examples of this like Noah preaching to others while he built the ark and waited for the rain to end the world. Even better, when Paul was in prison in Rome awaiting a possible death sentence he witnessed to the entire Praetorian Guard in Rome, and he wrote “that what has happened to me has really served to advance the gospel so that the gospel has become known throughout the whole imperial guard” (Philippians 1:13). Therefore the righteous response to suffering is to help someone else. If Joseph had been self-centered he would have missed out on God’s awesome blessing.
Troubling Dreams, Genesis 40:5-23
The Egyptians put great stock in interpreting dreams as all superstitious cultures did. The cupbearer and the baker each had troubling dreams. Joseph saw they were troubled and he offered to pray to God to help him interpret the dreams. God blessed Joseph by revealing the meaning of the cupbearer’s dream. He told him that in three days Pharaoh would lift up his head and restore him to his office to place the cup in Pharaoh’s hand. At that time, Joseph asked him to remember him and put in a good word. The baker also asked for interpretation of his dream, but Joseph had to give him the bad news that in three days Pharaoh would lift up his head also, but to hang him. Sure enough in three days both of these predictions came true, but the cupbearer temporarily forgot Joseph. We expect God to act immediately to bless Joseph, BUT NOT SO FAST. God has His own perfect timing to “cause all things to work together for good to those who love the Lord”, and it would be two more years until the cupbearer would work to free Joseph. The experience of delay is a way of life for God’s people. Abraham had a 25 year wait for a son, Moses waited 40 years in the wilderness before he could free his people, David was anointed king as a boy but had to wait until he was 30 to experience it, and Elijah had to hide himself for three years of drought before God vindicated him. Delay never stops God’s plans, it only builds up His servants. Amazingly, God had always been with Joseph blessing him. God was with him when his brothers sold him into slavery, when Potiphar’s wife slandered him, when they threw him in the pit, and when the cupbearer forgot him, and all that made him a great success in God’s eyes because he never lost his faith and he ministered to others every step of the way! The extra two years of Joseph’s imprisonment was arranged by God to make Joseph the perfect man for the job to save Egypt and Israel from the coming terrible drought that only God knew was coming!
In Genesis 41, God’s appointed time for Joseph’s vindication finally arrived two years later when Joseph was 30 years old. By God’s providence, Pharaoh had two dreams that were very troubling nightmares that he could not dismiss. Pharaoh called all his wise men of his court and demanded a valid interpretation of his dreams, but none of them could interpret the dreams to his acceptance. I’m guessing out of fear they were giving very positive interpretations that the king knew were wrong. In Genesis 41:9-13, the cupbearer finally remembered Jacob and recounted how Joseph had accurately interpreted both his and the baker’s dream, so the king called for Jacob.
From the Pit to the Palace
As the cupbearer admitted “I remember my offenses today”, the two year delay caused him to get no credit or promotion, but Joseph would go straight to the top! In Genesis 41:14, the king had Joseph removed from prison, cleaned up, shaved, and dressed in expensive clothes and then brought before the king. In an instant he went from filthy to sanitized, and from the pit to the splendor of the Palace. God had orchestrated the perfect timing for all this because two years earlier the king would have paid no attention. For Joseph the temptation to compromise the truth must have been intense in front of mighty Pharaoh. Everyone else was saying acceptable things, but Joseph told the hard truth.
In Genesis 41:25-36, we read Joseph’s interpretation of the dreams. Notice that it is all God centered, and Joseph credits God in the beginning, the middle, and the end. The future of Egypt and the entire Middle East was revealed without any reference to Pharaoh—the future is out of his hands. Joseph told him the dreams were connected. The seven good cows represented seven good years of plenty, and the seven good ears of corn are seven good years of great harvests. Unfortunately, the seven skinny ugly cows are seven years of famine, as are the seven empty ears. The bottom line was that the next seven years would see bumper crops in the Nile River Valley, but following that would come seven horrible years of total famine. Mighty Pharaoh and mighty Egypt are powerless to change what is coming. Thus contrary to what this fallen world would have you believe, GREAT MEN DO NOT MAKE HISTORY, BUT GOD USES THEM TO BE A PART OF HISTORY.
Reversal of Fortune
In Genesis 41:33-41, Joseph gave good advice to Pharaoh. He needed good leadership and administration during the days of plenty to store up all the plentiful food and save it for the lean years. The proposal seemed wise to Pharaoh, and he appointed the wisest man he knew –Joseph, admitting that Joseph had the spirit of God leading him as no other man in Egypt had. Joseph was made second in command over all of Egypt’s empire, thus in one day Joseph went from the pit to the most favored position in the Palace. In prison the menu was a choice of slop, mystery meat, or road kill; but now he was served only the finest Chateau Briand with flaming Crepes Suzette for dessert. The seven years of plenty came and went, and Joseph had filled the storehouses so he was prepared for the worst. When the seven bad years struck, Joseph engineered the saving of Egypt, but more importantly, God blessed Joseph to enable him to save his family—ISRAEL.