Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #8 June 20, 2017

Joseph is in prison, not for any wrong he had done, but by appointment of God though I doubt he realized it at the time.  How often does God allow things to happen in our lives that are painful, difficult, puzzling? We can’t see at the time why this is happening.  Sometimes we later recognize how God was working in the past but sometimes it remains a mystery and that’s where our faith holds us steady, trusting Him.  If only He would tell us that this difficulty we are facing is part of our preparation, but you have no doubt already recognized that God doesn’t do that because our Faith is precious to Him.

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Two new prisoners join Joseph at some point after his incarceration, the palace butler and the palace baker. I’m quite sure Joseph had no earthly idea that their presence in the prison had anything to do with his future destiny.  Yet, one night – who knows how long after they’d arrived – both of them had dreams which troubled them so much that they wanted an interpretation.  Ancient Egyptians understood that often – not always – our dreams contain messages and there were many interpreters of dreams in that society.  What the butler and the baker didn’t realize was that an interpreter was among them for anything involving dreams was deeply interesting to Joseph.  God had gifted him with the ability to interpret dreams though he’d not used that gift since arriving in Egypt.  His preparation required that he learn other skills he would need for a future he could not imagine.

So one morning, the butler and the baker look depressed.  Joseph notices and asks why.  They answer, We each had a dream and there is nobody to interpret it.  (Gen. 40:8)  Joseph replied that interpretations are from God.  Notice that he did not put the spotlight on himself.  First he acknowledged his God and turned their attention to Him before he said, Tell me the dreams. 

What’s also interesting here is that if anybody had a right to be sad and depressed it was Joseph!  Yet he noticed their sadness and sought to alleviate it.  Years ago I heard someone say that when we are depressed, discouraged or disheartened, our greatest need at that moment is to lift somebody else up; to give away what we so desperately need ourselves. Perhaps it was precisely because Joseph was not all wrapped up in his own misfortune that the Spirit of God so quickly gave him the interpretations for each of the dreams.  They were clear and to the point.

To the butler he said, Within three days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your position. (Gen. 40:13)  That’s about as clear and precise as one can get! Joseph had full confidence that he had heard from God and gave the interpretation exactly as he heard it.

Imagine if you were the butler.  What relief this word gave him!

But now, what if you were the baker, standing there listening to the good news your co-worker had received.  Surely the baker’s anticipation increased – surely there would be a good word for him as well.

It was not to be.  Joseph was as truthful with the baker as he was with the butler, though the message to the baker was devastating. Within three more days, Pharaoh will lift up your head from you and will hang you on a tree, and the birds will eat your flesh off you.  (Gen. 40: 19) It could not have been easy for Joseph to look his fellow prisoner in the eye and tell him that he had three days to live.  And imagine what those next three days would have been like.  Did the baker get angry with Joseph? Did he plunge into a deep depression?  Did Joseph try to minister to the baker in those final three days of his life? We don’t know, but what we do know is that on the third day what Joseph declared happened exactly as he had spoken it.  His integrity was intact.  He had spoken the truth he heard when it was pleasant and when it was not pleasant. He did not pander to his audience; he did not succumb to the fear of the face of man. He obeyed the Spirit of God.  An important message to all of us!

One would think that surely now Joseph is ready but in an unguarded moment, Joseph let a bit of self-righteousness slip out. Think of me when it will be well with you, he said to the butler, and show kindness to me.  Make mention of me to Pharaoh and bring me out of this place.  (Genesis 40:14)  That self-righteousness had to die in Joseph before he would be ready for exaltation. So the butler forgot all about Joseph…for two whole years!

To face his brothers later with true forgiveness in his heart Joseph would have to be utterly free from the need to manipulate anyone or any circumstance to his own advantage.   Joseph needed to know to the depth of his being that when God wants you in a place, He is well able to bring it about.  No manipulation on your part is required or acceptable.

Application:

As I’m writing these words I get the sense that someone out there really needs this word right now – perhaps more than one of you.  Or maybe you know someone who does not subscribe to this blog who is presently struggling with this very issue.  Please – share this message with them and encourage them to wait on God, to trust Him and to believe that God’s timing is perfect.

 

 

 

Shadow of Things to Come Lesson #7 June 13, 2017

At the end of last week’s lesson, we left Joseph incarcerated in a dungeon though he had committed no crime. Generally speaking, we tend to think that if something tragic happens to us, that God is somehow punishing us for something we’ve done in the past that offended Him.  But is that what we should think?

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Psalm 103:10 – 11 says God does not deal with us after our sins nor reward us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth so great is His loving kindness toward those who fear Him.  God’s chastening or disciplining of us is not His way of ‘getting even’; it is preparing us for something better, more valuable and more worthwhile.  God disciplines us for our own good that we might grow in holiness.

Sometimes it appears to us as though God disciplines the people who least need it.  Consider Job. The Bible says that he was ‘righteous in his generation’.  One might think that God would go after the wicked instead.  There’s a principle here that we learn from agriculture.  A tree that is bearing fruit is the one that is pruned, stripped, cut back, not to take away its beauty, but that it might bear even more beautiful and delicious fruit.  A fruit tree that is not bearing fruit will be cut down and chopped up for firewood.  Therefore, never be surprised at God’s discipline in your life.  In fact, it is something to be thankful for.  It means that you’ve done well and now it’s time to do even better!

Perhaps the greatest test anyone has to pass before being used mightily for God is to be humiliated or rejected for doing right and keeping quiet about it.  God had a plan for Joseph’s life that went far beyond anything he could think or imagine at the time.   While Potiphar’s wife was ruining his reputation, God was watching Joseph’s heart and attitude.  Would he try to protect himself, defend himself? Or would he trust God to vindicate him at the time of God’s choosing?

Do you know that nowhere in the scriptures does it say that Joseph was ever cleared of the false charges? There is no verse that declares Joseph innocent in the eyes of those who knew him at the time.  Can you imagine how awkward it was for Potiphar’s wife when Joseph was made Prime Minister of Egypt a few years later and became, in fact, her husband’s boss! Can you imagine a conversation then between Prime Minister Joseph, the ex-slave and his former owner, Potiphar, the Captain of the Guard?

Given the culture of Egypt at the time, if Potiphar had totally believed his wife, Joseph would most likely have been killed.  Remember that Potiphar had complete trust in Joseph’s integrity to the extent that he had put his entire household into Joseph’s hands. I suspect that one look into Joseph’s eyes told Potiphar all he needed to know but for the sake of his own dignity, his wife’s reputation and perhaps his marriage, Joseph became the scapegoat.

There are unseen reasons for prolonged suffering. Joseph could have been vindicated quickly but that was not what Joseph needed at that point.  Instead he needed to learn that the God who had called him, the God who had given him dreams of the future, could be everything he needed no matter what the circumstances looked like.  But the Lord was with Joseph and extended kindness to him, and gave him favor with the chief jailer.  Gen. 39:22

How do you like that?  One might be tempted to say ‘who wants favor with the head of the prison? I just want to get out of here!’  That doesn’t appear to be Joseph’s reaction for the scripture goes on to say that the chief jailer – rather quickly – put Joseph in charge of the whole prison.  He didn’t even supervise him! (39:23)  It is to this chief jailer’s credit that though an Egyptian pagan he had the good sense and wisdom to recognize an honest and godly man.  Within that prison framework, things not only went well for Joseph, they also went well for the Chief Jailer.

So in a place he never wanted to be, Joseph finds himself prospering because of the favor of the God of Israel.

Application:

Who knows what God may be about in your life?

Do you find yourself in a place you would never have chosen? Do you wonder whether your talents and giftings will ever find expression? Are you challenged on a daily basis by having to work for an unpleasant superior? Or alongside other workers that have nothing in common with you? The kind of people you don’t normally like?  Do you feel like nothing good could come out of this?

God can bless you and grant you favor right where you are.  His favor will be upon you just as it was upon Joseph if like him, you will embrace the grace to dignify your present circumstances with a thankful attitude, desiring more than anything to come through this period of your life like gold comes out of the fire – pure, brilliant and valuable in God’s eyes.

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Shadow of Things to Come – Lesson #6 June 6, 2017

Potiphar is furious! Returning home after a long day at work, his wife presents him with ‘evidence’ that his favored servant, Joseph, attempted to seduce her.  As you and I know, the truth is just the opposite but having been spurned, her lustful desire towards Joseph turned to hate and a desire for revenge.

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Joseph was in the worst possible position. There were no witnesses for the Bible says they were ‘alone in the house’. He was a slave with no status and therefore had no possible way of defending himself. The only one who could tell the truth was the very one accusing him to her husband. As the lady of the house, she would be believed far and above a slave. Escape was impossible, there was no recourse to a lawyer.  Before he knew what happened, Joseph was slammed into prison for a crime he did not commit.  This was the next test Joseph had to pass and it was profoundly difficult.

Betrayed again! First by his brothers and now by an immoral woman, Joseph might well have stared at the damp and dark prison walls and wondered, ‘Why, God, why?’  Yet in his heart, Joseph knew he had done the righteous thing when he said to Potiphar’s wife: How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (Genesis 39:9)

Keep in mind that the Torah had not yet been given.  This was years before the event at Mt. Sinai.  Yet Joseph already knew that adultery was wrong.

Notice also that this was not a one-time attempt by Potiphar’s wife. And it came to pass as she spoke to Joseph day after day, that he would not listen to her. (Genesis 39:10)  She was persistent but so was he.

We may mistakenly fall into the trap of temptation if, after conquering it once, we think all is well and we let our guard down.  Temptation to sin is as persistent as Potiphar’s wife was with Joseph.  Just because you overcame an evil inclination once doesn’t mean it won’t come around again. In fact, it almost always will!  Like Joseph, we cannot let down our guard and we do well to imitate his behavior.  He not only refused her but when she kept repeating her request, he did all he could to even avoid her very presence. That means, if you have any idea where temptation will confront you, if at all possible, don’t go there!  Do not fool yourself into thinking, ‘I’m strong enough to handle it’.  Spiritual strength is not just the ability to resist temptation; real spiritual strength is demonstrated in refusing to go where you know temptation is waiting for you!

The lack of moral character in Potiphar’s wife is even more evident as we continue to read.  In front of other slaves, she even blamed her husband for the ‘alleged’ crime of Joseph. Speaking of her husband, she said, See, he[Potiphar] brought in a Hebrew to us to mock us. (Genesis 39:14) She stooped so low as to malign her own husband in the eyes of the household slaves.

A person filled with rage and a desire for vengeance will always say and do irrational things that expose the very weakness of their case.  Uncontrolled anger will always lead to more sin.  If this woman had been honorable, she would have said nothing at all but taken Joseph’s refusal as a wake-up call and perhaps come to her senses.  But no – she had to tell everybody how ‘terrible’ Joseph was.  And it wasn’t even true!  It reminds me again of Shakespeare: ‘The lady doth protest too much!’

Yet, despite his good and moral choices, Joseph ended up in prison.  Falsely accused and helpless.

God actually did Joseph a great favor for whenever we are in a helpless position, that is when God Himself takes over.  That is what He does when He is grooming a person for a position of influence in His kingdom.  The most important test that any person may have to pass before he/she is ever ready to be greatly used by God is to be punished for doing the right thing and to keep quiet about it, letting God Himself be one’s defense.  The tendency to self-righteousness, self-defense and self-justification is a powerful force to the ego.  It was not easy for Joseph; it is not easy for us.

But the reward of doing so is well worth whatever patience and humility it requires.  You may not know the future, but God does.  He is preparing you for an important task.

Application:

Fighting against what God is doing in your life only prolongs the period of testing. To turn to Him and humbly accept His work in your life is the only sane response. It’s in those times that the prayer of David, ‘I will bless the LORD at all times; His praise shall forever be in my mouth’ becomes the sustaining force.

As we will see, even in the prison, Joseph had the favor of the LORD. By that we know that he kept an attitude of faith and trust, even when he didn’t understand why he had to undergo such a difficult imprisonment.

Faith isn’t faith when you see and understand; faith that pleases God is when we trust Him without understanding why certain things have happened.

Joseph had a dream – in fact, more than one. In the darkest hours of his life, remembering what God had shown him in those dreams were a stabilizing factor.

A wise man once said to me: Don’t doubt in the dark what you knew in the light.  I pass that on to you in the hope that it may provide you with courage to trust and believe when hope and the future seems lost.