Old Testament Walk Through: Genesis 37—50

The power of God­-given dreams!

Joseph Foreshadows the Saviour

Joseph | Jesus

Beloved by their fathers
Genesis 37:3 | Matt. 3:17

Sent by their fathers to their brothers
Genesis 37:13, 14 | Luke 20:13; Heb. 2:12

Hated by their brothers without a reason
Genesis 37:4, 5, 8 | John 1:11; 7:5; 15:25

Severely tempted
Genesis 39:7 | Matt. 4:1

Taken to Egypt
Genesis 37:28 | Matt. 2:14, 15

Stripped of their robes
Genesis 37:23 | John 19:23, 24

Sold for the price of a slave
Genesis 37:28 | Matt. 26:15

Remained silent and offered no defence
Genesis 39:20 | Isa. 53:7

Falsely accused
Genesis 39:16—18 | Matt. 26:59, 60

Respected by their guards
Genesis 39:21 | Luke 23:47

Placed with two prisoners, one of whom was later lost, the other saved
Genesis 40:2,3 | Luke 23:32

Both around thirty at the beginning of their ministry
Genesis 41:46 | Luke 3:23

Both highly exalted after their sufferings
Genesis 41:41 | Phil. 2:9—11

Both took non-­Jewish brides
Genesis 41:45 | Eph. 3:1­­–12

Both forgave and restored their repentant brothers
Genesis 45:1—15 | Zech. 12:10—12

Both visited and honoured by all earthly nations
Genesis 41:57 | Isa. 2:2, 3: 49:6

–Source—Character by Character, Selwyn Hughes & Trevor J. Partridge.

Joseph the Dreamer

A young man of seventeen had dreams. His dreams spoke of the greatness he was to achieve in later life. When he spoke of his dreams to his brothers “they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said” (37:8b). Later his father rebukes him because the content of the dream meant everyone of them would bow down to this young boy. And his brothers became jealous of him. 

Dear young friends, your time to have dreams is now. Of course, Joseph was given dreams of greatness from God Himself. You too can have dreams. Those that are good come from God Himself. As James points out, “Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows” (James 1:17 NIV). 

When Dreams Seem to Die

To have a dream is a dangerous thing. It makes people hate you. Society always want people to be like them. If anyone seems to walk to a different tune, they immediately find fault with him. This is exactly what happened to Joseph. He went in search of his brothers when his father asked him to do so; but even when they saw him in the distance and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him (37:18). 

Now why did they want to kill him? Of course they were jealous of Joseph because of their father’s favouritism toward him. Joseph was the son of Jacob’s beloved wife Rachel, and born to him in his old age. He also made a richly ornamented robe for him. It was abundantly clear that Jacob loved Joseph more than anybody else (37:3, 4). 

Bible Scholars are agreed on the fact that Joseph’s life is a close foreshadow of the life of Jesus Christ. So the favouritism of Jacob can be seen in a negative as well as a positive light. On the negative side, his favouritism caused his other sons to be jealous of Joseph. But that jealousy ultimately fulfilled the great purposes of God in all their lives. On the positive side, this favouritism might have been due to the “innate charm and winsomeness of his personality.” 

Whatever be the reason Joseph’s brothers were ready to kill him. This is what they said on seeing him in the distance: “Here comes that dreamer! Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams” (37:19, 20). Note the words, “Here comes that dreamer!” Dreamers are immediately spotted. They are the target of criticism and hostility. 

Again, they said that they will kill him. And they also said, “Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” Dear friends, can dreams die? If it is God­-given, it cannot die. Joseph’s brothers thought to end his God­-given dreams. But since his dreams were not his idea, but God’s, God intervened and saved his life. Instead of being killed, he was sold. 

Some Bible Teachers have expressed surprise at the almost impossible probability of finding that caravan of Ishmaelites coming that way just at that time to take Joseph to the land where his dreams would be fulfilled. Imagine dear friends what thoughts might have crossed his young teen mind as he sat as a slave, sold by his own brothers, to be carried away into a foreign pagan land where God was not worshipped! Joseph might have thought, “This is the end of my dreams.” 

Dear friend, are you sitting in a caravan today? Are you thinking that the dreams in your life have come to a premature end? Ah! God is not finished with you yet. The very things that seem against you and your dream are exactly God’s royal highway to take you to the fulfilment of your dreams. Do not give up yet. There is a great future that God has in store for you—a future that is going to bless others in plenty! 

When Dreams Take Detours

Joseph’s life now seems to take an unrelated course. He is sold to Potiphar, one of Pharaoh’s officials, the captain of the guard (37:36, 39:1). Now look at some statements: 

The Lord was with Joseph and he prospered (39:2). The master saw that the Lord was with Joseph and that God gave him success in everything he did (39:3). So Joseph finds favour in his eyes and becomes his attendant (39:4). Potiphar put Joseph in charge of his household. From that time on, the Lord blessed the Egyptian. The blessing was of the Lord was on everything Potiphar had, both in the house and in the field (39:5). 

All this could have seemed like the fulfilment of his dreams. But was it? No. Yet note the fact that even in a strange place, in a place that was not his proper destination, Joseph was still the cause of great blessing because the Lord was with him and gave him success. This led Potiphar to show him favour! 

A Lesson on Temptation 

  • Your natural gifts and abilities can itself become the way through which temptation strikes. Joseph was well­-built and handsome (39:6b). This caused Potiphar’s wife to take notice of him and she tries to seduce him. 
  • Temptation was there even in the past. It might have changed appearances. But it is still the same. The incident recorded here happened around 3900 years ago. But it reads like a modern story. Temptation is still the same because man’s sinful character has never changed. 
  • Joseph had a proper perspective on temptation. He refused to sleep with her (39:8). Saying “NO!” the first time itself is the best way to counter temptation.
  • Now Joseph tried to make the lady come back to her senses. He highlighted his master’s confidence in him. He knew the high position he enjoyed in that house. But he also told her that she was “Off Limits” because she was Potiphar’s wife. Joseph valued highly the sanctity of marriage. Hebrews 13:4 says the same thing: “Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” (NIV). 
  • Joseph knew that adultery was wickedness. He knew that it was sin against God (39:9). That is an important lesson. All sin is ultimately rebellion against God. Note that cultural permissiveness does not change God’s holy laws. 
  • Temptation persists. It does not go away simply because you won over it one time. Look at what the gospel says about Jesus: “When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13 NIV). Peter warned: “Be self­controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him . . .” (1 Peter 5:8, 9a). This lady spoke to Joseph day after day. But Joseph refused to go to bed with her or even be with her. Do not be in the presence of temptation. As someone wisely pointed out, if you feel like counting the teeth of a lion, stand outside and do it; do not get inside the cage! 
  • Temptation comes in the path of duty. As Joseph went into the house to attend to his duties, none of the household servants was inside. At that opportune time the lady caught hold of his cloak. Joseph was doing his duty. But temptation crossed his path right there. Dear friends, Joseph left his cloak in her hand and ran out. The best way is to run away from temptation. Paul said the same thing: “Flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22). 
  • Even when you do right by fleeing away from temptation you might be falsely accused. That is quite a possibility when blame will still fall on you. That happened to Joseph as the lady was able to cook up a story which showed Joseph in a bad light. But even such a bad turn of events was in God’s control because those where the steps that took Joseph to the fulfilment of his dreams. Note that Joseph handled temptation in a godly manner and won over it. Otherwise the story of Joseph would have read differently in the Bible. 

When Dreams Come to a Dead End

The reward that Joseph got for his faithfulness in his work and his devotion to God, surprisingly, was prison. That would have seemed like the end of the road as far as his dreams were concerned. A prison is the most unlikely place to achieve greatness. Yet as we read the account in Genesis we find God’s guiding hand in the life of this dreamer: “Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Genesis 39:20 NIV). God was definitely in control of events, though Joseph might not have known then. He was placed in the prison where the king’s prisoners were confined! 

Dear friends, every great dreamer for God passes through this phase—a phase when dreams seem to find a dead end. When this happens to you, though everything seems lost, know that somewhere in that circumstance God has hidden the next steps to the fulfilment of your dreams. 

That is what exactly happened here. God was with Joseph and granted him favour in the eyes of the prison warden. So the prison warden put Joseph in charge of all the other prisoners. This was because the Lord was with Joseph and gave him success in whatever he did (Genesis 39:20b—23). Let us note two things here. Imagine, being in prison as a prisoner and being given charge of all other prisoners. That is unusual, isn’t it? Again, the Bible says, God gave Joseph success. Note that point well. Even for you, let that be the secret. May it be recorded in golden letters for the coming generations to read that God gave ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­ (your name) success! 

When Dreams Seem to Take Wings Again (Genesis 40)

Dreams continued to play a role in Joseph’s life. Two prisoners had dreams. Each dream had a meaning of its own. Note two points again: It was God’s hand that guided these royal prisoners to the same prison where Joseph was confined (40:3). Joseph was asked to attend them (40:4). 

The second point is also important. Joseph found the two prisoners dejected on morning. He cared to ask, “Why are your faces so sad today?” (40:7b). Joseph was never found wallowing in self­pity. Instead he was found useful in prison. He cared for others. Unless you have a caring attitude for others, God will never entrust you with a dream. Dearfriend, will God trust you with a dream? Think about this: Jesus always found time even when He was in the midst of crowds to stop and ask and meet the need of any individual who needed His help. Would you? 

Joseph acknowledged the fact that interpretations of dreams belonged to God (40:8b) and proceeded to hear their dreams. Then he gave them the interpretations: a favourable one for the chief cupbearer and a negative one for the chief baker. And on the third day which was Pharaoh’s birthday, the cupbearer was restored to his position while the chief baker was hanged as Joseph had said regarding their dreams. 

There is however one more important point that we need to note in this account. Joseph the dreamer thought he had a chance to get out of prison through the hand of the chief cupbearer. He asked the cupbearer to make a recommendation to Pharaoh on his behalf. We find Joseph doing so along with giving the interpretation of cupbearer’s dream (40:14, 15). This is a common temptation that a dreamer can yield to. That is, try to solve our difficulties in our own strength instead of waiting for God’s time. Dear friends, remember the Bible says, God acts for the one who waits for Him (Isaiah 64:4). 

The Bible faithfully records the fact that Joseph had to wait: “The chief cupbearer, however, did not remember Joseph; he forgot him” (40:23). And two full years passed (41:1) before another set of dreams finally makes way for Joseph to achieve greatness which God had originally planned for him. Now you might wonder why Joseph was made to wait like this. The answer is simple. God prepares a man fully and thoroughly and completely (see Psalm 105:17—19) before He allows his dreams to come to pass. The waiting shapes a man and equips him to live out his dreams. It moulds his character in the most godly way possible. If you are kept in waiting by God without any clue as to what happened to your dreams, know that His time for you is not yet come. Wait. It will come, it definitely will. 

The Dreamer Finds His Dream (Genesis 41)

At the same time, God was not only preparing Joseph, but He was also preparing the circumstances to be right. While you are kept waiting God works on other things that are going to make your dreams come true. Here Pharaoh was prepared to have two dreams. And then the need for interpretation arose. And that triggered the memory of the chief cupbearer (41:9—13). 

God will have things work in His time and in His way and will not allow to get things done because of our recommendations. Remember, “It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes” (Psalm 118:9) (see also Psalm 20:7). 
How to Identify Your Ability
Dear friends, Joseph had a God­-given ability to interpret dreams as he made it clear to Pharaoh (41:15, 16). This was a unique ability that God gave to Joseph. Throughout his life we find his life shaped by dreams. Similarly God would have given you some unique ability. Through life’s incidents, small or big, you will identify it. In spite of different circumstances, your ability will be called to exercise as it happened in the case of Joseph. First he had dreams of greatness while he was with his father and brothers. Then he was able to interpret the dreams of the chief cupbearer and the chief baker. Now he is interpreting the dreams of Pharaoh. So we find a consistent exercise of his gift. When God allows you to exercise some ability on a consistent basis in a variety of different circumstances, then you can know that it is that particular ability that God has endowed you with. 

At the same time, Joseph was given by God greater abilities too. That too we find happening with consistency. First at the Potiphar’s house and then at the Prison, he became second­-in­-command showing leadership and administrative abilities with people management skills. Later when he talks to Pharaoh he shows God-­given wisdom (41:38, 39) in volunteering a plan to tackle the famine that would come on the land of Egypt (41:33—37). So again he is promoted to be the second­-in-­command of the land (41:40). So again we find consistency in the exercise of abilities in a variety of circumstances. 

So dear friends, try to identify the ability/abilities that surface in your life on a consistent basis. See how God is allowing you to be trained for higher responsibilities in seemingly insignificant circumstances of life. And like Joseph, contribute more than what is expected of you. He was just asked to interpret the dream. But Joseph gave a plan full of God’s wisdom to manage the plenty and the famine. Then God will give you success. Remember Rebekah who did more than what she was asked of when she said, “I’ll draw water for your camels too, until they have finished drinking” (Genesis 24:19 NIV). Do more than what you are asked to. Do it with joy. Do it with God­-given wisdom. Do it with excellence (see Proverbs 22:29). Then you will be promoted. 

The Principle of Dreams

Today many people make lot of fuss about dreams. It is true that God used dreams to communicate to people in the past. We find it recorded in plenty in the Old Testament. Even in the New Testament we find Joseph and the Magi having dreams at the time of Jesus’ birth. But today we have God’s Word (the Bible) to guide us. The more you read and meditate on God’s Word the more you know the mind of God. When you thus read you do not feel the need for dreams. But in case God communicates through dreams, then this principle revealed through Joseph holds good: “The reason the dream was given to Pharaoh in two forms is that the matter has been firmly decided by God, and God will do it soon” (Genesis 41:32 NIV). So dear friends, you need not seek to have dreams (here “dreams” is used in its original sense and not in the sense of ambition) since you have the Bible to guide you. But in case God communicates to you in dreams, then He will also make sure that it is impressed on you with certainty and He will not keep you in doubt. [This principle most likely holds good with dreams related to action to be taken in your immediate context whatever that might be.] [Please read Jeremiah 23:25—32 and be warned about false prophets who try to mislead you with dreams.] 

The Dreamer and the Opponents of His Dreams

The time came for God to fulfil His dreams to Joseph. The original dreams were given him when he was seventeen. Now almost twenty two years later, his brothers came and bowed down before him as he saw in his earlier dreams. As they did so, Joseph remembered his dreams about them (42:9). Even when he was promoted as governor of the land, Joseph might not have realized that his dreams were being fulfilled. But it was only when his brothers came and bowed down to him that he remembered. The point to note is that you might have forgotten the dreams that God had put in your mind. But God remembers. And there will come a point in time when He fulfils your dreams and causes you to remember them too. 

Let us move forward to a great moment in this story when Joseph made himself known to his brothers after a series of highly dramatic events involving the brothers. Joseph said to his brothers, “I am Joseph!” (45:3). Insight: Ponder the parallel between the words, “I am Joseph,” and similar words spoken by the Son of God to Saul on the Damascus road: “I am Jesus” (Acts 9:5). Both were revelations that could have struck terror, but instead brought salvation. ­­ Character by Character, by Selwyn Hughes and Trevor J. Partridge. 

The Dreamer Understands God’s Purposes, and Forgives

One of the great highlights of Joseph’s story is his ability to see beyond human beings and circumstances to see the hand of God in everything that happened to him. That, is an essential quality of a dreamer. His speech in Chapter 45 is a classic. He reveals himself saying, “I am your brother Joseph, the one you sold into Egypt” (v. 4)! Even though Joseph does not hide the fact that it was they who sold him to Egypt, he still says, “I am your brother!” The relationship had not changed even though they had done evil to him. He still valued their relationship even though he had become great now. 

He tells them not to be distressed over their wicked action. This was because Joseph saw that it was God who sent him ahead of them (v. 5) to save their lives by a great deliverance (v. 7). He highlighted this fact again, saying, “So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God” (v. 8). And then Joseph asks them to come down to Egypt quickly. 

After Jacob’s death, the brothers once again come and fall down before Joseph with a message seeking forgiveness (Genesis 50:18). Again, Joseph shows his understanding of God’s purposes. He asks them, “Am I in the place of God?” He then proceeded to say, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Genesis 50:20 NIV). Compare Romans 8:28 which reads, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (NIV). 

Dear friends, a dreamer has to learn to forgive. There is no point in harbouring bitterness in your heart against all those who wronged you at the first stages of your dream. You need to realize that those people who hurt you were just instruments in God’s hand to accomplish His purposes for you and to place you in an exalted position where you got the best influence to do the highest good to the maximum number of people. 

The Dreamer Ignites to Life Another Dreamer’s Lost Dreams

Let us have a look at Jacob, Joseph’s father. Who has not felt heaven’s presence in one’s soul as he or she has read about Jacob’s dream of a stairway (ladder) “resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord” (Genesis 28:12, 13 NIV)! This was not the only dream he had nor was it his only encounter with heaven’s messengers. Surely the greatest legacy that Jacob passed on to Joseph was the ability to dream dreams! 

But soon we find Jacob’s dreams dying in ashes. We find him mourning and weeping for his son Joseph, and he refused to be comforted (Genesis 37:33­35). Then at a later date when the brothers come back from Egypt without Simeon he makes this famous lament, “You have deprived me of my children. Joseph is no more and Simeon is no more, and now you want to take Benjamin. Everything is against me” (Genesis 42:36) [emphasis added]! Jacob, the man who deceived others for a long time, now finds it hard when all things went against him. 

Yet friends, dreams that are divinely planted have an appointed time. Out of ashes, God brings beauty (see Isaiah 61:3a). After Joseph had revealed himself to his brothers, he instructs them to tell his father about all the honour accorded to him in Egypt (45:13). The brothers bring this glad news to their father, saying, “Joseph is still alive! In fact, he is ruler of all Egypt” (45:26). Oh, what was the reaction! “Jacob was stunned; he did not believe them” (45:26). But then they reported to him all the things Joseph had told them and his urgent summons to them to go to Egypt. Then Jacob saw the carts that Joseph had sent to carry him back, and Jacob’s spirit revived! 

Dear friends, a dreamer never lives for himself alone. His role in life is to bless others. In fact, one of the greatest roles of a dreamer is to ignite the lost dreams of others into action once again. We find another classic example of this in the Bible. Even though Jonathan was not a dreamer in the sense Jacob or Joseph was, he still had that sterling character of encouraging others to find their lost dreams. In a classic conversation with a dejected David this is what he said: “My father Saul will not lay a hand on you. You will be king over Israel, and I will be second to you. Even my father Saul knows this” (1 Samuel 23:17 NIV) [emphasis added]. The Bible describes what Jonathan did thus: “And Saul’s son Jonathan went to David at Horesh and helped him find strength in God” (1 Samuel 23:16 NIV) [emphasis added]. Here Jonathan was helping David to ignite his lost dreams. That is the great quality of a dreamer. 

In that sense Joseph revived the lost dreams of Jacob. Jacob travels to Egypt and meets Joseph 22 years after he thought he was dead. From this point on we find God enabling Jacob to pronounce blessings on others one after the other. First he blessed Pharaoh (Genesis 47:10), then he blessed Joseph’s sons Manasseh and Ephraim in a classic reversal which proved prophetic (Genesis 48). Moreover in a moving piece of blessing Jacob pronounced blessings on all the tribes which again in subsequent history of the Israelites proved true (Read also Hebrews 11:21). In this blessing occurs the reference to the coming Messiah too (Genesis 49:10) [“Shiloh” in KJV]! Finally the great dreamer Jacob speaks of his last dream of being buried in the Promised Land (Genesis 49:29) which was of course fulfilled. Later Joseph also instructs the Israelites to carry back his bones to the Promised Land when the Exodus would happen (Genesis 50:25, Hebrews 11:22). Yes, even at his dying moment Joseph was found igniting in the hearts of his own brothers the desire to get back home to the Promised Land. That dream too was fulfilled (see Exodus 13:19). 

Genesis ends with a coffin (Genesis 50:26). But Joseph, the great dreamer, died dreaming of his resting place in the Promised Land (Genesis 50:25). Surely, God­given dreams can never die! Especially when you trust in the One who is the Life and the Resurrection (see John 11:25, 26). 

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