Friday, October 21, 2016

TheLifeOfJoseph : Genesis 41:1-49

Zaphenath-paneah. The name given by Pharaoh to Joseph. There are many different interpretations of this name by commentators - abundance of life, the god speaks and he lives, the man who knows things, and sustainer of life -  but I'd like to add to this list - what goes around comes around.

We've followed Joseph so far and it goes without saying that his life has been filled with ups and downs for sure, and many, myself included, would have been tempted to throw in the towel long ago. We read at the beginning of this chapter that a full two years have passed. No mention of how those two years were in prison for Joseph, but nonetheless, it has been a full two years. Remembering Joseph's request to the cup-bearer, we now have the man recalling what Joseph had done for him because Pharaoh now had a dream. After two years, the cup-bearer remembers. 

Note the way the cup-bearer chooses his words:

I would make mention today of my own offenses. Pharaoh was furious with his servants, and he put me in confinement in the house of the captain of the bodyguard, both me and the chief baker. We had a dream on the same night, he and I; each of us dreamed according to the interpretation of his own dream. Now a Hebrew youth was with us there, a servant of the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our dreams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. And just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him. (Gen. 41:9-13)

Notice how carefully the cup-bearer breaches the topic of Joseph. He knew, with enough information,  Pharaoh would remember the situation with him and the baker. He knew too that the memory is still very fresh (even though two years have passed) of Joseph's supposed abuse towards his wife. He knew that if he said the wrong thing, his fate would be the same as the baker. But I see something else here. Though this cup-bearer is taking a risk, he is also being humble - a God-given trait. It seems that he has learned what it means to confess, even to the Pharaoh, who has the power to end his life. He remembers where he has come from and all that he has, has been from the hand of the Pharaoh. With this very fresh in his mind, he cannot help but try to help Joseph because, he believes, it was from the hand of Joseph (through God gifting him) that he has been restored to his place of responsibility in the house of Pharaoh. What goes around comes around. This is a good lesson for us: Remember where we've come from and how we got where we are. Perhaps, a contemporary rendering of this is 'pay it forward'. And so, with the request of Joseph on his mind (see Gen. 40:14) he sees an opportunity to help Joseph. In Joseph's position, we'd like to thank this man, as it seems he is Joseph's salvation, but some would also see this as a bitter lesson.

Two years. Two years since this man has been restored to his position of influence. In all that time, it is hard to imagine that there weren't opportunities for him to help release Joseph from prison by his actions. We don't read that Pharaoh had any dreams that needed to be interpreted before this point, yet I am quite sure that the cup-bearer could have sought out ways to get Joseph out of prison, but he doesn't. This, my friends, is Providence; it is God's Sovereignty to wait until just the right time. I believe the cup-bearer chooses not to help, but has been guided (whether he acknowledged it or not) by the Hand of God. As we are told in Gen. 40:23, ...the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him. But God didn't forget. God, who had been orchestrating this from the very beginning, shows Himself to be the Sovereign One over all 'hap-instances' and now restores Joseph (again) and gives him (again) a position of influence. 'What goes around comes around', the LORD says.

Joseph interprets Pharaoh's dream accurately and, for this, is given, yet again, another garment, but much, much more: Then Pharaoh took off his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put the gold necklace around his neck. He had him ride in his second chariot; and they proclaimed before him, “Bow the knee!” And he set him over all the land of Egypt. Moreover, Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Though I am Pharaoh, yet without your permission no one shall raise his hand or foot in all the land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh named Joseph Zaphenath-paneah; and he gave him Asenath, the daughter of Potiphera priest of On, as his wife. And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt (Gen. 41:42-45).

I can't help but compare this story to the parable of The Prodigal Son where the father restores his son with a signet ring, a robe and sandals on his feet (see Luke 15). Joseph, like this wayward son, is restored. He has been brought back into the fold. Obviously the difference is because Joseph did something for Pharaoh, where this prodigal son had done nothing to deserve the grace he received from his father. And yet, these stories are alike in one very important way: they both show the character of God.

Notice in the story of Joseph, he is very quick, especially in relating to Pharaoh of his dreams, that it is God who has been a part of this. Two of the most pointed statements are first, when Joseph explains to Pharaoh that it is God who has spoken to him through a dream (see 41:25) and Pharaoh's response to Joseph's interpretation (see 41:39). Joseph regards God as supreme and Pharaoh follows suit. Pharaoh, an unbeliever, says to Joseph that because God had told him of how to interpret the dreams accurately, he will be rewarded. This is amazing. Through all the waiting and pining over when God will show up, Joseph now has a restoring-story that he can tell to  the next generation and has influenced an unbeliever to see the Hand of God! What goes around comes around. 

Joseph was restored, but much, much more. May this be a lesson to us. Though the popular statement of 'what goes around comes around' has not often been used in context of God being Supreme and Sovereign, may we use it this way because this is exactly what He is. God is the One that makes all things turn around for good (for a Scripturally-based statement with the same theme, see Romans 8:28) and Joseph will learn this lesson by looking back at his own life in his last days (see Gen. 50:20).

What goes around, comes around. 

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