Friday, December 31, 2010

Pharaoh Makes Joseph Ruler Of Egypt - Genesis 41:40-45


“You shall be over my house, and according to your command all my people shall do homage; only in the throne I will be greater than you.” And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “See I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 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. And 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.

From the end of Genesis 41:39 where Pharaoh states there is no one in the land as discerning and as wise as Joseph, right through to verse 41 where he announces he has “set (Joseph) over all the land of Egypt”, there is no indication that the Hebrew youth even had a choice or say in the matter. But notice all the perquisites Pharaoh has endowing him with. Every potential CEO in the world would have jumped at them.
He was to be totally in charge of Pharaoh’s own personal household. All the people either of the nation or all those that were of Pharaoh’s kinship or household would also be required to “kiss” (pay homage) Joseph. This practice was first introduced in scripture when Isaac asked Jacob, thinking him to be Esau, to kiss him (Genesis 27:26). The same Hebrew word was repeated in Genesis 29:11 (when Jacob kissed Rachel) as well several other times prior to our current passage in relation to Laban and Jacob.

Furthermore there was to be no one between Pharaoh and Joseph. The former would only be greater as a sovereign on the throne, but not in practice. And to guarantee that statement, Pharaoh took off his ring that contained his seal and when used, served as his sign of authority on any document it was impressed upon with hot wax. This was the first mention of such a ring in scripture.

He gave Joseph a new wardrobe as well as some fine jewelry and assigned him his second most preferred vehicle. Whenever Joseph rode in this chariot, the Egyptian guards would go ahead of him in other vehicles and instruct the people on the roads and elsewhere to “bend the knee” or kneel down to Joseph as his chariot was passing. Clearly, he was established as the second mightiest ruler in Egypt. Joseph was given the right to control all activity in Egypt. Nothing could be done without his permission.
Speaking volumes, Pharaoh gave him a new name, Zaphenath-paneah. In the later Coptic language, the word signifies a “revealer of secrets” or “receiver of revelations concerning secrets”. [Coptic is the later version of the Egyptian language using its own script or alphabet, whereas the original or early Egyptian was based on the Greek alphabet.] In earlier Egyptian, the name given to Joseph is said to have the meaning of “the Savior of the world”. It is possible that Pharaoh now saw Joseph as the ‘savior’ of Egypt, his ‘world’. Many empires referred to their own conquered lands as being ‘the world’ long after this Pharaoh did.

Finally, Pharaoh gives an Egyptian woman to the young Hebrew as his wife. Asenath was the daughter of Potiphera, a priest of On. The name ‘Asenath’ means ‘belonging to the goddess Neith’. According to Wikipedia, in Egyptian mythology, Neith (also known as Nit, Net, and Neit) was an early goddess in the Egyptian pantheon. She was the patron deity of Sais, where her cult was centered in the Western Nile Delta of Egypt and attested as early as the First Dynasty. Asenath’s father was Potiphera. His name meant ‘one who belonged to the sun’ and was given to his parents by the Egyptian sun god himself, Ra. Potiphera was the priest of an ancient Egyptian city called On. The name On meant “strength or vigor”. It was in Lower Egypt, bordering the land of Goshen. It was a center of sun worshiping.

So in this short passage of Scripture we observe the transformation of a young Hebrew man to a full-fledged Egyptian ruler. He gets a new job, new powers, new clothes, new means, new respect, a new name, and a new wife. This was Joseph the dreamer. This was the man that gave all the credit for his life and abilities to God. Now what does he do with all this?

Our text simply says, “And Joseph went forth over the land of Egypt.” Is there a lesson for us here? As always, the answer is ‘yes there is’. No matter who we are, there have been, or will be, times during our life that somehow our circumstances will indeed be transformed. We may complete some education. We may get a promotion or a new job. We may receive an inheritance or get married. We may become a parent. It may be as simple as buying our first new car or home. Something happens that changes the appearance of who we are to others. It also changes our influence and impact on others, whether we recognize or not. Yet up to this point, we know who we were and the One Who helped us get to where we now are. We have always given the credit to God. The question is what happens from this point forward?

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Pharaoh Looks For Someone To Put In Charge - Genesis 41:37-39


Now the proposal seemed good to Pharaoh and to all his servants. Then Pharaoh said to his servants, “Can we find a man like this, in whom is divine spirit?” So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “Since God has informed you of all this, there is no one so discerning and wise as you are.”

Joseph interprets Pharaoh’s dreams foretelling the seven years of devastating famine that will hit Egypt following the seven years of plentiful harvests about to begin. He also gives him specific instructions of how to deal with it. It appears from the passage that many, perhaps all, of Pharaoh’s servants were present when Joseph was sharing the interpretation.

Interesting how there seems to be no recorded reaction of the Pharaoh to the dream itself. No “woe is us” or “why is this happening?” I was reading a review yesterday of a book by Joshua Cooper Ramo, entitled The Age of the Unthinkable: Why the New World Disorder Constantly Surprises Us and What We Can Do About It (Little, Brown and Company, 2009). In the book, Ramo says “today’s ideal political candidates (and thus potential leaders) need the essential skill of crisis management” and “we need to become resilient,” because “much of what we face can’t be deterred, prevented or even predicted.” It seems this Pharaoh was way ahead of his time – he was exhibiting those abilities thousands of years ago. The text simply says, “The proposal seemed good to Pharaoh”.

In what appears to be a cool, calm, and collected state of mind after hearing Joseph out, he simply turns to all his servants and asks, “Can we find a man like this?” Pharaoh as leader of his people knew he had to take action. It did not take him long to conclude that what Joseph had presented as a possible course for him to follow was indeed the best one. It is possible he arrived at that because he had earlier discerned Joseph’s Source of wisdom. The young Hebrew had told him that it is God that interprets dreams (chap. 41, vs. 16) and it is God that would give him an answer, it was God that was telling him what He was going to do Egypt (vs. 25) and finally it was God that was showing Pharaoh what to do about it (vs. 28). In fact, in verse 39, Pharaoh so much as says, “Since God has informed you of all this . . .” Clearly, we have here an indication of Pharaoh’s intelligence in recognizing God’s sovereignty in the matter of his dream and how to deal with it.

For that reason, when he asked his servants if they knew whether there was a man like the one that Joseph indicated would be needed, he specifically said, “in whom is divine spirit?” He wanted someone who had God’s spirit in him. He had noticed something extra in Joseph and he realized that leadership skills alone were not enough to get this job done. The individual had to have an edge and that edge was the Spirit of God. It is interesting to note that this verse (39) is the first time the ‘Spirit of God’ being ‘in a man’ is mentioned in Scripture. In Genesis 1:2, we read of the “Spirit of God moving upon the face of the waters” and it is next mentioned as a phrase here in our passage.

It seems that the answer to Pharaoh’s question of his servants received either a negative response or no response at all as Pharaoh allowed very little time for anyone to reply. Perhaps it was a rhetorical question and one for which he already had found an answer. Notice how Pharaoh describes a person that he believes has the Spirit of God in him. First of all he recognizes his relationship with God and that they are in communication with each other. Secondly, he tells him there is no one so discerning and wise as he is.

What do we learn from this account of Pharaoh’s response to Joseph’s statements about what God intended to do and what Pharaoh should do? I believe we see here an excellent example of the fact that people are searching for answers to their life (Pharaoh had two bad dreams he needed interpreted). They can recognize what believers have (the Spirit of God). They want to make use of that Spirit of God for their own purposes (Pharaoh looks for a man who has that Spirit within him). They value the person with such a Spirit (Pharaoh pays tribute to the discernment and wisdom of one filled with such a Spirit).

What Joseph had can indeed be ours today. God wants to fill us with His Spirit and use us among men and women in our day for His Glory. As I study the life of Joseph, I note that he did not ask for this. He simply lived his life recognizing God’s supremacy over it and he was fully committed to letting God be God and giving Him all the credit. Whatever issues of ego or pride he may have had as a young teen with his coat of many colors had all been dealt with as God’s very presence in his life was allowed to take root and slowly fill his every breath. Then and then alone could he be filled with God’s Spirit so that others, like Pharaoh, could take notice and recognize his value. I pray the same for you and me today.

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Saturday, December 18, 2010

Joseph Instructs Pharaoh On Action He Should Take - Genesis 41:33-36


“And now let Pharaoh look for a man discerning and wise, and set him over the land of Egypt. Let Pharaoh take action to appoint overseers in charge of the land, and let him exact a fifth of the produce of the land of Egypt in the seven years of abundance. Then let them gather all the food of those good years that are coming, and store up the grain for food in the cities under Pharaoh’s authority, and let them guard it. And let the food become as a reserve for the land for the seven years of famine which will occur in the land of Egypt, so that the land may not perish during the famine.”

Through Joseph, God had just given Pharaoh some devastating news on what was about to happen in Egypt. But He also provided him, again through Joseph, with instructions on how to deal with it. Sometimes we as God’s people get advance notice on what challenges lie ahead, sometimes they come upon us unexpectedly. But I believe, as His children, in every case He gives us the means and the wherewithal to deal with those challenges. Most often the directions are in His Word, the Bible. Often they come, if we’re willing to accept them, through the wisdom of a true and tested fellow-believer. Sometimes God Himself whispers them to us. That practice of God’s, like all his promises, is one the Christian can always rely on.

Joseph basically tells Pharaoh that he needs to delegate. Not only does he need to appoint a “discerning and wise” man over the whole of Egypt, but he also needs to give that man lieutenants that are in charge over various parts of the land and report directly to him. God never intends anyone to deal with issues involving a nation or a people or a company or a congregation or a family, alone. No, His way is a team.

[Note: As an aside, many of us have always considered God’s first example of such a preference was provided later in Scripture and in the history of the Hebrews when Moses’ father-in-law instructed Moses to appoint leaders and assistants under him to help rule the people, so Moses would not get burned out. This idea of delegation however was first introduced here when Joseph was telling Pharaoh how to deal with the oncoming famine.]

We also note in this passage that the method God intended to be used in this situation was a form of a tax. The appointed overseer was to take 20% of the produce of the land from those that farmed it. God realizes that not only do those carrying out His instructions need to work in a team with others, but He also knows resources other than human are needed to get the job done. As a leader in now two missions, I have seen God blessing our plans in both those ways. It is expected that His people participate in this way. While we should never give our money to any Christian work without first making sure of the scriptural and spiritual integrity of that work, we have no choice to but to give it to some of those that meet the criteria.

[Note: As another aside, I wonder if, and I admit it is only because it is used here, whether or not that 20% figure is indeed an appropriate goal or ideal to be used by governments in the taxation of their people? At least in comparison to the, in some cases, over 50% rates that apply in countries such as Canada and the way over 20% rates that apply in the United States and elsewhere. I know getting back to 20% would be most difficult under our current economic situations but also because of the great dependency on our governments that we have become accustomed to. I believe ideally a goal of 20% overall taxation to cover all levels of government would help force us to regain a more appropriate balance between two much and too little government. Such improved balance would also provide the means whereby many could regain their self-respect and commence to fulfill their intended role as providers for those for whom they are responsible.]

Notice also the instruction that whatever was gathered, should be well guarded. The implication is at least twofold. First, others would try to take the produce by force. Second, other lands or people would suffer similar famine but not have access to such a reserve of food. I am not certain of the lesson here. Perhaps it is that we as God’s children must be aware that even when we follow God’s instructions for our lives, there will be opposition. People will try to destroy what we have, not only our physical property, but also our spiritual relationship with God. We must therefore take the necessary physical and spiritual precautions to preserve what God has given us. As a mission leader, some missionaries ask, “Why do we have to spend so much money on insurance? Why can’t we just trust God?” Well, the answer is, “Because God Himself values what He has given us and He expects us to protect it.” He has allowed laws and provisions (such as insurance) that protect us in these ways. Notice what the last phrase of this passage is: “ . . . so that the land may not perish during the famine.” It is clear God wanted to save the land, his creation.

Is it not amazing what gems we can find for ourselves when we study scripture? Here God is giving some ancient Egyptian ruler some instructions as to how to govern for the fourteen years that are to follow and yet in those instructions are some life jewels for us.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Joseph Intrepets Pharaoh’s Dreams - Genesis 41:17-32

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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Joseph Hauled Out Of Prison To Interpet More Dreams - Genesis 41:14-16


Then Pharaoh sent and called for Joseph, and they hurriedly brought him out of the dungeon; and when he had shaved himself and changed his clothes, he came to Pharaoh. And Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I have had a dream, but no one can interpret it; and I have heard it said about you, that when you hear a dream you can interpret it.” Joseph then answered Pharaoh, saying, “It is not in me; God will give Pharaoh a favorable answer.”

As soon as Pharaoh heard that a young Hebrew had interpreted two dreams in prison and they came out to be true, he sent for him. The convicting personal experience of another person is an incredibly strong influencer for others, especially when they are at the end of their options. Our personal story of salvation as well as our experiences of personal rescue by God during our lives can play a big part in the coming to Christ by an individual. Charles W. Colson, now the well-known Christian leader of Prison Fellowship, but once the ‘hatchet man’ of Richard M. Nixon, found that out. When it became known that he had made a decision to turn his life to Christ in the midst of his impinging downfall, he started getting letters from others who did likewise simply because of hearing his story. They figured if someone like Colson had such a need and felt such emptiness in life, they certainly qualified.

But let us return to our hero, Joseph. Can you imagine what was going through his mind as the guards led him out of prison and prepared him to meet Pharaoh? Did they tell him? And if they did let him know the Pharaoh asked for him, what did that mean? What had he done now? And what lay ahead in his future? He knew none of the answers to those questions, but from his life so far, he knew God had been, was now, and would be with him. Have you ever been in a similar situation? You may be heading into a brand new experience and you have no idea of what may happen. Someone may have sued you; a loved one is arrested; there’s a diagnosis of cancer; your spouse or a child of yours wants a divorce; you lose your job that you count on to feed your family; etc. What do you do? Perhaps the best you can do is to take one step at a time, but know that God who loves you so much is still with you and He will see you through this as well.

Joseph was doing just that. He shaved and got a change of clothes, ready to meet the Pharaoh. When he came face to face with the Pharaoh of Egypt, the ruler told Joseph that he knew he was able to interpret dreams. Can you think of what was going through his head? Had the chief cupbearer told him at last? Or did he hear it second hand from someone else? But none of that was his focus for long. Pharaoh was giving him credit for dream interpretation and Joseph wasted no time in correcting him and to speak of his own weakness in this matter. “It is not in me,” he told the Pharaoh. He was saying, “Don’t give me the credit.” And then he properly assigned the power to God. It was God who was going to give the ruler of Egypt a favorable answer.

The last sentence in this scripture portion is a powerful one. First, it clearly gives credit to God where it belongs. Second, it boldly proclaims that God will provide an answer. And third, it identifies the kind of answer that God would give – it would be ‘favorable’. However, it is important to note that the Hebrew word translated here as ‘favorable’ is ‘shalown’ which more accurately means complete, sound, or peaceful. Joseph could clearly state God’s answer would be complete and sound, and in the act of being given the interpretation it would provide peace from the anxiety of not knowing what the dream meant. When people come to you for advice, are you quick to speak of your own personal limited strength? Are you quick to give God the credit for what He alone can do? Are you able to assure others that He will answer them if they call on His help and that no matter what the answer is, it will be complete, make ultimate sense, and bring them peace? I must admit there have been numerous times when I did not do that when many have come to me for advice, be it spiritual, personal, or business-related. Joseph is an excellent role model for us. We need to mimic his approach.

Finally, I wonder whether this was the first time the Pharaoh of Egypt had heard anything about this God, the God of the Hebrews? As supreme Egyptian ruler, had he ever gotten close enough to Hebrews in other circumstances to have this opportunity? Or did God use his dream, Joseph’s imprisonment, the chief cupbearer’s story, and so much more to work out a means whereby this Pharaoh could have the chance of hearing about the one and only true God? I think so. Who are you meeting today? Who is God bringing into your path today? Is this his or her divine appointment? And just think, it involves you.

Joseph may have been just a dreamer to some, especially his brothers. But God saw him and used him as His mighty and bold ambassador in a situation where only he could play a role. I pray that will be our experience today as we seek His instructions and carryout His will.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Chief Cupbearer Remembers A Source of Wisdom - Genesis 41:9-13


Then the chief cupbearer spoke to Pharaoh, saying, “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. And 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 o the captain of the bodyguard, and we related them to him, and he interpreted our reams for us. To each one he interpreted according to his own dream. And it came about that just as he interpreted for us, so it happened; he restored me in my office, but he hanged him.”

Since no one could comfort the Pharaoh with any reasonable interpretation of his dreams, the cupbearer Pharaoh had restored to his job after throwing him in prison, decided to share his own ‘dream interpretation’ experience with the king. The cupbearer tells Pharaoh how he and the chief baker had had dreams on the same night and how a young Hebrew in jail with them had interpreted them correctly. Three days after the dreams, Pharaoh returned the cupbearer to his role and hung the baker, exactly as young Joseph had interpreted.

Here is the cupbearer taking a risk for several reasons. First, he has the audacity to imply that he knows what the Pharaoh was going through. The idea that a mere servant could possibly understand the mental anguish of a ruler such as the Pharaoh could have been enough to set the monarch off. Secondly, the reminder that Pharaoh had once been angry with his cupbearer could have made him angry again, especially given his current mood. Thirdly, there was the risk of sharing a possible solution that could potentially backfire. What if the king approached Joseph and Joseph’s interpretation was a negative one for the Pharaoh? Then were might the cupbearer end up?

We note that the cupbearer possibly did not even remember Joseph’s name, referring to him only as “a young Hebrew”.

And finally note that the cupbearer did not tell Pharaoh what to do. He did not say, “listen boss, you must get in touch with this young Hebrew lad; he may well be the answer to your needs right now.” No, he simply informed him of his experience.

What can we take from these three simple observations – the risk, the apparent non-remembrance of Joseph personally by name, and the lack of instruction as to what the Pharaoh should do?

Are we prepared to take a risk to share our story with those in need? Are we prepared to tell them what God has done for us? Are we prepared to share what to them may seem so ‘unlikely’? Imagine, a mere Hebrew youth being able to do what all the wise men and magicians of Egypt could not do. What was the chance of Pharaoh accepting that possibility? Yet in man’s deepest needs, the unlikely becomes most probable, as we will see in the text still before us.

Turning our thoughts inwardly, how often do we forget the actual person behind the help we received? Do we remember the ‘person’ that helped us with great advice, or helped us in an emergency, or sacrificed their rights for ours? Often we do well just to remember the deed, never mind the person who performed it. I think we need to stop and reflect more on and about the persons involved in our day-to-day lives. What are their needs, their hurts, their desires and hopes?

Finally, the cupbearer is an excellent example to us of knowing what to say and what not to say in a particular situation. He knew he was sharing something with the Pharaoh. He knew, even though he was the Pharaoh’s chief cupbearer and thus close to him in some respects, he had no right to tell him what to do – only to share with him what he himself had experienced. We need to learn from that as we go about our own witnessing. We need to consider both our relationships with others and our positions and then realize that Christ asks us to simply give “testimony” and be a “witness to” what He has done for us. Nothing more, nothing less.

What can a simple cupbearer of an ancient ruler teach us today? I think much. God bless us as we reflect on the need to be courageous and take risks in sharing our experiences, remembering the people behind the deeds that have shaped our lives even in small ways, and knowing what our true Christian obligation to sharing Christ is really about.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Pharaoh’s Dreams - Genesis 41:1-8


Now it happened at the end of two full years that Pharaoh had a dream, and behold, he was standing in the Nile. And lo, from the Nile there came up seven cows, sleek and fat; and they grazed in the marsh grass. Then behold, seven other cows came up after them from the Nile, ugly and gaunt, and they stood by the other cows on the bank of the Nile. And the ugly and gaunt cows ate up the seven sleek and fat cows. Then Pharaoh awoke. And he fell asleep and dreamed a second time; and behold, seven ears of grain came up on a single stalk, plump and good. Then behold, seven ears, thin and scorched by the east wind, sprouted up after them. And the thin ears swallowed up the seven plump and full ears. Then Pharaoh awoke, and behold, it was a dream. Now it came about in the morning that his spirit was troubled, so he sent and called for all the magicians of Egypt, and all its wise men. And Pharaoh told them his dreams, but there was no one who could interpret them to Pharaoh.

So the chief baker is dead, the chief cupbearer gets his job back in Pharaoh’s household, and poor Joseph spends another two years in prison, totally forgotten by everyone. Everyone but God and it is time for Him to get involved more directly.

This time Pharaoh himself has two dreams. In the first one, he is standing on the banks of the Nile River and seven shiny, healthy-looking, fat cows come out of the water and start munching away on the adjacent grass. They are followed by seven scrawny, unsightly cows, which join the first lot, and proceed to eat them up. At that point Pharaoh wakes up.

He shakes any possible effects of the first dream off and he once again falls asleep only to have a second dream. This time seven ears of grain sprouted on a single vibrant and strong stalk appear. Then seven all but dead ears of grain, due to wind and scorching sun conditions sprung up after them and gobbled up the seven healthy ears. This was enough to wake Pharaoh up again.

We can assume he got very little sleep the rest of the night for the text says that in the morning his mind was disturbed and puzzled over the possible meanings of these dreams. He immediately summons his servants and orders them to call all the magicians of Egypt and all of her wise men. Two points to note here. First, he called for “all” of them. I could understand one or two, but ‘all’? These dreams must have been much more disturbing and vivid than the text describes. Either that, or Pharaoh must have been a very insecure person. Second, do not people do much the same today when they run to seers and crystal ball gazers to interpret events in their dreams or in their lives? The world wants to know what all these things mean for them or those they love.

Yet the scripture says, “no one could” tell the Pharaoh what his dreams meant. Not even with a little bit of certainty. You will remember earlier in Genesis 40:8 Joseph had clearly made the point that dream “interpretations belong to God”. And so it is. Only God knows the future. Only God can be counted on to see us through it.

Last night I attended a baptismal service at church for thirty-seven candidates. Each were asked how long they had been a believer in Christ and why it was that they had made the decision to be baptized at this particular time. It was interesting to hear a common theme running through the responses of a significant number. They had tried everything and they were tired of avoiding, or even running away from, God. They had come to the decision that all the answers to our questions, all our best interests, all our strength and wisdom comes from Him. Now it was time to fully obey Him, get baptized, and totally rely on Him. So it is when we experience things beyond our own understanding in our lives – be they in our dreams or during our waking moments. Only God can be the real source of the answers and the assurance we need. I pray it will be so with us today, especially if we’re disturbed or concerned about something specific.

In the verses that follow, we will see how God sometimes uses those He has chosen to provide us with those answers we see to our own life’s dilemmas.

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Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Interpreted Dreams Come True - Genesis 40:20-23


Thus it came about on the third day, which was Pharaoh’s birthday, that he made a feast for all his servants; and he lifted up the head of the chief cupbearer and the head of the chief baker among his servants. And he restored the chief cupbearer to his office, and he put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand; but he hanged the chief baker, just as Joseph had interpreted to them. Yet the chief cupbearer did not remember Joseph, but forgot him.

Can you imagine the scene? It is the Pharaoh’s birthday and of course what better time to display his authority than that to all his servants. So he throws a big feast for them with several possible objectives. He wanted to thank them for their services or he needed substitute friends to celebrate with. We do not know how popular he was outside his own palace. He would use the occasion to demonstrate he had the power to forgive peoples’ wrong against him and also the power to take their lives. To that end, he had the chief cupbearer and the chief baker hauled up from the prisons below and “he lifted up” their heads and held them for all to see. A good “sport” at their expense, for sure. Can you imagine the stillness of the scene? What would the man in charge do with these two heads of former servants and now prisoners? And who would be next? If he could determine life or death for these two, what could he do for those that were serving in much lower positions in his household?

Well, he did exactly as Joseph had said he would when he interpreted the dreams the cupbearer and the baker had respectively. The cupbearer was spared, the baker was hung.

One would think that the cupbearer would have remembered the interpretations Joseph had given to him and his colleague just three days earlier. But we are told he did not. In fact, the text says, he “forgot him”.

Perhaps therein lies the lesson for us today. Have we forgotten those that have asked us to remember them and at the time, we likely said, “yes, we will” or “don’t worry, I won’t forget you”? Have we forgotten those that we should not have forgotten, those that have really been instrumental in our lives? Finally, have we forgotten to deliver on the promises that we made? That is, can people really rely on our word?

In my own life, especially as a consultant, I have made several observations in this regard. People are not very good at keeping their promises – to their families, their friends, their colleagues, their clients, or to God. The people of God themselves, and pastors and church leaders in particular, are not always very good at it. We get failing marks in this category.

I believe we can all improve in this area. It’s all about integrity and credibility. Let our yes be yes and our no, no. We need to deliver on the goods we say we will deliver. That is part of maturing in Christ. It is my prayer that you and I are challenged to do just that.

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Friday, December 03, 2010

Joseph Interprets The Chief Baker’s Dream In Prison - Genesis 40:16-19


When the chief baker saw that he had interpreted favorably, he said to Joseph, “I also saw in my dream, and behold, there were three baskets of white bread on my head; and in the top basket there were some of all sorts of baked food for Pharaoh, and the birds were eating them out of the basket on my head.” Then Joseph answered and said, “This is its interpretation: the three baskets are three days; 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.”

You will remember that the chief baker also had a dream the same night the chief cupbearer did and so when his colleague got a great interpretation from Joseph, he wanted the same. In a very odd way this is a depiction of what most of us are like. We see something that others have received and say, “We want that too.” But it may not be good for us. It may not be in our best interest to get it. In this case, the baker could have spared himself three agonizing days knowing he has going to be hung imminently. He could have just taken his chances with his dream. I suppose, though, there is something to be said about wanting to know what the future holds, be it good or bad. If I were dying of cancer, I’d want to know sooner rather than later.

Clearly the baker’s dream was very different in its content. In it, the baker seemed helpless as to what was happening and took no action on his own. The birds in the dream were in charge. Joseph, as the dream interpreter, could not ignore these differences. Can you imagine being Joseph and having to communicate such an interpretation? I am thankful I do not interpret dreams.

As a career counselor, management consultant, and mentor, I have had the opportunity to work with people who really wanted something which clearly was not within their reach, sometimes because of reasons beyond their control, but more often because of their unwillingness to sacrifice what was required in order to achieve their goal. Sharing reality with them is always very difficult. In doing so, I try to provide some more realistic alternatives. Those not receptive to such guidance sometimes dismiss me out of hand. Others, have come back to thank me for my honesty. In our passage here, the baker unfortunately would not have that opportunity.

What we cannot ignore in these verses is the clear lesson that two things often accompany being used by God in a very special way as Joseph was. First, we are called to do things for which we can only rely on God to do well. In this case, Joseph knew that the interpretation of dreams belonged to God (Genesis 40:8). Secondly, often the things we are called to do are very difficult and involve telling it like it is (he had to tell the baker he was about to die). My prayer is that you and I can both realize exactly how God does use us when He chooses to, as well as be committed to being used in that way.

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Thursday, December 02, 2010

Joseph Interprets The Chief Cupbearer’s Dream In Prison -- Genesis 40:9-15


So the chief cupbearer told his dream to Joseph, and said to him, “In my dream, behold, there was a vine in front of me; and on the vine were three branches. And as it was budding, its blossoms came out, and its clusters produced ripe grapes. Now Pharaoh’s cup was in my hand; so I took the grapes and squeezed them into Pharaoh’s cup, an I put the cup into Pharaoh’s hand.” Then Joseph said to him, “This is the interpretation of it: the three branches are three days; within three more days Pharaoh will lift up your head and restore you to your office; and you will put Pharaoh’s cup into his hand according to your former custom when you were his cupbearer. Only keep me in mind when it goes well with you, and please do me a kindness by mentioning me to Pharaoh, and get me out of this house. For I was in fact kidnapped from the land of the Hebrews, and even here I have done nothing that they should have put me into the dungeon.”

In the chief cupbearer’s dream, he saw a blossoming grapevine with three branches reaching fruition. In his hand, he held Pharaoh’s wine cup, which he proceeded to fill by squeezing the grapes from the vine into it, and gave it to Pharaoh. A very simple dream in some respects but not necessarily easy to interpret.

Joseph, upon hearing it, interprets the dream. The three branches of the maturing vine represent a period of three days at which time the cupbearer would be taken from prison and reinstated in his former position as depicted in the dream by the cupbearer filling Pharaoh’s cup.

You can imagine the joy that the cupbearer must have felt as he heard those words from Joseph. But did he really immediately believe it? We do not know. Or was it only a feeling of “if only it were true” not dissimilar to what we often feel reading our ‘fortune cookie messages’ after a good Chinese meal?

And by the way, what was the real purpose of this dream of the cupbearer’s? Was it really all about him, his release and re-instatement? Or was it more about how God wanted to use it in the life of Joseph? Certainly Joseph was not going to let an opportunity like this go by. Being confident in his interpretation of the dream, Joseph asks the cupbearer simply to “keep me in mind” and mention “me to Pharaoh when you get out” of here. Not ‘if’, but ‘when’.

We note that Joseph then shares with the cupbearer his own situation, how he unwillingly got to Egypt and how he feels undeserving of his current imprisonment. No major complaining, just the reality of the circumstances he was in. We also note that no record of a response by the cupbearer to either the interpretation or to Joseph’s request is provided. Again, to me indicating, the author is more concerned with the Joseph plotline than that of the cupbearer.

What are we to take from this passage of scripture? I’m not sure, but here are a few suggestions. First, realize and be ready and willing to be used by God in any circumstance you find yourself in as Joseph was. Second, from the cupbearer’s perspective, allow individuals who have been clearly blessed by God to minister to you. And third, from Joseph’s perspective again, pursue solutions to your challenges by making your case and leaving the rest to God – a lesson that we all need to keep on learning. My prayer today is that we be willing and ready to be used, yes today; for those of us dealing with challenges, to allow other godly men and women to minister to us from God; and finally, to take the necessary steps to stand up for to the point of stating our case, but allowing God to bring about results.

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Finally, if you like what you read here, you may want to donate to my favourite charity, SCA International, by clicking on the logo below. Ken.