The Resurrection and Ascension of Joseph

Genesis 41
Robert Dick Wilson, a professor at Princeton Theological Seminary before it went liberal, once heard one of his students preach. Afterward, he came up to the man and said this: “If you come back again, I will not come to hear you preach. I only come once. I am glad that you are a big-godder. When my boys come back, I come to see if they are big-godders or little-godders, and then I know what their ministry will be.” His former student asked him to explain, and he replied, “Well, some men have a little god, and they are always in trouble with him. He can’t do any miracles. He can’t take care of the inspiration and transmission of the Scripture to us. He doesn’t intervene on behalf of his people. They have a little god and I call them little-godders. Then, there are those who have a great God. He speaks and it is done. He commands and it stands fast. He knows how to show himself strong on behalf of them that fear him. You have a great God; and he will bless your ministry.” He paused a moment, smiled, said, “God bless you,” and turned and walked out. Joseph was a big-godder. He had a massive conception of who God was, and so must we. One of the biggest things about God that is important is that He has brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus Christ, and given Him the name that is above every name. But that great event in history is not the only time that God has done something like that. Even to the OT believers, God gave them a picture of what Jesus would look like. God gave them Joseph. That is why I have entitled this sermon “The Resurrection and Ascension of Joseph.” It is truly a great God that we serve, and that is proved over and over again in the pages of Holy Scripture.

God’s providence is evident in a particular way in the beginning of our story. For Joseph is made to wait two whole years before he is delivered from prison. This had a two-fold reason. One reason God did this is so that Joseph would be made perfect through suffering, just as Jesus Christ was. The second reason is that God wanted the perfect timing for the cupbearer to remember. If the cupbearer had remembered earlier, then very little good would have come out of it. But now, a great good will come out of it, nothing less that the salvation of the entire world from starvation. In a similar way, Jesus would endure two days in the grave, but on the third day, Jesus would rise again. If Joseph’s resurrection meant a physical salvation of the world, then Jesus’ resurrection means a spiritual resurrection, and then a bodily resurrection for His people.

The occasion of this great act of God was a dream on Pharaoh’s part. This dream was very scary to Pharaoh for a number of reasons. The first is that the Nile river was the source of life for Egyptians. That is what they believed. However, here the Nile is putting forth bad cows and bad corn. The Nile failed in the dream. That was also a failure of the god of the Nile, whose name was Hapi. The first part of the dream had to do with cows. Cows were sacred animals in Egypt, and symbolized Egypt itself. So Pharaoh knew that something very bad was going to happen, when he started seeing these cannibal cows. He will say later on that the cannibal cows, after eating the fat cows, didn’t even look any better than they were before. And then, after having awoken because of the vividness of the dream, he fell asleep and dreamed another very similar dream. In fact, the two dreams are so alike that Pharaoh thought of them as one. In verse 8, most modern translations say that Pharaoh told his dreams plural to the wise men. Actually, the KJV translates it accurately: he told his dream singular to the wise men. He saw it as one dream. But the interpreters thought of them as two dreams. That is why it says that there was no one to interpret them to Pharaoh. He wasn’t satisfied with any of their interpretations, because they thought of his one dream as two dreams. So the wise men of Egypt cannot interpret for Pharaoh, and they cannot even count right! Pharaoh knew they were really one dream, because there was the element of seven, the element of the later bad things destroying the earlier good things, and the completeness of the “victory” of the bad things.

In this whole process, the cupbearer suddenly remembers Joseph. He tells Pharaoh about Joseph, especially the fact that Joseph had interpreted the dreams correctly. That gets Pharaoh very excited, and all of a sudden, Joseph finds himself brought out, shaved, dressed in new clothes, and brought before Pharaoh. One little interesting detail here: the Hebrew men always wore beards, but the Egyptians never wore them. That is why Joseph had to be shaved. Otherwise, he would not have been presentable to Pharaoh. Pharaoh is so excited that here is one who can interpret dreams. However, Joseph quickly, though gently, corrects the Pharaoh. Joseph tells the Pharaoh that the interpretation belongs to God. It is the same thing that he told to the baker and the cupbearer in the previous chapter. In one word in Hebrew, Joseph disavows any claim to the wisdom necessary to understand dreams, and says instead that God gave it to him. It is vitally important to give God all the glory for any and all gifts that we have, any skills that we have. After having given a particularly devout and moving sermon one Sunday morning, Charles Spurgeon was greeted by members of his congregation. One man said to him, “Sir, that was the greatest sermon I have ever heard and that you have ever preached?” Spurgeon turned to him and said, “Yes, the devil told me that ten minutes ago” But Joseph here takes great care that the arrow should not point to him, but to God. The same thing was true with Jesus Christ. He did not point the arrow at Himself, but rather let His Heavenly Father proclaim what a good Son He had.

Joseph interprets the dream for Pharaoh. Finally, here was someone who could count. Joseph insists that the “two” dreams are really one and the same. The only they came in a two-fold manner was to emphasize how certain would be the fulfillment of this one dream.

Joseph tells Pharaoh that God has revealed what He is about to do. The future is not in the hands of Pharaoh, you see, but rather in the hands of Almighty God. However, after Joseph finishes interpreting the dream, he gives a solution. The dream presents quite a problem for Pharaoh. Joseph knows this, and so has compassion on the Egyptians, and presents them not only with the proper interpretation of the dream, but also with a solution to the problem. Joseph is not thinking of himself here as he describes what this discerning and wise person is to do. He is not jockeying for position. Joseph just wants to get out of prison! He has no idea of himself being the one chosen. That is quite important, because he did grasp after authority like Adam did. Rather, he did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking on him the form of a servant. As a result of this humiliation, God exalted him above every other name that can be named. Only in regard to the throne would Pharaoh be higher than Joseph. That also is reflected in Christ’s experience, as described in 1 Corinthians 15:27, which says this: “For ‘God has put all things in subjection under his feet.’ But when it says, ‘all things are put in subjection,’ it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him.” God the Father is not subject to the Son. Neither is the Son subject to the Father. They are equal, unlike Pharaoh and Joseph in that respect.
Pharaoh reasons very well here. He thinks that since Joseph not only interpreted the dream correctly, but also provided a solution to the problem, there could be no one better qualified to do this thing than Joseph himself. And so Pharaoh promotes Joseph beyond any other minister in the kingdom. He is the vizier. That is the term used here. Now is fulfilled one of Joseph’s own dreams. He dreamed that the sun, moon, and stars would bow down to him. That refers to the largest superpower of the ancient world, Egypt. Now it is a reality. It is only a matter of time now before the other dream will come true, since the famine will be severe not only in Egypt, but in the rest of the world as well.

The seven years of plenty follow immediately, and Egypt and Joseph are both fruitful and multiplying. Joseph gets married into one of the highest social circles of the land. Priests were very well respected in those days. Joseph has two sons by her: Manasseh and Ephraim. These years are fairly uneventful otherwise, and so we pass on to the years of famine. The people come to Pharaoh, who immediately directs them to Joseph, who is the only one who can give to them the Bread of Life. So also, Jesus is the only one to whom we can go for the Bread of Life. Verse 57 paves the way for the brothers to come, since the famine was severe in all the lands, not just in Egypt. However, because of Joseph’s wise policy of taxation, there was grain in Egypt. Joseph probably did not sell grain to the Egyptians until later years. He was actually rationing it carefully, so as to have enough grain for seven whole years.

So what can we take away from this story? Well, we have seen that Joseph prefigures Jesus Christ in many ways. So also, he prefigures the church. Therefore, the Joseph story also applies to us through Jesus Christ.

For instance, do we take credit for a gift or a skill that we have? It should rather be used for the good of others, and to the honor and glory of God alone. We are NEVER to use our gifts and skills for our own self-aggrandizement. We are never to puff up ourselves, thinking ourselves so great, when everything we have is a gift from God. Joseph could have taken credit for his interpretation of the dream, but he did not do so. Instead, he used his skill for the good of the world, and, as it turned out, for the good of the OT church.

It is important to head off at the pass an incorrect application of this passage. This passage is not telling us today that we should follow our dreams, to have them interpreted. Hebrews 1 is very clear about this: in the OT, says Hebrews, God revealed Himself in many different ways and at various times. In these NT last days, He has revealed Himself to us in His Son. We need no other revelation than Jesus Christ, as recorded for us in Scripture. If you want to have guidance for your life, then look to Scripture, not to dreams, and not to magic, like horoscopes. The Egyptian magicians were always shown to be incorrect in their interpretations, and incomplete in their knowledge. They couldn’t interpret this dream of Pharaoh’s properly at all. That kind of thing is the way of darkness and confusion. If we want light, then we must go to Scripture, and pray that the Holy Spirit will guide us into all truth.

Furthermore, when we have the opportunity to do something great in front of someone else, we should not do it with an eye towards our own interests. This follows closely from what I said before. However, it certainly bears repeating. We are not to be interested in self. We are rather to have the same mind as Christ Jesus, who did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but emptied Himself, making Himself nothing, taking the form of a servant. That is what Joseph did, and it is what we should do. So, do the thing that no one else wants to do because it is too low. Jesus washed His disciples’ feet, and in the very process showed them what they must do for each other. Maybe you don’t want to take care of your elderly parents or grandparents. But shouldn’t you give them that service? Maybe you don’t want to help your neighbor out with something. Shouldn’t you volunteer? Maybe you don’t want to shovel manure and clean out someone’s cow stalls. Shouldn’t you do that very thing anyway? We should never think that any kind of service to others is beneath us. For Jesus Christ humiliated Himself far more than we ever even could humiliate ourselves. He did that for us so that we could be saved from the wrath of God. Then He tells us to go out and do likewise.

And then, we should not forget God’s providence in bad times. For two years, Joseph could have cursed God for having forgotten him. But God did not forget him. He is a great God. He never forgets, unless it be our sin, when we repent of it and turn away from it. But He never forgets His people. Our trust must be the same as Joseph. He trusted that God would bring him out of his dark and low circumstances.

Do you have a big God or a little god? Are you a big-Godder or a little-godder? Being a big-Godder means that you will experience resurrection and ascension, just as Joseph and Jesus did. God resurrects His people to new life and a place that is above every place that can be named.

1 Comment

  1. October 26, 2007 at 6:39 pm

    I would think believing God’s promise to be the God of our children ipso facto entails a biggodder while believing that God merely promises to save some if any of them indicated littlegodders.


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